A pair of the best binoculars comes in useful in all sorts of situations. True nature lovers, star gazers, sports fanatics, gig goers – or anyone wanting that one-magnifying-device-suitable-for-all-such-occasions – will benefit from arming themselves with a pair. Understandably given the past couple of years of restricted travel, a desire to explore the great outdoors and the visual bounty it has to offer us, even on our home doorstep or windowsill, has never been greater.
This is why finding the best binoculars possible to best match your particular wants is crucial. We're not just talking how powerful they are in terms of magnification, but whether they are ideally suited to all weathers, for a start. That usually involves finding a pair of binoculars that are not only waterproofed but are also nitrogen purged and possess anti fogging features, as well as multi coated lenses that ensure water droplets simply run off and any dirt and grime doesn't stick and restrict our vision.
Some of the binoculars in our guide have large light-gathering objective lenses, making them suitable for for gazing into the night skies (so you could use one instead of one of the best telescopes – our binoculars vs telescope for stargazing explains the differences between the two approaches). These kinds of binos will not only allow you to survey the stars, but serve you well at dusk and dawn, too.
Before we get into our best binoculars ranking, here's a quick guide to one of the key specs to look for when making your purchase: which magnification to go for. After all, pulling the far away up close and personal is the reason we're discussing binoculars in the first place.
What's the best magnification for 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. If it's low-light viewing specifically you're after, check out our guide to the best night vision binoculars and goggles.
The difference in weight is startling; a pair of 8x25 binos 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 something 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.
The best binoculars to buy now
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. One potential down-side is that some reviews report some chromatic aberration/ purple fringing on occasion when viewing high contrast subjects.
The simple and easy to use design 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 – although you will still need a rest, or a steady pair of hands, for optimum viewing (if compactness is what you're after, you might also want to consult our best monocular guide, and our monoculars vs binoculars comparison for a look at the differences). 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 bino, 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.
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, but ideally you'll want to invest in a tripod to get the best from these.
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.
Small but reassuringly weighty binoculars from the premium Leica brand; these are the ones to go for if wanting something pocketable yet powerful for bird watching and wildlife observation. A more than respectable 42mm objective lens size aids low light viewing, while the binos are water resistant for use in the great outdoors, and impact resistant with it to withstand the odd accidental knock. Not surprisingly in its class, the Leica Trinovid 8x42 HD binos are further O-ring sealed and nitrogen purged to prevent fogging, while a canvas carry case is provided to keep the dust off.
Ensuring a degree of comfort, the length of the eye relief provided is manually adjustable, with a large and prominent dioptric adjustment wheel affording pin sharp viewing for spectacle wearers.
Though the price here may suggest otherwise, these binos are very much the entry-level model in their manufacturer’s range. If you find yourself needing more power still when it comes to magnification and have the budget to match, Leica also offers a 10x42 pair in the same class. If you can afford it, these could be very much the only compact binoculars you’ll ever need.
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.
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.
While you're paying a premium for the high-end features here, this pair of Olympus binos actually offers good value for money, especially when compared against offerings from 'luxury' brands like Leica and Zeiss. A particular draw is the fact that they offer high-quality Zuiko optics that will be familiar to fans of its photography brand.
Due to the fact that they're relatively compact and lightweight for the level of specification on offer, yet usefully high powered with it, nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts looking to bring the faraway that bit closer will find it's plenty good enough for general purpose, everyday use.
A pared-back design indicates fuss-free usage, while a rubberised exterior prevents finger slippage. The construction is such that any ingress from water if submerged at a depth of one metre for five minutes is prevented – not that we'd need to put that to the test under regular circumstances. They're also nitrogen-filled to avoid fogging in adverse conditions.
Handily, the Olympus 10x42 Pro can be folded inwards or expanded outwards to adjust exactly to the distance between our eyes. Found between the eyepieces is a very large and obvious ridged focus wheel, whilst the right eyepiece boasts a dioptric adjustment wheel for a more precise focus for those who wear glasses. For non-spectacle wearers the length of the eye relief is manually adjustable too, with the eyepieces extending when twisted anti-clockwise. Generally build quality here is very good indeed and we would expect to get years of use out of these binoculars.
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. The 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. Because they're made for long-distance viewing, the addition of a tripod is advisable here (and adaptor is included).
Available in 10x30 and 8x30 iterations, the 10x being the magnification factor and the 30 the size in mm of the objective lens deployed, this Nikon option is an alternative to physically larger 42mm models, including those from the same manufacturer. The promise, however, is that we won’t have to compromise on performance in opting for the smaller form factor.
Of course we get the usual waterproofing and fog-proofing when it comes to construction, plus, more uniquely, Nikon’s Field Flattener Lens System. In conjunction with the Monarch HG’s 30mm wide field of view, this helps maintain sharpness right into the corners; the field of view being said to be a match for its 42mm models. The Monarch’s build uses extra low dispersion ‘ED’ glass elements that correct for the chromatic aberration that can cause colour fringing. Comfort comes courtesy of a soft-to-the-touch padded neck strap, while the modest 450g weight won’t cause anyone aching limbs during a walk through the woods. Overall, we’re well impressed.
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 an equally heavy-duty 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.
If it's value and versatility you're after, the Celestron TrailSeeker 8x42 make a strong case for being some of the best binoculars around. These roof prism binoculars use high-end, multi-coated BaK-4 glass to deliver crisp, bright close-ups of wildlife, landscapes, even in low light. In fact, you can use these to view celestial objects by night. They're also practical, with a solid solid magnesium alloy build, water- and fog-proof qualities. Add to that some good quality extras in the box – a particularly stout carrying case, and a very useful harness strap that takes the weight of the binoculars off your neck – and these are extremely good value for money. In fact, the only real downside is that the lens caps aren't the snuggest fitting. Check out our Celestron TrailSeeker 8x42 binoculars review for more info.
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.
While 'power uses', including wildlife buffs, might be better looking for something with greater magnification, there's still plenty to recommend the Olympus 10x25 WP IIs. Relatively lightweight, unfussy and reliable, these 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.
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 2xAAA batteries required for image stabilization feature quickly expire, so you'll need to arm yourself with spares, 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.
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. Note that Hawke's HD models don't use ED (Extra low dispersion) glass elements in their objective lenses.
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.
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.
If you’re looking for an unobtrusively portable pair of binoculars for a broad range of uses that delivers a decent performance, yet won’t cause a run on the bank, we have the device for you. This Steiner pair is so tiny we’d recommend taking them to the opera more than taking them on safari; and furthermore they fold down too. OK, so while the 10x magnification on offer is very usable, the size of the 26mm objective lens is relatively modest; something has had to give to maintain compactness. That being said, performance betters what one might expect in its price bracket and we get water-proofing and fog proofing too.
Eye relief is non adjustable but the rubber eye cups still deliver a degree of comfort, while the polycarbonate construction comes with a rubberized finish to aid grip in the wet. If we’ve one gripe, it’s that a small build means it’s tricky to hold the binos completely level and steady, especially when viewing subjects at maximum distance. Still, given the marriage of budget pricing and performance here we feel potential purchasers can’t go far wrong.
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.
The Celestron UpClose G2 10x50 binoculars would make a great first pair of proper binoculars. With a very low price, light weight and easy-to-use design, they're a good no-frills option for anyone new to birdwatching or to bung in the glovebox of your car. Like most cheap binoculars, these use a Porro prism optical system, and offer 10x magnification with a 50mm diameter objective lens. The images these produce are clear and bright, but far from the best quality on this list – investing a bit more will pay off there, if that's your priority. They are also slightly lacking when it comes to build quality, but that's to be expected for the very low price. Head to our Celestron UpClose G2 10x50 binoculars review for more info.
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 Black Friday 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).
Another good time to shop is over Amazon Prime Day. The 2021 event in June saw price drops on popular Olympus, Canon and Pentax binoculars, with some dropping to the lowest price we've seen. We also saw decent deals on Celestron binoculars, telescopes and spotting scopes over Amazon Prime Day 2020, which got shifted to October, due to the pandemic.
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.