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What REALLY matters when hand held?

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Some say 10x50 can be held, other say it’s shakey, or at the limits of what’s possible. We all know the YMMV differences between each of us, but what I find misleading is the weight of the bins are never mentioned. Some 10x50s are twice as heavy as other brands. (I have some APM apo ED 10x50 that are over 3lbs, while the Orion Scenix 10x50 is like 1.7 lbs.)

How much are the recommendations we read speaking in strictly magnification terms? Or is it possible the wide range of opinions from the community come from unwittingly comparing apples (3lb 10x50s) to oranges (1.5lb 10x50s)?




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Sometimes a little extra weight helps, so long as balance in the hand is good. I have a pair of Minolta 10x50 and they are light and nicely balanced for me, tho on a cold night getting a steady view handheld isn't so easy so I use them on a monopod. My Swift Audobon's are heavier but I find the balance is good and at x8.5 are easier handheld. Higher mag will accentuate any movement so while you may still shiver etc an x8 or x7 will seem more stable as the image moves about a little less. As you said tho, YMMV, some can hold 10x and above more easily than others hence the general guidance is 7/8x up to 10x. Above 10-12x things get a whole lot harder.

Edited by DaveL59
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The steadier the views the more you’ll see and enjoy using them. Get a cheap monopod and trigger ball head and improve what you have. Any jiggle will stop you detecting the faint stars. Using a reclining seat to enable you to observe closer to the zenith also helps. Tripod mounted angled binoculars are very powerful, pity you can’t get power power angled views... guess we’re not a hit enough market.


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What really matters ?

Instrument magnification, weight, balance, grip.

User strength, stance , steadiness, grip, heartbeat, breathing

Target angle of altitude, local conditions of wind , security of footing etc.

The steadiness is a result of interplay between all the above, but magnification is the simplest, most easily quantifiable factor.

In the days before image stabilization, photographers like me had to learn how to hold a camera steady by using similar methods to those of competitive rifle target shooters and archers. We had a reciprocal rule of thumb : for a 50mm lens , most people's longest hand held exposure without camera shake spoiling the photo would be 1/50th of a second, for a 200mm lens, 1/200th of a second, and so on.

Out of habit, I still bring a DSLR to my eye , one hand under the lens, one on the camera body, elbows tucked in, back of camera pressed firmly to nose and eyebrow, and breathe out before pressing the shutter. I could manage 1/30th with a 50mm lens back then , and these days quite often turn the stabilization off on my current lenses (which is recommended when using them on tripods) , forget to turn it back on,  and see no difference until I really push the camera in low light.

And, at last, I've found a use for the monopod which became redundant when stabilized telephotos became available ... to hold my binoculars steady  !

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By the way, another photographers trick to steady a telephoto without a tripod : tie a long string to a bolt put in the tripod socket under the camera, drop the string, stand on the bottom end of the string, and pull the string taut as you lift camera to eye. It was surprisingly effective, I'll have to try it with the binos now I've remembered it .

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1 hour ago, Tiny Clanger said:

By the way, another photographers trick to steady a telephoto without a tripod : tie a long string to a bolt put in the tripod socket under the camera, drop the string, stand on the bottom end of the string, and pull the string taut as you lift camera to eye. It was surprisingly effective, I'll have to try it with the binos now I've remembered it .

I'd forgotten that one too - thanks for the reminder! Never tried it in practice, since I mostly had a decent tripod when needed, so I must give it a go.

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I seem to get on well with fairly heavy binoculars handheld, partially I suppose because I did heaps of photography using a 500mm or 600mm tele lens handheld for about 10 years or so leading up to astronomy interests. Prior to that, I spent a lot of time target shooting from my early teens up to my late 20s, so I guess breathing control and holding somewhat heavy things as still as possible is a bit second nature at times.

I'm able to use my 15x70s Apollos handheld for short 5-10 minute sessions on/off throughout the night and I'm no bodybuilder or bricklayer. In fact, I've only used them on a tripod once for about 10 minutes, specifically when I was trying to bag the Horsehead in October (close, but no cigar) I think they're around 2.5 - 2.7kg. My 12x70 Celestrons weigh a mere 1.4kg and are a doddle in comparison. Same with my 20x60 Pentax WPs (also around 1.4kg)

I had 25x100 Skymasters at first on an AZ4 with an L-bracket. That worked quite well actually, wished I'd kept the AZ4. I've hoiked the 25x100s up to my eyes handheld on the odd occasion to look at something for 10-20 seconds, but that was borderline desperation, think I'd forgotten the L-bracket one night or something. Can't say it was relaxing!

One of the main benefits of handheld binocular viewing for me (up to 15-20x max) is the complete freedom to move around the night sky without a tripod or any restrictions. However, I will shamelessly take advantage of anything stable around me that I can use to relax a bit and steady the views. That includes leaning up against my van, or rest my elbows on the roof of my car if I've taken that out to a dark site. Walls, fence posts, picnic tables, etc, whatever is around. If I really want to hold still near zenith, I'll lay on a foam camping mat, that works well. 

Anytime I can view handheld, that's my preferred option for unrestricted movement, but magnification and aperture/weight seems to vary quite a bit from person to person. 👍


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Thank you Tiny Clanger for remining about those good old days of film camera tricks. I agree some might work. My favorite one is the "space walk": hold it at the very CoG and use the short shutter delay; watch the counter indicator; and just prior to the shutter release "drop" the camera, as if it's free falling straight down from your hands for a split second. Makes wonders in low light as soon as you figure how to make it falling straight without rotation.

However, there is a serious difference from the photography here: you need to sweep the sky with binos often and the angle is usually very high. So I would look into video shooting tricks as well.

For example, I'm used to handle my 16x50 holding it as a monocular with my elbows resting on my chest one hand on the lower bino OTA, another holding its wrist. That's how you hold the ancient portable 8mm camera by its pistol-grip handle.

However, a trivial long enough stick is such a DIY no-brainer that there is no single excuse for not making one for a trivial lean-to monopod, which will improve your binos steadiness at least an order of magnitude granted. Add a single bolt and nut to clamp one more wooden piece from the side and you have a sturdy bino attachment point. Cut it and add another bolt and you have the venerable bending section to look near Zenith. It's good to mend stray dogs problem in a rural black hole as well :)

Edited by AlexK
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As said above it is a mix of many factors of which magnification is only one. Size, weight, bulk, your strength, how long you tend to observe for, target altitude, ergonomics, etc.

You are always trading something off against something else.

Personally after years going around the houses I've settled on 8x for less shakes, and on roof prism design, to take advantage of the smaller size and easier handling, and only 42mm objectives also to take advantage of smaller size and less weight. 

Edited by Paz
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  • 2 weeks later...

Personally, I found I could see as much through 8x binoculars as I could with 10x.  This is because I could hold them steadier.  Additionally, the lower power ones had a bigger field of view.

Like many, I too initially thought I wanted very light binoculars on walks, so bought 8x32s.  However, to my surprise, I’d found that compact binoculars didn’t perform as well as larger ones, even in bright light when there was no exit pupil disadvantage.  In case it was just the various compacts I’d used, I went into a camera shop and spent ages looking through lots of different sizes and makes in various price brackets.  It's counter-intuitive, but what I found was that for a given magnification I could indeed see more detail through the larger binoculars – even outside in full daylight.

The reason turned out to be a surprising one.  We're all different, but up to an objective size of about 42mm, I could actually hold heavier binoculars more steady – presumably because of inertia, it taking more force to start them shaking in the first place.  For this reason I rejected the 8x32s and bought 8x42s.

However, I've now upgraded to 12x36 Canon Image-stabilised binoculars for birding and astronomy.  I can hold these very much steadier than even my 8x42s.  They also show me a lot more, but are of course a lot more expensive.


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"What REALLY matters when hand held?"

- Image stabilization. 😜


Sorry, I couldn't resist.  Seriously speaking though, having IS in binoculars was a real game changer for me. Yes, it is an expensive feature, but with it you can just forget worrying about how to mount your binoculars.  No need to carry extra stuff out in the field. I have a relatively small pair of binos, Canon 10x30s, yet somehow they show a lot more that my hand held 10x50 ever could.  Under dark skies, plenty of deep sky objects are available, even with the small aperture. However, my favorite object is the Moon. So much fine details can be seen when the image isn't shaking all the time. 

IS might not be for everyone, but if you ever happen to get a chance to try out a pair, give it a shot!


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