I used to be passionate about collecting wide-angle binoculars with over 65 degrees of apparent field of view. As I was used to the standard angle (50 degrees), I was very impressed with the impact of the wider view.
It was like an eyeglass wearer trying on contact lenses for the first time; the field of view suddenly opened up. Normally, our field of vision is about 180 degrees, which makes binoculars’ standard angle seem quite narrow.
However, my devotion to wide-angle binoculars was short-lived because it became clear that a wide-angle comes at the expense of image distortion in the peripheral area.
So, I would like to explain both the advantages and the downsides of wide-angle binoculars before you make a purchase. I will also explain what wide-angle binoculars are most useful for.
The two different fields of view
Some people confuse Real field of view (FOV) and Apparent FOV.
- Real FOV
Real FOV indicates the width of the field of view through binoculars at 1,000 yards and 1,000 meters (see below).
It is also described as the angular FOV as well as the linear FOV
- Apparent FOV
Apparent FOV indicates how wide your view is when you look through binoculars. Here’s a picture showing Apparent FOV.
Fifty degrees of Apparent FOV is considered to be standard. An apparent field of view wider than 60 degrees is considered a wide field of view. The ocular lens, such as an Erfle eyepiece, makes it possible to produce such a wide-angle.
The definition of wide-angle binoculars
Binoculars are generally considered to have a wide-angle if they have an Apparent FOV of at least 60 degrees, although the Japanese Industrial Standard sets the mark at anything above 65 degrees.
|50 – 55||60||65||65<|
The term “wide-angle” usually refers to the Apparent FOV. It’s not difficult to make wide-angle eyepieces with high magnification. As a result, most wide-angle binoculars have 8× or more in magnification.
On the other hand, there are few wide-angle binoculars with low magnification.
Let’s compare these three pairs: Zeiss 10×40, Swift Audubon 8.5×44, and Hinode 5×21. These are all wide-angle binoculars in either Apparent FOV or Real FOV.
|Apparent FOV||Real FOV|
|Zeiss 10×40||60||110m/1,000 (6.3°)|
|Swift Audubon 8.5×44||70||144m/1,000 (8.2°)|
|Hinode 5×21||55||194m/1,000 (11.0°)|
With Hinode 5×21, you get a Real FOV as wide as 11 degrees with a magnification of 5× while the Apparent FOV is slightly wider than the standard (55 degrees).
Zeiss 10×40 has an apparent FOV of 60 degrees, but its real FOV is only 6.3 degrees.
Based on the binoculars above, wide-angle binoculars would have the following attributions:
2) Apparent FOV of over 65 degrees.
3) Magnification of 10x or less.
Considering the above, I think the Swift Audubon 8.5×44 is the real wide-angle of these pairs.
I‘ve sold most of my wide-angle binoculars, but I still enjoy my Swift Audubon 8.5×44 (launched in 1989). Although they don’t have ED lenses, their resolution is good.
The advantages of a wide view
Wide-angle binoculars give us a wide field of view at any given time, which enables us to find something in the periphery. In birdwatching, a wide view helps you locate objects faster.
However, some birders prefer a wide Real FOV with low magnification rather than a wide Apparent FOV with high magnification. For further information, please see this article: Glossary of Binoculars: Glossary Of binoculars: Field of View.
In my opinion, the surprising impact of a wide view is the only reason for you to choose a wide-angle pair. You get the impression that you are looking through a large picture window. However, I don’t think there is a practical purpose for wide-angle binoculars.
Hinode 5×21 is not technically a wide-angle pair, but its Real FOV is as wide as 11 degrees. When I looked through this pair at the Milky Way, thousands of dim stars became visible. This was when I realized that Real FOV is important as well.
The downsides of a wide view
Generally speaking, wide-angle binoculars tend to cause distortion and vignetting in the peripheral area.
Also, in most cases, the eye-relief is usually too short for eyeglass wearers. Nikon 8×30 EⅡ are decent wide-angle binoculars, but its eye-relief isn’t enough for eyeglass wearers (13.8mm).
If you want high-quality wide-angle binoculars, do not hesitate to choose flagship models of top makers, such as Zeiss, Swarovski, and Leica.
For example, Swarovski EL 8.5×42SV WB are some of the best binoculars available, which produce a sharp and crisp image even in the peripheral area even though it has an Apparent FOV of 65 degrees.
Others include Nikon’s latest models: WX 7×50IF and WX 10×50. When I looked through the WX 10×50, I was stunned to see such a clear super wide-angle view.
The Nikon WX 10×50 have an Apparent FOV of 76.4 degrees. I had never looked through such a wide-angled pair before. When I looked at birds in a tree, I felt as if I were next to them. Alas, these cost over 6,000 dollars!
As the best wide-angle binoculars are too expensive for me, I still use my Swift Audubon 8.5×44 to enjoy a wide view. I bought this pair on an auction website, which cost me less than 100 dollars.
They have some chromatic aberration because they don’t have ED lenses, but I’m happy with them.
Now, most of my binoculars have only 55 or 60 degrees in Apparent FOV, but I don’t think their viewing angle is too narrow. After trying a lot of different pairs, I’ve concluded that it’s best to choose in moderation.
Binoculars with over 60 degrees in Apparent FOV are called “wide-angle binoculars.” Wide-angle binoculars attract many people for the immediate impact they produce.
Compared to wide-angle binoculars, standard-angle binoculars with around 50 degrees of an Apparent FOV make us feel as if we are looking down a well.
However, one will soon notice that most wide-angle binoculars have downsides such as distortion and vignetting in the peripheral area.
For the best wide-angle binoculars, you’d have to buy flagship models from top makers, which can cost over 3,000 dollars!
If you are budget-minded and still want to get a good image, I suggest you buy moderate angle binoculars with 55 – 60 degrees of Apparent FOV. I don’t feel that the FOV is too narrow as long as the Apparent FOV is within this range.