When you're looking for the best binoculars, there are a lot of factors you need to consider. For starters, what are you using them for? Do you need something specifically for bird watching, stargazing, nature watching while hiking? Or do you need an all-purpose pair?
There are specialist binoculars built to handle all these situations - stargazing binos need a large objective lens to deal with low light conditions, while bird watching binoculars will benefit from image stabilization to help you track the birds in flight. There are also jack of all trades binoculars which are great for a variety of situations, even if they aren't the best at any one.
While we’ve broad remit in this buyers’ guide to spotlight the best binoculars on the market, if you have more specific requirements, such as seeking out the best binoculars for stargazing, or the best binoculars for kids, then follow our links to be taken to an alternative product selection.
The Bushnell brand is known for good value, reliable performance, as well as suitability for a wide range of observational pursuits. The Bushnell 15x56 Forge binoculars are no exception, providing a major lure for those wanting a powerful magnification to get as close to faraway subjects as possible.
Rain or shine, these binoculars are great for the outdoors as they’re waterproof. In addition to this, its large objective lens lets in as much light as possible and sharpness is boosted via prime ED glass (a generous application of lens coatings to improve light transmission).
Inevitably these aren’t the lightest binos to use, at around 1 kg, though a neck strap is provided for added comfort. And it has to be noted that flagship, premium build binos such as these do command a premium price, even from the normally cost-conscious Bushnell. You do get a few extras, however, such as Bushnell’s exclusive ‘EXO’ barrier protection – a lens coating that bonds to the glass at a molecular level which prevents scratches while repelling water, oil, debris, and dust.
- Read our full Bushnell Forge 15x56 review.
Heading off on safari soon? For nature lovers, the Olympus 8x42 PRO is a more affordable option than those from Leica or Zeiss. These binos are a decent value pair which we feel provides a good balance when it comes to size and weight, especially as they offer peace of mind coming courtesy of a 15-year warranty.
Defined as a ‘Pro’ option, they feature the same nano-coated high performance ‘Zuiko’ optics, complete with ED lenses, as the Olympus camera range. This results in unprecedented light transmission for their class. With a slender and simple nitrogen filled construction, we get the ability to focus on subjects as close as 1.5 m, as well as a 1,000 m away. Plus, a dioptric adjustment ring and extendable eye relief provide comfort for those who wear glasses.
Those wanting something even more powerful and are willing to spend a little bit more are directed to the alternative 10x42 model, also from Olympus.
- Read our full Olympus 8x42 Pro review.
With the rough rule of thumb being the larger the lens the more light that gets lets in, the relatively huge 56 mm objective lens of the Celestron Nature DX 12x56 makes it a great option for those who want to continue observing nature into the twilight hours. They’re also suitable for any wet and wild adventures due to the binoculars’ housing being nitrogen filled to avoid fogging in damp conditions, as well as being waterproofed.
Long, twist-up eyecups provide comfort, which will be a relief to anyone wearing glasses, whilst the multi-coated lenses further aid visibility. The Celestron Nature DX 12x56 has a durable polycarbonate construction and a closest focusing distance of 3 m.
However, a large lens does result in a heavy device, with these weighing in at just over a kilo, and this means that extended use may result in weary limbs. Yes, it can be attached to a tripod, but you’ll need to buy an additional adapter to be able to do that. Nevertheless, this a great value option for those seeking a brighter pair of optics, despite the weight.
- Read our full Celestron Nature DX 12x56 review (opens in new tab).
This solidly built binocular would seem to have it all: high quality multi coated optics and a combination of largish magnification and objective lens off-set by its ability to be tripod mounted for a steadier view.
A roof prism design ensures it’s compact enough to slip into a jacket pocket, or alternatively there’s a cushioned neck strap. Water and fog-proofed to ensure rain doesn’t stop play when wildlife watching, a comfortably soft rubberised grip meant we could always keep a firm hold, with the view delivered retains sharpness right into the edges of the frame.
Light transmission is good too, ensuring we can keep using these even when light levels drop. Simple and elegant with a high level of finish and a great performance, this Nikon example is one of the best binoculars on the market.
- Read our full Nikon Monarch HG 10x42 review.
Steiner is another well-respected binocular brand. This ultra-compact offering is perfect for anyone wanting to watch sports or who just require a small yet powerful option when travelling. In short, the ‘Safari’ in Steiner 10x26 Safari Ultrasharp doesn’t even begin to convey the broad range of uses these binos offer up.
The 26 mm objective lens appear modest on paper compared to the alternatives in our buyer’s guide, but these polycarbonate binos make an ideal companion for those seeking an all-in-one device: They’re waterproof, fog-proof, and their rubber eyecups are comfortable whether used with or without glasses. Plus, their rubberized finish, with a ridged and roughened body, feels great to grip.
The UV glass coated Steiner 10x26 Safari Ultrasharp binoculars maintain sharpness across the field of view and commendably into the corners. Even when conditions aren’t the best, these deliver accurate colors and reasonable brightness.
Due to the lightweight build, it’s tricky to hold the binos completely steady, particularly when viewing objects at greater distances. That said, for operability and an almost pocket-money price, these German brand binoculars are hard to beat.
While they may be pricey when compared with ‘budget’ binoculars, this series is actually Leica’s entry-level option. However, if you’re looking for a well-crafted pair of ‘bins’ that’ll last a lifetime, we believe that the cost for the Leica Trinovid 8x42 HD is worth splashing out on.
German brand Leica’s ‘Trinovid’ comes with an ergonomic construction, true internal focusing, and a superior optical performance. These binos are roughly the width of a CD case when unfolded and offer a closest focusing distance of 1.8 m. We particularly love that when gripped with both hands, the central focusing wheels falls directly under the forefinger.
For power users Leica offers a 10x42 version, but as ever it’s a tradeoff between power, physical size, and price. With this brand we get durability too, with the claim being that they’re water resistant to a depth of 4 m, along with the fact they’re O-ring sealed and nitrogen purged to prevent fogging.
In short, if we really are looking for the best binoculars, then this device has most of the boxes that matter ticked. Years of use will reward those brave enough to put up the cash.
Those looking for one of the best budget binoculars should look no further than the Olympus 8x25 WP II. Suitable for a wide range of scenarios, this foldable option from Olympus is waterproofed and is also rubber coated for an improved grip. Providing fuss free operation, we were able to pluck these binos from the box and start using them straight away.
A centrally positioned focus knob affords easy adjustment and prevents needing to take a step forward or backwards. Similarly, the multi-coated lenses ensure sharpness into the corners, for crisp and clear observation, while the on-board dioptric correction can be adjusted to suit individual eyesight – handy for those who wear glasses.
While these binos are obviously designed to bring the faraway up close and personal, they also have a close focusing distance of 1.5 meters. All this coupled with a whopping 25-year warranty make the Olympus 8x25 WP II one of the best binoculars out there.
- Read our full Olympus 8x25 WP II review.
Resembling something out of Star Wars, these bulbous lens-shifting, image stabilized, porro prism type binos are some of the best out there in terms of ensuring a steady image when held in the hand. Once again, if we need an integral anti-shake feature powered by a responsive built-in gyro sensor, we look to Canon. Requiring a single lithium-ion battery lasting up to 12 hours of use to power said anti shake feature, the weight without is a manageable 430 g, making them the world’s lightest of their type.
Attendant features of the Canon 10x20 IS include a closest focusing distance of 2 m, while a neck strap and carry case are included. These would be ideal for wildlife and sports, for which clarity and sharpness are especially essential. Although be warned if outdoor use is your thing; this particular option makes no claim for being water resistant, which is arguably its one downside.
You can also check out the slightly larger Canon 10x32 IS if you need something with a little more zoom.
- Read our full Canon 10x20 IS review.
A powerful magnification allied to a large objective lens can often result in large and heavy binoculars which can lead to a wobbly image at maximum magnification when the binoculars are used handheld. Aiming to get around that is the Canon 10x42L IS WP, with the ‘IS’ denoting a built-in image stabilization powered by two AA batteries – the outcome being a judder free view of faraway subjects. Of course, the need for batteries inevitably adds both weight (here over 1 kg in total) and bulk, but keen birdwatchers who are holding binos for longer periods may well find the tradeoff is worth it.
However, this pair of binos is not just a one-trick pony. As well as waterproofing and a closest focusing distance of 2.5 m, the Canon 10x42L IS also features ultra-low dispersion glass elements to correct any distortion and avoid purple fringing between high contrast elements in an image. In short, this Canon provides a rock-solid combination of wobble-free viewing and image clarity, albeit at a price.
- Read our full Canon 10x42L IS WP review.
Leica is another key brand providing some of the best binoculars out there when it comes to optical excellence tied to a durable build. Here the Leica Noctivid 10x42 comes in either 8x42 or 10x42 combinations of magnification and objective lens size. Other pluses include a compact construction with a rubber armored exterior aiding a tight grip, while possible lens reflection is suppressed enough to deliver a detailed view with plenty of contrast.
Though suitable for general-purpose use, these would be ideal for viewing nature, sports, and outdoor events. Its large-ish objective lens is not only great for daytime viewing, but also in the early evening too. On top of this, the Leica Noctivid has a nitrogen-filled magnesium housing to help prevent fogging and is watertight to a depth of 5 m.
Possible accessories for the more adventurous include an optional floating strap and an adapter for a tripod. If you’re buying a Leica, you’re buying a tool for life and that feels very much the case here.
How to choose the best binoculars for you?
The best binoculars are typically offer that sweet spot between good magnification, large-ish objective lens, size, weight and cost.
Which of these factors is most important to you will depend on what you're planning to use your binoculars for. We've gone over each of these specs below to help you figure out which you should prioritise when choosing a pair of binoculars.
Lens & Magnifcation
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The stronger the magnification and the bigger the objective lens, the closer we can bring faraway subjects and the sharper the overall image. While that sounds great, there is a trade off however: a chunkier pair of binoculars and a higher price tag. Additionally, the stronger the magnification, the trickier it can be to achieve a steady, judder free view when using the binocular handheld.
Portability and stability
Not all models offer a workaround via a screw thread for tripod mounting, and of course not all of us want to be karting around a tripod anyway. So, in some circumstances – for example if our key purchase requirement is a device compact enough to fit in a pocket or purse – then less can actually be more.
If we want a binocular to take to the sports stadium, theatre, music festival or even for that weekend city break, portability is as important as power. If our chief concern is wildlife watching and identifying rare breeds from a fairly static viewpoint however, then bigger binos all round are going to be the better option.
Other features to look out for
Further features to look out for if we’re going to be primarily using them outdoors include a degree of weather resistance. This typically involves nitrogen purged housing to avoid lenses fogging, while various lens coatings are applied to both offer improved light transmission and also cause any droplets to simply run off and avoid obscuring our view.