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2 types of binoculars that are right for police work

While many binoculars are on the market, there are only a few that are the right fit for the work police face


Only a few binoculars are right for police work

Sponsored by Steiner Optics

By Sean Curtis for Police1 BrandFocus

Although law enforcement faces dynamic, daily challenges, one item remains the same – we need good gear to safely accomplish our goals.

Binoculars are an invaluable tool, filling different roles for those who serve. I recently spoke with Nate Lombard, National Law Enforcement Sales Manager for Steiner, to sort through the options and learn how to select the best binoculars to meet your needs.

Binoculars come in two basic configurations, and it is important to select the right setup for the mission you’ll use them in.


The first configuration recommended by Lombard is the Porro prism binoculars, which generally are the most applicable to law enforcement.

These are often lightweight and gather light more efficiently since their internals only reflect light four times before they reach the eye so there is minimal loss. In addition, there are no internal moving parts so Porro prism binoculars can be built robustly. Because of the lack of internal mechanisms, the units are hardy and capable of withstanding some pretty tough forces.

Like all optics, binoculars come in a variety of powers, allowing the user to see greater distances ranging between 7x and 20x magnification.

“Porro prisms provide police with clear resolution, a wide viewing area and strong viewing in most light settings,” Lombard said.

The design enables the user to focus the optic pieces (the part you look through) adjusting them to their eyes. Once these are in focus, the user can scan and view varying distances without having to refocus. It works at viewing distance of 20 meters (66 feet) and out.

One practical application for a Porro prism binocular is having a spotter on top of a building over a large protest. This officer would only have to adjust the optic pieces once to provide a clear picture to their eyes. This means they could scan the entire crowd at massively different distances, with great clarity. Porro prism binoculars are great for observing moving objects. Target stays in focus while you are observing, and there is no need to adjust your focus as the target changes distance.

Porro prism binoculars allow the eyes to function normally and as such, cause less eyestrain with extended use, Lombard said.

The Steiner porro prims binoculars are also available with laser rangefinders (LRF), reticles and compass options to match any need or requirement.


The second configuration built for law enforcement is roof prism binoculars, which have different strengths. These binoculars often range between 8x and 15x magnification, though typically come in a more compact design.

They require adjusted focus at different viewing distances so their applications for police functions are not as broad as the Porro prism style but they are typically more compact and concealable.

Lombard said roof prism binoculars are pretty tough, though usually not as hardy as Porro prism. One of the design’s strengths is that it can focus in on nearly any range from across the street to 300 yards out.

“A simple spin of the focus wheel will dial in image clarity,” he said.

The major advantage of roof prisms is they can dial in to close distances, which Porro prisms struggle with. Looking at something small across the street would be a struggle with Porro prism binoculars, though picking out a license plate across the street would be easy. Roof prism binoculars can also reach out to normal distances allowed by magnification; you just need to dial the focus wheel.

An example of how LE can use a roof prism is a fixed location where observations might be set up. This could be useful in drug operations, gathering intel from known distances or objectives where varied distances aren’t as much of an issue.

“This comes in handy when the mission includes a plainclothes element and overt glassing is not an option,” Lombard said.

Lombard said there are many standards LE binoculars should meet, including durability, reliability in adverse weather conditions and specific features needed to fit mission parameters.

For example, some better models are capable of withstanding 11 Gs of force, are waterproof and are tested fiercely by quality control before they leave the factory.

Also, certain features could be mission critical to the specific police unit. While the patrol officer might not need ranging capability or an internal compass, it is vitally important to a spotter in a sniper team. In addition, some binoculars have ranging reticles built into them to support this feature.

Whether they are staking out a drug deal, tracking human traffickers or establishing range to target on a SWAT callout, the right binoculars can suffer the hard use of police services and deliver critical information time and again.