In this guide we’ll take a look at the best binoculars for birding.
We’ve compared image quality, magnification, portability and cost
to give you our top recommendations.
What Are The Best Binoculars For Bird Watching?
More Detailed Birding Binocular Reviews
The Vortex Optics Razor HD Binoculars are small, light, bright and strong roof prism binocular packed with so many awesome features.
Perhaps the most important feature is the image.
These Razor HDs high definition is better than real life and then some. High-density glass and modern anti-reflective technology ensure brightness even in low-level conditions. They use plasma tech, have hard, fully multi-coated scratch resistant exterior lenses, are O-ring sealed and argon-purged to hit the lifetime guarantee spot.
The hinge mechanism could withstand the weight of an elephant (disclaimer – don’t do that!) but they are beautifully ergonomic so you don’t even notice their strength. They have a comfy grip with finger-shaped indents, and multi-position eyecups so you can wear your glasses too.
Phew – have a lie-down! These binoculars are the envy of every birder you’ll meet and they’re more than capable of moon gazing too. At this rate, you’ll never be in bed.
Lightweight, mid-priced and spot on for birding, these quality Nikon 7577 Monarch 5 binoculars are premium kit without a premium price tag.
They present a stunningly clear image with their extra-low dispersion glass lenses which are fully multi-coated to let in lots of light.
They are waterproof, fog proof and will cope with a few knocks and bumps with their rubber coating but a full drenching will cause problems. I’d recommend using a neck strap to make sure there are no accidents. Believe me, dropping your binoculars in a river is not something you want to do.
Beginners often struggle to pinpoint the focus, but these binoculars have an easy to use central focus knob to help you along. Turning rubber eyecups make them comfortable and a flip down lens cap keeps everything study and safe. Foolproof in fact.
You find high contrast sharp images from these 10 x 42 roof prisms, but if 10 is too much magnification there’s an 8 x 42 option in the same range.
You can see 18 times magnification with no shake through these Canon Image Stabilizer All-Weather Binoculars– that’s a huge distance that Canon achieves with battery powered image stabilization.
High magnification binoculars are known to have a problem with blurred images. Your shaking arms or the buffeting wind causes a blur, but Canon have developed steadying technology for camcorders – and cleverly transferred it to their binoculars.
They use a vari-angle prism, sensors and a microprocessor to constantly adjust the prism for a clear image. You press a button to engage this function and the image automatically clears.
These binoculars give a wide, extra bright field of view, that’s so high powered you can star-gaze too. A 50mm objective lens lets in a sun’s worth of light and Canon’s super spectra coating prevents reflection that causes a dull image.
They are waterproof and not too heavy at 2.6 pounds, despite the two AA batteries it needs for the microprocessor.
If you like an extreme close up you can’t buy better.
Most of the cheaper binoculars fall down on the image clarity, but that’s not the case with Wingspan’s Eagle Scout.
These top-notch but cheap binoculars give you a crisp image at 10x magnification and keep their focus all day long. They’re waterproof, fog proof, and even drop proof now they are anti-slip coated. It’s not often you find budget binoculars that are fog-proof as they tend not to argon gas fill the cheaper end.
These 10 x 42 offerings have the best coated lenses – fully multi-coated. This is important as they let in lots of light and offer scratch resistance. It’s surprising to find fully multi-coated lens on budget binoculars and its why the image is so clear – they let in lots of light.
The Eagle Scouts also have Bak4 prisms and a 1000 yard field of view to compete with pricier offerings.
The only downside is the built quality which doesn’t feel as sturdy as the more expensive makes. Really though, this is a small issue that can be overcome easily enough by taking care of the binoculars. Get yourself a binocular case, a neck strap and don’t drop them too often. They’ll last for years if you keep them clean and safe.
Weighing in a 1.75 pounds they are lightweight too. A great bargain to spy on the flutterers.
If you need the best small binoculars to fit in your bag without crippling your shoulders, the Wingspan Spectators are perfect.
The Spectators are 8x32s on excellent Bak4 lenses which are multi-coated and give a great light-filled view.
Eight times magnification is plenty enough for birding, and despite their small size and weight you still get a 1000 yard field of view which is comparable with the bigger boys and really why these are my recommendation above other lightweight binoculars.
They are nitrogen purged to fight fogging and have a sealed interior against rain. They’ll take non-salt splashes but not a dunking, so good job there’s a non-slip coating on the hand grips. I’d recommend you use a neck strap too, you never know!
The Spectators are a good value lightweight buy. Wingspan, as you might guess from the name, specialize in bird-watching so you know they’ll be up to the job.
The compact Omzer folding binoculars are pretty powerful for their size measuring a miniature 3×3.9×2.4 inches and weighing around seven ounces. They will easily sit in the palm of one hand, and you can carry them around all day without arm ache.
Yes, you’ll have to trade off some clarity and magnification for a compact pair, but these still give you almost a 1000-yard field of view and HD clarity through top-class Bak4 prisms. Fully multi-coated lenses always give the best view – and these have them.
They’re made from ABS plastic with a non-slip waterproof coating and they’re drop proof too.
A great feature of these folding binoculars are the dustproof eyepiece covers which might sound dull but it’s really important especially on binoculars that are going to be compactly stashed in a bag.
Despite folding they are easy to focus – on the hinge’s central knob that’s been moved forward.
I like this compact pair a lot. If I’m on a walk and not specifically looking for birds, I’ll just pop them in my bag. They’re handy if some does rustle around the branches, but if it’s a quiet day, no matter. I don’t notice the weight.
There is no point getting any child over toddler age a pair of toy binoculars. At school age, they need proper binoculars so they can see crisp, natural images and get to grips with the science behind lenses and prisms.
Bespin’s kid’s binoculars are my top pick because they actually work. They have Bak4 prisms and simple to focus fully coated lenses on an 8×24 spec. The eyepieces have these great little rubber sections to prevent kids from hurting themselves, and they’re designed for little hands.
There’s no need to panic about dropping them either as they’re covered in shockproof rubber armor.
That’s all very well, you say – but how COOL are they? Pretty cool in sky blue with black accents to suit girls and boys.
I reckon a parent designed these cracking kid-friendly binoculars. If they could produce a snack, you’d have hours of free time!
Bird Watching Binocular Buying Guide
If you’re interested in bird-watching then let me extend a very warm welcome to the original Twitter!
There’s nothing like spending an afternoon watching birds. It brings down your stress levels, stimulates your mind, and gives you the chance to connect with the natural world.
However, stress levels rise when your binoculars let you down. In fact, unless you’re looking at an ostrich, you’re going to struggle without a good pair!
Binoculars are the most important piece of equipment a birder needs, so let me guide you through the best options for a variety of situations.
How do binoculars work?
Binoculars are two telescopes placed side by side. There’s a telescope for each eye and they’re held together by plastic or metal frames.
Binoculars magnify an object using lenses to bend light. The first lens is the objective lens. It catches light from distant objects. The second lens magnifies the object.
But bending light means the light rays cross over and you get an upside view! That’s where prisms come in.
Prisms are what make binoculars heavy. They’re thick pieces of glass that reflect the light so your image orientation switches and it appears the correct way up.
What to all the numbers mean?
Binoculars are sold with lots of numbers attached, but it isn’t difficult to figure out what they mean.
There are two sets of figures you need to pay attention to as they identify the specification.
The numbers on binoculars show magnification power first and then the lens diameter.
But wait. There are other letters and numbers waiting to trip you up – be not afraid!
B = rubber eye-caps or push down eye-caps which are suitable if you wear glasses
GA or RA = rubber-coated binoculars with extra rugged protection.
Porro Prism or Roof Prism – That is the question!
When you’re looking for binoculars there are two main build types on offer. These are Roof Prisms and Porro Prisms. The only real difference is how the light is channeled to your eyes – and of course, each has pros and cons.
Roof Prism Binoculars
Roof prisms have their eyepieces in line with their objective lens so they look more streamlined. They are often smaller, more compact, and more lightweight than traditional porro prisms.
Porro Prism Binoculars
Porro prism binoculars are the original binoculars. The eyepieces are not in line with the objective lens so they have a staggered appearance.
They’re heavier and more cumbersome than roof prisms but do give a clearer image because they have greater light transmission.
Another bonus – porros are cheaper because the technology is simpler.
Roof prisms are the most popular buy due to their good looks and lightweight design, but porro prisms can give a better-quality image especially if you’re spending around $100 mark.
Purists often use porro prisms and they work just as well. It all depends on how you’re intending to use them. If you’re out trekking for the day then roof prisms are light and more portable, but looking from your kitchen window changes the game.
To sum up – they both work just as well!
Consider weight and portability
Kitchen window birders don’t need to worry about portability, just knock yourself out with whatever you like, but birders after something out there in the wild will need to take a journey, and its likely to be an off-roader.
Ergonomic, lightweight binoculars are your best bet if you’re heading out. Bear in mind you’ll be lifting and holding them to your face numerous times during the day and that gets tiring.
Miniature binoculars are so lightweight that you can just leave them around your neck or pop them in a jacket pocket, but they don’t let in as much light as larger pairs so the visibility is reduced.
It’s a trade-off that only you can decide. Are you willing to carry a heavier pair of binoculars if it means that elusive bird is well and truly spotted? Good for you.
If weight is an issue then look for lightweight binoculars because there’s nothing more miserable that lugging excess weight around the countryside.
I recommended purchasing a decent strap that doesn’t dig into your neck because even the lightest binoculars end up digging into your skin. Straps that come as standard are not usually good enough quality. Look for something padded that’s adjustable.
And while we’re talking about portability don’t forget about carrying case weight! It’s a mistake we’ve all made and I’d like to pass on the wisdom. Carry cases can really add extra weight to the package.
Do I need lens coating?
Buying binoculars with lens coating is a smart move.
Coatings improve light transmission which is all important because there’s no point looking through blurry, dark binoculars.
Lens coating boosts light as it bounces off the prisms and lenses inside your binoculars. Each time it bounces light loses some of its brightness, and you lose your view.
Coatings help brighten the image and reduce internal reflections.
Here are the main coating types:
- Coated – will have some minimal coating
- Fully coated – Don’t be fooled – this isn’t a full coating!
- Multi-coated – This gives a pretty good coating without the hefty price tag
- Fully multi-coated – The best of the bunch, lots of coating to brighten the bird.
Oh-so important magnification
Magnification is one of the most important aspects of binoculars, along with the objective view lens.
As we’ve seen above, magnification is the first number on the specification. So:
7 x 10 = magnification is 7 times closer
8 x 25 = magnification is 8 times closer and so on.
Simply put, the bird you’re looking at will appear seven or eight times closer than it is in reality.
You may think that more magnification is better? Not necessarily so.
A high magnification means the image is closer, but it will appear duller, and you’ll have a smaller range of vision.
A higher magnification also means you’ll have to deal with ‘effect motion’, which is when the bird goes out of focus because your hands are shaking or the wind is buffeting. A lower magnification reduces effect motion. If you’re shaky – opt for a lower spec.
The objective lens diameter
On to the second specification number folks. It’s an important one so go grab a coffee if you need a boost.
The second number on your binocular’s specification refers to the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. The larger the number, the bigger the lens is.
The objective lens is the lens closest to the object and furthest from your eye.
It’s important because it’s the lens that lets in light. Bear in mind that binoculars work by bending light, so no or poor light equals no magnified image.
The larger the objective lens is, the more light your eye receives and the brighter your bird will appear. A mid-range objective lens is around 30mm.
Which you choose depends on your needs. For a bright image but heavier binoculars go large.
Personally, I don’t think you can go wrong with 7×30 or 8×30 when you’re starting out.
Are zoom binoculars any good for bird watching?
Binoculars with adjustable focus enable you to zoom in on a bird. Standard 7x25s or 8x30s won’t zoom in or out and stay on their specific magnifications.
Zoom binoculars aren’t recommended for birding because the image isn’t always clear and they can develop more faults than others.
What does “Exit Pupil” mean?
Another number to contend with, but be not a’feared. Exit pupil is basically a measurement that indicates how well binoculars perform in low light.
Hold your binoculars up to the light. See that center circle? the size of that should correspond with your pupil.
It sounds tricky but in low light, we generally have wider pupils at around 5-7mms. If the exit pupil size matches up, they are good for low light. Just for comparison purposes in bright light your pupil will be around 2-3 mm.
If you aren’t intending to use binoculars in poor light conditions don’t worry about exit pupil.
What about waterproofing?
I think waterproofing is essential, and that’s because several pairs of my early binoculars were destroyed – once by a wet, boggy puddle and the second by a rainstorm.
These disasters occurred because I fell for ‘weather-resistant’, not ‘water-proof’. Weather-resistant binoculars may survive light rain, but not mud submersion or a proper storm drenching.
The inner workings of binoculars are delicate and need protection. Any water seeping in will not only distort the image, but it’ll also start destroying the components.
Just because you don’t intend to swim in them it doesn’t mean they won’t get wet. Accidentally dropping them in an estuary or river, wet, foggy conditions, and sweat can all cause a problem.
Another good move is to look for nitrogen or argon purged binoculars. Purged binoculars are filled with dry gas so they won’t fog up from the inside.
These defenses also keep out dust and debris that tend to get lodged in the lenses and block out the very spot that rare fledgling chose to sit in.
Cake crumbs falling into binoculars slung around your neck is a common way to destroy your equipment – be warned!
Do you wear glasses?
Oh, the crisis of whether to keep your glasses on when birdwatching!
I can tell you from experience that hurriedly raising binoculars to spectacles can result in a bruised nose and eyebrows, not to mention bent glasses, so take it steady!
If you wear glasses look out for binoculars with eye relief.
Eye relief indicates how far away your eye can be from the eyepiece before the view is muddied. You’ll need 15mm – 17mm depending on your spec’s thickness.
Also, check out rubber eyepieces that can be moved to accommodate glasses.
These keep out any extra light that can interfere with your view. Rubber eyepieces twist up and down, pull forward, or move in a variety of ways. If you’re wearing glasses keep them down so your eyes are closer to the lens.
But wait, if you are using binoculars do you even need to wear glasses?
If you’re near or far sighted then no, you don’t need them, but if you have astigmatism, then yes you do.
One thing – false eyelashes and mascara can smudge lenses and ruin a day out, so fellas keep eye makeup to a minimum.
Dioptre Adjustment – excuse me?!
What now? Dioptre who?
We’re all individuals and therefore we have different sized eyes.
The wideness of your eyes is served by the dioptre adjustment. Set it to suit your facial contours. Binoculars should be stiff enough to stay put once set in place.
It’s important because it compensates for the differences between the strength of your eyes.
The field of view / angle of view
This refers to how much width you can see through the binoculars. Wide view binoculars are ones with more than 65 degrees apparent field of view.
Many bird watchers like a wide field of view, so it’s easier to spot a bird in the first place, but a wider field of view is achieved with lower magnification specs.
It’s down to your preference, there’s no right way. I don’t use a wide angle.
How to focus binoculars
An all-important step is focusing your binoculars. Here’s how.
- Look for the central wheel. Most have them no matter what the price
- Look through the binoculars to a distant spot
- Move the central hinge mechanism until you see one circle
- Now cover one telescope and use the focusing wheel until the image becomes clear
- Swap and do the same with the other eye.
- Set the dioptric adjustment with the hinge mechanism so the image is clear
- All set to go.
Few people will have the same focusing needs, so if you lend binoculars out you’ll probably have to reset them.
It’s quick and simple once you’ve practiced. I’d recommend doing it a few times at home just in case they get knocked out of shape in the field.
Do you need a tripod for bird watching?
Generally speaking, you won’t need a tripod with binoculars because they’re made for scopes which are single barrelled.
However, if you choose a pair of binoculars for birdwatching that are heavy – say 10x magnification plus, and you’re bunked up in a hide then a tripod is a great investment.
They help keep binoculars steady and take the weight from your arms. They provide essential maneuvering when you need to drink coffee from a flask without missing a flutter.
Look for sturdy adjustable legs so you can set a tripod up on uneven flooring. An adjustable pole is essential too or its backache for you. The central pole should also be sturdy otherwise it’ll be prone to floor vibrations that make your binoculars wobble.
Aluminum and carbon fiber tripods are available, the difference being that carbon fiber is much lighter and much more expensive.
What to expect at different price points
Binoculars range from $10 to $1000s but its only worth flashing the cash once you know exactly what you need.
There’s no argument that high-end binoculars are better all around, but if you purchase an expensive pair that don’t fit your eyes, or ones that you can’t use properly, then it’s a total waste of cash.
When you start out it’s tempting to a cheaper pair, but cheap binoculars don’t work well, and you’ll miss out on what makes the hobby so fascinating. A cheap pair of binoculars almost guarantees you won’t want to continue because you won’t see anything!
$100 will buy a decent pair to start out with. Moving onto $200-300 range means you’ll get something excellent, and if you’re up for spending near $1000 because birding is life – then the visual quality is staggering. It’s even better than reality and you’ll be tempted to glue them to your face forever.
We’ve got into the specifications above, but in case you were wondering what the difference is between a $10 pair of 8×20 and a $100 pair of 8×20 is, it’s simple.
Pricier binoculars have waterproofing, scratch-resistant lenses, anti-reflective qualities, better build quality, and they’ll last longer unless you accidently destroy them. Cheap fuzzy lenses and good quality pricier lenses are worlds apart.
You can find decent binoculars for competitive prices, but usually the higher the price the better the pair – so long as they suit your requirements.
My advice is to buy the best make and specification you can afford and learn how to use them properly.
Birding is one of the simplest and least expensive hobbies around.
It’s an endlessly fascinating treasure hunt that requires patience and deep-seeking skills. Some folk call birding ‘the humane version of hunting’ and I like that description a lot.
Whether you enjoy the solitude of birding by yourself, or fancy joining a group for social fun a, decent pair of binoculars is essential – the rest you can muddle by with.
I hoped that’s helped! To sum up, remember that an all-round pair of good birding binoculars are 7x or 8x magnification – roof or prism is up to you. Spend as much as you can afford and then get to know your binoculars well.
A cheaper pair of binoculars well used are better than an expensive pair poorly used. ‘All the gear and no idea’ certainly applies to binocular purchase.
Good luck fellow birders, I hope you spot everything on your list and more.