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10 Best Binoculars for Bird Watching in 2020 – Top Picks & Reviews

Last Updated on December 3, 2020

Birdwatching with a pair of binoculars

Birds are truly majestic creatures, and if you wish to see them in all of their glory, you’re going to need some quality optics that can bring you close to the action when you’re standing far away. You’re looking for binoculars with a bright, clear image and accurate color representation so you can see all those colorful feathers in stunning high definition.

There are tons of binoculars on the market today, and many are more affordable than ever. The quality of optics keeps improving, allowing for better viewing and smaller devices that are easier to take with you in the field.

Whether you’re looking for an upgrade to your old birding binoculars or you’re searching for your first pair to get started, you’re sure to find a great match in the following reviews. We’ve tested some of the most popular binoculars on the market to see which ones were best for birding in the hopes of saving you the trouble of testing them all yourself.


A Quick Comparison (updated in 2020)

Image Product Details
Best Overall
Winner
Celestron Nature DX 8x42 Celestron Nature DX 8x42
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Excellent field of view
  • Waterproof and fogproof
  • Best Value
    Second place
    Occer 12x25 Occer 12x25
  • Lightweight and compact
  • Sharp image
  • Great color resolution
  • Premium Choice
    Third place
    Carl Zeiss Conquest HD Carl Zeiss Conquest HD
  • Extra wide field of view
  • Vivid colors from ED glass
  • Phase correction coated prism
  • Wingspan SkyView Wingspan SkyView
  • Impressive range
  • Excellent color clarity
  • Impressive field of view
  • Vortex Viper HD 10x42 Vortex Viper HD 10x42
  • Clear image and accurate colors
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Good close focus
  • The 10 Best Binoculars for Bird Watching

    1. Celestron Nature DX 8×42 Binoculars – Best Overall

    Celestron 8x42

    Celestron is recognized as one of the biggest and best manufacturers of telescopes, so it makes sense that their binoculars would be quality as well. The Nature DX binoculars are our favorite binoculars for bird watching with some impressive features that make them a great choice for anyone.

    These binoculars have a very close focus of just 6.5 feet. If a bird happens to get close enough to you, you’ll be able to see incredible detail in each of their feathers, giving you a close-up view like you’ve never had before. When your avian subject is farther and in flight, the wide field of view of 388 feet will allow you to keep them in your sights the entire time.

    To ensure that these binoculars are ready for long days in the field, they’re waterproof and fog-proof thanks to nitrogen purging. The polycarbonate housing is rubber-armored, to make sure that they’re also protected from physical damage.

    Eyeglasses won’t prevent you from using the Nature DX binoculars since they have large eye reliefs of 18 millimeters.  A bit heavy, weighing in just under two pounds, but we can forgive that considering all of these great features.

    Pros
    • 5’ close focus
    • Warrantied for life
    • 388’ field of view
    • Large 18mm eye relief
    • Waterproof and fog-proof
    Cons
    • They’re a bit heavy

    2. Occer 12×25 Compact Binoculars – Best Value

    Occer binoculars

    Bird watching requires some quality optics, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune. Take these Occer compact binoculars, for example. They’re dirt cheap, but offer performance that punches way above their price, which is why we think they’re the best binoculars for bird watching for the money.

    We were surprised at how good the image quality is when using these binoculars. Especially for the price, the sharp image and accurate color representation are quite impressive. The field of view is pretty narrow though at just 273 feet. This means it can be more difficult to follow your subject during flight, but you’ll get a great view when they’re perched.

    What’s really nice about these binoculars is their compact size and light weight. They weigh in at less than a pound with a footprint that’s small enough to slip into your pocket. Even after hours of viewing, these are so light that they’re unlikely to fatigue you. And since they’re so light and small, you’ll hardly notice them while you’re carrying them to your destination, even if they’re hanging around your neck.

    Pros
    • Dirt-cheap pricing
    • Weighs less than a pound
    • Compact size
    • Sharp image
    • Accurate color representation
    Cons
    • Narrow field of view

    3. Carl Zeiss Conquest HD Binoculars – Premium Choice

    Carl Zeiss Optical 8x42 Victory HT

    The Conquest HD Binoculars from Carl Zeiss are wildly expensive, there’s no question about it. But you can tell the moment you hold them that they’re special. Not only do they look streamlined and slick, they feel like quality in your hand. These offer a rugged build quality that ensures they’ll be around for a lifetime. In fact, they’re warrantied for life, which means they truly will be.

    But a lifetime warranty doesn’t warrant this high price. What makes these so valuable is the image quality, which is second to none. These binoculars feature superior optics that make for an incredible viewing experience. Images are bright and crisp, completely clear from the center to the edge with accurate colors that make you feel like you’re right next to the birds you’re watching.

    On top of excellent image quality, these lenses are also scratch-resistant. When you’re traipsing through the brush looking for that elusive avian subject, you’ll be thankful for the incredible protection that these binoculars offer. And if something does happen, well, at least you have that lifetime warranty to fall back on.

    Pros
    • Limited lifetime warranty
    • Scratch-resistant lenses
    • Rugged build quality
    • Superior optics
    Cons
    • Expensive

    4. Wingspan SkyView Birding Binoculars

    Wingspan Optics SkyView

    The Wingspan Optics SkyView binoculars are proof that you don’t need to spend a fortune on a pair of birding binoculars. Despite the competitive price, this pair offers several high-quality features that make it the best binoculars for birding for the money. First of all, the ED glass offers an incredible spectrum of color with total clarity. We also like the durability of its waterproof and fog proof construction.

    Advertised as being as light as a feather and durable as a tank, the Wingspan Optics SkyView aims to please all. With the product weighing in at 1.6 pounds, it is certainly lightweight and easy to carry around when hiking. At this price, there must be a disadvantage or two to consider, right?

    Some consumers don’t like the bulky size (6″ x 5″ x 2″), while others would prefer not to buy a pair of birding binoculars that were manufactured in China. However, quality is not compromised, in our opinion. We think that this is a great value product when you consider the 8×42 magnification, plus the carrying case, lens covers, and microfiber cleaning cloth that are included.

    Pros
    • Vivid colors from ED glass
    • Waterproof and fog proof
    • Lightweight but durable
    Cons
    • Manufactured in China
    • Bulky

    5. Vortex Viper HD 10×42 Birding Binoculars

    Vortex Optics Viper HD 10x42 Binoculars

    If you’ve been priced out of the Conquest HD market, take a look at the Vortex Viper HD. Offering excellent overall quality, they’re available at a fraction of the price. The HD glass provides excellent resolution and color, and the body was designed to take a beating. Waterproof and fog proof, the O-ring effectively prevents moisture and general dust and debris from breaching the seal.

    The Viper’s 10×42 field of view is ideal for birdwatching, and the purchase includes various accessories: rain guard, lens covers, neck strap, and padded carry case. The softshell case was a bit of a concern, but turned out to be a blessing while walking about in the field. Plus, you get peace of mind from the unconditional lifetime warranty. We think that this, along with their customer service, should erase any doubts you may have about this product.

    Pros
    • HD resolution
    • Waterproof and fog proof
    • Includes some nice accessories
    • Lifetime warranty and customer support
    Cons
    • Softshell carry case

    6. Gosky 10×42 Roof Prism Binoculars

     

    7Gosky 10x42

    Offering decent, but not great, performance at an affordable price, the Gosky 10×42 roof prism binoculars are a middle of the pack product. There’s nothing awful about them, but there’s nothing particularly amazing about them either. We like the low price, but other sets we tested offered superior performance at similar, or even cheaper prices.

    Still, these do cover the basics very well. They’re covered in a shock-absorbing rubber armor that protects them from rough handling, though we wouldn’t trust it to keep them safe if they were dropped. They’re rainproof and fog-proof, though we certainly wouldn’t want to use them in a serious rainstorm.

    Included with these binoculars is a smartphone adapter that allows you to take pictures through the lens with your phone. This is a nice offering, but it won’t work with all smartphones. We do love that these are protected by a lifetime warranty, greatly increasing their value. But that’s not going to be enough to earn them a higher position on this list when there are so many excellent choices available.

    Pros
    • Smartphone adapter for taking pictures
    • Lifetime warranty
    • Shock-absorbing rubber armor
    • Priced affordably
    Cons
    • Poor low-light performance
    • Not as durable as other models

    7. SkyGenius 10×50 Binoculars

    SkyGenius 10x50 Binoculars

    One of the best budget options on the market, SkyGenius 10×50 Binoculars is a great all-around product for casual bird watching and the like. The full 10x magnification and 50mm lens provides clear viewing even in low light conditions. This particular pair of binoculars is easy to use with adjustable eyecups and a matte finish that helps to provide a good, comfortable grip. In fact, the rubber exterior provides some shock-resistance in the event of it being dropped.

    Included accessories make this product even better value. You’ll get a lens caps, carry pouch, strap, and cleaning cloth. The product is tripod-compatible (not included). We like that the SkyGenius 10×50 binoculars are a versatile option that can also be used for stargazing and sporting events. While fairly light at 1.55 pounds, they are on the bulky side with dimensions of 6.7″ x 2.4″ x 7.7″, so this may be off-putting for those who are seeking more compact binoculars for hiking.

    Overall, we recommend the SkyGenius 10×50 for anybody who is seeking budget binoculars that offer respectable quality for a great low price.

    Pros
    • Accessories including lens caps and strap
    • Fairly portable
    • Very good build with a comfortable grip
    Cons
    • No tripod included
    • Bulky

    8. Gskyer 12×25 Compact Binoculars

    Gskyer 12x25

    Don’t worry, we can’t pronounce this brand either. Regardless, these binoculars will appeal to many people based on their incredibly low price alone. At this price, we don’t expect stellar performance. Naturally, these binos lived up to our expectations, though they do still have some worthwhile features, especially for such a cheap pair.

    At less than a pound, these are light enough to fit into your pocket. Since they’re so cheap, replacing them is no big deal if they get damaged, which is great since these only come with a paltry one-year warranty.

    The large 17-millimeter eye reliefs mean that your glasses won’t inhibit the use of these binoculars. But the pitiful low-light performance will certainly limit the hours that you can spend viewing your feathered subjects. Additionally, the narrow field of view is just 273 feet, so if your subject takes off, you’ll likely have a hard time following it. Overall, they’re not the worst we’ve seen, though they’re not the pair we’d recommend.

    Pros
    • Priced extremely cheap
    • Weighs less than a pound
    • 17mm eye relief
    Cons
    • Warranty only lasts one year
    • Narrow field of view
    • Sub-par low-light performance

    9. Nikon 16001 PROSTAFF 7S Compact Binocular

    Nikon compact Prostaff

    We’ve had great luck with Nikon products in the past, from cameras to binoculars. So, when the PROSTAFF compact binoculars performed so poorly, it was a major disappointment and a surprise to all of our testers. It’s not all bad though. These feature nitrogen-purged weatherproofing, a compact form factor, and a lightweight package under a pound.

    But these are far from cheap. For the price, we would expect much better performance than these offered. The image quality is decent at best. We noticed considerable blurring the closer to the edges you observe. The center of the image is very clear, but even binoculars a fraction of the price offered superior image quality.

    While on the search for an elusive bird, the lens cover simply fell off. We didn’t notice right away, so it ended up lost for good. After a bit of research, we found that this is a common occurrence with this model. For such an expensive tool, we would hope for protective features that are more well thought out. As it is, these seem overpriced for the mediocre quality they provide.

    Pros
    • Weighs less than a pound
    • Nitrogen purged weatherproofing
    Cons
    • They’re quite pricey
    • Lens covers don’t stay on
    • The image isn’t sharp to the edges

    10. Swarovski 8.5×42 EL Binocular

     

    Swarovski

    We have to start by clarifying that the Swarovski EL binoculars are actually an incredible tool. If they were one-tenth the price they are, they might earn our recommendation. But at this insanely expensive price, there’s no room for inadequacies, of which these binoculars have several.

    That said, the image quality from these is superb. Images are sharp from edge to edge and you can get a crisp, bright image, even in low light.

    When wearing these around the neck with the included strap, the strap simply let go, dropping the binoculars to the ground. This happened a second time, and then a third, which is beyond unacceptable at this price. Especially once you realize that these aren’t even warrantied for life! To clarify, the optics are warrantied for life, but everything else is only warrantied for ten years, which seems insane on such a crazy expensive set of binos.

    But it gets worse. Even under warranty, if you need repairs, you have to pay for them! That almost feels like a bait and switch or some type of sick joke. These cost more than most people’s mortgage payment, and at that price, we expected a lot more.

    Pros
    • Sharp images from edge to edge
    • Excellent low-light performance
    Cons
    • Insanely expensive
    • They’re not warrantied for life
    • You have to pay for repairs
    • Strap isn’t secure

    Buyer’s Guide

    In truth, you could choose any binoculars for bird watching. Any binoculars will give you a more magnified view of your subject. But that doesn’t mean that all binoculars are equally adept. On the contrary. Some binos are poor choices while others are perfect for birding. If you’re still unsure of how to tell them apart, then this buyer’s guide is for you.

    What to Look for in Bird Watching Binoculars

    When looking for binoculars for bird watching, there are some specific traits that you’ll want to keep an eye out for. These are specific to bird watching, and if you find a pair that fits your needs in these categories, they’re sure to provide exactly what you’re looking for.

    Size

    If you’re serious about finding rare avian specimens for your viewing pleasure, then you’re likely taking some long hikes on your journeys. If your binoculars are too big, they’re going to be a nuisance to carry with you.

    Often, bird watchers will hang their binoculars around their neck while they travel. But if your binos are too bulky, they’ll be swinging around and constantly getting in your way.

    Plus, big binoculars aren’t as comfortable to hold; an important factor to consider when you’ll be holding them for extended periods.

    Binocular objective lens size diagram

    Weight

    Along with size comes weight. Lightweight binoculars are easier to carry and they won’t fatigue you when holding them up to your eyes for a long time. But if you have a heavy set of binos, then they might even weigh you down while you’re carrying them; especially if they’re hanging around your neck. Feel free to check our top 5 compact binoculars right here for more inspiration.

    Image Clarity

    Getting to a proper spot for viewing your subject is just part of the battle. Once you’re there, you need good optics with clear images if you really want to see detail on your subject. Birds aren’t the largest of creatures, and because of flight, they’re often pretty far from you.

    If your binoculars have sub-par image clarity, you’ll have a hard time making out the details in their features. But with the right image quality, far off birds will appear in great detail.

    Color Reproduction

    Birds are some of the most colorful creatures on the planet. Half the fun of watching them is observing the wild colorations and patterns they present. But if your binos don’t offer faithful color reproduction, then things will just appear…off. With accurate color reproduction, you’ll see your subjects exactly how nature intended.

    Field of View

    Field of view represents how wide of an area you can see through your binoculars. It’s generally measured in feet at a distance of 1000 yards.

    A wider field of view means that you’ll see more area at once, but it won’t appear as zoomed in. With a narrower field of view, you’ll see less total area but things will appear closer.

    Binocular field of view

    When birds are in flight, a wide field of view enables you to follow them easily without losing sight of them. But once they perch, you won’t have quite as close of an image, most of the time. With a narrow field of view, it can be difficult to track a flying bird, but you’ll have a closer image when they’re sitting still.  

    Magnification

    Magnification represents how much closer an object appears when viewed through the binoculars. For instance, 10x magnification makes an object appear ten times closer or ten times larger than it actually is. But if your magnification is too strong, then you’ll have a very difficult time locating your subject through the lenses.

    Binocular lens system

     

    Weatherproofing

    Bird watching takes place in nature. Nature can be fickle. You’ll likely have to deal with adverse weather at some point in your bird watching career, which means you’ll need protection for your binoculars.

    Most binos offer weatherproofing of some degree. However, many cheap pairs only offer light waterproofing that can’t handle rainfall. Many of our favorite binos offer nitrogen-purged seals that are completely waterproof and fog-proof, though you wouldn’t want to submerge them.

    A step up from there is argon purging, which offers even better weatherproofing at a much higher cost.

    Durability

    Anything can happen while you’re out and about searching for those elusive subjects. Your binoculars will be open to all sorts of damage. They can be scratched by bushes and branches you bump into. You might even drop them! If that happens, you’ll be praying for a durable set of binoculars that won’t break.

    Many binos offer protective rubber coatings that absorb shocks like drops and rough handling. We suggest looking for the most durable pair you can find to ensure they’ll hold up through whatever situations you find yourself in.

    Price

    If your binocular budget has no limit then we recommend that you look at the high-end products. These can cost hundreds of dollars and some even reach four figures in price. Such birding binoculars last a long time and often come with excellent warranties, such is the confidence the manufacturer has in their product. On the other hand, don’t feel that you cannot get a good pair of binoculars just because you have a low budget. There are plenty of great value options out there.

    In fact, there are some very popular pairs of birding binoculars for less than $100!

    Warranty

    Of course, even the most durable binoculars are still prone to breakage. If that happens, you’ll be relying on your warranty to get you through. Luckily, many binoculars are covered by a lifetime warranty, so no matter what happens, you should be ok. That said, we’ve seen plenty of models that offer sub-par warranties. We suggest prioritizing the warranty and searching for a pair that offers lifetime protection.

    Conclusion

    You didn’t need our reviews to tell you that there are many great binoculars available for bird watching today. Instead, our goal was to compare some of the most popular to help you figure out which pair is the best investment for your dollar.

    For us, the top choice is the Celestron Nature DX. They offer waterproof and fog-proof nitrogen purged durability, a wide field of view of 388 feet, and 18-millimeter eye reliefs that are even comfortable when wearing glasses. If anything happens to them, the lifetime warranty will keep your investment protected.

    If you’re looking for the best value, we think you’ll find it in the Occer compact binoculars. They offer great image quality in a tiny package that fits in your pocket and weighs less than a pound at a dirt-cheap price.

    And when you want a premium viewing experience with no expense spared, we recommend the Zeiss Conquest HD binoculars. They offer the best image quality we’ve seen with a rugged build and scratch-resistant lenses that are all protected by a lifetime warranty, ensuring that these binos will be around to make a lifetime of incredible bird watching memories.

    About the Author Robert Sparks

    Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.