12 best binoculars 2019: for birdwatching, star gazing and more

Whether you're after binoculars for nature watching, getting closer to the action in a sports game, or for sightseeing these are the bins to buy

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If you’re buying a pair of binoculars you probably already have a use in mind: whether that’s watching the headline act at a festival, tracking the activity of a rare bird, or following sports from afar. The best binoculars, thankfully, are very multi-useful.

Like any kit, binoculars come with their own terminology. You’ll see descriptions including roof prism and porro prism along with measurements for the diameter of the objective lens in use, plus the enticement to pay extra for binos that are ‘nitrogen-filled’ to prevent fogging.

It's easy to get carried away with all of this, but remember that what features you need depends on what you want to use your binoculars for.  Below we've broken down exactly what you should be looking for find the best binoculars for your purpose.   

Price is naturally also an important factor. Generally, the most substantially built, powerful and optically precise binoculars will set you back top whack, but there are usually more affordable alternatives to the top brands, if you’re prepared to compromise.

That's why we’re offering up a selection of binos to not only match your own particular viewing requirements – and help you get closer to that crystal clear, steady, magnified image – but to also suit a range of budgets. 

If prices drop in the New Year sales (or indeed at any other time of the year) you'll see those prices below as we update our prices every day.

Buying the best binoculars: what you need to know

There are two key numbers to pay attention to when it comes to choosing binoculars and determining whether you’re being offered a good level of specification for the price: firstly there’s magnification, and, secondly, the (objective) lens size: in combination written as 10x30, to give just one example. 

This denotes a 30mm lens with 10x magnification. As on a camera, the bigger the lens, the more light is let in and the brighter the image. Binoculars for hand held use may offer up to an 8x or 10x magnification, which is fine for general-purpose use. 

For more specialist pursuits you may want something more powerful still, while being aware a higher magnification can also magnify any hand shake, unless they can be tripod mounted (via a common screw thread) or have image stabilisation built in.

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

Best binoculars 2018: a close up of waterproof binoculars

How to buy the best binoculars for you

With such an apparent wealth of choice available to you, in terms of shapes, sizes, specifications and price, if you’re buying your first pair of binoculars you may be scratching your head and wondering where to begin. An obvious means of narrowing the field, however, is to both set a budget and, just as importantly, consider what you’ll be using them for.

For nature walks and rambles you’ll want to consider a lightweight, portable and compact pair that can be stashed in a jacket pocket. Some degree of weather-proofing and anti fogging might also be advisable in the great outdoors. 

For bird and wildlife watching, you’ll want to add high magnification factor to the list, as you’ll most likely be observing from a distance. Some means of tripod mounting might also be useful, to avoid hand-holding your binos for prolonged periods. For low light observation a bigger, brighter lens is worth investigation.

You may also be offered a choice of roof prism or porro prism binoculars. Roof prism tends to be the most popular example, as the way the light passes into and out of the prism allows for a more compact construction and so smaller binos. 

The drawback however is the surface of the prism does not reflect 100 per cent of the light. Porro prism binoculars by contrast tend to offer a brighter image at a lower cost, even if they are bulkier.

Also affecting the cost is the brand; for example a smaller run hand-made Leica binocular or one from optical specialist Zeiss will be priced at a premium compared with a bigger run alternative from more familiar consumer names like Canon or Nikon. 

That is to say that while the premium brand make lovely products for specialist use, shopping around is as key in this area of the market as any other. Yes, the list of key features, build and design may be to die for, but ask yourself; do you actually need to spend that much?

Consider how all the above points apply to your own viewing needs and it will quickly become clear how you can not only narrow and refine your choices when it comes to buying the best binoculars for you. 

The best binoculars to buy, in order

Best binoculars 2018: Steiner Safari UltraSharp 10x26

1. Steiner Safari UltraSharp 10x26

The best binoculars for a variety of outdoor activities

Reasons to buy
+Comfortable in the hand+Smooth focus control knob
Reasons to avoid
-Similar specs to the Bushnell Bear Grylls, yet more expensive

These rubber-ribbed compacts are designed for a variety of outdoor activities, whether it's watching your favourite football team from afar or getting closer to a hippo without being disembowelled. 

The Steiners aren't that much sharper or brighter than the budget-priced Bushnells, but they do have a smoother focus control knob and definitely feel more comfortable in the hand.

They also come with flexible rubber eye cups that shield the eyes from side drafts and bright sunlight. The UltraSharps have 10x magnification – ample for most situations – and a fair field of view. But the jury is out on whether they're better value than the cheaper Bushnell Bear Grylls.

Best binoculars 2018: Swarovski EL 50

2. Swarovski EL 50

The best binoculars for safari adventures

Reasons to buy
+Super sharp and bright view+Impressively wide field of view
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive

Distinguished optics company Swarovski is considered to be the Rolls Royce of binocular manufacturers, and these estimable eye extenders with 12x magnification are top of our list.

The binoculars are designed with an impressively wide 50mm front element offering an excellent field of view, and exceptional brightness that makes them perfect for taking on safari.

Ever wondered why some binoculars cost £25 and others like these sell for much more? Put your peepers against these and the answer becomes clear: the lenses are so precise that the subject appears as sharp and bright as if it were three feet away.

Best binoculars 2018: Celestron SkyMaster 25x100

3. Celestron SkyMaster 25x100

The best binoculars for stargazing

Reasons to buy
+Great clarity +Impressively powerful
Reasons to avoid
-You’ll need a tripod too -Not cheap

You’ll need to employ a tripod or similar to keep these heavy binoculars steady, but the rewards when spotting distant night sky objects are plentiful. 

With a sturdy construction and premium build, these binoculars are for serious star aficionados – with provision made for glasses wearers too. The 100mm lenses provide a clear and sharp view of the night sky thanks to a fantastic optical design. 

If you’re on a tighter budget, or don’t want to also invest in a tripod, take a look at the Celestron SkyMaster 25 x 70 binoculars, which are easier to use handheld.

Best binoculars 2018: Pentax 7x50 Hydro

4. Pentax 7x50 Hydro

The best binoculars for sea-faring expeditions

Reasons to buy
+Built-in compass+Navigation bearings+Waterproof
Reasons to avoid
-Fairly specialist

This highly specialised 7x50 model is for the mariner who requires an integrated compass with back light, reference markings for taking navigation bearings and a waterproof rubber housing depth rated to 1.5 metres. 

Binoculars like these are a boon for off-shore sailing where you really do need to know how far that outcrop of rock is lest you miscalculate the distance and end up in a floundering situation. 

The compass is handy, too, because you never know when your GPS is going to give up the ghost. It's quite a learning curve working out how to read the imprinted one-degree graduations, but hey, you're a sailor, you probably do this stuff in your sleep.

Best binoculars 2018: Olympus Urban 8-16x25 Zoom PC 1

5. Olympus Urban 8-16x25 Zoom PC 1

The best binoculars for long distance viewing

Reasons to buy
+8-16x zoom capability
Reasons to avoid
-Narrow field of vision-Image quality isn't so impressive

There will always be occasions when using binoculars where you wish you could just reach for a zoom switch. Well now you can. 

The Olympus Urbans have 8 to 16x zooming capability which is very handy for those moments when you want to get even closer to the action. However, they do have a disappointingly narrow field of view (around 36Ëš), which is more akin to looking through a telescope.

Image quality isn't too bad but even with the eye cups extended, it's still difficult to get a nice circular image without your eyelashes getting in the way. A zoom function is a really neat idea, for sure, but we don't think Olympus has got it right just yet.

Best binoculars 2018: Nikon Monarch 5 20x56

6. Nikon Monarch 5 20x56

The best binoculars for bird watching

Reasons to buy
+All-weather performance+Massive field of view+20x magnifications
Reasons to avoid
-Not exactly compact

These rubber-wrapped glasses are extremely versatile and offer superior quality at a keen price. You'll drool over the dielectric high-reflective mirror coating and use of Extra-low Dispersion glass (ED), but all you need to know is that these binoculars perform incredibly well in all conditions.

Their 56mm objective lenses provide a massive field of view that's almost as bright as if seen with the human eye. Couple that wide angle with a whopping 20x magnification and you have one of the best-priced pair of wildlife and birdwatching binos on the market. 

The mid-size Monarch 5 binoculars are also waterproof and come with handy flip-down lens caps in addition to deep rubber eye caps.

Best binoculars 2018: Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 Colorline

7. Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 Colorline

The best binoculars for horse racing and sporting events

Reasons to buy
+Stylish looks+Decent field of view
Reasons to avoid
-Only 8x magnification

Next time you're at a sporting event, whip a pair of these colourful compact binos out of your pocket and enjoy 8x magnification and supreme ease of use.

The Ultravids ooze refinement and precision engineering, from the machined housing and pristine, razor-sharp lenses, to the gorgeously tactile leather trim.

These glasses are perfect for tracking a football game if you're sat in the nosebleeds, or keeping tabs on your favourite steed as it races around Aintree. Their bright, wide field of view makes it easy to locate your subject

Best binoculars 2018: RSPB HDX 8 x 42

8. RSPB HDX 8 x 42 Binoculars

The best binoculars for low-light bird watching in winter

Reasons to buy
+Comfortable to use +Light in hand+High clarity

These compact binos are ideal for spotting when light levels are low, for example for winter birdwatching.  

A high level of contrast and clarity is promised thanks to the coatings found on the prisms, and there's also no need to worry about the weather conditions that winter use might inflict. These binoculars are fully water and fog proof, making them well suited to all kinds of outdoor conditions.

The ultra lightweight design also makes them one of the lightest 42mm roof prism binoculars on the market.

Comfort has been considered here too. Glasses wearers will appreciate the 3-position retractable eyecups, while the textured coating of the binoculars makes them comfortable to hold.

Best binoculars 2018: Canon 18x50 IS All Weather

9. Canon 18x50 IS All Weather

The best binoculars for winter wildlife watching

Reasons to buy
+Image stabilising tech+Huge field of view
Reasons to avoid
-Requires batteries

If you find it difficult keeping your arms steady while using binoculars, consider these high-tech glasses that use Canon's tried-and-tested optical image stabilising technology to smooth out the shakes. 

The battery-powered IS system – similar to the one Canon uses on its DSLRs and camcorders – is comprised of a vari-angle prism that constantly makes adjustments to maintain 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 67Ëš 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.

Best binoculars 2018: Avalon 10 x 42 Pro HD

10. Avalon 10 x 42 Pro HD Binoculars

Best binoculars for plane spotting

Reasons to buy
+Good value +Pleasingly lightweight 

If you're looking for top quality binoculars that don't break the bank, then the Avalon 10 x 42 Pro HD binoculars could be the best binoculars for you. 

They are the world's lightest professional-grade binos, yet are very reasonably priced and come with a cleaning cloth, case and neck strap in the box. 

They are waterproof and feature multi-coated optics to provide the best possible image in a range of situations. 

We’ve picked them for plane spotting because of how light they are, as it makes holding them and tracking fast moving objects easy and comfortable. With a 10x magnification, they are good for long-distance viewing, without being so distant so as to make it tricky to keep up with a moving target.

Best binoculars 2018: Praktica Falcon 12x50

11. Praktica Falcon 12x50

Best budget binoculars

Reasons to buy
+Great value for money given the spec level+Good multi-purpose, all rounder
Reasons to avoid
-Missing the waterproofing and anti-fogging of pricier rivals

If you’re looking for multipurpose binoculars, suitable for everything including bird watching and viewing sports, then focus on the options in budget brand Praktica’s Falcon range, from which we’ve picked out the 12x50 option as good value at around £45. 

OK, so they may not be the lightest at 772g or most compact at 170x200x65mm, but, for what we’re getting, there is scarcely cause for complaint. Multi coated optics help deliver crisp detail, while fold down eye cups provide comfortable viewing for spectacle wearers.

On top of this we get a large focus knob, providing ease of use and convenience in spades, a non slip surface that makes for a steadier hold, while this binocular is tripod compatible too, so you don’t have to hand hold them for hours on end if going bird watching.

Best binoculars 2018: Zeiss Victory SF 10x42

12. Zeiss Victory SF 10x42

Best luxury binoculars

Reasons to buy
+The best binos that (arguably) the best optical company has to offer+Pin sharp performance even at maximum magnification 
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey, if luxurious build isn't a key consideration -You'll be distraught if you leave these in a cab

If you’re really keen to ensure your choice of binos is the very best of the best, then investigate this option from cutting edge optical specialist Zeiss, a world renowned brand whose glass can be found in premium products from Panasonic and Sony, with the Victory family of products said to be the best Zeiss has to offer. 

A seven lens eyepiece and a 10x magnification makes it suited to pretty much any pursuit, particularly the viewing of wildlife where it brings the faraway up close and delivers a performance that could be described as crystal clear. 

With a large exit pupil measuring over 5mm revealing detail in dark shadows, versatility is key when it comes to this premium option. It also provides comfort in spades via an ergonomic grip that ensures comfort even when hand holding the product for extended periods.