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Can you help me pick out a pair of binoculars?

I want to upgrade from a cheap pair of compact binoculars. Assuming I had a pile of money burning its way out of my pocket, would I see much difference between a pair of Nikon Travelites and Leica Trinovids? Also, are there any other models I should look at (through)? Joe Lawrenceville, Georgia

A: Well, let's put it this way: the $85 Nikon 8x25 (magnification power of eight, front lens diameter of 25 millimeters) Travelites are perfectly good for everyday use, light birding, sightseeing from the car, and that sort of thing. But, cost aside, they are in a different league from the Leica Trinovid 8x32 BNs ($800). Yes, you'd definitely see the difference in sharpness (especially on the edges) and color saturation. This model will also likely last much longer due to its superior construction. They are, in a word, superb glasses.

However, the Travelites represent the low end of the market, the Leicas the high. So, look to the middle ground, my friend. Bausch & Lomb makes a nifty little range of compact binoculars called the Discoverer Series, with very good optics and excellent construction. You're looking at about $300 for the 7x42 model; $340 for the 10x42s. Steiner, meanwhile, makes binoculars that compete well with the Leicas of the world in terms of optical quality, but at a price that won't cause a nosebleed. The 10x30 Steiner Predator, for instance, goes for $400.

In any event, seeing is believing. Find a store that carries a good range of binoculars and look through five or six pairs across the range of prices. Get a salesperson who can talk you through the pros and cons of the different models. A lot will depend on what feels right to you: binoculars that fit comfortably in your hand and across your eyes, that have controls in the right places, and that seem to offer a good balance between economy and performance.

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Filed To: Binoculars and Telescopes