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I have recently developed an interest in birding and received a 12x42 binoculars as a gift. A lot of articles online mention that 8x42 binoculars are the best for birding. How useful is 12x magnification for birding while hiking?

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They would be good on a tripod at an open shore line looking at shore birds but professional tend to use higher power for those circumstances . Most people would need to brace against something like a tree to steady 12 X. The 42 mm objective has low light gathering for such high mag ,so they will only be useful on bright days, not dawn or dusk. I would suggest the typical binoculars for beginners 7 X 35 , although I used 7 X 50. Although big and heavy the 7 X 50 are good in a dark woods and dusk and dawn.

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What binoculars you choose depends what you're doing with them as much as what you're looking at (birds). If you're hiking a long way, lightweight is good, meaning less glass; you might carry 8x25s. If you're out at dusk, you need all the light you can get, and 8x42 or 10x42 would be good. If you're looking at things a long way away, often the case with birds on or near water, higher magnification is good, i.e. 12x (anything more isn't usually good handheld, and a scope is preferable).

I have or have had in the past 8x20, 8x25, 10x25, 10x30 and 12x50. The last pair is closest to what you've got, and was bought for dawn and dusk game birding and safaris. They're very useful at longer ranges.

Things to watch out for (assuming you basically get on with them for things like ergonomics and eye relief) include:

  • Close focus. 12x binoculars often don't focus close enough for backyard birding and some hides that the birds approach very closely.
  • Finding the bird can be hard if there's too much magnification - lots of scanning and by the time you've found where it was, it's gone. My 12x50s are basically useless for birds in flight unless soaring.
  • Optical quality. You don't give any idea of whether they're entry level or the very best. Even cheap binoculars are much better than they used to be, but higher magnifications are more prone to imaging flaws (especially chromatic aberration, but also a softening of the focus at the edges).

As you say you're fairly new, there's another benefit to 12x - you'll probably rely more on visual identification than on behaviour or calls (like me, though I'm getting better at the latter). 12x allows for a better study of the bird's appearance

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