This afternoon I bit the bullet and finally got a pair of binoculars. Since I'm a novice user I figured I would go for a lower end and now that I'm home and have done a little research I'm pretty pleased with my purchase.
I ended up with a pair of Nikon Action 8x40s.I paid $74 so at least that's not too far off Amazon's price. Larry at The Brownstone Birding Blog gave me some helpful advice on purchasing binoculars, but I regret to say I didn't have much of a chance to shop around. I went to Hunt's Photo after work thinking they'd have a great selection based on what I had seen on the website. Unfortunately they did not. I learned that the Harvard Square location I went to was actually a satellite store and they don't carry a full inventory. Just mostly point-and-shoot and SLR cameras. Oh, and just 2 pairs of binoculars! I had the option of driving to their main store in Melrose or checking out the Nikons. I knew they were a strong brand and honestly I just wanted to get a pair and be done with it.
As I was saying to my friend Dave last night- I equate it with the experience of buying a musical instrument. I started playing the flute when I was 12. I started out with a 'band' issue flute- I think it was a Selmer- and once I had actually mastered the technique I was in a position where I could appreciate a quality flute and purchased a silver Yamaha. Flute World in Michigan actually shipped my flute teacher several for me to try and then I simply had to choose the one I liked, and send back the rest along with my payment. What a difference there was! In addition to the Yamaha I tried a Jupiter, Gemeinhardt, Armstrong and maybe one more (it was almost 15 years ago so my memory's a little fuzzy). I was able to play each one and actually notice the differences in clarity, tone, weight, keys etc.
Somehow I don't think I could accomplish this with binoculars in my price range so the first pair I saw was the first pair I bought! I hope none of you are disappointed in me. At least I'm using binoculars now!