CR: Binoculars

Forty-six million Americans enjoy bird watching; a sport that doesn't require much equipment.

All you really need is a bird book and a good pair of binoculars.

Consumer Reports just tested 16 binoculars.

Seasoned bird watchers will tell you that a high quality pair of binoculars is a good investment.

"Binoculars are very important. It’s kind of your interface between what you're looking at and yourself. So really, without a good pair of binoculars, you're really at a real disadvantage."

Consumer Reports recently tested binoculars ranging in price from $50 dollars, all the way up to $850 dollars.

"We looked at sharpness, brightness, and focusing ability."

Consumer Reports assessed grip, portability, and the adjustments to see how easy the binoculars are to use and how comfortable they are.

Whatever binoculars you choose, Consumer Reports says they should be durable enough to take some hard knocks and bad weather.

Also, to avoid eyestrain, you want binoculars that are properly aligned. You can easily check this. "To check alignment, focus on an object. Hold it up to your eyes. When you pull it out 12 inches away, you should still be able to see the object clearly."

If you're thinking about birding, Consumer Reports' best buy: the Olympus 8 by 21 RCI is a terrific value. It costs $60 dollars a pair, outscoring a pair that costs $850 dollars.

"But with binoculars, you're really up there close and intimate with it. You really can appreciate all the detail and beauty of whatever you're looking at."

Consumer Reports says try binoculars before you buy them. Check the weight around your neck, and how comfortably you can turn the central focus control.

If you buy online, make sure you can return them if they're not right for you.

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