Advice on Choosing The Best Binoculars for Horse Racing

Whether you are a race horse trainer, owner or a horse racing fan it is important to choose the right binoculars for Horse Racing. Click on the heading above, where Agent 74 gives an insight into what you should be looking through!

It doesn’t matter if it’s the Punchestown Festival, The Epsom Derby or your local point-to-point, a good pair of binoculars will really enhance your enjoyment and add to the day out, but what exactly makes a good pair of binoculars for horse racing?

Different types of binoculars have different features so you need to decide which pair of optics most match your requirements for what will be their main purpose – horse racing, and that goes for birdwatching binoculars, plane-spotting binoculars and marine binoculars too!

Generally speaking binoculars for horse racing will have very similar specifications to binoculars for watching sport or binoculars for birdwatching, but with some differences that need to be considered.

Size, shape and weight

Always bear in mind that you will be carrying your binoculars with you all through the race meeting, so portability and therefore size, shape and weight are possibly the most important factors that you need to think about.

Compact binoculars are obviously the ideal choice when considering portability but they may be inferior to mid-size and larger binoculars in other aspects such as light-gathering capability and field of view. So let’s take a look at the pro’s and cons of all three sizes.

NOTE: as a general rule of thumb I am classing binoculars with an objective diameter between 21mm and 28mm as ‘compact’, binoculars with an objective around 32mm to 36mm as ‘mid-sized’, and anything 42mm or above as ‘large-sized’.

As previously stated, larger sized binoculars will tend to have better light gathering capabilities than their smaller counterparts, think of the objective lens as being a window, the bigger the window in a room the brighter the room will be! there are other factors which can effect this though, such as lens and prism coatings and the quality of the glass used in manufacture of the lenses and prisms. So bear in mind you may get the same results (or maybe better!) from an easily carried, compact pair of binoculars with good quality glass and coatings than you will from a much larger pair made with cheaper glass and coatings.

The second factor to consider is field of view, generally at the same magnification a pair with a larger objective will have a larger field of view, and as we will see below this is an important factor when going racing. There are some binoculars which offer a ‘wide-angle’ capability which gives an increased field of view, a pair of mid-sized binoculars with this capability may be a good compromise as they will be less cumbersome but still offer a good field of view.

The shape (or more accurately) the construction of the binoculars is another factor that needs some consideration. There are two types of design in binoculars, Porro prism and Roof prism, both have their own advantages, so after looking at them it then becomes a matter of personal choice which you opt for.

Roof prism advantages: Roof prism binoculars are generally more compact than porro prism models with the same magnification/lens size, in addition to this the internal design is simpler which means that potentially there is less to go wrong.

Roof prism disadvantages: ‘Phase correction’ is a feature of better quality roof prism binoculars, these special coatings are applied to the optical surfaces of the prisms to correct and improve light transference, cheaper roof prism binoculars will not have this expensive coating, in addition to this it is more difficult to achieve perfect alignment of the prisms during manufacture, these two factors result in cheaper roof prism design binoculars being optically inferior to similarly priced porro prism versions.

Porro prism advantages: Because of their design porro prism binoculars have their objective lenses further apart than roof prism versions, this tends to mean they have a wider field of view and give a better stereoscopical image. In addition because they are less complicated to manufacture, lower priced models are in general optically superior to equivalently priced roof prism versions.

Porro prism disadvantages: Bulky in comparison to roof prism binoculars and because of their slightly more complicated body construction they are harder to waterproof and make dustproof. Less expensive versions are possibly more susceptible to faults and therefore require repair over time.


Many people make the mistake of thinking that the bigger the magnification, the better the view will be or the better the binoculars are. Neither of these statements is true, high powered binoculars have two main disadvantage for sports viewing:

1. The higher the magnification, the smaller your field of view (FOV) will normally be. Basically this means that binoculars with high magnification but a small FOV will enable you to see lots of close-up detail (eg. a jockeys face), but less of the whole picture (eg. the group of leading horses).

2. A second (and possibly most annoying) problem with high powered binoculars is that it becomes extrmely difficult to keep the image steady, any slight shake or movement in your hands, arms or body will be progressively magnified through the binoculars. This can be even more of a problem when you have to follow a moving target like running horses!

So you need to compromise between big enough magnification to see all of the action whilst not going too powerful to make viewing difficult or uncomfortable. So my advice is to select binoculars for horse racing with a magnification between 7x and 10x, these will be more than adequate for most horse race events. If however you do want to go that bit more powerful or are going to be particularly far away from the action you could consider a 12x magnification which will still be reasonably easy to keep still and offer an acceptable FOV.

Field of View

The field of view (FOV) is basically the width of the image that you can see through the binoculars, therefore the wider the FOV the more of the action you will be able to view at any one time without having to move the binoculars. When viewing a horse race, you are generally a fair distance from the action and the leading group of horses are often closely bunched and so the FOV may not necessarily be as important as in many other sports such as rugby or football. Nevertheless you still want a pair of binoculars for horse racing with as wide a field of view as possible in your chosen magnification, this will enable you to see as much of the action without having to move the binoculars from one place to another.

The FOV is normally given in feet at a distance of 1000 yards, but may also be in meters at 1000 meters (or it is sometimes described as an angle). as a rule of thumb a FOV of 300ft at 1000 yards (92m at 1000 meters / 6.0°) should be fine, but as I say, the wider the better, so if you can’t make up your mind between two models, check which has the widest FOV

Eye Relief

This is particularly important if you use eye glasses. Eye Relief is the distance from the viewing (ocular) lenses where you will see the full field of view. The eyecups on  binoculars ensure that your eyes are positioned at the correct distance from the ocular lens, but if you wear spectacles and want to keep them on whilst viewing, it is necessary to reduce this distance to ensure that you still see the whole view without any ‘shadowing’ or vignetting at the edges.

Adjustable twist-up eyecups allow the user to alter the distance and ensure that even with glasses on, the eyes are the correct distance from the ocular lenses. The longer the eye relief, the better for those who wear glasses - as this means that the image is projected further beyond the ocular lens, giving plenty of room to play with. If you wear glasses, look for an eye relief of at least 15mm, this will allow you to see the full image.

The disadvantage to long eye relief is that it often reduces the field of view. although if you are short-sighted or long-sighted, you should be able use binoculars without wearing glasses as the binoculars focus will compensate, this is not the case however when wearing glasses due to astigmatism and you will still need to wear your glasses in conjunction with the binoculars.

The range of binoculars that Agent 74 stocks include several that are recommended binoculars for horse racing. We have a wide range to suit all budgets but the top three that we suggest are the EYESKEY #6882 8x42 model, KONUSREX 8X42 model and KONUS EMPEROR 8x42 model. If you are looking for a bit more power we recommend the KONUSREX 10x50 and KONUS EMPEROR 10x50 models. For those that want to go that bit closer still to the action, take a look at the KONUS EMPEROR 12X50 model. We don't recommend any binoculars for horse racing or sports with a higher magnification than 12x.