Best Birding Binoculars For 2018
Humans have pretty good vision, sure, but unless your name’s Superman you aren’t going to be able to bird watch properly. Binoculars are part of your tracking tools, used in conjunction with other equipment such as your field guide and camera equipment.
A pair of eyes can’t zoom and a spotting scope doesn’t allow you to generate a 3D image, lowering the quality. With binoculars you get the best of both worlds, simultaneously accessing the big and small picture.
Best Birding Binoculars For 2018
Before getting into the details of this review, here's our quick guide with an overview of the main features. Click the Buy button to go through to Amazon.
You’ve seen two numbers associated with binoculars before, for example, 8x42. These are important because they numerically express the kind of image you’ll get through the lenses and how birds will look.
The best sizes of binocular for bird watching 8x42 and 10x42 for lovely and stable imagery. If they’re out of your price range or are too big for you to carry out, 7x35 or even 10x32 will be adequate. Don’t bother going smaller, they just aren’t going to be worth it.
The first number represents the magnification. If it’s a ten, the object you’re looking at will appear ten times closer than it actually is when at full magnification. For example, if a California Condor is 100 meters away from you, it’ll seem as though it’s ten meters away, amazing.
The second number describes the width of the objective lens. It’s at this point you’re screaming at the screen “which one’s the objective lens?”. It’s the lens closest to the object (farthest from your eye). The wider the objective lens, which is measured in millimeters, the more light can enter and the clearer the image.
A binocular’s exit pupil is also measured in millimeters and, in a perfectly magnified world, you want the magnification to divide into the object lens measurement approximately five to seven times - the resultant number is how wide the exit pupil will be. Your pupils dilate to about 7 millimeters.
Eye relief in binoculars is how far you can hold the binoculars from your eyes but maintain a full field of view, which is how wide the image you see is when viewed from 1000 yards (and you guessed it, a wider field of view is better for birding). Longer eye relief means you don’t have to rest the binoculars on your eyes constantly, if you do it for long enough it becomes painful and irritating.
It’s no good finding the bird you’ve been searching for hours if you can’t get it in focus. Pretty much all binoculars will have a central focusing wheel as well as individual focusing (diopter adjustment) on each lens.
Lens coatings are applied to reduce any reflection. Light being reflected isn’t reaching your brain, so the image is darker with less definition.
For bird watching, the upper limit for holding the binoculars comfortably is 10x42 but you'll find you need to tuck our elbows into your sides to maintain a stable form. We suggest buying 8x42 so you can relax a bit more, it just makes viewing birds and other wildlife a bit more comfortable.
One of the great things about binoculars is, if you ensure they’re kept in great condition, they don’t really depreciate in their quality of their images. The downside to this is manufacturers keep the price relatively high years after the product first launches.
Nikon could charge twice the price for these binoculars and they wouldn’t seem out of place. They’re small and mobile enough to carry around with you if you go camping or hiking but have enough magnification to make looking at wildlife a satisfying experience. If you want to get up close and personal with your birds then the Nikon 7 Monarch's close-range focus of 8.2 feet is perfect for clear and crisp imagery.
It's also a really well-balanced product. Weighing 22.9 oz and having dimensions of 5.6 inches in length and 5.1 inches in width. They feel great in-hand and are extremely maneuverable for targeting the birds you’re looking for. You can pretend you’re in an old Western film, only in this version you’re pro-life.
They’re made of polycarbonate with fiberglass reinforcement and have a slight bulge precisely where your thumbs naturally sit when aiming the binoculars. Now you can relax your hands somewhat. Personally, if I’m gripping binoculars too tightly I get sore fingers where my tendons are tensing continuously. With these? Nada.
Water and fog-proofing come as standard. Nitrogen purged and sealed by O-rings, zero dust or moisture will get into these babies. Use them in the rainforest and you won’t notice a thing. In fact - we dare ya.
The eyecups are an improvement on the older Monarch designs and currently use a twisting motion to lock them in place. The rubber is fairly firm but they certainly aren’t uncomfortable when they’re against the eyes and, with an eye relief of 17.1mm, they’re suitable for those wearing glasses.
The focusing wheel turns 1.5x from the closest focus to infinity. Being large, it provides a lot of purchase as it smoothly rotates. Nikon has established an equilibrium between quickly targeting birds and zeroing in on them with smaller increments of revolutions, yielding more precise focusing.
One of the things making the Monarch 7 so popular is the wide field of view, it’s pretty exceptional at 419.2 feet at 1,000 yards, with an angular field of view of 8°. It makes locating and tracking the flight of birds just that little bit easier. The close focus distance is 8.2 feet.
There’s very limited chromatic aberration in these binoculars and you can be sure that’s down to the inclusion of extra-low dispersion glass, or ED glass for short. The kind of glass is what you can thank for seeing crisp images with great contrast. Previous glass would blur the outer edges of images and were poor at combining different wavelengths of light as they entered your eye, resulting in a colored aura or halo effect.
Perhaps Vortex Optics swore on the Bible when they titled their binoculars Viper HD because they certainly weren’t lying. They utilize high-density glass with very low dispersion so the wavelengths of light remain bundled like a rope upon entering your eyes for the sharpness of an assassin’s blade.
Vortex brews their own secret blend of anti-reflective lens coating formula to absorb as many stray photons as possible for insanely clear images. It's no mean feat. Vortex’s multi-coating is applied with XR coating with additional ArmorTek to reduce scratches and micro wear-and-tear.
At their longest, the HD Vipers are six inches in length and five inches wide with a weight of 25.4 oz for the 8x42mm. Included in this weight are the eye caps, attached via a small plastic cord. Perfect if you’re clumsy like me and lose something you had in your hands not five minutes ago.
Dark green styling with black trims remain consistent with older models of the Viper and along the shaft of the binoculars are grip indentations. There are reports out there of people describing the indentation as too narrow for their taste but we haven’t found them to be too much of an issue. The comfort and practicality reach our high expectations.
These binoculars really are excellent for their price range, although their field of view still has room for improvement. The 8x42mm model’s field of view is 347 feet at 1000 yards and the 10x42mm at 319 feet at 1000 yards. Not terrible by any means but, in the same breath, not the best.
The Viper HD’s closest focusing is at 5.1 feet which is great for binoculars of this size and we found the diopter wheel to feel great. The control is exceptional and the ability to configure the precise focus is easy (it takes 1.7 times rotation to go from the closest to the farthest focusing).
The image produced by the Viper HDs are brighter than other models of the same size and price. Some binoculars can have a lot of blur around the edge of the lens due to their need for curvature, but this is negligible in the Viper HD.
This model of binoculars has exquisite viewing performance and are perfect for finding and examining birds in detail.
The Viper HD is argon purged and O-ring sealed to combat the weather and any prevent any damp from entering the eyepieces.
The eyecups are actually able to adjust to the appropriate distance to maximize comfort for your viewing pleasure.
The Trailseekers have an old-school cool look about them. They'd be well-placed on a 90s magazine cover composed of a single hand proudly holding the binoculars aloft.
If you’re hard-pressed for money, these are the contenders for the best binoculars at a cheaper price. The Celestron Trailseeker 8x42 has an exceptional field of view. Would you like to know what it is? A huge 426 feet at 1000 yards.
Designed with a top-hinge predominantly for aesthetic reasons, the Celestron Trailseekers have a couple of advantages. The first is a thinner bridge, saving weight and revealing more of the barrel for extra grip.
The material used in the frame manufacturing process was magnesium alloy, it’s perfect for providing a feeling of quality. Especially pertinent at this lower price point, nearly all competitors use polycarbonate plastic. Bear that in mind if these things are important to you personally.
A rubber coating has been molded to the majority of the binoculars. It’s firm and reasonably thick adding to the quality feel and scratch resistance. The downside is limited absorption if you drop it. Further, you don’t need to worry about moisture or dust altering the performance of the Trailseekers as they’ve been nitrogen-purged. No misting here.
The indentations intended for thumb placement aren’t very deep and perhaps lack the ergonomics of more expensive models. Could be improved.
Some people have big heads and some people have small heads. It makes sense for binoculars to be able to adjust for the distance between their user's eyes. The Celestron Trailseeker’s minimum interpupillary distance was 5.5cm and the maximum was 7.3cm. How far apart are your eyes?
The focusing wheel is plastic but has been made with enough craftsmanship to provide certainty that it can withstand being used throughout different terrains when birding. There’s no stuttering when turning or jiggling when stationary.
We found turning the focus wheel approximately 1.75 revolutions took it from the closest focus to infinity. This is quite a lot of turning and isn’t ideal for birding but does account for more precise adjustments.
The diopter is basic but comparable to other binoculars of their price range, however, Celestron make up for this with their eye cups. Constructed using metal to house the lenses and rubber coverings to rest the eyes against, they’re built to be able to survive the part of the binocular anatomy which is damaged the most. Twisting four times with a diameter of 41mm and eye relief of 17mm, people with and without glasses will find their viewing sweet spot.
Keeping the eye cups flush with the body and removing the lense covers measures a height of 5.5 inches and a width of 4.5 inches with the hinge closed. All this adds up to a weight of 23.1 oz - compact and suitable for fast maneuvering.
The biggest downside to the Celestron Trailseeker’s is a lack of extra-low dispersion glass. This is where the gulf lies between this model and those in higher price brackets. It’s not that the image quality is bad in these binoculars but if they’d used ED glass, the image certainly would’ve improved.
A lack of ED relies on more precise and accurate manufacturing to reduce any color aberration and, to be fair, the image quality in the Trailseeker is decent.
The binoculars use roof prisms consisting of BaK-4 glass, likely with a phosphate crown. This is better than the BaK-7 glass used in some lower-end roof prisms but not as good as barium crown ones made by Schott.
All outer glass surfaces of these binoculars are fully multi-coated for maximum absorption of light and the roof prism is layered with coatings comparable with top-end products. You’ll get the very best images a binocular of this quality can produce.
You’ll even find phase coatings on the Trailseeker which recombine the wavelengths before they meet your eyes and increase the contrast of the colors.
When the lens caps are on, the height of the binoculars sits at 6.4 inches and the width at 5 inches at their widest, adding up to 27.5 oz. Definitely not the lightest on the list.
As with all well-made binoculars, they’re O-ring sealed. The glass is purged with nitrogen to prevent moisture and dust entering and disrupting the quality of the image, as well as internal fogging from atmospheric air.
The minimum interpupillary distance is 5.8cm and the largest is measured at 7.4cm, it's purely a comfort property and is entirely dependent upon the size of your head.
The styling of the Vanguard Endeavor EDs appear like they’re World War 2 British military surplus. I can picture someone standing up in an open-top Jeep, holding the Vanguards to their eyes in an old, sepia photograph whilst surveying enemy populated sand dunes.
The barrel covering is mottled faux-leather, providing quite a good grip in your hands alongside strategically positioned indents to place your thumbs for a comfortable hold.
The field of view on the Vanguard Endeavor ED 8x42s is 367 feet at 1000 yards. This is middle of the road and certainly isn’t the biggest field of view, even on this list. You won’t lose out compared to most other binoculars but you won’t gain any advantage either, but field of view remains an important aspect in birding. The close distance is 8.2 feet.
For the 8x42 model, the eye relief is 19mm which is quite good and suitable for people wearing glasses. The focus wheel turns in 0.75 revolutions - not many at all but they've made the wheel stiff to combat accidentally mis-focusing.
As the name suggests, these are filled to the brim with ED glass, resulting in lower color aberration. Less blurring and colorful halo effects around the edge of the image.
The prisms used in the Vanguard’s are BaK-4 roof prisms, they're phase coated and all the lenses are fully multi-coated to increase absorption of light and ease its transmission through the device and into your eye. Waterproof and fog proof as standard in the O-ring sealed, nitrogen purged Endeavor EDs. Has to be really, for this price.
The diopter has three distances it locks into by twisting the eyecups to compensate for the disparity between your eyes. Focus each separately and keep them in place so you don’t need to re-do it before each use.
Vanguard also have a lifetime warranty to protect your binoculars against any damage that may occur.
Here we are, the best of the best. It’s unusual for someone to say crystal clear and the meaning be literal but that’s what Swarovski Optik get for honing their rare stone and glass production techniques in jewelry manufacturing.
Those skills transfer into optics exceptionally well. Here's a great review, by Optics Trade explaining the most important additions to the newest iteration.
The casing is made from magnesium alloy to provide protection and gives a superior quality of build feel to the model. Grooves intelligently carved into the chassis are done so for the ultimate grip. If James Bond is into birding, he uses these.
The minimum you’d expect from these binoculars of this standard is to be waterproof and fog proof, don’t worry, you’ve got it. Swarovski don’t state the gas these use (almost certainly nitrogen but could be argon) but they do note depth of up to 13 feet or 4 meters can be reached underwater.
Rubber armor coats the EL binoculars and has a finely mottled texture to increase grip even further. The rubber isn’t as thick as some binoculars on the market but it’s hard and resistant to scratches from the undergrowth.
Due to the objective lenses being set quite deep into the binoculars (15mm), they act as a great hood shielding the glass from rain or dust present in the atmosphere.
Swarovski have made comfortable eyecups which are able to be unscrewed and replaced in the event of necessity. If there’s anywhere that’s going to be get damaged on your wildlife adventures, it’s the eyecups. The twisting action is superb and locks into place without any slack. Who knew you could get excited over such a thing?
Want to know what couples well with eyecups capable of perfect calibration? 20mm eye relief. You let out a small whelp of joy, didn’t you? These are the best binoculars for using with glasses as you have acres of space to position your eyes.
The minimum interpupillary distance is 5.6cm and the maximum is 7.4cm.
The focusing wheel glides through each focal point as if it’s a billiard ball cruising across freshly laid felt. No slack in the turning or tight areas. The aesthetics leave something to be desired though. It’s plastic and looks like someone on the factory floor’s jammed it on at the end of production as they realize they’ve run out of the proper wheels.
Let’s at least make this magnesium alloy, shall well, Swarovski?
Personal preference and the activity you’re using the binoculars for influence your opinion on this, but the wheel rotates 2.2 times around its axis. It makes quickly finding your target tougher but once you’re in range you’ll hit the sweet spot without shooting forward and backward.
The diopter is incorporated into the focusing wheel, to adjust it you pull the focus wheel which shows the diopter-related scale. The wheel will now turn in a series of clicks, similar to how a watch lets you change different hands to set the correct time.
The scale and being able to lock the diopter are simple features which makes the lives of birders much simpler and one you’ll love. Gone are the days of fiddling about trying to remember your personal settings.
Weighing in at 29.5oz and standing at 6.3 inches high and 5.2 inches wide, the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 are reasonably heavy, that 0.5x magnification makes a difference, y’know. However, the amount of metal alloy used in this model is likely what’s increasing its numbers here. Having said that, these binoculars remain comfortable in hand.
Celestron TrailSeeker 8x42Celestron Trailseeker Series
• 8 times magnification
• Approximate Price Per actual Watt: $3.21
• 3 Year Warranty, 90 Day Return Policy
• Average Amazon Rating: 5.0
Nikon Monarch 7 BinocularsGL Series
• 11 LED Colors (Including Infrared)
• Approximate Price Per actual Watt: $2.05
• 2 Year Warranty
• Average Amazon Rating: 4.1
Swarovski EL 8.5x42
Vanguard Endeavour HD 8x42
- Magnification: 8 x 42
- Weight: 27.73oz
- Length: 5.8
- Width: 5.1
- FOV: 126ft