Before You Buy Binoculars

horse racing binoculars
Watching the action with binoculars. Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Choosing the right binoculars can be a very personal thing. Many people prefer something lightweight and easy to carry, some want strong magnification, while others want a super wide field of view so they can see all the horses in the race. Here are the basics about binoculars to help you choose the ones that best fit your needs.

Magnification

Magnification is a measure of how much images viewed are enlarged.

Binoculars generally are described with two numbers such as 7x35. The first number is the magnification power and means the image is magnified to seven times the size you would see with your unaided eyes. In general, as the power goes up the field of view decreases.  The power you need might depend on the size of the racetrack you frequent.  A regular of Belmont or Woodbine may want a more powerful pair of binoculars due to the distance to the backstretch, than somebody who frequents smaller ovals like Charles Town or Hastings Racecourse.

  • 7x Binoculars
  • 8x Binoculars
  • 20x Binoculars

Lens Diameter

The front lens of the binoculars is called the objective lens. The diameter of this lens in millimeters is the second part of the number describing a particular binocular. In the example above, 7x35, the lens diameter would be 35mm. The larger the lens the better the light gathering ability of the binoculars which means better detail and image clarity.

Doubing the size of the lens quadruples the light gathering ability so a 7x50 binocular has four times the light gathering ability of a 7x25 binocular. This is analogous to the "f-stop" on camera lenses, the 50mm having a wider "aperture" than the 25 and thus superior performance in low light conditions.

  Fans of harness racing, which is generally conducted at night, may want the larger lenses.

Field of View

The size of the area that can be seen through a pair of binoculars is called the field of view. This is important to consider for race viewing since you want to be able to see the entire field and not just the front runners. The field of view is generally indicated in degrees and the larger the number the greater the field of view. To translate this into the number of feet observed at a distance of 1000 yards, multiply the angular field of view given in degrees by 52.5.

  • Wide field of view Binoculars

Lens Coatings

The optics of the binoculars are coated to reduce glare and increase image sharpness. There are four levels of coating: coated, fully coated, multicoated, and fully multicoated. In general you should stay away from the plain coated lenses as they are low quality. Get at least fully coated or better for good results.

Zoom

Some binoculars have a zoom function that allows you to adjust the power, letting you see the whole field or zoom in on just the leader. These will generally be indicated as zoom binoculars with the power listed as a range such as 10-30x50, meaning it will allow you to view at 10 power minimum and anywhere above that up to 30 power.

  • Zoom Binoculars

I would suggest going to a store and trying a few to see which type and power of binoculars fits you best.  If you don't want to invest in your own pair of binoculars, some tracks offer binocular rental.  NYRA tracks in particular offer this service to their patrons.  Have a great day at the races!