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 bins. 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 bins 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 2022(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
A compact pair of binoculars normally means a modest magnification married to an equally modest objective lens size, yet here we get a practical and efficient 8x magnification wedded to a relatively generous 32mm. These Bak-4 roof prism type binos are also waterproof, fully multi coated to improve light transmission and offer a shock-resistant rubber and polycarbonate build, along with the peace of mind of a lifetime warranty. Once again operation is swift and simple via a turn of the large and obvious ridged focus wheel, while the eyecups purport to offer three positions for comfortable viewing. The ability to focus as close as two metres, or 6.6ft, offers further versatility for those of us looking for compact binoculars for most eventualities.(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
Inspired by their iconic full-sized counterpart, Leica's 8x20 Trinovid BCA Binoculars are outfitted with a moderate magnification and small objectives to deliver the performance users have come to expect from the brand, but now in a highly portable and easy-to-carry design.
They are designed with a combination of phase-corrected BAK4 roof prisms, the proprietary HighLux system, and HDC fully multi-coated optics to produce stunningly bright and clear color-neutral images, makiing sure you have the best view possible for all your bird-watching or wildlife spotting needs and they fit comfortably in the hand for long, fatigue-free glassing sessions.
They easily fit in your jacket pocket, pack, or purse, and are made with a dual-hinge system that allows the optical tubes to fold and tuck under the closed bridge to ensure the smallest form factor when fully closed. These compacts, are truly compact in every sense of the word, weighting in a just under 8 ounces you can put them in for pocket all day and they wont weigh you down!(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
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.
Rubber coated, non-slip and water resistant, these Pentax binocular use an unusual reverse porro prism construction. Most compact binoculars use a roof prism construction - whilst alternative, larger models usually use the porro prism design. The advantage of the reverse porro prism is that allows the Papilio binoculars the welcome ability to focus on subjects as close as 50cm, thus making them useful for enlarging detail on museum visits, not just viewing subjects from afar. The compact size also makes this option suited to watching sports, going hiking, traveling and other common pursuits. Naturally we get fully multi coated optics with Bak-4 prisms to improve light transmission, plus a degree of waterproofing; and all at an affordable price for those of us seeking a compact pair for everyday use. A large, ridged central focus knob and dioptric adjustment aids ease of use and rapidity of focusing.
Binoculars: what we look for
Binoculars have lots of different specs, but there are two key ones that are best to focus on if you want to keep things simple. These are: magnification and lens size.
Most binoculars will list both in their name. When you're browsing for binoculars, you'll quickly notice that their names tend to include something like "10x20" or "6x30". These two numbers refer respectively to the magnification factor, and the size of the lenses. So in this example, we've got binoculars with 10x magnification and 6x magnification. You might think it'd be a matter of picking the binoculars with the largest magnification, but in practicality, it limits your field of view, which can make things harder to spot.
The second number refers to lens size. A larger lens will make the image brighter and clearer, especially in low light, but will also make the binoculars bigger and heavier (and probably more expensive)
This means that for your hobby or subject, it's worth thinking about what the best combination of magnification of objective lens size will work for you.
Best binoculars for horse racing and other sports: Sports tend to happen in the day, so a bright objective lens is less of a concern. Something like an 8x30 will hit the spot, as the 8x magnification should be plenty to see what's going on from the stand. There's no point getting something big and heavy if you don't need it!
Best binoculars for nature: A high magnification combined with a smaller and lighter objective lens will make for a good combination here. Some binoculars offer 10x26, and anything in that ballpark should work. However, if you do want to use a heavy pair, consider choosing one that can be affixed to a tripod. That way, you don't have to get tired arms from holding it!
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