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Whether birdwatching, stargazing, watching sports in a stadium, or trying to navigate while hiking or on the water, binoculars allow you to see what you wouldn’t be able to make out with the naked eye.
If you’re new to the world of binoculars, you might be confused by all the technical jargon that comes with them, and we don’t blame you.
There’s a lot to know before you buy a pair of these magnifying devices.
But the good news is, we’re here to help!
At BestReviews, we do the research, test the products in our labs, consult the experts, gather the opinions of existing customers, and then present all the info to you, so you can make a fully informed purchase.
The product matrix above features our top five picks for the best binoculars on the market. If you’re ready, just click buy.
Or read on to find out all you need to know about binoculars and how to select the right pair for you.
There are two main types of binoculars on the market: roof prism and Porro prism.
Roof prism binoculars are more streamlined, with the eyepieces in line with the objective lenses at the front. While they’re less bulky and easier to hold, they cost more to make, so they tend to be pricier than Porro prism binoculars.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Bushnell Powerview Prism Binocular
In an attempt to take image quality even higher, the Bushnell Powerview Prism Binoculars offer multi-coated optics. In addition to all optics being coated, at least one element has several layers of coating. It’s not apparent exactly how many components have been treated in this way, but a multi-coated-optics designation usually means everything looks clearer. Bushnell tells us that the Powerview binoculars have BaK-7 prisms that are intended to improve visual crispness.
Because Porro prisms are offset from one another, Porro prism binoculars are bulky, with the objective lenses positioned farther apart than the eyepieces.
However, they’re much more affordable than their roof prism counterparts, meaning you’ll get a better image quality for your money.
If you compare the price of roof prism and Porro prism binoculars of the same image quality, the Porro prism model will be significantly less expensive.
When browsing binoculars, you’ll notice they come with a set of numbers, such as 12x60 or 10x25.
The first number refers to the magnification, and the second number refers to the diameter of the objective lens.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Celestron SkyMaster Giant Binoculars
Most owners think the performance of the Celestron SkyMaster Giant Binoculars is pretty outstanding, especially for the price. At 3.3 pounds and 11 inches long, you can hold the Celestron binoculars in your hands, but you’re not going to want to do that for very long. The Celestron’s 15x magnification means that even small movements can cause image blurring. Many owners recommend a tripod or monopod. The “giant” binocular market has become very competitive lately, and the Celestron SkyMaster holds its own in a number of independent reviews against more expensive models. Owners do report a loss of focus in the outer 25% of their field of vision, but given the distances involved, this often has a negligible impact on the object being viewed.
Objective Lens Diameter
The second number is the diameter of each objective lens in millimeters. The larger the objective lens, the more light is let into the binoculars and the brighter and sharper the image will be.
The tradeoff: Bigger objective lenses equal binoculars that are heavier, bulkier, and more difficult to keep stable without a monopod or tripod.
Objective lenses are the front lenses on a pair of binoculars, at the opposite end from the eyepieces. The objective lens diameter is sometimes referred to as the “aperture” of a pair of binoculars, so don’t be confused if you see that term used.
A pair of binoculars’ magnification is the amount of times closer the scene you’re viewing appears compared to observing with the naked eye. Binoculars with a magnification of 12x make objects appear 12 times closer than they would if you were looking at them without binoculars.
The right level of magnification depends on what you’ll be using your binoculars for. For instance, you need 3x to 5x for the theater, 7x for sporting events, 8x to 10x for birdwatching, and 10x to 30x for stargazing.
Some binoculars can zoom. In this case, the magnification is expressed as 10-30x, for example, meaning the magnification starts at 10x and can be zoomed in up to 30x.
The exit pupil is the amount of light that reaches the eye from the objective lens up to the eyepiece. The diameter of the exit pupil should ideally be larger than the size of your pupil, otherwise you’ll end up with a reduced field of vision.
When thinking about the exit pupil, bear in mind the diameter of your pupil can range from roughly 1.5mm in very bright light to about 8mm in pitch-dark conditions. To calculate the exit pupil of a pair of binoculars, divide the objective lens diameter by the magnification.
The purpose of a lens coating is four-fold: to reduce glare and reflections, to make colors appear more vivid, to increase light transmission, and to improve contrast.
Lenses may be uncoated, coated (meaning they have one layer of coating), multi-coated (they have several layers of coating), or fully coated (all lens surfaces inside and out have multiple layers of coating).
Fully coated lenses are the best in terms of reducing glare and improving image quality, but even coated or multi-coated lenses are superior to uncoated.
You’ll find one of three types of prisms in most binoculars: BaK-4, SK-15, or BK-7. The properties to look for in a good prism are a high refractive index and a low critical angle — this means a prism can transmit with less light lost as a result of internal reflection.
BaK-4 prisms are considered the highest quality, followed by SK-15 and BK-7 prisms. That said, all are made from special optical glass, so even binoculars with BK-7 prisms provide a decent image quality.
If you’re looking for the best possible binoculars, opt for a pair with BaK-4 prisms. If you’re more in the market for a mid-range pair, SK-15 and BK-7 prisms are perfectly adequate.
Both the angle of view and the field of view express how much scenery you can see when looking through your binoculars. Some manufacturers list both of these specs, whereas others list just one.
Angle of view is measured in degrees; field of view is measured in feet. So, for most people, the field of view is more meaningful than the angle of view.
You can see a width of 52.5 feet per one degree of angle of view when standing 1,000 yards from what you’re observing. If your binoculars have a 6° angle of view, they have a 315-foot field of view.
The price range for binoculars is wide. You can spend as little as $30 on a pair and up to well over $3,000. Here are a few guidelines.
If you simply want a basic pair of binoculars for watching sports or occasional stargazing or birdwatching, you can find good budget models for $40 to $60.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Nikon MONARCH 5 Binocular
The Nikon 7577 MONARCH5 Binoculars’ measurements of 8x42 are the standard demanded by keen bird watchers. Even consumers who are relatively new to binoculars find they can keep a steady view of an object. The Nikon’s comparatively large object lens traps plenty of light, so in heavily wooded areas you’ve got a better chance of “capturing” your quarry. These binoculars are fully waterproof to three feet and can be at that depth for 10 minutes. Thanks to their polycarbonate construction, they only weigh around 21 ounces. A special O-ring filled with nitrogen ensures that owners will never experience lens-fogging.
Those who want a bit more from their binoculars in terms of durability and image quality, should spend $80 to $150 on a pair.
If you really want to go all out on waterproof, fogproof binoculars with exceptional image quality, expect to pay $300 to $500. Unless you need professional-quality binoculars, it’s unnecessary to spend any more.
Q. Are binoculars water-resistant?
A. Not all binoculars are waterproof, but those that are have different levels of water resistance. Those with no rating aren’t suitable for taking out on the water or in the mist or rain. Those rated weather-resistant can stand up to mist or light rain. Those rated waterproof are fine to use in the rain and are even submersible to a certain depth, which varies between makes and models.
Q. What's the best chassis material for a pair of binoculars?
A. There’s no single best chassis material, all have their pros and cons. Aluminum is a popular choice as it’s inexpensive and fairly light. It’s not as light as magnesium, but binoculars with a magnesium chassis will cost more. Polycarbonate is another great chassis choice as it’s corrosion-proof, strong, and weather-resistant.
Q. Do I need to use a tripod or monopod with my binoculars?
A. It can be harder to get a clear image from binoculars with a higher magnification without the use of a tripod, monopod, or other steadying device. You’ll definitely need a steadying device for any binoculars over 20x magnification. However, some users find they need a tripod for binoculars over 12x, especially when using them for long periods of time.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.