Best Birding Binoculars Reviews 2016: Top 5 Picks Revealed + Comparison
Birding binoculars offer a natural 3D view through two small telescopes to greatly magnify objects far away with a wide field of vision.
To help you choose the best binoculars for bird watching I have crafted a list of birding binoculars reviews for 2016 to help you find the best pair for your needs.
Table of Contents
Who makes the Best Birding Binoculars…
Some of the top birding binocular brands include Zeiss, Vortex, Vanguard and Celestron.
For the money
If budget was of absolutely no concern, there are 2 products that I would consider neck and neck when having to choose the top-rated birdwatching binoculars.
The Swarovski EL Swarovision 8.5x42mm and the Zeiss Optical 8×42 Victory HT are the finest birding binoculars on the market today. It is a toss-up between these two to decide which can be considered the very best premium birding binocular.
If I had to single out one of these, I would have to pick the:
#1) Swarovski Optik El Swarovision 8.5x42mm
The EL Swarovision by Swarovski is not for everyone, the price tag is simply too high for most birders. Those that can afford it, know that they get clarity and contrast that you won’t find in another pair of bins. Swarovision means that you will experience perfect image resolution across your entire field of view.
Swarovski Optik is well-know for creating bins that look great, and perform even better. The EL Swarovision lives up to that reputation, and I would go so far as to say that it sets a new standard for birdwatching bins.
#2) Carl Zeiss Optical 8×42 Victory HT
Weighing in at 29.2 ounces, the german-made Zeiss Optical Victory HT is a very very good birding binocular that offers an exception 95% transmission level. What I really like about the Victory HT, is the performance in low light conditions.
I like how these feel in my hands, and with Zeiss being world-renowned for their quality optics, you know that the price you pay is worth every penny for some of the brightest and most detailed images you can experience with a bin.
I consider these to be the brightest birding bins on the market, and highly recommend these for the discerning birdwatcher.
#1) Vortex Razor HD 10×42
I rate Vortex as one of the best binocular brands, and the Razor HD 10×42 is one of my all-time favourite binoculars. It weighs only 24.8 ounces, and it offers images that come very close to the Swarovski Swarovision and the Zeiss Victory.
At less than half the price.
The Razor HD is without a doubt the best birdwatching binocular for the money.
#2) Leica Trinovid 8×42
The Leica Trinovid 8×42 can be considered the baby brother of the Ultravid, the flagship of the Leica range of binoculars. At roughly half the price, surprisingly there is no visible difference between the image quality of the Trinovid vs Ultravid.
Leica is well-known for cameras of the highest quality, so they know a thing or two about optics and images. This shines through with the Trinovid, and the clarity, colour saturation, resolution and brightness is exception for a binocular under 1000 dollars.
#1) Nikon 7295 Monarch ATB 10X42
For many years Nikon has been well known for their quality optics. Will their 7925 Monarch ATB deliver the same quality?
Let’s find out if these binoculars offered at a reasonable price of around $300 can live up to the Nikon name.
These roof prism style binoculars provide precise clear images. These quality images are a result of Nikon’s pursuit of excellence. They have a devoted team of technicians researching new advances in the optics industry. The Monarch ATB includes cutting edge features like the:
- Dielectric high-reflective multi-layer prism coating. This increases light reflectivity far beyond what a metallic coating can offer. This coating provides almost the same brightness as perceived by a human eye. This makes for a clear high contrast images.
- Close Focus Distance. This works great for identifying birds and butterflies on your feeder in the backyard.
- Eye Relief. If you wear glasses you will appreciate the retractable eyecups.
The materials and construction quality can’t be beat at this price either. The Nikon Monarchs are water and fogproof. The rubber outer shell makes for a firm grip that won’t slip in damp conditions. At only 1 ½ pounds, these ATBs are lightweight and easy to travel with.
Nikon offers a 25 year limited warranty with these binoculars. For added peace of mind the Monarchs also come with a no-fault repair/replace guarantee. There are some exceptions-read the warranty info before you buy. Coupled with excellent customer service, the Nikon 7295 Monarch ATBs is a wise choice for birdwatchers looking for lightweight bins.
#1) Vortex Talon HD
The Vortex Talon HD has an open-bridge design which anyone walking or hiking will appreciate. It is just easier to carry around without feeling like you are going to drop your bins.
While the imagery isn’t quite as clear and sharp as the more expensive Viper HD, the Talon certainly outshines other binoculars in this price range.
#2) Nikon Monarch 7
The Nikon Monarch 7 is another great optic from this manufacturer of high quality lenses and optics. Keep in mind that you are sacrificing image quality when you are bino shopping in this price range.
I really like how these bins don’t give me a feeling of a narrow horizon, unlike some other models in this price range. All in all, a good option for the casual birdwatcher.
#1) Carson 3D ED 10×42
The 3D ED by Carson is a good birding binocular at an affordable price. I really like these bins for beginners that have a sub $300 budget. I like the ZZZ, and the accessories that is included are all top notch. At this price level, the performance in low light conditions are really good. You can’t compare the 3D ED with the brightness of the Zeis Victory HT mentioned earlier, but you can’t expect to given the difference in price.
I like that these bins offer long eye-relief, and in my opinion these are the best birding binoculars for glasses wearers.
I also like the texturing on the 3D ED (see more in my review here), and the rugged shock-proof design will ensure you get many years of birdwatching bliss from these bins.
#2) Vanguard 10×42 with ED Glass
As a trusted name in the optics industry, the Vanguard 10×42 with ED Glass gets high praise from bird watchers and photographers. This particular 10×42 model comes with ED glass making it one of the best values under $300 you can find today. It has excellent optics and gives you a clear wide viewing angle.
The ED glass, once only found in very expensive (think $3000 pairs) binoculars is becoming more common in less expensive models. ED or extra low dispersion glass simply means it focuses light through the lenses better for sharper, clearer images.
Its most compelling feature is that it is very friendly towards users with eye glasses. If you find that your current binoculars need to be used without glasses for a clear, undistorted magnification, these 10×42 lenses with ED glass are a good upgrade.
These binoculars are not just for watching birds in the daytime, but also for stargazing at night. You will still see star clusters, distant galaxies and nebulas without any light spikes or haze around celestial bodies of light.
The focus wheel function is smooth with no clicking, which suggests some sturdy engineering inside. The locking mechanism means that, the diopter settings will not change arbitrarily, giving you different magnification. Its build quality is stellar and it is quite easy to carry.
The Vanguards are clearer than even some 12×42 binoculars that cost more than $300. They are a great budget pick for beginners who want to enjoy bird watching.
#1) Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 8 x 42
The Bushnell Legend 8×42 give you great color depth and clarity for the price, and is my choice as the best budget birding binoculars. If you are coming from cheaper pairs costing less than $150, you will be surprised at the upgrade you get for about 1.5x the price. At 8x, its magnification is smaller than other 10x budget pairs, but when you look through it, you won’t be disappointed by the view.
Bushnell Legends have great depth of view and give you a more realistic picture. The 8x feels more like a 10x and they retain most of these capabilities even when you zoom in a bit. Bird watchers will appreciate its brightness, which is a result of the high quality of coating used for Legends. Near sighted people have noted that they can see far off objects through these without their glasses.
Although they are comfortable for those who wear glasses when using them, you may notice a slight reduction in clarity. That is just the nature of optics though and at this price, there are many other things you need to look for.
For around $200 you get a lot of accessories including rubber lens caps, a professional neck strap, front and back eyepieces, and a cleaning cloth. Many budget binoculars tend to exclude some of these things in order to cut corners in this price range, but not the Bushnells. You can simply buy them and not have to spend another $50 on accessories.
#2) Nikon 7238 Action Ex Extreme 8 X 40 mm All Terrain
These are one of the best rugged binoculars you can buy for your outdoor adventures. From birding to hunting and backpacking, these will survive all those nasty drops.
They are the least expensive pair reviewed. At 8×40, they might lack some magnification.
These are definitely well-built binoculars for:
- bird watching or hunting in more adventurous locations
- using for hours under water. The 7328 Action Ex Extremes are waterproof and can be submerged under 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes.
- those on a budget who want the most versatility for the dollar
Nikon chose to focus on handling and build quality by offering less magnification. This makes for a budget-friendly birding binocular that will still deliver great viewing.
#3) Celestron 71332 Nature DX 8×42
At 8×42, the Celestron Nature DX offer great clarity and amazing depth of view. It performs more like a 10x than a 8x in many users opinions. They are a budget friendly option that matches more expensive binoculars in performance. These Celestron binocs make it easy to follow birds in flight.
The diopter settings in this model is one of the best in the industry. Once you have set them before buying, they won’t need any adjustment for years. This will help beginner birdwatchers to focus on the birds instead of the binoculars.
We found the 71332 Nature DX to be better than some 10×60 binoculars in this price range. Celestron made a bold choice forgoing some specifications. Instead they chose to pour more dollars into a higher quality lens coating. These binoculars prove that specs mean little, unless backed up with great execution.
At less than $150, the Celestron 71332 Nature DX model is an amazing deal. It ticks all the right boxes for a great pair of affordable binoculars for birdwatching.
At this time I can’t find any binoculars under 100 dollars, that I would feel comfortable recommending. I suggest you take a look at the Celestron Nature DX as it costs just a tad over $100, and offers far better value for money than anything in the sub-$100 price range.
For glasses wearers
There are a number of binoculars with large eye relief, that are ideal for those who wear glasses. If you have used a bin without decent eye relief in the past, you know what a pain it can be. My recommendation for glasses wearers, are either the Swarovski EL (premium price, 20mm relief) or the Vanguard Endeavour ED II 8×42 (affordable price, 19.5mm relief), depending on your budget.
For beginners and backyard birding
If you are just starting out with birdwatching, and you aren’t quite sure how much you want to spend on a pair of bins, I recommend that you get the Carson 3D. These Carsons offer versatility so you can use them as your all around pair of bins, while the focus wheel is very smooth making for easy adjustments.
If you are looking to buy birdwatching binoculars for kids, you must take the weight and size of the bin into consideration.
For smaller kids (5 years and younger), I would recommend the playful ExploreOne 6×21. The colourful design will get your kid excited about using the bins, and a handy nylon carry bag will ensure your little explorer doesn’t drop them too often.
Light and compact the roof prism ExploreOne comes with 6x magnification giving your child a great start in the world of binoculars. The rugged design with rubber armour and the five year guarantee will ensure that your child gets good use from this colourful, but impressive bin. At its affordable price, it makes a great stocking stuffer too.
If your child is older than 5, they should be able to handle the Opticron Discovery WP PC 8×32 without any issues.
This mid-sized binocular has some impressive optics, and the low mid-range price makes it an affordable option if your child wants to start birdwatching, but you aren’t quite sure how serious they are about their new hobby.
The Opticron is compact and the optics are good enough that you can use these as your travel bins when your child outgrows them, or takes up a new hobby a week after you ordered these.
What makes Good Birding Binoculars?
The best birding binoculars for the money comes down to your available budget. Getting the best binoculars for birding doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune. Investing a few extra dollars will give you hours of birdwatching pleasure whether you are trying to spot a hybrid titmouse nesting, or just spotting urban birds in the backyard. Make sure you choose wisely when searching for the best binoculars for birdwatching.
Let’s take 10×42 as an example spec for a binocular. The 10x that you see is the magnification. It means that objects will seem 10 times closer to you than they are. You can find 7x, 10x and even 12x magnified binoculars. My opinion is that 7x is too small for birding and best for sports.
For birding, 10x magnification is much better. It is also more budget friendy compared to 12x binoculars. While the 12x offers better magnification, it comes at a cost too high for most buyers.
If you see a number like 12-30×42, it means that the binocular has a minimum magnification of 12x. You can increase it to 30x, using a dial. As you dial the magnification up, clarity will suffer a bit. But it is useful for seeing objects that are far off.
Objective Size (diameter)
The next factor is the diameter of the lens. The larger the lens, the more light can enter your eyes through it and the clearer the image will be. The most common diameters for bird watching binocular lenses are 30mm, 42mm and 50mm. 42mm strikes the right balance between price and clarity for most buyers.
Some prefer binoculars that are quite thin and more comfortable. Other users don’t mind bulky options. It all depends on what their use will be. The two different kinds of prisms relate to the size of the binoculars – roof and Porro.
Roof Prism vs Porro Prism
Roof prisms are arranged more closely, so they are compact and are in the shape of an H. Porro prisms have a more elaborate arrangement. With Porro prisms the glasses are offset from one another to give you a much wider field of view and clarity in depth.
There are many more technical details about bird watching binoculars. I hope this guide will help you to make a decision on the best binoculars for birdwatching.