13 September 2021

Old Elementary: A closer look at LEGO binoculars, part 30162

Tim Goddard (@tim_goddard928) teaches you his building techniques using the LEGO® minifigure utensil, binoculars (Design ID 30162) and shows ways he's utilised them in his own MOCs.

Minifigs got a whole new perspective on Legoland back in 1998. That was the year part 30162 first graced their clawed hands across Town (this was before the conurbation grew to become City) and the new Adventurers theme. The binoculars also appeared in three Belville sets in their freshman year, although they looked a bit more like opera glasses in the hands of these larger figures.

Available colours of LEGO Binoculars

For the first few years the part was rather monochromatic. It was released not long before the infamous  colour change era, and so it only appeared in Grey/ Old Light Grey in the original run of the mighty set 10030 Star Destroyer. In theory I should have some in this colour as my Star Destroyer was long ago parted out into my collection, but for all my searching I could not find any. You will have to forgive me, dear reader, for putting two Medium Stone Grey/ Light Bluish Gray ones in my binocular colour curve collection.

Then things started to colour up. It appeared in Dark Green/ Green in the Toy Story set 7595 Army Men on Patrol. This was another somewhat infamous event in LEGO history; the set clearly breaks one of TLG’s primary laws, thou shalt not produce sets that depict modern warfare. It breaks it in a rather Inception-esque way; A reproduction of a CGI rendition of a plastic toy depicting soldiers from the Second World War. Maybe that many degrees of separation made it okay?

But we are here to look into this interesting part so let us refocus. Here is a list of each colour that binoculars have been available in and the year each first appeared.

Colour

Year

In Sets

Notes

Dark grey/ Old dark grey

1998

52


Black

1998

32

Back in fashion*

Grey/ Old light grey

2002

1

Only in 10030 Star Destroyer

Dark stone grey/ Dark bluish grey

2004

300


Medium stone grey/ Light bluish grey

2004

69


Dark Green/ Green

2010

1

Only in 7595 Army Men on Patrol

Warm gold/ Pearl gold

2014

17


Bright Red/ Red

2014

1

Only in CMF series 12, Lifeguard

Bright Orange/ Orange

2017

2

Last seen in 2018

* Black binoculars have been up and down in availability over the years and have been expensive at times. They appeared in 14 sets in 1998, 6 in 1999, 5 in 2000, 1 in 2005, 1 in 2013 and then we had to wait until 2020 when they reappeared in 5 sets.

Geometry of LEGO binoculars and connection techniques

Now we get to the good stuff: looking a bit at their dimensions and exploring how binoculars can be used in builds.

The part has many points and types of possible connection. On the base is an anti-stud for a standard connection to a stud. The main body of the binoculars comprises two 3.18mm bars half a plate width apart which allow it to be held by a minifig or in any other standard clip. The front ‘eyes’ come a plate width forward of the piece which otherwise sits in a 1x1 plate square.

The picture below left shows it’s not easy to stay 'in System' using plates with clips but there are many other ways to integrate the piece.

The eyes are a quarter of a plate wider in radius than a 3.18mm bar, which allows a recess which can accept any other 3.18mm bar. The overall width at the front of the piece means you have to think carefully about connection if you want to put several in a row right next to each other, the technique below using brackets and a Technic brick is one solution.

The end of the binoculars you would look into, being a 3.18mm bar, can accommodate an anti-bar attachment such as a lightsaber hilt. It also means you can connect one pair of binoculars to another. The clutch of this attachment is not super strong but it is good enough to be a practical technique.


Above is a range of handy connection techniques between LEGO binoculars and other pieces. Regarding the first two:

  • When the double barrelled gun (design ID 95199, Mini Spacegun W.Rib Ø3.2 Shaft, shown top left in black) was developed for the Alien Conquest line released in 2011, one of the points that saw it make it into production was this very binocular connection. Designer Mark Stafford used this additional function to persuade those who decide what new parts will be made, to put it into production. 
  • The minifigure roller skate (11253, top right in blue) is one of those happy connections that shows just how important it is for LEGO to maintain and carefully control part dimensions.


However of all the possible connections, the bar-accepting holes at the front of the binoculars is the connection that I use most often. Not only can you connect together bars in close proximity, you can also connect several together to make a track or walkway type construction, as seen on the right below.


Meanwhile, on the left of the picture you can see what you can do with 4 pairs of binoculars, 3 Ninjago lightsaber hilts (Element ID 92690 Bar 1L with Top Stud and Two Side Studs) and two pairs of skates.


You can also connect brick hinge tops (Element ID 3938 and 6134) which allows further building at interesting angles.

Other LEGO binoculars

At this point let us take a minute to look at some other similar pieces.

In 1999 the LEGO Star Wars line led to the production of minifig electrobinoculars (30304, above left); often just abbreviated to binocs by Star Wars nerds like me. They feature a nice concave back, to fit perfectly around the contour of a minifig head. The body of the piece has two 3.18mm bars the same distance apart as the regular binoculars and at the front you find a stylised light collector.

One nice thing about this part is that the bars are complete; the original 30162 binoculars have the stud hole on the back which means you cannot attach a clip at certain angles but the bars of 30304 are round all the way around which makes it possible to connect clips at any angle. The Binocs do fall down however as they have no legal connection points at the front or back which makes their practical use in building somewhat limited.

Even more limited in use are the recent Friends binoculars (52494, above right), also known as Binoculars with Stud on Top. This part is often used as a robot head. We explored the Friends binoculars piece in a previous Parts Festival and found that although it may appear at first glance that 3.18mm bars could be accepted at the front, it is just a tantalising illusion; bars will not fit. It does have a useful stud on top and anti-stud on the bottom, as well and a vertical hole for a bar, but it could have been so much more useful. It is almost certain that this was deliberate – any unusual connections that are likely to throw a young builder "off-grid" are frowned upon by the guardians of LEGO System.

Tim Goddard's MOCs using LEGO binoculars

To finish off this article it seemed appropriate to show some of the uses I have put 30162 to in my own MOCs.


One of the most simple uses for binoculars is as booster engines on microscale spaceships as seen on these two orange shuttles.


Another basic use is to put two pairs of binoculars together and that is just what I did to make the main blaster cannon on this mini AT-ST.


This beacon makes use of the connection with hinge brick tops discussed above and the cargo pod joins bars and binoculars.


Finally, binoculars are a key piece in the reverse knee joint of this Space Police walker. The picture below shows just the knee joint – a surprisingly robust hinge.

I hope this article has inspired you to look again at these humble minifig utensils and encouraged you to use them in your own builds.

READ MORE: The new-for-October LEGO® Technic set has a wider link tread: 42131 Cat D11T Bulldozer

Editor: Chris Baginski

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15 comments:

  1. Normally the sandwiching in-between plates is "illegal" since the binoculars are very slightly too thick (or don't fit low enough onto a stud) (which is why set 40448 couldn't use them as headlights like the original project did).

    But I'll never understand why Lego never fixed them, or why it's not fixable.

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    1. Interesting thought - thanks for bringing that up! In most cases, Lego has done a nice job at making parts usable in various ways and staying in system. Nonetheless there are few exceptions that make me wonder if they didn't want to stay in system or if they just didn't realize.

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    2. Interesting, is this because of the elevated "Lego" logo on the stud? So would it be okay if the stud is hollow?

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    3. It doesn't work with a hollow stud either, it's very obvious, the binocular piece simply is too thick. I seem to remember that there are two slightly different versions of it though, with the older being less thick?

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    4. Yeah it's indeed not because of the logo. It's also not because of the little flashes of plastic that they often have inside, I've also trimmed that. And interestingly, chinese copies also don't sandwich properly. Same with an old dark grey version (if it's any different)

      I suppose it's a matter of solidity for Lego, because I don't think it'd prevent them from sticking in minifig hands.
      Or perhaps they just never cared.


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    5. So no difference between old and new, thanks for the info. It may rather have been that people were *hoping* for it to have been updated when it got a new design ID.

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  2. Fantastic article. There are plenty of connections I've never considered, including the one with rollerskates and one with brick hinge tops. I think I used binoculars a lot more ten years ago than I do now, but that might be simply due to thematic shifts in my models, and also that I don't use that much grey any more and most I have are some sort of grey. I wish the red and orange ones would be more common.

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  3. Such a great article, Tim! As always, fantastic insights in techniques I haven't yet thought of. Will try to think of these whenever some greebling or odd shapes are needed :)

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  4. I never realized just how many colors the binoculars came in...
    Turns out I have all of them except the old-light-grey ones :)

    I do wish they would use the bright colors (red/green/orange or some new colors) in more sets though.

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  5. Great article Tim! I could add that a binocular also fits perfectly on top of a 1x2 Modulex brick.

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  6. Very good article!

    One connection you didn't mention that I've seen with this part is to Modulex—the holes are spaced just right to attach to Modulex studs.

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  7. Lovely article. That Space Police walker knee hinge is very nice!

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  8. Binoculars rule, and you can also put the thicker end into an ingot or a 2x1 tile

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  9. Another connection that isn't mentioned in this article is that the wide end of the binoculars has the same proportions of two studs "mashed together", so to speak.

    So while you obviously can't attach ordinary anti-studs to the end of a pair of binoculars due to the combined width of the two sides, you CAN attach a 1x2 tile to them due to the lack of tubes underneath.

    Beyond that, this also makes them compatible with just about any part with a Ø5mm "clip", such as the classic wrench/screwdriver (https://brickset.com/parts/design-4006), the wrench from the old tool wheel (https://brickset.com/parts/design-6246), or the one from the modern tool pack (https://brickset.com/parts/design-11402). The hands of the old-school Technic figures are another good example of a "clip" that size, albeit one that's quite as useful as decorative greebling or a structural connector.

    The binoculars are probably the first instance in which I became aware of this possibility, but there are also all kinds of parts that Ø5mm clip parts like these can be connected to. For example, they can be attached at "plate level" to the split-level/offset 1x4 modified plate (https://brickset.com/parts/design-4590 / https://brickset.com/parts/design-18624 / https://brickset.com/parts/design-42505) or to the "nozzle" of the 1x2x2/3 motor/camera (https://brickset.com/parts/design-4595).

    Needless to say, knowing that you regularly work with a lot of those sorts of old-school elements as well as with all sorts of fiddly and/or unorthodox building techniques like this, I was a little surprised that you didn't bring this up! I don't know if I've ever completed a MOC where this sort of technique actually proved useful, but I'm sure that other builders could find all sorts of applications for it.

    Aside from that, this was a great and thorough article, which is sure to give lots of people lots of great building ideas!

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    1. Yeah, you can't be short-sighted when it comes to part usage, here. You have to see the long range.




      ...I'll show myself out...

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