The crows nest where the lookouts were was located infront and higher then the bridge, any target infront of the vessel should in theory be visible to the lookouts before it was to the officers on the bridge, that fact that Murdoch and the lookouts saw it in the same time indicates that even if they knew what to look for they didnt have the tool to do it.
Also, why did Murdoch have binoculars? It would not increase his visual distance to the horizon, only appear to bring it - and any object in the way - closer. And if it was a mere 'little more than a kid's toy' as someone put it, why would he have a set of weighty binoculars around his neck during a long watch? After all, Fleet and/or Lee could only ring the bells and/or use the telephone to the bridge; they had no control over the action to follow, which was entirely Murdoch's decision. Murdoch probably used his binoculars during the 12 seconds or whatever it took him from hearing the bells to deciding what order he was going to give. If the duty officer felt the need to use the binoculars to help him, how can we positively argue tat a trained lookout with a longer visual horizon distance could not have done so?
If it would have helped, the claim that it was atoy and etc could be true but that isnt relevent, atruck can drive for many years with one head light till one day some mistaken it for amotor cycle and try to pass in "the middle" so I dont accept the claim that binoculars dont help, it sould have been there ready for use and at the lookouts should have been instructed to use it and to report about anything anytime.
As I wrote they should have been alert and on thier toes to have achance to detect anything, its not the main issue in the chains of mistakes, its just the last link.
Ps, I wonder if the deck lights had an affect on the vision of the officers and the lookouts (backscatter of light).