If you’re considering buying your first pair of binoculars, you might be scratching your head wondering where to start. But two crucial considerations will help narrow the search for the best binoculars: namely budget, and what you want to use them for. Some key uses include nature, bird and wildlife watching – particularly if you’re going on safari – plus astronomy, sport and entertainment.
As you might already know, binoculars are classified by a couple of numbers: firstly their magnification, followed by the (objective) lens size. For example: 10x30. If you’re looking for general-purpose travel binoculars for hand-held use, then a model with up to a 8x or 10x magnification should be fine. Go for a higher magnification and any handshake will be magnified too, making for a shaky image – unless there is the ability to mount them onto a tripod, or they have built-in image stabilisation.
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As for lens size, bigger is better in terms of the amount of light that’s let in. But portability is also important – compact and lightweight binoculars have smaller lenses, so this aspect is always a trade off. However, if you’ll mainly be using your binoculars in the daytime, then having a bigger lens isn’t crucial.
Further qualities to look for include the build of the binoculars, including not the just the material they’re constructed from in terms of providing robustness, but also whether they offer long eye relief for extra comfort. We’d also suggest you investigate whether they offer the likes of waterproof or anti fogging features – particularly useful in the British climate. The caveat is that the more features, the better the optics and the better the build quality, the more they’re likely to cost, of course.
With all of this in mind, we’ve some recommendations here to help you choose the best binoculars for your particular requirements.
1. Nikon Monarch HG 10x30
Lightweight and compact with a wide field of view, these are the best compact binoculars
Magnification: 10x | Objective diameter: 30mm | Field of view at 1000m: 121 metres /362ft | Closest focusing distance: 2 metres/ 6.6ft | Eye relief: 15.2mm | Weight: 450g | Dimensions: 119x126x47mm
One of the newest premium binoculars on the market comes from Nikon in either 8x30 or – as we’ve selected for our top pick – 10x30 options. The Nikon Monarch HG 10x30 binoculars are not only compact and relatively portable at 450g, the magnesium alloy build has the benefit of being water and fog proofed too. The idea is that these ape the performance of Nikon’s Monarch HG 42mm diameter version, but in a smaller body. Use of extra low dispersion (ED) glass corrects chromatic aberration that can cause colour fringing, while comfort is provided via a soft-to-the-touch neck strap. Both Nikon’s 10x and 8x options are supplied with a semi hard-type case for protection when transporting. A tripod adaptor for each is an optional extra. If you’re looking for the best compact binoculars, this pair from the camera stalwart takes the crown.
2. Leica Trinovid-HD 10x42
These compact and low weight beauties are the best binoculars for bird watching
Magnification: 10x | Objective diameter: 42mm | Field of view at 1000m: 113 metres | Closest focusing distance: 1.6 metres/ 5.3ft | Eye relief: 15.5mm | Weight: 730g | Dimensions: 117x140x65mm
Fashioned to survive almost anything, the Leica Trinovid-HD 10x42 binos get our vote for the best binoculars for bird watching right now. And they’re not just good for ‘birders’: in truth, they’re a solid all-round option as well. If you’re looking for a combination of state-of-the-art image performance and a ruggedness that will withstand whatever the outdoors may throw at you, then we recommend Leica’s impact-resistant Trinovid-HD 42 range. Their ergonomic design and steady grip allows for accurate and precise focusing, delivering both razor sharp close-ups of our feathered friends, plus long distance clarity. The performance stays consistent too, whether you’re viewing subjects at first light or at dusk. Good contrast and colour fidelity are key for bird watchers and these binoculars offer that in spades, as well as several choices of model, from 8x32 to the 10x42 we’ve selected.
3. Kowa YF30-6
Our pick of the best night vision binoculars – and they’re good during the day too
Magnification: 6x | Objective diameter: 30mm | Field of view at 1000m: 140 metres | Closest focusing distance: 5 metres | Eye relief: 20mm | Weight: 470g **Dimensions:** 160x114x48mm
Well suited for watching the night sky – and in inclement weather too, as they’re not only waterproof, but nitrogen filled with it – Kowa’s YF30 series of binos offer 6x or 8x magnifications with a 30mm objective lens diameter. They offer portability in spades, weighing less than 500g each. For the sake of variety, we’ve opted for the 6x30 option here, which boasts an extremely wide viewing field of 140m at 1000m – so you’ll be able to observe a great deal without actually adjusting their position. The coated lenses are said to offer good resistance to dirt, too, making these binoculars easy to maintain. And have we mentioned that this modern interpretation of the classic porro prism optical configuration, with thick rubber armour and moulded soft contours, looks pretty damn stylish? Too stylish, in fact, to limit to use only at night.
4. Kowa High Lander Prominar
The best binoculars for astronomy and star-gazing. Kilt and sporran optional
Magnification: 32x | Objective diameter: 82mm | Field of view at 1000m: 38.4 metres | Closest focusing distance: 20 metres | Eye relief: 20mm | Weight: 6.2kg | Dimensions: 425x240x152mm
There can only be one choice for the best binoculars for astronomy and star-gazing. To shoot for the stars, you need a pair with both a high magnification factor and excellent light gathering abilities – and Japanese brand Kowa’s High Lander Prominar, featuring large 82mm lenses, claims to offer both. Coming with the peace of mind of a 10-year warranty, construction is from rugged magnesium alloy, while they’re built for the outdoors too, courtesy of being waterproof and nitrogen-filled to prevent fogging. For comfort, eyepieces for the High Lander are supplied with twist-up eyecups – which can even be changed to optional, slimmer design folding eyecups – while the lenses themselves are multi-coated to provide distortion-free viewing and sharpness from edge to edge. Perfect for when you want to determine the Milky Way with milky drink in hand.
5. Praktica Falcon 12x50
With a decent magnification and bags of bang for your buck, these are best budget binoculars you can get
Magnification: 12x | Objective diameter: 50mm | Field of view at 1000m: 90 metres / 270 ft | Closest focusing distance: 10 metres | Eye relief: 11mm | Weight: 772g | Dimensions: 170x200x65mm
Just want a multipurpose pair of budget binoculars for those days out roaming? Then swoop to catch the Falcon range from Praktica, from which we’ve picked out the Praktica Falcon 12x50 option at just shy of a bargain £45. These are ideal for birdwatching and wildlife viewing, as well as sports. OK, so they’re not the lightest or most compact option ever – falling somewhere in the middle of the other choices here in that respect – but, for what you’re getting, there’s scarcely cause for complaint. Multi-coated optics provide crisp detail, fold-down eye cups provide comfortable viewing for those with glasses, and a large focus knob provides convenience and ease of use. Meanwhile, a non-slip surface makes for a steadier hold, plus this binocular is tripod compatible too. When it comes to the best budget binoculars, this pair is hard to beat.
6. Canon 10x42L IS WP
The best image-stabilised binoculars with good magnification and decent-sized optics
Magnification: 10x | Objective diameter: 42mm | Field of view at 1000m: 114 metres | Closest focusing distance: 2.5 metres | Eye relief: 16mm | Weight: 1110g | Dimensions: 137x175.8x85.4mm
All of Canon’s current range of binoculars have the ‘IS’ suffix in their model name to denote the fact they’re image stabilised. From the broad range of options available, we've picked the rubber coated Canon 10x42L IS WP model as the best, because – as the name suggests – they’re additionally waterproof, so ideal for an even broader range of long-distance pursuits. Also, Canon’s ‘L’ series is its premium line up, providing a super steady view in the most adverse of conditions. As well as rock-solid stability, these porro prism binoculars sit comfortably in your hand and sport a comfortably long (at 16mm) eye relief, plus a large 4.2mm exit pupil for a bright field of view. They also offer a closest focusing distance that’s closer than most, at just 2.5 metres. Steady as she goes.
7. Zeiss 20x60 T* S
The best binoculars for safari – these high magnification, image stabilised binos will get you up close and personal
Magnification: 20x | Objective diameter: 60mm | Field of view at 1000m: 52 metres | Closest focusing distance: 14 metres | Eye relief: 13mm | Weight: 1660g | Dimensions: 275x161mm
Zeiss is known, of course, for the pin sharp quality of its optics, and the Zeiss 20x60 T* S – aimed at those looking for a rock-steady image even at a high magnification factor of 20x – is equally specialised. Any shake that would normally be experienced when viewing handheld at such extreme magnification is instead cancelled out at the push of a button – perfect for when you want to witness a lion’s roar, rather than the roar of your own frustration. Zeiss claims that you’ll get the same effect with these as you would if using an actual tripod. That makes them ideal for use in the field, where you probably don’t want to be lugging around a tripod – and yes, bringing long range ‘game’ that much closer when you’re on safari.
8. Opticron Savanna WP 6x30
Compact, lightweight, simple to use and affordable, these are the best binoculars for kids
Magnification: 6x | Objective diameter: 30mm | Field of view at 1000m: 140 metres | Closest focusing distance: 3 metres | Eye relief: 21mm | Weight: 485g **Dimensions:** 116x160x40mm
Costing just over £100, the Opticron Savanna WP 6x30 binoculars are portable, waterproof and contemporary-looking porro prism binoculars, and they’re as suited to youngsters as they are adults. In fact, this range – Savanna, rather than Savannah – is said to be usable by children aged 7+ without fear of eyestrain. As well as being compact enough for little hands, they’re relatively lightweight too, at a little under 500g, while offering a relatively wide field of view for curious eyes and minds. OK, so a 6x magnification doesn’t make them the most powerful pair of binos on the block, but you can upgrade to the 8x30 model – weighing just a few grams more – for another £10 if so desired, which represents something of a bargain in itself.
9. Zeiss Victory SF 10x42
The best luxury binoculars – if you’re prepared to spend into the early thousands to get the best of the best
Magnification: 10x | Objective diameter: 42mm | Field of view at 1000m: 360ft **Closest focusing distance:** 5ft | Eye relief: 18mm | Weight: 27.5 oz | Dimensions: 6.8x4.9 inches
Zeiss is, of course, synonymous with cutting-edge optical performance, which is what you’ll be buying a pair of binos for in the first place. If you’re looking to luxuriously spend into the thousands to obtain the very best binoculars possible, then check out the Victory line up – said to be the best that Zeiss has to offer. Suitable for pretty much every pursuit, especially the watching of wildlife, the 10x magnification of our pick, the Zeiss Victory SF 10x42, not only brings the faraway up close, but the optical performance has a crystal clarity thanks in part to a seven-lens eyepiece. This particular model is also the most versatile, as well as the most premium, with an evenly balanced weight distribution and ergonomic grip making hand-holding the binos for a prolonged period a pleasure. Zeiss also claims that a large exit pupil measuring over 5mm reveals the details in dark shadows or dim dusk.
10. Bushnell Spectator Sport 4x30
The best binoculars for sport with a low but still very useful 4x magnification that enables a massive 900ft field of view
Magnification: 4x | Objective diameter: 30mm | Field of view at 1000m: 3300 metres / 900ft | Closest focusing distance: Not given | Eye relief: 10mm | Weight: 481g | Dimensions: 108mm in length
When you’re jostling for space in the stands at a sporting event, getting out a huge pair of binos with long lenses isn’t going to endear you to anyone. Much more practical are Bushnell’s low 4x magnification Spectator Sport binoculars that, while being affordable, also feature the bells and whistles of multi-coated optics to increase light transmission and brightness, plus are nitrogen filled to avoid fogging during changes in humidity or temperature. The ace in the pack here, though, is that manufacturer Bushnell claims that the massive 900ft field of view these binos provide is the closest you’ll get to a panoramic experience – so you’ll be able to comfortably track the sporting action, no matter where on the track or field it’s taking place. A winner.
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