Finding the best binoculars is no easy task. Dozens of manufacturers offer hundreds of models with various magnification options. To make your life easier, we've analyzed the market and selected five contenders that offer something for the majority of users.
At BestReviews, our goal is to provide consumers with honest, unbiased reviews of the best products available. For this reason, we never accept free manufacturer samples. We buy products off of store shelves just as you do, and we scrutinize them for quality.
Some of the binoculars on our shortlist are surprisingly inexpensive and convenient. Others cost more, but they deliver spectacular performance.Our final five are:
In this part of our ratings, we discuss the optical factors that make each of these products special: magnification, objective lens size, field of view, and more.
Here's where we look at each product's special features, including shock protection, tripods, cases, and what's been done to improve optical characteristics.
Great magnification is nothing without a clear, stable image. It's important to look at elements that affect what your binoculars are like "in the field." In order to make this part of our ratings as accurate as possible, we've enlisted the opinions of a number of owners.
Our shortlist includes budget binoculars, high-end binoculars, and some products in between. In this section, we look at the pros and cons of each product as they relate to price.
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Two numbers are commonly used to describe binoculars. One number relates to magnification; the other describes the size (in mm) of the front lens (also called the "aperture," or "objective lens"). The Tasco Essentials is an "8 x 21" version, meaning that the magnification is "8" and the size of the front lens is 21 mm. It's common to think that bigger is better, but that depends on what you use your binoculars for.
The Tasco's 21mm aperture is a little on the small side, but to make the objective lens larger, the binoculars would have to be bigger. The field of view — the width of the image you see at 1,000 yards away — is 383 feet, which is quite competitive.
Another figure that comes up in binocular reviews is "exit pupil." You can calculate this figure by dividing aperture by magnification. (In the case of the Tasco, 21 ÷ 8 = 2.6.) Exit pupil describes how much light reaches your eye, but it's an area of considerable debate. If you're looking at things in daylight, a larger exit pupil is often thought to be better. However, many argue that the reverse is true at night. Because exit pupil cannot be adjusted, it's really only important to those who are particularly keen on their chosen pastime. In the case of the general purpose Tasco binoculars, an exit pupil of 2.6 is fine.
The Tasco's"eye relief" figure is 15.5 mm. Eye relief impacts eyeglass wearers and sunglasses users. Experts recommend a minimum eye relief of 15 mm.
Bushnell is a well-known brand with an enormous selection of binoculars to choose from. The company's product line ranges from budget models to high-end, night vision binoculars. The 10 x 25mm Bushnell Powerview illustrates what you can get from a top manufacturer without breaking the bank. Field view is 300 feet. That's less than the Tasco, but this lower number is a natural result of greater magnification. Exit pupil is 2.5mm, which is about average for multi-functional binoculars like these. Eye relief is only 12mm, which can reduce your field of view a little if you wear glasses.
We move from general-purpose to something quite different with the Celestron SkyMaster Giant binoculars and their 15 x 70 specification. Although not solely designed for stargazing, it's clear from the name that while 15X magnification will get you great distances when viewing landscapes, those big 70mm lenses are intended to give particularly good results in low-light situations. If you work out exit pupil, you get a figure of 4.66. This would seem to be at odds with the night use, but most owners give positive feedback, which underlines the difficulty with using exit pupil as any kind of positive or negative measure. Eye relief is less important with binoculars intended for long-distance viewing, so the 18mm offered by the Skymaster Giant is particularly high.
The 18 x 50 Canon Image Stabilization Binoculars offer the same magnification as the Celestron. The binoculars are appropriate for a wide range of uses, including sports watching and stargazing. Canon quotes field of view in degrees rather than feet, giving a figure of 4.4. While this is a bit confusing, you can work out a comparison by multiplying by 52.5, which yields 231 feet — almost exactly the same as the Celestron. Exit pupil is 3.33 and eye relief is 15mm. Once again, this illustrates the point that you need more than raw figures to choose the best binoculars for your needs.
Nikon's aim is to give you an easy-to-use product with high-quality optics and big objective lenses that capture plenty of light. With the 7577 MONARCH5 binoculars, we return to a more "everyday" magnification of 8X. (10X and 12X models are also available from this manufacturer, but we've gone for the 8X to show the difference between the Nikon and low-cost binoculars like the Tasco and Bushnell.) Aperture is substantial at 42. Field of view is quoted in degrees (6.4), which gives us 336 feet. Exit pupil works out to 5.25, and eye relief is an exceptional 19.5mm. It's tempting to draw conclusions by comparing those number to the Nikon's competitors, but the figures need to be balanced against other factors in these ratings to get a full picture.
The Tasco Binoculars boast "fully coated optics," which means that every optical element has been treated. You don't always find this feature in this price range! To protect them from knocks, they've been armed with a rubber exterior and eye cups that can be adjusted to suit those who wear glasses. A soft carrying pouch and neck strap are also supplied. Some owners complain that the strap is a bit thin and uncomfortable, but it would be quite easy to replace.
In an attempt to take image quality even higher, the Bushnell 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 how many components have been treated in this way, but a "multi-coated optics" designation usually means that things look clearer. Bushnell tells us that the Powerview binoculars have BaK-7 prisms which are intended to improve visual crispness. There's also a case and strap that, as with the Tasco, has been criticized by some for how thin and uncomfortable it is.
The Celestron Binoculars don't disappoint in terms of light capture; the product's "multi-coated optics" do their job very well. Not surprisingly, the Celestron also has the higher-rated BaK-4 prisms. These larger lenses could potentially incur damage if the owner is not careful. Thankfully, Celestron includes a rubberized exterior and textured grips for your hands. A hard case would have been preferred by some owners over the soft case that is supplied. (The soft case is "OK," but it doesn't reflect the quality of the rest of the package!) A tripod mount is included with this package, but the tripod itself is not provided.
All objective lens elements of the Canon All-Weather Binoculars are treated with what the manufacturer calls "ultra-low dispersion" layers. These image-enhancing multi-coatings are designed to give as clear and true a view as possible. There's also a "Doublet Field Flattener" that irons out the curvature effect you get with all lenses, thereby reducing distortion at the edges of your view. The rubberized exterior is ergonomically designed for comfort and safety. The objective lenses don't appear to be "out on stalks" like they do with the Celestron, though the flip-side is that they do appear a bit bulky. This model incorporates a screw thread for a monopod or tripod, but just like the Celestron, a tripod is not included.
When it comes to coatings, Nikon's binoculars are treated differently than Canon's, albeit to the same exceptional standard. The Nikon Binoculars feature full multi-coated eco-glass (every optical surface receives the same attention to detail), and the glass itself is Nikon's extra low-dispersion variant. It's an impressive specification for what are intended to be general-purpose binoculars. Protection is terrific; the usual rubber armor encases a body made of fiberglass-reinforced polycarbonate (similar to the stuff they use to make motorcycle crash helmets). The Nikon's eye cups are turn-and-slide adjustable — a newer style which many owners find convenient. The case, though functional, is nothing spectacular, and some owners have been disappointed with it.
The Tasco Binoculars are designed to be an item that you'd happily throw in a bag and take to a sporting event, on a hiking trip, etc. These inexpensive binoculars weigh just a few ounces and easily fold down into a compact, portable package. Owner feedback varies. Some people complain of excessive blurring, but most say image clarity is satisfactory. (Image clarity is difficult to quantify because everyone has different visual acuity, and some beginners have trouble focusing their binoculars at first. A little practice — and some good advice — can make a considerable difference.)
There are a number of similarities between the Tasco and Bushnell binoculars, and they're clearly aimed at the same kind of user. Bushnell is the better-known brand, and it has the wider range, but it's not quite as compact as the Tasco, and it weighs a few ounces more. A number of owners say they're excellent for concert-going. They're also popular among the outdoor crowd. Image clarity could be better, but potential buyers must remember that this is a budget pair of binoculars.
Most owners think the performance of the Celestron Binoculars is pretty outstanding, especially for the price. However, the proviso has to be that these binoculars are more specialized than the Tasco or Bushnell models. One big difference is the weight. 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 so for very long. The Celestron's 15X magnification means that even small movements can cause image blurring. For both of these reasons, many owners recommend a tripod or monopod. The "giant" binocular market has become very competitive lately, and the Celestron pair has come out favorably in a number of independent reviews against more expensive models. Owners do report a loss of focus in the outer 25 percent of their vision field, but given the distances involved, this often has a negligible impact on the object being viewed.
When it comes to maintaining the sharpness of what you're looking at, the 15X Canon Binoculars offer an impressive solution: active image stabilization technology. With the press of a button, the Canon can negate even the smallest vibration, thereby reducing blurriness. While not truly waterproof by full-immersion standards, they will shrug off just about anything. Anti-fog eyepieces ensure that even when the weather is bad, you can still see what you're looking at! As with the Celestron, the Canon's weight is an important consideration; tripod or monopod support is recommended for longer usage periods. Owner feedback relating to image quality is almost universally positive. As with the Celestron, you'll get impressive views of the stars with these binoculars, although earth-bound subjects still render sharper images.
If you're going to invest in the Nikon 7577 MONARCH5, it will probably be because you want the convenience of models like the Tasco and Bushnell but the optical quality you'd associate with a company known for their cameras. The Nikon's measurements of 8 x 42 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 could be at that depth for ten 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.
If you're looking for afforable, general-purpose binoculars, you'll have a hard time finding a better deal than the Tasco Essentials. Just $10 buys you 8 x 21 satisfactory magnification in a go-anywhere package. Objective lens might be a bit on the small side, but field of view is still over 380 feet, and eye relief is sufficient for those wearing glasses. The rubber-encased body offers reasonable protection, and inside, you'll find fully coated optics. Some owners complain that build quality and durability aren't what they could be; others say the optic quality isn't particularly impressive. At such a low cost, however, what can you reasonably expect? If you want activity-specific binoculars, there may be better options. If you want a pair you can toss in a bag and not worry about, the Tasco Essentials is a great buy.
The fact that a reputable company like Bushnell produces Powerview 10 x 25 binoculars for just $14 is an indication of how competitive the market is right now. For a price similar to that of the Tasco, you get more zoom, a larger objective lens (for more light capture), and improved internal coatings for sharper images. Field of view is a little smaller than that of the Tasco, and eye relief isn't quite so good. Nevertheless, the Bushnell is a hugely popular choice. It won't replace some premium models that are available today, but if a low-cost pair of binoculars with a touch of quality is what you need, the Bushnell will do the job quite nicely.
Not so long ago, binoculars that were capable of effective back-yard stargazing (like the Celestron SkyMaster Giant) would have cost several hundred dollars. Today, this particular model is just $67. That's an amazing price considering the Celestron's 15X magnification and 70mm objective lenses. These lenses are capable of drawing in lots of light, even when conditions aren't great. At over three pounds, it's not the lightest binocular on the market, but consumers who want to benefit from full power and a steady image ought to be using a tripod (or other support) anyway. (A fitting is included for a tripod, but the tripod itself is not included.) This binocular is called the "SkyMaster," but it's not just for looking at the stars. The SkyMaster can also pick out deer or other wildlife on distant hillsides. A few owners have complained about double vision and/or poor opticals, but the majority of owners say the opposite.
There's no doubt that the Canon Image Stabilization Binocular is a stunning piece of optical technology. The challenge lies in its equally stunning price: $1149. (However, when you investigate close competitors, it turns out that's the kind of price you'd expect to pay.) Performance is exceptional. Stargazing ability is up there with the Celestron (and again a tripod or monopod mount is included), yet the Canon is over half a pound lighter and arguably more ergonomic. The major problem with big magnification is keeping the image stable, and that's where the Canon plays its trump card. You don't have to worry about stopping undue vibration because these binoculars will compensate. Optics are superb; special coatings to improve clarity, and the glass won't fog in inclement weather. The price is very high, but you'd have to go a long way to find an owner who isn't satisfied with the Canon 18x50 All-Weather Binocular.
If you contrast the $326 Nikon MONARCH5 to the inexpensive Tasco and Bushnell binoculars, you'd be forgiven for wondering where the price difference comes from. After all, the budget-priced Tasco has the same magnification, and the Bushnell's is even better. However, as we've said before, it's not just about magnification. Aperture, field of view, optical coatings, and so on are also important; all of these factors contribute to how the image is presented. You could look at the Nikon as a cross between the Canon with its superb optics and the Bushnell with its compact convenience. The result: a pair of binoculars that is praised by just about everyone who uses them, particularly bird watchers and fans of the great outdoors.
We had a minor debate about which contender would get this award, but in the end, it was pretty clear that the best pair of binoculars is the Nikon 7577 MONARCH5. The Canon is undoubtedly a superb choice, but it is designed for individuals with deep pockets who are committed to exceptional optics for specific purposes. For most of us, mere excellence is good enough!
And by any standard, the Nikon is excellent. 8X magnification might not seem a stand-out figure at first, but it's recommended for beginners, serious bird watchers (in combination with the 42mm), and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Thanks to multi-coated optics, the Nikon binoculars deliver superb brightness and clarity — even in low-light conditions. They're made of a tough fiberglass/polycarbonate mix and weigh just 21 ounces. They're armored in rubber and can withstand a few knocks. Additionally, they're waterproof to over three feet and can be immersed for ten minutes without harm. No matter what the weather, the lenses won't fog up. Indeed, the Nikon MONARCH5 even gets compliments for the smooth, accurate performance of its focus knob.
Field of view is a competitive 330 feet, yet unlike many powerful binoculars on today's market, the Nikon binoculars can focus on objects just over eight feet away. If you wear eyeglasses, an impressive eye relief of 19.5mm will be a welcome bonus, too. The only difficult aspect of the Nikon Monarch seems to be the task of finding consumer complaints. A couple of owners have been critical of lens cap fit, and some don't like the strap. In short, you've got to be rather picky to find fault with this product!
The Nikon binoculars could be looked on as a step up from the Tasco and Bushnell models and a step down from the Canon. However, we feel that would be an inappropriate comparison. These binoculars are no kind of compromise. With an appealing blend of high-quality optics and tough, compact, go-anywhere flexibility, these binoculars really are the best of both worlds.
The Best Bang for Your Buck award goes to the Celestron SkyMaster Giant. With 15X magnification and 70mm aperture for just $67, how could it really go anywhere else?
To be fair, the Tasco Essentials and Bushnell Powerview also offer a great bang for your buck and, for some consumers, one of these two products would be an excellent choice. The Nikon, with its mid-range price, could also claim the title.
But as a price/performance package, the Celestron is unbeatable. There are other 15 x 70 binoculars around, but most of them cost twice the money. A field of view of 230 feet is an adequate, competitive figure. Eye relief of 18mm means eyeglass wearers get the same view as everyone else.
In spite of the Celestron's multi-coated optics and highly-rated BaK-4 prisms, there has been some criticism of imagery at its outermost areas. However, the central part of the image — the most important 75 percent — is frequently praised by owners for its crispness and clarity.
The Celestron has one or two weaknesses, so why do so many consumers say it's their favorite? Because its weaknesses are few, and they're simply not serious enough to impair the Celestron's performance. The advantages offered by this pair of binoculars are many, and the value is outstanding. In short, it's the Best Bang for Your Buck.