Birder's Guide

DEC 2013

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 47 of 51

T here are books we read and books we use. Birders know that better than most people, I think; we may not have read every single one of the feld guides on that groaning, buckling shelf, but they all wait, patiently, for our next big trip—or just for that next puzzling creature to appear at the backyard feeder. Alan Hale's new review of optics for birders, hunters, and amateur astronomers is most decidedly a book to use. For most of us, binoculars and spotting scopes are signifcant purchases, and some of us are likely to spend more on our optics than on anything but our houses, our cars, and our pianos. It pays to be prepared, whether we're buying our frst Sport Optics: Binoculars, Spotting Scopes and Riflescopes. Hale, Alan R. 2013. Privately published. 182 pages. U.S. $24.95—softcover. ABA Sales–Buteo Books #14308 46 46 Bloomfeld, New Jersey Rick Wright Book Review termining whether a manufacturer uses binoculars or moving up to the German or BK-7 or higher-index BAK-4 prisms. The Austrian or Japanese glass of our dreams. upshot of four pages of discussion: If you Hale, the emeritus chairman at Cecan, opt for a phase-corrected, fully multilestron and veteran of more than half a coated roof-prism binocular with dieleccentury in the optics industry, is a birder, tric coatings. astronomer, and hunter. His interests and experiences come together in the privately One factor often overlooked by the published Sport Optics, a richly illustrated purchasers of binoculars is depth of feld, introduction to the science, technology, defned here as "the distance from the and manufacture of optical instrunearest to the furthest objects in ments, intended to give consumthe feld of view that appear to be ers all the information they need to sharp". As Hale notes, there is no make the right choice when industry standard, and differthe fnancial stakes are high. ent users will have different Not all of that information notions of what constitutes Click here or go to acceptable depth of feld; my is easy to fnd in the book, whose structure and prose own preference is to avoid would have benefted signifcantly from some very assertive editing. An index and a glossary will also be among the principal desiderata for any updated edition—and we can probably hope for updates, given how rapidly the world of birding optics seems to change. Hale begins with an overview of the major types of optics used by amateurs, with brief discussions devoted to such specialty products as monoculars, opera glasses, image-stabilized binoculars, night-vision devices, and binocular rangefnders. He notes that novelties like the digital binocular and spotting scope, with built-in cameras, have virtually disappeared from the market with the wide availability of low-cost, high-power, and high-resolution digital cameras; as digiscoping continues to explode in popularity, I would not be surprised to see the renewal of experiments in the future featuring closer integration of scopes and cameras. Good drawings explain the difference between roof- and Porro-prism designs; Hale also teaches us a neat trick for de- Birder's Guide to Gear | December 2013 refocusing as much as possible, and, fnicky soul that I am, I fnd it distracting and annoying to look at a bird against a near background that is noticeably out of focus. Unfortunately, depth of feld is very diffcult to test, and any inadequacies may not become apparent until after days spent birding dense brush. Brightness is one thing most birders notice immediately on picking up a binocular. Unlike depth of feld, brightness is readily measured, and Hale provides readers with the mathematical tools to do so— accompanied by the warning that all of the indices are useless to those choosing sport optics; instead, birders are urged to pay attention to the size of the exit pupil, the type of prisms, the type and quality of glass, and the coatings used in a given model. Unlike many technical introductions to birding optics, Hale's book makes a point of reminding purchasers of a range of "subjective" considerations. Comfort should be at the top of every birder's list, ceteris paribus: a binocular that is awkward to hold for more than a few seconds,

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