Gyroscopic Binoculars: Do You Want Them, Do You Need Them? 

Stabilized binoculars can give you an edge over the competition. Whether you’re searching for diving birds, chipping fish, or full on foam , one thing is for sure: a good pair of binoculars will help you see for miles beyond what the naked eye can pick up. But all binoculars are not created equal. And while what constitutes “good” binoculars may be in the eye of the beholder, anyone who’s used a pair of gyroscopic stabilized binoculars knows that on some days these things will lead you to more fish than your sonar. 

Gyroscopic binoculars can help you see bluefin foamers like this one.

Standard Marine Binoculars Versus Gyro Binocs 

Standard-issue marine binoculars offer seven times magnification. Virtually all models stop there because if the magnification is any stronger, the motion of a boat in the waves makes them impossible to use even on relatively calm days. Every movement gets magnified just as much as the target object, and focusing on something miles away becomes virtually impossible. 

Stabilized binoculars, on the other hand, can cancel out that movement. And in doing so, more magnification becomes possible. Magnification along the lines of 12, 14, 16, and even 18 times. Note that at the extreme end of the spectrum, even hand-shake moves a pair of binoculars enough to render them useless without stabilization — yet even in a rocking, rolling sea, you’ll still be able to focus in on the action miles and miles away with gyros on your side. 

Pictured is a pair of Fujinon Techno Stabis Gyroscopic Binoculars

The author uses a pair of Fujinon 14x Techno Stabis, and swears by them. 

Just what does this boil down to in the real world? The exact distance will always vary with atmospheric conditions, light levels, and the target you’re trying to spot, but on a common day with the naked eye, the average person might see a few birds diving from a mile. And that’s if they’re lucky — we’ve all been out fishing and suddenly seen some birds at a half mile or so, and wondered how the heck we had missed them up to that point. With a good pair of marine binoculars, you have a solid shot at spotting them from three or four miles in good conditions. With a pair of gyro binocs with 14x magnification, it’s not unusual to spot them from seven or eight miles out. That may sound fanciful, but I’ve measured the distance with GPS more than once. In fact, it’s not uncommon to spot the action, cruise for 10 minutes, then reach for the binoculars again to reacquire the target and find that it’s still a couple miles away. 

Gyroscopic binoculars can help you find bird schools like this.

Bird-fests like this will put a smile on any angler’s face, and stabilized binoculars are often the best way to spot them. 

Gyroscopic Stabilization Versus Image Stabilization 

It’s important to note that gyroscopic stabilization and image stabilization are not necessarily the same thing. Some units use an electronic gyro sensor that detects and corrects motion, others utilize an erecting prism that shifts and redirects light to correct for vibration, and some other manufacturers don’t stipulate exactly what type of system stabilizes the views they provide. 

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All of these systems do work, but there’s one critical specification to check out: the range of compensation. Some are as great as eight degrees, while others are as low as one degree. On a relatively calm day you won’t notice much of a difference between them. On a rough day, however, those with less than three degrees of compensation can become difficult to use. When it’s too rough to use units with six or more degrees of correction, it’s generally so rough you really can’t fish in the first place. 

Mahi mahi eating bait on the surface.

Other Factors to Consider 

One downside to stabilized binoculars is that they’re heavier than their non-stabilized counterparts. Three or four pounds may not sound like much weight, but when you’re holding them up to your face over and over for hours at a time, larger models become very difficult to use. Also, pay attention to the IPX ratings. While most stamped “marine” are waterproofed to IPX6 or 7 standards, some are only IPX4. That’s considered “splash proof,” which is another way of saying “will die on an open boat run in the offshore environment.”  

As you’re picking out a pair of stabilized binoculars the mode of triggering the stabilization is worth considering, too. Some units turn on and stay that way. But some others require you to continually hold down a button to keep the stabilization active, which becomes a pain in the butt (or at least a pain in the knuckle) after hours of use. 

Bluefin tuna foamer viewed through a Sony 105mm lens.

The final consideration?

It’s the one that prevents most people from getting gyroscopic binoculars in the first place: cost. The least expensive 10x models run $600 or so, but in all honesty, 10x is pretty weak. If you want to seriously up your game plan on spending $1,000 to $1,200 for a pair of 14x. And if your checkbook is bottomless, you could spend as much as $4,000 for a military-grade unit. If it sounds like a big expense, well, it is. Then again, how much does it cost to fill up your boat’s fuel tank? Besides, the first time you spot tuna blowing up on the surface from twice the distance anyone else can see them, you’ll know for sure it was money well spent. 

Lenny Rudow …has been a writer and editor in the marine field for over two decades, and has authored seven books. He is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow's FishTalk Magazine, is Electronics and Fishing Editor for BoatUS Magazine, and is a contributing editor to several other publications. His...