Gear Guy

10x50 Action EX     Photo: courtesy, Nikon

Q:

Would you get binoculars or a spotting scope for tracking wolves?

I'm going to track and observe wolves in Yellowstone in March with a group of biologists. Do you recommend binoculars and/or a spotting scope? What models? My budget is mid-range, from $250 to $750. Kristy Hudson, Illinois

A:That’s an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, binoculars offer the advantage of being easily handheld, at least up to the ten-power range. Spotting scopes usually offer more power, but are much more difficult to handhold and almost always require a tripod.

So, in my usual Solomonic wisdom, I offer this advice: Both. I’d get a decent-quality pair of very compact binoculars for general-purpose viewing (i.e., scanning the Lamar Valley hillsides for signs of a pack), then purchase a spotting scope and tripod for extended, detailed viewing over long distances.

For instance, Steiner’s 8x22 Predator binoculars offer above- average optics and waterproof construction for about $150—a very good buy (www.steiner-binoculars.com). And they fit easily into a pocket. The only time they might let you down a little is during dawn or dusk viewing, as the lens diameter is slightly narrow, so less light hits the eye. But most compact binocs run between 22 and 25 millimeters for lens diameter, and you don’t gain much by going to a slightly wider lens. The option is to get a pair of full-sized binoculars such as Nikon’s 10x50 Action EX binoculars ($180; www.nikonusa.com). But those might be more than you want to lug around.

For a scope, the Bushnell Browning 65-millimeter ED scope offers an eyepiece with 15 to 45x zoom capability and waterproof construction. And it comes with a tabletop tripod. Price is $400 (www.bushnell.com), so even if you buy a pair of binoculars you’re still within your price range. Fujinon’s Super 60 scope offers fabulous optics and a fixed magnification of 25 power. And, it’s available in either angled or straight-through design, depending on your preference (the angled view lets you tilt your head forward to look slightly down into the eyepiece—perhaps more comfortable for extended wolf-watching). Cost is $500 (www.fujinon.com). It’ll need a tripod; Bogen’s 718B is a fine lightweight tripod for only $90, and comes with a three-way tilt head (www.bogenimaging.us). Might sound like a lot, but the Fujinon/Steiners/Bogen goodie bag comes in at about $750, so you’re right on target=!

Make things clearer by checking out Outside Online’s Binoculars Buying Guide.

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