It may seem like a strange notion to those who have never done it before, but buying a great pair of binoculars takes quite a bit of research and knowledge. Just like anything else, a quality pair of binoculars will provide you with a lot better images than buying a cheap pair from a discount store. As technology has improved, binoculars have become more modern and have improved in quality. Nevertheless, there are still some basic features that you should look for in a pair of binoculars, and this is what we will explain first. We hope that this guide is useful to you in finding the perfect pair of binoculars for your needs.
Table of Contents
- My #1 Recommendation
- What to Look For in a Pair of Binoculars
- The Best Binocular Brands
- Best Binoculars for Hunting
- Best Binoculars for Birding
- Best Compact Binoculars
- Best Astronomy and Stargazing Binoculars
- Best Binoculars for Safaris
- Best Binoculars for Kids
- Best Binoculars with Built in Camera
- Best Rangefinder Binoculars
- The Best Binoculars for the Money
- Best Binoculars for Under $100
- Best Binoculars for Under $200
- The Best Binoculars on the Market
My #1 Recommendation
Choosing just one pair of binoculars to crown as my number one pick is a difficult thing to do. But if you made me do it, I would choose the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10×42 Binocular. These guys are tough as nails and give an excellent picture quality. They have the perfect magnification and field of view for a general pair of binoculars that could be used for everything from hunting to bird watching. And if you don’t trust my opinion, there are hundreds of positive reviews to back it up.
What to Look For in a Pair of Binoculars
One of the most important things that you will look for in a pair of binoculars is the magnification. This is a no-brainer, as binoculars are tools used to magnify objects that are various distances away.
Generally, a pair of binoculars can be described by two very important numbers. The first is magnification, and the next is objective lens diameter. The magnification will usually appear as 8X, 10X, or even higher. When a pair of binoculars has a magnification of 10X, it means that you will be able to see a distant object 10 times larger than you would if you were not using binoculars. For example, if you are viewing something that is 500 yards away, it will appear as if it were only 50 yards away. Magnification is often the most important thing that a buyer will look for in a pair of binoculars.
Next to the magnification number, you will usually see the measurement of the objective lens’s diameter. So typically, you will see the numbers like this: 10 X 42. The 10 is the magnification, while the 42 means that the objective lens diameter is 42 millimeters. Lens objective size is very important, as larger lenses collect more light than smaller lenses. This means that objects will appear brighter in binoculars that have larger lenses. Furthermore, the size of the objective lens will greatly affect the field of view you will have, which we will discuss next.
To the casual buyer, it may be easy to think that the higher the magnification of a pair of binoculars, the better it is. This could not be further from the truth, however, as different needs call for different magnifications. High magnifications do not look as bright as lower magnifications, and slight hand movements will make your image jerk very easily. Furthermore, your field of vision will be greatly reduced the higher you zoom in on an object. This is why you should take into consideration what you will be viewing before you buy. Most users can get by with a pair that is 8X. If you plan on star gazing, then you may consider getting a 10X pair. We will discuss the optimal binoculars for different viewing uses later in the guide.
Now we will move on to the concept of “field of view”. What this means is simply the amount of area that you are able to see when you are looking through your binoculars. The magnification of your binoculars as well as the diameter size of your objective lens will affect your field of view. For example, a pair of binoculars that is 8 X 42 will have a larger field of view than a pair that is 10 X 42 because higher magnifications decrease the area that you can see. Alternately, if you are comparing binoculars and they both have the same magnification, then the lens size will determine the field of view. Larger lenses will provide larger fields of view. The benefit of having a large field of view is that it provides a more stable viewing experience. You do not have to move your binoculars much if you can see a wide area. This is particularly useful if you are viewing nature, because there is a higher possibility of you being able to spot more wildlife without moving your binoculars if you are able to look at a large area. Furthermore, having a larger field of view is a benefit at higher magnifications, as your image can become shaky with even slight movements.
While it may be a bit confusing at first, there is a benefit to learning the different ways that field of view is measured. Oftentimes, manufacturers will publish different measurements, and if you can distinguish what they mean, you will be more informed before you make a decision to purchase a pair of binoculars. The units of measurement that you may see when looking at field of view statistics are degrees and feet. When you see degrees, you will often see two numbers, and these will represent the degrees in the actual field of view and the degrees in the apparent field of view. Do not let this confuse you. The actual field of view is the most important number here, as the apparent field of view is calculated from the actual field of view. The actual field of view is the angle of your viewing window at the point after the binocular lenses. The apparent field of view is the angle at which it appears that you are viewing the distant object. For example, if you have a pair of 10X binoculars, and your actual field of view is 5 degrees, then your apparent field of view will be 50 degrees. You simply multiply the actual field of view measurement by the magnification of your binoculars in order to get the apparent field of view. When the field of view is measured in feet, it is a bit less complicated. If you see a field of view of 300 feet, it means that you are able to see 300 feet at 1,000 yards. This means that if there were a 300 foot building off in the distance, you can get as close as 1,000 yards and still be able to see it in its entirety through your binoculars.
A specification on binoculars which may be important to people that wear glasses is eye relief. Eye relief is closely related to field of view, as it is the distance that you can hold the binoculars away from your eyes before your field of view begins diminishing. A pair of binoculars with eye relief of 15mm or more may be great for a person that wears glasses, because you have to hold the binoculars a bit further away than someone with no glasses. With sufficient eye relief, a person that wears glasses is able to enjoy the same field of view as everyone else.
If you want to delve deeper into the brightness that your potential binoculars will provide and even compare between binoculars, then you would benefit from learning about exit pupil diameter. Exit pupil diameter is the measurement of the size of the ray of light that will hit your eyes after it travels through the lens. Since magnification and lens size affect the brightness of your image, it is natural that exit pupil diameter is figured out by dividing the lens size by the magnification. The larger the number that is obtained, the brighter the images will appear when viewing through the respective binoculars. As you can see, the higher the magnification, the smaller the number, hence the less bright the image will appear. This is why it is important to match a higher magnification with a larger lens size. This way, you will not sacrifice on the brightness of your image.
Aside from all of the specifications that were discussed above, binoculars may still have other specialized features that different types of buyers may be interested in. The following is a list with some of the more popular features today’s binoculars can offer.
This is self-explanatory. Many people find that having compact sized binoculars is an advantage when traveling through rough terrains or carrying lots of equipment. Furthermore, new technology is constantly improving on the size and weight of these binoculars. Currently, you can find models that weigh half a pound and are of very high quality. In the future, compact sized binoculars may even be the norm. Today, however, many are not as powerful as their full-sized counterparts.
Many environments where binoculars are used are treacherous, and binoculars are constantly exposed to the elements. Water tends to damage many of the equipment that we carry with us, and this is why developers have started to design binoculars that are water resistant or waterproof. While the degree of water protection may vary, this is a good feature that will prevent your binoculars from fogging up or getting water damage. Some binoculars may even be able to submerge in water for a short time, but make sure that you have checked your manual before you even attempt that.
Lens coating is often what differentiates cheap binoculars from high quality binoculars. Binoculars that are worth buying often have at least one coat over the lenses that improves clarity and protects them from scratches. This makes them more durable, and they will produce higher quality images for a longer period of time.
In my opinion, one of the neatest advancements in binocular technology is the range finder feature. These have infrared lasers built into them that tell you how far the object you are looking at is. This may not be particularly useful for any reason, but it would be interesting to know how far away the wildlife you are looking at is. If it is potentially dangerous wildlife, this option can help you maintain a safe distance. Also, golf players can find this very useful in order to determine distances between themselves and the hole. It can help develop a particular strategy to stay on par or below for that particular hole. If you want this feature in a separate device, you can always get a stand alone laser rangefinder.
As you can see, there are a multitude of things that one has to consider when it comes to picking a pair of binoculars. Because all of the information that was just presented can be a bit overwhelming for first-time binocular buyers, I will include a general summary of the type of binoculars that you would want to use depending on the activity that you plan on using them for.
If you are just wanting them for general sport use, marine use, or for the theatre, you will want at least a pair of “7 x 25” lenses. This will ensure that you have enough magnification, but not too much where your field of view will be impaired. The field of view should be between 300-350 feet, with the higher end being for marine use. Furthermore, you may want to consider waterproof binoculars for marine use.
For bird watching and hunting, you will want a pair of “8 X 30” lenses. These should probably be waterproof because of the environments that these hobbies take place in. Furthermore, the field of view should be at least 350 feet. You may want to consider more powerful binoculars if you are looking at far away animals, or maybe even a spotting scope to compliment your field binoculars.
If you want to use them for golfing, either as a player or a spectator, a pair of “6 X 17” should suffice. In golf, you are looking at stationary objects that are not terribly far away, so you do not need very high powered lenses. A range finder may be useful if you are using them for golf in order to know the distance between you and the hole or other obstacles such as bunkers and bodies of water.
Stargazing presents a special set of circumstances, as you are usually looking at stationary objects, but they are very far away. To make it more complicated, the environment will have minimal light available. It is recommended that a pair of at least “10 X 40” binoculars are used for this purpose. You can afford higher magnifications because you will not be moving the binoculars much, and to make up for the diminished field of vision and darker images that this will present, you have the large lens diameter.
Take these recommendations with a grain of salt, as they are not one-size-fits-all. You will want to try different sizes in order to see which ones are the best ones for you and your hobby.
Next, we will delve more specifically into binocular makers and specific pairs of binoculars for every need and budget. First we will start with an overview of binocular manufacturers.
The Best Binocular Brands
Bushnell is a giant in imaging products in the United States, and it makes everything from high quality rifle scopes, microscopes, telescopes, and of course, binoculars. The company was founded in Japan by David P. Bushnell when it was occupied by Allied forces during WWII in 1948. Bushnell’s binoculars have won multiple awards for their quality, and most recently, the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10X42 binoculars were awarded binocular of the year by binoculars.com.
Zeiss is one of the oldest, most reputable optics and imaging companies in the world, and it makes very high quality binoculars. Not only does it deal in sporting optics like Bushnell, but it also makes optic devices for medical use and even space telescopes. It was founded in Germany in 1846, and it has become a leader in the industry since then. One of the most popular binoculars it has on the market right now are the Zeiss 10X42 Victory HT binoculars.
Known for its digital cameras, Nikon also makes stellar binoculars. Nikon is now a huge company that was founded in Japan in 1917. It specializes in lenses, binoculars and other advanced imaging technology. Their best-selling binoculars have historically been from the Monarch line. Today, the 8X42 Monarch 5 take that distinction.
Steiner has a rich history in the optics industry, and it has arguably one of the most advanced optics laboratories in the world. Every lens and pair of binoculars that Steiner produces is field tested extensively to ensure that it is a very high quality product. This German company prides itself in producing binoculars that will be serviceable for multiple lifetimes. You can be sure that if you buy Steiner binoculars like the Safari Ultrasharp 8X22, you will have a product that you are satisfied with for life.
Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list, and there are many more manufacturers that make outstanding binoculars. If you are in the market for a pair of high quality pair of binoculars, you should not limit yourself to these brands.
Next, we will focus on the best binoculars for specific uses.
Best Binoculars for Hunting
When hunting big game, binoculars are one of the most important pieces of gear you will need. They will allow you to scan for animals that are thousands of yards away, that you wouldn’t be able to see with your naked eye. This makes them an indispensable tool in the field. There are a few key things to keep in mind when choosing a pair of binoculars for hunting. First off, remember that you’ll often be looking for animals in low light conditions, so light transmission is crucial. Also, you’ll be lugging them around difficult terrain, so buy a quality pair that will be able to take a few bumps without any major problems. 10×42 is the most common size of binoculars to carry while hunting, although you may want a larger pair if you are doing long range spotting.
With so many binoculars on the market, it can be difficult to discern which pair can be used best for hunting. Here are four pairs that are extremely highly rated and are worth checking out:
Nikon Monarch binoculars come in three sizes: 8X42, 10X42, and 12X42, so you have many choices at your disposal. The standard 10X42 have a 288 ft. field of view, and 18.4mm eye relief. Also, these binoculars are waterproof, fog proof, and have coated lenses. They weigh around 21.9 ounces.
These are Bushnell’s most critically acclaimed binoculars, and it is no surprise that they are some of the best binoculars for hunting out there. They come in 4 sizes: 8X36, 8X42, 10X36, and 10X42. The 10X42 variety have a 340 ft. field of view, and 15.2 mm eye relief. Like the Nikon pair, Bushnell Legend Ultra binoculars are waterproof, fog proof and have coated lenses. They weigh in at 24.7 ounces.
Vortex Diamondback binoculars are of very high quality, and although the company is not as big as its competitors, it can deliver a great product. Diamondbacks come in 4 sizes: 8X28, 8X42, 10X42, and 12X50. The 10X42 pair have a 345 ft. field of view and 16 mm eye relief. These binoculars are waterproof, fog proof and have coated lenses. They weigh 24.4 ounces.
Vanguard’s Spirit ED binoculars are very worthy of mention in this section. They come in four sizes: 8X36, 8X42, 10X42, and 10X50. The 10X42 pair have a 314 ft. field of view and 16 mm eye relief. Like its counterparts in this section, these binoculars are waterproof, fog proof, and have coated lenses. They weigh a bit more than the other binoculars in this section at 29.8 ounces.
Best Binoculars for Birding
If birding is your hobby, the following are some binoculars that you should definitely consider purchasing in order to have the best viewing experience. Because birding is more about the picture quality and feel, picking a pair of binoculars without trying them first is very difficult. I have included some comments from users in order for you to get an idea of what it is like to use all of these binoculars.
These binoculars are considered top-of-the-line, and this is noticeable in the price tag. They feel great in the hands and have great clarity and eye relief. They are widely considered some of the best binoculars that money can buy.
These are a smaller version of the THT binoculars, but they still have all of the benefits of a top-of-the-line pair of binoculars. If you can afford these, you cannot go wrong with them. Zeiss also has midrange priced binoculars, Zeiss Conquest HD, which are of excellent quality and a great alternative to the Victory line.
These are ¼ of the price of binoculars like the Zeiss Victory, but they deliver exceptional quality and image. The Monarch line has been very popular among birders for years, and it continues to deliver.
The Trinovid line has been around for a long time, and experienced birders will likely recognize it. The new Trinovid line offers exceptional quality and a bright, clear image.
Best Compact Binoculars
If you are looking for compact binoculars that you can take with you comfortably everywhere, here is a list that will give you an idea of where to start looking. The following are widely considered some of the best compact binoculars on the market.
These are very high quality compact binoculars that fold up easily and can fit in your pocket. Furthermore, they are waterproof and fog proof. They are made by Swarovski, so you know you are getting some of the best binoculars on the market with these.
These binoculars feel great in your hands, as they have a very lightweight rubberized body. The shape is very compact, and they can fold down to store anywhere. Furthermore, these binoculars are very affordable.
These binoculars are unique in that they have a zoom button that lets you go from 8X to 24X at the push of a button. This may not be very attractive to some binocular buyers, but another draw to these are that they are affordable and still provide great image quality.
Unlike many compact counterparts, these binoculars offer a 9X magnification without sacrificing too much field of view. They are waterproof and fog proof, and while they are mid-priced binoculars, they offer exceptional optical quality. They also have a great design and feel great in your hands.
Best Astronomy and Stargazing Binoculars
Many stargazers and astronomers prefer to use binoculars instead of telescopes to look at the stars. If you want to get into stargazing, or are already an avid stargazer and are looking for binoculars, the following are a few binoculars that are definitely worth your consideration.
Since you are stargazing, you want a higher magnification along with a bigger lens. These are very high quality binoculars that are tripod adaptable in order to allow for long stargazing periods. They are not too heavy that you cannot pick them up and use them with your hands for added flexibility.
These offer exceptional performance and come at a great price for viewing the night sky. The lenses are multicoated, which makes your image of the stars much clearer. Aside from stargazing, these have other great uses including bird watching as well.
Best Binoculars for Safaris
If you enjoy viewing wildlife, specifically wildlife on safaris, there are a few binoculars that you should research and test before looking at any others. Consider these as you embark on your safari trip.
These binoculars have a wide field of view, which is excellent for safaris. Since they are 9X, you get a little more detail of the object you are looking at. The lenses are very high quality, and with these you will get a very crisp image.
These are top-of-the-line midsized binoculars that offer impeccable optical quality. They are optimal for taking on safaris, and their open bridge design makes them comfortable to hold with one hand. Furthermore, they offer a digital camera adapter so that you can take high quality photos through them. Swarovski produces some of the best imaging products in the world, and this is no exception.
Best Binoculars for Kids
When engaging children in nature activities, the right set of binoculars can go a long way towards getting them excited about their surroundings. Certain binocular features are more important than others when it comes to children’s binoculars, such as the maximum magnification level. The recommended maximum is 8x, as this gives children a wide enough view to keep their eyes on the interesting sight even if their hands are shaky. Additionally, the size and weight of the binoculars are important as well, as a binocular that is too bulky may be difficult for children to hold on to. With these factors in mind, consider both of the following highly rated binoculars for kids:
With a colorful casing guaranteed to catch your child’s eye, the Bresser 6×21 is a compact binocular with a maximum 6x magnification that is perfect first binocular for children of any age. The state-of-the-art optical system delivers clear images, while the rubber armored body is built to endure all types of damage. Affordably priced, the Bresser 6×21 also comes with a five year guarantee.
Built for the older child, the Opticron Discovery is both compact and lightweight enough to deliver comfort regardless of how long the nature walk lasts. An 8x optical system also delivers clear images from a distance, while the affordable prices guarantees a great return on the investment. With a durable design built to last through years of wear and tear, the Opticron Discovery remains one of the best children’s binoculars on the market.
Best Binoculars with Built in Camera
For the professional photographer or birdwatcher, a quality sighting through a pair of binoculars is only worthwhile if the image can be captured. Luckily, modern technology has intersected with current demands to yield a new generation of binoculars with built in cameras. Some of the best digital camera binoculars on the market today are both inexpensive and easy-to-setup. Learn more about two of the industry leaders below:
Though the slightly heavy design may seem inconvenient at first, the Vivitar Digicam Binoculars are well worth the effort with a 640X480 resolution on the attached camera. Add to that the 16 megabytes of internal storage and these camera binoculars become perfect for both long and short sightseeing events, from sports games to nature walks and more. Designed for comfort and precision, the Vivitar 10×25 carries a long battery life as well to ensure long-term use on almost any outing.
With the widest selection of digital camera binoculars, Bushnell boasts an impressive catalogue. However, one of the standouts remains the 8×30 Instant Replay Camera Binoculars. As if taking crystal clear pictures of the best sights wasn’t enough, this Bushnell binocular also allows users to record video with up to 3.1 megapixel resolution, higher than other comparably priced binoculars in the industry.
Best Rangefinder Binoculars
Open ranges can be a thing of beauty all on their own. However, there are few ranges that cannot be enhanced by a great pair of rangefinder binoculars. Regardless of the type of rangefinder binoculars you plan on purchasing (golf, hunting, digital, etc.), the goal is to improve aim while also allowing for a wide field of view regardless of the terrain. Learn more about two of the best rangefinder binoculars on the market below:
Though pricier than other brands of binoculars, the reward is well worth the cost as the Leica Geovid is one of the most accurate rangefinder binoculars on the market. Featuring state-of-the-art optics and a field of view exceeding 1,000 yards, these industry-leading Leica binoculars offer everything from automatic adjustments of the visual settings to an ergonomic design that ensures comfort regardless of how long they are held.
Fluoride glass is one of the secrets to the Zeiss Victory’s premium imagery, ensuring that every sight seen through these lens is of the best quality possible. A 45 millimeter objective lens adds to sight quality while the field of view remains one of the best in its class. Though slightly heavier than other comparable binoculars, the Zeiss Victory makes up for it with convenient button placement for added comfort.
The Best Binoculars for the Money
After all of the binoculars that have been listed so far, you may be wondering, “Which ones provide me with the best value?” The following binoculars are widely thought to give buyers the best bang for the buck.
Although they may seem pricey, these binoculars are cheap compared to the other $1200+ priced binoculars that Swarovski offers. Furthermore, they are better than almost anything else on the market.
These binoculars have amazing specs, they are waterproof and fog proof, and they have a lightweight body made of magnesium. Add to this the unparalleled optical quality that they offer and you will realize that the price is a great bargain.
Many avid binocular users swear that these are the best binoculars for the price bar-none, and they are under $300 dollars! They offer exceptional optics, water repellant lens coating, a light weight chassis, and unparalleled image quality.
These will appeal to those on a tight budget, but also to those looking for a great value and optical quality. These are fully sealed waterproof and fog proof binoculars that deliver a great image, and the price will make you very happy.
Best Binoculars for Under $100
If you are on a very tight budget and can only spend $100 or less, you should not worry. The following binoculars will offer great quality for their price.
These binoculars are so good that you may find some vendors selling them for $200 due to demand, but if you look in the right place, mainly online, you can find them for under $100 dollars. They provide a quick central focus system and a 420 foot field of view. One downside to these is that they are not waterproof.
By this time you should realize that Celestron makes great quality products at a great price. These are great for stargazing and many other uses, and they have a water-resistant, not waterproof body.
Best Binoculars for Under $200
If you have a little more to spend, these are some binoculars you should consider that are under $200 dollars.
These binoculars offer a wide field of view, multi coated lenses, and high quality images. If you are a causal binocular user, you simply cannot go wrong with these.
If you want high quality, low weight binoculars, then you have found them. These are fully waterproof and fog proof, and they provide a relatively good field of view and close focus. These are a great choice for the budget conscious buyer.
The Best Binoculars on the Market
If you want the best-of-the-best, and you are fortunate enough to have no price limitations on the binoculars that you are looking for, then the following is a list of the best binoculars that money can buy.
See description in the Best Value section.
These are often listed as the best binoculars that money can buy, period. They offer a viewing experience like no other binoculars, and you can see even the finest details of your object in dimming light. They are very robust, and offer a staggering 95% light transmission. If you want the best-of-the-best, then these are the binoculars for you.
The world of binoculars is huge, and it will take many years for the beginner to explore and learn. With time, you will be able to appreciate minor differences between binoculars, and you will develop a taste of your own. I hope that this guide will provide you with sufficient information to begin your exciting journey into the world of binoculars.