The Best Binoculars for Your Money
A good pair of binoculars is essential for explorers who are passionate about truly seeing the great outdoors while birding, hiking, hunting, viewing wildlife, scouting, camping and stargazing.
However, choosing the right pair of binoculars can be a daunting task considering the wide variety of models on the market. Options range from basic binoculars costing less than $100 to professional-grade top-of-the-line devices that can cost over $2,000.
Unless you’re a professional, you don’t need to invest thousands of dollars to get a good pair of binoculars. In fact, there are plenty of great affordable options for beginners and casual wildlife enthusiasts comparable with models that cost twice or three times as much.
Best binoculars buying guide
Before you start shopping, it’s important to understand the meaning of the numbers used in binoculars' model names. For example, what does the "8x42" in the Celestron Outland X 8x42 binoculars mean?
The numbers refer to two different types of lenses, which together help you see objects that are far away, in varying degrees of light.
The first number (8x in the pair of Celestrons mentioned above) refers to the ocular lens. Ocular lenses are located within the eyepiece, and the number lets you know the image magnification — that is, how much the lens appears to enlarge distant objects. An 8x lens would seem to make the object 8 times larger, whereas an 10x would make it 10 times larger. Binoculars with greater magnification let you see targets that are far away, though they also provide a narrower field of view.
The second number refers to objective lenses. This is the glass at the end of the binoculars that captures light. The number specifies the diameter of the lens in millimeters. Bigger lenses mean more light, and consequently more effectiveness in low light settings. Bear in mind that larger objective lenses (42 mm or more) also tend to be found in heavier, sometimes unwieldy binoculars.
Binoculars with a magnification between 6x to 8x and objective lenses between 30 mm and 42 mm are generally recommended for classic outdoor activities such as birding and hunting, and they'll also work well for concerts and sports events. They’re lightweight and have strong enough magnification for most users, while providing a steady and wide image.
If, however, your goal is to have a closer and narrower view to observe, for instance, deer or small animals from a safe distance, a 10x magnification can give you an extra boost. For stargazing, consider a magnification between 10x to 20x and an objective lens between 50mm and 80mm, depending on how narrow you want the field of view to be.
Other equally important factors include:
• Field of view. Simply put, the field of view denotes the scope or width of the area you can view through the lenses. A wider field of view lets you spot things more easily without having to move the binoculars. This is useful in tracking moving targets, such as birds soaring in the sky or football players on the field.
The field of view is measured by the number of feet you can see at 1,000 yards or, alternately, in degrees. Most high-quality binoculars have a field of view of around 300 to 400 feet at 1,000 yards, or between 6 and 8 degrees.
• Eye relief. This is an important factor for people who wear eyeglasses. This feature allows you to adjust the eyepiece’s distance from the eyes. If you wear glasses, look for at least 15 mm of adjustability.
• Close focus range. All binoculars can focus on objects in the distance, but only a few models are capable of focusing on objects that are much closer. The close focus range lets you know what’s the closest distance (in feet) a particular pair of binoculars can focus on effectively.
Many quality binoculars offer a close focus range that’s under 10 feet. This is usually enough for most people, but, if you’re interested in studying things like bugs and butterflies, get a pair of binoculars with a close focus range of 5 to 6 feet.
• Weight. Small and lightweight binoculars are great for birding, hunting and hiking because they’re easy to carry and convenient to pack. Binoculars with larger lenses — like the Celestron SkyMaster below — are typically much heavier. They'll weigh down your backpack and take a toll on your arms if you’re using them for extended periods. Purchasing a tripod could be a solution to fatigue.
1. Best overall: Vortex Viper HD Roof Prism Binoculars 8x42
Magnification: 8x | Objective lens: 42 mm | Angular field of view: 7.8° | Linear field of view at 1,000 yds: 409 ft | Eye relief: 18 mm | Close focus: 5 ft | Weight: 1.53 lbs
The Vortex Viper HD is a great option for birders and wildlife enthusiasts who are looking for sharp images, along with a well-balanced design they can use for hours at a time.
These Viper 8x42 features extra-low dispersion (ED) glass to minimize color fringing (or blurring) and delivers optical clarity and premium color fidelity. The lenses are fully multi-coated with anti-reflective coating that helps reduce glare, improves image contrast, and allows it to perform better in poor lighting.
Another great asset is Vortex’s lifetime warranty, which covers repairs or replacements in the event your binoculars are damaged or defective.
The price tag, typically around $500, may be a bit of a turnoff, especially if you’re just starting to explore wildlife or birdwatching as a hobby. But if you’re serious about it and don’t want to pay over $1,000 for a top-of-the-line pair of binoculars, the Viper HD crisp image quality really makes them worth the money.
2. Best for low prices: Celestron Outland X 8x42 Binoculars
Magnification: 8x | Objective lens: 42 mm | Angular field of view: 6.8° | Linear field of view at 1,000 yds: 357 ft | Eye relief: 18 mm | Close focus: 13.1 ft | Weight: 1.38 lbs
If you are looking for a well-rounded pair of binoculars for occasional outdoor activities without breaking the bank, take a look at the Celestron Outland X. This cost-effective pair usually retails for less than $100.
With 8x magnification and multi-coated lenses to obtain better contrast views and prevent marring, the Outland X is suitable for most outdoor activities. They are completely covered in rubber, which makes them comfortable to the grip and durable. They’re also waterproof and fogproof.
Additionally, this pair of binos includes a carrying bag, a neck strap, a lens-cleaning cloth and lens caps. They can also be mounted in a Celestron tripod, which is sold separately for about $20.
3. Best for stargazing: Celestron SkyMaster 20x80 Astro Binoculars
Magnification: 20x | Objective lens: 80 mm | Angular field of view: 3.7° | Linear field of view at 1,000 yds: 195 ft | Eye relief: 18 mm | Close focus: 108 ft | Weight: 4.69 lbs
If you enjoy going outside after dark to gaze at meteor showers, super moons, lunar eclipses, and once-in-a-lifetime celestial events, the Celestron SkyMaster could definitely boost the experience.
Designed specifically for skywatching activities, these binoculars are packed with 20x high magnification ocular lenses and 80 mm objective lenses for long-range viewing in low-light conditions. They have an effective close focus range of 108 feet and a focus knob to manipulate image clarity and zoom in on the details.
Like other Celestron models, the SkyMaster binoculars are covered with rubber to protect their aluminum and polycarbonate chassis from rough conditions. Weighing close to 5 lbs., they could be considered a bit heavy; however, with the integrated mount adapter they can be easily attached to a tripod for a hands-free (and more stable) view.
Overall, the Celestron SkyMaster 20x80 are a great option for amateur astronomers who want an alternative to a telescope that’s smaller, lighter and much easier to carry.
4. Best binoculars for kids: Opticron Savanna WP 6x30 Binocular
Magnification: 6x | Objective lens: 30 mm | Angular field of view: 8° | Linear field of view at 1,000 yds: 420 ft | Eye relief: 21 mm | Close focus: 9.8 ft | Weight: 1.1 lbs
The compact design of the Opticron Savanna WP 6x30 binoculars is suitable for adults and children 7 years and older.
With a minimum 50 mm interpupillary distance (IDP), they can be adjusted to the right distance, helping reduce eyestrain in children. They weigh about one pound, which is light enough for pretty much all family members to carry comfortably.
They’re waterproof, which provides some extra protection if by any chance they end up in a river or lake, and the size — 4.6” x 6.3” x 1.6” — makes them comfortable for even smaller hands to hold.
The 6x magnification may not be the most powerful option, but it’ll provide a steadier image for shaky hands, along with a wider field of view to explore wildlife.
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