Picking out that perfect pair of binoculars can be both fun and overwhelming. With so many brands and models on the market, setting you back from a modest $100 to $2,500 and up, how do you choose a pair that’s perfect for you?
We can help! This summer the B&B staff, along with frequent birding contributor Ken Keffer, conducted a binocular field test. We tried out pairs from 10 different manufacturers, taping over the brand names to make it a fair test. If we learned one major lesson from our experiment, it’s that everyone is different. Nearly all 10 of us had a different favorite for one reason or another, which you’ll see in our results. While we’re not necessarily crowning one pair the ultimate winner, we do think our picks will serve as a good basic guide. Ready to start shopping? The birds are waiting!
Best Bang for Your Buck
Nikon Monarch 7 8×42
These stole the heart of Senior Editor Kirsten Sweet, and seriously impressed many other testers. They’re the perfect binoculars for those looking to go beyond the basics but not quite ready to break the bank. Described by Kirsten as a great deal, these will last you years with their sturdy modern design.
Best for Beginners
Celestron NatureDX 8×42
If you’re just starting to go birding, we understand that you might not want to spend a lot of money on binoculars. If that strikes a chord, these are for you! Many of our testers rated them higher than more expensive brands. Lightweight and easy to focus, they’re the ideal starter binoculars.
Best Overall Comfort
Eagle Optics Ranger ED 8×42
Want comfort? These are your binoculars. They’re light light and easy to hold, which our testers love. These bins are also a great deal—many experienced birders swear by their Rangers. So rest assured this is a solid first, second or even third pair of binoculars.
Best First Impression
Carson TD-842 ED 8×42 3D Binocular
They say you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression—and if that’s the case, these binoculars take top honors. These Carsons had a great look and feel. The view was nice, too, making them quite a hit with many of our testers.
Vanguard Endeavor ED II 8420
If you’ve moved beyond the lowest-priced binoculars but aren’t ready to commit to a high-end pair, consider this choice. We liked the clarity of close-up images and the clear illumination of the subject. These will serve you well at the stage of your birding life when you’re not quite an expert but no longer a newbie.
Best for Backyard Birding
Do the rest of the choices on this list seem a little daunting? If you’re just looking to enjoy the birds in your own backyard, consider these Kowas. Small and compact, they’re ideal for keeping by your window for the moment you spot that bird you’ve been trying to attract for ages.
Leica Ultravid HD 8×42
If you’ve graduated to birding beyond the backyard, consider these Leicas. With a wide field of view, gorgeous clarity and impeccable lighting, they’ll allow you to spot almost any target you choose. Our testers said that just looking at and holding them made it obvious they were beautifully crafted. You won’t be sorry you splurged.
Best for Birding on the Go
Zeiss Terra 8×42
Great lighting, ease of focus, fantastic clarity—these won lots of praise from our reviewers. While Zeiss is a brand typically known for binoculars running $1,000 and up, these deliver high quality at a reasonable price. No matter the terrain, they’re sturdy and ready for anything.
Best Clarity and Field of View
Opticron Explorer Wide Angle 8×42
Editor Stacy Tornio couldn’t say enough good things about these Explorers. It came as no surprise that this wide-angle pair had the best field of view, but the clarity of the images and the ease of focus were impressive, too.
Best for Serious Birders
Swarovski EL 10×42
Got some money burning a hole in your pocket? Consider these Swarovskis. The higher magnification allows for greater discernment of detail and makes them excellent for long-distance birding. Some testers thought they were heavy, but the quality justifies the extra weight and bucks.
Want to know how we came to score each criterion? Here are the areas we looked at. We hope these guidelines will help you find your perfect pair!
•First impression.You should like what you see at first glance.
•Comfort.They should feel comfortable in the hand and easy to hold.
•Focus.Binoculars should be easy to focus instantly and precisely.
•Field of view.The field of view should be fairly wide, with no distorted edges.
•Clarity of image.Whether you’re focusing close up or far away, you want a great picture.
•Lighting.The image should be as bright as or brighter than what you can see with your naked eye, not darker.