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Theatre Binoculars

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Thinking about Christmas gifts - for me :thumbsup: What kind of binoculars do you use for the ballet? Or Opera Glasses as I remember them being called. I don't use binoculars a great deal at the ballet, but I do like to have a pair along just in case I want to see a detail of something - face, feet, costume.... I end up bringing my embarrasingly large binocs from home. I'd like to ask Santa for a good pair (not ultra expensive, but decent resolution). Any suggestions?

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I'm looking forward to hearing the responses to this one. :)

I've given up on those dinky opera glasses, and I don't really want too many adjustments. About 10 years ago I got a small (3.5" long, 2.5" wide when folded) Bushnell at Brookstone's or someplace like that. It was in the hiking-camping section. Possibly they were meant for bird-watching. There's a small black case. And they weren't expensive.

When I get to my seat, I open them up, unfold them, hang them around my neck, stick the case in my pocket, and I'm ready to go. I LOVE these binoculars, and I've tried quite a few in my time.

Unfortunately the magnification information has worn off, So I can't talk about that. But it's good enough to let you focus on detail, which is something I enjoy especially. The only problem, if I'm sitting close, is that I sometimes can't get the dancer's entire body -- with extension -- in my field of vision. But I've traded that off for all the other advantages.

:thumbsup: Travel hint you don't usually find in the guide books: I pack my opera glasses for all vacations, whether or not I think they'll be ballet, opera, theater, etc.. You never know what will be playing when you get there.

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If you are willing to go to the low high-priced level (just under $300), I find the Zeiss Classic B T* P* Compact 8x20 to be exceptional. They are incredibly light-weight, 6 oz, collapsible. 6.6 degrees angle of view (pretty ideal for ballet houses). The sharpness and color-correction are remarkable for the price and size. They also can be balanced perfectly for a person with one near- and one far-sighted eye! The extreme low weight means you can easily watch a full act without fatigue. While it may seem expensive, one series in the Dress Circle instead of the Grand Tier (forgive the Met-Speak), will pay the difference, and for the rest of your life you'll reap the benefits.

Some people may have trouble with unsteady hands, so that the image jiggles badly with normal binoculars. They may find that image stabilizer models will work for them. While these are generally very (four figures) expensive and weigh a few pounds, Canon makes a model that is 8x25, 6.6 degrees, weighs barely over a pound and costs just $250. Certainly worth checking out if you've got that problem.

Many binoculars now come with built-in video or digital photo, many models by Bushnell in the $45-200 range. With proscriptions against taking pictures, how do theaters deal with these (most are easy to spot)?

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I think the magnification you want depends on where you generally sit. I tend to sit pretty far from the stage, and my glasses, at 8X 35 suit me very well. I don't think they make glasses with that wide a field of vision any more -- too bad. I'd be happy to go down to 7x magnification, but not up to 9x. I think at that point, it would probably be hard to see very much.

Mine came with a skinny nylon strap that allows me to hang the glasses around my neck or over my shoulder.

I agree with drb on the importance of one adjustable lens -- or diopter. Beyond compensating for different vision between your eyes, it functions as a fine-tuner. Make sure your model has this feature.

Editing to add: You can find the recommendations of others -->here.

Edited by carbro
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FYI, the numbers 8x35 do not tell you the width of the "field of vision". In this example, the 8 is the "times" magnification level. Personally I find 7 or 8 just about perfect (unless you sit way back). 10 is ususally too much for ballet (movement). Also the higher the magnification, the harder it is to not have the image shake. 6,7,8 are relatively easy to hold still; 10 is definitely not. Now the 8 or 10 is related to width of field because the more magnification there is, the less an area you can see. However, optics can be designed to have less or more width of field at the same power level. Look for the width of field as expressed in degrees (the higher, the wider) in the detailed specs. Some binocs are designed especially to give wide field and often have a "W" in the model number or use the word "wide" in the model name. The wider the better for ballet IMO. The "35" in this example refers to the size of the objective lens (the non-eye end). This is important in terms of how much light the binocs capture. The bigger the objective lens (the higher this number) the more light will be captured. For ballet it is not necessary to capture a lot of light since the subject is well lit. (For watching birds, some folks need to capture lots of light; night sky watching obvously needs to capture lots of light too). Since you don't need much light, you can get the much smaller 8x20 (or smaller even) types instead of the normal 8x35 or the bigger 8x50s. Incidently, in the overall binocs world 7x35 is considered the most all round standard. "Exit pupil" can be important to some people too. Small exit pupils can be hard to use. (I leave it to the "student" :D to research this.)

One last comment......it is not possible to get decent binocs cheaply. Most "opera glasses" are horrible. The Bushnells etc of the world in the less than $100 class work, but present a very poor image (fuzzy, especially at the edges; and rainbow and other color distortions). As mentioned above, if you want binocs you will really enjoy, you need to spend several hundred dollars ($200-300 will probably get the job done; after $600 you are probably getting more than you need; you can spend thousands if you are so inclined). If you only occasionally take a quick look, the sub-$200 ones, or even the sub-$100 ones, can be satisfactory, but if you really watch a dancer for a while, you will grow to hate the cheap ones.

www.binoculars.com is worth going to to get educated and price compare btwn models. Their prices aren't bad either.

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One last comment......it is not possible to get decent binocs cheaply. Most "opera glasses" are horrible. The Bushnells etc of the world in the less than $100 class work, but present a very poor image (fuzzy, especially at the edges; and rainbow and other color distortions).

This is why I gave up quickly on the pair I was sent for renewing my subscription to Opera News. :D

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Another thing. Most "opera glasses" are not binoculars, but field glasses, which are just a pair of low-power telescopes mounted side-by-side. They make it very tricky to get a single-image view as afforded by binoculars, and usually have a lot of distortion. The Met would be better advised to give away stereo ear trumpets, which would be at the same level of technology as field glasses. I love the little Zeisses.

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One last comment......it is not possible to get decent binocs cheaply. Most "opera glasses" are horrible. The Bushnells etc of the world in the less than $100 class work, but present a very poor image (fuzzy, especially at the edges; and rainbow and other color distortions). As mentioned above, if you want binocs you will really enjoy, you need to spend several hundred dollars ($200-300 will probably get the job done;
Mine I'm sure were under $100 and hae always seemed fine to me. Ghastly thought: I've used them so long that I may just be used to looking at an imperfect image. You've convinced me to have a look at leaste at more expensive versions. Thanks for that information.
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Mine I'm sure were under $100 and have always seemed fine to me.

And maybe they are. Like so many things it's all in the eye of the beholder. I tend to be a little persnickety when it comes to technology. Significant imperfections tend to bother me. If one is easy going and can see past the 20% in order to enjoy the 80%, the cheaper binocs might do fine. But again like most things, if you start comparing you may find that what was once satisfactory is no longer so.

The higher cost I've invested in a good pair pays off for me because: first, I go to quite a few performances and I always use them a lot; and second, I love the experience that when I look thru the binocs, I give up nothing in terms of a visual experience. IOW, the image I see with the binocs is as clear and undistorted as the image is when using just my eyes......there is no "stepping down" that I have had to grow to expect. For me that is worth the cost. YMMV.

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I have used a series of under a hundred binocs with mixed results. We don't sit in the orchestra and being not close you can't see detail as in facial expressions or fingers and hands and so forth. This is important because when you do see this level of detail, you can see how much the dancers and choreographer focus ON the smallest details.

On the other hand, sitting up and back you get to see the wonderful broad shapes and forms and especially the spacial aspects which you completely miss with binocs. I often want to be seeing the detail AND the broad perspective at the same time and this is frustrating. I can't imagine going to ballet or opera and sitting up in the balconies without them.

I will treat myself to a quality pair for my next birthday. Cheap ones don't even last.

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SanderO............ :clapping::clapping::(

I've been fighting that for 40 years! Sometimes I sit close (my favorite) to enjoy the individual dancers; other times I sit back to see the "wonderful broad shapes and forms" as you call them (especially if it's Mr B). Either way I feel I'm missing something. In recent years my solution has been to throw caution to the wind and simply go 3 or 4 times sitting in different sections. No matter where I sit however I always find use for my binoculars.

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I have been using my Bushnell Xtra-Wide (900 ft FOV (field of view) 4 x 21 binoculars for a long time and I find them to be excellent for ballet performances. I wear "progressive" lenses and have never had any problems with these binoculars...and do find them quite sharp. They are auto focus, don't weigh very much and, although not expensive, they are very good. From Bushnell's site it seems they make a newer version... Bushnell Xtra-wide. I bought my first pair at the shop under the NY State Theatre. :(

Naturally where one is sitting will have an impact on the use of any binoculars... In the past I used to sit in the orchestra, but on December 8th I'll be sitting in the Third Ring of the NY State Theatre and we'll see what we think.

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Thought I would report back that yesterday I purchased the binoculars that I previously asked your help in selecting. I visited B&H Photo in NYC armed with my research from BalletTalk! I tried the Zeiss 8x20 BT Classic Pocket priced at $290. They were incredibly small and light (maybe even too small) with excellent clarity. I do have a shaky hand problem and the Zeiss didn't have an image stabilizing feature so I then tried the Canon 8x25 at $250 that does have this feature. They were considerably larger but not too heavy. I actually didn't feel that the image stabilizer helped all that much and it's necessary to keep compressing the button in order to use the feature. The sales associate told me that an automatic image stabilizer typically comes on only larger binocs. He was immensley helpful, by the way, and I was glad I hadn't purchased anything online. (I had nothing but trouble trying to open the binoculars.com website.) He even showed me the proper way to hold the binocs for maximum steadiness - who knew I'd been holding them incorrectly all these years! Then he asked me to try another pair - a 6x30 "wide" Leupold Yosemite coming in at 17 oz for $85. I felt the clarity was very very good, it was light enough to hold, and the price was right - sold! The first time I'll give them a good try will be when the Kirov performs at City Center in April - I'll be in the nosebleed section with my new binocs at the ready!

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Does someone have opera glasses that are sold at Royal Opera's shop ? If yes, are you happy with them ?


Thank you

The glasses in the picture look like mine, which were a gift to me about 20 years ago. They have got 2.5 magnification.

(I had previously bought some Pentax binoculars which I think were 7x25. They were brilliant - adjustable eye and small and lightweight - but I found them too powerful for most of the theatres I go to (I think our theatres are smaller than the ones in the US)).

I have found these opera glasses ideal for me, although as I tend to sit on the front row of the stalls these days I very rarely use them. The one thing they do not have is an adjustably eye but it didn't seem to matter as much possibly because of the lower magnification.

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Barbara, I'm glad you found the binos you like. Looks like you made an excellent choice at an excellent price (I notice that they list for $115 and are usually sold for $99, so $85 is a sweet deal -- likely hard to get outside of NYC). You were likely able to keep the price down and the quality up by buying a quality brand (Leupold) at a lower power that uses porro prisms (give the binos that traditional "shouldered" look) instead of roof prisms (straight look), and you probably gave up fancy lens coatings (which you don't need anyway in a dark setting with a well lit subject).

I sometimes watch half a ballet thu my binos. Since I see each performance more than once, I can indulge my bino-habit on the 2nd or 3rd performance without missing the overall ballet. A good pair can open up a whole other way to "watch" a ballet rather than just using them to occasionally glance thru to check something out. Sometimes if I watch an entire PdD thru the binos for example, I feel like I'm on the floor next to them, in a studio, like a ballet master might be.

Have fun!

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He was immensley helpful, by the way, He even showed me the proper way to hold the binocs for maximum steadiness - who knew I'd been holding them incorrectly all these years!

Barbara: could you tell us the "correct" way to hold the binocs? Perhaps more than one of us has been doing it wrong for years.

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Certainly! I was basically holding them with my fingertips. He told me to hold them with the palms of the hands, resting the index fingers against (or near) your eyebrows and resting the thumbs against (or near) your cheekbones. Also keep your elbows in toward the chest. This method seemed to give me much more control over my shakiness.

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On the broader topic of the use of binocs, what are other "looking at" with the increased magnification of vision?

Do you look at faces, feet, hands... costume details.. all of the above.

Does the stage make look odd under such magnification?

I find that without binocs and sitting back, I cannot read facial expressions and this is something I realize I don't want to miss in some ballets... such as Manon or R+J... other ballets the binocs provide way too narrow a view and I feel you miss the big picture like the wonderful corps work in Giselle or Swan Lake.

Which ballets do you feel binocs make a real difference to the experience and which ones can you do without them?

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On the broader topic of the use of binocs, what are other "looking at" with the increased magnification of vision?

Inspired by this thread, I just ordered a pair of Russian 5x30 wide angle binoculars--one of the hunting or butterfly (like Nabokov at the Ballet Russes) types--and hopefully they'll arrive in time for the San Francisco Ballet Gala next week.

That said, I do have some reservations about using them. Binoculars tend to compress everything, and pull everything into one plane. And the interaction bewtween dancers gets left out.

Also I feel that when I put them to my eyes, I'm leaving the communal experience of watching ballet and am watching television instead, or jumping into my car while others are riding the bus.

From what I've observed of the actions of most binoculars people, they occasioally check up on what the soloists are up to, or on some member of the corps whose identity they are not sure of, and after this they pass them over to a companion. Or--most discreetly, as if in a 19c novel--on some member of the audience across the way.

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