A pair of the best binoculars is an essential investment for any keen or budding nature-spotter. More than that though, some binos can be used for star-gazing, and they can prove valuable in any situation where you want to bring the far away a little closer – gigs and sports games, for example.
Start shopping around and you'll quickly find that there's a wide range of prices and styles on the market, which can make things confusing, especially to the uninitiated. Finding the best binoculars possible to best match your particular wants is crucial. There's the matter of how powerful they are in terms of magnification, of course, but there are other factors to consider too. Some binoculars are designed to be particularly weatherproof, for example (with not only waterproofing but nitrogen purged and with anti fogging features, as well as multi coated lenses that stop water droplets, dirt and grime sticking).
Others have large light-gathering objective lenses, making them suitable for for gazing into the night skies (so you could use one instead of one of the best telescopes – our binoculars vs telescope for stargazing explains the differences between the two approaches). These kinds of binos will not only allow you to survey the stars, but serve you well at dusk and dawn, too. Alternatively, if looking for something specifically for spying on our feathered friends, our specialist guide to the best binoculars for birdwatching will help you out.
Before we get into our best binoculars ranking, here's a quick guide to one of the key specs to look for when making your purchase: which magnification to go for. After all, pulling the far away up close and personal is the reason we're discussing binoculars in the first place.
What's the best magnification for binoculars?
When you buy a pair of binoculars you need to understand two numbers: magnification and objective lens size, which are always quoted on every pair as a combination of two numbers – typically 8x25, 10x25, 20x56, 25x100 and so on. If it says 8x25 we’re talking 8x magnification and an objective lens with a diameter of 25mm.
In this case, both are small numbers, so the binoculars are portable, everyday binoculars for general use in daylight. At the other end of the scale is a pair of bulky 25x100 binoculars – so 25x magnification and a 100mm objective lens – which are thus designed for looking deep into the night sky in darkness where maximum light-gathering is critical. If it's low-light viewing specifically you're after, check out our guide to the best night vision binoculars and goggles.
The difference in weight is startling; a pair of 8x25 binos will be super-light while 25x100 are too heavy to hold for more than a few minutes. The bigger the magnification the more likely you are to get a serious shake, too. So the answer is to go for something in between. Good middle-of-the-road sizes and 10x42, 10x50 or 15x 50, which have decent magnification and can be used in all light levels. Binoculars like these are practical and can be highly impressive. About 15x is perfect for a safari.
The best binoculars to buy now
The best binoculars for most people right now are the Celestron Nature DX ED 12x50 binoculars. These roof prism binos upgrade on the award-winning Celestron Nature DX by adding Extra-Low Dispersion glass (that's the ED of the name) – and what an upgrade it is. ED glass is designed to get rid of chromatic aberration/colour fringing to deliver cleaner and sharper images, and in our Celestron Nature DX ED 12x50 binocular review our tester found this worked very effectively. The high magnification and light-gathering makes them ideal for nature-spotting, but also for a spot of stargazing – our reviewer achieved some exquisitely sharp views of the supergiant star Antares in his tests (check our binoculars vs telescopes for stargazing explainer if you're interested in the former). Alongside those high-end optics, you've got bullet-proof build quality and a compact (although not super-lightweight) design that's great for travel. Overall, an excellent pair of mid-market, all-rounder binoculars for the price-conscious connoisseur.
We love the Nikon Prostaff 3S. Our pick for the best binoculars overall right now, they're affordable and yet they have similar build quality and features found in high-end binoculars. The most useful feature is their 10x magnification, which brings distant objects that much closer, while good a sized 42mm diameter objective lens delivers clarity of vision even in low light. A highly reflective silver alloy coating to the surface of the binoculars’ prism lenses also means a brighter view. One potential down-side is that some reviews report some chromatic aberration/ purple fringing on occasion when viewing high contrast subjects.
The simple and easy to use design makes it straightforward to find sharp, stunning images in a matter of seconds. Boasting a robust construction, these binoculars feature soft rubber, non-slip armouring and an O-ring that's been sealed to prevent moisture from getting inside. It's also filled with nitrogen to prevent fogging. Happily, these features don't mean a bulky design; they weigh just 20oz/575g, which will save you any arm ache – although you will still need a rest, or a steady pair of hands, for optimum viewing (if compactness is what you're after, you might also want to consult our best monocular guide, and our monoculars vs binoculars comparison for a look at the differences). A long eye relief also means they can easily be used by anyone who wears glasses.
Whether you're looking for a go-to birding bino, want to sample the stars, or you want to add more magic to weekend hikes, the Nikon Prostaff 3s delivers quality and accessible optics, and strong specs at an impressively low price. Head to our Nikon Prostaff 3s binoculars review for more info.
The Bushnell Forge 15x56 are a range-topping pair of 'roof prism' binoculars from reliable and established brand Bushnell, and worth every penny of their premium price tag. Suitable for a wide range of uses, the Bushnell Forge 15x56 are perfect when hiking, bird watching, stargazing, going on a safari, but they're not the kind of pair to sling in a daysack. Why not? Well, they're heavy and they're big. These weigh 51oz/1.45kg because of their impressive 15x magnification and larger than average 56mm objective lenses. The upshot of that is they pull the faraway close while letting in plenty of light to ensure a huge amount of detail can be viewed. A neck strap is provided for added comfort, but ideally you'll want to invest in a tripod to get the best from these.
You can so expect a IPX7 waterproof rating and Bushnell's exclusive 'EXO' barrier protection, the latter a lens coating that bonds to the glass at a molecular level, repelling water, oil, dust and debris and preventing scratches. That's exactly the kind of peace of mind you'll want these luxury binoculars. You'll find more info in our should I buy the Bushnell Forge 15x56 binoculars? article.
For fledgling nature spotters on a budget, the Celestron Nature DX 8x42 binoculars are a great choice. The design is very refined for the price point – in our Celestron Nature DX 8x42 binoculars review, our tester was particularly impressed with the focus knob and the fact that the lens caps are attached, so you can't lose them – and they're impressively light and compact compared to other 8x42 options. These are suitable for a range of activities and viewing types, and perform particularly well on bright days, although there is can be some very slight blurring around the edges. While they're okay for stargazing, if that's your priority, you should look elsewhere in this list. Overall, a good value pair of mid-range, full-size binoculars for all-round use.
The Bushnell Engage EDX 8x42 deliver razor-sharp, bright, clear views, thanks to class-leading ED prime glass, complete with 'EXO' water- and oil-repellent lens coating. A rubberised outer ensures a slip-free grip, you can adjust the distance between the eyepieces to suit your face shape, and the build is compact enough to pop into a jacket pocket (although note, they're not the lightest bins on our list). There's a tactile central focusing wheel that allows for speedy and accurate adjustment, while the wide field of view lets you observe larger areas at a time. In our Bushnell Engage EDX 8x42 binoculars review, our tester did note some instances of purple fringing in high-contrast viewing scenarios, but that's a minor quibble. These are an otherwise solidly made, high-performing pair of binoculars.
It’s difficult to keep binoculars still. Humans are hot and they all have the shakes, which is why binoculars with high magnification need to either be mounted on a tripod or use fancy image stabilisation (IS) technology. Equipped with 10x magnification and a 42mm objective lens, the Canon 10x42L IS WP deal have the best IS tech going. Its Vari-Angle Prism IS system uses a couple of gyro motion sensors to detect and measure the shake and actuators around the lenses to cancel-out it out. Activated at the touch of a button, the super-steady results are a thing of wonder. Almost perfectly still and glowing, the Moon suddenly looks drop-dead gorgeous, as do far-off star clusters, and by day, wildlife.
There are some downsides. At 1.1kg the Canon 10x42L IS WP are heavy, though they do include a 1/4-inch tripod thread on their undercarriage so can be easily mounted on a tripod. The 2xAAA batteries required for image stabilization feature quickly expire, so you'll need to arm yourself with spares, and the IS image can sometimes look a little blurry. Cast aside those foibles and make an investment because these remain near the pinnacle of stargazing binoculars. Head to our Canon 10x42L IS WP review for more info.
To explore two more great stargazing binocular options, head to our Celestron SkyMaster 25x100 vs Canon 18x50 IS AW face-off.
If it's value and versatility you're after, the Celestron TrailSeeker 8x42 make a strong case for being some of the best binoculars around. These roof prism binoculars use high-end, multi-coated BaK-4 glass to deliver crisp, bright close-ups of wildlife, landscapes, even in low light. In fact, you can use these to view celestial objects by night. They're also practical, with a solid solid magnesium alloy build, water- and fog-proof qualities. Add to that some good quality extras in the box – a particularly stout carrying case, and a very useful harness strap that takes the weight of the binoculars off your neck – and these are extremely good value for money. In fact, the only real downside is that the lens caps aren't the snuggest fitting. Check out our Celestron TrailSeeker 8x42 binoculars review for more info.
If you’ve fallen in love with stargazing just from looking up with your naked eyes then these could be the binoculars for you. A clever attempt to retain a wide-eyed view of the night sky but with a little magnification, the Vixen SG 2.1x42 are better known as ‘constellation’ or even ‘Milky Way’ binoculars because they’re at their best when you sweep them across star fields.
The original wide-field binoculars for stargazers, the Vixen SG 2.1x42 have just 2.1x magnification so close-ups are out of the question, but with a 42mm objective lens you get lots of light. So, for example, when you point them at the constellation of Orion you’ll see not only its constituent stars but also bright views of the Orion Nebula and the stars winding around Orion’s Belt.
Exquisitely made and pocket-sized for easy portability, the Vixen SG 2.1x42 probably aren’t going to become your main binoculars, but there’s no better way of getting closer to the stars while retaining an immersive wide-eyed view of the night sky. Head to our full Vixen SG 2.1x42 review for more info.
Can we talk you into spending a month's wages on a pair of binoculars? Some say that you should spend 10% of your disposable income on your hobby, which makes these luxury Swarovski binoculars a possibility for committed bird-watchers and safari-goers. Considered the Rolls Royce of binocular manufacturers, distinguished optics company Swarovski, the EL 50 10x50 binoculars have a large field of view and allow in plenty of light.
The secret is in the optics. The EL50 offer exceptional clarity, sharpness and brightness that makes them perfect for taking on a bird-watching trip or on safari. However, they're also regarded as excellent for stargazing. We're talking plenty of depth of field, exquisite detail and not a whisper of colour fringing. They're also more compact than similarly-specified binoculars because the objective lenses are closer to the ends of the barrels. Yes, they're expensive. Incredibly expensive! But they will be your favourite and your last pair of binoculars.
Available in 10x30 and 8x30 iterations, the 10x being the magnification factor and the 30 the size in mm of the objective lens deployed, this Nikon option is an alternative to physically larger 42mm models, including those from the same manufacturer. The promise, however, is that we won’t have to compromise on performance in opting for the smaller form factor.
Of course we get the usual waterproofing and fog-proofing when it comes to construction, plus, more uniquely, Nikon’s Field Flattener Lens System. In conjunction with the Monarch HG’s 30mm wide field of view, this helps maintain sharpness right into the corners; the field of view being said to be a match for its 42mm models. The Monarch’s build uses extra low dispersion ‘ED’ glass elements that correct for the chromatic aberration that can cause colour fringing. Comfort comes courtesy of a soft-to-the-touch padded neck strap, while the modest 450g weight won’t cause anyone aching limbs during a walk through the woods. Overall, we’re well impressed.
Aimed at outdoor enthusiasts who prize portability over everything else, these handily foldable compact binoculars offer a decent 10x magnification and a 25mm objective lens. Add to that some waterproofing and it ensures they can be used whether at sea or at the races on dry land.
If you wear glasses know that the Olympus 10x25 WP II feature built-in dioptric correction that can be adjusted to individual eyesight. Multi-coated lenses help deliver edge-to-edge sharpness and crisp and clear viewing, while a central focus knob ensures adjustment is easy and convenient without needing to take a step back, or forward. Their closest focus point is 1.5 metres. A nitrogen-filled body also makes them fog-proof and dirt-proof – though not drop-proof – while they're also rubber-coated, so easy to grip.
While 'power uses', including wildlife buffs, might be better looking for something with greater magnification, there's still plenty to recommend the Olympus 10x25 WP IIs. Relatively lightweight, unfussy and reliable, these are binoculars you can pick up out of the box and get using straight away, with added peace of mind provided by a generous 25-year warranty. See how they compare to another excellent pair of wildlife binoculars in our Olympus 10x25 WP II vs Nikon Monarch 5 20x56 showdown.
The Celestron UpClose G2 10x50 binoculars would make a great first pair of proper binoculars. With a very low price, light weight and easy-to-use design, they're a good no-frills option for anyone new to birdwatching or to bung in the glovebox of your car. Like most cheap binoculars, these use a Porro prism optical system, and offer 10x magnification with a 50mm diameter objective lens. The images these produce are clear and bright, but far from the best quality on this list – investing a bit more will pay off there, if that's your priority. They are also slightly lacking when it comes to build quality, but that's to be expected for the very low price. Head to our Celestron UpClose G2 10x50 binoculars review for more info.
Porro prism vs compact roof prism: which type of binocular is best
There are two types of binoculars. Traditional porro prism binoculars have angular lens tubes, were first invented way back in 1854 and resemble something you might see a tank commander using in a WWII movie. This more vintage type offers classic looks and performance.
Roof prism binoculars offer straight tubes and a streamlined light path. This, more modern style, tends to be the most popular type, as the way the light passes into and out of the prism allows for a more compact construction, which means smaller, more portable binoculars.
The drawback is that the surface of the prism does not reflect 100 per cent of the light. By contrast, porro prism binoculars tend to offer a brighter image. Some users also like the fact that porro prism binoculars provide greater depth of image due to their glass elements being offset from one another, which makes them good for short-range birdwatching as well as more general viewing activities.
Ultimately, it’s a case of horses for courses and down to the user’s preference and budget. Broadly speaking, porro prism binos provide a brighter image quality at a lower price than their more sleek and streamlined roof prism brethren.
How to choose the best binoculars for your needs
It’s obvious that you get what you pay for. The more solidly made, waterproof and optically advanced binoculars are always going to cost the most, but there are plenty of affordable alternatives if you don’t mind making compromises. So our round-up includes both kinds of binoculars; maximum quality binoculars for crystal clear, steady and magnified images, and others designed to meet price-points.
Small binoculars: a lightweight, portable and compact pair of binoculars that can easily be stored in a jacket pocket is advisable for nature walks and hikes, though even then don’t underestimate the value of weather-proofing and anti-fogging features.
Mid-sized binoculars: for bird and wildlife watching in your garden go for something with more magnification as you’ll most likely be observing from a distance. If you can get them onto a tripod, even better, because hand-holding binoculars for long periods is tiring and means image-shake.
High-end binoculars: for low light observation and stargazing, a bigger, brighter lens is worth investing in. However, the tripod point remains because such models can be relatively heavy.
Considering how the above points apply to your viewing needs should help you quickly refine your choices when buying binos.
Black Friday binocular deals: when's the best time to buy?
The Black Friday sales events can be a great time to pick up a bargain on all kinds of outdoor kit. Unfortunately, the 2020 Black Friday binocular deals were very thin on the ground, both in the US and the UK. Demand has increased during the pandemic, which means a lot of the best binoculars sold out well ahead of time (especially in the US).
Another good time to shop is over Amazon Prime Day. The 2021 event in June saw price drops on popular Olympus, Canon and Pentax binoculars, with some dropping to the lowest price we've seen. We also saw decent deals on Celestron binoculars, telescopes and spotting scopes over Amazon Prime Day 2020, which got shifted to October, due to the pandemic.
We'll be keeping a close eye out for any price drops that do occur, and of course, our dedicated tool will pull in all the cheapest prices on the products in our ranking at all times, too.