Last Updated on November 27, 2020
Many people use binoculars to help them see in a variety of completely unrelated endeavors. For instance, hunters use them for spotting and stalking their prey. But someone watching an opera, play, or concert from a row in a high up section that’s not too close to the stage will also use binoculars to help them get a better view. Similarly, sports fans use them to get a good look at the action from seats high in the stadium.
Our binoculars get used for all of these purposes and more, so they’re tools that we value greatly. We find ourselves purchasing binoculars pretty often, so we figured it was best to know what pairs are the best to buy. After testing quite a few, we finally settled on our favorites, which you’ll get to read about in the following reviews.
|Best Overall||Vortex Optics Diamondback HD Binoculars||
|Best Value||Bushnell Powerview Compact Folding Roof Prism Binocular||
|Premium Choice||Nikon 8252 ACULON A211 Zoom Binocular||
|Occer 888635 Compact Binoculars||
|Celestron 71332 Nature DX Binoculars||
Enter any serious discussion about binoculars and you’re sure to hear mention of Vortex. They’re one of the most trusted and well-known optics manufacturers, and it shouldn’t be surprising to find their Diamondback HD Binoculars topping our list. These are our favorite binoculars in 2020, for many reasons.
First, you get a lot of diversity here. No matter your needs, these binoculars cover them, with a wide range of objective lenses from 28 millimeters to 50. You can also choose from 8X, 10X, or 12Xmagnification, depending on your preferences. For glasses wearers, eye reliefs up to 18 millimeters provide comfortable viewing, even with your glasses on. And the argon purged weatherproofing ensures they can withstand any environment.
The one problem with this pair is the hinge. It tends to loosen up and start giving some problems after a while. But thanks to the lifetime warranty, getting it fixed or replaced is no problem. And the impressive image quality makes it all worthwhile. These have super clear optics with crisp images all the way to the edges and no chromatic aberrations.
We’ve tested a lot of binoculars, but considering their low price and quality optics, the Bushnell Powerview might just be the best binoculars for the money. First, they’re available with several different sized objective lenses and in 8X, 10X, 12X, and even 16X magnification levels. What’s special though is their tiny size. These are roof prism binoculars so they’re able to be made very small. Despite this, they’re priced super-cheap so that they’ll fit in any budget.
Accompanying the small size of these binoculars is a very low weight. Depending on the size, yours could weigh as little as seven ounces! The heaviest pair weighs just 12 ounces, though; still well below a pound. Compared to some of the 2-pound and heavier pairs we’ve tested, the light weight of these is welcomed.
Of course, there is a tradeoff for the low price. In this case, you’re sacrificing weatherproofing. These binoculars are not waterproof or fog-proof. If you plan to take them into adverse weather conditions, you’ll need to spend a bit more. But for a concert-goer, sports fan, or even a fair-weather bird watcher, we think the Bushnell Powerview binoculars are an incredible value.
If you’re on a budget, you can immediately exclude the Nikon 8252 ACULON A211 Zoom Binocular from your list. They’re several times the price of other models we tested. But for that price, you get some premium features that we think are worth it for those who are in the market for a serious pair of high-quality binoculars.
Nikon is known for making quality lenses; not just for binoculars, but for high-end cameras as well. These binoculars are no exception, with exceptionally clear optics and bright images that are crisp from the center to the edge. What’s more, the entire zoom range from 10X-22X magnification is completely usable and it’s all just as clear and sharp. But the closest distance you can focus on is 49 feet. That and the narrow field of view of 199 feet at 1,000 yards makes these less than optimal for some uses and perfect for others.
These are very well-made binoculars, and you can feel it when you hold them. The rubber coating provides grip, feels great, and even offers impact protection. They focus quickly and maintain focus through the whole zoom range, making them simple to use.
We almost discounted the Occer 888635 Compact Binoculars because of how cheaply they’re priced. Not only are they dirt-cheap, but they’re also small enough to fit in your pocket, giving us the impression of a toy. But once you use them, the solid performance quickly demonstrates that these are more than they appear to be.
The thing that surprised us most is the impressive image quality. We’ve used binoculars that cost three times as much and offered a similar quality viewing experience. These are even great for glasses users since you can remove the rubber eyepieces to gain more eye relief.
Naturally, there have to be sacrifices somewhere. First, the poor low-light performance. Once the lights start dimming, the performance of these optics starts to drop pretty quickly. You’re also limited to just one lens size and magnification level. These flaws will prevent the Occer binoculars from breaching our top three, but they’re honestly minor complaints considering how affordable this device is.
Celestron is known for making great optics, though they’re much larger in the telescope space than with binoculars. Still, we expected great things from these and they lived up to expectation.
So, why are they ranked in the middle of the list? Two reasons. First, they’re too expensive for many users and we’ve seen similar performance, though not quite equal, from binoculars that cost half as much. Second, the eyepieces don’t get close enough together for all users.
Still, there’s plenty to appreciate in this pair of binoculars. You can choose from 8X, 10X, or 12X magnification levels. They can focus on objects as close as 6.5 feet and they’re contained in a durable, weatherproof, polycarbonate housing. The low-light performance is solid and they’re even warrantied for life.
There’s no question that these are good binoculars with great features. But unless you’re a hunter spending many evenings and early mornings tracking your prey in adverse weather, you’ll probably be served just as well by a more affordable pair.
Taking a look at some of the more expensive binoculars on the market can start to make you feel like your favorite hobby is getting more and more expensive. But binoculars like the SkyGenius SKGST10X50 bring quality viewing experiences to affordable price points. Be aware, there are going to be some tradeoffs.
On one hand, you’ll get some great features like clear optics with sharp images and correct colors. You also get a wide field of view of 367 feet at 1,000 yards, allowing you to see a whole lot at once. There’s even a soft protective case included with the binoculars and there’s enough eye relief for them to work with glasses.
Now, the tradeoffs. These are big and bulky. They weigh almost two pounds and their cumbersome size makes them a pain to use at times. Your arm will also start to get tired quicker because of the extra weight. And if you have to use them at dusk or dawn, skip them entirely, for they have some awful low-light performance.
Fresh from the box, the Gosky Roof Prism Binoculars felt like a winner. They feature a compact roof prism design that looks and feels similar to much higher-end binoculars. Similar to those more expensive binoculars, these are covered by a lifetime warranty. And included with your purchase is a smartphone mount for taking photos and videos through the binoculars with your compatible smartphone.
Once we started using these binoculars, the story changed. The optics are sub-par at best. Images are blurry around the edges and only the centers are clear enough for good viewing. We were hoping for bright images, but through these binoculars, everything is dark and drab. It just gets worse in low-light conditions where these binoculars suffer most.
With an extra-wide field of view that spans 393 feet at 1,000 yards, the Wingspan Optics Phoenix Ultra HD Binoculars let you see a lot more than the competition. Or, they would if you could see the whole image clearly. Even when fully in focus, the images are dull and lack clarity. The center of the image is the only place where it’s really sharp, and chromatic aberration is noticeable.
These binoculars feature a large eye relief that’s perfect for anyone wearing glasses. They’re completely waterproof and fog-proof. Plus, they feature DuraTech technology so you can travel without worry of damaging them. They can focus on objects as close as 6.5 feet, and they even come with a 30-day money-back guarantee and a 12-month promise. Still, that can’t compete with the lifetime warranties covering some of our favorite binoculars.
They’re priced extremely low, so we didn’t expect much from the Kylietech Binoculars. That turned out to be a good thing since we weren’t disappointed when they lived up to expectations. We do like the wide field of view, which is 330 feet at 1,000 yards. But other than that, there’s not much about these that we really liked.
We did have hope for the smartphone adapter, but it doesn’t work well. None of our pictures were in focus, no matter what we tried. We managed to get the same phones to take great pictures through other adapters and binoculars, so we know it’s not the phones.
When focusing these binoculars, the window of focus is tiny, making it very hard to get a fully-focused picture. We could deal with that, but after the second time we used these, the left lens started fogging up, making them practically unusable. They’re priced cheaply, and in this case, you get what you pay for.
The APEMAN BC100 HD Binoculars are available only in a 10×42 configuration. They’re priced very cheaply, though the quality matches the price. On the bright side, there is a smartphone adapter included, and it seemed to work well enough when we tested it.
When focusing these binoculars, they don’t focus smoothly. It seems very jumpy and the eyes don’t maintain the same focus as you adjust. Luckily, the right eye has a separate diopter to adjust its focus. But because the focus between the eyes is constantly changing, you’ll be using that diopter a lot.
Overall, we would rank the image quality from these binoculars as poor. Images aren’t very clear around the edges and chromatic aberration is apparent. The field of view is less than 300 feet at 1,000 yards, leaving it in a kind of grey area without a great field of view or a nice zoomed-in feel. Our favorite thing about these is the low price, but there are plenty of much better models available for similar prices, so we don’t recommend these.
If you’re tired of reading about binoculars and you’re ready to purchase a pair and get back to your preferred past-time, then you can skip ahead to the conclusion where we’ll reiterate our top picks. But if you’d like to be a bit more informed before making your decision, then this short buyer’s guide is for you.
It’s hard to compare different binoculars if you don’t know what to compare them on. So, in this section, we’re going to take a closer look at the most important traits that you should be prioritizing in your search for the perfect binos.
Unless you plan on using your binoculars for short periods of a few minutes or less, then size and weight are two factors that you’ll need to consider. Big, bulky binoculars can fatigue you quickly while you’re holding them up. Likewise, they’re less manageable and more difficult to use when space is limited.
On the other hand, bigger, heavier binoculars often offer better optics or higher magnification at cheaper prices, so it’s a tradeoff. You could get similar performance in a smaller pair of binoculars, but it’ll cost you more.
We generally prefer binoculars that weigh around a pound or less. Some binoculars can weigh over two pounds, but these are a bit heavy for our tastes. Still, it’s a matter of personal preference, so if you can deal with the extra weight, more power to you.
For some, image quality is going to be the single most important factor when deciding between two binoculars. You can have two pairs that offer the same sized objective lenses and magnification but still have drastically different image quality. That’s because image quality comes down to the quality of the optics used when building the binoculars, so better image quality often costs more.
Binoculars with poor image quality don’t offer a pleasurable viewing experience. Often, they’re only clear in the centers with blurry edges and dark images that don’t pop. You’re also likely to see some color fringing, which is also called chromatic aberration.
In contrast, binoculars with superior image quality offer clear, crisp images from edge to edge with little to no chromatic aberration.
Between different models, the field of view can vary drastically. This is a measurement of how much total area you can see when looking through your binoculars. Typically, field of view is expressed as a distance in feet. This will be represented as a measurement at a given distance, usually one-thousand yards.
So, if the field of view is 300 feet at 1,000 yards, this means that when looking through your binoculars at a spot that’s 1,000 yards from where you stand, you can see an area that’s 300 feet wide.
Basically, a wider field of view lets you see a larger area, and a smaller field of view gives you a more zoomed-in appearance since you’re seeing a smaller area.
But a larger field of view isn’t always preferable. Let’s say you’re at a concert in a high row and you’re trying to get a better look at the band. A wide field of view might take in a lot more than just the stage, while a narrower field of view could give you a closer look at the band and make it easier to locate each member.
On the other hand, picture a similar scenario, but at a sports game. The field they’re playing on is much larger than the stage you saw the band at. In this case, a narrow field of view makes it too hard to follow the action since you can’t take in enough of the field at once.
Magnification represents how much closer the objects you’re viewing appear to be. For instance, at a 10X magnification level, objects you’re viewing will appear to be 10 times larger than normal. Put differently, they’ll appear to be 10 times closer than they actually are.
Often, you can choose from different magnification levels in the same binoculars. The most common magnifications are 8X, 10X, and 12X, though there are plenty of higher magnifications available.
If you need more than one magnification level, you can always opt for zoom binoculars. These let you change the magnification level by zooming in.
So, which binoculars should you pick? A lot of it depends on your budget and your intended use, but after writing these reviews, we have some favorites that we feel confident recommending.
For most people, we recommend the Vortex Optics Diamondback HD Binoculars. They come with objective lenses ranging from 28-50 millimeters and 8X, 10X, and 12X magnification. Moreover, they feature argon purged weatherproofing and ultra-clear optics with crisp images from center to edge and no chromatic aberrations.
Looking for the best value? Try the Bushnell Powerview Compact Binoculars. They also come in different magnifications with multiple lens sizes to choose from. These are lightweight binoculars that weigh just 7-12 ounces and have a super-compact form factor thanks to the roof prism design.
With 12X-50X zoom and some of the sharpest image quality we’ve seen in binoculars, the Nikon 8252 ACULON A211 Zoom Binoculars are our premium choice pick. The entire zoom range is usable and maintains focus for easy use. Plus, the rubber coating offers great grip and superior impact protection.
Featured Image Credit: stevepb, 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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