Buying a pair of binoculars today isn’t as easy as it was back in the days. There are a few reasons for this, but the most notable one is the sheer amount of options, as well as the technological advancements. To begin with, a few years ago you only had a few choices in terms of brands. Each of those brands only offered a couple of models. All you had to do is pick your budget and needs, and determine what brand has the best binoculars for your needs. Maybe you would have a hard time deciding between two pairs of binoculars, but that was basically it.
Today, on the other hand, things are much more difficult. With the technological advancements and the changes in the industry, we now have a lot of new brands. Not all of them are worth taking a look at, but if you’re looking for the best binoculars, how do you know which of those new brands you could overlook?
To make matters more difficult, even if we were to take the brand choice away, there is still a plethora of options, as well as a huge amount of options to choose from. ED glass? Fully multi-coated optics? 10×42 or 8×32? These terms might be clear from the get-go to a person who’s knowledgeable in the field. But what if you’re just looking for the best binoculars, but don’t really know too much details about binoculars as a niche?
Well, we’re here to help. Continue to read, and you will find two things we’re going to do for you. First, we’re going to give you a few options. To be more specific, you’ll get ten of the best binoculars you can get on the market today. Most of them are from household names in the sport optics game, but they all come at various prices and they aren’t all made with the same purpose. If you’re in the market for a new quality pair of binoculars, chances are one of them will fit both your needs, and your budget.
Once we’re done with that, we’ll touch on a few things that concern the binocular shopping itself. What magnification and lens diameter should you go for? What about build quality, prisms, and lens coating? There’s a lot to discuss, and we’ll cover as much as possible in our buyer’s guide. Without wasting any more of your time, let’s begin.
The first pair of binoculars we’ll talk about today is the Celestron Granite. Celestron are a well-known name in the sport optics game, with a lot of models available at various price ranges. The Granite is available in a couple of configurations, such as 7×33, 8×42 (which we’re discussing today), 9×33, 10×42, 10×50 and 12×50. The 8×42 is somewhat of a middle ground, and at this size, the Granite might be one of the best binoculars for birding. But, is it? Let’s take a look.
To begin with, the Granite is built like a tank. It comes with an open-hinge design, which doesn’t only look great, but also keeps the weight down. It’s also very comfortable, and secure to hold, regardless of whether you’re holding it in one hand or two. The body is made of magnesium, which feels very solid. It is also covered in rubber armoring, which helps with grip and ensures that the binoculars won’t slip from your hands. The armoring is very hard, unlike with other binoculars, and will also provide a lot of protection from day-to-day bumps. The Granite is also both waterproof, and fog-proof, which is always welcome with outdoor gear. They’ve been nitrogen purged, which means that there’s no air inside, as it has been replaced with nitrogen gas. This helps quite a bit with internal fogging, even when you have rapid temperature changes.
At 8×42, the magnification factor is quite sufficient for birding. You can get pretty close, and you still have a field of view of 426 feet at 1000 yards, which is impressive to say the least. Some of the best binoculars for birding have a field of view of around 399 feet, which is less than the Granite. There’s also a minimum focusing distance of 6.5 feet, which is very good. Sure, they might not be the best for observing objects that are at close range, but they’re not meant for that. The 42mm objective lens diameter will let in plenty of light, ensuring a bright, crisp image. There’s a 5.25 millimeter exit pupil, which helps a bit with low light situations.
In terms of optics, you’ll find ED glass and BAK4 prisms. This is one of the best possible combinations, often found with high-end optics from the likes of Swarovski, Nikon and Bushnell, and it’s very welcome here. There are also phase correction coatings on the prism glass, another benefit we don’t see very often. To wrap things up, we have fully multi-coated lenses.
All things considered, even though the price puts the Celestron Granite 8×42 in the midrange territory, they’re very much a high-end pair of binoculars. Everything from the build quality, to the optical performance and glass characteristics is excellent, and we wouldn’t hesitate buying them at all.
Bushnell is often the first name that springs to mind when you’re talking about sport optics. From their riflescopes to their binoculars, they produce quality optics for people that know what they need. They have some of the best binoculars for hunting on the market, and the optical performance on most of their models is impeccable. The Trophy is, even though priced as a mid-range in some of its configurations, one of those excellent models. It comes with everything you need – build quality, optical performance and durability, and then some. If this piques your interest, read on and see whether these are the best binoculars for your use.
To begin with, the Bushnell Trophy Xtreme comes in three available configurations. You have the low light champion, 8×56, and you have the 10×50 and 12×50 as somewhat more daylight-oriented binoculars. Apart from the magnification factor and objective lens diameter, all of these binoculars are built more or less the same, and have the same technologies, so everything related to that applies to whichever model you choose. The 10×50 and 12×50 are what you should be getting if you want to get close to your target. However, you should be prepared to sacrifice some brightness for that, as the 10×50 has a 5mm exit pupil, while the 12×50 is a lot smaller than that, at 4.16m. Depending on what conditions you’ll be using the binoculars in, this may or may not be an issue. If getting extremely close isn’t that important, but you’d rather have some extra brightness, you’ll want to be looking at the 8×56. Even though fairly large and cumbersome, the 8×56 has a massive 7mm exit pupil. As you’ll see below, this completely takes advantage of your eye’s pupil in low light conditions.
Regardless of which one of those models you get, you’re getting BAK4 Porro prisms. The lenses are fully multi-coated in typical Bushnell fashion, which guarantees maximum light transmission, as well as plenty of brightness. It’s a Bushnell pair of binoculars after all, optical performance and clarity is something they do very well, and it shows.
In terms of build quality, you have everything you need. The shape is fairly ergonomic for comfortable all-day use, and there’s a textured non-slip rubber armor. It both absorbs shock, and helps you with grip, especially when conditions get slippery. While we’re talking about the build quality, it’s worth mentioning that the Trophy Xtreme is 100% fog proof and waterproof, and you can comfortably use it in any kind of conditions. On the outside, you will find a large center focus knob, which lets you do fast and precise adjustments, even when you’re wearing gloves. There’s another adjustment on the eyecup, which adjust the diopter if you have eyesight issues. Or, if you’d prefer to wear your glasses, the twist-up eyecups let you quickly adjust eye relief.
When you take everything we discussed about the Bushnell Trophy Extreme, whichever configuration you opt for, you won’t regret it. They’re all built extremely well, all come with stellar optical performance, and all give you a surprisingly good bang for your buck. All you need to do is choose!
In the world of the best binoculars available on the market today, Zeiss Optics is a brand that’s right up there with the big dogs. Everything they make is well thought out, has a purpose, and there are no major compromises in sight. We’ll be taking a look at their Terra ED 8×32 binoculars today, which are excellent for all-round general use. They aren’t the best binoculars for birding, nor the best binoculars for hunting, but if you want one pair that you would use for everything and anything, they might be one of your best options. Let’s take a look.
Starting things off with the numbers, you can find the Zeiss Terra ED in a couple of configurations: 8×32, 10×32, 8×42 and 10×42. For the purpose of this review, we’ll be focusing on the smallest, 8×32 model. With those numbers, you have a 4mm exit pupil. As you’ll see later on, anything less than 5mm might be an issue in lower light situations, so the Terra ED is best suited for daytime use. In a pinch, it’ll do, but there are better options for low light. The 8 times magnification is fairly respectable, and brings what you’re looking at close to you, without sacrificing too much of the field of view. In terms of numbers, this is a 135m field of view at 1000 meters, or 61 degrees. The 32mm lens lets in just enough light for the magnification factor, and doesn’t impact image brightness and clarity in a negative way, which is welcome.
On the inside of the Terra ED you will find a Schmidt-Pechan roof prism. You won’t find this in many budget-oriented binoculars, as it’s usually used in higher end models. The glass is SCHOTT ED glass, something that we’ll talk about later, and is a sign of true premium binoculars. Another welcome addition is the lens coating. The lenses come with a hydrophobic Zeiss MC coating, which reduces contamination on the outside of the lenses. You’ll learn to appreciate this as you spend time outdoors, so it’s a welcome addition.
Moving on to the outside, the Terra ED comes in a glass fiber reinforced body. It’s completely waterproof and fog proof, and is nitrogen-filled to ensure there’s absolutely no fogging on the inside. There are rubberized grip areas which absorb some shock, and help you with grip, especially in slippery conditions. On the middle is a large focus wheel that’s really easy to grip. Even if you’re wearing gloves, you can make fast and precise focus adjustments.
The conclusion for the Zeiss Terra ED 8×32 is somewhat of a mixed bag. Everything it does, it does admirably. From optical performance, to build quality and durability, it is a great performer. However, there’s just no “wow” factor. If you need a well built pair of binoculars that works great, and you don’t really care about the looks, it is absolutely worth taking a look at. If you care about looks, however, there are better options on the list.
Even though we touted Bushnell as a true high-end binoculars manufacturer, that’s not to say that they don’t have anything to offer in the budget segment. There are a lot of people who’d like Bushnell’s quality, but don’t really want to spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of binoculars, and Bushnell was obviously listening. What we have here is their Falcon 7×35, a pair of extremely well priced binoculars for someone who’s getting their first pair, or for a backup pair to throw in your backpack. But, even at that low price, how good are they?
Starting from the outside, you’ll notice that the Falcon isn’t actually built particularly well. The finishing looks somewhat cheap, the focus knobs is flimsy and the whole binoculars just feel not well made. This isn’t what we’ve come to expect from Bushnell, but at this price, we find it hard to complain. Even though flimsy, however, that focus knob is Bushnell’s Instafocus System which is well thought out and lets you quickly focus on a moving target. The non-slip rubber grip pads are decent, but when things get wet, they might slip a bit. Last but not least, while we’re talking about the build quality, the Falcon has absolutely no waterproofing, nor is it fog proof. If you’re using it during the day, when it’s sunny outside, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. However, in sub-optimal conditions, this could prove to be fatal for your binoculars. If you get caught out in the rain with them, we’d recommend that you throw them in your backpack as soon as possible.
In terms of the numbers, we have a 7x magnification. Combined with the 35mm lens diameter, there’s a 5mm exit pupil, which is actually good. Both of them combined result in a field of view of 420 feet at 1000 yards, decent for birdwatching but not really great if you want to get close to your target. The Porro prism does do its job, but with the lack of coating on the lenses, you might find yourself asking for more in the image quality department.
To be perfectly honest, if you just want a pair of binoculars for something like sports watching, or a pair to give to your kid when you’re outdoors, they’re excellent. They are very cheap, and they aren’t that bad during the daylight. However, if you’re after the best binoculars for birding, or the best binoculars for hunting, you’d be better off looking elsewhere, as the Falcon might leave you disappointed.
Continuing with some of the best binoculars manufacturers out there, we have Vortex Optics. Their top-of—the-line Stokes DLS has remained the flagship of the brand, with no worthy successor anywhere in sight. The Razor actually went through a few iterations before it got where it is today. From design alterations, to different feature sets, it seems like Vortex didn’t really know what they want from their flagship binoculars. However, with the Razor HD, we can see the results of all of those modifications and changes, and they come in the form of an incredible pair of binoculars, with a price to match. But are they worth it? Let’s find out.
Starting off on the outside, the Razor HD comes with a relatively simple roof prism design. You no longer have an open bridge look, but this results in a smaller, sleeker and better-looking pair of binoculars. The magnesium chassis, when compared to aluminum, gives you a great combination of weight and durability. Magnesium is becoming the material of choice for high-end optics for many manufacturers, which speaks volumes about its quality. Unlike the previous version that had black rubber armoring, we now have a thin green rubber, with black and grey accents. The texture also adds to the grip, and you will find well-placed thumb pads on the bottom. The result? A pair of binoculars that is surprisingly easy and comfortable to hold, even if you don’t have a large pair of hands. As is to be expected with a pair of high-end binoculars, you have a completely weather-sealed construction, as well as argon purging, to ensure both waterproofing and fog proofing are kept in check.
Let’s talk about the numbers. The Vortex Razor HD comes in four configurations: 8×42, 10×42, 10×50 and the behemoth 12×50. However, today we’ll be focusing on the 42mm options, as they’re a tad better suited for all-round use. Both the 8x and the 10x models give you plenty of magnification, yet maintain a decent field of view. With the 8x model, it’s 388 feet at 1000 yards, while the 10x has 362 feet at that same distance. They also have 17.5mm and 16.5mm of eye relief for the 8x and 10x models respectively, which is a welcome thing for people who might wear glasses when using the binoculars. The minimum close focus is 5 feet, a full foot less than what Vortex claims. You can get from there, to infinity, in one and a half turns on the focus knob, making focusing a breeze.
Another big improvement over the previous Vortex models is in the coatings. The glass is still the HD glass Vortex uses, but the coatings are much improved, making for a crisper and brighter image. You get Vortex’s proprietary XR coating on the fully multi-coated lenses, and then you have phase coating as well.
To wrap things up, even though at a fairly high price, the Vortex Razor HD is an excellent pair of binoculars in any of its configurations. Whether you’re looking at the small-ish 8×42, or the huge 12×50, you get excellent optical performance and absolutely incredible build quality. Sure, you do pay for it, but if you have the budget, this is absolutely one of the best binoculars money can buy nowadays.
Wingspan Optics is the first, and only somewhat budget-oriented brand we’re going to mention on our list. We are talking about the best binoculars after all, and there’s quite a bit of competition for the title in the high-end market. However, with the EagleScout line of binoculars, Wingspan Optics have managed to make a great pair of all-round binoculars at an affordable price, and that’s without compromising on any of the key features or aspects of a pair of binoculars. Have they succeeded? Read on and see for yourself.
To begin with, you can get the binoculars in either an 8×32 configuration in black, or a 10×42 in either black or green. We’ll focus on the larger binoculars. 10x magnification is a great number, especially given that most of the binoculars are either 8x or 10x in the market we’re looking at. A larger magnification requires a larger objective lens diameter for good performance, and the 42mm delivers. Now sure, a 4.2mm exit pupil makes the EagleScout somewhat limited in terms of low-light performance. If this is a major decision point for you, you might want something else. If it isn’t, however, and you’re limited by the budget, the performance of the EagleScout is very good. It’s not just the numbers that do this, it’s also the fact that you have fully multi-coated optics and a high quality BAK4 prism. The combination makes sure that light transmission isn’t an issue, which is welcome, especially with the smaller exit pupil diameter.
On the outside, the build quality is stellar, to say the least. The body feels solidly built, with no give in the bridge, and anti-slip grip pieces on the places where you’d put your hands. It won’t go anywhere in wet conditions. While we’re at wet conditions, the binoculars are waterproof and fog proof, and purged with nitrogen – another welcome addition. The focus knob is right in the middle, where it should be, and it’s smooth and precise. On the right eyepiece is a diopter adjustment knob as well.
When you take everything into consideration, yes, the EagleScout by Wingspan Optics isn’t going to win any awards for design, or performance. However, if you’re limited with your budget, but don’t want to get a cheap product by an unknown brand, you’ll want to take a look at it. Build quality is excellent, along with the weatherproofing. Optical performance, at least when there’s enough light, is stellar, and the price is extremely attractive for what you’re getting.
A list of the best binoculars out there today would make no sense without including at least one piece of Nikon’s excellent line of optics, and we have two on our list. Nikon might be better known for their cameras and lenses, but their sport optics, from the rifle scopes, to the binoculars we’ll be discussing today, are nothing but excellent. The first one on our list is the Aculon 10-22×50, which is also the only zoom pair of binoculars on the list as well. Yes, it also comes in 8×42 or 10×50 fixed zoom options, but the 10-22×50 is what we’ll be taking a look at.
On the outside, you’ll notice that the Aculon is quite a bit bigger than almost anything else on the list. However, Nikon have still managed to keep the weight at a respectable 33.9oz, which isn’t extremely lightweight, but it’s far from the heaviest one on our list. The body is ergonomic and comfortable to hold, with excellent weight distribution. You can easily use it for extended periods of time. There’s a durable rubber armor on the outside as well, so you have a non-slip grip, regardless of the conditions outside. A bummer is that there is no mention of water or fog proofing anywhere in sight. We didn’t have any issues with fogging, and we didn’t try out water resistance, but if you want to be safe, you’ll want to keep them in your backpack if it gets wet. The rubber eyecups are very comfortable, and eye relief is 8.6mm at 10x.
As we mentioned, these are zoom binoculars. The magnification ranges from 10 to 22x. You can move from one end to the other with the eyepiece-mounted zoom lever. The 50mm lens will let in enough light during daytime. However, as light becomes scarce, you’ll want to stay at 10x. The exit pupil at 22x will be 2.3mm, which is, quite honestly, a disaster when there isn’t enough light. On the other hand, during the day, the binoculars perform admirably. The Porro prism works great. Nikon have also added multicoated Eco-Glass lenses, which deliver great clarity and precision. Their composition is environmentally friendly, with no lead or arsenic, which might matter to some.
At the asking price, the Nikon Aculon 10-22×50 is a compelling piece of optics. The compromise comes in the form of weatherproofing, or lack thereof. If you can sacrifice that, however, you’ll get zoom binoculars that are excellent performers. The fact that there’s a zoom lens adds a lot of versatility to them. From birdwatching, to getting in extremely close to your subject, you can do it all. Just, not in the rain.
The second last Celestron model on our list is the cheapest one as well. This is by no means a bad thing, as you’ll see. The SkyMaster Giant is made to satisfy a certain market that none of the other models on our list actually conform to. It doesn’t stack up to the best binoculars for birding, nor to the best binoculars for hunting. However, if you want something for low light conditions and stargazing, it’s the absolute best on the list today. In case you’re wondering, yes, the “Giant” in its name is somewhat of an indication of how big the binoculars are, but that may very well be worth it.
To begin with, the SkyMaster comes in three configurations: 12×60, 15×70, which is the one we’ll focus on, and 25×70. The 15 times magnification is more than you’d need for hunting or watching birds. However, for stargazing, it’s actually closer to the low end of the range. Since it’s made for low light, it has a decent exit pupil diameter of 4.66 millimeters, and the 70 millimeter objective lens diameter means that plenty of light can get inside. Excellent for night time. The resulting field of view is 231 feet at 1000 yards, which admittedly, isn’t all that good. While we’re talking about the optics, it’s worth mentioning that you will find a BAK4 prism and multi-coated optics, to make sure light transmission isn’t hampered.
On the outside, you get a fairly standard feature set. Even though the price is very affordable, you still get a sturdy build. The grip is decent, thanks to the rubberized surface, and there’s a bit of shock absorption there as well. At the center is the focusing knob. It lets you easily do precise adjustments, and the minimum focus distance is 43 feet. With a 15 times magnification, this is fairly good. You’ll also find a diopter adjustment knob for fine tuning as well. The “fairly standard feature set” also includes water and fog resistance, and nitrogen filling inside, so you aren’t missing out on anything here. Another very welcome addition is the tripod adapter, which is clutch for stargazing. You don’t want to carry something that weighs 48oz in your hands for extended periods of time.
All things considered, the Celestron SkyMaster 15×70 is a relatively specialized piece of kit. It’s by no means an all-rounder, but it excels at low light performance, and that’s what it was made for. For a person that wants the best binoculars for night time, whether it’s stargazing or something similar, it is one of the first models you should be looking at.
Next on our list is the third Celestron models we’ll be taking a look at, the Nature DX 8×42. It also falls right in the middle between the Granite we talked about, and the SkyMaster we’ll take a look at later, both in terms of price, and usage and performance. If you’re looking for a good all-round pair of binoculars, this might be one of your better options.
To begin with, the Celestron Nature isn’t a purpose-built pair of binoculars. Instead, it’s designed to be a one-size-fits-all, and the build construction backs that up. You have a rubberized grip surface, which makes it easy to hold in any conditions, and also absorbs a fair bit of shock. In case you get caught out in the rain, or in humid conditions, you’ll be happy to know that the binoculars are waterproof. Fog proofing is also there, as the binoculars are purged of air, and filled with dry nitrogen gas. The eyecups are very sturdy, and there are a generous 17.5 millimeters of eye relief – ideal if you’re wearing glasses.
Moving on to the numbers, the Nature comes in a few configurations. From the smallest 8×32, to the 8×42, 8×56, 10×32, 10×42 and the massive 10×56, you can pick and choose whatever you find most appropriate for you. We’ll be focusing on the 8×42, which is a very good balance between portability and image quality. 8x zoom is a good all-round number, and the 42mm objective lens lets in a lot of light. The resulting field of view 388 feet at 1000 yards, which is plenty, and you have a 5.25mm exit pupil. All things considered, yes, the 8×56 would perform better at night, but for an all-round pair of binoculars, they do the job more than well.
Inside is a BAK4 prism, one that’s fully multi-coated to allow for maximum light transmission. There is also a phase correction coating, which we’ll talk about in a minute. Minimal focus distance is 6.5 feet, which is a bit far if you’re going to use them for close objects, but it’s not such a big deal for birding. Oh, and that focus knob is buttery smooth, letting you do precise adjustments easily. The diopter adjustment knob on one of the eyepieces is another welcome addition, especially for people with eyesight issues.
We’ll be honest – the Celestron Nature DX aren’t the best binoculars for birding. The Granite, for example, are a touch better, even though more expensive, and we still have a few more models to take a look at. However, if you’re after a mid-range pair of binoculars that you can use for just about anything, they will more than do the job.
No high-end binoculars list is complete without mentioning Nikon’s Monarch lineup. They’re some of the best binoculars out there, period. They can also easily match up to optics that cost twice as much, both with their optical performance and their build quality. What we have rounding up the list today is the Monarch 5. It does come in two configurations, both an 8×42, and a 10×42, and it’s the latter we’ll be discussing. Is this all-round performer by Nikon something you should be investing your money in? Read on and let’s find out.
Starting off with the numbers, 10×42 is a very common configuration in the world of all-round binoculars. When executed well, it can be the only pair of binoculars you need to carry with you, regardless of where you’re going and what you’ll be needing them for. 10x magnification lets you get close to your target, while 42mm is just about enough light. Combined, they give you a 4.2mm exit pupil, as well as a 288 feet field of view at 1000 yards. Not extremely big numbers, but the Monarch isn’t meant or that.
Where it excels, and where it beats competitors that are twice its price, is optical performance. To begin with, all Monarch 5 configuration options come with Nikon’s ED glass. Used in both camera lenses and sport optics, it corrects chromatic aberration and compensates for color fringing. The image maintains excellent contrast and resolution, and is brighter, more natural looking. The eco-glass lenses are fully multi-coated. You don’t have to worry about reflection leading to loss of light. The dielectric high-reflective coating gives you almost the same brightness as the naked eye, and color reproduction is very accurate.
The build is excellent, both in terms of comfort, and durability. It’s lightweight, and small, even for a full-size pair of binoculars. The design is easy to grip, and comes with a high-eyepoint design. Even when you’re wearing eyeglasses, this gives you a clear field of view, and 18.4mm of eye relief. The “turn and slide” eyecups will also let you adjust the eye relief, to make it even more suitable for your personal use case. The rubber-armored body gives you plenty of grip. There is a central focus knob that is smooth and lets you easily do precise adjustment. Last but not least, the Monarch 5 is nitrogen filled and sealed with O-rings. This ensures complete waterproof and fog-proof performance.
As we said a bit earlier, the Monarch 5, in any of its configurations, won’t give you record high performance numbers. Well, not if you’re looking for the widest field of view, or the best low-light performance anyways. However, if you’re looking for a single pair of binoculars that you would just throw in your backpack, and enjoy for years to come, you might be looking at one of the best competitors for that title.
The buyer’s guide
Above are ten of the best binoculars one could buy today. However, what if you went through them, but still don’t really know which one is the right pair for you? There are different magnifications, different weather sealings, different lens coatings, and it can all get very confusing, very fast. Below is the second thing we promised back in the beginning – the buyer’s guide that will try to answer any and all questions you might have about buying a pair of binoculars. Let’s go.
How much do you want to spend?
The thing you want to ask yourself first and foremost is how much of a budget you have. A pair of binoculars can be extremely cheap, or they can be exorbitantly expensive. Whether you get the best binoculars out there, or a budget pair, depends on your needs, and your budget.
But, what do you get with higher end binoculars? Well, for starters, you’ll often get a brand name that stands behind its products. That means good warranty and service, as well as availability for spare parts in case something happens. Next, you’ll get good build quality. Consider how much you’ll use the binoculars, and how much is that worth to you, personally. Last but not least, you’ll get optical clarity. This is the key component of a good pair of binoculars, and if you don’t care about build quality or brand name, this is the reason you want to invest in the best binoculars you can possibly get. Lens coatings, high quality glass, good magnification and lens diameter, all of them impact the optical performance of a pair of binoculars.
However, if you simply can’t afford, or justify, spending a huge amount of money on a pair of binoculars, you should have a priority list. We mentioned what you’re getting for your money, so see what’s the most important thing to you, and see which pairs of mid-range od budget-oriented binoculars will give you most of that. Want build quality, but optical performance isn’t that important? Look for a budget pair of binoculars that’s rubberized and weather-sealed. If you’re after a brand name, you’ll need to sacrifice performance and build quality.
What do the numbers mean?
When you’re shopping for binoculars, you’ll always find a set of numbers, such as 8×25 or 10×50. This is a major factor when shopping, as both numbers in a set are extremely important. The first one indicates the magnification power, while the second one indicates the objective lens diameter. Let’s discuss both.
To begin with, a 10×50 pair of binoculars will have 10 times magnification. In layman’s terms, this means that whatever you’re looking at will be 10 times closer than if you were looking through your naked eye. If you’re looking at a boar, for example, at 300 yards away, looking at it through a pair of 10x binoculars will make it appear as though it’s 30 yards away. How much magnification you want, or need, depends on what you’ll be using the binoculars for. Note that a higher magnification factor will give you a narrower field of view, something that might be a problem for certain activities. It will also greatly impact the ability for steady viewing. Binoculars that have a magnification power greater than 10x greatly amplify the movements of your hands, thus making steady viewing difficult. You might want to be considering a tripod in this scenario.
The second number, as mentioned, is the lens diameter. The lens diameter has a huge impact on two things: light capturing ability and binoculars weight. The first one is crucial for optical performance, as a larger lens diameter captures more light and can perform much better, especially in low-light situations. However, a larger lens diameter also means that the binoculars, as a whole, are larger, heavier and more cumbersome. While on the topic of objective lens diameter, there are three main types of binoculars you’ll come across:
- Compact binoculars, oftentimes 8×25 or 10×25, which are best for daytime activities outdoors. They’re lightweight and small, making them ideal for backpacking, but performance can be lackluster and they aren’t really comfortable for longer periods of time.
- Mid-size binoculars, oftentimes 7×35 or 10×32, or somewhere inbetween, are the middle ground. They’re a bit larger and heavier, but bring much better light transmission and are usually a bit more durable, too. They’re usually the best all-round choice for sports and wildlife use.
- Large, full-size binoculars, oftentimes 8×42, 10×42, or 10×50, which capture plenty of light and perform very good in low-light conditions. With these, you’ll often find a wider field of view, as well as a much steadier image. They’re ideal for bird or serious wildlife watching, as well as for use on boats, as they’re too heavy and big for backpacking.
Given so many options, what you choose is completely up to you. Sure, you might be brought in a situation where you have to make somewhat of a compromise in one area or another, but if you can afford it, you can also find a good high-end pair that has it all.
Do you get regular glass, or ED glass?
A common issue with glass is dispersion. When you’re passing light through a prism, it breaks the white light into the component colors. In this situation, the blue end of the spectrum is bent the most, while the red one is bent the least. The prism basically disperses the colors, and dispersion is, simply put, the measure of how much the colors are spread out. With a pair of binoculars, the same thing happens, and the user will experience what’s known as color fringing.
The solution to this is to use ED glass, or Extra Low Dispersion Glass. There are particular optical materials that have unique dispersion characteristics, known as anomalous partial dispersion. ED glass is one of them, and when you combine it with other glasses, it will minimize the effects of the chromatic aberration and color fringing. Such glass is often reserved for higher end models, as it’s more expensive to produce, so don’t expect to find it on budget-oriented models.
Should you be concerned about the exit pupil?
The exit pupil is a factor that, unfortunately, not a lot of people pay attention to. This is unfortunate, because the exit pupil has quite an impact on the brightness of the object you’re looking at, especially in low-light situations. A higher number here will give you a brighter image, and will significantly reduce the effect of your arms’ shaking when you’re looking at something.
Size of the exit pupil is measured in millimeters, and it’s calculated by dividing the objective lens diameter by the magnification factor. For example, if you have a 10×50 binoculars, the exit pupil would be 5 millimeters. Why is this important, you may ask? Well, if light is dim, the human eye’s pupils can widen up to 7 millimeters. If your binoculars come with an exit pupil that is less than 7 millimeters in size, you’re basically restricting the amount of light that’s available to your eyes. With that same objective lens diameter, having a 7x magnification results in an exit pupil that’s 7.1mm – much better, especially for nighttime viewing.
If you’re going to be using your binoculars in subpar light conditions often, you’ll want to get something that has an at least 5 millimeters big exit pupil. Anything less than that will severely limit your ability to clearly distinguish objects at a distance during those situations, regardless of the optical quality of your binoculars. However, if you know that you only need your binoculars during the daytime, a smaller exit pupil size isn’t that important, as the human eye’s pupils narrow down to around 2mm. All binoculars will give you at least 2mm of exit pupil, so you should be safe here.
Another thing that’s worth mentioning here would be relative brightness. This is another way of measuring how bright an object will appear to your eye. The number is obtained by squaring the exit pupil diameter. Therefore, for an exit pupil of 4.3mm, you’d get a relative brightness of 18.5. However, it should be noted that manufacturers, especially those that make high-end binoculars, claim that an identical exit pupil size won’t give you an identical brightness level between two pairs of binoculars. Their reasoning behind this is that the lens elements, the optical coatings, the prism type, as well as a few other factors all affect the relative brightness.
Prism type and lens coatings are very important, especially in the high-end
Binoculars aren’t all made equal, and the largest difference, especially in build type, is in the prisms. If there isn’t a prism, anything you would be looking at will be upside down. This is due to how light passes through the lenses found on binoculars. There are two main types of prisms, and each is more suited to a certain kind of usage.
The first type is the Porro prism type of binoculars. Porro prisms tend to give you great optical performance, but to do that, they need to be a bit bulkier and heavier. They’re also often less expensive, due to the fact that they’re easier to produce. A sub-type of Porro would be the reverse Porro prism, which is often found on the small, compact binoculars we mentioned above, due to the size of the prism.
The other type is the roof prism, which is slimmer and more compact. This makes roof prism binoculars better suited for hiking and other, similar outdoor activities. However, to make a pair with roof prisms you need a bit more precision, which is a factor that drives the price up.
Last but not least in this category, we have lens coatings. When looking through a pair of binoculars, the light that goes through the lens, doesn’t actually get through completely. There’s a small amount that’s actually reflected away, thus leading to a slightly darker image. Everyone from the worst to the best binoculars manufacturers have found a way to combat this by applying coatings to the lenses. There are various types of coatings, so let’s discuss about them, as they can make quite a difference.
If we were to disregard the cheapest option, which is uncoated optics, at the bottom end we’d find simply “coated optics”. This indicates that a thin, anti-reflective coating has been applied on at least one of the lens surfaces. This coating is often made of magnesium fluorite. The next level are “fully coated” optics, which lets us know that at least one layer of coating has been applied to both sides of the objective lens system, as well as both sides of the ocular lens system, and the prism’s long side. “Multi-coated” optics are when you have multiple layers of coatings on one, or more of the surfaces. At the high-end, you’ll find “fully multi-coated optics”. This means that there are multiple coatings on all lens surfaces, and even though this doesn’t guarantee quality, it does let you know that a lot of care has gone into the design of the binoculars. The quality, unfortunately, still depends on the execution.
With some of the best binoculars for birding, we have one more level of coating. Birding binoculars are commonly made with a roof-prism. With a roof prism, the light moving through the binoculars is folded back on itself, and peaks of light wave go out of phase. This causes interference, thus reducing both sharpness and brightness. To combat this, manufacturers apply a phase-correction coating on one face of the prism itself. This delays the light waves for the peaks to come back into phase. Phase-coated binoculars can be found in the budget-oriented models nowadays, which is surprising considering it used to be a high-end feature just some time ago.
Last but not least, we have focus and field of view
With every pair of binoculars, you have at least one focusing knob. We say “at least”, because you will often find a second ring that helps with diopter adjustment. With the focus wheel, you’re focusing both barrels of the binoculars, allowing you to get the focus just right with the object you’re looking at. However, the second ring only adjusts one of the barrels, independently of the other one. If you have differences in vision between your two eyes, this will let you compensate for that difference. You’ll usually find the main focusing ring at the middle of the binoculars, while the diopter adjustment one is relegated to either the left, or the right barrel, near the eyepiece.
The field of view is something we mentioned when we discussed magnification factors. The field of view will let you know how much of the area you can see at 1,000 yards from where you stand. A wider field of view is helpful when you’re looking for objects, such as birds. However, if you’re only targeting a single object and know where it is, you might do with a narrower field of view. You should also know that a higher magnification consequently leads to a narrower field of view. At the end of the day, it’s a personal preference, and whether or not you can make a compromise here is your choice.
Wrapping things up
If you had any questions as to what the best binoculars today are, and which one to choose, we hope to have answered them. From the best binoculars for hunting, to the best binoculars for birding, we did our best to cover them all. We also hope that if you were considering whether fully multi-coated optics are worth it, or whether you should get a nitrogen-purged pair of binoculars or not, now you have the answer to those questions, and much more. All that remains is to choose the binoculars that best fit your bill from the list above, and order them!