The 10 Best Binoculars
This wiki has been updated 25 times since it was first published in February of 2015. Binoculars are, of course, indispensable tools for bird watchers, but their usefulness is not limited to nature lovers. You can also use them to improve your view of a sporting event from the nosebleed seats in a stadium, or zoom in on performers during a concert. Our selections include a variety of styles, from basic models for the average consumer, to top-end choices for serious hobbyists. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
February 05, 2021:
We swapped out the Vortex Optics Diamondback for the company’s upgraded offering – the Vortex Optics Diamondback HD, which, among other things, caught our eye with their included, fashionable harness – and also wound up removing the Olympus Trooper and Merytes Portable due to availability issues. To replace those two choices, we added two new selections to our list. Both are high-quality instruments that perform as well as many models that are significantly more expensive.
Our first new addition, the Celestron TrailSeeker, comes well equipped with a number of accessories, but what really caught our eye was its optional smartphone adapter. Admittedly, the adapter comes at an additional cost, but that definitely didn’t stop it from looking like a pretty cool toy.
Our second new inclusion, the Athlon Optics Midas UHD 10x42, features a weather-sealed, lightweight magnesium chassis, and is backed by a full lifetime warranty. So, even if this pair breaks down due to natural wear and tear, the company promises to repair them at no cost.
May 30, 2019:
The Steiner Champ were no longer available, so we removed them from the list. In their place, we added the Canon L, a high-end model that does not skimp on craftsmanship or innovative technology. Users rave about their ability to keep an image steady and free of shaking regardless of the conditions, which is ideal for outdoor activities, particularly star viewing (where reliable stability is a must) and for use while aboard moving vehicles.
We gave the Bushnell Falcon a slight bump in the rankings — as a budget model, most people realize they won’t be perfect, but the image clarity and powerful magnification make them an excellent value. Bird watchers in particular like their lightweight design and the ease with which the focus can be adjusted, even if they're not as durable as more expensive models and the carrying case isn’t super high quality.
While the Gosky Stargazer is a solid option, we moved them out of the top three after uncovering some complaints regarding the smartphone adapter, which can be quite tricky to use. The optics seem to be on par with what you can expect from relatively low-cost models.
Crosman This line of binoculars should satisfy most outdoor enthusiasts and sports fans, with models available in a few different sizes and styles. They’re all pretty affordable, with intuitive controls for making swift adjustments as needed. One option is even foldable for portability. crosman.com
What Separates a Good Pair of Binoculars From a Great Pair?
There are certain digital models on the market, however, that will allow users to adjust the focus via the touch of a button.
The most important feature of any pair of binoculars is its ability to offer a clear and precise view of very distant objects. In that spirit, a lot of manufacturers will describe their binoculars by using phrases like, "long-range view," "adjustable focus," and "superior magnification." More often than not, a pair of binoculars can be refocused by rotating a thumbscrew in the center of the bridge. There are certain digital models on the market, however, that will allow users to adjust the focus via the touch of a button.
In many cases, people prefer to take binoculars along whenever they go hiking, or birdwatching, or boating on the water. This is why it makes sense to to seek out a lightweight model (e.g., 7-20 oz.) that comes with a carrying case, a shoulder strap, and a pair of lens covers. Consumers may also want to choose a model that is waterproof (or at least water-resistant). In addition, it pays do some research so you can get a sense of how each model will respond when being used in any extreme weather conditions.
The more you use a pair of binoculars, the more you'll want those binoculars to feature a decent grip. If you're adjusting the focus - or panning - as you view something, a binocular's grips can keep your hands from slipping. Certain binoculars have been crafted with rubber grips, while others have been molded to provide striations that the inner-palm can fasten onto. In the event that a pair of binoculars doesn't feature any grips, you can use driving gloves to hold the barrel scopes in place.
Several Non-Apparent Uses For a Pair of Binoculars
Scientifically speaking, a pair of binoculars is made up of two low-powered, mirror-symmetrical telescopes. While these telescopes are generally meant for daytime usage, they can also be used for doing some amateur stargazing at night. As a matter of fact, binoculars are even recommended for amateur stargazing, particularly because they allow users to focus on learning how to navigate the night sky (as opposed to focusing on how to calibrate a complex finderscope, and a lens).
The zoom lens on a pair of binoculars can allow you to see things up to 15X closer, which may come in handy if you're coaching a sports team, and you're trying to get a sense of very minute details, like a quarterback's technique, or a relay team's ability to pass the baton. The same applies to watching musicians in an orchestra, or eyeing up what an experienced fisher in a far-off boat might be using to bait his line. This is why binoculars have proven to be such an indispensable part of any surveillance work. They're capable of uncovering what cannot be deciphered by the human eye.
How thick are a pair of binoculars' lenses? So thick that you can remove one, and then use it to focus sunlight and start a fire. On the other hand, you can invert a pair of binoculars, thereby turning them into a low-density microscope that you can use - along with a smartphone - to identify a strange bug, or berry, or plant found in the wild.
A Brief History of Binoculars
The telescope represented a major triumph when it was originally introduced during the 17th Century. This one invention held the capacity to connect man with the stars. And yet if there was a drawback to the telescope, it was that the single lens did not allow for any depth. In order to see things in 3D, a telescope would've required two lenses, situated side-by-side. And this was how the earliest pair of binoculars were born.
As of the 18th Century, binoculars began using the refracting of thick lenses to gather and concentrate additional light.
Many early binoculars succeeded in providing a three-dimensional view. But these models were largely inefficient when it came to magnifying objects, and they only allowed the user to see a narrow point of view. Focus and magnification were improved thanks to what became known as Keplerian - or refractory - optics. As of the 18th Century, binoculars began using the refracting of thick lenses to gather and concentrate additional light.
Technology surrounding binoculars improved throughout the 18th Century, as scientists began experimenting with various prisms and mirrors to ensure that the viewer was actually seeing a scale representation of whatever the lenses had been trained on. The problem up to that point was that images, whenever seen through binoculars, tended to stretch vertically, rendering it difficult to judge an object's actual size. Once this problem was resolved, binoculars became a reliable tool used by every major country's military. Military binoculars were designed to be durable so that they wouldn't scratch or break in the field.
During the Industrial Revolution, manufacturers were able to simplify the production - and costs - associated with making binoculars. As a result, the general public began using binoculars for everything from birdwatching and survey work to hunting and astronomy. Today, the U.S. Military still utilizes a variety of binoculars, some of which are so advanced as to offer infrared, and even sonar.