What are zoom binoculars?
They are binoculars with adjustable magnifications so you can zoom-in or zoom-out, for example, from 10-22 times.
This is different than traditional binoculars will have a fixed magnification such as 8x or 10x.
There are certainly advantages to zoom magnification, but there are some disadvantages as well. And are they good for birdwatching?
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"I went with these Nikons based on the reviews, and I am VERY grateful that I did choose this pair. For the money, you won't get a better set of glass that is as versatile as these are. I am using these for everything from bird watching, to watching the space shuttle launch. I would not trade these for anything (well except for a $1000 pair of Leupolds, maybe)." -Brandon from Florida
The most obvious advantage is that you can have one pair of binoculars with multiple magnification levels.
With this versatility, you can instantly change from low to mid to high power with the flick of your fingertip.
This is especially useful in long range viewing situations such as wetlands, during raptor migration watches, on boats and from lots of other non-birding activities such as sporting events or concerts.
When you are initially trying to spot a bird, other wildlife, or a player on the field, you want a lower magnification which provides a wider field of view.
Once you spotted your target, then you can zoom in and use the higher magnification settings to view finer details.
So why would you ever get fixed-magnification binoculars when you can get zoom binoculars that offer multiple magnification levels?
When there are some inherent design problems that cannot be overcome in zoom bins with variable magnification.
First off, if you were to compare the equivalent fixed 10x binocular with a zoom 10-22x at the 10x magnification, the field of view on the fixed pair will be as much as twice as wide than the zoom.
Also you should take into consideration that beyond 20x magnification you will want to have a tripod to help stabilize the binoculars.
It's nearly impossible to hold the binoculars free-hand at higher levels without getting a lot of hand shake - not so noticeable at lower levels, but definitely so at the higher magnifications. Most of the zoom bins are larger and heavier, but you can find compact zoom binoculars as well, typically at a higher price.
Our overall recommendation is that zoom binoculars are nice to have in addition to having a fixed magnification pair, especially for some types of bird watching as mentioned above in the advantages section.
If you read the additional reviews (over 50) from the Nikon Action Zoom pair listed at the top of this page, lots of people enjoy them for a variety of uses and think they perform very well.
Just keep in mind some of the drawbacks and that they will perform differently, of course, then a fixed magnification pair of binoculars. They are certainly useful for long range viewing, for marine or astronomy binoculars, but I would not necessarily use them for viewing warblers in a tight spruce/fir forest.
You can identify zoom vs fixed magnification binoculars by the numbers listed. A fixed magnification binocular will only have two numbers such as 8×42. Variable or zoom binoculars will have three numbers such as 8-20x42 with the range of magnification listed - in this case, with a range of 8 to 20 magnification.
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