Looking through new eyes | Sunday Observer

Looking through new eyes

I remember vividly, one late evening several years ago when I sat talking to a friend in his large garden. A half-moon hung high in the cloudless sky.

‘Have you ever looked at the moon through binoculars?’ asked my friend.

“No,” I said, rather surprised. He went inside and a few minutes later, brought his binoculars and handed it to me. To my naked eyes the moon was just a small white fragment in the sky, flat and not very interesting. However, when I looked through the binoculars, it was no longer a flat half-disc but part of an immense orb, hanging ghostly and unsupported against a pale-blue background. Its surface was blotched and cratered. It looked round and solid, and so close that I felt I could reach out and grasp it.

I had a good pair of binoculars, but until that evening they were just lying somewhere at home. Now, they hang beside the bedroom window, ready to focus on anything that catches my fancy, from a parrot to lightning over the distant city. And when I go out for a drive or stroll I take them along to help keep my eyes open for objects of interest I might otherwise overlook.

New world

Today, many families have binoculars but all too often they are brought out only for a few special occasions, such as, visits or vacation trips. If these are the only times they take their glasses from their resting places, they are missing a lot.

Once you really begin to use your binoculars, all kinds of satisfying pleasures crop up. You lift yourself to a diving hawk and are tempted to try to straighten a misplaced wing feather. You focus on a low-flying helicopter - and it changes from an impersonal outline into a solid construction of panels and colours, even of pilot and passengers with faces. On a cross-country walk, you bring yourself down face to face with a lizard poised to take flight, one eye cocked and speculative.

Best of all, perhaps, is the way binoculars can open up a new world, yet, leave it private and undisturbed. One day, checking the route ahead on a country stroll, I “dropped in” accidentally, on a circle of children deep in some secret game, a thousand miles away from the dull world of grown-ups.

New experience

Recently, a friend told me of a similar experience. While touring Europe, he was scanning a snow- covered mountainside through binoculars when his field of view swung around to a nearby ridge. Suddenly, he was looking into the faces of a young couple on skis. They stood alone, hand in hand, the world forgotten. In the brief instant before his gaze moved on, a shade guiltily, my friend experienced - almost as if he were involved - the warmth and thrill of two young people in love.

To birdwatchers, of course, binoculars are a must, and many other amateur scientists find practical uses for them. If you’re interested in biology, you might want a close look at bees collecting nectar, but you’d feel uncomfortable sticking your nose only inches’ away from their buzzing wings. Step back a few paces and focus your glasses close. Surprisingly, you’ll see the bees as large as life and with a heightened vividness.

Try your binoculars sometime, on a resting dragonfly. At nine feet, through six- power binoculars, the creature looks yet more beautiful and more terrifying than when viewed with the naked eye. That hooked jaw seems ready to devour you.

Watching a cricket game through binoculars, you can switch from an overall view of the field to the tense expressions on the faces of the batsmen. In a stage drama, there is the stimulus that comes with any switch from a long shot to a close-up (a technique that movie makers use continually). Through the glasses, you focus for a time on the actors’ faces. Then, you sit back and survey the whole stage. Now, the play means more to you because you are aware of continuing facial expressions as well.

Buying one

Interested in buying a pair of binoculars? If so, knowledge of a few basic optical facts will help you select the pair best suited for you.

Binoculars range in size from pocket-friendly compact models to giant contraptions meant for star gazing. You’ve probably noticed that most binoculars are described by two numbers separated by an x, 8x42, for example. That first number is the magnification and the second number, the size (in mm) of the objective (front) lens. The size of the objective lens largely determines the overall size of the binoculars, so that the second number essentially describes their size.

Larger objective lenses allow more light to enter the binoculars, thus producing a brighter image. You have to find a balance between brightness and portability that matches your needs. Binoculars with 42mm objective lenses are considered full size and can provide bright images, and are used by bird watchers and general wildlife viewers.

They may be small enough having them around your neck all day. They are, however, a bit heavy for backpacking or long hikes where weight is an issue.

If you want something lightweight that you can toss in your pack just in case you see something interesting, you’ll want to look for a compact model. I recommend 7x35 wide angle. They tend to be considerably less bright than full sized models, but can still get you an excellent look at that cool bird that wandered by.

I suggest, you stretch your budget to buy the best binoculars you can afford because it is a long-term investment.

Remember - binoculars are always opening up new possibilities. Next time you go for a walk or a drive or a safari trip, take along those glasses collecting dust on the closet shelf. With luck, you’ll discover one of the many new worlds that are always waiting to jump into existence at the far end of the binoculars’ twin tunnels.