The best binoculars 2018: for bird watching, stargazing and going on safari

Whatever outdoor pursuit you're into, from bird watching to plane spotting and wildlife watching, these best binoculars will help you see more and in greater detail

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A good set of binoculars will be an ally in the outdoors, helping you to see farther and in greater detail. Whether it’s wildlife you’re hoping to see, from quietly watching the birds in the garden to watching a herd of elephants in the distance on safari; or you’re itching to get a closer look at a band onstage at a festival, binoculars can be used in a range of situations.  

As with most outdoor gear, the best binoculars range massively in price. What you should spend depends on what you want to use your binoculars for. Pocket binoculars start from as little as £25, while top of the range ones can set you back over £2,000. 

The main factor that determines the price is performance - determined in part by the magnification and objective lens size – as well as materials used and build quality. 

In a nutshell, the best binoculars should always produce a crystal clear image with pin sharp detail right to the edge of the lens. This enables you to see the bigger picture whenever you need to.

When it comes to price, around £700 is a good starting point for a set of high-quality binoculars. We know that's pretty steep, so we've been sure to explain exactly why these binos are worth such a cost, as well as including several more affordable options. 

There's plenty of choice here to meet many budgets and needs, whether you're bird watching, spending an evening under the stars, or heading out on safari for your summer holiday...

The best binoculars you can buy right now

Steiner Safari UltraSharp 10x26 best binoculars

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.

Swarovski EL 50 best binoculars

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.

Celestron SkyMaster 25x100 best binoculars

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.

Pentax 7x50 Hydro best binoculars

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.

Olympus Urban 8-16x25 Zoom PC 1 best binoculars

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.

Nikon Monarch 5 20x56 best binoculars

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.

Leica Ultravid 8 x 20 Colorline best binoculars

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

RSPB HDX 8 x 42 best binoculars

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.

Canon 18x50 IS All Weather best binoculars

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.

Avalon 10 x 42 Pro HD best binoculars

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.