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Many people think of binoculars as a solely modern invention. So, exactly when were binoculars invented? Well, it may surprise you to know that their concept has been around for hundreds of years. Indeed the use of glass as an optical instrument dates back to Ancient Egypt.
In this article, we look at the history of binoculars and notable people who contributed to their development.
A History of Binoculars – From Ancient Times to Modern Day Optics
To clearly understand the modern prism binocular, we must look back through history to the first use of glass lenses and inventions like telescopes.
Ancient Egypt – Use of Rock Crystal Lenses
The idea of using glass lenses dates back to ancient times. Evidence shows that the ancient Egyptians used lenses for a myriad of reasons: as a magnifying glass, as a glass for burning, and as decorative objects.
These lenses were made of rock crystals such as glass or polished quartz. In addition, many rock crystals have been uncovered in statues from the 4th and 5th dynasty Pharoes to represent their eyes.
10th to 12th Century – Development of Geometric Optics
We fast-forward to the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries from ancient times.
During these periods, the principle and theory of geometric optics were developed. For example, Ibn-al-Haytham was an Arabic mathematician who wrote about optics. His works included descriptions and examples of a glass lens he created that would magnify objects when looked through.
His writings were eventually uncovered and translated into Latin. European scholars studied his work and furthered their understanding of physical optics and optical instruments.
17th Century – The First Telescope, Galilean Optics, and the Keplerian Telescope Design
The 17th century was instrumental in viewing distant objects up close using optics. This century saw the invention of two telescopes that paved the way for early binoculars.
The First Telescope – Hans Lipperhey
It was not until 1608 that the first reflector telescope was created. Hans Lipperhey was a lens grinder and spectacle maker.
He performed a variety of experiments on optics which included using a convex lens and a concave lens arranged along an optical axis. He found that by moving the convex lens and concave lens, the object’s size could be made smaller or larger.
He then went on to apply for a patent for an instrument that would perform this task and thus is credited with inventing the first telescope.
Improvements by Galileo Galilei
A year later, the notable astronomer and physicist Galileo took Lippehey’s idea and constructed his own telescope and looked at the moon’s face for the first time.
This revolutionary design allowed people to look at the planets and other celestial objects. The Galileo telescope uses a convex lens as an objective and a second concave lens as the eyepiece. The lenses were fixed inside a tube at opposite ends which helped the viewer see the focused object through the objective lens.
Further Developments by Johannes Keppler
In 1611, Johannes Keppler designed a variation of the telescope, which had a convex lens as the inverted eyepiece, the opposite of Galileo’s design.
As a result, the projected image was flipped 180-degrees upsidedown. However, this design provided a much larger field of view, whereas Galileo’s telescope design had a narrow field of view.
The problem of the flipped picture would be solved in later centuries using a prism erecting system and glass prisms to affect the path of the light rays.
19th Century – The First Binoculars and Optical Advancements
The 19th century is credited with the invention of the first binoculars. During this century, inventors utilized the designs of telescopes and turned them into rudimentary versions of the portable binoculars that we use today.
The First Binoculars – Johan Freidrich Voigtlander
Johan Freidrich Voigtlander is credited with the first invention of binoculars.
In 1823 he created the binocular telescope: this was still not a handheld device as it effectively used two telescopes aligned parallel next to each other (like the modern barrels of binoculars).
This binocular version of telescopes was also known as ‘opera glasses’. They allowed people to use both of their eyes instead of the single eyepiece of the telescope. Although he invented binoculars, this design was bulky, had a small field of view, and only offered low magnification.
However, this simple but limited design was soon transformed by other inventors and paved the way for creating roof prism binoculars and Porro prism binoculars.
The First Porro Prism Binoculars Is Invented
The main issue with the telescope and early binoculars was the inverted eyepiece. You could look through such a device, but what you saw was an inverted image of 180-degrees.
The Italian optician Ignazio Porro solved this problem by using a prism system. As it was named, the Porro prism system used two Porro prisms (half-cube glass prisms) set at 90-degrees to each other.
This positioning would effectively act as a reflecting mirror and reverse the path of light to provide the observer with an upright image.
Porro prism binoculars are still used today, and this design is the basis for most modern binoculars.
Moritz Hensoldt Presents the Penta 7×29 Model A
One of the first examples of modern handheld binoculars was created by Moritz Hensoldt. In 1892 he presented the Penta 7×29 Model A binoculars. These utilized a five-sided roof prism design and could provide users with standing images.
Carl Zeiss Drastically Improves the Design of Binoculars
The design of binoculars had greatly improved, and now there were working handheld models available.
However, the designs still had room for improvement. In 1846, Carl Zeiss founded a workshop that bought together an amazing array of engineers, theoretical opticians, and glassmakers.
Using their knowledge, they made many improvements to binoculars. This included using different glasses and improving the design of the prism system.
In 1893, the Zeiss Company applied for a patent for a design of Porro prism binoculars. Although this is not the first binoculars created, it is still a design used as the basis of modern binoculars. Indeed, the Carl Zeiss company remains one of the forefront companies in the field of optics.
What is the use of binoculars?
Binoculars are used for many purposes. One of the most popular uses is for wildlife and bird watching. People also use them for other outdoor pursuits like hunting and for spectating at sporting events.
Did Galileo invent binoculars?
No. Galileo was instrumental in the development of optical understanding and technology. He also created one of the first working telescopes but did not invent binoculars. Galilean binoculars take his name because they are built with the same structure used by the Italian scientist’s first instrument for astronomical observation of distant objects in 1609.
Is Carl Zeiss important in the history of binoculars?
Yes. Carl Zeiss was a German businessman and optician who greatly improved optical technology and binocular developments during the 19th century.
See Things Clearly
We hope you now have a clear idea of who invented binoculars and their modifications and improvements throughout history.
The use of glass lenses for optics has dated back thousands of years. However, as you can see from the above, modern binoculars took off during the 19th century and have been refined ever since.
Sam loves to learn about animals and their habitats. He has been a nature lover from a very young age, and has been writing papers and articles about wildlife for as long as he can remember.