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Prices vary wildly from sub £50 to over £2,000, but there’s a valid reason for this. The most expensive glasses are precision made instruments made from the very finest materials and assembled by skilled engineers in clinical environments.
Of course, there are other factors involved like magnification and objective lens size but, in a nutshell, a top quality pair of bins will almost always produce a crystal clear image with pin sharp detail right to the very edge of the lenses.
Conversely, the image through a pair of cheap binoculars may sometimes appear a bit cloudy, less bright and not as sharp, especially when used in low-light conditions.
How to choose a pair of binoculars
Aside from price range, the main things you need to look for when shopping for binoculars is the strength of magnification and the diameter of the two front objective lenses. This is identified by two sets of numbers (8x42, 10x30, etc) that are etched on every pair of binoculars.
The first number is the model’s magnification. Models with 8x magnification are ideal for most scenarios, including wildlife and sports events. However, if you’re buying a pair mostly for safari or bird-watching purposes then consider 10x magnification which will bring faraway subjects even closer.
Bear in the mind, though, that a pair of binoculars with 10x magnification and above will also result in a narrower field of view and, in cheaper models, images that are less bright. The binoculars themselves may also feel larger in the hands and be more difficult to hold steady.
Which are the best binoculars for watching live events?
If you’re looking for a pair of binoculars specifically for watching sports or theatrical events like opera or a rock concert, then a compact pair with 7x magnification would be more suitable as it will have a wider field of view and be light in the hand.
The second identification number relates to the diameter of the two objective lenses (the glass at the front). The larger the number (measured in millimetres), the brighter the image will be since larger objective lenses let in more light and, hence, are generally more suited to viewing in low light situations. However, the trade off here is that larger front lenses often equate to larger bodies and therefore more weight in the hand.
Here is our carefully curated roundup of the best binoculars at different price points.
Key specs – Magnification: 10x; Objective lens diameter: 30mm; Length: 119mm; Weight: 420g; Waterproof: Yes
This is a perfect sized model for a number of disciplines, whether it’s following your favourite game or viewing a pride of lions from afar. The pocket-sized Prostaff 7S are exceptionally light and comfy in the hand – the most comfortable on test – so they can be used for long periods of time without impacting on the wrists and forearms.
Although these binoculars feature the same 10x magnification as many others in this roundup, their objective lenses (the glass at the front) are smaller and therefore provide a slightly narrower field of view. Thankfully, the smaller lens dimensions only marginally affect the brightness of the image which is remarkably crisp and clear.
If you want a light and compact pair of binoculars for occasional use and don’t wish to spend more than £200, make this excellent model your first port of call.
Key specs – Magnification: 8x; Objective lens diameter: 42mm; Length: 130mm; Weight: 780g; Waterproof: No
The Olympus EXPS I are quite weighty and pretty chunky, so bear that in mind if you’re of petite build.
On the plus side, these binoculars feel really comfortable in a big pair of hands and are among the brightest and sharpest wildlife-specific models on this page, which comes as a huge surprise given their exceedingly modest asking price.
The rubber eye cups are a major design highlight here because they’re really soft and extremely comfortable to use for long periods of time – or at least until your arms start to ache. You’ll also be chuffed to know that the wide front objective lenses are fitted with flip down protective rubber caps that can’t be lost.
Weight issues – and cheap case – aside, these budget-priced binoculars perform impeccably well but they’re just pipped to the winning post by the smaller, lighter and more powerful Nikon Prostaff 7S.
Key specs – Magnification: 10x; Objective lens diameter: 42mm; Length: 149mm; Weight: 610g; Waterproof: Yes
This high-magnification model provides outstanding optics for the price. In fact, in terms of vivid clarity, overall brightness and edge-to-edge sharpness, the Peregrine’s image quality is not too dissimilar to that of the much more expensive Swarovsksi reviewed below. They are also among the very best models for low-light conditions.
For their length and magnification, the slender, soft rubber armoured Peregrines feel relatively light in the hand and are exceedingly comfortable – both important points to consider if you’re a twitcher or avid wildlife observer. The eyecups, too, are among the most comfortable on test.
This writer was really surprised by how well these binoculars performed. Even after numerous AB tests against the high-end Swarovskis, I found it really difficult to detect any glaring differences in clarity and sharpness between the two.
Granted, the Swarovskis are better built and possibly more rugged. If you’re a seriously committed bird watcher then yes, the Swarovskis are worth the extra outlay. But if you just want a pair of dynamite bins for occasional outdoor excursions and general day to day use then this is the model for you.
Key specs – Magnification: 10x; Objective lens diameter: 42mm; Length: 143mm; Weight: 550g; Waterproof: Yes
You might not find a better pair of safari-specific 10x42 bins for this kind of money. Granted, there is some faint haziness at the fringes of the lens but the image is generally clear and bright, even when used to scan shady areas.
However, as is often the case with cheaper models, they’re not quite as precise to focus as some other models – this is no problem when looking at larger distant subjects but you may find they don’t perform well enough for long-distance bird watching which requires precision focussing on a regular basis.
That said, their high 10x magnification makes them perfect for general use and especially safari duties where game may be grazing or lazing a few hundred metres away.
The Avalons aren’t too big and unwieldy and, like many binoculars these days, they’re equipped with integral flip-down front rubber lens protectors and come in their own nylon carry case. The attractive platinum colour, meanwhile, stands out among all your inevitably black-coloured photographic gear and that’s a good thing.
Key specs – Magnification: 8x; Objective lens diameter: 42mm; Length: 166mm; Weight: 895g; Waterproof: Yes
Swarovski is widely regarded as the Rolls Royce of binocular manufacturers. Based in Austria and originally founded in 1949 as an off-shoot to the world-famous Swarovski crystal jewellers, the company produces a wide range of high-end binoculars in various sizes and magnifications.
The ergonomically-designed EL 8x42 model reviewed here is one of two variants in the company's premium range (the more powerful 10x42 model has slightly increased magnification and costs roughly £70 more). However, do bear in mind the weight and size of this model – at 895g, your arms may start to ache after several minutes of use.
8x42 is widely considered the ideal magnification for general birding and wildlife viewing and they don’t come much better than this albeit exceedingly pricy model. The ELs were also designed with hunting in mind so they’re equipped with an infrared laser rangefinder that instantly measures the distance to a subject up to 1,500 yards away. It then displays the measurement in the viewfinder.
The EL’s single focus wheel (with integral dioptic eyesight adjusters on each soft rubber eye cup) is smooth and admirably precise, allowing for the finest of focus tuning.
Image brightness is always the acid test and in this respect the Swarovskis performed impeccably well, with a crystal clear image right to the very edge of the lenses. Figure in the attractive case, the clever strap connector that holds the rubber eye cup protectors in place so you don’t lose them, and you have a product every bit as desirable as the badge suggests.
Key specs – Magnification: 10x; Objective lens diameter: 25mm; Length: 109mm; Weight: 241g; Water resistant: Yes
These premium compact binoculars are small enough to carry in a jacket pocket and light enough to hold against the eyes for long periods of time. You don’t even notice them when worn around the neck.
Being of Leica origin, the quality of the glassware is expectedly top notch, producing an extraordinarily bright and crystal clear image across the entire spectrum.
However, the nature of the small eye apertures does mean you may need to squint a little and it’s quite difficult to align the eyes perfectly without shadowy artefacts in the viewfinder.
But this is the norm with some compact binoculars – you get used to it and learn to place your eyes carefully against the cups.
If you’re looking for a top-dollar everyday model for travel, concerts and sporting events then these beautifully made binoculars are well worth having round your neck.