Skip to main content

Best compact binoculars in 2021

Best compact binoculars - Nikon Aculon 10x21
(Image credit: Nikon)

The answer may seem obvious, but consider why you might want a pair of compact binoculars. Generally it’s because we want to bring the faraway closer, yet avoid having to bring an extra bag or rucksack to cart around a heavier pair of binos. Or maybe you want the younger members of the family, not just an adult, to be able to get to grips with them? Broadly speaking, the smaller the device is, the more it’s suitable for ramblers or sightseers, rather than birders though as some of the featured examples attest, that isn’t always the case. 

And, once you’ve also established an idea of budget, ask yourself how far you’re willing to compromise, if you are at all, to achieve the most portable pair of binos available. For example, physically larger objective lenses and greater magnifications usually mean more sizable binoculars too, which is why we find most ultra compact binoculars sticking to magnifications of, say 8x or 10x, and objective lens sizes of a relatively modest 21mm or 25mm. 

That being said, for daytime use a lens size of with a diameter of 21 to 25mm is arguably ideal. You’ll probably also notice the term ‘roof prism’ mentioned as part of the specification of the smaller binoculars we’re showcasing here. Due to the positioning of the internal prisms that make up their construction, roof prisms tend to be narrower and far more compact than the alternative of porro prism design also commonly used for binoculars. Thus compact binoculars always use the roof prism design. Let's look at some of the best available today…

Best compact binoculars in 2021

(Image credit: Kowa)

1. Kowa Genesis Prominar XD 8x22 Binoculars

High-end, ‘blow the budget’, ultra compact waterproofed option not for the faint hearted

Magnification: 8x | Waterproofing: Yes | Objective diameter: 22mm | Field of view at 1000m: 131 metres | Closest focusing distance: 1.5 metres | Eye relief: 15mm | Weight: 0.32Kg | Dimensions: 10.5x1.1x3.8cm

Ultra compact folding binos
Shockproof and waterproof
Nitrogen filled to prevent fogging
High quality ED glass to deliver class-leading clarity
Priced at a premium for sure
Far from the most powerful option for the price if compact size isn’t essential

Proving that a compact binocular doesn’t always mean a budget price, this sturdy green and black liveried foldable pair from Kowa weds a useful 8x magnification to a quality 22mm objective lens, with a 10x magnification model also available if your budget stretches further still. However we feel its manufacturer has got the ‘balance’ of this model just about right. For the sizeable price we get a shockproof and waterproofed nitrogen-filled magnesium alloy body with a textured non-slip finish, an unusually close focus distance of 1.5 metres, plus, indicating that this one goes the extra mile, high resolution ED glass containing what’s claimed is a large volume of fluorite crystal. The latter is said to be the best there is for avoiding chromatic aberration while boosting contrast. The result? Clearer, more well defined imagery. Of course the lenses are specially coated too in order to repel dirt and fluids. Factor in a rubber-armored body, and Kowa suggests this pair of compact binos should last their user a lifetime.

(Image credit: Kowa)

2. Kowa BD 8x25 DCF

Mid range, mid priced Kowa compact binocular option for serious observers who want to travel light

Magnification: 8x | Waterproofing: Yes | Objective diameter: 25mm | Field of view at 1000m: 110.2 metres | Closest focusing distance: 1.8 metres | Eye relief: 15mm | Weight: 299g | Dimensions: 10.4x4.1x11.4cm

Lightweight take-anywhere compact binos
Multi coated lenses to improve light transmission and repel dirt
Rubber armored body provides a firm grip, even in the wet
100% waterproofed body
Lacks high resolution ED glass, as found in higher priced alternatives
Expensive if only buying for occasional use

Hikers, outdoor enthusiasts and even birders are being targeted by these lightweight ‘take anywhere’ green-bodied roof prism binoculars, which are under half the price of the other Kowa option here. Despite this they don’t stint on features found in physically larger alternatives. For example, this option boasts waterproofed, nitrogen filled housing to prevent fogging along with high quality BaK-4 prisms used in their construction to increase brightness. 

Naturally lenses are fully multi coated while the optics are claimed to have been manufactured using ‘eco glass’, ensuring an environmentally friendly process. Slim bodied and with a central focus knob, the ergonomic design of this 8x magnification, 25mm objective lens offering ensures smooth and comfortable handling too. Sitting in the middle of Kowa’s range of pocket-sized compact binoculars, this looks like a good investment for anyone seeking a small pair of binos with a wide range of possible uses.

(Image credit: Nikon )

3. Nikon Aculon T02 10x21

Very affordable compact binoculars for everyday use

Magnification: 10x | Waterproofing: no | Objective diameter: 21mm | Field of view at 1000m: 87 metres | Closest focusing distance: 3 metres | Eye relief: 8.3mm | Weight: 195g | Dimensions: 10.4x4.1x11.4cm

Budget priced, jack of all trades device
Multi coated lenses to increase light transmission
No indication of waterproofing

An inexpensive and portable offering for travelers and hikers alike, this compact pair of binos would also be suitable for concert and theatre-goers, as well as sports fans, or indeed anyone wanting an unobtrusive pair for daily use. Available in non-nonsense black plus several other colors, one of the main selling points here is that, at 195g in weight, users will barely notice they’re carrying Nikon’s Aculon T02. 

While they be slightly light on features too for their budget friendly price, we do get adjustable turn-and-slide eyecups, and a familiar central focus knob, as well as multi-coated lenses to increase light transmission for a crisper view. A slim and stylish single-hinged design also catches the eye, while a soft case, strap and eyepiece caps come as standard here.

(Image credit: Bushnell )

4. Bushnell H20 8x25

O-ring sealed and nitrogen purged waterproof and fogproof compact roof prism binoculars

Magnification: 8x | Waterproofing: Yes | Objective diameter: 25mm | Field of view at 1000m: 87 metres | Closest focusing distance: 4.6 metres | Eye relief: : 13.5mm | Weight: 290g | Dimensions: 5x4x2.75-inches

Good value, fully waterproofed option
Multi coated lenses increase light transmission
Rubber shock absorbent armor also makes for a firm grip
Workmanlike design and styling
No option to tripod mount

Built for the wet as well as the wild and straightforward to use with it, this Bushnell pair of compact binos has an extra trick up its sleeve in claiming to be 100% waterproof, thanks to O-ring seals to prevent moisture ingress plus nitrogen purged housing to prevent fogging. Once again we get a large centrally-located focus knob, twist up eyecups and a rubber armored exterior to both absorb shock and help provide a firmer grip in the heat of the action. The cognoscenti will additionally want to know that BaK 4 prisms and multi coated optics also feature, enhancing light transmission and making for a crisp and clear viewing experience. A limited lifetime warranty delivers final peace of mind.

(Image credit: Celestron)

5. Celestron 8x25 Outland X

Not much larger than your smartphone

Magnification: 8x | Waterproofing: Yes | Objective diameter: 25mm | Field of view at 1000m: 142.8 metres | Closest focusing distance: 13.1ft | Eye relief: 10mm | Weight: 453g | Dimensions: 15.2x7.6x15.2cm

Compact dimensions
Very fair value for money
BaK-4 prism glass and multi coated lenses for improve light transmission
No tripod mount facility or built-in image stabilization
Short eye relief

This compact roof prism construction binocular from the reliably good value Celestron brand isn’t much larger than the average smartphone, making it a good everyday use option. Surprisingly at this budget price we still get both a waterproof and fog proof construction, including the preferred BaK-4 glass prisms, plus the regulation-issue multi coated optics to improve light transmission. Even the neoprene carry case provided here claims to be moisture proof. Focus is adjusted quickly and easily via a centrally placed knob, with the expected audience for these binos made up of travelers and sports fans, as well as birders. A neck strap, case, lens cloth and manual are all included out of the box as standard.

(Image credit: Olympus)

6. Olympus 8x21 RC II WP

Compact, waterproof and foldable pair of compact binos

Magnification: 8x | Objective diameter: 21mm | Field of view at 1000m: 110 metres | Closest focusing distance: 3 metres | Eye relief: 11.5mm | Weight: 215g | Dimensions: 3.8x10.7x8,8cm

Good value for money
Decent feature set
No tripod mount facility or built-in image stabilization

Another ultra light, rubberized pocket-sized binocular, this time from the recognized Olympus brand. The device is aimed at sight-seers and those attending indoor or outdoor concert and sporting events, with a design available in several colors – magenta, blue and olive green – described as ‘sporty’. The key specification to focus on here is obviously the 8x magnification and 21mm objective lens size, while multi-coated lenses once again feature in order to maximize light transmission. As well as being waterproof, the construction is hinged to allow for the binos to be folded even tighter when not in use – making them the perfect size to slip into a jacket pocket; no additional bags or backpacks required. That said, a case, neck strap and lens cap are included with purchase to both protect our purchase and keep it close to hand.

Read more:

• The best binoculars
Best budget binoculars under $100
Best marine binoculars
Best rangefinder binoculars
Best opera glasses
Best binocular harnesses
Best binocular tripod adapter
• The 10 best spotting scopes
• The best night vision goggles
• The best opera glasses
• The best telescopes for astrophotography

Gavin Stoker

Gavin has over 30 year experience of writing about photography and television. He is currently the editor of British Photographic Industry News, and previously served as editor of Which Digital Camera and deputy editor of Total Digital Photography

He has also written for a wide range of publications including T3, BBC Focus, Empire, NME, Radio Times, MacWorld, Computer Active, What Digital Camera and Rough Guide books.

With his wealth of knowledge he is well placed to recognise great camera deals and recommend the best products in Digital Camera World’s buying guides. He also writes on a number of specialist subjects including binoculars and monoculars, spotting scopes, microscopes, trail cameras, action cameras, body cameras, filters, cameras straps and more.