16 Best Binoculars for the Money in 2019 (with Buying Guide)

Binoculars Buying Guide

A fine piece of handheld optics really goes a long way whether you are hunting, bird watching, wanting to check out the facial expression on the horse who just lost you money, spying on your neighbor, or appreciating nature on a magnified level. Whatever you plan on using binoculars for, you need to know where to look and what to look for.

Buying binoculars sounds really simple, right? I mean, its just two tube things attached in the middle with a magical magnifier inside. How hard could it be? They all do pretty much the same zooming thing, right?

Well, if you think like that, you are terribly misinformed as binoculars are incredibly complex pieces of technology and consist of an entire bible of terminology and features you’ll need to understand before you can purchase the perfect set.

In this guide, we’ll discuss the most important features to look out for, specifications for different uses, how to plan what you need in a set of binoculars and finally a list of the best binoculars for the money at each price range. By the end of this article, you’ll be a binoculating pro with all the tools and knowledge you need to acquire the perfect set.

Quick Answer: Here Are the Best Binoculars in 2019

I will try my best to provide you with the absolute highest quality binoculars in each of the three sizing categories (Compact, mid-size, and full size) at various different price intervals. Please understand that these are general options. Choosing the optimal binoculars for you will depend on many factors such as where, how, and what you will be using them for.

1. Vortex Optics Viper HD (Editor's Choice)

Vortex Optics Viper HD

Price Range: Around $530

My Review: At half the price of the legendary Vortex Optics Kabib, the Viper HD’s offer far more than half the value. Vortex Optics does a great job of offering high-quality products in just about every price range in every niche they compete in and if you can’t afford to drop a grand on binoculars, they still have you covered.

The Viper HD’s can be had in four different configurations consisting of 10×42, 10×50, 12×50, or 8×42. The ones I’m reviewing here are the 10×50 model and I do believe its worth the extra twenty to thirty dollars up from the 42mm lenses if you can spare it because although the lighting is great on both models, that 50mm objective lens seems to be the real sweet spot, especially for dusk and dawn applications which is actually when I find myself using binoculars the most.

Speaking of light transmission, there is no competitor that even comes close here at the five hundred dollar area. These are hands down some of the best binoculars at this price and come with a lot of the same features you’d find on their more expensive models. The XR anti-reflective lenses actually work quite well and reduce reflections off of the lenses better than most binoculars and the HD optical configuration with the proprietary Vortex Optics fully multi-coating system creates a beautiful picture at any distance in just about any light situation.

Of course, Vortex Optics cares a lot about quality and functionality but something else they do notably well is creating durable and abusable products that live up to the demands of a Marine. These are completely waterproof and fog proof by being argon purged and are coated in that awesome ArmorTek rubberized technology that saves your optics from the inevitable bumps and bangs your binoculars will face out in the field. To further sweeten the pot, you’ll get one of those sweet GlassPak chest harnesses included in on this deal and I certainly think that’s a necessity as these definitely get a bit heavy to carry after a while.

A final note here, those of you with glasses will really enjoy these as you’ll get roughly 16mm of eye relief and the eyecups are fully adjustable with a simple twist and these are IPD equipped, meaning you get all the customization you need to form fit these to your needs.

Features and Functions

  • Roof prism HD optical configuration to be had in your choice of either 12×50, 10×50, 10×42, or 8x42mm
  • Eye relief of 16-18mm depending on the optical magnification you choose
  • 5’ to 8’ of close distance focus depending on the optical magnification you choose
  • These weigh roughly 25oz
  • GlassPak chest harness is included that is one of the best binocular harnesses on the market
  • Argon purged, XR anti-reflective coatings, multi-coated optics, and rubber armoring to ensure top tier quality and durability while maintaining full water and fog proofing

2. Swarovski Optik SLC

Swarovski Optik SLC

Price Range: Around $1800

My Review: Nothing to do with tactical gear and optical glass is untouched by our Austrian friends over at Swarovski and you can be sure that anything with that beautiful eagle logo on it is of the upmost highest quality built by people that are the absolute most enthusiast about what they’re designing.

The Swarovski SLC binoculars are some of the best on this list and if you have the cash to fork over for leading-edge technology, these are the binoculars to have. What you get here is fixed 10x magnification partnered up with 42mm objective lenses that consist of real HD fluorite, ensuring a minimum light transmission of 91%. The resolution these provide is unmatched by anything I’ve ever reviewed before and Swarovski really backs up their claim of lifetime purchases by giving you a 10-year warranty.

The Optik SLC lineup comes equipped with the coveted Swarovision which unlike most other brands proprietary marketing hype, actually provides a massive and immediately noticeable optical difference. Basically what Swarovision does is that it helps to increase the clarity of your picture on the outsides of the lenses by flattening the outer edges of the optics, ensuring the peripheral edges don’t get blurred and details don’t get lost throughout the entire picture. This allows the SLC binoculars to host massive levels of field of view, by far better than any other 42mm objective lenses and they can do this without sacrificing picture quality.

The pair I reviewed is the 10x42mm version which is the middle ground between the other two variants of the SLC lineup, which consists of 8x42mm and 15x56mm options. All of these are armored and fully waterproof ensuring that not only do they provide beautiful optical clarity and pretty much the best color fidelity on the market but they are ready to withstand a beating and constant abuse.

They all come equipped with flip-down and removable lens covers that are certainly the best lens caps I’ve ever witnessed coming with a pair of binoculars and to make that price tag a little more digestible, you’ll be getting the Swarovski Field Pro Package, which is some of the best strapping and support systems on the market.

Features and Functions

  • Optical configurations of 8x42mm, 10x42mm, or 15x56mm
  • Fully armored, waterproof, fog-proof, and equipped with some of the toughest lens caps on the market
  • Optical systems achieving market-leading color fidelity and picture resolution utilizing HD fluorite glass with Swarobright and Swaroclean optical technologies and multi-coatings
  • Field Pro Package includes a protective carry case, lens caps, multi-purpose strapping system, and Swarovski 10 year guarantee

3. Carson 3D Series

Carson 3D Series

Price Range: Around $300

My Review: Before we get started I think it’s important to note that Carson is a major player in the world of quality binoculars and the 3D series is actually four different models with a few other skews being in other colors and schemes such as their Mossy Oak Camouflage options. All of these are excellent optics and the one you choose will simply depend on what you need and your budget, although they’re all within like fifty bucks of each other. The differences between these models are listed below.

The Carson 3D series sitting around the two hundred dollar range offers incredible value by utilizing that tried and true phase correcting BAK-4 prism set up with some of the highest quality ED glass in any binocular configuration I’ve reviewed that’s relatively affordable for the average person. Simply put, the quality you get here rivals the quality in binoculars much more expensive.

The entire package has rubberized waterproof armor protecting that precious ED glass and you get all of this in a unit that weighs roughly a pound and a half. The ergonomics of these are some of my favorites and are far more comfortable to use for long durations of time than both cheaper and more expensive binoculars.

The 3D series includes the following models:

TD-832ED: A magnification power of 8x with a 32mm objective lens diameter and field of view of roughly 392’.

TD-842ED: A magnification power of 8x with a 42mm objective lens diameter and field of view of roughly 341’.

TD-042ED: A magnification power of 10x with a 42mm objective lens diameter and field of view of roughly 314’.

TD-050ED: A magnification power of 10x with a 50mm objective lens diameter and field of view of roughly 262’.

All of the models weigh roughly the same and while eye relief does change slightly, with the TD-050ED being the best, they’re all within a range that would be difficult to tell the difference between. They are all waterproof, fog proof, rather durable and well constructed, and consist of fully multi-coated ED glass utilizing a BAK-4 optical prism set up. All of these also come in a package deal which includes a BinoArmor Deluxe hardshell case, a bino neck sling, shoulder sling, lens cleaning kit, and lens covers.

Features and Functions

  • Dielectric coated and phase-corrected prism system coupled with ultra-clear fully multi-coated ED lenses
  • 8 or 10x magnification with 32, 42, or 50mm objective lens choices
  • Mountable on a tripod and comes with a carry case, shoulder and neck strap, cleaning kit, and lens covers

4. Wingspan Optics Spectator Compact

Wingspan Optics Spectator Compact

Size: Compact Binoculars
Price Range: Around $70

My Review: If portability is key to your happiness, then these are perfect for you! They offer the perfect balance between price, size, and quality. Take these with you anywhere you go by folding them up and stuffing them in your pocket. They are durable with rubber armor and have a little waterproofing. They won’t withstand full dunks in the ocean but you won’t need to worry if you’re caught out in the rain with these. Overall, they’re excellent for those of you looking for tiny but mighty.

Features and Functions

  • 8x32mm
  • Non-slip grip
  • Rubber armor
  • Pocket-sized
  • Waterproof and fog proof
  • Bak4 prism
  • Field of view offering 362ft at 1000 yards
  • Tripod compatible
  • Weighs only 15.2 ounces
  • It comes with a neck strap, nylon mesh carrying case, microfiber cleaning cloth, eyepieces, and lens protection covers.
  • Lifetime warranty plus 30-day money-back guarantee
  • Super small and lightweight. It will fit in your pockets!
  • Exceptional wide-angle field of view for a compact

5. Nikon Monarch 5 Kit (Best Value)

Nikon 7576 MONARCH 5 8x42 Binocular

Size: Full-Size
Price Range: Around $250

My Review: The Nikon Monarchs have long been known to be among the best binoculars for the money. These are ideal for long range hunting where you are perched in a tree stand or need to spot targets from very far away. The Monarchs have one of the best in class light dispersion lenses and manage to do so while being completely water and fog proof. These are some of my favorite bino’s and I would highly recommend them to anyone.

Features and Functions:

  • 8x42mm
  • Nikon eco ED lenses which offer Extra-low dispersion and chromatic aberration correction
  • Dielectric high reflective multilayer prism coatings for the highest color contrast and reproduction
  • Turn and slide rubber eyecups
  • Field of view is 110 meters at 1000 meters
  • Exit pupil is 5.3mm
  • Eye relief is 19.5mm
  • Rubber armor coating and non-slip ergonomics
  • Waterproof
  • Fogproof

6. Nikon Prostaff 7s (Best Under $200)

Nikon Prostaff 7

Size: Compact Binoculars
Price Range: $190

Note: The video below reviews the same model binocular shown above. They mention the 10×42 model at the begging of the video, that’s because the Prostaff 7s is available in 4 different models. Choose the size that meets your preferences. If you aren’t sure what the numbers mean, scroll backup toward the top of the page. I explain everything you need to know in detail! You can also ask me any questions you have in the comments.

My Review: These are likely the best compact binoculars you can buy on the web. They’re ultra-lightweight, fit in the pocket of a jacket, and are incredibly durable. With these, you are getting ease of use and super small. They aren’t going to produce great images at extreme distances but they are easy to carry into a concert or sports arena. They provide very clear imaging at short to medium distances and despite being compact, they do well in light transmission.

Features and Functions:

  • 10x30mm
  • Multilayer lens coating
  • Eco glass
  • Phase correction coated roof prisms
  • Compatible with eyeglasses
  • Turn and slide rubber eyecups that are fully adjustable
  • Rubber armored coating for ergonomic handling
  • Lifetime warranty
  • These only weigh 14 ounces
  • Likely the best compact binoculars you can find to date
  • Can withstand being dropped and are waterproof and fog proof

7. Nikon Aculon A211 10x42 (Best Under $100)

Nikon Aculon Binoculars

Size: Full Size
Price Range: Under $100

My Review: I honestly can’t believe how quality these binoculars are considering their price point. Their multi-coated Eco-Glass lenses provide a bright and clear image in almost any lighting condition.  They have high quality rubber non-slip coating that makes them perfect for hiking or bird watching. On top of that, they are both lightweight and have an ergonomic design. The central focus knob that is easy to operate. Honestly, if you’re on a budget and just looking for the best binoculars for the money, look no further! I attached a short video below, it kind of sucks, but is really the only one reviewing this particular model on YouTube.

Features and Functions:

  • 10x40mm
  • Ergonomic non-slip grip
  • Multicoated Eco-Glass Lenses
  • Lightweight
  • No serious cons
  • Clear and sharp image
  • Work well in any lighting condition
  • Eco-Glass lenses
  • Easy to focus

8. Bushnell Falcon 133410 (Best Under $50)

Bushnell Falcon 133410

Size: Mid-Size
Price Range: Around $35
Note: My choice under 50 dollars.

My Review: Bushnell is an excellent player in any optics category and they surely do not disappoint in the binoculars department. Yes, they are known as more of a budget brand and are easily outdone in higher-end models, however, down here in the budget zone, Bushnell has no problem creating space for their products. These are absolutely perfect for a first time binoculars purchase if you’re new to the game and don’t want to spend a lot to get started. These offer a very neutral zone between full size and compact size functionality and performance. On one hand, they are somewhat lightweight and easy to maneuver with and on the other, they offer excellent light transmission and high image quality. Overall, these binoculars are the exception to “pay for what you get”. The accessories do suck, but with how great this pair of binoculars really is, I wouldn’t dare to cry about them at this price range.

Features and Functions:

  • 7x35mm
  • Instafocus system for fast focus on moving targets
  • Multi-coated optics for good light transmission and defense against reflectivity
  • Non-slip rubberized grip for any weather conditions
  • Porro Prism design
  • 21-ounce weight
  • Size (LxWxH): 8.3″ x 3.1″ x 6.3″
  • 20ft close focusing capabilities
  • 12mm eye relief allowing for eyeglass compatibility
  • 420 feet field of view at 1000 yards
  • Fold down eyecups
  • Comes with a storage case and neck strap
  • Massive bang for your buck. This is a killer deal!
  • Quick focus paddle makes focusing quick and easy

9. Skygenius 10x50 Full Size Binoculars

Skygenius 10x50 Full Size Binoculars

Size: Full-Sized Binoculars
Price Range: Under $50

If you’re looking for a high-quality pair of full-size binoculars for birding or sightseeing at a distance, these are a great choice. They offer 10x magnification and have incredibly clear glass for a pair of budget binoculars. They have a large field of view (367 feet at 1000 yards) which is perfect for spotting wildlife.

Features and Functions

  • 10x50mm
  • 367ft of field of view at 1000 yards
  • Size: 7.48 x 6.69 x 3.97 inch
  • Weight: 1.76 lb

10. Nikon 8244 Aculon 7X35

Nikon 8244 Aculon 7X35

Size: Mid-Size
Price Range: Under 100 dollars

My Review: These are great for general use binoculars. They do have cheap glass and the eyepieces are both uncomfortable and allow light leakage, but for those of you who put price before quality, these will do you just fine. They get the job, offer a great balance between image brightness and size, and are created by the legendary Nikon company. Considering these are under $100 they are an absolute steal!

Features and Functions:

  • 7x35mm
  • Ultra-lightweight and ergonomic design
  • Turn and slide rubber eyecups
  • Aspherical multicoated eco glass lenses
  • Smooth central focus adjuster
  • Rubber armor coating for a non-slip grip
  • Perfect mid-range quality offering decent levels of imagery in both high and low levels of light
  • Exceptional wide angle

11. Celestron 71404 TrailSeeker

Celestron 71404 TrailSeeker

Size: Mid-Size
Price Range: $190

My Review: This is the cheapest model in the Celestron TrailSeeker lineup but certainly offers a lot of value for the price. These are perfect for birding and general use spotting. These offer a very competitive magnification rate at its field of view, all inside a very tough metal constructed housing. The package deal is nice too, as it comes with everything you need to get started in the bino world. This model is an amazing value and will likely impress just about everybody who uses them.

Features and Functions:

  • 8x42mm
  • Magnesium alloy construction that offers lightweight durability
  • Bak4 prism system
  • Phase and dielectric lens coating for increased light transmission and increased image contrast
  • Ultra-wide field of view
  • Multi-coated optic lenses to combat reflectivity
  • 6.5’ close focus for up-close observation
  • Metal Multi-stop twist-up eyecups that boast longer lifespans that rubber or plastic eyecups.
  • Tripod compatible
  • Waterproof
  • Fogproof
  • Comes with objective lens caps, eyepiece rain guard, neck strap, harness strap, carrying case, lens cloth and instruction manual
  • Extreme eye relief
  • Very durable metal construction

12. Olympus 118760 Trooper DPS

Olympus 118760 Trooper DPS

Size: Full-Size
Price Range: $70

My Review: If you’re willing to sacrifice extra functionality for a cheap set of bino’s that get the job done, these are a match for you. They are not waterproof, and they do not include special lens coating aside from the bare minimum, however, they do sport 10x magnification and a decent field of view. For this price, these are by far the best-built binoculars in the full-size category. The Bak7 prism system is slightly lower quality than a bak4, but for this price, you probably aren’t using these to deliver crystal-clear images at thousands of yards anyway.

Features and Functions:

  • 10x50mm
  • Compounded rubber armoring
  • 855g weight
  • Bak7 Porro prism system
  • Wide-angle lens
  • Anti-reflective coating for brighter images
  • Lage center adjustment knob
  • UV protection
  • 65-degree angle of view
  • 342 feet of view at 1000 yards
  • High level of magnification while still providing a decent wide-angle field of view
  • Lightweight despite being so large

13. Celestron SkyMaster

Celestron SkyMaster

Size: Full-Size
Price Range: $150

My Review: These monsters are absolutely massive and deliver pretty insane amounts of brightness even under low light long distance circumstances. These are most suitable for use on a tripod as they are too heavy for the average person to hold steady for any decent amount of time. Basically, if you buy these you will have to buy a tripod as well or you’re wasting your money! Aside from that, have fun viewing each individual crater on the moon or identifying the exact plant a deer is chewing on thousands of yards away.

Features and Functions

  • 20x80mm
  • A massive objective lens that offers maximum image brightness even in low light and long-range conditions
  • Multi-coated optics for maximum defense against reflectivity
  • Suitable for terrestrial space viewing
  • Protective rubber armor which provides durability and ergonomics
  • Extreme long eye relief. 18mm
  • Eyeglass compatible
  • Tripod compatible
  • Comes equipped with an objective lens cap, rain guard, carrying case, neck strap, lens cloth, and instruction manual all included
  • Bak4 prism system
  • Water resistant
  • 3.7-degree field of view
  • 195 feet of view at 1000 yards
  • Close focus distance of 106.3ft
  • Ultra-comfortable with its ergonomic design and 18mm eye relief
  • These binoculars are so powerful you can see the rings of Saturn!

14. Vortex Optics Kaibab HD

Vortex Optics Kaibab HD

Size: Full-Size
Price Range: Under $1000

My Review: If money isn’t an issue and your budget is unlimited, these seem to be the binoculars to buy. You can always tell what the industry favorite is when you are shopping for other optics and these are the ones everyone is comparing their purchases with. The Kaibab Optics by Vortex offers the absolute highest quality anti reflectiveness on some of the best optical lenses money can buy. If you’re a diehard hunter looking to locate targets anywhere in your neck of the woods, these are the binoculars for you. You’ll have insane magnifying power while also being able to maintain image quality with close up targets. The field of view is phenomenal, allowing hunters to view entire ridgelines. Aside from hunting, these bino’s also have quite a reputation in the astronomy category. These offer nearly professional telescope levels of detail across our terrestrial landscape.

I highly recommend using a tripod with these to unleash their full potential. Of course, they aren’t too heavy to use by hand and the neck strap that it comes with certainly helps.

Features and Functions:

  • 18x56mm
  • 15mm eye relief
  • 2.8mm exit pupil
  • 168ft at 1000 yard field of view
  • 3.2-degree angular field of view
  • Close focus at 23ft
  • An interpupillary distance of 76mm
  • 43.5oz weight
  • APO optical system features best in class high density and extra-low dispersion lenses
  • Lenses are multi-coated with XR Plus anti-reflective coating which deliver exceptionally high light transmission and color accuracy
  • Nonslip rubber armoring
  • Armortek lens coating for abrasion-resistant lens protection
  • Argon purged compartments sealed with O-rings
  • Completely water and fog proof
  • Comes with a rain guard, tethered objective lens covers, neck strap, deluxe padded carrying case, Uni-Daptor quick release tripod adaptor
  • Unmatched glass coating and lens quality
  • These binoculars offer incredible image quality whether your targets are 23 feet away for 2300 feet away

15. Occer Compact Binoculars

Occer Compact Binoculars

Size: Compact
Price Range: Under $50

My Review: These things are an amazing gift idea or small accessory to keep with you on hunting and camping trips. No, it will not produce amazing performance thousands of yards away and no it doesn’t have crystal-clear top-quality glass. What this does have is an incredibly attainable price point for a very durable and easy to use set of eye telescopes. These will get the job done at most sporting events or casual nature viewing. Overall, I would say these are the best compact binoculars under $50. The next pair of binoculars are incredible as well, but they aren’t considered compact.

Features and Functions:

  • 12x35mm
  • Low light night vision
  • Center and right eye focus adjustments
  • Absolutely unbeatable compact binoculars at this price point
  • Extremely small and lightweight while still offering great image quality and durable design
  • Large eyepiece
  • Waterproof and shockproof
  • 273ft of view at 1000 yards
  • FMC broadband lens coating
  • BAK4 prism
  • Adjustable eyecups
  • Usable with glasses
  • ABS plastic construction
  • Nonslip rubber armor

16. Zeiss Carl Optical ISB Binoculars (Most Expensive)

Best Binoculars in the World

Size: Full-Size
Price Range: A very small fee of $10. For shipping. The binoculars cost $8000.

My Review: Originally manufactured in Germany in 1993, these were the best of the best when they were made and still are among the best today. If not having nitrogen filled tubes and full waterproofing doesn’t bother you, then why not throw down 8 grand on these?

Seriously, though, these are really cool. You can most certainly find binoculars that are more technologically advanced and may even offer better performance for much less money, but these are an engineering marvel. I can’t even start to explain how amazing they are here in this guide, so please, do yourself a favor and check this blog article out.

Features and Functions

  • 20x60mm
  • Exit pupil diameter 3mm
  • Twilight factor 34.6
  • Field of view at 1000 yards is 156ft
  • 60-degree subjective viewing angle
  • Close focus at 45.93ft
  • Pupil distance 57-73mm
  • Eye relief 13mm
  • The lens are Achromat lenses utilizing an advanced Porro prism system
  • Water resistant
  • 58.55oz weight
  • Image stabilization gyro for shake-free images at max distance levels
  • Premium Minolta lens
  • The most advanced mechanical stabilization system ever made

Buying Guide – How to Choose Binoculars

How the Magic Happens

Using a series of mirrors, lenses, and prisms, binoculars bounce and bend light to create sight pictures at a magnified level. This allows you to see much further and much clearer than you would with your own two jelly balls. Each time light passes through a lens, it becomes magnified, making the picture appear closer and closer. Since there are so many different types of binoculars each outfitted with a different set of mirrors, lenses, prisms, etc, it is difficult to accurately define them all using one single definition.

Most binoculars encompass a center focus adjuster and a right eye diopter adjustment wheel near the eyepiece. This eye diopter can help to alleviate the difference in optical strength between your two eyes. Most people have different levels of vision in each of their eye, so by using only one universal setting, the image may seem blurry or out of focus.

Using this diopter is simple. First, close your right eye and focus on something through your binoculars that is roughly 50 feet away. Adjust the center focus adjustment wheel until the image is crystal clear via only your left eye. After you’ve attained the image quality you like, close your left eye and open your right eye. Focus on the same target at the same distance and use the right eye diopter adjustment wheel to clear up the image.

Once both eyes have achieved optimum viewing pleasure, you can now use your center wheel to fine tune your image quality. Your binoculars should now be optimum for use with both eyes.

What the Numbers, the X’s and the MM’s Mean

When shopping for binoculars it is inevitable that you will be exposed to many numbers accompanied by MM’s (millimeters) and X’s (magnification multipliers).

We’ll use 1-6x 40mm as an example here.

The 1-6x represents an adjustable range of magnification for levels 1 through 6. This particular pair of binoculars can be adjusted for any of these magnification levels. Not all binoculars have adjustable magnification and their power maybe be represented simply as 6x 40mm or 6×40.

The maximum number in this example, 6, is an indication of magnification strength. In this example, our binoculars will portray images 6 times closer than they actually are.

The 40mm indicator tells us the size of the objective lens, or the lens facing away from you and towards your target. The objective lens size typically tells us how much light the binoculars are capable of receiving. The larger the objective lens is, the more light it will be capable of using to create a picture.

Specification Situational Analysis Chart

Now you know what the measurements represent but how will this impact your decision-making process when shopping for a shiny new set of binoculars? I could go into a long detailed explanation of each and every usage I can possibly think of, detailing the exact specifications for each situation, or I could just provide you with a handy dandy viewing chart for the most popular scenarios. Enjoy!

General Use/Vacation/Hiking

  • Most Compact and wide-angle models
  • 7×35, 8×42, 10×42 & 10×50,

Concerts/Theater

  • Compact sizes with any zoom or wide-angle model
  • 5×25 & 8×25 Extra-Wide Angle, 4×30, 7×18 & 7×21

Outdoor/Nature

  • Compact sizes which may include waterproofing for camping.
  • 7×35, 7×50, 8×42 & 10×42 Standard Size or 8×30 & 10×30

Boating

  • Any waterproof model with a large objective diameter
  • and rubberized casing. Some are even designed to float!
  • 7×50, 7×42, 8×42 & 10×42

Hunting

  • Compact and lightweight models that come with rubber armoring, waterproof and fog proof features
  • 7x to 10x power models for general hunting
  • 12x or 16x for distant game and varmints

Equestrian Sports and Stadium Sports Compacts:

  • Any Zoom, Compact designs from 7x to 10x
  • Mid-Size: 7×35, 10×50 & 12×50,
  • 4×21, 8×25 & 10×25 Extra-Wide Angle

Bird Watching

  • Compacts with a minimum of 30mm objective lens size. Units with good eye relief and good close focusing abilities
  • 8×42 is standard.
  • 10×42, 10×50 & 12×50 for small and long-distance subjects

Low Light

  • Larger objective lens models.
  • 7×50, 8×42, 10×50

Features, Functions, and Tips

Binoculars used to be rather simple to shop for. You figured out the distance and main usage you’ll have for them and then you bought whatever your local sporting goods store had that was closest to these specifications. Now you have the internet with nearly unlimited options as far as sellers go and binoculars with function lists longer than an aircraft pilots manual.

Modern technology has most certainly found its way into the world of binoculars and although this makes binoculars more powerful and useful than they ever were before, it makes finding the right pair in your budget more difficult.

Budgeting

As with just about anything in life, binoculars do follow the “pay for what you get” rules. This is pretty self-explanatory but let me give you an example of what money will change for your purchase.

High-cost binoculars are going to come with some neat little features that their cheap counterparts may lack, but it’s truly the quality of the optics, lenses, and glass that makes the most notable difference. Spending several hundred dollars may net you binoculars with glass as crystal clear as an SLR lens. Cheaping out will likely result in chromatic abrasions that will distort your image quality.

If your goal is to locate large and in plain sight targets, you probably won’t need a flawless image and thus spending less may be the better option, however, if you plan on using these to pick out ants 500 yards away, lens quality is of the utmost importance and you absolutely must spend serious dough to get what you need.

Waterproof and Fogproof

Using O-rings and nitrogen filled chambers, waterproofing is achieved in most mid to high-end binoculars nowadays. If you are looking for a cheap set, this is a function I would most certainly suggest saving up for at the minimum. It would really be a shame to get excited about finding something interesting, peering through your binoculars, and then seeing nothing but fog and condensation trapped inside. If you can’t see clearly through them, they’re pretty much useless and without adequate waterproofing and fog proofing, it’s pretty likely you’ll incur major picture quality issues no matter how you plan to use them.

Adjustable Magnification Power

We’ve already explained how you can read the adjustment levels, but do you even need binoculars with adjustable power levels? If you’re using your binoculars to look at a very specific distance each and every time, then no, you don’t. Let’s say you’re taking these with you to look at the other side of the river. The river likely won’t grow in width anytime soon, so you will probably only need one magnification level to create the picture you need. On the other hand, if you’re a hunter who engages with targets at variable distances, multiple power levels may be a huge factor in determining whether or not you spot those furry little critters.

Image Stabilization Features

Binoculars that come equipped with image stabilization will help keep your sight picture steady by counteracting vibration or unwanted motion. These are especially useful in situations where you’re on a boat or you have very shaky hands. Usually, binoculars with extreme levels of magnification will almost require some kind of image stabilization to create an image that’s usable. If your binoculars don’t come with image stabilization, you may want to consider purchasing a bipod or tripod. Of course, on a moving vehicle or a rocking boat a tripod isn’t going to help you, so investing in image stabilizing binoculars may be the only way to go.

Types of Binoculars

Range Finders

I don’t want to dive too in depth here because those of you looking for a rangefinder are really in a whole different class than those of you searching for just binoculars, however, it would be a sign of neglect if I didn’t mention it here. There is a wide range of models in this category but to sum it all up for you, some binoculars do come with range finding features. These features will show an estimated range on whatever target you’re focusing on. This is incredibly handy for hunting because it gives you the range you need to compensate for bullet drop and other ballistics.

Compact Binoculars

Compact binoculars are those who have an objective lens of 30mm or less. These are usually only suitable for use during daytime where there is a lot of available light. Small objective lenses do not pick up light well and will not create clear images in low light situations. However, if you plan to only use your binoculars in optimum light settings, these may be handy as they are considerably smaller and lightweight. Some may even fit into your jeans or coat pockets. Glass is heavy, so I’d recommend buying the smallest binoculars you can that still meet your lighting requirements.

Mid-Size Design

This is a somewhat balanced tradeoff between weight and performance. These will encompass objective lenses between 30mm and 40mm and are usually the best general use binoculars. These are the most popular and are the safest bet if you plan to use binoculars for multiple different activities.

Full-Size Design

Binoculars with objective lenses larger than 40mm are considered to be full-size designs and are by far the heaviest and largest models. These are best for serious levels of magnification and offer the great low light image quality. These are going to be too large for most backpackers and hikers but they offer the best image quality, distance, and lighting. Full-size binoculars also offer unbeatable fields of view, which we will discuss later.

Prism Binoculars

There are two primary prism configurations that you’ll find in prism-based binoculars. Without prisms, the images would be reversed and/or upside-down.

  1. Roof prism

Straight profile design with an eyepiece directly behind the front lens. This design is more compact.

  1. Porro prism

Bulkier design where the lens and eyepiece are offset and relies on light being reflected multiple times to produce an image.

Apparent Field of View

With your normal unmagnified jelly balls you can view roughly 180 degrees (out of 360 degrees). With binoculars you will lose a significant portion of this field of view. How much you lose usually depends on the design of the binoculars and the amount of magnification you are using. The higher the magnification, the less field of view you will have access to. Binoculars that come with special wide-angle lens technology try their best to offset this con by increasing the field of view slightly. Field of view and magnification will typically always result in a tradeoff.

Exit Pupil Rating

This is another number you may see alongside magnification and objective lens specifications. Exit pupil rating is measured in millimeters and determines how bright an object will appear when viewed in low-light situations. The higher the exit pupil rating, the better your binoculars will perform and vice versa. This rating is created by taking the magnification and objective lens number and dividing them. As per our example earlier in the guide, 6x40mm would yield a 6.66mm exit pupil rating.

In situations where light isn’t an issue, this doesn’t really matter at all, since all binoculars have a larger exit pupil rating than what the human eye can attain (2mm, which is what is necessary for high lighting).

In low light situations, exit pupil rating is going to determine how much light you’ll receive. 5mm or higher ratings are good low light options.

Eye Relief 

I have mentioned eye relief before on this page but let’s dive more in-depth.

Eye relief is the exact distance required for your eyes to be positioned away from the eyepiece and still achieve a good sight picture.

Longer eye relief is typically more comfortable and makes acquiring sight pictures considerably faster and easier.

Shorter eye relief means your eyes will have to be very close to the lens to see anything of value. If you wear glasses or want to use sunglasses, you’ll need eye relief of roughly 11mm to use your binoculars.

Lens Coating

Determining what lens coating is used and the quality of the coating is very important. Lens coating, often overlooked, determines how reflective your lenses will be.

Higher reflectivity results in less light being received by the optics and thus results in a darker, lower quality image.

Full, multicoated lenses offer the best reduction in reflectiveness and help to increase light transmission.

My Sources

Wikipedia: Binoculars

Final Thoughts

This article was a lot of fun to write, but it took a lot of time! Let me know in the comments section if it helped you out and feel free to ask questions you have. There are so many out there to choose from, if you are having a hard time deciding between two pairs let me know what you’re using them for specifically and I will further assist you.

Also, if you want to stay up to date on the latest Marine Approved gear like my Facebook page for this website on the bottom of the page. Thanks!

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