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Best Birding Binoculars: 8 You Should Look at Before You Look Through

Best birding binoculars
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

The truth is that binoculars may not be the end all of the bird watching, but they come in at a close second. That’s because having the best birding binoculars is a definite plus when it comes to observing all the minute details that help you realize what type of bird you’ve just spotted.

Consequently, they help you get a better idea regarding a bird’s feathering and colors without getting too close and spooking it. That’s why many bird watching aficionados can’t live without such a product.

Man with Birding binocular

So in this article, we’ll tell you what to look for when you’re shopping for a good pair of binoculars, and analyze some of the higher quality items we’ve found.

How to Choose

It’s true that the best binoculars for birding aren’t cheap, but if you’re really invested in this hobby then it’s wiser to put some money aside and get a nice pair.

That’s because you would be thinking long-term: instead of purchasing a new pair with every new season, you would actually be making a possibly singular purchase for a whole decade. Making an informed decision is based on research, repeated tries and maybe even saving some money.

Price range

While it’s best to buy from a reputable brand, that doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have to pay an arm and a leg for that. Many brands now produce affordable binoculars that cost below $500. And although that may seem like a lot, divide it by 10 years, and you’ll get a meager sum of less than $50 per year.

Birding binocular Price range

Of course, the binoculars that cost more money can provide a clearer image, they’re more durable and possibly even more ergonomic. However, if you buy a more affordable model from a trustworthy brand, you might still enjoy some advantages like good quality and high technology.

Magnification

When it comes to magnification, you have to choose between a bigger one or a smaller one.

Many people would argue that there’s no real science behind this choice, and it’s all a matter of personal preference. However, there are some decisive factors that should help you pick:

Bigger magnification

  • Works better for a longer range.
  • The field of view is narrow.
  • The visibility isn’t so good in lower light.
  • The shake is quite obvious.

Smaller magnification

  • Works better for a shorter range.
  • The field of view is wider.
  • The visibility is better, with a brighter image.
  • It’s better suited for bird following.

Field of view

This measurement describes how wide the image is. If the magnification is bigger, then the field of view is going to be smaller.

Birding binoculars Field of view

That means you’re less likely to err, or not notice the bird altogether. On the other hand, a wider field of view means that you can focus your image on the bird for longer, but you might make some mistakes regarding minute details.

Close focus

This is a significant feature, especially because you want to see all the details. That will help you identify the bird, and also follow it with your eyes whilst you remain stealth. Plus, you can follow the bird even if it tries to hide from you.

Image quality

When it comes to the quality of your image, you should know that some binoculars that have smaller objectives and have a compact design don’t do so well in that regards.

Birding binoculars image quality

Besides, since you might try on a pair or two before you buy something, take into account that stores have good lighting, so the overall performance might falter in a thick forest at dusk.

But the qualities you should be looking for are:

  • Brightness.
  • Clarity.
  • True colors.
  • Ability to convey all the details.

Eye relief

At this point, we’re referencing eyecups, which are important because they protect your eyes in two main ways:

  • They can withdraw to accommodate people who wear glasses.
  • They can protract in order to shade your eyes.

Basically, you should be looking for versatile eye relief, that doesn’t let your picture get dark rings around it.

Sustainability

If you’re interested in bird watching, then you must love all creatures of this Earth. So take into account that some brands actually do care about birds too, and they want to give back to the community by lending a hand to their conservation.

Bird watching

Research your brand and see what organizations and research they support, to make sure that some of the money for your binoculars are re-invested in nature.

That being said, remember that you’ll have to test some items too. Even if they have the same purpose for choosing a specific pair of binoculars, different birders look for different things.

People have differently shaped faces, differently sized hands, and you may ignore these details to your disadvantage. In other words, the image is in the eye of the birder, so get the feel of various pairs of binoculars before deciding on which to buy.

The Binoculars We Love

After taking into account all these features, let’s see what the market has to offer in terms of good birding binoculars.

Carl Zeiss Optical 8×42 Victory HT Binocular

Carl Zeiss Optical 8x42 Victory HT Binocular

Weight: 3.5 pounds

Dimensions: 5 x 5 x 6.3 inches

Specifications: 8x magnification; 42 mm objective; German made; high-transmission glass; enhanced transmission coatings; FL lens; comfort focus; quick-grip barrels

Best Use: bird watching

Description: These 4.8 stars and $2,349.99 really reflect the epitome of German quality, given the fact that they’re German made. Carl Zeiss Optical 8×42 Victory HT Binoculars rather spicy price reflects the fact that they’re a premium product, which can easily be noticed from the quality of their manufacturing.

As such, they’re manufactured with a high-transmission glass and they have enhanced transmission coatings which increase the overall percentage of light transmitted to more than 95%.

That means you’ll get a pristine image, with true colors. The FL lens is another factor which accounts for great colors and a very high image quality.

When it comes to the user experience and the ergonomics of the Victory HT, we notice that they’re based on the comfort focus system. That means your index finger can now be put closer to the focusing wheel, to reach it easier.

Besides, the quick-grip barrels are another great ergonomic feature, and since these binoculars are so compact, you can safely hold them without fear they might fall.

The nice extra perks you get when purchasing this item is the No-Fault Policy that’s good for 5 years, as well as the lifetime warranty.

Swarovski Swarovision 10×42 EL

Swarovski Swarovision 10×42 EL

Weight: 1.8 pounds

Dimensions: 6.3 x 4.8 x 6.3 inches

Specifications: 10x magnification; 42 mm objective; field flattener; long eye relief; HD lenses; viewing comfort

Best Use: bird watching

Description: These 4.3 stars and $2,318.00 Swarovski Swarovision 10×42 EL really take the cake when it comes to technological advancements since they’re backed by Swarovision Technology.

That translates into an increased comfort when you’re looking through these binoculars, even more so if you’re wearing glasses. In fact, the long eye relief is perfect for glass wearers.

The lenses are state of the art too, further explaining the high retail price. They’re field flattening, which means the image they offer is very close to reality.

Moreover, it also increases its brightness and resolution throughout the entire field of view.

In other words, you’ll be able to see crisp detail throughout every corner of your image. That’s also courtesy of the HD lenses, that contain fluoride and that don’t allow any color distortions.

The image resolution is top shelf also because these binoculars don’t mess with the color contrast.

That means you won’t get a darker image in lower light conditions, so you can confidingly go bird watching before the crack of dawn because you’ll see all their details. The extra layer of coating applied on the lenses enhance the color and brightness too.

Leica Ultravid HD 8×42

Leica Ultravid HD 8×42

Weight: 2 pounds

Dimensions: 2.5 x 6 x 7 in

Specifications: 8x magnification; 42 mm objective; SCHOTT high-transmission glass; high contrast; flare reduction

Best Use: bird watching

Description: This $2,149.00 Leica Ultravid HD 8×42 is another great item to convey a pristine image when you’re bird watching. The fact that their prisms are manufactured from high-transmission SCHOTT glass means that they allow a greater light transmission.

That entails you’ll get a bright image, and very crisp details because light isn’t going to be reflected. Since flare is minimized almost completely thanks to the top-notch lenses, you’ll have no pesky flickers to deal with either.

Apart from this, you can easily use the Ultravid HD in any lighting conditions, because they don’t produce a darker image at dusk or dawn. That’s courtesy of the binoculars’  high contrast rendering, therefore you’ll always see things as they are.

The 8x magnification is an additional feat, meaning that you’ll be able to get a pretty wide field of view, without sacrificing attention to detail.

The HD resolution is very important too when it comes to the details you’ll be able to spot, as well as the general clarity of your image.

The overall construction is that of a sturdy product, thanks to a shock-resistant exterior that not only protects your binoculars but also increases the comfort of your grip, ensuring you won’t drop them accidentally.

Swarovski Optik EL Swarovision Binocular

Swarovski Optik EL Swarovision Binocular

Weight: 1.8 pounds

Dimensions: 6.3 x 4.8 x 6.3 inches

Specifications: 10x magnification; 42 mm objective; Swarovision technology; field flattener lenses; long eye relief; HD lenses; improved viewing comfort

Best Use: bird watching

Description: These 4.3 stars and $2,318.00 Swarovski Optik EL Swarovision Binocular are outstanding, as you would probably expect from a product manufactured with Swarovision technology.

The first thing you notice is their 10x magnification, which translates into a big depth of field. However, this bigger magnification doesn’t come at the price of either focus, clarity nor brightness.

That’s because they have field flattener HD lenses that increase the image resolution and the details conveyed through them.

So you’ll be able to spot a lot of birds, follow them, observe their featherings and unique colors without them getting the slightest clue you’re there.

Besides, the close focus feature is amazing too, you can get a focal range as small as 5 feet without any problems.

The long eye relief means you’ll have absolutely no strain on your eyes, even if you’re wearing glasses. This improved viewing comfort means you can hold them in front of your eyes for quite a long time without getting your eyes tired or blurry vision.

Finally, the unlimited lifetime warranty provided by the Swarovski Optik makes this purchase a valid investment, probably your last when it comes to birding binoculars.

Nikon Monarch 7 8×42

Nikon Monarch 7 8×42

Weight: 1.3 pounds

Dimensions: 5.7 x 5.1 x 1.6 inches

Specifications: 8x magnification; 42 mm objective; wide FOV; dielectric reflective coatings; rubber armored coating; low dispersion glass; phase correction; nitrogen housing

Best Use: bird watching

Description: These 4.8 stars and $420.98 are another pair of the best binoculars for birding that will assist you in your hobby free of the hassle of squinting or getting a darker picture.

To begin with, Nikon Monarch 7 8×42 have an 8x magnification, which is big enough to see at a decent distance. That means you’ll get a big enough field of view, in order to spot your quarry with ease.

The quality of the materials is of great importance when it comes to rendering a loyal image. That’s why both the lenses and prism have a special coating in multiple layers, that’s very reflective and dielectric.

The purpose of this coating is to increase the contrast and render true colors. That’ll help you see pristine images, even in low-light conditions.

The glass used for the lenses is a very low dispersion type, which also increases brightness and colors. And the roof prisms have phase-correction, which is a nice perk if you’re interested in optimal clarity.

The exterior is coated too, with a sturdy type of rubber which makes it resistant to various shocks or scratches, meanwhile increasing the comfort of your grip, so you can spend hours at a time with your birding hobby.

You can also do that in any conditions thanks to the nitrogen used for the housing, that makes these binoculars resistant to both fog and water.

Celestron Granite ED 8×42

Celestron Granite ED 8×42

Weight: 1.5 pounds

Dimensions: 2.25 x 5.5 x 5 in

Specifications: 8x magnification; 42 mm objective; ED glass objective; multi-coated lenses; coated prisms; nitrogen imbued; rubber armor; ergonomic

Best Use: bird watching

Description: These 4.7 stars and $304.55 Celestron Granite ED 8×42 are one of the most affordable items on the market, but they still do a great job.

That’s because they’re manufactured with quality materials which render the image almost perfect. For instance, the lenses are a high index type of ED glass, meaning they can depict the colors as they are.

Besides, they have a multiple coating, and they’re also fully broadband. That means they transmit light, and don’t reflect it, in order to get a pristine picture. The contrast levels are likewise pretty high, preventing your image from darkening when there’s not much light outside.

The fidelity of the colors, details, and overall image can be explained by the prism design too. These are phase coated with dielectric layers of coating that have a high degree of reflectivity, therefore the image is quite clear even at close focus.

Since these pair of binoculars use nitrogen for their housing, they will allow you to continue birding even when it’s raining or during fog.

The rubber armor offers increased protection against various damages, and it’s quite user-friendly, just like the finger ridges and the twist-up eyecups.

Related: The 7×33; 9×33; 10×42; 10×50; 12×50 magnification models

Eagle Optics Golden Eagle HD 8×42

Eagle Optics Golden Eagle HD 8×42

Weight: 2.6 pounds

Dimensions: not specified

Specifications: 8x magnification; 42 mm objective; ED glass; phase corrected; multicoated optics; rubber armored; rubber eyecups; waterproof; fog proof

Best Use: bird watching

Description: These perfect score 5 stars and $599.39 Eagle Optics Golden Eagle HD 8×42 are another product that’s in the affordable range without sacrificing quality.

That’s because they’re manufactured with glass elements that enable a high resolution and don’t allow fast dispersion. That means light will be transmitted through the lens in a bigger proportion, and colors will be rendered with life-like accuracy, even towards the edges of your field of view.

Since all the optics are covered with multiple layers of coating, you can rest assured there’ll be no reflections to make your image less than clear.

Moreover, the high contrast will let you see perfectly even in darker conditions, getting a very clear image. But the material with which the optics are coated is a very advanced sort of polymer, called SeeClear. That’s also good for repelling water and stains, so your image is optimal in any circumstances.

More to the point, your binoculars won’t be too affected by adverse happenstances or environmental conditions, including bad weather. You can confidingly go bird watching even if it’s rainy or foggy because the housing is filled with argon and sealed with an O-ring.

The rubber eyecups will prevent tired eyes and blurry vision, but if your arms get tired, simply use a tripod to mount your binoculars on.

Vortex Viper HD 10×42

Vortex Viper HD 10×42

Weight: 1.54 pounds

Dimensions: 7 x 9 x 4 in

Specifications: 10x magnification; 42 mm objective; O-ring; argon filled housing; multicoated optics; HD extra-low dispersion glass; unconditional lifetime warranty

Best Use: bird watching

Description: This 4.9 stars and  $530.96 Vortex Viper HD 10×42 will make your birding experience a real pleasure, mainly because you can use it in any weather conditions.

It has O-ring seals that won’t allow any water or particulates get inside the binoculars and ruining them. That’s why they will keep functioning at optimal levels for many years.

Besides, the argon gas filling for the housing is a good way to ensure your binoculars are both fog proof and waterproof.

All the optics have multiple layers of coating so that light transmission is improved to very high levels. For instance, the prism coatings are dielectric, which means you’ll get pristine images, bright and with true colors.

The glass used for the optics has a high density and a very low dispersion rate, that also makes the images have a true color, providing an overall HD resolution that lets you notice all the important details.

Plus, you’ll benefit from some nice extra perks like:

  • Unconditional lifetime warranty for any sort of repairs or replacements needed.
  • Rainguard.
  • Lens covers.
  • Padded carry case.
  • Ergonomic neck strap.

Are You Ready to Make A Choice?

Once you’ve had a chance to review some of these items, you can better understand what sort of characteristics the best binoculars for birding should have.

Choose your Birding binoculars

Maybe you’ve even set your eyes on a pair, so let us know: which is it? What sort of characteristics are you looking for in a pair of binoculars? Do you plan to use them for other things too?

Tell us all that and more in the comments below!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

  • Harry Wyatt

    My wife is a serious watcher, though I too enjoy a day of bird watching from time to time, I’m not as devoted as she is. Over the years, between us we’ve owned many pairs of binoculars with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand.

    When her most recent pair eventually cracked, we began the arduous task of finding a replacement and after weeks of, shall we say, heated debate, we eventually settled on the Celestron 71370.

    Right out of the box we were both impressed by the quality and design of these binoculars. The open bridge allows for a comfortable and secure, and the magnesium body though light in weight is definitely solid.

    One of the main reasons we settled on the Celestron 71370 was the use of ED glass, not something you’ll often see in binoculars this affordable and they offer incredible sharpness and good color saturation.

    Overall, they have proven their worth time and time again and are a joy to use at such an affordable price, I’d certainly recommend them.

    • Dennis Owens

      Getting your bird watching binoculars is not just about the lens itself, but also how durable the frame should be. There are a lot of binoculars in the market right now that features exceptional lens, but the frame is very brittle for outdoor work. So my best suggestion is to find the best lens you can get, but don’t compromise the build quality.

  • Charlie Wass

    I’ve been using Zeiss exclusively for around 10 years now, however, when it came to investing in a new pair, I discovered the Swarovski Optik EL and boy am I glad I did.

    The close focus quality and capability of these binoculars rivals no other pair I’ve ever used, they are simply outstanding.

    The field of view is wide and unlike pairs I’ve used in the past, they do not become distorted at the edge, and the light gathering ability is second to none so there are never any concerns about use in low light conditions.

    Though admittedly, they are expensive, however, if you are looking for a tremendously high-quality pair of binoculars, you won’t be disappointed by the Optiks.

    • Dennis Owens

      The Optik EL is really one of the more expensive ones but I can tell you right now this is a great investment. Durable and provides exceptional visual, this is a highly recommended product for bird watching.

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