Whenever I travel, I take my compact binoculars with me. They help me a lot not only outdoors but also indoors. Most people assume that binoculars are just for looking at objects far away, which is not true.
When I went to Kyoto, which is famous for old temples, I was able to see every detail of the statues of Buddha three-dimensionally with my binoculars.
Some people, like me, were using binoculars, but most weren’t. I felt sorry for them because, with a pair of compact binoculars, they could have enjoyed the museums and sights much more!
In fact, when I let one of the tourists to use my pair at a museum, he was surprised to see how impressive the statue of Buddha was up-close.
You should take your binoculars to museums.
In this article, I’m going to explain how to choose good binoculars for museums. I will also discuss another option; a monocular.
Binoculars help a lot in museums.
Some people wonder why binoculars would be useful in museums since they are usually used for viewing objects far away.
However, binoculars let you take a closer look at the museum exhibits.
The other day, I visited The National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo.
A special exhibit of paintings by famous artists such as Van Gogh and Monet were on display.
I decided to bring my Hinode 5×21-A5 binoculars with me, which was a good thing!
This was a popular exhibition so the museum was crowded. There were people streaming by the paintings, but I wanted to take my time looking at the great works of art there.
Also, the areas in front of the paintings were roped off to prevent people from getting too close.
So, I stepped back from the stream of people and used my binoculars to appreciate them from a distance, which worked well.
Looking at Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles by Van Gogh from 5 meters away with my binoculars, I could clearly see the brush strokes and uneven surface of the canvas. Unlike the printed version, seeing his paintings in person was much more impressive to me.
There were boards with interesting explanations about each work in small letters next to each painting. Unlike many of the visitors, I could easily read what was written.
I don’t know much about art, but I felt like those painters had superhuman skills!
I was the only one there using binoculars, and I got a few strange glances, but I don’t care!
It’s great to see these amazing works in person. Binoculars can help you enjoy exhibitions more than you might expect.
I highly recommend binoculars when visiting museums. Next, I’ll explain how to choose the right binoculars for museums.
Choose the right magnification
Low-powered binoculars are the most useful in museums. In art museums, you are not allowed to get too close to the paintings and sculptures for security reasons. You have no choice but to look at them from about 3 meters away with your naked eyes.
Enthusiasts want to take a closer look at the details such as brush strokes and chiseling techniques. With low-powered binoculars, you can enjoy every detail of the work in three dimensions.
In looking at exhibits such as sculptures or skeleton samples, you want as wide of a range of focus as possible so that the nearest and farthest parts of the object are both in focus at the same time. This is possible with lower magnification binoculars.
Compact and lightweight binoculars
When shopping, some might think “Bigger is better.” However, when choosing the right binoculars for museums, this rule does not apply.
I often visit museums while traveling. I do not want to carry big, bulky binoculars with me. It’s not nice to be weighed down while walking around a museum.
Compact binoculars are often designed to be chic and stylish so you can feel comfortable using them in theaters and museums.
Compact binoculars are considered to be around 200 grams.
Close Focal Distance
When I met the CEO of a binocular manufacturer in Japan, he told me that a recent consumer trend is binoculars that help to see something in sharp detail from a short distance.
Conventional binoculars enable us to focus from as close as 2.5m, but some new binoculars are designed to be able to focus from 1.5m. This number can be found in the specifications.
However, the actual closest focal distance can vary depending on your eyesight. The number in the specifications is based on normal eyesight.
The best way to measure the closest focal distance is to look through the binoculars yourself.
Just remember this: the weaker your eyesight is, the shorter the closest focal distance will be.
As mentioned above, the color and the design of binoculars can be an important factor when choosing binoculars for museums.
Compact binoculars come in different styles and colors which can make you more comfortable when using them in museums or theaters.
For example, Hinode’s popular compact binoculars, 5×21-A5, come in two color variations: white and brown.
The Pentax Papilio
The Pentax Papilio is a breakthrough in binocular technology because of its unique feature of image convergence.
The image convergence system enables us to focus on something only 50cm away. With ordinary binoculars, the two image circles would not come together at this distance.
However, the Pentax Papilio automatically moves both of the barrels inward depending on the distance from the object. As a result, both image circles overlap almost perfectly.
Papilio is not only great for museums but also for insect observation. The name, Papilio, comes from the Latin word for butterfly.
I’ve seen a caterpillar through them. It gave me goosebumps to see what looked like a giant monster!
No binoculars are better specialized for short distances than Papilio.
A monocular is also a good option.
If you give priority to compactness, I suggest that you also check out monoculars.
A monocular is a kind of mini telescope that gives us an upright image.
The main advantages of a monocular are that they are ultra-light and very compact. Monoculars can weigh as little as 60g, which is less than one third the weight of a pair of compact binoculars.
The main disadvantage of a monocular is that you don’t get a three-dimensional image.
I have tried monoculars with magnifications from 4x to 10x. Based on my experience, I believe that the lower-powered monoculars are easier to use.
In some museums, you are not allowed to get close to the paintings. In such situations, binoculars are very useful.
Choosing the right magnification and compactness is the first step. In most cases, 5× magnification is enough to see the fine details of most exhibitions.
Make sure the pair is convenient to carry, as you’ll be walking around. If you choose big and heavy ones, you’ll never want to bring them again, which would be a waste of money.
I recommend that you choose a stylish pair. You might feel embarrassed using a big, bulky pair indoors. Manufacturers offer color variations in compact binoculars for this reason.
Some binoculars are specialized to see objects at a short distance. Pentax Papilio is very good at focusing on objects that are very near. Also, you may want to consider a monocular, which can be far handier than binoculars because of their size and weight.
I wish more people knew about the advantages of bringing binoculars to museums.