Thursday, November 13, 2008

Finding The Best Tripods and Mounts For Your Binoculars

by Derek Robinson

Many mounts are available for all your birdwatching and astronomy needs, and options vary widely to accommodate the particular optical device you use. Inevitably, selecting the right mount or tripod means finding a compromise between weight, size, and stability. While stronger, heavier mounts will obviously provide more strength for larger sets, some trades are made in terms of convenience and portability.

Bushnell offers a number of binocular accessories including tripods which come in a wide range of price points and specialties. While some are meant to be mounted on a table, others are best placed on the ground. There are even car window mounts for when you don't want to leave the vehicle. Their table top tripod is only 9 inches tall, with a weight of only 1 lb, and a price less then $20. This could be an excellent Christmas gift for that friend who has everything, and can easily be placed on a patio table or picnic table for convenient, portable outside use.

Field tripods are larger, and while you want to keep them reasonable for carrying, they also tend to offer a little more strength for larger spotting scopes and binoculars. For example, Bushnell binoculars field tripods offers a maximum height of only 3 feet, although it has three leg sections so you can adjust it to the height you need up to those 3 feet. It still weights in at only 1 lb, and is a birdwatcher's favorite for portability and strength. At less than $60 it is also another great option for Christmas gift-giving.

Apart from size, smooth operating tripod heads are a necessity for birdwatching. You just don't want to be fighting to turn the head around the right way when that rare bird appears, so it's important to have a reliable head that will move smoothly. It will also be worth it to spend some time working with the head in advance to determine it's range of movement and how best to manipulate it while keeping it in control. That way you won't be wildly whipping it around to catch that endangered raptor, hoping to get it set up properly before it's too late.

If you use more than one set of binoculars or other optical devices, there are mount adapters available that allow you to use any set of binoculars of any brand on your existing mount. In using one, you can quickly and easily set your binoculars on a tripod even when you usually use them in-hand. If you have giant lenses this would be particularly useful when you want to survey a large area while birdwatching over extended periods. It could also be useful for hunters who want to set up camp and watch moving herds at dusk, and those who may use their existing night vision binoculars for surveillance during neighborhood watch.

Some mounts for astronomical purpose add even more exciting features. While these can improve your experience considerably, naturally they add weight and size and may only be reasonable when you plan to set up a scope that can be left in place. These mounts are usually bigger and heavier, and may be used on your patio or even if you just plan to set them up in one spot and leave them there for the night. For example, Oberwerk binoculars offer a mirror mount for giant binoculars used to stargaze. This sets up more like a microscope, as you mount the binoculars so they point at the mirror. The night sky is reflected in the mirror then up through the binoculars. Ultimately you end up looking down diagonally, rather than up through the binoculars. For some this angle is much more comfortable, particularly with telescope binoculars or giant binoculars. These larger optical devices can be uncomfortable to use when pointed diagonally up rather than down. When you're using them for long periods of time, the right mounting device certainly enhance your comfort.

That said, you will want to be careful handling such mounts, not only because they are heavy, but because the added glass can be fragile. You wouldn't want to drop one of these mounts once you have invested in one. With a price range of about $170-220, this can be a great option, provided you have a deck or other permanent mounting area.

While choosing mounts takes a little extra time, and certainly incurs some added investment, it can be a big difference towards enjoying birdwatching or stargazing. Nobody wants to end up with a neck or arm ache from holding optical devices up, nor from struggling to keep binoculars trained on an image. Do take the extra time to consider your mount options, as it can help you gain hours of enjoyment with your giant binoculars, night vision binoculars, or rangefinders.

About the Author

Derek Robinson is a keen outdoorsman who contributes regularly for many websites including The Binocular Site which is the premier consumer site about binoculars, monoculars, spotting scopes and much more at

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