Last Updated on November 17, 2020
You could spend a lot of money on binoculars and be able to check whether a gnat’s eyes are bloodshot at half a mile. If you need to do that, we’d definitely recommend that you do that.
Not many people need that kind of power, however. Most people can get by with a lot less, or maybe need to balance their need to see with the very real possibility that they might damage or lose their binoculars while using them. These folks want to know which binoculars offer the best value.
Finding those binoculars can be a chore. We did the work for you, researching and writing reviews of binoculars that balance performance and budget perfectly. We also tossed in a little buyer’s guide to give you some tips on what to look for in a quality set of binoculars.
|Best Overall||Gosky Roof Prism||
|Nikon 8248 ACULON||
|Best Budget Buy||Adorrgon Roof Prism||
|Nikon ProStaff 3S||
Our top pick for best binoculars for the money is the Gosky 10×42 Roof Prism Binoculars. These come full of features, are built to take a beating, and deliver good images, which is really what matters.
A new thing on the binoculars scene is the ability to take pictures, so you can share what you’ve seen on social media. The Goskys are fully compatible to make that a snap. They’ve also got the top-line imaging features like coated lenses and a roof prism for a sleek construction. True to the category, they are also a pretty good value.
They are a bit big for everyday use, however. Most everyday use binoculars are somewhere in the neighborhood of 7×32 to 8×40, so these are a bit on the large side.
All in all, we think that these are some of the best binoculars on the market right now.
The Nikon 8248 ACULON A211 10×50 Binocular has an old-school design that uses old-school Porro prisms. If you’re paying a bunch of money for binoculars, the roof prism design will definitely pay off. When shopping for value, some Porro models compete favorably. These are one of those.
They come loaded with all the top-shelf features associated with good images, with a high-quality BAK-4 prism and coated lenses to reduce distortion. You’ll also like the way these are constructed. They’re guaranteed to be slip-proof even in hard rain, and they can also take a good deal of punishment without getting damaged.
These are a bit more expensive than most of the others we looked at. They’re also big. At nearly three pounds, they are some of the heaviest binoculars out there. These are binoculars you will probably pull out of their carrying sack rather than strapping around your neck, because that’s a real recipe for skin chafing.
We think Adorrgon’s 12×42 Roof Prism Binoculars are the best you can buy if you’re looking for a budget pair. They combine pretty good performance with an excellent price, and if you’re looking for the best binoculars for the money, that’s probably music to your ears.
They have another pretty good thing going for them. They’re sleek, so they’re easy to hold in your hands. They are also really light, at about a pound. That means that they’re perfect as a backpacking set of binoculars. They don’t take up a lot of room and won’t weigh you down.
The tradeoff is that the imaging is just okay. They’ve got big objective lenses. At 10x magnification, you start to see images created at a distance start to move around a bit. For lenses this big, it’s a definite issue. They also don’t create images that are appreciably any better than smaller magnification levels.
One of our favorite traits in binoculars you buy for value is standing up to the punishment of heavy outdoor use. That is because a primary reason people buy binoculars for value is that they plan to put them through some serious conditions without worrying about losing their investment. If their binoculars can take it, it means their investment paid off.
Bushnell’s H20 Waterproof/Fogproof Roof Prism Binocular can do that. Taking a beating at the hands of Mother Nature is what these do best. They are waterproof, sealed and gas-filled to prevent internal fogging, and their non-skid skin means they won’t slip from your hands when wet.
The problem is that they don’t produce very good images. They market the latest technology to clean up images, but it doesn’t seem to work as advertised. They also cost a little more money than most of the other binoculars we’ve looked at in this class.
If you’re looking for a good set of journeyman-value binoculars, you’d find them in the Nikon 10×42 ProStaff 3S Binoculars. They do everything pretty well, but excel at nothing. On the other hand, they are not truly wretched at anything, either.
They are lightweight, so carrying them around won’t make you regret it after an hour or so. We like their magnification and objective lens size to produce good images in day and low-light conditions. They have enough imaging features that while what you see isn’t crystal-clear, it isn’t a dull haze, either.
For all that, they’re a bit expensive considering what you’re getting. Some other models in this class produce crisper images for less money. It’s a significant drawback. The lens caps are also pretty bad. That’s not much of a reason to choose another set, but Nikon ought to know better on how to show appreciation in an investment in optics.
Vortex Optics markets its Crossfire Roof Prism Binoculars as an entry-level foray into binoculars that deliver advanced quality. It’s silent about the price because, within the price range, they are advanced in that respect.
We will allow that these carry the Vortex Optics reputation for well-fitted binoculars. Hold these, and you’ll feel like you’ve got a great pair of binoculars in your hand.
In good light conditions, they offer equitable imaging. When the light starts to go away, so does the ability of these to form images. When it gets towards dusk, if you rely on these, you might as well get a seeing-eye dog.
Celestron markets its 71332 Nature DX 8×42 binoculars as great mid-range birding binoculars. For that to be the case, they should ideally be light enough to carry around all day, produce crisp images, and be easy to adjust.
We like the way this set adjusts. It’s perhaps the smoothest-adjusting set of binoculars we’ve looked at in this range. If you need to zero in on birds at different ranges, that can be a critical difference between making an identification and almost making an identification.
It’s heavy and doesn’t produce very good imaging, including in low-light conditions. It’s also pretty expensive. If this is your choice for mid-range birding binoculars, we hope you have good access to your number two option.
We like exactly two things about the Occer 12×25 Compact Binoculars. They’re affordable, and they’re compact. If you buy them, it won’t cost you a lot of money. When you try to use them and get frustrated, you won’t have to dig much of a hole to bury them in to forget the thing that brought you so much misery.
The marketing materials promise the moon in terms of performance, claiming they work great in low-light conditions, are easy and comfortable to use, and produce high-quality images. In reality, take all of those claims, reverse them, and accept those conclusions instead.
If you’re looking purely for something at the lower end of the price spectrum, there are the Whew 10×42 Compact HD Binoculars.
If you’re looking for a set of budget binoculars to set on the back patio to identify birds at the feeder, these are suitable, in the same way that a flintlock musket is suitable for shooting a deer that is chained to a wall.
Compared to other models in the field, it’s somewhat lacking. It’s not very comfortable to hold, doesn’t produce clear images, and isn’t very usable when the light starts to dim.
At the bottom of our rankings are the Levenhuk Atom 8×40 Ultra-Compact Binoculars. They’re here for pretty simple reasons. They are bad quality.
These are rated as 8x magnification. We question that. They don’t work in low-light conditions, so there’s no point in testing the magnification then. They also come with a limited field of range, so there’s no point in using them for birding.
Buying optics of any kind is intimidating to people who’ve never done it. Binoculars, rifle scopes, camera lenses, and even opera glasses all come with a dizzying array of numbers that usually have very little explanation in the marketing materials. We’ll go through a quick handy explanation of how to turn all that jargon into simple-to-understand English.
Most binoculars come with what looks like a multiplication problem in the name, such as the Gosky 10×42. The 10×42 helps tell you the size and power of the binoculars in question. The second number here, 42, is always measured in millimeters, so in this case it’s really the Gosky 10x42mm.
You can break that down into two components, the 10x and the 42mm. The first component is the binoculars’ magnification, as in how much closer objects will appear. In this case, it’s 10 times closer. Big isn’t always better, by the way. The bigger the magnification, usually the bigger the physical size of the binoculars. Beyond a magnification of 10, the natural vibrations of your body will also start affecting imaging quality.
The second number measures the objective lens, which is the lens furthest from your eye. This will help you figure out how much light that pair of binoculars lets in, which will give you a good idea of how well they’ll perform in low-light conditions.
A great guide for knowing how well binoculars will perform when it’s overcast is dividing the second number by the first for the exit pupil. The bigger the objective lens, the bigger the exit pupil, but the bigger the magnification, the smaller the exit pupil.
In low-light conditions, most people’s pupils dilate to around seven millimeters, so a bigger exit pupil number means more imaging allowed in for your eyes to process. This is an important consideration if you plan to use your binoculars primarily during non-full-sun hours or rainy days.
A separate number, measured in feet, is how large an area you can look at from the side of one to the other at 1,000 feet. If a set of binoculars advertises a field of view of 388 feet, that means that at 1,000 feet, you can look at an area 388 feet wide. Larger numbers, usually from lower magnifications, are easier for spotting small moving objects, like birds, at a distance. However, the images aren’t nearly as detailed. While you can see the birds, it might be hard to identify species, age, or gender.
See also: our recent comparison of concert binoculars.
The images you look at represent a wide range of the visible light spectrum band, with different colors at different sizes. Red, for instance, has the longest length of light ray visible to the human eye, while violet has the shortest. They travel at different speeds and arrive at their destination at different times. To the naked human eye, because the distance at which you can make out details is relatively short, the difference in time is usually too small to perceive. Over greater distances, it can create a kind of blurring called chromatic aberration, so images lose their crispness.
This can be overcome in binoculars with lenses that are coated with materials to help all the light arrive to your eye at the same time to reduce that blurring. If you’re looking at binoculars and find one that advertises ED-coated lenses, these are lenses with an extra dispersion coating intended to reduce chromatic aberration.
Without an internal prism, the light energy that went through the objective lens and then the eye lens would produce an image that was upside down and going in the wrong direction. A prism internal to the binoculars corrects that. There are two basic kinds of prisms, the roof prism and the Porro.
Roof prisms are called that because two internal prisms are shaped like the sides of a pitched roof. They make for more compact construction, so that the binoculars are generally thinner and easier for sporting use. They’re also usually more expensive. You can spot them by their consistent, slim construction.
Binoculars that have a noticeable jog from the objective lens to the ocular use Porro prisms. They look old-fashioned and their prisms are simpler. Don’t count these out if you’re shopping for value, however. Roof prisms are superior if you’re willing to spend a lot of money. If you need to stick to a tight budget, Porro prism binoculars still offer better performance.
A good set of value binoculars does you no good if it sacrifices body construction, or if water leaks in if you drop it into a creek. However, there’s a point of diminishing returns where spending extra dollars is just investing in an insurance policy against damage. You can find sets with everything from hardened rubber to reinforced fiberglass.
Most outdoor activities require exposure to sub-optimal weather conditions. That is rain, snow, fog, or just high humidity. Good binoculars are constructed by weatherproofing the body by building it out of hard rubber or advanced plastics, and making sure that ambient water can’t seep in and condense on the lens where you can’t wipe it away. Argon and nitrogen are the two most common gases used for this.
Most binoculars follow a pretty standard center-focus method for making images crisp and clear. We cover it here only because the terms might come up in comparing different sets, and it’s useful to know what is meant going in.
Start with the center-focus knob between the two lenses. Fix the binoculars onto something you want to look at and turn the knob until you can see it sharply.
The diopter allows you to calibrate both lenses so that both eyes are seeing the same thing with the same strength. It’s a knob located on one lens near the eye relief, which is the part of the lens you put your eye to. Once you have the binoculars focused on a particular object, turn this knob until you can see it with the same sharpness in both eyes.
We wouldn’t recommend basing your choice based primarily on the neck strap or carrying case. These small details will help you figure out which companies really want to provide a quality all-around experience. You might not use the neck strap for your binoculars, but if you shell out a hundred bucks for a pair and the company attaches a plastic band that’s likely to chafe after a few hours’ use, what message does that send?
Some of these features sound like they probably cost a lot of money. But advances in manufacturing, plus the fact that they’ve been around long enough to become standard, mean that consumer prices have come way down. Still, when shopping for binoculars with value in mind, figure out what you need, what you just want and what you won’t pay for. That should provide you with a great starting point for selecting candidates.
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Gosky’s 10×42 Roof Prism Binoculars got our top pick for best binoculars for the money. They’re a good value, come loaded with features, produce good optics, and are pretty rugged. They’re also just a little big for everyday use. Second in our reviews was the Nikon 8248 Aculon A211 10×50 Binocular. It’s also a little bigger than your typical everyday binoculars and a little more expensive than the Goskys, but with its kind of performance from Porro prisms, it’s a reminder that new isn’t automatically better. Adorrgon’s 12×42 Roof Prism Binoculars have two great things going for them, their price and their weight. They’re a great value and comfortable to carry around. As for their imaging, it’s pretty okay.
Featured Image Credit: MemoryCatcher, Pixabay
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.
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