Brunton Echo 8X25 Compact Binoculars
Echo 8X25 Compact Binoculars

Which binoculars should we take to Alaska?

My husband and I are traveling to Alaska and want to buy binoculars for viewing calving glaciers, wildlife, and general scenery. Which binoculars would you suggest, preferably under $150? Would the zoom function be useful? Anchita Dallas, Texas

Brunton Echo 8X25 Compact Binoculars

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You have several options here. The first is how much power you want. Ideal for good “pull” is a ten-power binocular (such as a binocular labeled 10X50—I’ll get to the second number momentarily). But ten-power glasses can sometimes be tricky to hold for long periods of time—you magnify shaky hands as well as the moose you’re looking at, so the image can be unstable. So for a little easier all-around viewing, glasses that are seven- or eight-power are fine. As for the second number, that’s the lens diameter and relates to how much light goes through to your eyes. The higher the number, the wider the diameter, and the brighter the image.

Brunton Echo 8X25 Compact Binoculars

Brunton Echo 8X25 Compact Binoculars Echo 8X25 Compact Binoculars

I’m not wild about zoom binoculars. Unless you spend a lot of money, the image quality isn’t that good.

The other big decision is whether to get compact or full-sized binoculars. Obviously, the issue is whether you want to carry something big, or a little smaller. The trade-off is that larger ones are easier to hold.

So, which binocular? In a standard model, Nikon’s 7X50 Action Porro Prism binoculars ( offer a lot of bang for the buck—they can be had for about $70. You’ll get good optics and a bright image, and they’re comfortable to hold. For more power try some of Pentax’s 10X50 XCF binoculars ($90; I use a pair for bird-watching from my office, and they work well.

In a compact, Steiner’s 8X22 Safari ($100; is an excellent pair of binoculars with very sharp optics. And although the lens diameter isn’t that great, they’re fine for daytime viewing. I carry a pair in a backpack and like them very much. Brunton’s new Echo 8X25 Compact binoculars ($100;, which are waterproof, also are worth a look.

Ideally, you visit a store that has several models so you can peak through them and see what is most comfortable to hold and look through. And you can easily discern better optics by focusing on the same object and then looking at it through several pairs.

Have a great trip!

Check out this year’s more than 400 must-have gear items, including a comprehensive binoculars section, in the 2006 Buyer’s Guide.

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