But not all binoculars are created equally, and they are not one-size-fits-all either. Subtle differences in performance and quality can mean the difference between enjoyment and frustration. Active Junky pulled together some of the best binoculars on the market from reputable brands to help you choose which pair is right for your favorite activities. And don’t forget to sign up for Active Junky for cashback on your gear purchases.
***Important Note: Most companies don’t reveal much detail when it comes to the below information. These are kept a secret so as not to lose a competitive advantage. For example, Zeiss has been in business a LONG time. They have perfected their engineering and coatings over many years and are not very willing to share their best practices with other companies!***
A constant question I am asked is, “What’s the difference between nitrogen and argon?” A quick Google search will return many links to forums where people have very strong opinions on the matter and will get into any number of online arguments over the subject. The short answer is that, performance-wise, there really isn’t much of a difference between the two for the clear majority of people. Both gases will keep moisture out and prevent internal fogging. If you do a deep-dive into the chemistry and look at a diagram of each molecule, you will see that argon molecules are larger than nitrogen molecules. Because of this, some manufacturers feel the larger argon molecules will have a harder time leaking out from the seals, keeping the inert gas inside longer and thus maintaining their water/fog-proof properties over a longer period of time. From a practical standpoint, as long as you have an optic with either of these inert dry gases versus having none, you’re ahead of the game.
The magnification and objective of a binocular are always complimentary. The range of a rangefinder binocular also depends on these two aspects. You might have seen the binoculars being denoted by a set of numbers such as 7×20 or 10×42. What it denotes is the magnification and the diameter of the objective lens. For example, if the binocular is denoted by 7×20 it means that 7x is the magnification and 20 are the diameter of the objective lens. The magnification requirement depends on the purpose of your purchase. If you have bought it to take it to the movies, the ideal magnification would be anywhere from 3x to 5x. If the purpose something like sports, 7x would fair perfectly. But for hunting the best option would be 10x magnification. But one thing you have to keep in mind is that the field of view reduces with increase in magnification. The field of view of a 7x rangefinder binocular would be more than that of a binocular with 10x magnification. Also, it will be difficult to hold a rangefinder binocular which 10×42 for a long time as it will be heavy. The help of a tripod stand can be used in such cases.
I initially thought these would only benefit prairie land outfitters, or those who guide hunts out in the vast open. If you think about it, the guide can monitor the range on the targeted animal while not having to take his eyes off of it. There would be no need to constantly switch between a rangefinder and a pair of binoculars, therefore a combo would be ideal for that type of situation.
Binoculars come in two basic configurations: Porro prism or roof prism. The Porro prism gives that type of binoculars the traditional binocular shape. The roof prism binocular features a narrower and compact, straight design. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but, in general, the Porro prism design is less expensive to manufacture and, therefore, gives you more bang for your buck as far as optical quality and features. The relative compact size of roof prism binoculars makes them generally more popular for birders, as optically similar Porros will be larger.
So as you can see, for astronomy you are looking for an exit pupil of 5 or more, however with higher magnifications this is not always possible as the objective lenses would have to be massive. So whilst many giant binoculars have slightly smaller exit pupils than the ideal, they are still large enough to provide you with a bright enough image - however this is where the amount of transmittance becomes really important (see below).
Yes, there is a discussion that Leica 10×42 Geovid HD-B is comparatively heavy when the rest of the rangefinder binoculars are taken into account. But that does not mean it is not worth it. The positives do outweigh the negatives of this rangefinder binocular. The model is similar to a laser rangefinder, but it is packed with many improved features which make take a look at it with surprise. With a magnification of 10×42, it has a 20 mm eye relief which places your eye at a comfortable distance. It helps in eliminating any chance of damage to the eyes.
Recommendation: balance and handling is a very personal thing, but you should be able to get some idea of what the binoculars on your shortlist are like by reading reviews online from people who’ve spent time with the binoculars on your short-list. Try searching birding and wildlife forums (like Bird Forum) for recommendations by owners — and try and get to use as many different types of binocular as you can to see how different models and different styles feel to you (see point 10 on Try Before you Buy).
Birders demand a lot from their binoculars. Birding binoculars must be light enough to carry all day long and sturdy enough to survive years of heavy use. They must be easy to hold steady. They must resolve delicate details and reveal subtle colors with accuracy. They must focus quickly and up close and work well in dim light. They must be sealed from dust and moisture. And they must show the whole picture even for birders wearing eyeglasses.
Whilst the size of the objective lens determines to a large degree how much light can enter the binoculars, it does not completely determine how much light enters your eyes, which is far more important. A measurement known as the Exit Pupil gives you the width of the column of light exiting the eye-piece and is calculated by dividing the Objective Lens size by the Magnification of the binoculars.
With both Bow and Rifle modes to offer, VSI (Various Sight-In) zeros, ARC (Angle Range Compensation), and Matrix Display Technology available in the palm of your hand, you’ll never be found wanting again. The optics have been dressed up with additional, patented technologies to ensure image quality is never compromised. With the best price on its back, you’ll be sure to hit your target every time!
During testing in Southern California and/or southern Mexico, a few other models proved very good at bringing in color under harsh conditions, including the Bushnell Legend L Series, Celestron TrailSeeker, Carson 3D, and the Nikon Monarch 5 (my favorite of four Nikon models at the target price point). Neither the Nikon nor the Carson model had the wide field of view at distance the Midas ED boasted. The Nikon was 361 feet at 1,000 yards versus 426 feet for the Athlons, Bushnells, and Celestrons, which had the widest fields of view I tested. The Carson 3D binoculars were incredibly sharp and easily as bright as the Athlons, but felt almost as if they had tunnel vision, likely because their field of view was around 20 percent narrower than that of the Athlons. These field-of-view differences proved more noticeable when trying to differentiate spot-breasted wrens from rufous-and-white wrens as they crawled through vine tangles in southern Mexico, for example; the Nikon pair’s narrower field, which had otherwise excellent glass, seemed to require more time to find the birds than the Athlon pair did (and tellingly, by the end of the trip, I was grabbing the Athlons each morning).
Pick the units with round exit pupils; this tells you that quality prisms were used and that you're getting all the light you should. (You can also check the specification sheet: the best prisms are made from BAK-4 glass, while others use BK-7 glass.) Since they're hidden inside, the prisms are one of the first things manufacturers skimp on when trying to lower the price. Seeing "shaded" or "squared off" exit pupils is a sign of lesser-quality or undersized prisms.
What pair of binoculars that you should get, will depend on how specialised and exactly what you want to use them for: The best binoculars for someone who wants to observe the stars with, but also then to use during the day, will be different to those that want to only use the binoculars for star gazing and don't have to worry about carrying them about.
The difference here isn’t that much in quality, but rather in size and bulkiness. All binoculars need a prism, as without one, they’d produce a reversed, upside-down image, which isn’t very useful. With a roof prism, you get binoculars with a straight profile, and the eyepiece is right behind the front lens. This is a fairly compact design compared to a porro prism. A porro prism, on the other hand, you have an offset lens and eyepiece, and this is the more common, traditional model. Both are great in terms of functionality, and it’s pretty much a choice of do you need a compact pair, or not.
One of the easiest ways to take a spacewalk without ever leaving Earth is to scan the night sky with binoculars from the comfort of a reclining lounge chair on a clear, dark night. But for the best experience, you better make sure those binoculars are actually designed for astronomy. To see our picks for the best binoculars of various sizes and specialties, read our Best Astronomy Binoculars: Editors' Choice wrap-up. If you'd like help picking for yourself, there are a few things you need to know.