Digital binoculars for night or day

ATN’s new ’nocs are smart and affordable

Binoculars have always had a place in my outdoor life. I keep a pair handy in a storage compartment in my boat, in my truck’s console and in my hunting pack.

I’ve used them in the boat to spot distant birds diving on surfacing schools of fish, to find channel marker buoys and to make sure there wasn’t already a boat on my next fishing hot spot before I ran across the lake to it.

I’ve also done most of these things from the window of my truck while parked on an overlook just before I launched my boat.

And, like most hunters, I’ve used binoculars to scout the surrounding area out to the visible horizon looking for signs of game.

In more than 50 years of using binoculars it never occurred to me that one day I would be able to move a fingertip and take a high-definition digital image or record HD video of what I was seeing.

ATN’s digital Binox unit does this, and also uses Wi-Fi to share still and moving images with others through Android or Apple mobile devices.

When it gets dark, I can press a couple of buttons and switch to night-vision mode.

And built-in GPS enables geotagging and provides both altitude and speed readings.

A smooth, electronic 4-16x zoom is controlled by two more buttons, and a built-in image stabilizer helps maintain image clarity.

Still, like a camera with a telephoto lens, using a tripod helps keep images sharper, and the Binox unit has a threaded camera tripod socket built in.

The electronic IQ of these ATN Binox-HD smart binoculars is supported by micro USB, micro SD and micro HDMI ports that enable the use of 4 to 6GB micro SD cards to store pictures and videos and to apply firmware updates.

The micro USB port can connect to an optional external battery pack that increases running time from the normal four to six hours using three CR123 lithium-ion batteries cradled internally to 22 hours.

An electronic compass provides a directional readout, and all internal “thinking” is done by ATN’s Obsidian Core, a computer with enough power to handle big still and video image files with all appropriate speed.

I’ve been using the Binox unit for a few months and, as you’d guess, it handles differently than optical binoculars.

The weight (1.75 pounds) is slightly heavier than a pair of good optical binoculars this size (8.2 inches long by 5 inches wide by 2.3 inches thick).

Adjusting the eyepiece spacing to fit your eyes is done by sliding the eye pieces toward or away from each other on the housing rather than by swiveling lens barrels from a center pivot point; the Binox housing is solid and can’t pivot. Both eyepieces are adjustable for focus, and you focus them to see the internal menu and data readings clearly. Rotating the right-hand forward lens barrel then focuses the image.

Images appear on what looks like a movie-theater screen inside the unit. Data windows on the screen show time of day, compass direction, zoom level, the amount of pitch and roll in the unit’s current position, and other information in a dynamic heads-up display.

There is even a range-finding feature, and an easy-to-use menu system makes settings and adjustments simple.

As you scan the unit back and forth across the landscape, the moving internal image easily keeps up with your motion. Thanks to all the computer power, I didn’t notice any lag time.

Focusing range is from about 10 feet to infinity, and the angle of view is about 6 degrees to give you a 220-foot field of view at 1,0000 yards. The electronic zoom is smooth enough to use while recording video.

I find the night-vision feature fascinating. Its image color can be set to green or black-and-white. I found it’s easier for me to see detail in an image using shades of green rather than shades of gray.

You can adjust the feature’s light sensitivity and the infrared illuminator’s brightness from the menu, and rotating the left lens barrel adjusts the illuminator’s focus from a wide beam that illuminates more area at closer distances to a narrow beam that can reach out to a maximum of 300 yards.

When using the night-vision mode in the dark, you can see a bright image even at low intensity settings because your eyes are in their natural night-vision condition. Pictures taken of night-time screen images will appear dark when displayed on your computer’s monitor in normal daylight and will need to be brightened up by an aftermarket photo program.

The alternative would be to crank up the Binox unit’s settings to the point where its image was bright enough to knock out your eyes’ natural night vision.

As with any camera, shake can blur images even with the built-in image stabilizer, and the problem is worse at higher levels of magnification. I didn’t find this a problem when using the unit as binoculars because I get the same shake with traditional optical binoculars and I have learned to limit it by bracing them against something stationary.

I used a camera tripod when taking pictures with the Binox just like I do with my digital SLR cameras. Keeping the Binox unit level for pictures was made easier by its built-in gyroscope’s front to rear and side to side tilt readings.

The Binox HD operates on three CR123 lithium-ion batteries for about six to eight hours, and therefore requires a steady diet of relatively expensive power cells. I bought a Watson charger from a camera shop and six rechargeable Watson CR123 batteries.

I start with three batteries installed and carry the other three as spares, and this system works great. I’ve almost never had to install my spare batteries in the field, but I’m prepared.

I take mostly still images, and during a full day’s use I haven’t come close to filling a 32-Gig micro SD card.

I updated the Binox unit’s software and found it as easy as updating any of my other electronics. I downloaded the update onto my computer, transferred it to the micro SD card, installed the card, turned on the unit and selected “yes” when it asked me if I wanted to update the firmware.

The owner’s manual is online, and I was happy to see that it covers the operational changes made by the update.

All this performance comes with a surprising-to-me list price of $479. Visit for more information.

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