It is reasonable to believe that humans have had a desire to perceive objects from a distance in higher detail than the Mk I eyeball provides.
With the creation of the telescope by a Dutch optician in the 17th century, this ambition became more and more a reality. Although Galileo documented the optical principles of the telescope on paper, there is no record of its construction or usage until October 1608.
At the same time that the monocular telescope was being built, there is evidence that two telescopes were being constructed in tandem, connected together and focussed (collimated) to provide a single picture when seen with both eyes. This gave rise to the binocular telescope, or binoculars as we know them today.
Early telescopes employed Galilean optics, which provided an upright picture but were restricted in terms of magnification power. Even today, certain opera glasses and lower-priced binoculars employ Galilean optics.
The magnification capacities of binoculars and telescopes were to be substantially boosted with breakthroughs in optical technology employing prisms in the 18th century, most notably the work of Ignazzio Porro. Until recently, all of the main manufacturers used the Porro prism layout.
Combining advances in lens coatings and optical production with mass manufacturing processes has resulted in ever more cheap, high power binoculars accessible today. The introduction of a lighter, roof prism configuration of the light path has decreased the size and weight of binoculars, making them more portable.
The variety of binocular kinds and applications is simply astounding.
There is a binocular available for any viewing requirement you can imagine, including’seeing’ in the dark. Prices range from a few dollars for a tiny binocular that you can carry securely in a shirt pocket to astronomical binoculars that cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Modern advances in opto-electronics and component miniaturisation are poised to elevate the human race’s long-range seeing capabilities to levels of sophistication inconceivable even 20 or 30 years ago.
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