How to Choose Binoculars: Our Binoculars Buying Guide

Not all binoculars are created equal! Discover our picks for the best binoculars and find out what features to look for before you make your purchase.

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birder testing binocularsTaste of Home/RDA Milwaukee
Birds & Blooms contributing writer Ken Keffer tests binoculars.

Picking out that perfect pair of binoculars can be both fun and overwhelming. With so many brands and models on the market, setting you back from a modest $100 to $2,500 and up, we can help you understand how to choose binoculars that are perfect for you.

The Birds & Blooms staff, along with frequent birding contributor Ken Keffer, conducted a binocular field test. We tried out pairs from different manufacturers, taping over the brand names to make it a fair test. If we learned one major lesson from our experiment, it’s that everyone is different. Nearly all of us had a different favorite for one reason or another, which you’ll see in our results. While we’re not necessarily crowning one pair the ultimate winner, we do think our picks will serve as a good binoculars buying guide. Ready to start shopping? The birds are waiting!

Our Picks for the Best Binoculars

Best Value Binoculars

Nikon Monarch 7 8×42
$476
These stole the heart of executive editor Kirsten Schrader, and seriously impressed many other testers. They’re the perfect binoculars for those looking to go beyond the basics but not quite ready to break the bank. These are a great deal and will last you years with their sturdy modern design.

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Best Binoculars for Beginners

Celestron NatureDX 8×42
$147
If you’re just starting to go birding, we understand that you might not want to spend a lot of money on binoculars. If that strikes a chord, these are for you! Many of our testers rated them higher than more expensive brands. Lightweight and easy to focus, they’re the ideal starter binoculars.

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Best First Impression

Carson TD-842 ED 8×42 3D Binocular
$270
They say you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression—and if that’s the case, these binoculars take top honors. These Carsons had a great look and feel. The view was nice, too, making them quite a hit with many of our testers.

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Best Binoculars for Backyard Birding

Kowa BD42-08XD
$449
Do the rest of the choices on this list seem a little daunting? If you’re just looking to enjoy the birds in your own backyard, consider these Kowas. Small and compact, they’re ideal for keeping by your window for the moment you spot that bird you’ve been trying to attract for ages.

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Best Midrange Binoculars

Vanguard Endeavor ED II 8420
$399
If you’ve moved beyond the lowest-priced binoculars but aren’t ready to commit to a high-end pair, consider this choice. We liked the clarity of close-up images and the clear illumination of the subject. These will serve you well at the stage of your birding life when you’re not quite an expert but no longer a newbie. Here’s 7 ways to be a better birder.

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Best Splurge Binoculars

Leica Ultravid HD-Plus 8×42
$2,249
If you’ve graduated to birding beyond the backyard, consider these Leicas. With a wide field of view, gorgeous clarity and impeccable lighting, they’ll allow you to spot almost any target you choose. Our testers said that just looking at and holding them made it obvious they were beautifully crafted. You won’t be sorry you splurged.

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Best Binoculars for Birding On the Go

Zeiss Terra 8×42
$450
Great lighting, ease of focus, fantastic clarity—these won lots of praise from our reviewers. While Zeiss is a brand typically known for binoculars running $1,000 and up, these deliver high quality at a reasonable price. No matter the terrain, they’re sturdy and ready for anything.

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Best Binoculars for Serious Birders

Swarovski EL 10×42
$2,659
Got some money burning a hole in your pocket? Consider these Swarovskis. The higher magnification allows for greater discernment of detail and makes them excellent for long-distance birding. Some testers thought they were heavy, but the quality justifies the extra weight and bucks.

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Best Clarity and Field of View

Opticron Explorer Wide Angle 8×42
$339
This wide-angle pair had the best field of view, but the clarity of the images and the ease of focus were impressive, too.

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Next, check out 5 top-rated binoculars for every kind of birdwatcher.

How to Choose Binoculars

  • We strongly recommend testing out binoculars for yourself. Look for a birding festival in your area: Optics dealers often set up shop there, allowing you to test many brands and styles. Otherwise, call a birding or outdoors store near you to see if they have samples.
  • Try out different brands and types of binoculars. Make sure they’re not heavy on your neck or too bulky for your hands.
  • Many birdwatchers use an 8×42 model, a good all-around size. These numbers on binoculars mean an object appears 8 times closer and the objective lens diameter is 42 millimeters.
  • The more you pay, the better and more durable the lens, but you don’t have to break the bank. Start with a waterproof model and work up from there.
  • Binoculars should be easy to focus instantly and precisely.
  • The field of view should be fairly wide, with no distorted edges.
  • Whether you’re focusing close up or far away, you want a great picture.
  • The image should be as bright as or brighter than what you can see with your naked eye, not darker.

Close-Up Of Binoculars On Black BackgroundNataliya Hora / EyeEm/Getty Images

How to Use Binoculars

Bins

This word is birder jargon for binoculars, which are one of the holiday gifts any bird lover will absolutely adore.

Diopter Ring

Move the ring to adjust this side’s ocular lens. It allows for differences in your eyes and focuses your view correctly.

Hinge

The hinge connects to the two barrels. Hold the eyecups to your eyes and pivot the barrels until you see one circle-shaped image.

Eyecups

Here’s a tip. If you wear glasses, the eyecups should be twisted down. Sans spectacles? Twist up.

Ocular Lens

These lenses, closest to your eyes, magnify the object.

Focus Wheel

Spin the wheel to move the ocular lenses simultaneously and bring the object into focus.

Objective Lens

These large lenses gather light. The bigger the lens, the more light it captures, which means a brighter image.

Barrels

The magic happens here! Each barrel works like a mini telescope to deliver a clear, crisp image.

Now that you have chosen your binoculars and know how to use them, check out birding gadgets and gear you never knew you needed.

Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten is the executive editor of Birds & Blooms. She's been with the brand in various roles since 2007. She has many favorite birds (it changes with the seasons), but top picks include the red-headed woodpecker, Baltimore oriole and rose-breasted grosbeak. Her bucket list bird is the painted bunting.