The best binoculars are essential for any keen nature spotter, but there is much more to brilliant bins than watching wildlife. Some binoculars can also be used for stargazing, sea scanning and in any scenario where you want a better view of something far away, for example, at sports games or music festivals.
There's a wide range of prices and styles available, and you need to consider how much magnification you need and how that affects focal stability. If you're planning on taking your 'bins' out and about, you'll want to find some that are weatherproof, not merely waterproof, but also with multi-coated lenses to stave off water droplets and grime and a nitrogen-purged body with anti-fogging features.
For stargazing, we recommend using the best telescopes. However, you may find that binoculars with large light-gathering objective lenses are a great alternative to those (see also: binoculars vs telescopes for stargazing). Such binoculars give you a fantastic view of the night sky and are also suitable for use at dawn and dusk. And if you want a pair of bins for spying on our feathered friends, look at our roundup of the best binoculars for birdwatching.
Some might not associate Swarovski with premium binoculars, but the brand actually has some pretty premium-looking products in the category. Better still, we have a review of the Swarovski NL Pure W B Binoculars coming soon, so if you're into birdwatching or any other activity that requires you to bring closer objects in the distance optically, you might want to keep your eyes peeled.
The best binoculars to buy now
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The best binoculars for most people right now are the Celestron Nature DX ED 12x50 binoculars. These roof prism binos upgrade on the award-winning Celestron Nature DX by adding Extra-Low Dispersion glass (that's the ED of the name) – and what an upgrade it is. ED glass is designed to get rid of chromatic aberration/colour fringing to deliver cleaner and sharper images, and in our Celestron Nature DX ED 12x50 binocular review our tester found this worked very effectively. The high magnification and light-gathering makes them ideal for nature-spotting, but also for a spot of stargazing – our reviewer achieved some exquisitely sharp views of the supergiant star Antares in his tests (check our binoculars vs telescopes for stargazing explainer if you're interested in the former). Alongside those high-end optics, you've got bullet-proof build quality and a compact (although not super-lightweight) design that's great for travel. Overall, an excellent pair of mid-market, all-rounder binoculars for the price-conscious connoisseur.
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.
Binoculars don't come much bigger or heavier than Celestron's Skymaster Pro 20x80. These monster binos are made with one thing in mind – stargazing – and while binoculars might feel like second-best to telescopes when it comes to looking at the night sky, these will definitely give entry-level scopes a run for their money and then some. They're not made for holding; these binoculars have to be mounted on a tripod, and they come with their own adapter for just that purpose.
With 20x magnification and an 80mm objective diameter they'll give you great views of the Moon and deep sky objects, and while you'll need to know the night sky well to find distant objects, their easy-to-use centre focus knob makes it a cinch to get a sharp image quickly, much faster than you'd manage with a telescope. Find out more in our Celestron Skymaster Pro 20x80 binoculars review.
For what you'll pay, the Vortex Crossfire HD 10x50 is an impressive pair of all-round binoculars, with 10x magnification and 50 mm objective lenses that are brilliant in low-light situations. They're portable, travel-friendly and weatherproof, but what really makes them stand out is the the included GlassPak chest case/harness, which makes them comfortable to wear all day and quick to deploy when you need them; much better than having a pair of binos hanging round your neck for hours.
The GlassPak does the job nicely but it's not perfect; it gets in a tangle when it's not in use, and its bag is permanently attached to the harness, which is annoying if you want to go out without the harness. There's another annoyance in the design of the lens caps, whose tethers allow them to swing about too much. Beyond that, though, these are fantastic binoculars; super sharp with high resolution results across the entire field of view, plus a refined feel with beautifully smooth focusing. Get all the details in our Vortex Crossfire HD 10x50 binoculars review.
For fledgling nature spotters on a budget, the Celestron Nature DX 8x42 binoculars are a great choice. The design is very refined for the price point – in our Celestron Nature DX 8x42 binoculars review, our tester was particularly impressed with the focus knob and the fact that the lens caps are attached, so you can't lose them – and they're impressively light and compact compared to other 8x42 options. These are suitable for a range of activities and viewing types, and perform particularly well on bright days, although there is can be some very slight blurring around the edges. While they're okay for stargazing, if that's your priority, you should look elsewhere in this list. Overall, a good value pair of mid-range, full-size binoculars for all-round use.
For the biggest, brightest and sharpest image at a reasonable price, it's hard to go wrong with Nikon's Action EX 12x50 binoculars; at least, as long as you've been keeping up with your gym membership. With large 50mm objective lenses and 12x magnification they provide killer views in most lighting conditions, but the big downside is their weight: at 1kg these are going to be tricky to hold steady for any length of time, and you'd be best off investing in a tripod to go with them (not to mention an L-shaped adapter).
They're tough and waterproof as well as fog-proof, and they deliver plenty of eye relief too. Suitable for safaris, birdwatching and even astronomy, if you can live with their bulk you'll find a lot to love about them. Find out more in our Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars review.
The Bushnell Engage EDX 8x42 deliver razor-sharp, bright, clear views, thanks to class-leading ED prime glass, complete with 'EXO' water- and oil-repellent lens coating. A rubberised outer ensures a slip-free grip, you can adjust the distance between the eyepieces to suit your face shape, and the build is compact enough to pop into a jacket pocket (although note, they're not the lightest bins on our list). There's a tactile central focusing wheel that allows for speedy and accurate adjustment, while the wide field of view lets you observe larger areas at a time. In our Bushnell Engage EDX 8x42 binoculars review, our tester did note some instances of purple fringing in high-contrast viewing scenarios, but that's a minor quibble. These are an otherwise solidly made, high-performing pair of binoculars.
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.
To explore two more great stargazing binocular options, head to our Celestron SkyMaster 25x100 vs Canon 18x50 IS AW face-off.
Like the Nikon Action EX 12x50 binoculars above, Nikon's 10x50 Aculon A211 binoculars are pretty hefty and best paired with a tripod and L-shaped adapter for extended use, but if you can live with that then you'll find that they're impressive all-rounders at a great price. Their porro prism design makes them wider than the average set of binos, but the images you'll get out of them make it all worthwhile; their 50mm objective lenses deliver big, bright and colourful results, and they're suitable for all manner of uses including birdwatching and stargazing.
They feel tough and built to last; the only real let-downs are a lack of close focus, with a minimum focal length of 7m, and annoying objective lens caps that are easy to misplace, not being attached either to each other or to the binoculars. And while they're not technically water-resistant, we had no problem taking them out in all weathers. Want to know more? See our Nikon 10x50 Aculon A211 binoculars review.
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.
How to choose the best binoculars for you
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.
Considering how the above points apply to your viewing needs should help you quickly refine your choices when buying binos.
How we test the best binoculars
For the vast majority of binoculars featured in this guide, we'll call in a pair and get an expert to review them. Our binocular specialists – who have all tested dozens of pairs of binos, so have a good solid frame of reference to base their judgement on – will put them through their paces at home. They'll consider things like image quality, build quality, weatherproofing, ease of use, features and accessories included. They'll also look at what's included and how it compares to other options in the same price bracket, to get an idea of whether it's good value for money. Read more about how we test at T3.
Porro prism vs compact roof prism
Which type of binocular is best?
There are two types of binoculars. Traditional porro prism binoculars have angular lens tubes, were first invented way back in 1854 and resemble something you might see a tank commander using in a WWII movie. This more vintage type offers classic looks and performance.
Roof prism binoculars offer straight tubes and a streamlined light path. This, more modern style, tends to be the most popular type, as the way the light passes into and out of the prism allows for a more compact construction, which means smaller, more portable binoculars.
The drawback 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. Some users also like the fact that porro prism binoculars provide greater depth of image due to their glass elements being offset from one another, which makes them good for short-range birdwatching as well as more general viewing activities.
Ultimately, it’s a case of horses for courses and down to the user’s preference and budget. Broadly speaking, porro prism binos provide a brighter image quality at a lower price than their more sleek and streamlined roof prism brethren.
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 the binoculars say 8x25 then they offer 8x magnification and have an objective lens with a diameter of 25mm.
In this case, both are small numbers, so the model is a portable, everyday pair of 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 bins 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.