24 January 2010

Handlens and Binoculars Turns One Year Old

Visitors often arrive at our blog after searching for things like "hand lens," what is a hand lens," "best binoculars," etc. What better time to discuss those things on this blog than on the one year anniversary of our very first blog post.

Technically, "handlens" is probably two words, but I prefer to consider it as one. Handlenses, also called loupes, are used by a variety of people for a variety of purposes: jewelers, watchmakers, numasmatists, photographers, dentists, geologists, botanists, etc. In my case, I use a handlens to magnify miniscule plant parts to aid in identification. Magnification from 7x to 20x is available, but most botanists prefer a 10x loupe. The most important part of a handlens is the lens itself, and you'll get what you pay for. High end optics companies such as Zeiss make handlenses that can be quite expensive. I've found that the Bausch & Lomb handlenses are excellent quality for the price (~$30-$40).

Several different styles of handlenses exist, including Doublet, Hastings Triplet, Coddington, and four- or five-element handlenses. Doublets consist of two lenses separated by air. While these are inexpensive, dirt and moisture can easily get between the lenses, making outside use troublesome. Hastings Triplets have three lenses cemented together with clear cement; this method keeps out the dirt and moisture. Coddingtons make innovative use of curved, single lenses that act like multiple lenses. It is almost impossible for moisture to get inside a Coddington handlens. Four- and five-element handlenses are more expensive but may result in greater clarity and/or higher light availability. For most botanists, Coddingtons and Hastings Triplets are the handlenses of choice.

As seen above, Coddington handlenses are a bit larger than Hastings Triplets; however, the usable area of the lens is actually larger in the Hastings Triplet.

The photograph above shows a Coddington handlens. Notice the black ring inside the handlens that reduces the viewing area. The photograph below shows a Hastings Triplet handlens. The viewing area is nearly the entire diameter of the handlens casing.

Below is a practical example of use of each of these handlenses. The photograph below shows the underside of leaves of Black Huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata) without magnification. A key character in distinguishing this species vegetatively from other members of the family Ericaceae is that Black Huckleberry has yellow, resinous glands on the leaf undersides; these are often very difficult to see with the naked eye.

Below on the left is the same leaf under magnification by a Bausch & Lomb 10x Coddington handlens; on the right is the same leaf under magnification by a Bausch & Lomb 10x Hastings Triplet handlens. With both of these handlenses, the yellow glands are easily visible (you may have to click on the photos to expand them to see this feature), but look at how much larger the viewing area is with the Hastings Triplet. This is why the Hastings Triplet is my handlens of choice.

More useful information on the different types of handlenses can be found here at Kooter's Geology Tools.

Everyone knows what binoculars are. Lindsay and I use binoculars for long distance magnification to see birds, butterflies, and on occasion, even distant plants. There are many brands and types of binoculars, and there are no "best" binoculars; each person has different preferences that will dictate what the best pair of binoculars for them will be. That said, here I will provide a little bit of information that may help in finding that perfect pair.

The power of every pair of binoculars is described with two numbers (such as 10 x 42). The first number is the times of magnification; the second number is the diameter of the objective lens (the lens at the end that you don't look through). The larger the objective lens, the more light that is let in. Based on this, you would probably think that the highest possible magnification and objective lens diameter would be preferable; however, with greater magnification comes magnification of the shaking caused by the human hand. Many birders prefer binoculars with 8x magnification and an objective lens with a diameter of 42 millimeters. Lens coatings are also important, as glass reflects light, and coatings result in brighter and clearer viewing.

As with anything, you will get what you pay for when buying binoculars. Some very high end binoculars are available, especially from outfits such as Zeiss and Swarovski. When I purchased my binoculars, I did a lot of research, and most reviews described the Nikon Monarch as the best value, considering the price (~$250) and the quality, which was not very noticably different from that of the high end binoculars. I have been extremely happy with these binoculars, and several friends have come to the same conclusion after researching and then buying Nikon Monarch 8 x 42 binoculars. Lindsay was also convinced, and recently purchased a pair for herself as well.

Lindsay and I strongly recommend purchasing a shoulder harness for use with your binoculars. If you've only used a neck strap, you would never believe how much the shoulder harness reduces the stress on your neck and back.

We have enjoyed our first year of blogging and hope that you have found our blog insightful and interesting. Thank you for visiting!


Beth said...

Congrats on your blogiversary!

Ken Riches said...

Happy Blogversary :o)

Jain said...

Happy Blogiversary! Just found you but I've enjoyed viewing the backlog!

Scott Namestnik said...

Hi Beth, Ken, and Jain. Thanks for visiting and commenting on our blog.

FYI, if you visited earlier today and couldn't get the photos to expand... I've now fixed this. All photos should now expand when you click on them.

Justin R. Thomas said...

What a great summary of handlenses. You need a photo of the "Flavor Flav" handlens. You know, the giant, silver, odd-shaped chunk of metal tied to an old shoelace. I know we all have one in a desk drawer that we hide from our friends out of shame.

Also, I suspect that loupe in your first photo is the one you fashioned out of Common Milkweed. Nice work! I like the silvery color; it's very distinguished.

Lastly, congrats on a year of blogging excellence! I have enjoyed seeing the world through your binoculars and handlens.

Scott Namestnik said...

Thanks, Justin. I honestly don't have a "Flava Flav" handlens, though I know someone I work with who does! It looks large enough that a shoulder harness would probably work better than a shoelace.

Yes, the lanyard in the first photo is the one I made of Common Milkweed fibers, thanks for noticing.

Thanks for continuing to visit and comment on our posts.

AbbyL said...

My handlens just came in the mail! Woo-hoo! Thanks for the advice!

Scott Namestnik said...

Great! Hope you like it.

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Muhammad said...

This is such an informative post. You have a lot of really great points. I wish I had this post as a resource when I started blogging.
Best Binoculars.