The other day, my daughter told me that she was going to a concert with her friend. She’s a big fan of a famous girl group here in Japan.
So, I asked her if she wanted to use my binoculars, but she said, “We are not allowed to use binoculars at the live show.”
“What? No way!” I said. Photos are almost always not allowed, but binoculars are usually okay.
She double-checked the website and found that binoculars were allowed. I let them take two pairs of my binoculars. When she came back from the concert, she smiled at me and said, “Having your binoculars worked out great!”
If your seat is so far from the stage that you can’t see the faces of the performers clearly, taking a good pair of binoculars can help you enjoy the show more.
In this guide, I will explain how to choose good binoculars for indoor concerts.
The best magnification for concerts
When it comes to concerts, the aim is obvious: to get a better view of the performance.
As is often the case when you go to a live show, you end up looking at the giant screen, because you are too far from the stage.
With the naked eye, we can recognize facial expressions up to around 15 meters. Unfortunately, front row seats, if even available, cost a lot.
A good pair of binoculars will enable you to see what the artists look like up close. The most crucial factor is to choose the right magnification.
The meaning of magnification
First, let’s talk about the meaning of magnification. If you use 5× binoculars, what does that mean?
The magnification number indicates how much larger the binoculars can make objects appear.
For example, with 5× binoculars, objects that are 100 meters away will appear to be 20 meters away (see below).
In other words, 5× means that those binoculars will bring the image to 1/5 of the actual distance.
Novices sometimes assume that high magnification equals a better image, which is wrong. I will explain the negative effects of high magnification.
With high magnification, the image gets worse
The ability of binoculars depends on the aperture (the diameter of the objective lenses). High magnification with a small aperture makes the image worse.
Here are specific adverse effects of high magnifications.
- The image gets darker.
Holding binoculars about 30cm away from you and looking through the ocular lenses, you can see bright circles in the middle. These are called the exit pupil.
The diameter of the exit pupil can be calculated as follows:
Aperture(mm) ÷ Magnification = Exit Pupil(mm)
Exit Pupil(mm) × Exit Pupil(mm) = Brightness
In other words, brightness will increase or decrease in direct proportion to the square of the exit pupil.
This is how high magnification causes a darker image.
- The image gets blurry.
Looking at pictures on a newspaper with a magnifying glass, you’ll see enlarged dots instead of a higher definition picture.
This is similar to the effect of using the same aperture with high magnification.
- A shakier image
Do not underestimate how annoying binocular shake can be. It cannot be completely eliminated unless they are mounted on a tripod. The bottom line is how much shakiness you are willing to put up with.
In my experience, binoculars with up to 6x magnification have such minor shake issues that it can be ignored.
7x and 8x magnifications are usually still okay.
- Tips for reducing shake
When holding binoculars normally, your arms will get tired, and the image will get shakier. Here is an easier way to hold your binoculars and reduce shake.
While sitting, put something in your lap under your elbows. This enables you to use binoculars for longer while using much less energy.
5×, 6× & 7× are the best magnifications for concerts
For the reasons mentioned above, I recommend to those buying their first pair of binoculars for concerts to choose 7× or less.
Compactness is also an important factor for concerts because a larger pair will weigh you down.
The aperture of compact binoculars is from 20mm to 25mm, which cannot get enough light for magnifications higher than 8×.
However, 8×20 or 8×25 is widely regarded as the standard compact pair, with which I disagree. In my opinion, the standard compact pair should be replaced with 5×20, 6×20, and 7×20.
Don’t expect too much from binoculars!
Some people may argue that with such a low magnification, they cannot see the artist’s facial expressions on stage.
They have good reason to be upset.
To begin with, they might be expecting too much from their binoculars. They imagine that they will have a better view than they can get on the jumbo screen.
They should be satisfied with a somewhat larger image of their favorite artists in three-dimensions. Binoculars can achieve this.
Besides the magnification, here are four tips for choosing the best binoculars for concerts.
4 tips for choosing the best binoculars for concerts
Here are four points to consider when you buy binoculars for concerts. If you read them carefully, you’ll be able to choose a good pair and save some money.
1: Long eye relief for glasses wearers
Do you wear glasses? If so, eye relief is important.
Eyeglass wearers need binoculars with longer eye relief (see below).
A 15mm eye relief is usually long enough for eyeglass wearers. Binoculars with a long eye relief enable eyeglass wearers to get a full field of view.
Please check whether the binoculars you buy have a long eye relief or not.
2: Lightweight & compactness
When it comes to binoculars for indoor concerts, lightweight and compactness are essential. Nobody wants to take a heavy and bulky pair to a live show.
If the binoculars weigh around 200g, they are considered a compact pair.
In compact Porro prism binoculars, mini-Porro prism or reverse Porro prism designs are used to make the pair even smaller, which is good for concert goers.
A roof prism needs to be designed more precisely, which makes them cost much more than a Porro prism design.
The advantage of roof prism binoculars is that the body can be smaller. However, in compact binoculars, its superiority is hard to see. The mini-Porro design is small enough.
A Porro prism produces a bright and crisp image by ‘total reflection.’
Therefore, I suggest that you choose Porro prism binoculars that weigh around 200g for concerts.
In the outdoors, a big, black or a camouflage pair is well matched to the surroundings. However, at indoor concerts, such binoculars are too conspicuous.
Compact binoculars are often used not only for concerts but also for theaters. You might feel a little embarrassed using your big birdwatching binoculars at the opera or other theaters.
If you are looking for binoculars mainly for concerts, you might want to choose a lighter color rather than black.
At Hinode Optics, they sell compact binoculars in a few color variations.
4: No need to be waterproof
I strongly recommend waterproof binoculars for outdoor use, but waterproofing is not needed indoors.
Waterproof binoculars are filled with nitrogen gas, which costs more. There are also a few more parts, such as O-rings required to keep them well sealed, which adds more weight.
It‘s important to shed unnecessary functions when choosing binoculars for indoor concerts.
The money saved from getting non-waterproof binoculars can be spent on better lenses.
To sum up, compact Porro prism binoculars with less than 8× magnification are good for concerts. You can also save money by choosing non-waterproof binoculars.
Getting a pair in your favorite color encourages you to use them not only for indoor concerts but also in theaters. Very importantly, eyeglass wearers need binoculars with a long eye relief (over 15mm).
Beginners might wonder what the difference is between opera glasses and binoculars.
I will answer this here.
How about opera glasses?
Opera glasses are a kind of binoculars that are very compact and stylish. Some may think that opera glasses are better than regular binoculars but wait until you finish reading the following.
Opera glasses are like two Galilean telescopes side by side.
The Galilean telescope consists of a convex objective lens and a concave eyepiece (see below).
The advantage of the Galilean telescope design is that you can get an upright image without any prisms, which makes it possible for opera glasses to be very compact and stylish.
On the other hand, the big disadvantage is that the field of view decreases in proportion to the magnification. Even with 5× magnification, the field of view is extremely narrow.
For this reason, most opera glasses have very low magnification, such as 3×. Considering the optical ability, regular binoculars with prisms are far better than opera glasses.
So, don’t hesitate to choose regular binoculars instead of opera glasses for concerts.
Usually, binoculars are allowed at live shows, unlike taking photos. Binoculars enable you to get a better view of your favorite artists performing on stage.
When choosing good binoculars, the appropriate magnification is important. High magnification causes a darker, blurrier and annoyingly shakier image.
The optical ability and weight are very important but it’s also important to have a stylish pair so that you feel comfortable using them at concerts.
Choosing Porro prism binoculars without the waterproof function can save you some money. Binoculars for concerts might remind you of opera glasses, but regular binoculars are much better than opera glasses.
No matter how far from the stage your seat is, you can always enjoy the show even with compact binoculars. A good pair will last your whole life.