Going spotting? We pick out the best binoculars you can buy right now, for birdwatching, stargazing, safari and more
Image by Pawel Janiak
Picking the best binoculars is a daunting task. It depends a lot on what you need them for – are you planning to spot birds in the garden or wildlife across the Acrican savannah? Do you need something lightweight and pocketable, or is weight less of a concern than zooming power? Do you need something weatherproof, or are you more concerned with keeping costs down? There’s a lot to consider!
There are loads of great manufacturers making the best binoculars – as well as photographic stalwarts like Canon and Nikon, there are also specialist optics-makers like Opticron, Steiner, Swarovski, Hawke and more! All these manufacturers make loads of great binoculars, at a variety of price points.
There are plenty of factors worth thinking about when picking a pair of binoculars. How far do they zoom? How long is the eye relief (i.e. how far away from the eye can they be held)? Do the lens elements have coatings to improve light transmission?
When binoculars are referred to by a pair of numbers, like 10x42, this refers to two things. The first number refers to the magnification factor, so quite simply how much the binoculars multiply your vision power by. The second number refers to the diameter of the objective lens, in mm. A larger objective lens makes for a brighter and clearer image, with the trade-off being that it also makes the binoculars larger and heavier.
To make all of this a bit easier to navigate, we’ve divided our guide into sections:
Best binoculars for bird-watching – these are high-magnification, outdoor binoculars that make for the perfect companion for anyone looking to do some bird-spotting.
Best budget binoculars – we reckon these are the binoculars that offer the best value for money right now, great for users on a tight budget.
Best binoculars to use with glasses – if you wear glasses, you may be used to finding it difficult to find compatible binoculars. These are our recommendations for binoculars to use while wearing glasses.
Best compact binoculars – need something pocketable? These are our favourite compact binoculars right now.
Best lightweight binoculars – if you prefer to travel light when exploring the outdoors, these are our picks for the best lightweight binoculars right now.
Best binoculars for stargazing – with powerful magnification and a bright image, these are the best binoculars for gazing at the night sky.
You can click any of the titles above to jump straight to your prefered section. So let’s get to our picks for the best binoculars available right now!
1. Nikon Prostaff 7s 10x42 Binoculars
What are they? All-terrain, all-weather binoculars with advanced optics for a superior image.
Why are these the best binoculars for bird watching? With the incredible history of optics in the form of the F-series lenses, it makes sense that Nikon would make great binoculars. The Nikon Prostaff 7s 10x42 Binoculars are some of the best all-around binoculars in the business, making them perfect for bird watchers of all stripes. These 10x42 binoculars are easy to hold and designed to be weatherproof. They also have fantastic multicoated Eco-glass lenses and Phase-Correction Coated Roof Prisms, providing the kind of resolving power that brings bird watching vividly to life. These dependable binoculars will suit even the most adventurous bird watchers.
2. Hawke Endurance ED 10x42 Binoculars
What are they? High-resolution, hardy binoculars with a close focusing distance, making them also good for close-up observing.
Why are these the best binoculars for bird watching? “Endurance” by name and nature, the Hawke Endurance ED 10x42 Binoculars are another pair of hardy, outdoor binoculars with a waterproof, textured rubber design that’ll stand up to the elements. Their sophisticated optics mean they’re not only great for seeing subjects at a distance, but can also focus at distances as close as 2m. This means they’re a great choice if you want to pick out details on birds that alight a little closer to your hiding spot. The twist-up eyepieces make it easy to set your own eye relief for viewing comfort.
3. Swarovski SLC 10x42 Binoculars
What are they? Premium binoculars for bird watchers who want the best in clarity and sharpness.
Why are these the best binoculars for bird watching? Though they have the same zooming power and objective lens diameter as the Nikon and Hawke binoculars we’ve picked, the Swarovski SLC 10x42 Binoculars are a premium pair that offer unparalleled sharpness. Sophisticated HD optics provide outstanding edge-to-edge clarity, ensuring you can pick out every little detail of your subject. It’s an HD fluoride-containing optical system, which provides an image of extremely high contrast, rendering colours accurately with pin-sharp edges. The binoculars also comfortable to grip, and well-balanced with a weight distribution that makes them easy to use for long periods.
4. Steiner Safari UltraSharp 10x26 Binoculars
What are they? Super-compact binoculars available for a great price, and bursting with features none the less.
Why are these the best binoculars for the money? You might expect these budget-friendly binoculars from Steiner to be relatively unsophisticated, but there’s a lot of functionality here. The Steiner Safari UltraSharp 10x26 Binoculars can fold down small enough to fit in a jacket pocket, but also boast specially coated high-contrast optics for incredible clarity. Fast close-focus functionality helps you quickly hone in on your subject, using the stepless focus wheel for an intuitive handling experience. The eyecups are also made from a skin-friendly silicone, making them easy on the eyes for prolonged viewing.
5. Opticron Discovery WP PC 8x32 Roof Prism Binoculars
What are they? Fully waterproof binoculars available for incredible value, stylish and easy to use.
Why are these the best binoculars for the money? Opticron has done excellent work in making these binoculars both highly functional and hugely affordable. They’re impressively compact and also fully waterproof, meaning you need not fear dropping them if you’re spotting near water. The fully coated optics ensure near-faultless light transmission, and the prisms have been phase corrected for an accurate image that’s free from distortion. The minimum focusing distance is also an impressive 1m, giving the user a great deal of latitude while they’re out spotting.
6. Pentax Papilio II 8.5x21 Binoculars
What are they? A unique design of binocular from the venerable Pentax, with a long eye-relief design that’s perfect for use with spectacles.
Why are these the best binoculars if you wear glasses? Perfect for a broad range of applications, Pentax’s “utility” binoculars are equipped with a long eye-relief design. This makes them comfortable for anyone to use for long periods, including those who wear glasses, ensuring you can see the entire field of view without effort. The helicoid four-stop eyepiece rings can be finely adjusted, ensuring that comfort is at its maximum for all users. The binoculars are well outfitted elsewhere too, with a hardy shockproof rubber coating and even an amazing 50cm macro function, allowing you to get close to tiny insects for a new perspective.
7. Opticron Taiga 8x25 Porro Prism Compact Binoculars
What are they? Pocketable binoculars, perfect for theatre and sports as well as outdoor adventures.
Why are these the best compact binoculars? You don’t always want a pair of big, hulking binocs – sometimes you want something a little more discreet. The Opticron Taiga 8x25 Porro Prism Compact Binoculars will slip easily into a bag or jacket pocket, meaning they’re great for using indoors at the theatre or a football game. The optical design delivers excellent performance, and the long-relief eyepieces mean they can also be used in conjunction with spectacles.
8. Nikon Travelite EX 8x25 Binoculars
What are they? Sophisticated binoculars that weigh a slender 355g, making them easy to take on your travels.
Why are these the best lightweight binoculars? Nikon knocks it out of the park again with these exceptional binoculars. Despite their light weight, they pack in plenty of functionality, with nitrogen-purged optics that are fog-free. These binoculars are also waterproof at depths of up to 2m for a maximum of five minutes. Their lenses are multi-coated for a brighter image, and the eyepiece lens is aspherical to eliminate image distortion. Whether you’re shopping for binoculars to take to a concert in the future, or on a solo wildlife-spotting trip, you’ll find the Nikon Travelite EX 8x25 Binoculars to be just the companion you need.
9. Canon 14x32 IS Binoculars
What are they? Binoculars with an image-stabilisation system built in for a clearer, rock-steady image.
Why are these the best binoculars for stargazing? The 14x magnification of these binoculars is greater than any other on this list, making them a great choice for peering at the distant objects of the night sky. Not only that, but they’re also equipped with a powered image stabilisation system, using lens-shift to compensate for hand-held movements and keep the image stable. This can be turned on and off, and is powered by standard AA batteries that can keep it going for up to 10 hours (a handy LED indicator shows you how much battery life is left). The precision optics also ensure that the image is bright and clear, full of contrast – perfect for staring up at the stars.
About the Author
Jon Stapley is a professional journalist with a wealth of experience on a number of photography titles including Amateur Photographer, Digital Camera World and What Digital Camera. See more of his writing on Jon's author page.