Choosing the best binoculars depends on what you plan to be spotting with them. The requirements are difficult if you're using binoculars for astronomy, bird-watching, wildlife hiking, horse racing or anything else. You might need more magnification, or better light gathering, or a smaller and more pocketable build. In this guide, we'll run you through what to look for when browsing the best binoculars for different applications.
To make things easier to navigate, we've divided our guide up into affordable and premium binoculars. If you're on a limited budget, or think you'll only want the binoculars every so often, then a cheaper pair will definitely fit the bill. Premium binoculars are more for professional users and those who need the best no matter the cost. If that's you, jump straight to our second section!
How to choose the best binoculars for you
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.
• See also Best binocular harness
Best binoculars for astronomy: If you're planning on stargazing, we'd recommend a binocular size of around 7x50. The 7x magnification will work well for astro viewing as a compromise between field of view and magnification, while a 50mm lens will provide plenty of light transmission for spotting fainter celestial objects.
Best binoculars for horse racing and other sports: Sports tend to happen int he 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!
• Read more: Best spotting scopes
More expensive binoculars will also have handy features like weatherproofing and fog-resistance, and some even have image stabilisation on board!
In the list below we've picked out some favourite models from current binocular ranges, but do note that other size variations are available from resellers, so you can choose other combinations of magnification and size.
The best binoculars in 2021
A previous Red Dot design award winner, this mid-range Nikon model with a rubber armored, non-slip construction comes in either 8x42 or 10x42 options, and weighing just 575g despite its robust build, won’t give you aching wrists. It further features a highly reflective silver alloy mirror coating on the surface of its prism lenses to provide what’s claimed to be a bright and clear view, while a long eye relief enables comfortable viewing, particularly for those who wear glasses. O-ring sealed and nitrogen filled, this waterproofed pair will also deliver a fog-proof performance when used outdoors. Simply put, this is a good all-round option that delivers plenty of visual ‘bang’ for your buck. The very best binoculars cost a great deal more than this, of course, so you have to decide what's a reasonable expense.
• Read our Nikon Prostaff 3S 10x42 binocular review
Something of a bargain, this pair of Celestron BaK-4 prism binos boasts 8x magnification and multi coated optics to prevent anything from marring your view. This isn't the only size – you can get these Outland X binoculars in other magnifications and sizes too. Suitable for outdoor use by birders and wildlife watchers, thanks not only to said magnification but also a sturdy polycarbonate build and waterproofing, the decent-sized 42mm objective lenses on offer here will aid light gathering, making these binoculars suitable for use in low light as well as regular daylight. A large smooth-feel focus wheel aids operation and a long 18mm eye relief delivers viewing comfort. Capable of being tripod mounted if desired, a strap, lens cloth and carry case comes as standard, plus a limited lifetime warranty.
While the Bushnell Powerview 2 10x42 may feature-wise be a pretty basic pair of binoculars, the aluminium-alloy chassis gives them a real premium feel. You certainly get the impression this pair could survive a knock or two (though we wouldn't recommend testing this on purpose). The reasonably large objective lens ensures good light transmission, and the ridged focus control wheel is satisfying and intuitive to use. With rubber grips for a secure hold, the Bushnell Powerview 2 is an all-around well designed set of binoculars, at a pretty reasonable price.
To shoot for the stars, you obviously need a pair of binoculars with a high magnification factor – as well as ones with excellent light gathering abilities. We get both here with the splendidly named ‘SkyMaster’, ensuring this affordable pair is tailor-made for amateur astronomers, allowing for use at dusk, dawn and night. Multi coated lenses combine with BaK-4 prisms to allow for increased light transmission and therefore high contrast images with bags of detail. Stargazers will also benefit from the fact that this option can be tripod mounted, while it also has its own centre support rod for increased stability. A polycarbonate and aluminum build provides both robustness and portability, while we also get a product that is waterproofed and fog-proofed with it, which is especially useful on cold winter nights.
The low-cost 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. The 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 just a little more outlay, which represents something of a bargain in itself.
Read more: Opticron Savanna WP 6x30 binocular review
While the 10x magnification factor of the Steiner 2212 10x 26mm Safari UltraSharp Binoculars is certainly impressive, what also grabs your attention is how light they are, weighing just 297g, but a glance at the specs reveals a lot of this is due to the pretty small 26mm objective lenses. Handling is excellent, however, with an ergonomic grip and intelligently laid-out controls, and optical quality is near top of the range. They're not quite at level of, say, the Canon or Zeiss (see below) binoculars, but at this price they're really nothing to sneeze at. Made with high-contrast optics that deliver an image of exceptional quality, these binoculars represent some of the best value for money on this list.
There are binoculars from Celestron’s Nature range, with even higher magnification and larger objective lenses, and likewise there are devices that cost less with smaller lenses and less magnification, so we’ve gone for a good value option in the middle that, with a 10x56 spec, ticks our essential boxes and makes for a decent all-rounder, particularly with the facility to focus as near as 3m too. As well as being great in low light, they're suitable for outdoor use, thanks to a durable polycarbonate construction filed with dry nitrogen gas to prevent fogging in cold and wet conditions. Add in multi-coated optics and this is a robust, well-specified pair of binos suitable for everyone from beginners to intermediate users.
This bright, sharp and reliable model from the Olympus pro line up (a new 8x42 version is also available) features nano coating for the first time in the range. Olympus is renowned for its optical expertise, so it’s no surprise that we get the same high performance Zuiko optics that it deploys with its camera systems. Indeed, the claim here is the binos’ optics offer unprecedented light transmittance for their class. Compact, ergonomically designed and of rugged construction that prevents any ingress from water if submerged at a depth of one metre for five minutes, close up performance is also impressive, with the ability to view subjects as near as 1.5m. Nitrogen filling prevents fogging while the design is slim and simple. An extendable eye relief provides comfort for spectacle wearers, as do a dioptric adjustment ring, flip down lens cap and a new strap mount. A 15-year warranty provides extra peace of mind.
• Read our Olympus 10x42 Pro binocular review
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 Leica Trinovid HD 8x32 to the 10x42 we’ve selected.
• Read our Leica Trinovid HD 8x42 binocular review
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.
• Read our Nikon Monarch HG 10x30 binocular review
Zeiss is synonymous with cutting-edge optical performance, and 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.
Read more: Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 binoculars review
All of Canon’s current range of binoculars have the ‘IS’ suffix in their model name to denote the fact they’re image stabilized. This battery-operated option enables you to get a wobble-free image by just pressing in a button on the binoculars – and the stabilizing effect is both instant and jaw-dropping. From the broad range of Canon IS 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.
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