Are you after the best budget binoculars for the eclipse? If you have ever seen a solar eclipse, you will know how fiddly solar eclipse glasses can be. Sure, protecting your eyes from dangerous infrared light, UV light and bright sunlight is absolutely imperative while looking at the sun. However, not only do solar eclipse glasses get easily damaged, but they obviously don't offer any magnification. Cue solar binoculars, which have built-in solar filters on their objective lenses to allow in only safe levels of sunlight.
There are only two major brands of solar binoculars, Lunt and Celestron, and in this buyer’s guide, we’ve covered six models. Happily, the products available cover all kinds of magnifications, from portable and pocket-sized 10x25 binoculars (that’s 10x magnification and 25mm aperture objective lenses) to heavier 20x50 binoculars. Within the small range available you’ll also find both roof prism (for small and portable binoculars) and Porro prism (for large and affordable) designs. Crucially, the solar filters used all conform to the ISO 12312-2:2015(E) international safety standard.
While that should reassure eclipse-chasers about safety, there is a major difference between Celestron and Lunt products in terms of filter coating. Both deal in white light, but while Celestron products use polymer solar filters for a white view of the sun with just a hint of blue, Lunt products employ glass filters, which make the sun look yellow-orange. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. Both can be used for observing eclipses as well as just for looking at the sun, which is currently displaying lots of sunspots around its once-a-decade (or so) solar maximum in the mid-2020s.
Although solar binoculars make it safe to view the sun, it pays to know an extra safety technique. After all, when bringing solar binoculars up to your face it’s all too easy to look at the sun – and that goes double if you have problems locating it through the otherwise very dark optics. A good technique here is to wear a wide-brimmed hat, which will instantly block the sun from getting in your eyes while you find the sun and adjust the binoculars.
Although a pair of solar binoculars slung around your neck while observing a solar eclipse can greatly enhance your viewing, this only applies to the partial phases. For most people, that will be the entire eclipse event, but if you're lucky enough to be in the path of totality on April 8, 2024, you'll want to put down your solar eclipse binoculars during totality and pick up a pair of normal optical binoculars. After all, with the sun completely blocked by the moon, the solar filter is not necessary and will actually entirely prevent you from seeing the spectacular solar corona. So while solar binoculars make for a handy accessory during the partial phases of all solar eclipses, they’re useless during totality (and also for stargazing).
The best solar eclipse binoculars in 2023
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When choosing something for getting a close-up of the eclipse it’s wise to go for a relatively small product with a magnification that impresses – and the Lunt SUNoculars 8x32 achieves that. Small but with just the right amount of magnification to make it worthwhile having, these roof prism binoculars are a totally different (and more portable) beast to both Lunt’s SUNoculars Mini and Celestron’s large roof prism products. For starters, it has by far the best build quality, with the roof prism barrel array meaning a compact design, but a reassuringly solid feel. It also has a hard plastic covering and lens caps that are attached, simply hang ingdown below the objective lenses when in use.
Optically the Lunt SUNoculars 8x32 are a mixed bag. I found the sun very easily, focused quickly and enjoyed sharp views of sunspots with the added bonus of lots of eye relief from the twist-up eyecups. That makes them more immersive than all the other solar binoculars featured here. The non-coated internal dye white light solar filters used don’t block quite as much light as the others on test here. It’s perfectly safe and creates a lovely warm white-yellow view of the sun, but it does mean significant glare around the disk. However, if you want a good balance of portability and magnification within a rugged design, the Lunt SUNoculars 8x32 are hard to beat. It’s sold in a choice of colors - black, yellow, orange or blue.
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Light enough to hold steady while also offering decent magnification, these binoculars are excellent for watching the progress of an eclipse while also being good for studying the surface of the sun. Low-priced and with just the right amount of magnification for stunning close-ups of sunspots while also being easy to hold steady, the Celestron EclipSmart 10x42mm offer the perfect balance for those wanting something impressive without being too big and bulky. Crucially, it’s easy to find and focus on the sun, with a nice, bright and sharp view, although we did notice both a blue and yellow line around the limb, tell-tale signs of color fringing.
Although it’s the most impressive of Celestron’s three Porro prism binoculars in its EclipseSmart range – including a slightly better build quality – the Celestron EclipSmart 10x42mm has a lot in common with both the 12x50 and 20x50 models, both good and bad. All have thumb pads underneath the barrels that make it easy to grip, and offer plenty of eye relief. However, the shoulder case included is of very basic quality, as is the neck strap, while the separate lens caps on both the lens caps and eyecups are easy to lose. What this model does lack is an adaptor for attaching a tripod, though that’s something that simply isn’t required at this easy-to-handhold 10x magnification.
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If you just want to keep track of the progress of the moon across the sun during an eclipse and you’re not interested in seeing sunspots then the Celestron EclipSmart 10x25mm roof solar binoculars are for you. A tiny pair of binoculars not much bigger than the footprint of a smartphone, these roof prism binoculars offer 10x magnification, but only 25mm objective lenses. That means a small bluish-white image of the sun that lacks brightness, though the wide angle of view makes them very easy to use to locate the sun quickly. In our test, we could just about see some sunspots, though not nearly as many – and not as clearly – as larger, higher magnification brighter solar eclipse binoculars.
It’s a no-frills package, with a simple string for a neck strap, but since they’re so lightweight the Celestron EclipSmart 10x25mm roof solar binoculars can hang effortlessly around the neck during an eclipse. Also in the box is a pouch that has a belt loop, but they can just as easily live in a pocket. The only real downside to these travel-friendly solar binoculars is the lack of eye relief.
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Many people find binoculars that magnify 10x or higher quite difficult to hold steady and that certainly applies here. Although almost identical to both the 10x42 and 12x50 models here, this 20x50 binocular is just too heavy to hold steady. What’s more, the narrow field of view makes it very hard to quickly find the sun. This is why the tripod jack between the barrels of this Porro prism binocular is so useful. When held steady on a tripod the Celestron EclipSmart 20x50 offers fabulous close-ups of sunspots on the surface of the sun amid a blueish-white view of the solar surface. We also didn’t notice many traces of blue and yellow color fringing around the sun. Impressive when mounted on a tripod, the Celestron EclipSmart 20x50 is best thought of as a travel-friendly alternative to taking a small telescope to see an eclipse rather than as solar binoculars for hand-holding. As with the others in the range, the Celestron EclipSmart 20x50 comes with thumb pads underneath the barrels and lots of eye relief, but with loose lens laps, a thin neck strap and a basic shoulder case.
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If you want as much magnification as possible for finding sunspots on the solar surface then the Celestron EclipSmart 12x50 is a tempting proposition. With 12x magnification and solar filters permanently attached to its 50mm objective lenses, these Porro prism binoculars off a bright, blueish-white view of the sun with only a trace of blue and yellow color fringing. It’s easily possible to find sunspots and even split sunspots in dense areas of activity, but there are some caveats. The main issue is that while it is possible to hold the Celestron EclipSmart 12x50 in the hand to use at an eclipse (or just for sunspot viewing), it’s a wobbly affair.
The weight of these binoculars is such that it’s better to mount them on a tripod (using the built-in tripod jack and an L-shaped binocular adaptor) or, at the very least, sit on a reclining chair when you use them. By using either a tripod or yourself to support some of the weight it becomes easier to keep them steady. That’s if you can find the sun with them, something that takes a little practice at this magnification – it’s certainly something you should master before eclipse day.
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Although sold almost as a fun and colorful item for children (albeit with the proviso for adult supervision), the yellow, red or blue SUNoculars make for a handy and inexpensive accessory for eclipse-chasers after a little magnification. Each eyecup can be adjusted for focus and, as a plus, they’re pocket-sized so easy to travel with. Although they weigh just 5.6oz/157g, the Lunt SUNoculars Mini come in a blister pack without any accessories but are hard-wearing enough to survive in a jacket pocket.
However, they’re not particularly fun to use. The internal dye filter creates a nice, bright and orange image of the sun that, despite it being too small to see sunspots, is perfect for following the passage of the moon across the sun. The trouble is, there’s zero eye relief and the eyecups are so very small. Sure, that’s ideal for kids, in theory, but in practice, it offers very little protection from all that sunlight. Much larger, twist-up eyecups – as found on the larger Lunt SUNoculars – are, we think, much safer (as well as being more comfortable).
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