A good friend recently bought a boat and I have been on a couple of trips out in Port Phillip bay, I could finally relate to the countless guides I have read and advice given to people about buying binoculars for Marine use. Prior to this, I have never had the chance to use binoculars on a trailer boat. While I have always recommended that 7x was the one you want and focus free is ideal due to the movement you get on boats. I never truly experienced it.
On this occasion, I decided to bring my Steiner Navigator 7×50 to see what they were like and my friend had a Zeiss Conquest 10×30 which he purchased some time ago and decided to leave it for boating use.
Here are my observations from a true hands on experience.
10x Magnification Is Too Strong For Marine Use
This is a fact and there are no two sides about it. The chop from the Sea or even a Lake would make 10x too uncomfortable, the small exit pupil meant that the vision kept getting cut off. Finally, I was not in a situation where I needed any more than the 7x Magnification.
The Zeiss Conquest were just impossible and despite them being a great compact binoculars on land, the 3mm Exit Pupil is a very big issue when you are always moving.
I am starting to think that even 7×30′s with their 4.28mm Exit Pupil is too small for Marine use. I will test a 7×30 and give you an update.
Focus Free vs Focus Wheel
While most dedicated marine binoculars such as the Steiner Navigator / Commander, Burris Caribbean. Bushnell Marine… etc are all focus free. Marine binoculars are normally fairly expensive and not everyone would like to spend $300+ on binoculars just for the boat. We have noticed a trend that many people are settling into binoculars like Bushnell H2O or any other equivalent brand with a 7×50 Waterproof binoculars instead. These are normally about $150 but all of them have a Focus Wheel.
On some cases, I have recommended them to readers or customers but after a real life hands on experience, I should not have.
With the boat constantly moving (even when Anchored) and your objective is to look at multiple objects at the same time. The focus wheel was a pain and even confused me. There is no doubt that a good marine binoculars has to have the following 2 traits.
- 7×50 (Not 10×50, Not 7×30 and definitely not 10×32)
- Focus Free
While on the water, I did get a substantial amount of glare from the water which did make viewing objects on the water quite difficult. I believe a big plus is to have polarised binoculars. However, based on my research, no major manufacturer has made a dedicated marine binoculars to date. We have however done a quick run down on Byfield Optics Polarised Binoculars. However, the two sizes initially available are not suitable for marine use.