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July 27, 2018

As with many decisions when it comes to equipment for law enforcement, opinion is often split between two camps – those who see a need for a particular item and swear by it and those who don’t. That debate is true when it comes to binoculars as well.

Many law enforcement officers don’t see a need for a pair of binoculars on a daily basis, especially when department budgets are tight and it’s usually up to each individual officer to decide if they want binoculars, and if so, to use their own money to purchase them.

Still, other police officers find that a good pair of binoculars are critical to their daily duties and don’t go anywhere without them. And another group of officers don’t see a need…until a need arises, and then they often make them a permanent part of their daily equipment.

Perhaps you’re not really sure when binoculars could be useful. Consider the following activities:

  • Surveillance
  • Watching a suspected meth lab or drug house
  • Watching for a specific suspect
  • Tracking human traffickers
  • Staking out a drug deal
  • Spotting while observing a large gathering or protest
  • Establishing the range to target on a S.W.A.T. callout
  • To better see numbers, letters and words from afar – e.g. a license plate
  • Observe a person acting suspiciously without being detected

These are all situations where a pair of binoculars are not only handy, but can make your job a lot easier, and perhaps even come to a quicker resolution.

 Law enforcement officers often look to skimp on quality for cost when it comes to binoculars and opt for cut-rate, bargain-bin binoculars from a big box store. A typical refrain is, “I want a quality pair of binoculars for surveillance, but don’t want to break the bank.” However, this underappreciated piece of equipment deserves the respect, time and thought to make an informed decision and investment.

 Let’s delve a little deeper into the types of binoculars available and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

 Binoculars come in two basic configurations: Porro Prism and Roof Prism.

 Before deciding on which prism to choose, you should think about the ways in which you’ll be using the binoculars on duty. Will you be using them strictly for surveillance? Do you need them to spot for a sniper? Or do you simply want a quality pair to have on your person for whatever situation arises?

 Let’s talk about the two different types of configurations and their attributes.


 Porro Prism

Porro prism binoculars are the ones you generally think of when visualizing binoculars, the ones you see in old safari movies, with the wide hinge between the oculars that is helpful for adjusting to fit the size of your face and eyes.

 How do they work? Light is reflected off of two 45º surfaces and returned parallel to the incoming beam.

 Porro prisms are generally less expensive than their counterpart, roof, is. They’re also the kind you’ll find most law enforcement personnel using.

 A lack of internal mechanisms in the binoculars means no internal moving parts, so they’re quite sturdy and can withstand blunt forces better than roof, a great attribute to have for law enforcement when circumstances get rough.

 Porro prism allows the target to stay in focus while you’re observing it. So as the target moves around or changes distances, there’s no need to adjust your focus, another great attribute to have when observing unpredictable, often quick-moving people.

 In a nutshell, porro prism binoculars provide clear resolution, a wide viewing area, and strong viewing in most light settings, and they’re a great choice for a quality pair of binoculars that won’t necessarily break the bank.


 Roof Prism

Roof prism binoculars come in different strengths, usually ranging anywhere from 8x to 15x magnification. They are more compact than their porro counterparts are, thus easier to carry with you, but also not as tough as the porro prism, so if you drop them, they’re more likely to break. Conversely, they are usually waterproof so if you find that you’ll be out in the potential elements for extended periods of time, roof is a better choice for you than porro.

 Unlike the porro prisms, roof prisms do require that you continually adjust the focus at different viewing distances. This means that they aren’t quite as versatile as porro prisms.

 But the obvious advantage of roof prisms is that they can dial in the zoom to see far away objects more clearly, so if you are unable to get close to your target, roof prism binoculars will allow you to zoom in better than porro prisms. By simply spinning the focus on the roof, you’ll dial in the image clarity for optimal viewing.

 The Pitfalls of Cheap Binoculars

It’s easy to want to save your hard-earned money and buy a pair of bargain-bin binoculars from a supercenter store. But if you require binoculars and plan on using them for work, there are several things to watch out for.

 Be aware of binoculars labeled “military-grade.” This is a generic term and doesn’t really offer any insight to their quality. For instance, whose military are we talking about? Most countries don’t place a high priority on binoculars the way our U.S. military does, so that “military” term is generally nothing more than a marketing tool.

 Along those same lines, the old saying that you get what you pay for is so true when it comes to binoculars. A bargain pair will be of poor quality and most likely have issues with dirt and grit getting inside the apparatus and causing problems. This then leads to a circular scenario of having to buy another pair, and another after that, when an initial investment in a high-quality pair could have saved you time, frustration, and yes, even money.

 Another common marketing tool is to claim a pair of binoculars has been inspected and therefore meets quality assurances. But who inspected them? Often, companies simply come up with a grading system and label a product as inspected, and then assign an official sounding rating. But this is usually just the company’s marketing department and therefore, basically useless information.

Decision Time

Because you’re likely paying for a pair of binoculars out of your own pocket, the decision on which pair is right for you is a strictly personal one. Spend some time reflecting and thinking about your daily activities and the situations that lead you to thinking about buying a pair in the first place.

 If you need them for surveillance, the auto-focus benefits of a porro prism pair are highly critical to you, because you’ll be watching people move from situation to situation and don’t want to worry about constantly adjusting the focus. Therefore, investing in a quality pair of porro prism binoculars with auto-focus is highly recommended.

 If your circumstances dictate a need for optimal magnification to see things farther away, then a pair of roof prism binoculars is ideal for your situation.

 Remember, it’s important to think of this purchase as an investment. A well-made, high-quality pair of binoculars will last you a long time and prove highly beneficial in making your job that much easier. And at the end of the day, anything that makes your job easier is an investment worth making.

 Blackhawk Falcon Binoculars

These Blackhawk Falcons are a porro prism binocular with IntaFocus system which lets you focus quickly on fast-moving targets. They feature two magnification options, and are an ideal choice for a quality pair of binoculars that won’t break the bank.

 Steiner Optics T1028 10x28 Tactical Binocular

For a sturdy, tactical pair of binoculars, perhaps no brand is better respected than Steiner Optics. This tactical pair of roof prism binoculars features 10x magnification, making them an ideal choice for spotters and those on surveillance missions.