How We Tested Binoculars

By:
Michael Payne
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Saturday

Throughout our test period these binoculars did everything from birding at the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, aiding a guide at WanderLust Tours in Bend, Oregon, enhancing many a wilderness hike in the Eastern Sierra, to accompanying our lead tester on a 1200 mile bicycle tour along the Pacific Coast. From this experience we were able to try each pair in real world settings and also get a lot of feedback from various users.

We also performed a more standardized test to more closely compare the clarity between each pair. This was tested by using an ISO 12233 chart. The chart was downloaded and printed on a piece of 11x17 paper at 1200 dpi resolution. By viewing the same set thing through each pair, we were able to more closely evaluate the differences between each pair.

This is an example of the ISO 12233 chart that we used to test the clarity between all 12 pairs in our test group. This chart is a standard for measuring resolution of electronic still imaging cameras  but we downloaded and printed a copy to use to compare our view through each pair of binoculars.
This is an example of the ISO 12233 chart that we used to test the clarity between all 12 pairs in our test group. This chart is a standard for measuring resolution of electronic still imaging cameras, but we downloaded and printed a copy to use to compare our view through each pair of binoculars.

We then viewed this chart through each pair of binoculars at a specified distance and noted how well we could read the different zones of the chart. The best and clearest pairs allowed us to see 10 zone clear and crisp and we could make out the lines. With other pairs we started to notice blurriness and purple fringing and color aberrations around the edges.

Our testing photo rig.
Our testing photo rig.

We also repeated this test using a more real world scenario. For this we purchased two model birds (that we affectionately named Garry the goldfinch and Barry the bluebird) and placed them in a tree. We then observed the birds through each pair of binoculars. we mounted the binoculars on a tripod for this test to ensure each pair was in the exact same position. We also took photos through each pair of binoculars so we could more easily make side by side comparisons.

Garry the goldfinch and Barry the bluebird getting cozy with one of our testers.
Garry the goldfinch and Barry the bluebird getting cozy with one of our testers.
 

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