Updated: Jan 30
If you have not read our first post on this subject, we left off discussing the importance of optics.
Below are some recommendations for setting up your first glassing kit from good to better to best.
Of course, you can mix and match as your budget allows and don’t be afraid to buy used glass if you can physically inspect it or if buying online you can return it. Also, everyone has their own favorites so just realize these are OUR recommendations and something else might work better for you.
For your first set up or even if you are just upgrading your current kit, go with the best binocular you can afford and later, if you want to, you can add a spotting scope or higher power binocular like the Swarovski 12x EL or 15x SLC. It's much easier, especially for beginners or casual glassers/hunters to use a binocular. The depth of field is greater as-is the field of view and clarity.
Here are some examples of good combinations for those looking to buy their first glass and tripod setup or upgrading your current combination. We will be diving into each of these components separately later on.
Good - 10x42 or 10x50 Vortex Viper HD binocular or GPO Passion 10x42 binocular, Vortex binocular tripod adapter, aluminum or carbon Vortex, Vanguard Tripod with a Manfrotto or SLIK fluid pan head.
Better - 10x42 or 10x50 Vortex Razor HD or Zeiss Conquest, Outdoorsman's tripod adapter, aluminum or carbon Manfrotto or SLIK tripod with a Manfrotto, SLIK or Sirui VA-5 tripod head.
Best- 10x42 or 10x50m Swarovski SLC or EL, Vortex UHD, Zeiss Conquest 10x42 binocular, Outdoorsman tripod adapter and stud, Manfrotto, SLIK, Promaster or Outdoorsman’s carbon tripod, Manfrotto, SLIK, Sirui VA-5 or the Outdoorsman and Pan head.
Minimum recommendations - If you are looking at getting your first set up and maybe you can only afford one piece of glass to start out, I highly recommend a 10x42 or 10x50 binocular from one of the better MFG like Zeiss, Leica, Swarovski or the higher end Vortex (Viper HD, Razor or the new Razor UHD).
Let's break each component down with some "do's and don'ts" when selecting which product to purchase.
Rule number 1 - AVOID THIS AT ALL COST. The first thing you need to do is eliminate any tripod that has legs like this (see picture below). The extra supports that attach the center column to the legs is a deal breaker. You need to be able to “wrap” the tripod around you in order to get the most stable and comfortable base for your glass.
Next you need to decide between aluminum and carbon. The aluminum is still my favorite and I believe that it provides a sturdier base with less vibrations. This is because the aluminum is slightly heavier and weight helps eliminate vibrations from the wind. The carbon tripods are getting better and better though and will give you a lighter overall package most of the time.
Height - You will also need a tripod that is tall enough to stand behind and glass. While we will ALWAYS sit down to glass if possible, it's not always practical and you have to stand. The worst part about standing is that you need to extend the legs out which decreases stability and increases the movement you will see in the binoculars and even worse in high power binoculars and spotting scope.
Sometimes you even need to extend the center post which is makes it even worse. You will need to decide for yourself if the extra weight of a tall tripod in your pack is worth the better sight picture you will get by not having to extend that center post. Just remember, with that center post extended, glassing in any sort of wind above 8 mph is going to be difficult.
At first glance, most tripods seem pretty much the same. 3 legs that adjust for angle and height, a center post and a base with a screw to attach the head, but lets look at some features that can differ between brands.
Leg extensions - Lever or screw?
This is a personal preference and we don't have a hard core preference for either style but I personally prefer the lever style of adjusting leg extension. Both types have their pros and cons.
I feel the levers are quicker to set up and easier to make small adjustments once you are settled in. They do stick out on the side and tend to catch on brush, etc when hiking. They can be prone to working loose if you don't do a little pre-scouting inspection and tighten up the adjustment bolts once in a while.
The twist type leg adjustments more slim lined and won't catch on brush and can be a little quieter. They can be a little more sensitive to grit and dirt getting inside the twisting mechanism and are a little harder to make fine adjustments with. This might not seem like a big deal but once you start glassing a lot you will realize that you make a lot of adjustments to your tripod in order to get into a comfortable position.
Lever style Manfrotto Field Optics carbon with twist legs
Number of sections.
Another thing to consider is the number of leg sections. The two examples above are both 3 section tripods. They have the main legs at the top, then two more extendable sections below.
Below is a 4 section Manfrotto Be Free tripod with twist leg locks.
Pros - Can compact down to a smaller size. More adjustment possibilities.
Cons - More locking mechanisms mean more chances for failure. Bottom sections are usually very thin and not sturdy.