Finding The Best Binoculars in 2017 w/ 5 Reviews

hunter looking through binoculars

 

Outdoor Empire Recommendations

Are you looking for a…

hunting binocular? Get Vortex Viper

birding binoculars? Get Zeiss Victory SF

compact binocular? Get Leica Ultravid (read 20+ Amazon reviews)

best binocs for the money? Get Nikon Monarch 5 (read 470+ Amazon reviews)

tactical binocular? Get Steiner T1042r

 

 

Getting the right pair of binoculars is confusing since they come in different styles and sizes. Not all of them are the same, that’s for sure.

Since you already have an idea where you intend to use them, it’s time to at least have a basic understanding of the binoculars’ specs and features before finally buying one.

 

Outdoor Empire Picks Reviewed & Compared

ProductVortex Viper
Vortex Viper

Zeiss Victory SF
Zeiss Victory SF

Leica Ultravid
Leica Ultravid

Nikon Monarch 5
Nikon Monarch 5

Steiner T1042r
Steiner T1042r

Magnification10x10x8x8 x10x
Objective Lens Diameter28mm 42mm20 mm 42 mm42 mm
Exit Pupil 2.8mm4 mm2.5 mm5.25 mm4.2 mm
Eye Relief
19 mm18 mm15 mm19.5 mm17.4 mm
Close Focus 7.5 ft4.9 ft7.2 ft7.8 ft-
FOV
267 ft @ 1000 yards120 m @ 1000m109.89 m @ 1000 m330 ft @ 1000 yards315 ft @ 1000 yards
Size4.7 x 4.5 in 6.8 x 4.9 in3.70 x 2.36 in 5.7 x 5.1 in6.6 x 4.9
Weight12 oz27.5 oz8.64 oz 20.8 oz26.7 oz
CostCheck PriceCheck PriceCheck PriceCheck PriceCheck Price

 

Best for Hunting

Vortex Viper Binoculars

Vortex Viper 10x28

Hunting is a rough sport that takes a toll on the gear used by the hunter.

Hunters are also exposed to different weather conditions which range from the snows of Minnesota to the swamps of Florida.

These environments are not known for being kind to weakness. So when choosing a set of binocs for hunting, the goal is to choose a reliable, well-built pair designed for the great outdoors.

Overview

The lenses are coated with ArmorTek for abrasion and scratch resistance. The external is rubberized and protected from short falls and drops. The eyecups are metal reinforced, and the entire set is water and fogproof.

At the same time, you are still getting HD quality lenses and the Vortex VIP Warranty.

What You Get

Vortex makes a variety of optics and purposely builds them for hunters and outdoorsmen.

Their optics is always perfect for the active hunter who wants to mix quality and strength. The Vortex Viper series are certainly one of the better options for hunters.

You get a bright picture, so you aren’t losing any image quality for the strength of the binoculars. The picture is stunning. It allows you to discern between different colors, moving and still objects easily. It is also easy to use during low light situations.

They are robust enough to resist whatever the world can toss at it.

 

 

Best for Birding

Zeiss Victory SF

Zeiss Victory SF 10x42

Birding presents an exciting challenge for optics. Birds greatly range in size and temperament. Some are quite easy to spot, others like to hide, or are always zipping from tree to tree.

The fact that some birds are identical, you need a fine pair of optics to see the difference.

For that, a premium is in demand and the Zeiss Victory SF model certainly flies high. With this kind of performance, expect that they are quite expensive.

Overview

The Zeiss Victory models feature a fixed power magnification at 8 or 10 power with a 42mm objective lens. There are a couple of models under this line, but the SF model is by far the one recommended for birding.

The SF gives the user a full field of view of 120 meters at 1000 meters. This is a large FOV that is also bright and clear from side to side. There is zero distortion along the edges of the lenses.

What You Get

They are not cheap, and the picture is utterly brilliant.

The Zeiss Victory SF gives a 95% percent light transmission, which produces a brighter than average picture during low light situations so birding is easy all throughout the day. You get a 4.2mm exit pupil which is generous and interacts with the eye well regardless of the time of day.

The weight is shifted to the eyepieces, and this lends itself well to balancing when viewing for an extended period.

 

 

Best Compact

Leica Ultravid

Leica Ultravid 8x20Compact binoculars can be extremely tricky. It is easy to find one that can be described as disposable. Use them a few times, they break and then you toss them.

Finding a reliable set can be a challenge.

However, the Leica Ultravid compact binoculars walk a fine line between weight, size, and quality. Like all compact field glasses, there are a few compromises that must be made.

Overview

Their small size gives you an 8 power scope and a 20mm objective lens. The small objective lens leaves you with a 2.5mm exit pupil, so low light use is difficult. It also features a nice long eye relief that makes it easy for someone wearing glasses to use the binocs.

The Ultravid has a locking diopter adjust, which is an excellent feature on compact binoculars. Since you can just pocket them and walk away, it is perfect for birders and nature lovers who are on the go.

What You Get

The Leica Ultravid will never keep up with bigger, more powerful sets.

What you get is something that you can wear around your neck all day without pain. They fit easily into a cargo or jacket pocket, and they perform.

It gives a nice, sharp image during the right time of day. They work great during the brighter parts of the day and are perfect for watching sports or for maritime use.

 

 

Best for the Money

Nikon Monarch 5

Nikon Monarch 5 8x42

Looking for a set of high-quality binoculars in your price range means that you have to give up a few features. If you shop smart, you can certainly find a quality set that fits your budget.

The Nikon Monarch 5 in 8x42mm is an excellent overall set of eyes.

You have to give up some of the nicer features associated with high-end binocs though, including metal eyecups and a locking diopter. You can also expect some chromatic aberration.

Overview

With all the bad things out of the way, the Nikon Monarch shines at its price point.

It has an exit pupil that makes it ideal to use all throughout the day. The dielectric prism coating certainly aids in low light conditions. The close focus distance is a hair under 8 feet which is pretty close and is perfect for birding.

The Monarch 5 is also surprisingly lightweight at only 20.8 ounces. The FOV is only 330 feet at 1,000 yards. The 19.5mm eye relief is long enough for use with glasses and comfortable for extended viewing.

The box surprisingly comes with a lot of extras. You get a carrying case, a carry strap, and rubber eyepiece covers. They also offer a great warranty – Nikon’s No-Fault Policy.

 

 

Best Tactical

Steiner T1042r

Steiner T1042r

Police and military have their demands for binoculars. Like hunters, it has to be a tough and reliable set.

They need to be strong enough to take the beating; and sealed to rust, dirt, and debris.

Binoculars are commonly used to make range estimations or to correct fires, so a reticle inside it can be handy. Steiner T1042r is built for tactical applications.

Overview

The fast close focus helps the optic focus easily in a timely manner.

They feature an internal milliradian ranging reticle that allows the operator to do different tasks. You can easily estimate range using known factors and the milliradian ranging scale. This takes some training but is accurate and easy to do.

A soldier or Marine can also adjust fire from the things like artillery and machine guns. The binoculars are built with an armored coating to protect them when dropped and tossed.

You get a very clear picture. The roof prism design makes it lighter, more compact, and streamlined. The high definition optics produce a nice and bright picture, which is invaluable when trying to spot camouflage targets at a distance.

 

 

Important Choosing Factors

binoculars specs

FOV

Field of view or FOV is the measurement taken at a thousand yards of the area that you can see through the magnified lenses. As magnification increases, the FOV typically decreases. With variable binoculars, you’ll have different fields of view.

FOV is an important consideration if you are scanning for moving objects.

If you are tracking a deer or watching birds, it is a bigger concern than someone watching a football game. A wider FOV makes it easier to track an animal with minimal movement. The less you move, the less likely you are to disturb it.

 

Magnification

A binocular’s magnification is either fixed or zoomed.

It affects almost every aspect of your binoculars. The higher the magnification is, the bigger the optics has to be; the heavier they are, the more they cost, and the more challenging it is to make a clear and bright picture.

binocular magnification comparison
Binocular view based on magnification compared to the naked eye’s view

 

High magnification is recommended when trying to observe smaller objects at longer distances. Moderate magnification is suited for most people’s needs, 8 to 10 power is typically what the average user needs.

As you go higher, you’ll begin to notice that it is harder to use the binoculars without support. At a certain point, it’s better to consider a spotting scope and tripod over a pair of binoculars.

 

Prism Configuration

You have two different kinds of prism configurations:

1. Porro prism is the older style and is named after its inventor. Binoculars using this are the more affordable and simpler option. They also have the effect of creating a large set of binoculars.

2. Roof prism binoculars are sleeker, smaller, and more modern. The internal design is compacted to save size and weight, while still producing the same quality of the picture. They are also more costly.

Picture difference isn’t affected by prism design. This is more of a size issue.

porro vs roof prism binoculars

Glass Type

Outside of the prism configuration, prism materials also cause some differences. The two major prism materials are BAK-4 and BK-7. These all affect the clarity of the binoculars and the ability to see finer details and colors.

BAK-4 is by far the clearest and if you value picture over price go with the BAK-4. BK-7 make for a more affordable set of binocs, with an average picture.

 

Exit Pupil

Exit pupil is the size of the beam of light that hits the eyes through the lenses of an optic which is measured in millimeters. Eye pupil size and exit pupil size work hand in hand when it comes to picture brightness and clarity.

Eye pupil diameter changes throughout the day. It becomes bigger as the light dims and shrinks when it becomes brighter. The clearest and brightest picture is achieved when the eye pupil and exit pupil sizes match as closely as possible.

Do the Math

To find the exit pupil of your binoculars, simply take the objective lens diameter and divide it by the magnification.

So if you have a set of binocs with a fixed 8 power magnification and a 40mm objective lens, you have a constant 5mm exit pupil. If you plan to use your binoculars mostly in low light conditions, you’ll want a large objective lens to maximize exit pupil size.

 

Eye Relief

Eye relief is the distance (measured in millimeters) from the lenses of the binoculars to the eyes of the user.

It is merely the optimal range. It can vary slightly per user, but you have the perfect eye relief when you have a full picture without any black around the view.

Some binoculars have adjustable eyecups that allow the user to adjust the eye relief for individual preference. This is important for those who wear glasses because they need a longer eye relief.

Other binoculars offer dioptric adjustments that allow the user to finely focus it to their eye discrepancies. Some of these dioptric adjustments are also locking, meaning they will not slide, slip or change when jumbled, stored, or moved.

 

Durability

Hunting and tactical binoculars need to be more durable than birding or sports watching binoculars. At the very least, your field glasses should be both water and fogproof. From there you can move up to features like being shockproof and the like.

 

Other Considerations

waterproof binocular in a waterfallHeavy-duty

The external durability of the binoculars is an important consideration for people who are looking to rough up their optics.

Hunters, tactical users, explorers, wildfire firefighters among others need binoculars that can resist the damage and abuse tossed at it — which includes internal durability like being waterproof and fogproof.

However, these users may also want external rubberized or hard plastic armor; and for their binoculars be submersible, meaning they can be tossed in water and still work.

 

Purpose

birding with binoculars

How you plan to use your binoculars is also essential. I’ve mentioned here and there how different factors apply to various purposes.

Hunters and birders need a nice and wide field of view. Birders typically do not need rugged and armored binoculars for bird watching. Hunters and tactical users, on the other hand, need tough and rugged ones.

You need to take an objective look at how you want to use your binoculars to decide what features you need. Here are a few quick examples.

Birders

  • Wide FOV
  • Extreme clarity
  • Easy focus
  • Light weight

Hunters

  • Wide FOV
  • Internal and external durability
  • Light to moderate weight
  • Clarity

Tactical

  • Internal and external durability
  • Reticle for measurements
  • Compact and light design
  • Clarity

 

Size and Weight

The bigger the binoculars, the more of a pain in the neck they are. I mean that quite literally. Hanging heavy optics from your neck can be painful, especially when moving.

Heavier binoculars are harder and uncomfortable to use for extended periods. They also tend to have either a higher level of magnification or is more reinforced for durability.

Lighter and compact binoculars are easier to carry and use for extended periods, they are usually for general purpose. Purpose-built binoculars are for more specific applications like maritime and long distance observation. Larger sets are more suited for still use like hunting.

Zeiss Terra ED
Zeiss TERRA ED – Compact, light and robust.

 

Close Focus Capability

Close focus capability is not an important consideration for everyone. Since the primary purpose of binoculars is to look at objects from afar, many people do not consider it.

The close focus of binoculars is crucial when you are looking at smaller things at close to moderate distances.

The biggest group of optics enthusiasts that need to pay attention to close focus are birders. Small, darting birds are easily observed when your optic has a close focus of fewer than 10 feet or so. It makes it possible to see the fine details of a bird, like the wings, beaks, etc.

 

Digiscoping

digiscoping with binoculars and smartphone

Digiscoping with binoculars is not impossible and is becoming more common.

Unlike spotting scopes, people aren’t using expensive DSLR cameras. Instead, they are combining their smartphones with their binoculars and a specialized adapter. You need to make sure that your binoculars have an adapter that fits your smartphone if you plan on doing this.

 

Cost

Cost is the most subjective of all these considerations. Binoculars, like most optics, are a get what you pay for scenario. The sharpest picture and the highest level of durability are going to cost you.

Regardless of how much you spend, the wise way to protect your investment is to look into the company’s warranty.

 

Leading Brands

Nikon

Nikon

Nikon is well known in the optics world. They dabble in a bit of everything — from cameras to rifle scopes, they have you covered.

While it’s great to have a big brand with a good reputation, Nikon suffers from what all big brands do — lack of specialization. Because they produce so much, they rarely take the time to innovate and create something new.

Instead, they stick to what works. This isn’t always a bad thing though. If it works, it works right?

 

brand highlight

They produce a very wide range of serviceable binoculars that function well. Their lines are varied and compromise everything from compact (basically disposable) binoculars, to those made to present a stable picture on a rocking ship.

What you tend to notice is a large weight increase in higher end optics and a stronger built binocular.

Below those high-end optics, you average out in weight well. Here you begin to run into problems that are more pet peeves than anything. Things like sloppy focus that can be produced when wearing gloves.

Conclusion

Nikon binoculars in general work pretty well. They present an average picture and sell for a decent price. As a middle of the road to lower end, they are a good choice.

They also include a good variety of accessories with every set of binoculars — carrying cases, straps, etc. Plus their warranty is nice and forgiving.

 

Bushnell

Bushnell Falcon
Falcon

Bushnell comes close to Nikon when it comes to size and scope of their company. The difference is that Bushnell is solely focused on the sporting optics world and doesn’t branch off into cameras or anything else.

Their optics are in the middle price range with deviations into the higher and lower ends as well.

On the bottom end of the spectrum, you may not get an entirely clear picture all the time, but the binoculars are often well made and quite affordable. This makes them an excellent budget option for hunters.

 

brand highlight

The focus on strength and durability makes it possible for the user to abuse their binocs to high heaven. They are shock, water, and fogproof. The Raindguard HD technology that they include on most binoculars is amazing and works efficiently.

They have a broad selection. They have optics for hunting, sightseeing, tactical operations, and just about everything in between. They also produce a full line of accessories for their binoculars such as a tripod adapter, a tripod, and a harness.

Conclusion

The biggest downside is that Bushnell optics never shine optically in their mid and lower priced models. They perform adequately, but you’re never wowed or really impressed.

The only other issue is weight; they tend to be heavy. This is certainly tied to the fact that they are well constructed.

Bushnell’s tactical line definitely deserves a look for the soldier on a budget.

 

Vortex

Vortex Diamondback
Diamondback

Vortex is an optics company that seems to care about their product and their customers. Their warranty is one of the best in the business and quality isn’t too far behind.

 

brand highlight

Vortex impressively produces light weight binoculars that are rugged and tough at the same time. Their binoculars probably offer the best protection and weight ratio out there. This is due to the magnesium chassis that cuts weight and improves strength.

They also manufacture the lineup of binoculars with an option in every price range. The Viper series and the Kaibab are certainly the best in the Vortex line. Their dependability is top notch, and they are made to take the beating and keep on kicking.

Vortex targets its optics at tactical and hunting applications, so they are water and fogproof. It is coated with rubber armor and ArmorTek lens coating. They also create impressive optical capabilities, their mid to higher priced models being the most impressive.

You get a nice, clear, and bright picture especially in the models with wider objective lenses like the Viper 10×50.

Conclusion

Some downsides include the fact that the Vortex optics are relatively expensive. Other companies offer optics with similar features for a lower price if you are willing to shop around.

Overall Vortex optics are well made, excellent outdoors optics that are rugged, and crystal clear.

 

Swarovski

Swarovski Fernglas Pocket
Fernglas Pocket

If you are a picky person, someone who is discerning to the maximum when it comes to a clear picture, then Swarovski is for you. They keep their binocular lines limited, but they focus on the utmost quality possible for a set of binoculars.

 

brand highlight

What does that mean? Well, you get an incredibly clear picture. It’s like going from 320 to 4k overnight. They use some of the best glass in the industry and combines it with the use of field flattener lenses.

Field flattener lenses offer an excellent peripheral vision possible in a set of binoculars, making everything in the lens crystal clear.

The insides are great, but so is the outside. The binoculars produced by Swarovski are durable. They are waterproof to the point of being submersible up to 13 feet. They can operate on extreme spectrums of temperature.

The small details are also impressive — the focusing knob, the eyecups, and the ergonomic grips.

Conclusion

So what is the catch to great binoculars? Well first and foremost is the price. Swarovski optics are quite expensive. These can indeed be described as heirloom binoculars, and they are capable of being passed down to the next generation.

Swarovski binoculars are also on the heavier side as compared to others. The weight difference isn’t significant but should be noted. Also, the field of view provided is just average, for high-end optics a bit more is expected.

 

Leupold

Leupold BX-2 Acadia
BX-2 Acadia

Leupold, a lot could be said, and a lot has been said. Leupold has been producing optics longer than I’ve been alive and have had a great reputation since the beginning.

Their worldwide police and military contracts are a testament to their quality. They do an excellent job of constantly innovating and presenting newer and better optics. Their binocular lines include designs that are both considered classic and innovative.

 

brand highlight

Leupold binoculars are well made from the external armor, a rugged internal design, and are waterproof. They are all fully multi-coated, and provide a bright and clear picture. They use a BAK-4 prism and a very smooth focusing device.

What is truly impressive is the fact that Leupold provides these elements in all of their lines, even their lower priced optics. They offer both Porro and roof prism designs, and feature binoculars that are tripod ready.

Conclusion

Leupold just offers a ton in their binocular lines, all appropriately priced. If there is a complaint, it is the fact that some of their optics can range over into the heavier side of the aisle.

Other than that, their line of binoculars is tough enough to last through lots of abuse and it provides a crystal clear picture. Add in the fact that they extend this quality to their cheaper models and have a line of accessories ready to go, and you get a winning combination.

 

Final Thoughts

Binoculars can be a handy piece of gear to have. They are often more convenient than spotting scopes for intermediate spotting and for watching.

Regardless of your hobby, if you are dedicated to seeing a clear and consistent picture without having to setup a tripod and use a spotting scope, binoculars are the way to go. They are more portable and a lot cheaper than a spotting scope.

It’s certainly one of the worthy investments you can make in pursuing outdoor hobbies.

Travis Pike

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes

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