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How to collimate binoculars

Updated April 17, 2017

When the series of lenses and prisms in each binocular barrel align perfectly, they produce a merged image and are said to be "collimated." Rough handling can knock binoculars out of collimation. Miscollimated binoculars produce fuzzy or overlapping images and possibly oval shaped miniature images in each eyepiece. This can lead to eyestrain, headaches and a degraded user experience. To correct miscollimation, manufacturers build adjustable prism tilt setscrews into many of their models. If prism tilt is excessive, however, or lenses are misaligned lenses, have a professional collimate your binoculars.

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Horizontal check

Go outdoors in daylight and focus your binoculars on any large object with distinct horizontal and vertical edges, at a distance of about 90 metres (100 yards).

Relax your eyes. Alternately open and close them, about every second. You should see the binoculars' image move slightly to the left when opening the left eye and to the right when opening the right eye. This slight movement is normal and desirable.

Adjust the prism tilt screws to restore collimation if you detect more than a slight amount of horizontal movement.

Vertical check

In the daytime and outdoors, look at a distinct horizontal line, such as a roof line, gutter or fence rail.

Slowly move the binoculars about 10 cm (4 inches) away from your eyes as you keep looking at the images in the eyepieces.

Check that the horizontal feature you focused on remains an unbroken straight line -- in other words, no part of it is displaced vertically.

Adjust the prism tilt screws if you detect any vertical displacement.

Adjust the screws

Locate the two prism tilt setscrews just ahead of the eyepiece on each barrel. For rubber-armoured models, pry up the rubber covering with your screwdriver to expose them. Be careful not to overstretch the rubber; you want it to snap back to its original position when done.

Remove the protective glue from the setscrew's top and insert the screwdriver in the slot.

Turn the right barrel's setscrew clockwise in very small increments to move the image in the right eyepiece to the left and down, counterclockwise for up and right.

Turn the left barrel's setscrew in the same manner, clockwise or counterclockwise, to adjust the image's horizontal and vertical alignment in the left eyepiece.

Adjust one or both setscrews as necessary, frequently checking progress using the horizontal and vertical collimation tests, until the two images merge horizontally and there is no vertical displacement.

Tip

The ultimate collimation test is to view a bright object, such as Jupiter, in the night sky. It should be well merged, with no double images. Properly collimated binoculars will also have nice, round exit pupils. If the exit pupils are oval, even with the images perfectly merged, collimation is not complete and your binoculars will need professional attention.

Always register your binoculars' warranty.

Binoculars with porro prisms have the two setscrews. Binoculars with roof prisms may have two additional setscrews, for a total of four, that need to be adjusted in sync with each other.

Warning

Do not attempt to remove binoculars' objective lenses or other interior lenses to fix collimation problems. Lenses need to be removed, properly aligned and reinstalled by skilled technicians using specialised equipment.

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Things You'll Need

  • Jeweller's screwdriver

About the Author

Henry Randolph began writing as a corporate technical writer in 1997. He has written everything from policy manuals and corporate reports to internal newsletters and intranet content. Randolph's specialties include financial, military, fitness and technical topics. Since retiring in 2007, he has co-edited the "Wayzgoose Gazette," a nonprofit printing museum's newsletter. Randolph holds a master's degree in foreign service from Georgetown University.

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