The science inside your binoculars is not that different from what’s used in space telescopes. If Galileo, one of the first astronomers to use a telescope, were alive, he’d have little trouble understanding how they both work: each uses a glass lens or mirror to collect light from a distant image and bring it closer to your eye.
The lens diameter of the Hubble Space Telescope is about 8 feet, or 2,400mm, making it nearly 40 times the size of the largest binoculars on our list here. But the Hubble is out-of-date and soon to be replaced by the not-yet-famous James Webb Space Telescope, with a 6,500mm lens, or 100 times the size of our largest binoculars! With the “JWST,” you can see a penny from 24 miles away.
You won’t be able to see a penny from that far away with any of these binoculars – or “bins” as they are frequently called. But for under $500, you can still grab a pair that will put wildlife or sporting events right in front of you. Read our reviews and buyer’s guide to help you choose the best binoculars for you.
|Nikon 7548 MONARCH 7 8×42|
|Vortex Optics VPR-4208-HD||3 lbs||4.6/5|
|Carson 3D TD-050ED|
(Best for the Money)
|Canon 8×25 7562A002||1 lb||4.1/5|
|ATN BinoX-HD 4-16x/65mm||2 lbs||3.4/5|
The Nikon 7548 Monarch 7 8×42 is a delightful pair of binoculars at what is considered a mid-point price range. Fog proof, waterproof, rugged, and lightweight (1.3 lbs.), they can join you on all sorts of adventures or keep you busy while bird-watching from your patio. With ED glass and dielectric lens coatings, it’s understandable that users describe images as bright, detailed, sharp, and true to color, even in low light conditions. They provide a massive field of view (351/1000) and glasses wearers are happy with the eyepieces both with and without glasses. And they are easy to adjust and come with covers and a case. There are virtually zero complaints about these binoculars.
On paper, the Vortex Optics VPR-4208-HD 8 x 42 is indistinguishable from our Top Pick. This Vortex is waterproof and fog proof, has a field of view of 347/1000, and weighs 1.5 lbs. Vortex costs about the same as our Top Pick and also offers an aggressive unlimited, lifetime, transferable warranty which customers feel good about. Its lengthy eye relief of 20mm works very well for eyeglass wearers but takes some getting used to without glasses. But the one noteworthy place it stumbles is with clarity of image at anything beyond a midrange distance – it just doesn’t seem to have the same level of sharpness with the far away objects that the Top Pick offers. Other than that, these are quality binoculars backed up with reputable customer service.
The Carson 3D TD-050ED binoculars are a clear choice as Best for the Money. About a third less money than our first two models, these give you a larger magnification level and lens diameter – 10 x 50mm – with some users using them for amateur stargazing (and can be tripod mounted). With ED glass and dielectric coatings, images are sharp and clear. Its field of view is smaller – 262/1000 – but that’s expected at this higher magnification level. These have a bit of a rabid fan base, with everyone raving about its terrific ergonomics and ease of use, and users evenly but aggressively divided about the case being awesome or awful. The one universal complaint is that it is sold without lens covers. Overall, these are a fantastic pair of binoculars for the experienced or the rookies and come at an unbeatable price.
If you’re buying your first pair of bins, you could do worse than the Canon 8 x 25 7562A002. Unique among manufacturers listed here, Canon offers a battery-powered image stabilizer feature: press a button and the image will hold steady. Although users really like this ability, they would all prefer a button that can remain on so that they didn’t have to keep it pressed down, and no one likes the difficulty in finding the required but uncommon batteries. They are small and lightweight, but with a slippery plastic housing, you won’t necessarily think them easy to cart around, plus they aren’t waterproof. Anyone who has experienced fancier binoculars will notice the inferior optics on this Canon as well. For occasional or sporadic binocular use, these would be fine, but if you are a hardcore bird-watcher, you might be happier elsewhere.
We’re not even sure if we should call these binoculars since the ATN BinoX HD 4-16x/65mm does so many other things, too. In addition to being a variable magnifying bino, it also is a compass, a rangefinder, night vision goggles, a camera, and a video camera, plus it has wi-fi streaming. If you are out hunting at night or want to easily show family and friends what they missed by not joining you in the field, this may be the gadget for you. Alas, like so many tools that try to do too many things and consequently do none of them well, this ATN device is a bit of a train wreck. It’s much heavier than most bins, at almost 3.5 lbs., and it devours expensive batteries like a monster. And very few people can get even some of its features to work let alone all of them. Like something out of Star Wars movie, this is a very compelling idea but lacks the technology to truly back it up.
You’ll encounter a lot of jargon as you begin shopping for binoculars. If you’re already a binocular or camera enthusiast, you’ll feel right at home, but if you’re not, you need a quick vocabulary lesson.
The numbers you’ll first see in the name of the binoculars will look like a 9th grade math problem – 8 x 42 or 10 x 50 – but don’t break out your calculator to translate them. The first number is the magnification level and tells you how much closer the object you’re looking at will appear – 10 means the object will seem 10 times closer.
Your gut will tell you to get the highest magnification number you can find, but higher numbers come with trade-offs. Not only will more magnification cost more, but anything above about a 10 will be hard to use without a tripod. Even if you have a very steady hand, its minor, unnoticeable tremors will be magnified and make the image so shaky that you won’t be able to use them freehand.
More magnification also means a narrower field of view (see below). In a nutshell, whatever you’re focusing on will push outside your vision anything else nearby.
Lower magnification will also make for a brighter and a wider field of view, which in turn will make it easier to “find” what you’re looking for through the binoculars and then follow it if it moves.
Lens Diameter is the second number in the math problem – the 42 or the 50. This is the distance across the lenses at the end opposite your eyes and is measured in millimeters. A larger lens means more light can get in, which is a good thing. If you plan to use your binoculars in anything other than fully-lit conditions – dawn, dusk, overcast weather – then you want to make sure to have a big lens diameter to capture any available light.
A low lens diameter will give you a low image quality. A higher diameter will give you a sharp, bright, true-color picture to look at. But the larger lens will make for heavier binoculars.
Your gut will tell you to focus on only the magnification number – don’t. There’s no point in a high mag number if you’re magnifying darkness. For maximum distance and clarity, look at both magnification and lens diameter.
Many binocular users want a wide field of view, or a large horizontal width of visibility. They want to be able to see a wide expanse out the other end, not a narrow strip of scenery. Field of view is often expressed as a fraction of yards, such as 290/1000 yards, with a higher first number providing a larger field of view. A larger field of view makes it easier to spot and track moving objects.
This is the distance, in millimeters, between the eyepiece lens and your eyeball and often ranges between 5 and 20mm. If you expect to be wearing glasses while using your binoculars, you’ll want a higher number, otherwise you’ll be unable to wear the glasses. A longer eye relief also reduces overall eye fatigue – your eyes get tired looking through binoculars.
As you learn more about binoculars, you’ll come to realize that there are a lot of performance-related trade-offs to choose amongst. A longer eye relief means a smaller field of view. A lower magnification will give you a brighter view and a larger field of view. Greater lens diameter will enhance the image quality but be heavier. And you can’t necessarily just pay more to solve these dilemmas – your choices are governed by the laws of light and optics.
You should think carefully about what you plan to do with your binoculars and you might even wind up purchasing more than one pair. Those that are best at bird-watching in the woods, for example, may not be best for viewing icebergs from the deck of a cruise ship.
The Nikon 7548 Monarch 7 8×42 is our Top Pick. A huge crowd favorite for delivering super-sharp, true color images even in low light, they are also lightweight but sturdy enough to take anywhere. This is the rare product that seems to make everyone who uses it happy.
Coming in as our Best for the Money is the Carson 3D TD-050ED. You get excellent magnification and lens diameter at a very reasonable price and you can even use them for basic stargazing. These are a terrific choice as your first “grown-up” bins.
You could spend thousands of dollars on binoculars and they would give you a phenomenal viewing experience. But you can get nearly that same experience for less than $500, too, if you do some research. We hope our reviews gave you a clear view of what’s out there.
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