Binoculars have been used since the mid-19th century as an alternative to telescopes, allowing the viewer to use both eyes to see magnified images of far-off objects. They can be used in a wide variety of activities including hunting, birding, stargazing, boating, or while attending a concert, theater production, or sporting event.
When shopping for binoculars, the first thing you may notice is they are labeled with numerical specifications, like “10×50.” This indicates how powerful the binoculars are. The first number is the magnification number and the second is the diameter of the objective lens. A set of 10×50 binoculars, in other words, has 10 times magnification and 50mm diameter of the objective lens. The best binoculars for you will have an adequate magnification level (the average is between 7x to 10x magnification) and an appropriate objective lens diameter (42mm and 50mm are typical sizes) for your chosen activity.
Read on to find out what else you should know before getting a new pair of binoculars. Here are some of the best binoculars in their respective categories, based on design, efficacy, and overall value.
- BEST OVERALL: Celestron – Outland X 10×50 Binoculars
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: SkyGenius 10×25 Compact Binoculars for Adults
- BEST FOR KIDS: LET’S GO! Binocular for Kids
- BEST FOR HUNTING: Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Roof Prism Binocular
- BEST FOR BIRDING: Adasion 12×42 Binoculars for Adults
- BEST TACTICAL: Vortex Optics Diamondback HD Binoculars
- BEST FOR STARGAZING: Celestron – SkyMaster Giant 15×70 Binoculars
- BEST FOR MARINE USE: Bushnell H2O Waterproof/Fogproof Roof Prism Binocular
- BEST FOR SPORTING EVENTS: SkyGenius 10×50 Powerful Binoculars for Adults
- BEST LIGHTWEIGHT: Occer 12×25 Compact Binoculars
Types of Binoculars
Binoculars fall into two categories based on the configurations of the glass prism, eyepiece, and the binocular tubes. These two broad categories are roof prism binoculars and Porro prism binoculars.
Roof prism binoculars are easy to distinguish by their H-shaped design. With this style of binoculars, light passes through the lens to the binocular tube, through two closely overlapping prisms, and out through the eyepiece in a straight line. This allows them to be more compact and durable because the frame does not have as many potential weak points that have to be protected. However, this style of binoculars tends to be more expensive than Porro prism binoculars with comparable magnification and objective lens diameter specifications.
Porro prism binoculars have an M-shape, instead of the H-shape of roof prism binoculars. This is because the eyepiece and lens are not in line. Instead, light enters the lens and passes through the binocular tube to the first prism. As light passes through the prism it is reflected at a 45-degree angle to the second prism, and then reflected again at the inverse 45-degree angle to direct the light to the eyepiece.
Though their configuration makes Porro prism binoculars less durable than roof prism binoculars, Porro prism binoculars are known to produce bright images. These binoculars are also more affordable, making them a great choice for light-duty activities like birdwatching or going to the theater.
What to Consider When Buying the Best Binoculars
Before choosing a set of binoculars for your next outing, think about how you will use your binoculars and the conditions in which you will be using them. Keeping these factors in mind will help you make the best purchase.
How you will use your new binoculars will help you determine what specifications to look for in a product.
- Short-distance activities like going to the theater, a concert, or a sporting event require low magnification levels between 3x and 6x. Higher magnification levels will make objects appear too close to properly enjoy these activities. Keep in mind that not all sporting events will fall into the short-distance category. This is especially true if you have terrible seats.
- Medium-distance activities like camping, hiking, and fishing call for binoculars with a magnification level between 7x and 10x and an average objective lens diameter of approximately 42mm to 50mm. Some sporting events, depending on the location of your seats and the size of the building or playing field, may benefit from medium-distance binoculars.
- Long-distance activities like bird watching, hunting, or stargazing require binoculars with an objective lens diameter of 50mm or more in order to produce a wide field of view.
The first number you may see on the binoculars, typically represented as “10x,” stands for magnification. In this example, it is 10 times magnification. The set of binoculars with the highest possible magnification is not always the best product for your purposes, however. Magnification level should be balanced against the diameter of the objective lens to provide a wide, clear view of whatever you are trying to view.
Focus on finding a magnification level that is appropriate for the activity. For instance, you don’t need 10x magnification to watch horse racing because all you would see is the horse’s head. Typical magnification ranges for binoculars include short-range, medium-range, and long-range.
- Short-range: 3x to 6x magnification
- Medium-range: 7x to 9x magnification
- Long-range: 10x or higher magnification
Field of View
Binoculars’ field of view refers to the horizontal measurement from one side to the other of the subject area visible at 1,000 yards. This measurement is typically taken in either feet or meters, with wider fields of view being better for following action at a distance. You might also find a field of view designated as an angle, like 7 percent. This is the angle of what you can see out of the binoculars without moving them.
Field of view is determined by the magnification level of the binoculars and the objective lens diameter. As the magnification level increases, the field of view decreases. However, when the objective lens diameter gets wider, the field of view increases. This is why it is important to balance your objective lens diameter and your magnification level so that you do not end up seeing one thing way too closely, or seeing everything in very blurry detail.
Some binocular lenses come with specialized coatings applied to the glass. These coatings can serve a variety of purposes including protecting the glass, reducing reflections and glare, improving light transmission, and improving contrast. Other coatings repel water, dirt, and grease, or emphasize a specific color, which is a great option for hunters.
Just because a product advertises that their lenses are coated doesn’t mean that the quality of the lens coating is high enough to warrant you buying those binoculars. Stay away from very low-priced products that advertise fully coated lenses because these coatings are likely ineffective, or disruptive to the clarity of the image.
Eye relief refers to the distance that binoculars can be held away from the eyes while still experiencing a full field of view. Short eye-relief distances are typically seen on compact binoculars that use short, basic eyecups around the eyepieces. Long eye-relief distances reduce eyestrain and are ideal for users who wear glasses. Some binoculars are equipped with adjustable eyecups so they can be used by multiple people with a variety of eye strengths.
Size and Weight
The size and the weight of your binoculars may be an important factor if you plan to carry them with you. On average, compact binoculars weigh 1 pound or less and are typically lightweight enough to fit in your bag or carry around your neck. Larger binoculars can weigh up to 4 pounds.
This range means that you won’t see a lot of weight fluctuation between sets of binoculars, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider weight before you purchase them. If you are carrying binoculars around your neck for a long period of time, you’ll notice the difference between a 4-pound pair and a 1-pound pair in no time. Choose a set of binoculars that is appropriate for your size and their intended use.
A digiscope is an adapter that fits onto your binoculars so you can take photographs through the binoculars. Your phone attaches to the adapter, aligning the camera of the phone with the eyepiece so that you can take photographs or video of the magnified view. If you don’t buy a set of binoculars that comes with a digiscope adapter, they’re relatively inexpensive to purchase separately.
However, be certain that the adapter you select will fit both your binoculars and your phone. Some products are either binocular specific or phone specific, Universal adapters are growing in popularity and availability, quickly becoming an industry standard.
Binoculars are typically grouped into one of three categories when it comes to water resistance: water susceptible, water resistant, and waterproof.
- Water-susceptible binoculars have no waterproofing or water-resistant features outside of the natural water resistance of the materials (like plastic or stainless steel) used in their construction. These binoculars should never be used in rainy or wet conditions, and certainly not on a boat or dock.
- Water-resistant binoculars have some type of seal to prevent moisture from getting into the binocular tube. However, these binoculars are still not waterproof and should not be used on boats or in very wet conditions.
- Waterproof binoculars can be fully submerged without damage. However, the depth to which they can be submerged and the length of time they can be underwater varies. Always refer to specific manufacturer recommendations before getting your binoculars wet. Also, keep in mind that “waterproof” does not necessarily mean “fogproof.” Built-up condensation in these binoculars can easily cloud the view through the eyepiece.
Night vision binoculars are those that can be used in low light (at dawn or dusk, for example) or at night. True night vision is an impressive feature for a set of binoculars to have. These binoculars take in ambient light (like infrared light or moonlight) through the front lens. This light passes through a photocathode tube which converts light photons into electrons. The electrons are amplified within the binoculars and directed into a phosphorus screen that converts the electrons back into visible light, which can then be viewed through the eyepiece. Due to this process, the image you see is normally just slightly tinged green.
As with many gadgets, binocular manufacturers often package their products with optional features and accessories. Some of these most useful to binocular buyers include fog proofing, tripod adapters, neck straps, and harnesses.
- Fogproof binoculars are filled with inert gases such as nitrogen, argon, or a combination of the two. This gas is pumped into the optical tubes of the binoculars and kept under pressure to ensure that the binoculars’ gaskets and other seals stay dry and in place.
- Tripod adapters are great for stationary activities, like amateur astronomy. You can attach the binoculars directly to the tripod and adjust the sight until you are in the perfect position. Using a tripod is easier than holding binoculars still for long periods of time. You won’t lose your focal point or deal with shaky vision, either.
- Neck straps and harnesses keep your binoculars safe while you walk, hike, climb, or run. Some harnesses have a stabilizing function that lets you use the binoculars with almost no hand shake.
Our Top Picks
The top-rated products below were chosen for quality, price, and customer satisfaction to help you find the best binoculars for your next adventure.
Whether you are hunting, boating, stargazing, birding, or heading out to see a football game, these roof prism binoculars are up to the task. With 10x magnification and a 50mm objective lens diameter, the field of view at 1,000 yards is 290 feet. With these binoculars, it’s easy to keep track of fast-moving plays, or even faster-moving birds, without having to jerk the binoculars around to keep up with the action.
These binoculars have adjustable, twist-up eyecups for optimal eye relief, and durable rubber armor that is impact resistant and easy to grip. Their optical tubes are fogproof and waterproof due to the O-ring seals at the lenses and eyepieces, and the pressurized nitrogen gas inside the tubes. The Celestron Outland X 10×50 Binoculars weigh just 2 pounds and come with a neck strap, objective lens caps, eyepiece rainguard, carrying case, and a microfiber lens-cleaning cloth.
If you need a new set of compact and affordable binoculars, this set of roof prism binoculars from SkyGenius is an excellent choice. They have 10x magnification and a 25mm objective lens diameter, which gives the viewer an impressive 362-foot field of view. These binoculars weigh just over a half a pound, and have a folding design that makes it easy to tuck them in a coat or sweater pocket. The SkyGenius 10×25 compact binoculars also come with a neck strap and carrying case, which makes it even easier to carry them.
The binoculars have thick rubber armor that gives you an anti-slip surface to grip on either side of the center focus dial. The adjustable rubber eyecups can easily accommodate glasses or provide a customized eye relief setting, and the lenses have a green tint to decrease glare in bright sunlight. If one of your eyes is weaker than the other, you can use the diopter adjustment tool to set the focus for each individual eye, giving you the sharpest image, regardless of your eye strength.
Get your kids interested in birding, hunting, or other sports with their own set of roof prism binoculars that have an 8x magnification and a 21mm objective lens diameter. The compact body is molded for little hands, and has a rubberized grip to help prevent kids from dropping the binoculars. The binoculars’ impact-resistant plastic-and-rubber body, as well as the soft rubber ring around the eyepieces, protect against inevitable bumps and falls.
The lenses have a green tint that reduces glare in bright sunlight, and the adjustment dial is simple to operate so your kids (or you) can easily focus the view. Once the main focus is set, the eyecups can also be adjusted to match the appropriate eye relief distance for each child. The best part about these binoculars is they are incredibly affordable so if they do get broken or lost, it isn’t too dear to replace them.
Make sure you are prepared on your next hunting trip with a set of Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Roof Prism Binoculars. These roof prism binoculars are rugged and durable, with an impact-resistant magnesium chassis and a waterproof housing. These binoculars will work in challenging conditions, and even in heavy rain. The lenses are further protected by a coating that repels oil, fog, and water from the exterior of the lenses.
The optical tube of the Bushnell Legends is filled with a pressurized noble gas that keeps the waterproof seals in place and prevents fogging on the interior of the binoculars. The light, 1.4-pound weight is easily carried with the included neck strap, or in the microfiber carrying case. The binoculars have a 10x magnification, a 42mm objective lens diameter, and an adjustable diopter to set the focus individually according to the strength of each eye.
If you enjoy bird watching, you already know how important it is to have a good set of binoculars. These Adasion roof prism binoculars have an impressive 367-foot field of view, allowing you to track the movement of your target bird. The 12x magnification is ideal for getting a good look at some of the smaller avian species, while the 42mm objective lens diameter keeps your view wide enough so that you won’t lose your target if it suddenly moves.
These binoculars weigh just 1.25 pounds and are water resistant, but should not be exposed to heavy rain for long. They have adjustable eyecups to increase or decrease the eye relief, making them a great option for people with glasses. This product also comes with an adapter that can be used with the majority of popular smartphones including iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Note, Huawei, LG, HTC, and Sony.
Meeting tactical objectives in your profession, training, or as a fun activity is made easier with a set of Vortex Optics Diamondback HD Binoculars. These roof prism binoculars have a 10x magnification, a 50mm objective lens diameter, and a dielectric coating to increase the clarity, brightness, and color accuracy of viewed objects. They also have an Armortek coating to protect the lenses from scratches, oil, and dirt.
Rubber padding on these Vortex Optics Diamondback binoculars ensures a secure grip and impact protection, and adjustable eyecups that can be twisted up or down provide optimal eye relief. The binoculars’ optical tubes are filled with pressurized argon gas which prevents fogging and helps hold the O-ring seals in place for complete waterproofing and fog-proofing. The diopter located on the right eyepiece can be adjusted for individual eye preference.
Celestron also makes telescopes, so you know that these Celestron binoculars are ideal for looking up at the starry sky. These Porro prism binoculars have a high magnification level of 15x and wide objective lens diameter of 70mm and are designed specifically for stargazing.
The multi-coated optics help increase the light transmission through the binoculars so low-light images are visible at a much longer range.
For individuals with mismatched visual acuity, the binoculars have a diopter adjustment to set the correct focus for each individual eye. They have a 231-foot field of view at 1,000 yards, and are quite heavy at 3.28 pounds. Although these Celestron binoculars are water resistant, they cannot be submerged, or used in heavy rain for a long period of time.
You won’t have to worry about heavy rain or dropping these binoculars in the water with the O-ring seal around the lenses and eyepieces, and the pressurized nitrogen gas within the binocular tubes. Nitrogen gas keeps the seals in place and protects the glass from built up condensation and fogging. These Bushnell binoculars even come with rubber lens covers to help keep water out when they are not in use.
These roof prism binoculars have a magnification of 10x and a 42mm objective lens diameter, providing you with a 305-foot field of view. The eyecups can be twisted to extend or shorten your eye relief, and the non-slip rubber armor and soft texture make the binoculars easy to grip. The Bushnell H2O binoculars come with a neck strap and a carrying case that can be looped onto your belt.
Grab a set of these SkyGenius binoculars before your next sports outing, and you won’t miss a moment of the action, even from nosebleed seats. The powerful 10x magnification and wide 50mm lenses present an impressive 367-foot field of view, while the multilayer coating on the glass helps improve light transmission, contrast, and image quality.
These Porro prism binoculars weigh only 1.8 pounds, and they come with water-resistant, odorless rubber armor that makes them easy to grip and keeps them safe from impact damage. The binoculars’ diopter system can adjust a single eyepiece at a time so that you can get a clear view, even if your eyes have different vision strengths. While these binoculars can be used in dim conditions, they cannot be used in night vision applications.
If you want a small set of binoculars that you can tuck away in a pocket or a bag when you aren’t using them, then the Occer 12×25 Compact Binoculars are a great option. They weigh just 0.65 pounds and are made with a durable, non-slip rubber armor that protects the internal components from impact damage. The Porro prism binoculars are also water resistant, but you shouldn’t have them out in heavy rain for too long.
The magnification level for these binoculars is 12x, while the objective lens is relatively small at just 25mm, giving you a field of view of 273 feet at 1,000 yards. The 15mm eyepiece can easily accommodate users with glasses, and the adjustable rubber eyecups ensure perfect eye relief for your view.
FAQs About Your New Binoculars
Before investing in a new set of binoculars, take a look at these frequently asked questions and their answers below.
Q. What is the best magnification for binoculars?
It depends on how you will be using the binoculars. Average users will typically have binoculars with a magnification between 7x and 10x. Common magnifications and their purposes are as follows.
- Theater or concert: 3x to 6x magnification.
- Sports game (football, baseball, hockey, etc.): 7x to 9x magnification.
- Big-game hunting or stargazing: 10x or greater magnification.
Q. What does “10×50” mean for binoculars?
The first number is the binocular magnification, meaning “10x” or 10 times magnification. The second number is the diameter of the main objective lenses, in millimeters.
In other words, “10×50” means that the pair of binoculars in question has a 10x magnification and 50mm diameter objective lenses.
Q. Which is better: 10×50 binoculars or 10×42 binoculars?
For daytime use, 10×42 binoculars are less expensive and will work about as well as the 10×50 binoculars. However, in low light the 10×50 binoculars have a superior image brightness, which allows users to see more clearly. Keep in mind that 10×50 binoculars are bigger and more expensive than 10×42 binoculars.
Q. How do I choose the right binocular magnification?
Choose binoculars based on your average distance from the object, and the type of activity you are doing. For example, binoculars for seeing a concert may only need a low 3x to 5x magnification because you are sitting (or standing) relatively close to the performers. Hunters will want binoculars with a magnification of 10x or higher so they can track game over long distances.