What Type Of Binoculars To Use On An African Safari

There are hundreds of different binoculars on the market. ​But how do you pick the best one for safari? ​To choose what type of binoculars for an African safari, the best will have a magnification …

There are hundreds of different binoculars on the market.

​But how do you pick the best one for safari?

To choose what type of binoculars for an African safari, the best will have a magnification between 8 and 10, with a lens size between 32 mm to 42 mm that are light, durable and from a reputable brand.

​In this guide, I’m going to show you how to understand these elements and pick the right pair.

Binocular Basics

​All binoculars identify by a set of numbers, for example 10 × 42 or 8 × 32. The first number refers to the magnification, the second refers to the objective lens diameter.

​How to balance enough detail with being able to find the animal

​Magnification is how close the objects will appear. So 10x magnification power will create and image that is ten times bigger than your normal vision.

​You may think that for safari’s the greater the magnification the better, but that isn’t the case.

  • The higher the magnification, the more unstable the image. Going above 10x magnification will become unstable, and you will need something like a tripod to stabilize it. Part of being on safari means you can move to find animals fast, a tripod would be a nightmare.
  • The higher the magnification, the narrower the field of view. Finding a camouflaged animal can take time. If your field of view is narrow, it will frustrate you.
  • A magnification between 8 and 10 is the sweet spot for safaris
8 X Magnification
12 X Magnification

​Choosing between crisp, bright images and heavy binoculars​

The objective lens refers to the diameter of the front lens in millimeters. It’s referred to in the second number of the binoculars (8 × 42 refers to a 42 mm lens diameter) ​

  • The larger the diameter, the more light it can gather. The more light it gathers, the clearer, brighter and sharper the image will be. The quality of the image improves. Considering most game drives are at dusk or at dawn, that light becomes vital.
  • The larger the objective lens, the heavier and more bulky your binoculars are. The weight and size of your binoculars will play a big role in your decision. If you are doing walking safari’s or carrying them for long periods, it can get tiring.
  • A lens diameter between 32 mm and 42 mm will be great for most safaris.

Getting brighter images without adding more weight

​​The lens of a binocular will reflect a certain amount of light.

​This is important because the more light getting through, the better the image. The better the coatings, the better the binoculars for safaris.​​.Uncoated optical glass: No coating will reflect around 10% of the light, so 90% of the light will get through the binoculars.

  • Standard Coatings: These comprise coatings of magnesium fluoride and reduce reflected light to about 4%, so around 96% of light gets through.
  • Multi Coatings: these contain 7 to 15 different coatings and can allow up to 99% of light through the binoculars. This is the highest quality.​

Eye Relief​

Eye Relief is the correct distance your eye should be from the eyepiece to get the best focus and image quality.​

This becomes a problem when people wear glasses to look through the binoculars as this distance becomes lengthened.​

Choosing binoculars that can adjust for this will help.

  • Eyepiece adjustment: Many binoculars adjust the eyepiece to change the eye relief. These are useful when sharing or using glasses.
  • Basic eyecups: Cheaper binoculars will have eyecups that fold back to allow for using glasses.
  • Field of view: As a general rule, the longer the eye relief, the smaller the field of view. In safaris, the broader the field of view, the better.
  • Using glasses with binoculars: The length of eye relief will depend on your glasses. It will be greater than 15 mm. Don’t trust the specs that manufacturers publish, you need to try the binoculars out.​

Making sure your binoculars can weather the storm​

Binoculars for safari’s should be durable, and should be able to withstand some pretty extreme weather.

​If you can afford it, they should be water resistant and fog resistant.​

  • No rating: These are susceptible to fogging, rust, dust and are not worthwhile taking to Africa, they won’t last.
  • Waterproof: These contain O-rings to prevent water or rain getting inside the lenses. Some are even submersible (you won’t need submersible on Safari :p) Not all waterproof binoculars are fog proof.
  • Weather Resistant: Most have an o-ring or gasket which allows you to use these binoculars in most moist weather.
  • Fog Proof: Fogging happens when the air inside the binoculars contains moisture. The fog occurs when you change temperature and the moisture condenses. Fog proof binoculars are filled with a gas like argon or nitrogen, which doesn’t fog. All fog proof binoculars are waterproof.

General thoughts from about 100 Safaris​

Most of my safari viewing is from a vehicle or inside a hide. I will always have binoculars with me.​

There is a lot of advice on the web, I don’t always agree with it.​

First, people are being advised to choose plastic lenses over glass for safaris. This advice is because plastic is lighter and less likely to break.​

I don’t agree.​

I’ve always used glass because the optics are in a superior class.​

To this date, after hundreds of safari adventures, I have yet to break the binoculars. I think that if you pay a little more; you end up being a little more careful.​

There is nothing worse than struggling with a crappy pair of binoculars when trying to view animals. I just toss them in the seat and spot with the naked eye.​

The second point about glass being heavier is true, if they are decent size and you wear them for a few hours they can hang like an albatross around your neck, they get heavy.​

If this is a worry, the answer is to get a harness. The harness distributes the weight, and I have worn the binoculars for hours without tiring or feeling discomfort. ​

The better the optics you can afford, the better the experience. ​

If it is a once off tour and you don’t think it’s worth choosing safari binoculars of high quality because you won’t use them after the safari, I would suggest looking on the second hand market. ​

If you buy a quality pair from a reputable brand, and you take good care of them, you should be able to sell them for what you bought them for when you get home.​

The Swarovski’s I own were bought second hand, and they are worth more now than when I bought them. ​


So that’s my guide on choosing a pair of binoculars for an African Safari. Now I want to turn it over to you: what did you think about this guide? Or maybe there’s something I missed.

Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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