Choosing just one pair of binoculars to crown as the best is a difficult thing to do. However, after reviewing several models, we settled on the Athlon Optics Midas ED 8x42. We loved it due to its optimal performance, impressive brightness, high quality build and its reasonable price.
Our step up pick is the Zeiss Victory 8x42 HT. We settled on this particular model due to its high quality optics, high level of brightness and ease of use.
Our budget pick is the Nikon Action Extreme 7x35 ATB binocular. We loved the Nikon Action Extreme 7x35 ATB due to its ruggedness, the great optics and the pocket friendly price.
- A Little Background
- How Binoculars Work
- How We Picked
- Our Pick
- Step Up Pick
- Budget Pick
- Best Hunting Binoculars
- Best Binoculars For Bird Watching
- Best Marine Binoculars
- Best Binoculars For Stargazing and Astronomy
- Best Rangefinder Binoculars
- The Competition
- Other Frequently Asked Questions
- Wrapping It Up
A Little Background
Aside from spectacles, binoculars are the most popular optical instruments. People have been using binoculars for various uses over hundreds of years. Binoculars can be defined as handheld magnifying devices that consist of a series of lenses, prisms and other optical elements. Binoculars can be compared to two telescopes which are joined together, allowing the user to view using both eyes, instead of having to close one eye. Using both eyes is more comfortable, provides the user with a richer and more immersive experience and allows them to maintain their depth of field.
How Binoculars Work
In their most basic form, binoculars consist of objective lenses, eyepiece lenses and prisms. The objective lenses are located on the end that faces the object being viewed. The function of the objective lenses is to collect light from the object being viewed and direct it to the eyepiece lenses, allowing the user to view a magnified image of the object. Convex lenses are used as objective lenses. This is because convex lenses create a magnified image of an object viewed through them. However, there’s a small catch. When light rays are passed through a convex lens, they converge and then cross over. This means that the generated image will be backwards and upside down. To fix this, binoculars need prisms.
Prisms are solid blocks of glass that act as mirrors, though they do not have the reflective surface found in mirrors. Basically, if a light ray hits a prism at right angles, the ray will pass through. However, if the ray of light hits the prism at extreme angles, that ray will be reflected. Binoculars use prisms to rectify the image by flipping it 180 degrees. Two prisms are usually used. The first prism flips the image 90 degrees, while the second flips it another 90 degrees, effectively turning the image upside down. The use of prisms is the reason why most binoculars are chunky in the middle.
There are two types of prisms that are commonly used in binoculars:
Porro Prisms: These are the most commonly used binocular prisms. You can easily tell identify binoculars using porro lenses because the objective lenses are usually further apart than the eyepiece lenses. Binoculars using porro prisms line have an offset arrangement lining up the objective and eyepiece lenses. Owing to this arrangement, porro prism binoculars have a wider field of view, which makes them a particularly good choice for watching animals or spectator sports. The offset arrangement also leads to brighter images because they have optimal light transmission. Additionally, they provide better dimensional effect when viewing objects from a close distance. Porro prism binoculars are easier to manufacture, which makes them considerable cheaper than roof prisms.
Roof prisms: Unlike their counterparts, roof prisms have an in-line arrangement, with the objective lenses, the prisms and the eye pieces lenses all being located along the same line. Due to their arrangement, they allow for a smaller, ultra-compact design. Apart from allowing smaller builds, roof prisms are also lighter, slightly more durable and are easier to when making waterproof binoculars. However, roof prisms produce darker images. This is because light passing through roof prisms is reflected six times, unlike porro prisms where light is reflected only four times. Roof prisms divide beams of light into two and then combine them together again in a process known as phase shifting. This results in less light passing from the objective lens to the eyepiece lens, which in turn leads to decreased contrast. Manufacturing roof prisms is harder than manufacturing porro prisms, though they can produce a similar level of image quality if properly done. This means that roof prism binoculars will be more expensive than their porro prism counterparts when quality and performance are kept identical.
How We Picked
Choosing the best binoculars for your needs is no mean task, especially if you are not very experienced when it comes to optical devices. This is because there are several factors that determine which device works best for a particular use. Below are some of the factors we considered when coming up with this best list.
When you go to buy a pair of binoculars, you will notice that every one of them has some number written on it. One of these numbers is written with an ‘x’ next to it. This number describes the magnification of the binocular. For instance, if the magnification is 10x, it means that an object viewed through the binoculars will appear to be 10 times closer than it actually is.
There’s no hard rule on the best magnification. Instead, it depends on how and where you intend to use your binoculars. For example, if you intend to use them to watch field sports, then you will probably prefer a wider field of view to greater magnification. For instance, if you are watching a soccer match from the top row stands, viewing the action on the field is a lot more useful than being able to zoom in for a close up of Messi’s head.
For the most common uses, the best magnification should range between 7x and 12x. Most binoculars with magnification above 12x will require you to use them with a tripod. A stronger magnification also means that any small movements on your device will lead to very huge movements on the scene you are viewing.
Objective Lens Diameter
Remember the numbers I mentioned? Right after the number with the ‘x’ is another number. This second number describes the diameter of the objective lens. Why is this important? The function if the objective lens is to collect light and direct it to the eyepiece lens, which means that the larger the objective lens, the higher the amount of light that will be collected. A larger objective lens diameter means a better image quality and increased brightness, even in low light conditions. However, a larger objective lens diameter also means that the binoculars will be larger and heavier. Ideally, you should opt for a ratio of 5 between the objective lens diameter and the magnification. For instance, if you have to choose between 8x40 and 8x25 lenses, you should opt for the former, since it offers better and brighter images owing to its larger objective lens diameter.
Lens Quality and Coating
High quality lenses prevent image aberration and provide better contrast. The best quality lenses will perform fairly well even in low light conditions since they transmit more light. The best quality lenses also prevent the distortion or washing out of colors. The lens coating is also very important. It minimizes the reflection of light, allowing the maximum amount of light possible to pass through the lens. To understand the importance of lens coating, imagine looking at a lake with the sun shining on it. You will most likely notice that the water gives off some kind of glare. This is the same thing that happens with non-coated lenses. Without any coating, the lenses will give off a glare and reflect away some of the light. There are different levels of lens coating, with the most common being:
Coated lenses: This is the most basic coating rating. You are likely to find this on lower quality, bargain devices. This rating means that the manufacturer has coated at least one surface of the lenses with a single layer of their preferred light-enhancement recipe. In most cases, only the front objective lenses will be coated.
Fully-coated: This rating means that all the lenses and prisms are covered with a single layer of a light-enhancement material. If all the surfaces are covered, this rating will see light transmission increase from below 50% to about 80%.
Multi-coated: This rating means that at least one surface is covered with more than one layer of the light-enhancement material, while the other surfaces are covered with a single coat. Sometimes, you might find that the other surfaces do not have any coating.
Fully multi-coated: This is the best coating rating, with the brightest and clearest images. This means that all the surfaces are covered with more than one layer of the light-enhancement material. Multi-coated devices have a light transmission of 90-95%. You will find fully multi-coated optics on the very best devices.
Field of View/Exit Pupil
This is another important factor to keep in mind when shopping for binoculars. It is an expression of the diameter of the area that can be observed through the binoculars. Field of View is expressed in degrees or feet. A large field of view means that you can observe a wider area without having to pan your binoculars. A large field of view comes in handy when you want to track an athlete’s movement or the movement of birds and wild game. Exit pupil, on the other hand, refers to the image you see when you place your eye on the eyepiece lens. To calculate the exit pupil, you should divide size of the objective lens by the magnification. The design of the lens also has an impact on the field of view. The field of view for most binoculars lies between 6 and 7.5 degrees.
Weight and Eye Strain
The weight of a pair of binoculars and the eye strain are other important considerations that can easily be ignored. A heavy device will easily tire you out if used for extended periods of time. Similarly, a device that causes a lot of eye strain may not be the best for you. The best binoculars can be used for hours on end without causing any eye strain. You should also consider a measurement referred to as eye relief. This refers to the maximum distance the device allows between your eye and the eyepiece lens without reducing the field of view. Generally, the field of view decreases the further away you move from the eyepiece lens. This consideration is especially important for people who wear glasses, since they have to hold the binoculars further away than people using their naked eyes.
Binoculars are almost always used in outdoor environments, therefore they require some degree of water resistance. Most are built to handle submersion in limited amounts of water for a couple minutes. However, the best models will comfortably handle submersion for several hours without suffering any damage.
The best binoculars incorporate technology that allows them to reduce the shakes that might result from hand motions. These shakes are particularly observed in higher magnification devices, and can sometimes make the viewing experience very frustrating. Devices with image stabilization are fitted with built-in motion sensors. When shakes occur, the sensors detect the motion and transmit the information to a tiny microprocessor within the device, which then makes adjustments to compensate for the movement. This leads to a consistent image. Devices with image stabilization are especially useful for binoculars with high magnification, or situations that are generally unsteady, such as observing a distant object from a boat, or when following the movements of birds through the treetops.
Some binoculars also come with a center focus wheel that allows the user to make focusing adjustments. The focus wheel is a movable dial that is usually located between the two barrels of the binoculars. By moving the dial, you can adjust the magnification to achieve a sharper image. The center focus wheel simultaneously adjust the focus of both barrels. Some of the best models will also come with a diopter adjustment ring that allows the focus of one barrel to be adjusted independently from the other. This makes it possible for the user to compensate for any differences in vision between their left and right eyes. Once the diopter adjustment has been made to accommodate a user’s stronger or weaker eye, they can then continue using the central focus, without the need to make further adjustments to the diopter dial. Most binoculars have the diopter ring located near the eyepiece on one of the barrels.
Some models come with individual eye focus, which allows the user to adjust the focus of either eyepiece individually by turning the eyepiece. Individual focus is especially common in waterproof, marine binoculars. While this is less convenient than the center focus wheel, it allows the binocular to be built to be more rugged, with lesser mechanical parts. This explains why individual focus is more likely to be found on armored, waterproof devices.
Yet other binoculars are focus free, which means that they come with a pre-set focus from the factory. Focus-free devices are not the best. When making focus free devices, the manufacturers make the assumption that everyone has perfect vision. This means that there is a high chance that the focus will be off for most users. Focus free devices can cause a lot of eye strain, especially when you try to focus on objects closer than the preset focus. It is strongly advisable to buy binoculars that allow you to adjust the focus to fit your unique vision best.
Our pick for the best binoculars is the Athlon Optics Midas ED 8x42. We settled on the Athlon Optics Midas ED because it offers the same performance as top of the range binoculars such as Leicas, at about 1/10th of the cost. The Athlon Optics ED have a magnification of 8x, which is enough for most situations. One of the first things you will notice after trying the Athlon Optics ED is the high level of brightness. This is made possible by the 42mm objective lens. This is very useful especially when you are trying to identify an object in a dark scenery, such as looking out for an animal in the thickets.
The Athlon Optics ED lenses are made out of High Definition ED glass, which results in crisp clear and sharp images without any chromatic fringe. The lenses are fully multi-coated, which allows for maximum transmission of light, resulting in true color images and optimum brightness. The external surfaces of the lenses are covered with XPL (Xtra Protective Layer) Coating which keeps the lenses protected against scratches, oils and dirt.
The Athlon Optics ED uses roof prisms, which results in a more compact form factor for the binocular. The prisms are made out of BAK4 glass. This is the best in the industry. It ensures transmission of more light to your eyes, resulting in clearer, sharper and brighter images. The prisms are covered with ESP (Enhanced Spectral Prism) Dielectric Coating, allowing the prisms to transmit over 99% of the light to your eyes to ensure accurate color reproduction. The prisms also have phase correction, which leads to higher quality images that have higher resolution, better contrast and better color reproduction.
The Athlon Optics ED has a lightweight magnesium chassis, one of the best in the market. This provides the strength and durability of a metal chassis while achieving as much as a 35% weight reduction. The binocular has a long eye relief of 17.2mm. This is quite impressive and allows glass wearers to use the device without any reduction in the field of view. It also has a close focus of 2m/6.5 feet, which comes in handy when you want to closely observe insects and butterflies. The twist up eyecups allow you to adjust the eye relief to your ideal position. The Athlon Optics ED is also totally waterproof, which means that it will work just fine even after getting accidentally submerged in water.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
The only thing we disliked about the Athlon Optics ED is that, unlike most other binoculars, they use press-in caps to cover the objective lens. While this gives them a sleek look, the press-in caps have a high likelihood of falling out, thus leaving the objective lenses unprotected. However, this is only a minor flaw in an otherwise perfect product.
Step Up Pick
Our Step Pick is the Zeiss Victory 8x42 HT, which came as an upgrade to the very successful Victory FL line from Zeiss. The Victory 8x42 HT uses a roof prism arrangement and is completely sealed and nitrogen purged, making the device totally waterproof, dustproof and fog-proof. The device uses Abbe-Konig prisms, which are some of the best. The Victory 8x42 HT uses a magnesium chassis with substantial rubber armoring for improved durability.
The Zeiss Victory 8x42 HT has a magnification of 8x and uses 42mm objective lenses. One of the advantages of the 42mm lenses is overwhelming brightness. According to Zeiss, the device attains 95% light transmission. The Zeiss Victory 8x42 HT achieves all this brightness without loss of color or contrast. The device also has a close focus of just under 6 feet. For glass wearers, the Victory 8x42 HT has an eye relief of 16mm.
The Victory 8x42 HT has a large central knob that allows for smooth and easy focus adjustment. The device has helical twist action eyecups, which allow users to adjust the eye relief. It is also equipped with a diopter adjustment knob. The prisms on the Victory HT are made out of BAK4 glass. The device is fully multi-coated to ensure maximum light transmission, minimal color aberration and distortion and maximum color fidelity.
If you are want to pick a good pair of binoculars without deeply denting your pocket, you should consider the Nikon Action Extreme 7x35 ATB binocular, which we settle on as the best for those on budget. The chassis of the 7x35 ATB is covered in armored rubber, which keeps it protected in case of falls while ensuring a good and comfortable grip in cold or wet weather conditions. The optical tubes are sealed with O-rings, making the 7x35 ATB waterproof. It is also nitrogen-filled to prevent internal fogging, which might have a negative impact on the viewing experience. The 7x35 ATB comes with tethered one-piece ocular rainguard covers to protect the eyecups. The objective lens covers are tethered onto the neck strap to prevent the likelihood of getting lost.
The 7x35 ATB has a magnification of 7x and an objective lens diameter of 35mm. It uses a traditional porro prism arrangement. The prisms are made out of high quality BAK4 glass. The 7x35 ATB uses anti-reflection, fully multi-coated optics that ensure immersive, bright and sharp images, a rich depth of view, high contrast and a rich depth of field. It also has large exit pupils to ensure optimal light transfer to the eyes. The 7x35 ATB has a close focus of 16.4 feet and a wide 60 degree angle of view.
Best Hunting Binoculars
Our pick for the best hunting binoculars is the Vortex Optics Viper HD 10x42, which is among the best in Vortex’s line of binoculars. One of the most important features for hunters is low light visibility, since the best time to sight prey is usually during the twilight hours of dusk or dawn. The Viper HD 10x42 takes care of this through the multi-coated lenses that maximize light transmission for improved visibility in low light conditions. The prisms are also multi-coated to deliver true color, bright and clear images that allow the hunter to easily identify whatever they see. It also has high density glass to ensure that the little available light does not get dispersed.
Since it is meant to be used in the outdoors, the Viper HD 10x42 has a tough body protected by armored rubber. The rubber-covered body also ensures the best grip. However, this tough and durable body might feel a little heavy to some users. It has O-ring sealed tubes that prevent penetration of debris and moisture. The device is both water and fog proof. It also comes with a rain guard for extra protection against the elements. It comes with a comfortable neck strap that allows you to leave your hands free when you are not using it. This is a very convenient feature since hunters frequently need to have both their hands free. To top everything off, it comes with a warranty on all parts, including the O-rings and lenses.
Best Binoculars For Bird Watching
If you are an ardent bird watcher, you should consider the Nikon Monarch 7 ATB 8x42. This device was purposely built for bird watching. It has an incredibly wide field of view and can be used with a tripod. It also provides a high level of detail that any bird watcher would love to have. It makes you feel like you are standing right next to the bird. The tiniest details are visible and the differences in color are crystal clear.
The Monarch 7 uses roof prisms for increased clarity even from great distances. The prisms are covered with highly reflective dielectric coatings for optimal light transmission. This allows them to perform well even in low light conditions, which is exceptional especially when you consider the incredibly wide field of view. The Monarch 7 has a magnification of 7x coupled with 42mm objective lenses. Pair these with extra low dispersion glass and you get a crisp clear and highly focused picture.
The Monarch 7 is waterproof, therefore you can safely use it in the most extreme weather conditions. The tubes are filled with nitrogen to prevent fogging. While the rugged body might be heavier than other Nikon models, it has a more ergonomic design which makes it comfortable to use for long periods of time.
Best Marine Binoculars
If you intend to use your binoculars for boating, you should keep two factors in consideration. Apart from being waterproof, the device should also offer image stabilization to compensate for the instability of observing from a rocking boat. Our pick for the best marine binoculars is the Fujinon Mariner 7x50 WPC-XL, which does a good job of covering both of these features. Not only is the device waterproof, it also comes with a floating neck strap that allows it to float in case it accidentally drops into the lake or ocean. The Mariner 7x50 WPC-XL is highly durable and comfortable to use. It is also nitrogen-purged to make it fog-proof.
The 7x magnification allows you to view distant objects without magnifying your hand movements. You will find this particularly useful when the waves are high. The 50mm objective lenses ensure maximum transmission, which is important when trying to sight approaching vessels in poor light conditions. Another thing we loved about the Mariner 7x50 WPC-XL is that is comes with a digital compass that can be viewed through the eyepiece. The compass can be used both during the day and at night, and works well whether you are in the northern or the southern hemisphere.
Best Binoculars For Stargazing and Astronomy
Star gazers and astronomers need two things – large lenses for maximum light capture at night and extremely high magnification. Our best pick in this category is the Celestron Echelon 20x70, which excels in both fields. It comes with a breathtaking 20x magnification, one of the very best you are going to find, and uses very large 70mm objective lenses. Of course, this leads to a larger size and more weight, though this is not much of a concern since night sky observation is mostly done from a fixed point. In addition, they are tripod adjustable, which helps if you feel that the weight is too much.
The Echelon 20x70 has an aluminum chassis, which is covered in a thick rubber casing for increased durability and the best grip. The device is fully sealed to make it waterproof. It is also nitrogen purged to prevent internal fogging. The Echelon 20x70 is fully multi-coated and uses high quality BAK4 porro prisms. It also has an impressive eye relief of 19.5mm.
Best Rangefinder Binoculars
If you want to not only see distant objects, but also measure the actual distance to these objects, you should consider buying the Leica Geovid HD-B 8x42, which comes with an in-built laser rangefinder for measuring distances. The ranger has a strong magnesium chassis with a rugged rubberized shell for protection and easy grip. The device is both water and fog proof.
The Leica Geovid HD-B 8x42 has an 8x magnification and is equipped with 42mm objective lenses. It uses perger-porro prisms to produce high quality images. The optics on this bad boy are made from HD fluoride glass. The optics are fully multi-coated with HDC anti-reflection, hydrophobic coatings and incorporate P40 phase correction. The Leica Geovid HD-B 8x42 also has an impressive eye relief of 20mm.
One of the best features on the Leica Geovid HD-B 8x42 is the continuous scan mode, which allows you to get updated distances to different objects as you pan the device across your field of view. The Leica Geovid HD-B 8x42 also comes with custom ballistics and advanced environmental sensors.
There is a wide variety of binoculars in the market, most of them with similar design and functionality. As such, picking the best models sometimes boils down to very minor details. Therefore, there are some models we rejected because of poor design and construction details, such as straps that were located at inconvenient places, or eyecups that were somewhat loose. We also rejected other models for what they couldn’t do, such as having poor focus, having jittery images or causing too much eye strain. After lots of reviews and testing, we were completely satisfied that the devices on this list are the very best.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How much magnification is enough for me?
A: This is a very relative question. A higher magnification leads to decreased brightness and a decreased field of view. A higher magnification also means that tiny hand movements and unsteady viewing conditions lead to a jump, shaky image. If you do not have any specialized viewing needs, it is best to stick with a 7x or 8x magnification. If for some reason you need a device with higher magnification, you should go for one with a large objective lens diameter. This allows you to enjoy maximum brightness at higher magnifications. It is also a good option to look for image stabilization technology if you opt for a higher magnification device.
Q: How does exit pupil diameter affect the performance of my device?
A: Most people do not understand exit pupil diameter, and therefore many of them tend to ignore this particular specification. The greatest impact of exit pupil diameter is on low light performance. Exit pupil diameter is a measure of the size of the beam of light that is transmitted through the opticals to your eye. A larger exit pupil diameter will lead to a relatively brighter image, which will in turn allow your eye to perceive greater detail.
Q: Which are the right binoculars for me?
A: In a theoretical ideal world, you would go for the best possible device, one with all the bells and whistles you can dream of. Unfortunately, the real world is not so straightforward. Therefore, it would beat logic spending top dollar for the very best and sophisticated device and then use it for general, everyday uses. To decide on the best binoculars for you, you should ask yourself the following three questions:
- What is your budget?
- What is your intended use of the device?
- Who is the actual user of the device and do they have any special requirements (vision, glasses and so on)?
By answering the above questions, it becomes a lot easier to narrow down to a few models, from where you can then make your best pick based on personal preference. In some cases, you might need to compromise on some specifications in order to take advantage of others. For instance, you might compromise on a wider field of view and instead go for a device with image stabilization technology, which would then allow you to pan your binoculars without getting a shaky image. To help you choose the best binoculars for you, below are some guidelines:
Objective Lens Diameter
7x or more
25mm or more
8x or more
30mm or more
8x or more
30mm or more
7x or more
25mm or more
10x or more
40mm or ore
Q: How should I clean my binoculars?
A: There are a couple of best practices that you should keep in mind when it comes to caring for your device. First and foremost, you should always observe common sense in the cleaning and maintenance of your binoculars. Optical instruments are very delicate, and therefore they need to be handled with a lot of care. Before you use anything to brush or rub on the lenses of your device, blow off any visible dirt or dust. If that does not work, gently wipe off the dirt using a lens pen or any other lens cleaning tool. If the dirt is dried in, fog the lens with your breath and then use a microfiber cloth to wipe away the dirt.
Under no circumstances should you use tissues or your shirt to wipe the lenses. Tissues and items of clothing contain fibers that can easily scratch the lens coating. You should also try to always keep your lenses as clean as possible.
Q: What’s the difference between BAK4, BK7 and SK15 prisms?
While there are two main types of prism configurations, they are not made of the same material. The material from which the prism is made has a great impact on the image quality. The best type of prism material is Barium Crown glass, which is also referred to as BAK4. BAK4 is preferred due to its high refractive index and low critical angle. This makes it one of the best materials in light transmission, with very little light loss.
The most widely used prism material is BK7 glass. BK7 has a lower quality than BAK4. However, it still has excellent light transmission capabilities. Its internal imperfections are limited.
You can easily determine if your device is BAK4 or BK7 by turning it around, holding it at a distance of about 6-8 inches from you and looking down the objective lens. BK7 prisms will have a squared-off side. BAK4 prisms, on the other hand, will show an almost perfect round exit pupil.
SK15 glass is another material that is normally used for binoculars prisms. SK15 glass sits somewhere between BAK4 and BK7 glass. While it has a higher refractive index than both of them, its dispersion falls between the two. SK15 produces clear images with a high level of contrast.
Wrapping It Up
Choosing the best binoculars boils down to your budget, the situations in which you intend to use the device and your own special requirements, such as your vision. However, if you want the best device for general use, you should consider buying the Athlon Optics Midas ED 8x42. You are going to love its brightness, the optimal performance and the very reasonable pricing.