A great pair of binoculars is an invitation to slow down and look at the world in greater detail. While they’ve always been a favorite tool among birders and hunters for spotting things far away, binoculars can also be used to add perspective to adventures and even to stargaze at night. We scoured the internet to determine the best pairs out there and found that, with lower production costs and ever-refined optical treatments, the choices are better than ever.
Check out the quick info below on four of the top binoculars, then scroll deeper for buying info and full reviews of those models plus other high-ranking options.
What Do All Those Numbers Mean?
The first number in a binocular size is the model’s magnification power. So, if a pair of binoculars is listed as 8x42, that means the object you view through the binoculars will appear eight times as close; if it’s 800 feet away, it will appear as though it were 100 feet away. While magnification power is great, it does have its drawbacks. The higher the number, the more amplified any movement—such as your hands shaking—will be.
The second number is the diameter of the lens farthest from your eyes that faces what you’re looking at. In a pair of binoculars listed as 8x42, each lens is 42mm across. A wider lens is able to take in more light. More light means, unsurprisingly, a brighter view. This is particularly important if you’re trying to use your binoculars in low-light conditions, like at dawn, dusk, or night, or if you aim to use them to look up at the stars. Of course, the wider the lens, the bigger, heavier, and more cumbersome the binoculars become.
Many models of binoculars come in a variety of magnification powers and lens diameters. We looked at the models in general to pick our favorites. Your intended uses will help determine which specifications are best for you.
Other Important Terms
FIELD OF VIEW: This is the width of the area you can see 1,000 yards from the end of your binoculars. The higher the magnification power, the narrower this field will be. If you’re using binoculars to look for something—like, say, while out spotting game—a narrow field of view may limit your ability to pick up on moving animals. Whereas a wide field of view, while less detailed, will help you get the info you need.
EYE RELIEF: This is the distance between your eyes and the binoculars that lets you see the entire field of view. If you wear glasses, look for a larger Eye Relief number to allow for more space between your glasses and the binoculars.
PRISMS: In the lenses, these are what flip the image right side up; without them, images would come through upside down. Porro prisms are inexpensive to make, but often result in larger binoculars as the eyepiece is offset from the binocular tube to allow room for prisms to flip the image on the way to your eye. Roof prisms make for slimmer binoculars, but due to their more complicated manufacturing, which allows for the prism to be in line with the eyepiece and the binocular tube, they’re usually more expensive.
How We Rated These Binoculars
We researched expert sources and more than 10,000 consumer reviews to pick some of our favorite binoculars. To determine our Total Expert Score, we calculated the ratings from reputable binocular and gear review sites, such as Hunting For Binoculars, Outdoor Gear Lab, All Binos, Field & Stream, and others. We found multiple reviews of each pair of binoculars, took their ratings, and averaged them on a 100-point scale. Our Consumer Score represents the percentage of people who rated the product at least four out of five stars on retail sites like Amazon, REI, and Cabela’s. We relied on multiple consumer marketplaces and averaged the number of positive reviews for each pair of binoculars across the various sites to come up with these eight that we recommend.
Vortex Viper HD
Total Expert Score: 89/100 | Consumer Score: 91% give it 4 stars or more
Clear image, tough housing, punches above its weight class
Weight: 1 lb., 9 oz. | Available sizes: 8x32, 8x42, 10x42, 10x50, 12x50, 15x50 | Prism type: Roof
The Vortex Viper offers great clarity in a tight, convenient package. Low-dispersion glass helps all the wavelengths of color come into focus at the same location, resulting in bright, clear images with great contrast and superb clarity. The exterior lens sides also have an anti-reflective coating to make sure light enters the binos, instead of bouncing off. They’re also completely water- and fog-proof thanks to Vortex purging the lens tubes with argon. A rubber coating adds grip and durability.
Outdoor Gear Lab calls the Viper “comfortable to carry and hold” and says that, thanks to the solid construction and Vortex VIP warranty, “you will get many years of enjoyment out of them.” Amazon customers loved the durability and image quality, saying, “We couldn’t believe the crispness of the detail and the ease of focusing.” And Bass Pro Shop customers were impressed with the performance at any time of day, commenting that the Viper is “very good in low-light conditions, which is another great plus.”
Pentax A-Series Compact AD WP
Total Expert Score: NA | Consumer Score: 91% give it 4 stars or more
Pocket-size, affordable, surprisingly bright
Weight: 10.6 oz. | Available sizes: 8x25, 10x25 | Prism type: Roof
For $90, this waterproof model isn’t only an exceptional deal—it’s one of the best compact models, hands down. At 10.6 ounces, the A-Series is a no-brainer to stash in your pack, suitcase, or glove compartment. Anti-reflective, multi-layer coating makes the view surprisingly bright and sharp for the binocular’s size, and users praised it for the long (21mm) eye relief. And though it’s diminutive, the fiber-reinforced polycarbonate housing means the folding design is super durable, while nitrogen-purging makes the lenses fog-proof.
Wirecutter named the 8x25 version the best compact model for 2020, saying it’s “ideal for day hikes or airplane travel, where you want good-quality optics in a small package.” Some users experienced loose hinges, while others complained of stiffness in the focus wheel. But our survey of customer ratings found very few complaints, with consumers comparing the A-Series favorably to more expensive compacts from Swarovski and Nikon.
Nikon Monarch HG
Total Expert Score: 88/100 | Consumer Score: 96% give it 4 stars or more
Solid construction, supremely clear image, easy to focus
Weight: 1 lb., 8 oz. | Available sizes: 8x30, 8x42, 10x30, 10x42 | Prism type: Roof
The Nikon Monarch stands out for its supreme image quality, which comes with a hefty price tag. To justify the nearly thousand-dollar cost, Nikon says it achieves that exceptional image quality by using extra-low-dispersion (ED) lenses, which keep image color sharp, and its own Field Flattener Lens system, which counteracts the curvature and wide field of view to the very edge of the image. This is also a great pair of adventure binos thanks to a tough yet light magnesium casing, as well as scratch-resistant lenses and a water- and fog-proof finish.
All Binos calls the 8x42 “a real joy to use.” And Field and Stream says Nikon hit its mark with this pair. “The Monarch HG puts serious optical performance into a lightweight, handy package that’s highly versatile and feels ready for action.” Nikon consumers loved the image quality, saying “The lenses are very clear from the center to the edges.” And Cabela’s customers called it a great value, despite its high price. “The Nikon HG represents the apex of return on investment.”
―BEST FOR STARGAZING―
Total Expert Score: 85/100 | Consumer Score: 74% give it 4 stars or more
Superb in low light, massive magnification, large
Weight: 4 lb., 11 oz. | Available sizes: 12x60, 15x70, 20x80, 25x70, 25x100 | Prism type: Porro
Rather than closing one eye to look at the stars through a telescope, get a full field of view with these absolutely massive binoculars, designed for the heavens. The 20x80 version of the Skymaster stands out from others here with its 20x magnification power—great for stars but admittedly not great for anything closer, like a soccer game, especially since the nearest thing they’ll be able to focus on is 108 feet away. The enormous size feels comfortable in hand, and the large knobs are easy to manipulate, but at 5 pounds, the heft will eventually take a toll on your arms. Thankfully, an integrated mount lets you attach the Skymaster to a tripod, which is the most effective way to use the binos anyway. Because of the great magnification, any shaking will send images all across the sky. The 80mm lenses bring in a ton of light and have a coating that prevents reflection.
Target Tamers appreciated how the big size doesn’t translate to bloated price. And Hunting For Binoculars loved the versatility, calling the Skymaster “an outstanding product for use in viewing celestial objects in the night sky” and “useful for any type of long-distance land or sea spotting.” But their reviewer did note that “a tripod is needed.” And Amazon customers loved how it cracks open the sky, with “a ton of light-capturing ability—if you want to see galaxies, nebulae, and constellations.” Though a High Point Scientific customer did note some color issues, saying there “seems to be some red/green refraction around the edges of some of the brighter objects.”
Wingspan Optics Phoenix Ultra HD
Total Expert Score: NA | Consumer Score: 96% give it 4 stars or more
Versatile, colorful, excellent for wildlife viewing
Weight: 1 lb., 6 oz. | Available size: 8x42 | Prism type: Roof
A favorite among birders, safari-goers, and hunters, the Phoenix Ultra HD comes up repeatedly on best-of roundups for offering a lot of quality craftsmanship at a very good price. The fully multi-coated lenses are made of ED glass to produce excellent color and clarity. And the Phoenix is waterproof and nitrogen-filled for fog-proofing. People who bought the binoculars appreciated its just-right size—at six by five inches—and not-too-heavy weight.
“We found a solid sharpness to the image, and the color was consistent,” wrote America’s State Parks. “The focus wheel is smooth as you target in on the bird’s location.” Amazon customers liked the adjustable eye cups and were pleased with the color quality, with one saying “I especially like the close-focus ability—I can focus on my blue-bird-house nesting pair from my deck, which is about 6 feet away.” Be advised, though, that these glasses are made for daylight viewing; several users complained about ghost images when viewing objects like the moon after dark.
OTHER GREAT OPTIONS
Zeiss Terra ED
Total Expert Score: 88/100 | Consumer Score: 90% give it 4 stars or more
Good center lens clarity, high-quality finish, some distortion on image edge
Weight: 1 lb., 10 oz. | Available sizes: 8x32, 8x42, 10x32, 10x42 | Prism type: Roof
With the Terra ED, you get quality German engineering with a more palatable cost. The lenses bring in a great amount of light to work well in dim conditions and are even hydrophobic to repel moisture and keep images clear. A wide field of view makes this pair great for spotting moving animals, but it’s also ideal for getting a more detailed look at things nearby, as it can focus on objects a little over 5 feet away. The Terra feels great in hand and has a large, easy-to-operate focus wheel, as well as comfortable ergonomic features, like angled eye cups that actually match the shape of your face.
Target Tamers loved that Zeiss came out with a more affordable option, saying they “eclipse the premium models of other inferior optics brands.” And they were fans of the image quality. But it’s a crowded field, and Outdoor Gear Lab noted, “We were surprised at how dark the Zeiss Terra was compared to the competition.” Still, Amazon customers highlighted the build quality: “The fit and finish, the case, strap, even the box are all extraordinary.” But they did note some image issues: “The right lens has some blur on the edges.”
Athlon Optics Midas ED
Total Expert Score: NA | Consumer Score: 98% give it 4 stars or more
Quick to focus, wide field of view, excellent optics
Weight: 1 lb., 9 oz. | Available sizes: 8x42, 10x25, 10x42, 10x50, 12x50 | Prism type: Roof
A crowd favorite, the Midas ED 8x42 uses ED glass to produce images that draw raves—numerous customers put it on the same plane as $1,000-plus models. Unlike many roof prism binos, the Midas has phase correction, which counters the shift that can mar an otherwise well-focused image. It comes in a lightweight magnesium body and travels well, while argon purging helps it to shun water and fog in the chamber.
Best Binoculars found the Red Dot award-winning design appealing, while The Strategist said the Midas has “a good field of view that’s ideal for seeing deep into dark forests, tracking birds across the sky, or watching parades and football games” (as well as a lifetime replacement warranty). It was also the top pick at Jen Reviews, which loved the bright images produced by the Midas even in low light, and said it “offers the same performance as top-of-the-range binoculars such as Leicas, at about 1/10th of the cost.” No surprise then that they were Wirecutter’s top pick, as well, as “exceptionally durable binoculars that easily withstood the humid, dusty, and hostile environment of the Mexican rain forest and harsh sun of the Californian desert.”
Vortex Diamondback HD
Total Expert Score: 74/100 | Consumer Score: 96% give it 4 stars or more
Compact, solid construction, great clarity
Weight: 1 lb., 6 oz. | Available sizes: 8x28, 8x32, 8x42, 10x28, 10x32, 10x42, 10x50, 12x50 | Prism type: Roof
The Diamondback is another great entry-level option at just a few hundred dollars. The lenses and prisms are coated to limit reflection, and the optics provide great image quality and color contrast. Hardiness comes from an ArmorTek coating on the lenses that resists scratching and damage from oil or dirt. The durability continues with a rubber armor exterior that lends the already water- and fog-proof Diamondback some shock resistance. The focus knobs are easy to adjust and, although this pair of binos is compact (under 6-inches long), you can still mount it onto a tripod.
Outdoor Gear Lab called the 8x28 a “compact binocular with excellent clarity, comfort, and construction quality,” and as such gave it its “Best Buy Award.” Cabela’s customers loved the build and image quality, saying the Diamondback is very clear with the feel of solidly built glasses. But one Amazon customer noted issues with protecting his lenses: “I do not like the lens covers, as they fall off easily, with no way to attach them to the binoculars.”
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