Two of the most common types of binoculars are the 8×42 and the 10×42 binoculars. While it’s a debate that many people may not have heard of, it’s one that rages on in the binocular-using community. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, and while members of both camps would like to argue that their version is the superior binocular, the truth is that they excel in different areas and have slightly different use cases, so it’s important to understand what they can and can’t do well before you buy.
Before we discuss what the differences between 8×42 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars are, we should first cover some of our terms so that it’s clear what we’re discussing.
The numbers listed above refer to the magnification level and the lens size on the binoculars. So, an “8×42” pair of binoculars has 8x magnification and lenses that are 42 millimeters in diameter. 8x magnification means that objects are eight times as large when viewed through the binoculars as they are with the naked eye. 10x means that objects are ten times as large as they would be with the naked eye.
With lens size, bigger is almost always better. Bigger lenses let in more light, leading to brighter images and overall superior detail, but they also create a wider field of view. Field of view is a term used to describe how much you can see at once. Binoculars will always have a smaller field of view than you get with just your eyes, but the best models provide a large field of view relative to the competition.
When comparing these two binocular types, it’s important to keep in mind that any differences that they may have are due to their differences in magnification, rather than lens size, since they use lenses of the same size.
The best thing about 8×42 binoculars is that they provide a wider field of view than 10×42 models. Since they’re not zoomed in as much, you can see more of the landscape at once when using your binoculars. Additionally, small movements with your hand won’t move the view around as much, leading to a more stable experience. It’s slightly easier to focus on a single object with these binoculars than it is with the 10×42.
Another point in their favor is that they’re generally cheaper. You may be able to invest in an 8×42 pair of binoculars with a higher part quality for the same price as a 10×42.
The 8×42 is arguably better when it comes to eye relief and twilight conditions as well. Eye relief describes the distance away from the eyepiece you can be and still see the image. Large amounts of eye relief result in less eye strain overall but are especially useful for people who wear glasses, as they won’t have to take them off to use the binoculars.
In twilight conditions like those near dawn and dusk, your pupils get larger. In those situations, you’ll want your binoculars to have an entrance pupil or the size of the image you see, that is as large or larger than your pupil dilation. 8×42 often have up to a millimeter more in their entrance pupils than the 10×42 models, making them the better choice in these situations, though this is something that varies from model to model.
The biggest downside to the 8×42 is that they’re not going to give you the same level of detail that you’re going to get out of a 10×42 model. That may cost you in situations where those details are important. For example, an 8×42 might be easier to see a bird with, but the magnification might not be high enough to let you make out the fine details that you’d need to be able to see to make a positive identification. Of course, this is depended on how far away from the bird you are, but in many circumstances, you’ll want to be as far away as possible so that you don’t risk spooking it.
8×42 are also the inferior choice in wide-open areas. If you’re trying to find something in those spaces, it may be hard, as the differences between fur and rock may not be color, but instead texture, and the lower magnification in the 8×42 binoculars means that those differences aren’t going to be as prominent.
The big benefit to 10×42 binoculars is that they have superior magnification. When you’re going to be far away from the thing you’re trying to view, that extra magnification can really come in handy. That makes 10×42 binoculars a superior choice for situations where you’ll be sitting still and searching for something.
If you’re in a hunting stand, these binoculars can be a good choice, as the extra magnification will help you pick out your prey from among the surrounding fauna. It’s also a good choice for those who are trying to identify unknown birds, as the extra magnification will allow you to make out details on the beak and feathers that might go unseen with an 8×42.
The 10×42 is also going to be the superior choice if you’re going to be in a wide-open area looking for something that nearly matches the surrounding fauna. The extra magnification will help you pick out the sometimes-subtle texture differences that can clue you into an animal’s presence in an area.
10×42 binoculars are going to perform worse in low-light conditions as most models are going to have a smaller exit pupil than those found on 8×42 models. While these models are generally better for hunting, if you’re going to be going out at dawn or dusk, you may want to consider an 8×42 model, as it will perform better in those circumstances.
10×42 are generally going to provide less eye relief as well. If you use glasses and don’t want to have to take them off to use your binoculars, then you’ll want good eye relief. This is something that is going to vary from model to model, but in general, 10×42 models have inferior eye relief when compared to their 8×42 brethren. They’re also worse for quick-moving situations, so you’ll probably be frustrated with them at sporting events.
As you can see, the difference between 8×42 and 10×42 binoculars lies not in one being superior to the other in every area, but rather that they work differently and excel in different areas. Consequently, the right model for you lies in getting the one that will work best in the situations in which you’ll use a pair of binoculars.
If you need a good, general purpose pair of binoculars, then you can’t go wrong with an 8×42, which excels in most categories. If you need superior magnification, then getting a 10×42 is a good idea, as it will help you make out fine detail to a degree you could never hope for with an 8×42.
We hope that our guide has helped you understand the differences between these two common binocular types. You should now be able to find the type that’s right for you and keeps you happy for years to come.