One of the most important skills to learn in order to be successful at birdwatching is how to hold your binoculars steady without image shake. The more still your hand held binoculars are, the better view you will have of the birds you are observing.
The objective of this article is to help you:
- To understand why you might see a shaky image through your binoculars
- To minimize the impact of shaky hands
You will learn simple techniques showing you how best to position yourself in a relaxed stance, and how to use objects in your environment to help you hold binoculars steady.
Why do I struggle with my binoculars shaking?
Binoculars of up to 8x magnification are relatively easy to hold steady. That is why that magnification is recommended for general bird watching purposes.
Optics of a higher power can start to get a bit wobbly though. You'll notice it is more difficult to maintain a steady image.
Even with 7x or 8x magnification, though, you may be wondering how to hold binoculars steady and stop them from shaking. Whatever the magnification of your binocular, you may benefit from some tips to help you gain extra stability.
Let's look at the proper answer to hold binoculars to stop them from shaking and stabilize them.
What is image shake?
Image shake results from the small natural movements of your body. Breathing can be a bit awkward when you're trying to hold binoculars steady!
No matter how hard you try to remain motionless, our bodies make very slight movements and these are accentuated by the magnification of your binocular.
It's not something we are aware of with our ordinary vision, but the higher the magnification of the binocular, the more you will notice the hand movement through the lens. What you experience is called image shake.
Fortunately, there are some ways that we can use the mechanics of our bodies to reduce image shake and enhance our bird watching experience.
First of all, check our guide on how to set up your binoculars.
This will help you to make sure that you have set up the width to suit your interpupillary distance, and then the diopter is correctly adjusted to your individual vision.
How to hold and stabilize binoculars in your hands
Simply put, the most effective way for you to hold your device is in what feels like the most comfortable way for you. This may feel unusual at first and take some experimentation.
Here are some ideas of which grips and handholds people find the most effective:
Hold the binoculars with fingers around wrapped around the barrel on either side
How far around the binocular your hands go will depend of course on the size of the instrument and the size of your hands.
Adjust your grip so that you can hold the binocular steady while also being able to move one of your index fingers to alter the focus wheel as necessary. This is often located in the middle of the hinge between the two barrels.
One suggested technique is to put your first two fingers and the next two around the prism housings.
Once you have your hands in the correct position on the binocular prism housing, raise the eyepieces to your eyes.
Your thumbs will line up at the sides of your face by the eyepieces. For extra support you can rest the joint of your thumbs against the outer edge of your eye sockets.
Having your first two fingers and wrists in this position allows your grip to be more relaxed. The ergonomics also make it more likely that your arms will be lined up to brace comfortably against your torso.
It is helpful if you have already focussed your binocular while using this holding technique. Otherwise it is a bit tricky for your finger to reach the central focussing wheel between the prism housing.
Stabilize binoculars by placing your thumbs and/or your first fingers against your face
How comfortable you find this depends on your own personal preference. Resting the first knuckle of your thumbs against your cheekbones can add support to your hands, therefore reducing wobble and fatigue to your arm muscles.
The disadvantage of this position is that after some time, the slight pressure can cause a little discomfort against your face.
Holding the device like this may make it a little awkward to adjust the focus wheel with your left hand or your right hand. So this position is good for extended periods of time where you are observing birds at a regular, unchanging distance without needing to alter the focus.
Maintain a relaxed hold for more stability
Keeping your hands relaxed has two main advantages.
- Relaxed muscles are more comfortable to hold in position and less likely to create fatigue over longer periods.
- A looser hold means less image shake. A tight grip introduces all your tiny motions into your view, whereas a relaxed hold is supportive yet still flexible. It acts as a kind of shock absorber, meaning that you see a more stable view overall.
It may sound somewhat contradictory to say that you need some discipline to be relaxed! But sometimes it takes a few gentle reminders to yourself. It's a special kind of practice to stay alert and focussed while still relaxing physically.
With practice, though, you will hopefully find that you are able to prolong your enjoyment of bird watching without experiencing any muscle tightness or stiffness from staying in the same position for long periods.
Go for a hat trick - the baseball cap technique
If you have a baseball cap with a stiff peak, hook each middle finger around the brim of the cap and loosely hold your instrument with the others.
Wearing a baseball cap also helps keep rain off your lenses!
Holding binoculars steady: tips and tricks for better stability
Tuck your elbows in against your torso
Hold the binocular with both hands and bring them to your eyes. Rather than allowing your elbows to angle outwards like this in this kind of formation < > bring them towards your torso.
Support your upper arms against your torso, rather than having them suspended in mid-air. When your elbows are tucked in close rather than flared out towards the sides, it reduces the strain on your arms and shoulders.
In this way, the strong core of your body is helping to support the weight. This not only creates some relief for the muscles in your shoulders and back, but also makes a more stable basis for your binocular.
Make yourself a stable base - sit down
The simplest way to reduce swaying and involuntary moving is by sitting down.
Even kneeling down on one knee can help, especially if you can brace yourself against a tree or fence. This can be weather dependent though. You may wish to invest in some good waterproof clothing to allow you to be able to sit on against damp objects.
If you can't be sitting on the ground, try a rock, picnic table, stump or low wall. Sometimes it is worth taking a portable stool or chair if you are intending to be birding for a long period without moving around much.
Lean against a solid surface
If being seated isn't possible, try leaning against a stationary object when standing. Resting your back against something increases stability. It will also help to conserve your energy.
Lean against a wall or tree, fences, rocks - whatever is available in your environment.
Set the binoculars on something stable
If you can't brace yourself against something stationary, then find a place to support your arms as you hold the binoculars at the right height. Brace your elbows against your torso, or against a stationary object, like a car roof, picnic table or fence.
Sometimes it is possible to find a forked stick or branch to use as a makeshift support. You could rest the optics in the fork with one hand to keep them more stable, while holding the stick upright with the other hand.
Accessories: alternatives to holding binoculars by hand
All of these techniques above can increase the stability of the images that you view without having to carry any extra equipment (with the exception of a camp stool or chair, if that will help you).
If image shake is a major issue for you, you may still be wondering how to use binoculars with shaky hands. Another option is to try a pair with a lesser magnification.
A lower power of magnification should reduce the shakiness and provide a better viewing experience. They will still allow most people to hand hold without needing any additional equipment to support them.
If you would like to try some supportive gear to reduce image shake, there are accessories that can help. These include:
These accessories are particularly helpful for larger magnifications. For these you may like to consider using a tripod.
Most binoculars will come with adjustable straps. Hopefully the one provided with yours will be comfortable for you.
If not, it is possible to buy a better alternative separately. These can be of varying widths, with additional padding or alternative attachments.
As well as allowing you to carry hands-free when on the move, straps can also help when viewing.
A good way to use the strap to stabilize the view is to keep it short so that it is taut against the back of your neck when you lift them to your eyes.
Remember to keep your elbows tucked in close or against a stationary surface for optimum stability.
Keep the strap short
While you obviously need to be able to make sure the strap loops over your head easily to be able to take the binoculars on and off, a short strap is a good idea.
It reduces the swing of the binoculars when you are on the move. This makes them less likely to bump against trees, fences or other things that might damage them.
Also, when the strap is shorter, the reduced bounce lessens the pull on your neck and upper back muscles.
Chest harness or binopod
With this accessory, you can observe with two hands free. Image shake is reduced in comparison to hand holding.
The harness fits around your chest and neck. It incorporates a stand on which you mount the binocular at the appropriate height for you to look through without having to hold them.
This has the advantage of reducing the shake from your hands. There is still a small amount of movement from your body (that pesky breathing again!).
The chest harness is a simple but ingenious method that provides a good alternative to a strap if you find that your arms get fatigued.
A monopod is like a tripod but with only one leg instead of three. It looks like a stick with a small platform on the top on which you attach the binoculars.
Once the binoculars are mounted you can rest the monopod against a solid surface that will take the weight. The leg of the monopod is usually adjustable making it easy to fix at the appropriate height for you, or alter it according to the surface on which it is resting.
The monopod has a foot on the bottom, but with only one point of contact with the ground or other surface, it is not as stable as a tripod. A monopod requires support from the user, but this does mean it is more mobile than a tripod.
To hold your monopod steady, stand with your feet planted about the same width as your shoulders. Put the monopod around this same measurement away from your body, so that it forms a triangle with your feet.
Putting a little pressure on the monopod, by leaning slightly, will help to hold it steady.
Of course it is an extra piece of kit to carry, but the monopods do fold down. Most are constructed from very light materials.
This is the most stable support to hold your larger binoculars steady. You can use it totally hands free.
Setting it up to suit the circumstances is easy when it is fully adjustable. The length or height of the legs can be changed, along with the angle.
It is also the least mobile accessory. This can be good if you are confident that you are already in a great position for bird watching. There will be no image shake because you don't need to alter the binoculars at all.
With two more legs than a monopod, it is less light and more cumbersome. The reduced portability is the compromise for the more stable image.
Bear in mind that not all pairs of binoculars are able to be used with a tripod. More Porro prism binoculars are suitable.
Check our article for further discussion and comparison of Porro and roof prism binoculars.
No more shaky hands: steady binoculars - solved!
With these tips in mind, it is easier to stabilize binoculars without a monopod or tripod when on the move. To hold a binocular steady, it soon becomes second nature to brace your bodyweight against a stationary object, or to find elbow support on something steady.
If you are concerned about how to use binoculars with shaky hands and maintain a steady image, try some of the accessories listed above to work out the best way for you to use your own binoculars.
With a little research and experimentation, we hope you find your perfect balance of stability and comfort when using your binoculars.
- 1 Why do I struggle with my binoculars shaking?
- 2 What is image shake?
- 3 How to hold and stabilize binoculars in your hands
- 4 Holding binoculars steady: tips and tricks for better stability
- 5 Accessories: alternatives to holding binoculars by hand
- 6 No more shaky hands: steady binoculars - solved!