Best binoculars 2021: for birdwatching, nature spotting and the outdoors

Find the best binoculars for you and your budget and get closer to nature and the night sky

best binoculars: man and child nature-spotting in a wood using binoculars
(Image credit: Getty)

Are you looking for the best binoculars to help you get closer to local wildlife or even explore the night skies? During the pandemic, this hobby has enjoyed a boom in popularity, with thousands of people taking a new interest in the wildlife in local areas. Just because big safari holidays are off the cards for now doesn't mean there's not plenty so see closer to home, and that's where a pair of the best binoculars come in. 

Before you make your purchase, ask yourself what you want from a pair of binoculars. The very best binoculars in darkness and low light – which might seem stargazing-centric, but are equally important for safaris during dawn and dusk – you need a large objective lens. If you want close-ups you need more magnification. 

If you're heading outdoors in unpredictable weather, other things to look for include a waterproof construction, rubber exteriors that are easy to grip, and anti-fogging (grab a waterproof jacket and a decent pair of the best hiking boots too, to make sure you're fully protected). At the bottom of the article you'll find more buying advice, but for now, let's delve into our official ranking of the best binoculars around.

The 12 best binoculars to buy now

best binoculars: Nikon Prostaff 3S 10x42

(Image credit: Nikon)

1. Nikon Prostaff 3S 10x42

The best binoculars for all-round use

Specifications
Weight: 20oz/575g
Waterproof: Yes
Magnification: 10x
Objective lens diameter: 42mm
Reasons to buy
+O-ring sealed to keep moisture out+Reasonable price +Rubber construction for comfortable grip

We love the Nikon Prostaff 3S. Our pick for the best binoculars overall right now, they're affordable and yet they have similar build quality and features found in high-end binoculars. The most useful feature is their 10x magnification, which brings distant objects that much closer, while good a sized 42mm diameter objective lens delivers clarity of vision even in low light. A highly reflective silver alloy coating to the surface of the binoculars’ prism lenses also means a brighter view. 

There's also a simple and easy to use design that makes it straightforward to find sharp, stunning images in a matter of seconds. Boasting a robust construction, these binoculars feature soft rubber, non-slip armouring and an O-ring that's been sealed to prevent moisture from getting inside. It's also filled with nitrogen to prevent fogging. Happily, these features don't mean a bulky design; they weigh just 20oz/575g, which will save you any arm ache. A long eye relief also means they can easily be used by anyone who wears glasses. 

Whether you're looking for a go-to birding binocular, want to sample the stars, or you want to add more magic to weekend hikes, the Nikon Prostaff 3s delivers quality and accessible optics, and strong specs at an impressively low price. Head to our Nikon Prostaff 3s binoculars review for more info.

best binoculars: Bushnell Forge 15x56

(Image credit: Bushnell)

2. Bushnell Forge 15x56

The best value premium binoculars

Specifications
Weight: 51oz/1.45kg
Waterproof: Yes
Magnification: 15x
Objective lens diameter: 56mm
Reasons to buy
+Suitable for just about any environment or viewing pursuit+Precision engineered rugged construction +Multiple lens coatings ensure clarity to the nth degree

The Bushnell Forge 15x56 are a range-topping pair of 'roof prism' binoculars from reliable and established brand Bushnell, and worth every penny of their premium price tag. Suitable for a wide range of uses, the Bushnell Forge 15x56 are perfect when hiking, bird watching, stargazing, going on a safari, but they're not the kind of pair to sling in a daysack. Why not? Well, they're heavy and they're big. These weigh 51oz/1.45kg because of their impressive 15x magnification and larger than average 56mm objective lenses. The upshot of that is they pull the faraway close while letting in plenty of light to ensure a huge amount of detail can be viewed. A neck strap is provided for added comfort. 

You can so expect a IPX7 waterproof rating and Bushnell's exclusive 'EXO' barrier protection, the latter a lens coating that bonds to the glass at a molecular level, repelling water, oil, dust and debris and preventing scratches. That's exactly the kind of peace of mind you'll want these luxury binoculars. You'll find more info in our should I buy the Bushnell Forge 15x56 binoculars? article.

best binoculars: Olympus 10x25 WP II

(Image credit: Olympus)

3. Olympus 10x25 WP II

The best budget binoculars for birdwatching and more

Specifications
Weight: 9.5oz/270g
Waterproof: Yes
Magnification: 10x
Objective lens diameter: 25mm
Reasons to buy
+Waterproof with rubber coated exterior to prevent slippage+Fog-proof and dirt proof+Foldable design aids convenience and portability

Aimed at outdoor enthusiasts who prize portability over everything else, these handily foldable compact binoculars offer a decent 10x magnification and a 25mm objective lens. Add to that some waterproofing and it ensures they can be used whether at sea or at the races on dry land. 

If you wear glasses know that the Olympus 10x25 WP II feature built-in dioptric correction that can be adjusted to individual eyesight. Multi-coated lenses help deliver edge-to-edge sharpness and crisp and clear viewing,  while a central focus knob ensures adjustment is easy and convenient without needing to take a step back, or forward. Their closest focus point is 1.5 metres. A nitrogen-filled body also makes them fog-proof and dirt-proof – though not drop-proof – while they're also rubber-coated, so easy to grip. 

Relatively lightweight, unfussy and reliable, the Olympus 10x25 WP II are binoculars you can pick up out of the box and get using straight away, with added peace of mind provided by a generous 25-year warranty. See how they compare to another excellent pair of wildlife binoculars in our Olympus 10x25 WP II vs Nikon Monarch 5 20x56 showdown.

Best binoculars: Nikon Monarch 5 20x56

(Image credit: Nikon)

4. Nikon Monarch 5 20x56

The best binoculars for bird watching

Specifications
Weight: 44oz/1.24kg
Waterproof: Yes
Magnification: 20x
Objective lens diameter: 56mm
Reasons to buy
+All-weather performance+20x magnifications

With a rugged, waterproof and fog-proof design, the Nikon Monarch 5 20x56 are ready for anything. Rubber-wrapped and extremely versatile, their key features are a bigger than average magnification and large objective lenses. That's huge. Their 56mm objective lenses provide a massive field of view that's almost as bright as if seen with the human eye. Couple that with a whopping 20x magnification and you have one of the best-priced pair of wildlife and birdwatching binos on the market. 

The dielectric high-reflective mirror coating and use of Extra-low Dispersion glass (ED) is really what you're paying for, but in use, you'll be just as impressed by its flip-down lens caps that are impossible to lose. All this tech means that the Monarch 5 binoculars are expensive and, at 44oz/1.24kg, fairly heavy, but they're ideal for bird-watching, safari and for having in the car. 

Best binoculars: Celestron SkyMaster 25x100

5. Celestron SkyMaster 25x100

The best binoculars for stereoscopic stargazing

Specifications
Weight: 140 oz/3.96g
Waterproof: No (water resistant)
Magnification: 25x
Objective lens diameter: 100mm
Reasons to buy
+Great clarity +Powerful

Want a closer look at the stars but don't want to buy a telescope? The biggest binoculars for stargazing you can get, the Celestron SkyMaster 25x100 will give you a 3D vision of the night sky like you've never seen before. 

These are not binoculars to hold. Way too heavy at 140 oz/3.96g, you’ll need to put them on a tripod (any photographic tripod will do) to keep them steady. However, the rewards when spotting distant night sky objects are worth the hassle. Designed for astronomers, the Celestron SkyMaster 25x100 boast a sturdy construction and premium build and provide a clear and sharp stereoscopic view of the night sky thanks to a fantastic optical design. You could almost think of them as two side-by-side telescopes. In fact, that's what they are, with a metal bar in the centre to add stability to the large structure. 

A key product in the debate around telescopes vs binoculars for stargazing, the Celestron SkyMaster 25x100 are ideal for a backyard stargazer after a specialist set-up. To see how these compare to another top stargazing option, head to our Celestron SkyMaster 25x100 vs Canon 18x50 IS AW face-off. 

best binoculars: Vixen SG 2.1x42

(Image credit: Vixen)

6. Vixen SG 2.1x42

The best binoculars for immersive stargazing

Specifications
Weight: 14.4oz/410g
Waterproof: No
Magnification: 2.1x
Objective lens diameter: 42mm
Reasons to buy
+Retain a ‘big sky’ view+Lightweight and portable

If you’ve fallen in love with stargazing just from looking up with your naked eyes then these could be the binoculars for you. A clever attempt to retain a wide-eyed view of the night sky but with a little magnification, the Vixen SG 2.1x42 are better known as ‘constellation’ or even ‘Milky Way’ binoculars because they’re at their best when you sweep them across star fields. 

The original wide-field binoculars for stargazers, the Vixen SG 2.1x42 have just 2.1x magnification so close-ups are out of the question, but with a 42mm objective lens you get lots of light. So, for example, when you point them at the constellation of Orion you’ll see not only its constituent stars but also bright views of the Orion Nebula and the stars winding around Orion’s Belt. 

Exquisitely made and pocket-sized for easy portability, the Vixen SG 2.1x42 probably aren’t going to become your main binoculars, but there’s no better way of getting closer to the stars while retaining an immersive wide-eyed view of the night sky. Head to our full Vixen SG 2.1x42 review for more info.

best binoculars: Hawke Frontier HD X 10x42

(Image credit: Hawke )

7. Hawke Frontier HD X 10x42

The best binoculars for use in extreme temperatures

Specifications
Weight: 24.9oz/705g
Waterproof: No (water resistant)
Magnification: 10x
Objective lens diameter: 42mm
Reasons to buy
+Designed for use in extreme heat+Lifetime worldwide warranty

A well-made pair of rubber-coated magnesium alloy binoculars, the Hawke Frontier HD X 10x42 are one of the most versatile pairs of binoculars around. They're one of the only binoculars that can be used in temperatures down to -15°C, or as high as 55°C, so if you travel to cold places in winter and steamy equatorial regions, they'll bring you peace of mind and reliability. Their fog-proof nitrogen-filled lenses feature a hydrophobic coating to repel water and the manufacturer generously offers a worldwide lifetime warranty. 

Meanwhile, the core specification is aimed at all-round use. A 10x magnification and a 42mm objective lens makes them incredibly versatile from an optical point of view. With fully multicoated optics and close focusing down to 2.5 metres, images can easily be adjusted via a smooth and precision-engineered focus knob. Add a manageable weight of 24.9oz/705g and there’s a distinct impression here that we’re getting what we’re paying for. This Hawke is as sharp as you’d expect. 

Best binoculars: Canon 10x42L IS WP

(Image credit: Canon)

8. Canon 10x42L IS WP

The best binoculars for handheld stargazing

Specifications
Weight: 38.8oz/1.1kg
Waterproof: Yes
Magnification: 10x
Objective lens diameter: 42mm
Reasons to buy
+Shake-free stargazing+Mind-blowing moon-gazing+Can be mounted on a tripod

It’s difficult to keep binoculars still. Humans are hot and they all have the shakes, which is why binoculars with high magnification need to either be mounted on a tripod or use fancy image stabilisation (IS) technology. Equipped with 10x magnification and a 42mm objective lens, the Canon 10x42L IS WP deal have the best IS tech going. Its Vari-Angle Prism IS system uses a couple of gyro motion sensors to detect and measure the shake and actuators around the lenses to cancel-out it out. Activated at the touch of a button, the super-steady results are a thing of wonder. Almost perfectly still and glowing, the Moon suddenly looks drop-dead gorgeous, as do far-off star clusters, and by day, wildlife.  

There are some downsides. At 1.1kg the Canon 10x42L IS WP are heavy, though they do include a 1/4-inch tripod thread on their undercarriage so can be easily mounted on a tripod. The AAA batteries run out quickly and the IS image can sometimes look a little blurry. Cast aside those foibles and make an investment because these remain near the pinnacle of stargazing binoculars. Head to our Canon 10x42L IS WP review for more info.

best binoculars: Celestron Nature DX 10x56

(Image credit: Celestron)

9. Celestron Nature DX 10x56

The best mid-range multipurpose binoculars

Specifications
Weight: 36.3oz/1kg
Waterproof: Yes
Magnification: 10x
Objective lens diameter: 56mm
Reasons to buy
+Large objective lens for better clarity in low light+Robust polycarbonate construction with multi coated optics

Another candidate for those after good value mid-range binoculars, the Celestron Nature DX 10x56 will appeal to nature lovers after an all-rounder. Like many in the market, they're waterproof and nitrogen-filled to avoid fogging in the cold and the damp. However, unlike many competitors, they feature a large 56mm lens for letting in more light at dusk and dawn. The larger the lens, theoretically the more light it lets in, which is incredibly important for getting bright images while bird-watching or on safari. 

With a closest focusing distance of three metres, the Celestron Nature DX 10x56 feature long, comfortable eye relief with twist-up eyecups to suit people who wear glasses. There's also a durable polycarbonate build with multi-coated optics to further aid clarity of vision. Its overall size makes it one for roomier pockets or stashing the glove box in the car, but the Celestron Nature DX 10x56 are a well-specified option for outdoor use in all weathers and a wide variety of light – and a great value option at the price. 

Best binoculars: Swarovski EL 50

(Image credit: Swarovski)

10. Swarovski EL 50

The best blow-the-budget binoculars for incredible clarity

Specifications
Weight: 35oz/999g
Waterproof: Yes
Magnification: 10x
Objective lens diameter: 50mm
Reasons to buy
+Super-sharp and bright view+Perfect for wildlife and stargazing

Can we talk you into spending a month's wages on a pair of binoculars? Some say that you should spend 10% of your disposable income on your hobby, which makes these luxury Swarovski binoculars a possibility for committed bird-watchers and safari-goers. Considered the Rolls Royce of binocular manufacturers, distinguished optics company Swarovski, the EL 50 10x50 binoculars have a large field of view and allow in plenty of light. 

The secret is in the optics. The EL50 offer exceptional clarity, sharpness and brightness that makes them perfect for taking on a bird-watching trip or on safari. However, they're also regarded as excellent for stargazing. We're talking plenty of depth of field, exquisite detail and not a whisper of colour fringing. They're also more compact than similarly-specified binoculars because the objective lenses are closer to the ends of the barrels. Yes, they're expensive. Incredibly expensive! But they will be your favourite and your last pair of binoculars. 

Best binoculars: Canon 18x50 IS All Weather

(Image credit: Canon)

11. Canon 18x50 IS All Weather

The best binoculars for winter wildlife watching

Specifications
Weight: 41oz/1.18kg
Waterproof: Yes
Magnification: 18x
Objective lens diameter: 50mm
Reasons to buy
+Image stabilising tech+Huge field of view+Rugged waterproof design 

Do you find it difficult to keep your arms steady while using binoculars? Of course you do – everyone does – which is why we love the high-tech, rugged and waterproof Canon 18x50 IS. The secret sauce is an image stabilisation (IS) system. This vari-angle prism system is so easy to use – you touch a button and gyro motion sensors detect the amount of shake, adjust for them using actuators around the lenses, then cancel-out that shake. The result is a near-perfectly still image. 

It's an ideal system for long-range wildlife watching and even better for marine use where a rocking boat makes it nigh impossible to keep an image steady. The Canons have ample 18x magnification and a big, bright 50mm objective front lens that offers a wide field of view. Just be sure to have a couple of spare AA batteries to hand because you don't want your whale-watching exercise to end in shaky disappointment.

Easy to travel with and featuring an IS system powerful enough to get rid of shake and make the stars stand still, the Canon 18x50 IS's big magnification and large objective lenses make them ripe for watching wildlife in challenging conditions. 

Best binoculars: Avalon 10 x 42 Pro HD

12. Avalon 10 x 42 Pro HD Binoculars

The best binoculars for travelling light

Specifications
Weight: 19.4oz/550g
Waterproof: Yes
Magnification: 10x
Objective lens diameter: 42mm
Reasons to buy
+Good value +Pleasingly lightweight 

If you like to travel light then making the decision to take a bulky pair of binoculars on a trip is a big decision. That needn't be the case with the Avalon 10 x 42 Pro HD, the world's lightest professional level binoculars. Their 19.4oz/550g chassis is, for a pair of binoculars with 10x magnification and 42mm objective lenses, the sleekest around, yet they are are very reasonably priced. Shipping with a cleaning cloth, case and neck strap in the box, they're waterproof and feature multi-coated optics to provide the best possible image in a range of situations. 

We’ve picked them for travelling because of how light they are, though since they're light they're great for tracking fast-moving objects, which also makes them great for plane-spotting. But they're also waterproof, fog-proof, and nitrogen-filled, which makes them great for travel in general. 

What to know when buying binoculars

When you buy a pair of binoculars you need to understand two numbers: magnification and objective lens size, which are always quoted on every pair as a combination of two numbers – typically 8x25, 10x25, 20x56, 25x100 and so on. If it says 8x25 we’re talking 8x magnification and an objective lens with a diameter of 25mm. 

In this case, both are small numbers, so the binoculars are portable, everyday binoculars for general use in daylight. At the other end of the scale is a pair of bulky 25x100 binoculars – so 25x magnification and a 100mm objective lens – which are thus designed for looking deep into the night sky in darkness where maximum light-gathering is critical. 

The difference in weight is startling; a pair of 8x25 binoculars will be super-light while 25x100 are too heavy to hold for more than a few minutes. The bigger the magnification the more likely you are to get a serious shake, too. So the answer is to go for some binoculars in between. Good middle-of-the-road sizes and 10x42, 10x50 or 15x 50, which have decent magnification and can be used in all light levels. Binoculars like these are practical and can be highly impressive. About 15x is perfect for a safari. 

Further qualities to examine include the build and robustness, and whether they offer comfortable features such as a long eye relief, enabling the binos to be held further from your face. Naturally, the more features offered, the higher the price.

best lightweight binoculars: Zeiss Victory Pocket binoculars

(Image credit: Zeiss)

How to choose the best binoculars for your needs

It’s obvious that you get what you pay for. The more solidly made, waterproof and optically advanced binoculars are always going to cost the most, but there are plenty of affordable alternatives if you don’t mind making compromises. So our round-up includes both kinds of binoculars; maximum quality binoculars for crystal clear, steady and magnified images, and others designed to meet price-points. 

Small binoculars: a lightweight, portable and compact pair of binoculars that can easily be stored in a jacket pocket is advisable for nature walks and hikes, though even then don’t underestimate the value of weather-proofing and anti-fogging features. 

Mid-sized binoculars: for bird and wildlife watching in your garden go for something with more magnification as you’ll most likely be observing from a distance. If you can get them onto a tripod, even better, because hand-holding binoculars for long periods is tiring and means image-shake. 

High-end binoculars: for low light observation and stargazing, a bigger, brighter lens is worth investing in. However, the tripod point remains because such models can be relatively heavy. 

You may also be offered a choice of 'roof prism' or 'porro prism' binoculars. Roof prism tends to be the most popular, as the way the light passes into and out of the prism allows for a more compact construction. That means smaller binos. The drawback, however, is that the surface of the prism does not reflect 100 per cent of the light. By contrast, porro prism binoculars tend to offer a brighter image at a lower cost, even if they are a bit bulkier.

Considering how the above points apply to your viewing needs should help you quickly refine your choices when buying binos.

Black Friday binocular deals: When's the best time to buy?

The winter sales events can be a great time to pick up a bargain on all kinds of outdoor kit. Unfortunately, the 2020 Black Friday binocular deals were very thin on the ground, both in the US and the UK. Demand has increased during the pandemic, which means a lot of the best binoculars sold out well ahead of time (especially in the US). However, we did see some good UK price drops on the Celestron binoculars, telescopes and spotting scopes over Amazon Prime Day, which is usually in July, but in 2020 year took place in October, due to the pandemic.

So what can we learn from this? Well, in the current climate, it's hard to predict when and if we'll see deals on binoculars. We'll be keeping a close eye out for any price drops that do occur, and of course, our dedicated tool will pull in all the cheapest prices on the products in our ranking at all times, too.