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Which binoculars are best?

Budding ornithologists don’t need a suitcase full of birdwatching equipment — a trusty birding guide and heaps of patience are often the only tools required to identify plumage, eggs or sounds. But for the best viewing experience, it is highly recommended to go out into parks or forest with an excellent pair of binoculars.

There are plenty of models, manufacturers and lens types to choose from, but a pair of binoculars that can be used for wildlife and looking at the night sky is a good choice. The Celestron SkyMaster Giant 15×70 Binoculars is best for this, as it is perfect for low-light conditions and birdwatching.  

What to know before you buy a pair of binoculars

Magnification and lens size bring things closer

Binoculars work on the principle of lenses and mirrors to enlarge objects or bring them closer to view. The strength of the device is indicated by its magnification and lens size, often presented as 8×42 or 10×42. The first number is the magnification times compared to the naked eye, while the second number is the size of the lens measured in millimeters.

Both numbers play a role. The higher the magnification, the closer objects will be. And the lens size is crucial for capturing as much light as possible to make viewing in low-light conditions easier. 

Compact vs. full-size binoculars

Binoculars are available in two sizes: compact and full-size.

  • Full-size is what most people know as the typical design — a reasonably large frame with some heft to it. Full-size binoculars often have a higher magnification than others and incorporate complex lenses.
  • Compact binoculars are smaller and easier to carry around. They might not have the strength of full-size gadgets, but they are great as a quick viewing option.

What to look for in a quality pair of binoculars

Adaptable with accessories

It can be tiresome to hold binoculars up to your face for even a short time. To make sure you never miss a crucial moment, a good-quality pair of binoculars can accommodate several accessories. For taking the strain off your neck, a multi-point carrying strap fits around your back. Many binoculars are also compatible with a specially made tripod adapter. It has a strap that holds the device in place, and the base is attached to a camera tripod for stability. 

Durable construction materials

How binoculars are constructed is essential to longevity. Most affordable models are made from hard plastic but can crack or dislodge lenses when dropped or bumped. Good-quality binoculars are often made from aluminum or magnesium or incorporate metal parts at strategic locations on the binoculars. This protects them from bumps and helps to keep the lenses steady but also adds to the overall weight.

Weatherproof to withstand the elements

One of the great things about binoculars is that they don’t use any electronics. This makes them ideal for all types of weather. But moisture on the lenses can quickly ruin your birdwatching experience. Weatherproofing is often related to construction materials, with metal binoculars less prone to suffer from moisture build-up. Plastic models work perfectly well in wet conditions, but if dropped a few times, there is an increased risk of water seeping into the frame.

Lens coatings to better viewing

You would be hard-pressed to find a pair of binoculars that don’t have some coating on the lenses. But the key to a better viewing experience is the type of coating used. Most have protection from glare or reflection, but good-quality binoculars have fully multi-coated lenses. This means that the lenses inside have several layers, dramatically reducing the chances of reflections. Coatings are also found on the prisms to increase image quality and brightness.

How much you can expect to spend on a pair of binoculars

The price of binoculars varies greatly. Affordable ones with a medium magnification can retail for $30-$70. High-powered models with special lens coatings can sell for $300-$600. 

Binoculars FAQ

Can you wear eyeglasses with a pair of binoculars?

A. Yes, you can. The trick for this is to find binoculars with spacious eyepiece adjustments. You’ll need more leeway when it comes to bringing things in focus, so room for adjustment will do the trick.

How long do binoculars last?

A. Binoculars’ longevity depends on how you care for them and what they are made of. Cheap models usually only last a few years, as the prisms and lenses can become dislodged. On the other hand, expensive Zeiss, Swarovski or Nikon models can last well over a few decades.

What’s the best pair of binoculars to buy?

Top binoculars

Celestron SkyMaster Giant 15x70 Binoculars

Celestron SkyMaster Giant 15×70 Binoculars

What you need to know: These binoculars are great for looking at birds, but they have a large aperture suitable for astronomy as well. 

What you’ll love: With a 15 times magnification through 70-millimeter lenses, this pair of binoculars has multi-coated optics with BaK-4 prisms. It is water-resistant and adaptable for use with a tripod. The SkyMaster has a field of view of 231 degrees at 1,000 yards, making it the best choice for birdwatching and looking at celestial bodies. 

What you should consider: To adjust the eyepieces, you must focus on an object with the left eye first, then make small changes to the right eye for best results.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top binoculars for the money

Bushnell Legend L-Series 10x42 Binoculars

Bushnell Legend L-Series 10×42 Binoculars

What you need to know: It offers powerful magnification, water-repellent coating and is made from magnesium.

What you’ll love: Bushnell is well-known for its outdoor gear, and this pair of binoculars is an excellent addition for any wildlife enthusiast. It features a 10 times magnification with 42-millimeter lenses, extra-low dispersion prime fluorite glass and fully multi-coated optics.

What you should consider: Some users have indicated that the eyecups can easily fall off.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Zeiss Terra ED Compact Binoculars

Zeiss Terra ED Compact Binoculars

What you need to know: Zeiss is known for producing high-quality binoculars, and this model with 88% light transmission is no exception.

What you’ll love: While it has a 10 times magnification with 42-millimeter lenses, the best aspects of these binoculars are their waterproof casing reinforced with glass fibers and their Zeiss T* coating. This provides high-contrast images, perfect for low-light conditions. In addition, they weigh only 10 ounces and can operate in temperatures from -4 to 145 degrees.

What you should consider: A few users have noticed that the binoculars arrived with the lenses out of alignment.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Charlie Fripp writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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