Hawk Watchers Chime in on Optics

15 August 2014

I thought I would ask a few long-time hawk watchers I know a question, since I was personally interested in their answer. The question is "If you had only one choice of binocular (without the use of a scope) to watch hawks with, what pair would you prefer?" The answers are below, and they are quite varied. Please feel free to let me know what you prefer in the comments section!!!! Here's a shot of my old Swift Audubon (below) from the 80's I gave to a friend in 1994 and saw him using them last fall, it made my day. And, here's a pic (right) of the old Zeiss Night Owls I upgraded to that same year.

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Liza Gray - I started with Zeiss Classic 7x42 and matured into 8x -- I needed the extra oomph for the far away birds. In terms of brightness, both are excellent. Funny thing, I only use my 8x (Leica) now, my 7x are my "beta" bins (elitist term). I don't like 10x for hawk watching because they are hard to keep steady.

Allen Fish - I prefer the Swarovski ELs 10x42 – gift from the ggro volunteers when I hit my 20-year mark in 2005. Aside from emotional value I love the way they feel in the hand. I love the clarity of view and color balance. Love is the operative word. I haven't tried more recent versions. Other people's Zeiss Dialyt 7x42 were my favorite ergonomic before before I got the ELs, but I would still kill to get a pair of those before they become too precious to use. Before I got drugged by the high end stuff I loved my porro prism 8.5x44 Swift Audubons. Mine are now covered with disney stickers thanks to the determined artistic and branding talents of my then 4-year old daughter, which of course makes them better than ever.

Pete Dunne - No scope, just Hawk watching? Then a Swarovski 12x50 EL, it's WOW wrapped in a glass...turns specks into eagles.

Steve Bauer - I would probably pick Swarovski 10x42 ELs although I still use and love my 16 year old Swarovski 10X50 SLCs because that is what I have. I actually like them better than the new Swarovskis that came out a few years ago.

Clay Sutton - I use Swarovski 10x42 that I'm pretty happy with. They seem to give me a bit of an edge over Swarovski 8x42 for very distant birds. Once in a great while, I can make an ID others can't on a distant speck. But, that said, as I get older and more shaky, I sometimes think I would rather have the 8x because I can hold them noticeably steadier...

Rafael Rodri'guez - My preferred pair of binos for hawk watching (also my only), is the Bausch & Lomb 7x42 Discoverer. Do you know why? Well, about 16 years ago I came to the Sandias Mountains, NM to learn about raptor ID and when I saw you spotting distant birds and ID'ing them with 7x. I still remember what you told me about binoculars, quality is always better than quantity (high power). That next year I got my 7x42 and spent the next 5 years happily counting in Veracruz. The wide field of view was extremely helpful counting large flights.

Tony Leukering - I'm pretty happy with my Swarovski EL 8.5x42. Reasonable compromise between power and field of view. I'm not very fond of 10x due to the restricted FOV. The only change that I might make, were it possible, is to upgrade to a newer model (mine is ~15 yrs old).

Vic Berardi - My "go to" binoculars for hawk watching are my 8x42 Leica I bought 12 years ago. I plan to replace them this coming fall with a pair of Leica 8x42 Ultravids. What I look most for in a pair of binoculars is not only a good wide field of view but a bright flat image, and also easy to hold for long periods of time. I prefer 8's over higher powers only because I can get a steadier image. Larger shaky images aren't as good as smaller steady images.

Aaron Barna - My choice is the Zeiss 7x45 Night Owls, every time I used yours when we counted together in 1999 at the Goshutes, I didn't want to give them back. Love the clarity, weighty feel, and field of view of those things!

Pete Gustas - Since the mid 90's, I have been using a pair of Zeiss 7x45 Night Owls. With less magnification, I like the steadiness of the viewing object compared with higher magnification, and the wide field of view cannot be beat for hawk watching.

Luke Tiller - Currently I'm using the Leica Ultravid 8x32 HDs. Having tried many binoculars, they fit the job perfectly. The glass is really bright and gives comfortable easy-on-the-eye views. The field of view is an awesome 404ft at 1000 yards, which helps catch both edges of most streams and gives nice sky coverage overall. Also, they are so incredibly compact and lightweight which means they are easy to operate with one hand for those times you need to scan and drink a cup of coffee at the same time!

Derek Lyon - I prefer the Zeiss 7x42mm FL T hands down for hawk watching, any hawks I'd miss ID'ing would be too few to switch to a higher magnification. I'd never go higher than 8.5x anyway. I find the 7x are bright, have a wide field, and are comfortable over a long day. When people ask why I prefer 7x, I always say that I like the widest field because you have to FIND the bird first and only then can you worry about ID'ing it.

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 Liza Gray, myself, and Pete Gustas last fall in Cape May