Read our Auto Focus Binoculars Buying Guide to learn exactly what auto focus means and see some of the best models out there today.
These days, auto focus binoculars are just one of several sub-categories in the sports optics world. Binoculars used to be built in basically the same way, with either with a porro or roof prism. Aside from material quality and lens size, there wasn’t much to distinguish them.
Now, there are numerous types of binoculars available: digital camera, butterfly, ultra-compact, folding, and auto focus just to name a few.
The expansion of the industry to include these specialized lineups has everything to do with the incorporation of many different activities, like hunting, birding, hiking, sightseeing, marine viewing, surveillance, sport spectating, and more.
You’re no longer limited to your basic specs–now you can find binoculars that are suited perfectly to your needs. Let’s focus in on one of those particular styles now and learn more about auto focus binoculars.
What Are Auto Focus Binoculars?
Auto focus binoculars (or self-focusing binoculars) aren’t exactly what they sound like. They don’t use computerized or motorized mechanisms to focus in on a particular target. Instead, they are already focused. In a sense they are fixed focus binoculars.
The basic idea of auto focus binoculars is that anything you sight your sights on, from about 40 feet away to the horizon, should be in focus.
But how does it do this?
Self-focusing binoculars don’t even have focusing knobs on their bodies. They don’t need them. In the factory, the devices have been fixed to focus on a point off in the distance. When you get them, all you have to do is adjust the diopter of the eye pieces to suit your eyes and you’re on your way. In reality, auto focus binoculars simply utilize your eye’s natural ability to focus in order to give you crystal clear images from 40 feet away to infinity. Pretty tricky, huh?
So why are they called auto focus binoculars if they don’t automatically focus?
That’s a good question. The answer can probably be found in the world of marketing, many years ago. Auto focus sounds much more exciting and groundbreaking than fixed focus. Now, the name has been used for so long, that there’s no real reason to fix it…except that newcomers to the optics game are consistently confused by it, and rightfully so.
Pros & Cons of Auto Focus Binoculars
As with most specialized binocular categories, there are long lists of pros and cons associated with auto focus models. For every positive attribute to be accounted for, there’s a negative to follow it.
First, the advantages of self-focusing binoculars:
- Cost — Because there are less moving parts involved with auto focus binoculars (no focusing wheel, for one), they tend to be a heck of a lot easier to make, and thus pretty inexpensive. You can pick up a pair of self-focusing binocs for much less than models in other categories.
- Ease of Use — Since you just have to adjust the diopters that one time, these are really easy devices to use. Just pick them up and look through–bingo, that’s it! Also, because you don’t have to mess around with a knob, they’re easier to use in colder weather, when you’re wearing gloves.
- Wide View — One of the benefits of the factory focusing is that most of these binocs offer a really deep field of view, giving you some truly grand vistas to enjoy.
Now, the drawbacks of these “fixed focus” models:
- Poor Up-Close Viewing — You get a nice field of view, but the close focus distance on these binoculars isn’t going to be very good. These are great for watching objects 40 feet or more away from your face, but no closer than that.
- Age — Kids and young adults won’t generally have an issue, but since the operation of auto focus binoculars depends on your own eyes to do the work, people approaching middle age and beyond may experience a certain amount of eye strain.
- Difficulty Sharing — You adjust the diopters of your auto focus binoculars to suit your own eyes, making them difficult (and sometimes impossible) to share with your birding or fishing friends.
Auto Focus Binoculars Buying Guide | The Best Models
If you find yourself intrigued by auto focus binoculars to the point of wanting to buy one, take a look at the following models. Here, we’ve outlined the three best binocs on the market today in this category.
Steiner 7×30 Navigator Pro C Marine Binoculars
Steiner is one of the premier sports optics manufacturers in the world and this device is just one of the many reasons why. The 7×30 Navigator Pro C binocs have the honor of being crowned the world’s most compact fully-featured marine specs. You can safely take them aboard the fishing boat or yacht without fear of waterlogging them, and without them ever weighing you down. Some of the better features of these auto focus binoculars include:
- Anti-haze CAT optics for the best in glare-resistance
- Built-in stabilized navigational compass
- Incorporated range finder
- Steiner’s Sport-Auto-Focus System for intelligent focus adjustment
Bushnell 7×50 Marine Binoculars
Another top optics manufacturer, Bushnell is proud to boast a vast catalog of binoculars, including several auto focus devices like this 7×50 Marine model. One of the biggest considerations for a pair of marine binocs is water-proofing and these pass that test with flying colors. They are o-ring sealed and nitrogen purged, able to keep out moisture at all costs. Beyond that, they’re also hermetically sealed for extra anti-water protection. Some of this model’s other great features include:
- Built-in 3-axis digital compass
- Included range finder
- Premium BaK-4 porro prism optics
- Multi-coated lenses for excellent light transmission
Celestron Oceana 7×50 Porro WP CF & RC Binoculars
Many times–including this one–Celestron offers you the biggest bang for your buck. For just a hair over $100, you can own these 7×50 Oceana auto focus binocs. Like all marine specs worth their salt, these guys are completely waterproof. What they have that others don’t, aside from a killer price, is a long list of special features that makes much of the competition look like little more than toys. Some of its excellent features include:
- Liquid dampened magnetic compass with backlit illumination
- Individual eye piece focusing ability
- Dial-based range finder
- Fully coated BaK-4 glass prisms