The Ultimate Guide to Observing Land-Based Objects
December 28, 2021
Think back to all the memorable times you found yourself outdoors enjoying nature. Perhaps you were surrounded by majestic, snow-covered mountains or at a lake filled with colorful sailboats. Maybe you were on a road trip and encountered numerous scenic lookouts that offered sweeping vistas of majestic canyons or lush, green forests. What about the activities closer to home, such as spending time at a major league ballpark, watching your favorite stage play, or enjoying a rock concert? (You might not always have had the best seats in the house.) At the time, you might not have appreciated how much your experience could be enhanced if only you’d brought along a binocular or a spotting scope.
While a binocular or spotting scope may not be at the top of a most people’s wish lists, most of us know what they are. Both of these optical instruments magnify far-away objects so we can examine them more closely. Let's take a brief look at binoculars and spotting scopes and go over a list of indoor and outdoor excursions that can are more enjoyable with an optic in tow. This guide will also explore some tips and tricks that will help you get the most of using your binocular or spotting scope in a variety of different settings. Ready to learn more? Let’s get started!
Binoculars are handheld or tripod-mounted optical instruments that provide a magnified and stereoscopic view of distant objects. Think of them as having two similar telescopes mounted side by side–one for each eye. Unlike an astronomical telescope, binoculars are designed to provide an upright, correctly oriented left-to-right view–exactly like the orientation you would see with your own eyes! Using two eyes feels more natural and comfortable, while providing a natural 3-D effect. While there are many different makes and models of binoculars available, the most popular and common size is the 8x42, which has eight power and 42mm objective lenses in either a roof prism or Porro prism design. You will see eight times closer than what you would see with your naked eyes. This binocular is the sweet spot for most people due to its fine balance of compactness, light transmission, magnification, portability, and cost.
A spotting scope is a terrestrial telescope-like optical instrument commonly mounted to a tripod, but smaller models can be handheld. It provides a higher magnified view of distant objects than a binocular could offer. However, spotting scopes can also be used to view celestial objects. Unlike an astronomical telescope, most spotting scopes are designed with prisms to provide an upright, correctly oriented left-to-right view–exactly like the orientation you would see with your eye! There are also many different makes and models of spotting scopes available, the most popular and common size is the 80mm, which features an eighty-millimeter objective lens. Many of Celestron's spotting scope models come with a variable zoom eyepiece or are compatible with 1.25" astronomical eyepieces–making them more versatile with multiple power ranges than other spotting scopes in the marketplace today. With the right adapters, you can easily attache your DSLR camera or smartphone to your spotting scope for digiscoping (photography through the eyepiece).
Activities with your optics
The world is yours to explore when you have a binocular or spotting scope! The next time you find yourself participating in indoor or outdoor activities where you'll benefit from magnified views, bring along a binocular or a spotting scope that fits the occasion. Remember, you do not have to use the most powerful, the most expensive, or the fanciest model available. Use whatever optical instrument is accessible to you! A standard 8x42 binocular or an 80mm spotting scope are the most popular sizes and will reveal plenty of detail and sharp visuals. Here is a list of activities where you might want to consider using optical aide:
- Nature observing – Use a binocular for birding, whale watching, safari expeditions, hiking, or casual stargazing, where compact, lightweight, low-power, wide-angle views are desired. For long distance viewing where higher magnification is required, such as observing birds nesting in high cliff dwellings, landscape formations, remote wildlife, and more serious stargazing, use a spotting scope. Low light observing conditions during dusk or dawn will benefit optics with larger objective lenses. Because high magnification will show even the slightest vibrations, it's best to mount a spotting scope onto a tripod for stability. It's important to note that most spotting scopes are portable enough to be carried from one location to another—tripod and all.
- Spectating – For avid sports fans, concert attendees, theatergoers, airplane spotting, boaters, landmark viewing, travelers, and even surveillance teams, compactness, portability, quick scanning, and modest magnifications are desired (8x). Binoculars will easily be up to these tasks. Consider using a spotting scope if your subjects are out of reach of binoculars and you want to see close-up details. A spotting scope will not be practical for on-the-go observing in crowded settings. However, its high magnification ability can provide detailed views when they’re needed.
- Target shooting/hunting – For those who partake in archery, range shooting, and hunting, binoculars are a practical choice. Tripods are not always required when long-distance viewing isn't as critical. The popular 8x42 or 10x42 binoculars are usually up to the task because they are easy to carry, grip, and provide bright and sharp views–enough to spot large, close-range marks such as bull's-eye straw targets or large game animals. Once the binocular is focused and eyecup adjusted, aim and take your shot. For long-range shooting, where the target could be at a distance of 100, 200, or more yards away, high magnification is a must. A stable, tripod-mounted spotting scope is essential for clearly seeing long-distance targets.
Tips and Tricks1. How to minimize image shake
What is image shake? Any little movement—even a shift in the wind while observing through an optical instrument—can disrupt your view through your optic. This issue is especially prevalent while observing through handheld binoculars and spotting scopes. The greater the magnification, the more pronounced the shakiness will be. Here are a few tips to help get a steadier view:
- Use two hands and bring the binocular up to your eyes. Next, rest your elbows against your chest. This will create a "platform" to stabilize your arms to support the binocular to minimize image shake.
- Use a tripod whenever possible to help stabilize the binocular or spotting scope.
- Use a solid surface like the roof of your car, a wall, trash can, etc., to prop your elbows on to help support the binocular. Use whatever resources that are within your grasp. Be creative!
- Try using a lower-powered binocular. Lower magnification will help make image shake less noticeable so you can enjoy the views longer.
2. How to aim your binoculars or spotting scope at a subject
Sometimes beginners find it challenging to locate a target object in the field of view of an eyepiece–even if the field is wide. Like with almost anything in life, practice makes perfect! Try these tips to help aim and locate your subject:
- Face your entire body directly towards your target, whether it's a bird, a person, landscape, etc., and draw an imaginary line between you and your target. Make sure you are not out of balance, which may throw off your aim.
- Always use both hands. Keep your thumbs under each barrel while your fingers are placed on top. This grip will help keep the binocular steady and allow either one of your index fingers to turn the focus knob as desired.
- Some spotting scopes come with a built-in sight tube. Use it to help locate your target. If it does not, use low power and stand at the rear of your spotting scope, and draw an imaginary line towards your target from the top of the barrel. The target should be seen within the eyepiece's field of view or close to it.
3. Neck straps and carrying harnesses
Using a neck strap is a common way to help transport and secure your binocular. It holds the binocular from your neck, making it easier to use in the field while freeing up your hands. Having free hands is very helpful for birders who often take notes or use a camera. A neck strap can also help keep binoculars steady by providing an extra contact point.
After prolonged use, a binocular may begin to feel heavy and tire your arms and neck if you use a conventional neck strap. A fully adjustable carrying harness can support a binocular as an alternative to a neck strap. This harness is worn over the shoulders and upper back area while keeping the binocular centrally in place to evenly distribute its weight. This allows for comfortable viewing during long hikes or nature walks. The binocular is kept secure, and the user's hands are kept free.
4. Wearing eyeglasses while using binoculars
If you are an eyeglass wearer, you can use them while viewing through your binocular:
- The position of the eyecups on your binocular is important. For eyeglass wearers, make sure the eyecups are in the down position.
- The rim of the eyecup should be as close as possible to the same plane as the binocular's eyepiece lens. This will enable the proper amount of eye relief between the eyepiece lens and your eyes while wearing glasses to see the full field of view.
- Not all binoculars have twist-up eyecups. Some have soft folding rubber eyecups that can be folded up or down. Fold the soft rubber eyecups down to obtain the proper eye relief between the eyepiece lens and your eyes while wearing glasses to see the full field of view.
- Remember: eyeglasses on, eyecups down. Eyeglasses off, eyecups up. This will help you get the full amount of eye relief.
5. Proper care and storage of your optics
Your binocular or spotting scope will provide you with years of dependable service if it is cared for and stored properly. Cleaning should only be done when necessary—a few visible specks of dust will not affect the image quality. Overly frequent or aggressive cleaning can damage and prematurely age the special coatings on the mirrors and lenses–permanently degrading their performance.
When optics are truly dirty, they need to be cleaned. The best philosophy is progressive: clean only as much as you need to clean, starting with the gentlest cleaning and then progressing to more thorough cleaning using more force.
Here are some helpful tips that will extend the life of your delicate optical instrument:
- Protect your optics from impact (do not drop them), and do not force any moving parts beyond their limits.
- Place all lens caps back on when the optics are not used. Protect the lenses from being scratched.
- Store your optics in a cool, dry place whenever possible.
- When storing for an extended period, place your optics in a plastic bag or airtight container with a desiccant and put it back inside its padded case.
- Do not leave your optics inside a car during a hot/sunny day or near anything that generates heat. This may cause serious damage.
- Clean dirt or water that may get on the binocular or inside moving parts as soon as possible to prevent damage.
- To remove light dust, use a soft lens brush or a can of compressed air. Do not shake the can and use it only in an upright position. Compressed air contains bitterants and other compounds that can leave deposits and damage your optics.
- Use a soft, clean lens cloth or tissue to remove fingerprints, stains, or smudges from a lens surface.
- For professional cleaning service of your Celestron binocular or spotting scope, we recommend that you get in touch with Celestron Technical Support.
6. Solar warning/ how to be solar safe during the day
While daytime outdoor terrestrial viewing can be fun and rewarding, it is important to be aware of serious eye safety precautions whenever using your binocular or spotting scope.
If you do not follow these important safety warnings, serious eye damage and even blindness could occur.
- Never look directly at the Sun with the naked eye or any standard, unfiltered optical instrument. Permanent and irreversible eye damage may result.
- Avoid facing directly towards the Sun and do not attempt to observe any terrestrial objects in the vicinity of the Sun. Do not ever observe the Sun, even during sunset or sunrise.
- Never use your binocular or spotting scope to project an image of the Sun onto any surface. Internal heat build-up can damage the optic and any accessories attached to it.
- Never leave your optical instruments unsupervised. Ensure an adult familiar with the correct operating procedures is with your optics at all times, especially when children are present.
Note: Celestron offers a line of EclipSmart solar products that feature Solar Safe filter technology providing the ultimate protection from harmful solar radiation, including both IR and UV light, and filters 99.999% of visible light. Celestron Solar Safe filter technology is GUARANTEED SAFE for direct solar observation and has been independently tested by SAI Global Assurance Services. Solar Safe products conform to and meet the transmission requirements of ISO 12312-2, Filters for Direct Observation of the Sun, EN 1836:2005 + A1:2007 (E) for an E15 Filter for the Direct Observation of the Sun and, AS/NZS 1338.1:2012, Filters for Eye Protectors.
Celestron's EclipSmart Solar Safe product line is the only option to safely observe the Sun through specialized Celestron solar binoculars, telescope, and filters. See the EclipSmart line here.
We hope the next time you find yourself enjoying the great outdoors or engaging in an activity closer to home, you bring along your binocular or spotting scope. And remember, you do not have to have the most expensive optics to enjoy the world around you! Hopefully, this guide walked you through everything you wanted to know about improving your terrestrial viewing. Keep practicing using your binocular or spotting scope. To learn more about Celestron binoculars, spotting scopes, and other outdoor products, please visit our website here.
We wish you good weather and happy observing!