Birding is one of the fastest-growing outdoors activities in the nation and can be enjoyed amid our largest cities and remote wilderness areas.
Today's outdoors page is dedicated to helping beginners get into a sport that already involves an estimated 50 million Americans.
Here are thoughts from some of Kansas' best birders.
While even poor optics are better than none, good binoculars add exponentially to the birding experience.
Magnification — Binoculars are classified by two numbers, such as 8X42.
The first is the magnification.
Most experienced birders recommend something in the 7-8X range for beginners and 10X as a maximum.
Higher magnification makes hand shaking more evident and offers a smaller field of view. That's important when trying to follow birds in flight.
Binoculars with variable magnification usually lack the image quality of fixed glass.
Objective lens — The second number is the millimeter width of the lenses at the bird's end of the binoculars. They're measured in millimeters
The larger the objective lens the more light allowed into the binoculars. That's hugely important when birding at dawn and dusk. Also, the larger the objective lenses, the larger the field of view.
Small objective lenses, like the 25 millimeters, often have too narrow of a field of view and transmit little too little light.
Lenses much over 50 millimeters can be too heavy and cumbersome.
Most birders go middle of the road, opting for binoculars with objective lenses between 35 and 50 millimeters.
Also, it's usually wise to shy away from self-focusing binoculars. Eye strain and poor image quality can be problems.
Cost — Some of the best glass sells for $2,000 or more. But you don't need to pay that for quality birding.
Most people agree you can get a good starter set for around $100. Some suggest buying such a pair and then upgrading later.
Personally, I say skip that step and put that $100 towards a set that may serve for years as your skills develop. You can get some nice binoculars in the $250-$400 range.
That's a lot, but not so bad when you consider how long and often they'll be used. Good glass brings better results, which gets you outdoors more often.
Quality binoculars purchased for birding can also be used at ball games, concerts, hunting trips and family vacations.
Test drive — Like shoes, birders need to try on binoculars before they make a purchase.
What's right for most birders may not feel comfortable to the face, hands and fingers of someone who's especially small or large.
Spend time looking through binoculars when shopping.
Find and focus-on various objects in the store. Spend a little time looking out a window if possible.
Even once you buy a set, practice often with new binoculars.