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A Parent's Guide to Choosing Binoculars for Children

In an age of video games, the Internet and child obesity, getting the kids out of the house has never been so important. The great outdoors provides thousands of great opportunities for activities that parents can do with their children that don’t have to break the bank. Birdwatching, hiking, astronomy and photography offer plenty of chances for your child to experience the wonders of the natural world, and a good pair of binoculars can enhance the pleasure derived from these activities tenfold.

However, the decision as to which binoculars to buy for a child should not be taken lightly. Buying the wrong type can be bad for the child’s eyes, and in a market dominated by adult-oriented models it can be very difficult to work out which ones are suitable for children and which are not.

The single most important thing to remember when buying children’s binoculars is a little measurement known as interpupillary distance, or IPD. This term means two different things –it is both the distance between the pupils of the user’s eyes, AND the distance between the exit holes of the binoculars’ eyepiece. Children under ten tend to have interpupillary distances ranging from 50-60 mm, while most binoculars on the market fall in the 60-75mm bracket. Even most adjustable, hinged binoculars may not align properly with a young person’s eyes, and if this alignment is not checked properly then it can result in obstruction of the target image, a big black blob appearing in the middle of the users’ vision (caused by the overlap of the users’ eyes’ visual picture) or bad, out-of-focus images. Always check the IPD of a pair of binoculars before you buy them for your child, but beware – manufacturers are not obliged to put this information on the packaging.

Secondly, make sure you check out the weight and bulk of the binoculars. If they are too heavy, they can place unnecessary strain on the child's back and neck. The bulkier they are, the harder it will be for them to reach the focusing dial and other central controls. Always check that the child can operate the binoculars with the index or middle finger of at least one hand, without the child needing to reposition his or her grip on the binoculars themselves.

Last of all, work out the range of magnification needed. Many children will be unfamiliar with how to use a binocular, and will tend to jump straight to the largest possible magnification. For a first pair of binoculars, try to go for field of view over massive magnification – no more than 7x, but not less than 4x.

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