How to choose binoculars for safari trip

how to choose binoculars for safari trip

Choosing binoculars for safari is not an easy task. If you have a holiday which takes you to safari, there is no doubt that you need a good pair of binoculars. But what type of binoculars, price and quality is a mystery to be solved?

It is relatively easy to buy the first pair of binoculars you google or find on Amazon. But don’t expect for these to be the best, without a bit of research. Therefore, in this topic, we did the research for you and here is what we recommend. And by the end of this post, I promise you that you may have an idea about what binoculars are you going to choose for your safari trip.

What binoculars to buy for safari: Binoculars with 10x magnification, a 42mm objective lens diameter and ED glass will do just fine. You have to balance the power with portability. Alternatively, you can buy something with higher magnification and image stabilisation to be able to carry on handheld observations in safari.

There are plenty of binoculars on the market with a magnification of 8x, 10x and with an objective lens diameter. Which and what to choose we are going to find in this post, and specifically why I do recommend these binoculars and what alternatives you can have.

How to choose binoculars for safari

Now, imagine yourself out there in safari. You probably won’t be on foot as much you will be in a car with other people and a guiding guy. There is so much wildlife to observe, what kind of binoculars should I focus on?

Ask yourself a few questions in this situation: How much gear, clothes, how many bags and how big luggage you will carry with you? What about in the car with other people? How long are you planning the trip, how stable is your hand for long-observations? There are so many “quick questions to be asked”. Now let’s try to divide all those questions into bullet points with a quick answer for all of them.

In safari, think light.

  • Think light. In safari, you don’t want a huge pair of binoculars to have with you. You need something small enough to carry around all day long, multiple days. You need a pair of binoculars to be able to carry on observations for a longer period of time. Something small, not too heavy.

Rarely you may want binoculars to reach one kilogram (2 pounds, 35 oz) in weight. I think this will be a bit too big, bulky and heavy. I would recommend you instead of something under 750g (1.65 pounds, 26.4 oz), and the best if you can get your hands on a pair of binoculars no heavier than 500g (1 pound, 17.5 oz)

Just keep in mind that when you give up some grams you give up some objective lens diameter. Smaller the binoculars = smaller the objective lens diameter and the body construction.

Safari, do you need magnification? How much?

  • Related to the above bullet point, you need something up to 10x magnification. Why? Above 10x it will be difficult for you to carry on handheld observations as even the smallest shake of your hands will be noticeable and you will not be able to enjoy those observations.

A pair of binoculars 8-10x magnification will do just fine. If you think your hands are not stable enough for high-powered binoculars or you want a wider field of view, 8x magnification will do just fine, in another case, I would recommend you a 10x.

Just keep in mind the fact that the wildlife is going to be a bit far away from you (most of the cases, to the point it may approach the vehicle). A 10x magnification is much superior above 8x even if there’s just a slight difference in the documentation.

The objective lens diameter of binoculars used in safari.

The objective lens diameter (or aperture of the binoculars) is the diameter of the main lens which allows the light to be captured. Larger this is = more light it can captures.

In this case, you should focus on a pair of binoculars with under 50mm objective lens diameter. In general, what is above 50mm become heavier, at a point heavy enough for you not to be able to carry handheld observations at all.

But don’t focus on anything under 42mm objective lens diameter as the images will become darker. You have to think of a balance between magnification and objective lens diameter, for the exit pupils to be optimal for these types of observations (please check our other article to read about the exit pupils)

A tripod or a monopod. Is it viable?

No, it will be improbable for you to use any tripod for your binoculars. If this will do, it would be great to use as you can have high-powered binoculars and see everything from afar, way much better than handheld. But I very doubt you will be able to have a tripod with you

A monopod is another story. A monopod can become as small as half-arm in length, not heavy to carry it around and you are able to set your binoculars on the monopod even in some concealed places.

But even with a monopod, it will not be problematic for you to use higher magnification binoculars as you can do that and you will have better stability, but why not use the monopod to release you from some pressure of carrying all-day long and your arms to be more relaxed when observing?

Just before jumping straight to Amazon or Google to search for monopods for binoculars, ensure that your binoculars can be mounted on a monopod, and if not, if there are any 3rd party accessories which will allow you to do it.

High-powered image stabilisation binoculars?

Some of the binoculars are specially made with an optic-electronic part which allows for the image to be stabilised – a way to stabilise your image when looking through high-magnification binoculars, which would be impossible to carry those observations handheld without any sort of stabilisation.

Advantages of using image stabilisation binoculars for safari

  • You are able to carry on handheld observations up to even 20x without to concern too much about shake induced – the image stabilisation will stabilise the image for you.
  • Stabilized images mean a better experience while carrying handheld observations, probably as no binoculars with no image stabilisation will reach this performance unless mounted on a tripod.
  • In general, good optics can be found inside those binoculars, therefore, quality may exceed your expectations.

Disadvantages of using image stabilisation binoculars for safari

  • Very pricy. Those binoculars are truly expensive (from $300 more or less up to over $1000)
  • The binoculars will have a very small aperture (objective lens diameter) compared to normal ones, hard to carry low-light observations during the evenings and nights.
  • As more optics are inside the binoculars, the image may tend to look a bit darker on an overcast day or where the lighting is not enough, compared to normal binoculars
  • The image stabilisation binoculars are battery-powered. Expect either to have a power bank with you all the time or spare batteries to change once every few hours (depending on the model)

Field of view and ED elements. Why this matters?

The field of view is the width of the area you can see. Higher powered binoculars have a smaller field of view compared to lower powered binoculars.

As an instance, you may want a wider field of view with lower magnification to watch a flock of birds, whilst you want more power over the field of view to watch closely the wildlife.

This is more like a matter of eyepiece design. Some binoculars even with higher magnification may have a good field of view for you to observe more per thousand feet (as this is calculated).

ED elements (Extra-low dispersion) is glass specially treated in order to remove the chromatic aberration. Binoculars with ED elements are truly more expensive than those ones without but can offer a way much better experience on observations. Have a read here on our other article for more information about the ED elements.

The price of binoculars for safari.

Although there may not be something very specific manufactured binoculars for safari, you will be able to find in general different types of binoculars which can fit your purpose to use them in safari (as long as it respects our key points).

Now, the price is going to be either a problem or a blessing. Some binoculars we recommend may be a bit too expensive to buy only for a safari trip, while there are cheaper binoculars there which worth buying if they are used only for this holiday.

But if you are planning to further use the binoculars even after the trip, think no more and invest in quality for the best experience (as long as you can afford).

Alternatively, there are online services which can “rent” binoculars for a relatively cheap price instead to just buy a new pair, if you cannot afford. This is also a good practice if you go with your family to avoid sharing the same binoculars, simpler for everyone to have a pair.

Hiring binoculars depends on the country you are situated. It may not be guaranteed this can be the best solution but it can be the cheapest and it takes only a few seconds for a Google search on “renting binoculars” or “binoculars to hire”, and look for something from our recommendation.

This does not have to be exactly like the following models we are recommending but something similar with the same magnification, objective lens diameter and preferable ED and nitrogen-purged.

SpecificationMinimumRecommendedSpecial observations
Magnification8x10xYou will need an 8x magnification if you are not very steady, whilst a 10x magnification is recommended unless your binoculars have image stabilisation. Even a 12x magnification will do just fine if you are steady enough, moreover, you can observe a lot more details.
Objective lens diameter42mm50mmIn general, binoculars with 42mm objective lens diameter will do exceptional and many times you may not even need higher. However, if you plan to do early morning and late evenings observations in safari, I would recommend a 50mm but nothing higher.
Glass qualityWithout ED but multi-coatedED, fully-coatedED is not mandatory but will improve a lot the quality of the image. However, focus on the glass and prisms to be at least multi-coated if not fully-coated in order to reduce flare, reflection, increase brightness and contrast.
Weight and sizeUnder 1kg (2 pounds, 35oz)Under 500g (1 pound, 17.5oz)Lighter is better. But do not sacrifice too much aperture for the weight. Think about how long you are going to carry those observations.
PriceMin $200 or rentMin $350 The price is fluctuating and binoculars can be even cheaper or more expensive and still good for safari observations. This is the price range I consider it worth investing unless you want to rent or you may afford to invest into something more expensive and better quality.

But before going further, you may want to check our recommended binoculars page for a better understanding or our binoculars buying guide. Furthermore, let’s keep going.

Nikon Monarch 5 10×42 ED

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These binoculars would be the first of my recommendation as they are lightweight, high-quality with ED glass, nitrogen-purged and one more million qualities for a relatively accessible price.

With a 10x magnification and 42mm objective lens diameter, the binoculars are balanced enough to offer you an amazing experience in safari.

Zeiss Terra 8×42 ED

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Zeiss is the king of quality glass in any optical products, from cameras, lenses, binoculars and so on. With Zeiss, you can never go wrong in terms of the spirit of observations

The binoculars I recommend are not 10x but 8x – will offer you a larger field of view and is powered enough to enjoy the safari trip with all the above key points checked.

Maybe, the only downside of Zeiss binoculars is the price, but the quality will never match anything else on the market, and that’s a pure fact.

Nikon Action EX 12×50 CF

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Although is above my recommended magnification, if you are steady enough to carry handheld observations, you cannot go wrong with 12x and these Nikon binoculars.

As well it does check all the key points mentioned in this post except the fact that the binoculars have no ED elements, but this makes the binoculars to be the most price-accessible from our shortlist.

The conclusion of choosing binoculars for safari.

Think about this trip on safari as being something unique and a pair of good binoculars is something mandatory to have in order to get out the best of the trip.

It is to be expected to invest in binoculars for your safari trip, even if you just rent them, but I strongly recommend not to go on this trip without any binoculars. If after all, you cannot afford either of the options, any kind of binoculars will do just fine rather than nothing. This post is our top recommendations in order to achieve the best observations you may be able to get.

Do not buy any binoculars with camera as I strongly do not recommend it. I know that maybe you want to record and not only watch, but the binoculars with camera will not worth the money (have a read on our other article “should I buy binoculars with camera” for more info).

Alternatively, you can use a camcorder with a good optical zoom to record, but furthermore, I will say that a pair of binoculars should be and remain only binoculars to enjoy the safari observations.

Thank you for sticking until the end of the post and I hope to see you around.

Gabriel Mihalcea

Passionate about binoculars, photography and blogging with years experience behind, I love to split my time and observe the beauty of this world with different eyes.

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