The B&H Binocular Buying Guide

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Despite their popularity, the way binoculars work, what makes one better (or different) than another, and what all the numbers mean, are still rather mysterious to many prospective buyers. Read on and find out all you need to know about the ubiquitous binocular before making your choice so you can be sure you’re choosing the right one for whatever you’re planning on viewing.

The Basics

Simply stated, binoculars use a series of lenses, elements, and prisms to produce a magnified view of distant people, places, or things. Using two parallel optical tubes allows you to observe with both eyes open, which is more comfortable and natural than using a spotting scope or telescope—which requires you to keep one eye closed. Additionally, having both eyes open maintains your depth of field and provides you with a rich and immersive experience where the scene takes on a more lifelike, 3-D appearance.

If you’ve been shopping for binoculars, you will have noticed that some look very streamlined while others look chunkier. This is because the physical appearance and size of a binocular is determined by the type of prism it uses. Prisms are used to correct the orientation of the view horizontally and vertically so the scene looks natural; without a prism, binoculars would make things look upside down and flopped. There are two principal types of prisms: roof and Porro. The glass elements in a roof prism are in line with one another, making roof-prism binoculars more streamlined and easier to hold. Porro prisms have the glass elements offset from one another, and can provide greater depth of field and a wider field of view compared to similar roof prism models. This is accomplished by folding the light path, which shortens the length, spreading the objectives farther apart.

There can be a huge range in price between apparently similar pairs of binoculars. For example, B&H sells 10x42 binoculars ranging in price from less than $30 to nearly $3,000. The main reasons for such a large price range are the quality of the optics, the types of coatings applied to the lenses, and other features that might be added, such as the housing material. Additionally, the prism type can be (and often is) a factor in determining price. Because of the physics involved in designing and manufacturing the compact roof prism form factor, you can have a pair of roof and Porro binoculars that seem identical as far as quality and performance, but the roof prism version will often be more expensive. The good news is that if the form factor isn’t an issue, many people find that they can upgrade the quality of their binocular by choosing a Porro-prism without reëvaluating their budget.

Technically, the type of prism utilized in binoculars is a double-Porro prism, but is always shortened to just “Porro.” It is also always capitalized because it is the last name of the inventor, Ignazio Porro, who designed this prism system around 1850. This most basic of prism configurations is defined by the folded light path, which displaces the point where the light enters and exits the prism, which results in the familiar look of a “traditional” or “old-school” binocular.

The term “roof prism” was originally applied to the Abbe-Koenig (AK) prism design that corrected an image horizontally and vertically while maintaining a straight line from the point at which the light enters the prism and exits it. While the AK prism configuration is the most common, there are others that are variations on the original AK design, such as the Amici and Schmidt-Pechan (SP). While they accomplish the same basic function, the optical paths take different routes to correct the image orientation. The main advantage of the SP design is that it is more compact than both the Amici and AK prisms, resulting in thinner optical tubes that tend to be more comfortable to hold—especially during long glassing sessions. Zeiss is known for using SP prisms.

Pro Tip: Because Porro prism binoculars are typically more cost effective to produce than roof prisms, you will often be able to get a higher-quality and/or larger-objective Porro model for about the same price as a comparable roof prism one.

Binocular Terms: What You Need to Know

Magnification and Objective  All binoculars are identified by a set of numbers, such as 10x42 and 7x20, which refer to their magnification and objective lens diameter, respectively. Using 10x42 as an example, the 10x means that the binoculars have 10x magnification power, making the view through them appear 10 times closer than it appears to the naked eye. For most situations, users should look for binoculars from 7x to 10x power. Theatergoers should choose something in the range of 3-5x, depending on your seats; sports fans will be happy with a 7x model; while big-game hunters would need 10x or higher for long-range observations. Keep in mind that for many users, holding binoculars greater than 10x42 steady for long periods may present some difficulty, so a tripod should be considered if you are looking at models with higher magnifications or larger objectives.

The higher the magnification, the smaller the field of view

The “42” in our 10x42 binocular refers to the diameter of the objective (front) lens in millimeters. Since the objectives will often be the largest portion of the optic, it will affect the overall size and weight of the binocular, and how much light it can gather. In basic terms: larger objectives allow more light to pass through them than smaller lenses, which means images will appear brighter, sharper, and clearer. However, the larger objectives will also add bulk and weight, and that is where certain tradeoffs and compromises need to be considered when deciding if certain models will be convenient to carry, pack, hold, and use comfortably.

Zoom binoculars offer variable magnification and are shown as 10-30x60. In this example, 10x magnification is at the low end and 30x magnification at the high end. On most models, there will be a thumb lever or wheel placed conveniently within reach so you can adjust the magnification without changing your grip or taking the eyepieces away from your eyes. While zooms offer greater versatility, there may be a discernible degradation in image brightness and sharpness somewhere along the zoom range, since the optical path and physics of prisms will have been optimized at a single power and, as you move away from that magnification, the image quality might suffer.

Exit Pupil  The exit pupil is the size of the focused light that hits the eye. To see the exit pupil, hold the binocular eight to ten inches away from your face and notice the small dots of light in the center of the eyepieces. Exit pupil diameter, which should always be larger than the pupil of your eye, is directly affected by the objective diameter and the magnification. The pupil of a human eye ranges from about 1.5mm in bright conditions to about 8mm in the dark. If your binoculars’ exit pupil diameter is smaller than the pupil of your eye, it’s going to seem like you’re looking through a peep hole. Bear in mind that as eyes age, they tend to dilate less, so exit pupil becomes more important as the user ages.

Binoculars’ exit pupil diameter is determined by dividing the objective by the magnification: so a 10x42 binocular has a 4.2mm exit pupil diameter. That’s a generous size, and larger than the pupil of the eye most of the time. But a 10x25 pair of binoculars has an exit pupil of just 2.5mm, which is smaller than the average pupil dilation and will be harder to see through clearly.

Zooming binoculars might have a perfectly acceptable exit pupil diameter under low magnification but one that’s somewhat small under high magnification. For example, this 10-30x60 binocular has 10x magnification at the low end and 30x magnification at the high end. At 10x, the exit pupil diameter is a respectable 6mm, but at 30x, it’s only 2mm.

The Exit Pupil will ideally be larger than the dilation of your pupil.

Pro Tip: Hunters, birders, and astronomers should keep the magnifications at 8x and below and boost the objectives up over 50mm to produce wide exit pupils, such as this pair of 8x56 from Steiner. I used this specific pair in the middle of the night and they could completely cover my pupils, which boosted my ability to see, despite the dark surroundings (You can read my review of them here if you want to know more). Boaters should also consider this type of configuration because the wide exit pupil will help to minimize the disorientation that is common when viewing through binoculars on pitching or rolling water.

Eye Relief  Eye relief is the optimal distance from the eyepiece to your eye, or the focal point where the light passes through the ocular lens (eyepiece). Manufacturers install eyecups on the eyepieces to place the user’s eyes at the proper distance from the eyepieces to make using them easy. If you wear glasses, the lenses will position the eyepieces past the eye relief distance, affecting the image quality and your ability to achieve sharp focus. Many binoculars offer dioptric adjustments on one of the eyepieces so that most users can fine-tune the focusing system to their eye prescriptions to use the binocular without their glasses. If your prescription is difficult, or you’re sharing the binocular with other users, the eyecups are often adjustable. Basic eyecups simply fold back to allow you to place your eyeglass lenses closer to the ocular lens. Another type is adjustable eyecups that twist in and out to set the proper distance for the individual user precisely.

Generally, you’ll find that models with longer eye relief have a smaller field of view than similarly priced models with shorter eye relief. Accomplishing superlative specifications in both categories is an expensive process of optical engineering. It is always good to have a broad viewing area, so decide how much eye relief is necessary for you and buy the binoculars that otherwise give the widest field of view. Field of view is discussed in greater detail below.

Glass, Prisms, and Coatings

Glass  The type and quality of the glass used for the lenses and prisms matter. Generic optical glass may have imperfections, and if it isn’t ground and polished correctly, it could bend light oddly, causing colors to look skewed or prevent its ability to achieve tack-sharp focusing, or you may notice distortion at the edges. Specialized glass, such as low dispersion or extra low dispersion, is engineered to have virtually no distortion and transmit light better without bending it. The resulting images are generally clearer, sharper, with true color rendition and higher contrast.

You may also see some binoculars made with “Eco-glass.” This general term refers to ecologically friendly glass that doesn’t use lead or arsenic. While this may or may not affect the image quality, if your lenses break or you need to dispose of your binocular, you can feel confident that you’re not adding to chemical pollution.

BAK4, BK7, and SK15 Prisms  The discussion in the opening paragraphs dealt with the two main types of prism configurations, but beyond that, the materials that the prisms are made of greatly impact image quality. BAK4, or Barium Crown glass, is considered the best type of prism material. It has a high refractive index and lower critical angle than other materials, which means it transmits light better with less light being lost due to internal reflection—such as from internal bubbles trapped during the manufacturing process.

BK7 glass is arguably the most widely used material for binoculars. While it may be of slightly lower quality than BAK4, it is still optical glass, which means it has excellent light-transmission properties and a limited number of internal imperfections.

The easiest way to tell if your binocular employs BAK4 or BK7 is to turn it around, hold it 6 to 8" away from you and look down the objective and observe the exit pupil. If you can see a squared-off side to the general roundness of the image, the binoculars have BK7 prisms. BAK4 prisms show a truer round exit pupil, which translates to better light transmission and edge-to-edge sharpness.

SK15 glass is an atypical material that strikes a middle ground between the previous two. It has a higher refractive index than both, yet has a dispersion (measured on the Abbe scale) that falls between BAK4 and BK7. Images that are seen through SK15 prisms are very clear, with high contrast.

Coatings

Lens Coatings  Lens coatings are films applied to lens surfaces to reduce glare and reflections, increase light transmission and contrast, and help make colors look more vivid. Any light reflected is light that never reaches the viewer’s eyes, so by eliminating reflections, the image ends up being brighter and sharper. Coatings, in general, are good, provided that the coatings do something. It’s easy to put a cheap coating on a lens to give it a cool-looking orange tint, but the coating might not do anything to improve image quality. If you aren’t able to test a pair of binoculars before buying, the best you can do is research the brand, look for user reviews, and ask questions before you buy.

Terms such as coated, multi-coated and fully multi-coated refer to the location and type of coating processes used. Coated lenses are the most basic and denote that at least one lens surface has at least one layer of coating on it. Multi-coated means that multiple surfaces are coated and/or multiple layers of coatings have been applied to each surface. Fully multi-coated means that all surfaces—inner and outer—of the lenses have multiple layers applied to them. This treatment offers the highest level of light transmission, clarity, contrast, and color rendition. At the pinnacle is broadband fully multi-coated. These coatings are engineered to be effective across a wide spectrum of wavelengths and provide the best performance.

Prism Coatings  Complementing lens coatings are prism coatings, which increase light reflection and improve image brightness and contrast. While many manufacturers may use standard reflective coatings, the upper echelon of prism coatings is called dielectric coatings, which allow almost 100% of the light through the prism, resulting in brighter high-contrast images.

Another type of prism coating, only used on roof prisms, is called “phase-correcting” coating. Because of the way roof prims reflect light, after it moves through the objective lens, it gets split into two separate beams that travel through the prism system independently. The beams experience a “phase shift” as one beam strikes the eyepiece lens a fraction of a second before the second beam. When the two beams are recombined in the eyepiece lens they are slightly out of phase with each other, which can affect color balance and rendition. By applying special coatings on the prism, the faster light beam is slowed to match the slower beam, bringing them back into phase when they hit the eyepiece lens—greatly improving color, clarity, and contrast versus non-phase-corrected prism binoculars. Under normal circumstances, most users won’t notice the difference, but pro users and avid birdwatchers may require it to be able to pick out important details at a distance or in challenging light. Since Porro prisms don’t suffer from phase shift, these coatings are not used on them.

Angle of View and Field of View

Angles of View  The terms “angle of view” and “field of view” are complementary. Both terms describe the amount of scenery, measured horizontally, that is visible when looking through a binocular. Imagine standing in the middle of a giant pizza pie; binoculars with a 6.3-degree angle of view would show the viewer a 6.3-degree “slice” of the 360-degree pie, looking outward.

Another way to express the viewing angle is the Apparent Angle of View (AAoV). This is roughly calculated by taking the AoV and multiplying it by the magnification. So if that 10x42 binocular from the earlier example has a 6.3-degree AoV, its apparent angle of view is 63 degrees. The AAoV is the angle of the magnified field when you look through binoculars; so the larger the apparent field of view is, the wider the field of view you can see even at high magnifications. Generally speaking, an AAoV of more than 60 degrees is considered wide-angle. Nikon engineers developed their own mathematical formula to determine AAoV (see below) more accurately and precisely, which lowers the angle on average, but most of the optics industry continues to use the first formula for consistency and simplicity.

tan ω' = Γ x tan ω

Apparent field of view: 2ω'

Real field of view: 2ω

Magnification: Γ

Pro Tip: While shopping for binoculars, if you see a degree specification without a label, just remember that if it’s a low number like 6.3 or 7.8, this will be the actual angle of view, since it’s referring to the angle at the objective lens. If it’s a large number like 55 or 68 it is referring to the apparent angle of view.

Field of View  Field of view is expressed in feet at a distance of 1,000 yards, or meters at 1,000 meters, and is the width of the visible area that can be seen without moving the binoculars. Generally, the higher the magnification and smaller the objective, the narrower the field of view.

With a little knowledge, you can usually figure out all these ways to express how much you can see if you know a little math:

The first thing to know is that 1 degree = 52.5 feet at 1,000 yards. From there you can start calculating.

So if you have an 8x42 binocular and the FoV is 360', you can calculate that the AoV is 6.9 degrees (360 ÷ 52.5) and that the AAoV is 55.2 degrees (6.9 x 8). By flipping these basic formulas, you can extrapolate any of the other values.

Just to show the relationship between magnification and FoV, if that binocular above was a 10x instead, and the FoV was the same, the angle of view would remain 6.9 degrees, but the apparent angle would be pumped up to 69 degrees.

Minimum Focus Distance

This might seem like an odd thing to consider, since the whole idea of a binocular is to look at things that are far away; and for most users this is absolutely true. However, there are a fair number of enthusiasts who use their binocular for bird watching or insect observation. Many bird watchers like to have a close minimum focus distance that can allow them to see minute detail of birds—like wing bars, beak shape, or crown markings—while birds are feeding. A close focus of less than 6' for a full-size binocular is noteworthy. Typically, as magnification is increased, the minimum focus distance also increases. For users interested in a short close-focus distance, they should look at larger objectives and keep the magnification at around 8x.

Housing Styles

This is sort of a catch-all category to discuss some design features that speak to the form and function of the optic, rather than the performance.

Open bridge
Closed bridge

Open or Closed bridge refers to the center portion that connects the two optical tubes on roof prism binoculars. Typically, the center hinge and focusing mechanism will be enclosed in the housing. While this strengthens the hinge and mechanism, the closed bridge prevents your hands from wrapping all the way around. An open bridge will usually have the focus mechanism close to the eyepieces and another stabilizing section toward the objectives, with the middle section left open. This not only enables a full wraparound grip, but it also cuts the overall weight of the optic.

Focusing

The clear majority of binoculars use a center focus system. The main focus wheel is set on the bridge between the two oculars and moves them symmetrically. With center focusing, many manufacturers will have a dioptric adjustment dial on one of the eyepieces to fine-tune the focus to match individual optical prescriptions. The dioptric correction amount is decided by each manufacturer, usually by model, and can be on the left or right eye, or both. Certain models have the dioptric correction integrated into the center focusing mechanism.

There are two other focusing types that need to be addressed: individual and focus-free. The individual focus models eliminate the center-focusing mechanism to give each eyepiece the ability to focus independently. While this allows for extremely fine and precise focusing, they are often frustrating to use when sharing and should only be considered if there will only be one primary user. Many marine and astronomical models feature this system. Focus-free binoculars don’t have any focusing mechanisms. They rely on your eyes to focus the image, allowing you to concentrate on the scenery and enjoy the views. Some users with exceptionally poor eyesight or weak eyes should probably steer clear of focus-free models because they put a lot of stress on the eye and can cause discomfort such as eye strain or headaches.

Steiner 8x56 ShadowQuest Binocular

Pro Tip: If you plan on sharing your binoculars or using them for a variety of distances, stick with center-focusing models. For astronomy or marine use, individual focus will provide the sharpest views and you won’t have to adjust the focus very often because they will be focused on “infinity” (far-away subjects) where the focus won’t change much.

Weather Resistant, Waterproof, Fog Proof

Many binoculars have no weatherproofing, while some are waterproof and others are waterproof and fog proof. The rating will determine under what conditions the optic should or can be used.

No Rating  Binoculars that have no weatherproofing should not be used in the rain or at sea, because moisture can get inside them. When water gets into the optical tubes, it can condense on the inside of the lens (called “fogging”), which interferes with your view, and eventually leads to internal rust and corrosion.

Weather Resistant  Often, but not always, the optic will employ some type of seal—an O-ring or gasket—to keep moisture, such as from general humidity or a light mist, from getting into the optical tubes. You can take a weather-resistant binocular out in moist conditions without causing damage. The air inside the optical tube will probably be just ambient air from the factory where they were assembled, and due to air conditioning and other factors, will usually have an extremely low moisture content. What this means is that under most normal conditions, a binocular right out of the box shouldn’t have fogging issues, even if it is O-ring or gasket sealed.

Waterproof  These binoculars are sealed with O-rings to prevent moisture from getting inside; but they can still fog up on you. Depending on the construction and the seals, some waterproof binoculars are also submersible for various amounts of time. Certain manufacturers rate their binoculars for limited depths for limited amounts of time; others will adhere to military standard specifications and rate them for much greater depths.

Fog Proof  Fogging occurs when the air inside the optical tubes contains moisture. If you go from a warm cabin to frigid conditions outside, the moisture can condense on the inside of lenses, causing them to fog. Fog-proof binoculars are filled with inert gases such as nitrogen or argon, or a combination of the two, to prevent fogging. The inert gas is dry and is pumped into the optical tubes under pressure, keeping the gaskets and O-rings firmly in place.

A constant question I am asked is, “What’s the difference between nitrogen and argon?” A quick Google search will return many links to forums where people have very strong opinions on the matter and will get into any number of online arguments over the subject. The short answer is that, performance-wise, there really isn’t much of a difference between the two for the clear majority of people. Both gases will keep moisture out and prevent internal fogging. If you do a deep-dive into the chemistry and look at a diagram of each molecule, you will see that argon molecules are larger than nitrogen molecules. Because of this, some manufacturers feel the larger argon molecules will have a harder time leaking out from the seals, keeping the inert gas inside longer and thus maintaining their water/fog-proof properties over a longer period of time. From a practical standpoint, as long as you have an optic with either of these inert dry gases versus having none, you’re ahead of the game.

Pro Tip: Remember… all fog-proof binoculars are waterproof, but NOT all waterproof binoculars are fog-proof.

Chassis Materials

The chassis is the frame of the binocular around which the whole optic is built.

Aluminum  By and large, the most popular material on the market is aluminum—or more specifically, an aluminum alloy. Aluminum is light and strong, inexpensive, and easy to work with, and the fact that it is naturally corrosion resistant is a bonus, as well.

Magnesium  Another metal alloy, magnesium, is used because of its high strength-to-weight ratio. All things being equal on two identical binoculars, except that one has an aluminum chassis and the other magnesium, the magnesium will be several ounces lighter. Why does this matter? If you’re planning on holding them up to your eyes for long periods of time, a lighter optic will cause less fatigue. Magnesium is very strong so it will hold up to abuse, and has the benefit of being corrosion-resistant.

Polycarbonate  Polycarbonate is a polymer resin that comes in many formulas with many different properties. In general, they all share similar characteristics, such as being easy to work with and inexpensive, corrosion proof, and strong. The principal advantage of using polycarbonate is that it is temperature resistant. If you’re using the optic in extreme conditions (especially cold) the chassis will remain at a neutral temperature—unlike metals, which can (and will) get cold, given enough time. More importantly, metal expands and contracts with temperature fluctuations, so over the years that constant movement can pull the optics out of columniation, which will prevent the optic from being able to achieve tack-sharp focus. Since polycarbonates won’t expand and contract, they are not subject to this possibility.

Pro Tip: Don’t be fooled by catchphrases like “aerospace-grade” or “aircraft-grade”—these don’t tell you anything about the quality of the alloy. Ask yourself: What part of the aircraft are they referring to? The bracket that supports the landing gear, or the bracket that supports your snack tray? Technically, they are both “aircraft-grade” because they’re used on an aircraft. Unless the manufacturer calls out a specific alloy—like 6061-T6, which has verifiable specifications—all you need to know is that aluminum is light and strong and leave it at that… and don’t pay for fancy terms that don’t mean anything.

Specialty Binoculars

Rangefinders  Rangefinder binoculars have an integrated infrared (IR) laser that is used to measure distance from the binocular to an object. They can be used at sea to measure the distance to another ship or possibly someone who needs rescuing, help hunters to measure the distance to their subject, or aid golfers to calculate their swing to the green. Rangefinder binoculars typically display the distance to the target in either feet or meters, with the readout visible in the eyepieces. Technological innovations have made the rangefinders more precise, and some can do a single spot measurement, or a constantly updated measurement so you can follow a moving subject and get virtually real-time distance.

The latest versions incorporate an inclinometer that measures the uphill or downhill angle from you to the subject, and often have an internal computer running proprietary software and using special algorithms geared for golf or hunting can take the distance and angle (and even your cartridge and grain load), and calculate an adjusted distance for you to judge your shot, or show the click adjustment required on your scope.

Image-Stabilized  In the same way that digital cameras can have image stabilization, so too, can binoculars. Image stabilization compensates for operator movement, the swaying of a boat, or the vibration inside an aircraft, that normally prevent the viewer from having a steady image. Stabilized binoculars usually contain a gyroscope that requires power to provide stabilization, or a pendulum-type device that provides stabilization without being powered. Most often, this type of binocular is used by boaters to reduce the disorientation common with high-power optics, or while using them in choppy seas. They are also popular with aviators and search-and-rescue professionals. For more information on IS binos, you can read my colleague Todd Vorenkamp’s review of a pair of Fujinon here, or my review of a Canon here.

Marine  Marine binoculars will often have polycarbonate housings that are corrosion- and temperature resistant for use in saltwater environments, and might even be buoyant, so if they get dropped overboard, they can be retrieved easily; others still will feature bright colors to make them easier to spot.

Some binoculars can have integrated digital and analog compasses. They will often have the direction displayed in the field of view for easier use and bearing reading. Digital compasses are battery powered and illuminated for use in most light conditions. Analog models can use batteries or might have an opaque window on the top of the housing to channel and focus ambient light to illuminate the compass. Many marine, image-stabilized, and rangefinder models offer versions with or without compasses.

Digital Camera Binoculars  It seems like today manufacturers are putting cameras in or on just about anything – and binoculars are no exception. This growing class of binoculars feature integrated cameras, up to 13MP, with color display screen and a memory card slot. A simple user interface allows you to capture HD video or still images and either use the memory card to upload them to a computer or plug a cable into the two and transfer that way. For many people, if there isn’t a picture then it didn’t happen, so with this kind of binocular when you see that rare bird during the Spring Migration you can now quickly grab video of it and prove that you saw it.

Accessories
Basic accessories serve to replace lost or broken stock items or can simply make carrying or using your binocular a bit easier. These easy upgrades can include the following items.

Tethered caps These have a ring that loops over the objective end of the housing, so when you need to take the caps off, you just flip them down and you don’t have to worry about losing them.

Rain Guards Replace your two stock eyepiece caps with a one-piece cap that prevents the eyecups from flooding. It will often attach to the neck strap to keep it safe and handy for flash showers.

Straps Not satisfied with the thin nylon strap that came with your binocular? Get a new one that’s longer, adjustable, padded, ergonomic, buoyant, colored, or outfitted in your favorite camo pattern.

Cleaning kits/supplies Solutions, pens, cloths, cleaners, kits—everything and anything you need to clean and maintain your optic properly.

Tripod Adapters As mentioned before, binoculars with magnifications of 10x and higher are hard to hold steady, especially if they have large objectives. Large binoculars sometimes have a built-in tripod mount that makes it easy to mount them on a tripod. Sometimes a tripod adapter is required. Typically, full-sized binoculars have a plug that unscrews from the front of center hinge. The adapter screws into its place and mounts on most quick-release plates or tripods. Some tripod mounts are simply a small platform on which to lay the binocular and hold it in place with an adjustable strap.

Harnesses For most of us, the neck strap that comes with most binoculars is fine. For those who require more, there are numerous options for you. Some are designed to redistribute the weight of the binocular from the neck to the back and shoulders. Others provide a stabilizing function to allow you to hold the optic in your hand while virtually eliminating hand shake or other movements. For those who do activities and want to keep their optic at the ready, some harnesses hold the binocular close to the body and greatly reduce swinging or swaying while running, climbing, or skiing.

Eyecups As we discussed earlier, the eyecups hold the eye at the proper distance from the ocular lens. Some manufacturers offer eyecup upgrades for certain models. The most popular are replacing standard flat eyecups with winged (contoured) eyecups. The “wing” wraps around your eye socket and blocks your peripheral vision, which eliminates light leakage for improved image brightness and a clearer view.

Digiscoping The use of digiscoping adapters has seen an increase in recent years, since just about every phone in everyone’s pocket is equipped with a camera. These adapters, either binocular, phone-specific or (growing in popularity) universal fit, allow you to mount your phone on one of the eyepieces and take photos of the magnified view. Depending on the manufacturer, these adapters can be made of plastic or metal with varying degrees of usability options. The good news is that as the hobby grows, more and more options are made available so you can spend as much or as little you want.

Pro Tip: Digiscoping adapters are inexpensive and very easy to use. If you want to get some great shots of birds, squirrels, the Moon, or your kids playing soccer or baseball, this method is much easier and cheaper to use than carrying around a DSLR and long lens.

Final Thoughts on the Long View

The world of binoculars is vast and constantly evolving. No matter what you’re using them for—from a night at the opera to hunting on the tundra to comet watching—there is something for everyone at every price. This article has offered a basic introduction to the terms and technologies that will affect your buying decision and the overall performance of the optic. After making your selection, don’t forget about the accessories that can enhance your viewing experience and turn a good view into a great view.

Did I leave something out? Have a question that I didn’t answer? Drop a comment below and we’ll discuss. Happy Glassing.

235 Comments

Great article, even if I did drown a bit in the technology. I'm looking to replace my really inexpensive binoculars with a somewhat better pair. However, price is a big consideration. Based on what I read and understood from your article, I think I want an 8x42 or 8x50, fog-proof, with Porro prisim, and no eye cups as I do wear glasses (am near and far-sighted, have astigmatism and am developing cateracts). I am over 55 and will be primary user but will share with my 12-year-old grandson occasionally. Given all these parameters, what do you suggest?

While there is a big difference in price between the recommendations, the two best options we carry that fit your specifications would be the Steiner 8x56 ShadowQuest Binocular, B&H # ST8X56SQB, or the Levenhuk 8x42 Sherman PRO Binocular, B&H # LE8X42SPROB.  The Steiner 8x56 ShadowQuest Binocular does have eyecups (which do fold down for eyeglass usage), but the binocular has the largest eye relief in the 8x porro binocular design, so it would work well for eyeglass users.  The Levenhuk options have the second-best eye relief of the 8x binoculars we carry.  Both are fog-proof, waterproof, and have good optical image quality.  Depending on your budget or what you were planning on spending on your binoculars, the options listed above would be my recommendations for your usage needs.  If you are interested in an option with slightly more magnification, the Levenhuk 10x42 Sherman PRO Binocular, B&H # LE10X42SPROB, would be a good option, and for slightly less magnification, the Barska 7x50 WP Battalion Binocular, B&H # BA7X50BC, and the Nikon 7x50CF OceanPro CF WP Global Compass Binocular, B&H # NI7X50OCFWPC, would also be good options.  The links to the aforementioned options are all listed below for your convenience.  For more information, you can see the following link by either clicking directly on it or by copying and pasting the link into your internet browser's address bar:

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https://bhpho.to/2G72KHD

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https://bhpho.to/2V21UBe

Thanks for this piece. However, having read through it, I still need some advice. 

We live in a condo on the beach just south of Kennedy Space Center. From our deck, we look out on the Atlantic Ocean.

We are looking for binoculars for looking at: 1) ships on the horizon, rockets launching, and the moon and planets like Jupiter and Mars. Day and night. My wife, me and our 8-year-old son will share them. 

I can imagine a tripod being useful to view celestial objects.

Size of the binoculars doesn't matter much to us. We also don't have a tight budget but still are looking for good bang for the buck.

Could you recommend a low, medium, and high priced alternatives? If that's too much, then just medium and high.

Thanks in advance!

FYI, I'm ready to buy once I have a direction. Thanks.

Hi Jeff,

We're sorry for the delayed reply.  

We would suggest binoculars that are more powerful than 10X for that great of a distance. Since the power (magnification) is so great, it’s almost impossible to hand-hold that type of binocular for an extended period of time.  What would be very obvious is that your hands will shake as you look through the binoculars.

An alternative would be to use a pair of binoculars that are image-stabilized such as the Canon 15x50 IS All-Weather Image Stabilized Binocular B&H # CA15X50 or the Fujinon 14x40 TS1440 Techno-Stabi Image-Stabilized Binocular B&H # FUTS1440 MFR # 600017066.  On the other hand, binoculars that can be hand-held but are advisable to use with a tripod would be Meade 15x70 Astro Binocular B&H # MEAB15X70 MFR # 125080, the Steiner 15x56 HX Binocular B&H # ST15X56HX MFR # 2018, the Pentax 20x60 S-Series SP WP Binocular B&H # PE20X60SPWP MFR # 65874 and the Nikon 20x56 Monarch 5 Binocular (Black) B&H # NI20X56M5 MFR # 7583

https://bhpho.to/2X1ubx7

https://bhpho.to/2FvCUgc

https://bhpho.to/2KB7QQy

https://bhpho.to/2X16DZa

https://bhpho.to/2IGgAmj

https://bhpho.to/2IF8Dh5

I’m shopping for a good pair of Marine binos with a compass. What can you tell me regarding the differences between the Nikon and Steiner models?

Between Steiner and Nikon in a pair of marine binoculars, the Steiner product would offer Germany made optics, while the Nikon product would offer optics that are made in China.  That being said, there would be a huge price difference between the two. Some examples would be the Steiner 7x50 C Navigator Pro Binocular with Compass B&H # ST7X50CNP and the Nikon 7x50CF OceanPro CF WP Global Compass Binocular B&H # NI7X50OCFWPC.

https://bhpho.to/2L0MBqu

https://bhpho.to/31OdFiH

Thank you so much for this excellent and comprehensive explanation.  We're going to Africa on safari so in addition to looking for the best binoculars for viewing animals at a distance, I would also like an open bridge (or at least partially open) and as lightweight as possible.  Our price range would be somewhere between $100 - $250.   Oh, we also have a sailboat so waterproof/fog proof would be nice and I'm excited about using  digiscoping if possible.  Is this too much to ask? If so, the weight and size are probably the most important factors after image capabilities.

 Many thanks for your advice/recommendations. 

For an open-bridge design that is also fog-proof and waterproof, I would recommend the Vanguard 8x42 Endeavor ED Binocular, B&H # VA8X42EED, as a good option for your stated usage needs.  If you are looking for the smallest and lightest option that are both fog-proof and have an open bridge design, the Minox 8x33 BV Binocular, B&H # MI8X33BVB, would be a compact pair of binoculars that would also work for your usage needs.  For more information, you can see the following link by either clicking directly on it or by copying and pasting the link into your internet browser's address bar:

.

https://bhpho.to/2wCZn6a

https://bhpho.to/2WpjVyg

I see many birds while horsebackriding and am looking for a pair of binoculars that are light weight, somewhat stable (I know, I'm on a horse) and compact. Thankyou!

There are two pairs of binoculars that come to mind which are lightweight.  There is the Celestron 8x32 Nature DX Binocular B&H # CE8X32NDX which is 18 oz:

https://bhpho.to/2IWkY1z

The second one would be the Vortex 10x42 Diamondback Binocular B&H # VODB10X42 which is 21 oz.

https://bhpho.to/2GPNFKi

I am going on a trip to Alaska and would like to purchase binoculars that will allow a wide field of view as well as allow us to zero in on an animal far away.  They will need to be weather proof, fog proof and lightweight.  I would also like to be able to use a digiscope on them.  Pricing between $100 -$300, if possible.  Please let me know what you would recommend.  Thanks.

If you are looking for zoom binoculars that both have a wide angle of view for binoculars and which allow you to zoom into your subject, I would recommend the Nikon 8-24x25 Aculon T11 Zoom Binocular (Black), B&H # NI824X25CZB, for your usage needs.  While not compatible with regular cameras , the binoculars listed above would allow you to purchase a smartphone adapter to connect a smartphone for your digiscoping usage needs.  For more information, you can see the following link by either clicking directly on it or by copying and pasting the link into your internet browser's address bar:

https://bhpho.to/2TXTz4r

Unfortunately, none of the fog-proof binoculars have zoom capabilities, so there is no option that would be both wide and would allow you to zoom onto your subject.  As such, if you need a fog-proof and weather-proof binocular recommendation for your usage needs, the Vortex 8x42 Diamondback Binocular, B&H # VODB8X42,  or the Vortex 8x42 Crossfire Roof Prism Binocular, B&H # VOCF8X42, would work for your usage needs.  For more information, you can see the following link by either clicking directly on it or by copying and pasting the link into your internet browser's address bar:

https://bhpho.to/2lwHtLH

https://bhpho.to/2kCT7Wj

For a digiscoping adapter for your smartphone, the Carson HookUpz 2.0 Universal Optics Adapter for Smartphones, B&H # CAIS200, would work for your usage needs.  For more information, you can see the following link by either clicking directly on it or by copying and pasting the link into your internet browser's address bar:

https://bhpho.to/2i8Diob

Thank you so much for your quick response.  Two more follow-up questions, if I may.  I cannot seem to find out how much the Vortex 8x42 Diamonback Binocular weighs, is that something you could find out for me?  Also, although this is more than I had said I wanted to spend, how would you rate this Nikon Binocular for my needs?https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/910872-REG/nikon_7580_10x30_monar...

One more thing, if I did not require fog proof binoculars, would you recommend something different and, if so, what?

Thanks again.

I am going on a family trip to Africa for a safari and I'd like to to buy 4 pairs of binoculars - yikes! We will be doing early morning, day and evening safaris.  I'd like to buy the best pair of binoculars for between $50-100 per pair - if they were waterproof that would be a bonus for other activities we do.  What would you suggest?  

In your indicated price range, I would recommend either the Bushnell 8x42 Legacy WP Binocular, B&H # BU8X42LZ, or for a more compact option, the Vixen Optics 8x21 Atrek DCF Binocular, B&H # VI8X21ADCFB, would also be the options I would recommend for your usage needs.   Both would be popular options, have good magnification for general usage needs, and would be weather-proof for outdoor usage.  The Bushnell options are also nitrogen-filled, so they would not fog up in response to changes in humidity or temperature.  For more information, you can see the following link by either clicking directly on it or by copying and pasting the link into your internet browser's address bar:

.

https://bhpho.to/2HhQypS

https://bhpho.to/2u2ZWVN

I want to buy a really good pair of binoculars.  Under$1,000. For birding What do you recommend?

A great pair of binoculars for birding that is under $1000 is the ZEISS 10x42 Terra ED Binocular, 2017 Edition (Black) B&H # ZE10X42TEDBK.  https://bhpho.to/2Cp8NVC

I want to buy birding binoculars for my wife who has a pupillary distance of only 47mm (1.850 in.) This is always a problem for her. What do you recommend for under $500?

I would recommend the Opticron 10x28 BGA T PC Oasis Binocular, B&H # OP10X28BGATO, for your usage needs.  While many manufacturers do not specify the interpupillary adjustment for their binoculars, I have found that the Opticron 10x28 BGA T PC Oasis Binocular would have one of the best ranges, measuring 36 mm to 71 mm (1.4 to 2.8"), which would work well for your stated 47mm (1.85") measurement requirement.

https://bhpho.to/2Fg8uQS

I am looking for a pair of Steiner binoculars to use while deer and turkey hunting in the Eastern US. These will be used in open farm and and wooded terrain. My budget is in the $400 to $500 range. Should I get 10X42 or 10X50? What do you recommend?

Both the Steiner 10x50 Military/Marine Binocular, B&H # ST10X50MMB, and the Steiner 10x42 Predator AF Binocular, B&H # ST10X42PAFB, would be good options for your usage needs.  As both are 10x binoculars, both would have the same amount of magnification.  The main difference would be the 10x42 binoculars would have a wider angle of view at the same distance.  The 10x50 binoculars would be better in low-lighting, though the 10x42 would have more contrast and is color-corrected for the contrast and colors seen seen in the peak human vision sensitivity range to make it easier to spot game in difficult environments.  If you are viewing in low light and need the brightest performance, I would go with the 10x50 optics.  If you will be viewing in bright to mid-range lighting, and only occasionally be in extremely low light, then the 10x42 would work for your usage needs.  For more information, you can see the following link by either clicking directly on it or by copying and pasting the link into your internet browser's address bar:

https://bhpho.to/2QWOYih

https://bhpho.to/2QZtrFC

Hi,

i am looking to by a new pair of binoculars for my husband. Our current pair, compact and bought many years ago are not strong enough.  I do not know what they are. I’ve read your article and lots of online reviews and am stuck in the paralysis of analysis. 

These will be primarily be used at our beach house on the RI shore to look at boats and Block Island. We will use it from the house as well as while on the beach. We also will use it hiking and for distant mountain/scenery viewing and occasionally while sailing. These will be used by both me and my husband (60’s) as well as visiting guests of all ages  

My price range is $200-300 but I am willing to go higher if the features/benefits are justifiable. Prior to finding your website I was looking at the Nikon Monarch 5 and the Bushnell Legend series and either 8 or 10x42. 

What at would you recommend?

Thank you, Maggie

Also will be watching wildlife such as deer. 

I would personally recommend the Bushnell 10x42 Legend M-Series Binocular, B&H # BU10X42MBRR, or the Vortex 10x42 Diamondback Binocular, B&H # VODB10X42, for your usage needs.  Both would have great optics and would be good for magnification for viewing boats from your beach house and for viewing wildlife.  The larger 42mm diameter also makes it good for capturing light, so it would have good performance in slightly lower light when trying to view deer in wilderness or forests. 

https://bhpho.to/2QNZUi5

https://bhpho.to/2xPPgug

Thanks for wonderful explanation. I'm no right about the kind of prismas I choice (porro or roof). I will keep searching about it.

Recently back from birding in France where I got to try Swarovskis, and realized the difference between binos and Oh My God binos.  I'm looking to buy new birding binos, and am concerned about weight, but definitely want the best clarity.  I'm planning to come into your store in 2 weeks.  Any thoughts as to what I should be looking at?  (And yes, my budget will include Swaros, it's time to spoil myself!)  Note:  I do want to be able to view fairly closely as well.

Hi Alice - 

We currently have these on display and in stock at our NYC Superstore:  

Swarovski 8x42 SLC Binocular B&H # SW8X42SLCWBB 

https://bhpho.to/2x8epE9

The 8x42 SLC Binocular from Swarovski combines extra-low dispersion (HD) glass elements and range of proprietary optical coatings with a weather-resistant magnesium alloy housing to create a multi-purpose set of glasses that deliver impressive image quality and durability. This configuration of the SLC displays an immersive 61° apparent viewing angle; a long 18.5mm eye relief and multi-position twist-up eyecups enable a comfortable viewing distance for almost any observer.

Swarovski uses phase-corrected roof prisms and fully multicoated fluoride-containing HD glass optics in the SLC binocular. Each of the HD lenses is finished with multiple layers of SWAROTOP anti-reflective lens coating. Resulting images transmitted by the optical path are rich with detail and saturated with lifelike color.

In addition to its high-transmission optical system, Swarovski also equips the SLC binocular with a range of features that improve the handling experience of the observer. The geared focus system offers quick and precise focusing with the same focus wheel, permitting the observer to focus from infinity down to 10.5 ft in only two rotations. Covering the magnesium alloy housing are two distinct types of rubber armoring, each providing impact protection and tactile response where they are needed most.

Can you please tell abut the the  brown binoculars  the beard guy is holding on a brown harness. What brand is that? Thank you for getting back at me

Hi Mars - 

These may be older and discontinued Leupold or Minox binoculars.

Great artucle! thank you.

I am looking to buy binoculars for birding. I am considering the new Vortex Viper 8x42 but would love to read your recommendation: I have neck and shoulder problems and prioritize the quality/weight ratio - that is if there is any :)

I promised myself not to spend more than $1000.

What, if anything, can you say, or recommend, to those of us who wear eye glasses to correct our distance vision?

Hi,

Thank you for that great pointers on choosing good binoculars.

What can you say to Yukon Futurus 8x40???

Hi Dom -

They appear to be discontinued and no longer available.  They are a decent entry level grade binocular.

These are one of my favorites near that price point:

Vortex Diamondback 8x42 Binocular B&H # VODB8X42 (https://bhpho.to/2lwHtLH)

Combining excellent optical performance with ruggedness, portability, and comfort, the Diamondback 8x42 Binocular from Vortex Optics is ideal to take along on hiking trips, camping, traveling, or just in case. The optics feature improved transmission, contrast, and true color using fully multi-coated lenses and phase-corrected roof prisms. With the improved close focus of 5' you will get plenty of focusing range and a sharp focus on faraway scenery as well as close-ups of nearby street signs, monuments' details, or wildlife. The combination of 8x magnification and the 42mm objectives offers you a generous 60° angle of view that gives you complete images of targets.

Hi, I want to buy a Binocular for my husband. I am novice but could figured out from multiple articles that 10X42 would be good one to start with. It will be mainly used for sightseeing purposes. Can you please suggest some good options. Looking for something within the range of $250.

Good morning Neha.

10x42 is a nice utilitarian size, but some may find them a bit large/heavy for general sightseeing as they may cause neck strain when worn around the neck while walking around town or in the woods. I'll give some recommendations, for that size - but you may want to consider some other sizes. An 8x42 drops the magnification down a bit, but you generally get a larger field of view, wider exit pupil, and usually a longer eye relief so they are a little better for sightseeing. Additionally, you may want to go with a smaller objective such as a 30-32mm, which will shave considerable ounces off the weight and inches off the size to make it easier to pack and carry...for smaller models like this, I'd stay at the 8x power to maximize image brightness, field of view, and exit pupil. With that being said, here are my recommendations:

10x42:

Nikon Prostaff 7S: Great all-around bino that's also offered in 8x.    https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1084708-REG/nikon_16003_10x42_prostaff_7s_binoculer.html

Leupold BX-2 Acadia: Exceptional angle of view for a 10x bino from a great American company      https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1315366-REG/leupold_172700_10x42_bx_2_acadia_roof.html

Vortex Diamondback: Well-known in the hunting world, but underrated out of it. One of my faves (also available in 8x)     https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1200179-REG/vortex_db_204_8x42_diamondback_binocular_green_black.html

Opticron Discovery WP PC: Also a well-made but not very well-known brand, this comes in slightly above your $250 budget but just barely, well worth the price.     https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1105209-REG/opticron_30459_discovery_wp_pc_10x42.html

8x30/32:

Zeiss 8x32 Terra ED: A top-tier manufacturer, you can NEVER go wrong with Zeiss.    https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1116043-REG/zeiss_523205_9906_000_terra_binocular_8x32_edition_under.html

Sig Sauer 8x32 ZULU3: Known mostly for firearms, they're optics are pretty great.     https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1264751-REG/sig_sauer_soz38001_8x32_zulu3_binocular_graphite.html

Fujinon 8x32 KF: Part of the iconic Fuji Film company, they are known for great optics beyond cameras and lenses.   https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1223953-REG/fujinon_83200003_8x32_kf_binocular.html

Nikon 8x30 Prostaff 7S: A smaller version of the 10x42 recommended above.     https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1084705-REG/nikon_16000_8x30_prostaff_7s_binoculer.html

Celestron 8x32 TrailSeeker: Applying their telescope expertise to field optics, you can't go wrong.    https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/917637-REG/celestron_71400_8x32_trailseeker_binocular.html

Vanguard 8x32 Endeavor ED: Another sleeper brand outside of the hunting world.     https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1029032-REG/vanguard_endeavor_ed_8320_8x32_ed_glass_binoculars.html

I hope this helps, and if you have any other questions, feel free to leave them here or click over to our e-commerce and try out our great chat feature.

-chris

I am curioue about the Canon IS 10x30 bins for birding. I know that generally 8x42 or 10x42 is recommended, but thise are too expensive for me. Would it be better to get some that are not IS and are at the recommended range? Thoughts?

Hey teresa,

Image stabilized binoculars make for a curious birding option. Many folks have trouble holding 10x binoculars steady, but the IS system will greatly assist in that issue. The downside of the 10x30 is that the 30mm objectives are not going to work as well in low-light situations as the 42mm objectives.

If you are broad daylight birder, they will be nice, but if you are out at dusk or dawn or under dark skies, you might want more light-gathering power.

Regarding your budget: If you want, let us know your price range and we can recommend some pairs that will keep you from taking out a second mortgage on your home! :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for the feedback, I am looking at somewhere between $300. - $500. For binoculars, if you have recommendations for good basic birding binoculars....

Hi,
I'm going to the Winter Olympics and am looking for lightweight, cold / weather resistant binoculars versatile enough for both indoor & outdoor use, shared by multiple people (some with glasses). What should I consider?

Hi Lemuel - 

The black 2017 edition of Zeiss Optics' 8x42 Terra ED Binocular (B&H # ZE8X42TEDBB) features a redesigned ergonomic chassis that makes holding them more comfortable, especially during long glassing sessions. Optically, they retain the exceptional elements that are the hallmarks of the Terra ED including compact Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms, SCHOTT extra low-dispersion (ED) glass, and the proprietary multi-coatings. These complementary technologies and elements work together to produce an immersive observational experience that presents clear and bright views, with accurate color representation and virtually zero distortion, across the entire field of view. Adding to the binocular's usability is a short 5.25-foot close-focus distance that gives them the ability to resolve feathers or leaves in fine detail.

The comfortable ergonomic chassis is made of a fiberglass reinforced polycarbonate to help reduce weight, without sacrificing strength while adding impact and temperature resistance. Being resistant to temperature changes not only ensures that the housing will remain a constant temperature, even in cold and wet conditions, but will not experience the expansion and contraction common in metal chassis that can cause the optical elements to move out of alignment over time and preventing the binocular's ability to achieve sharp focus. The chassis is covered in a black rubber armoring that helps to protect it from drops and impacts, and provides a slip-resistant grip.

Hi Christopher,

I was shopping for binoculars a few months ago (ended up getting Swaro EL 10x42's, mostly for birding). This is perhaps one of the best articles I've come across explaining all the concepts. Fantastic! Thank you.

A lot of the discussion on the general internet tends to be one brand against another with very little reason as to why. Also most forum users only own one pair, so it very much becomes a sample-of-one. Your atricle puts all the main concepts together allowing the prospective buyer to at least understand all the jargon and also filtering out the marketing gumf which so often misleads (aircraft-grade, being a prime example).

Well written!

Kind Regards

Nick

Nick,

Thanks for the compliment! I'm glad I was able to help cut through the confusion so you could make an educated decision! The EL is one of my favorite binos around - you can NEVER go wrong with Swarovski!

excellent info

Hi!
I'd like to get a binocular for my wife who is legally blind and has also some degree of night blindness. We travel extensively and she loves watching nature (animals on safaris; mountains; etc.). I was thinking that a binocular with a large aperture and wide field might be a good choice, such as the Steiner 8x56 ShadowQuest Binocular. I like the good performance during dawn, becasue of my wife's impaired ability to see in low-light environments. What do you think? Any other types I should consider?

Hi Peter -

I agree with your thinking and endorse your choice of these fine glasses:

Conceived, designed, and constructed for outstanding performance in low-light conditions when many animals are most active, the Steiner Optics 8x56 ShadowQuest Binocular (B&H # ST8X56SQB) combines multiple technologies and features to ensure clear and crisp views from first light through to twilight.

Its performance starts with the combination of moderate magnification and over-sized objectives. At 56mm the objectives draw in the copious amounts of light required for seeing in low-light, while the 8x power produces both a large exit pupil and wide angle of view. A wide exit pupil ensures that the light leaving the eyepieces completely cover the user's pupils when they are fully dilated in low-light to take full advantage of the wide viewing angle. The optics are fully multi-coated with Steiner's proprietary Diamond Night lens coatings which are engineered to maximize light transmission through the light path. All of these features, when coupled with the traditional Porro prism light path, present the user with an immersive observational experienced defined by bright and clear high-contrast views and accurate color rendition. Winged eyecups conform to the user's face and eye sockets to block stray peripheral light and improve the contrast of the view while limiting distractions.

Good evening, Peter...I believe the ShadowQuest is one of the best bino's I've ever used. I did a review of them that you can read here: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/outdoors/hands-review/steiner-8x56-shadowquest-binocular

I'm also a fan of the GPO USA Passion HD. I've used their 8.5x50, and highly recommend them as well: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1359532-REG/gpo_usa_b640_8_5x50_passion_hd_binocular.html.

Beyond those specific models, I would say look at a bino that's larger than 42mm up to 56mm - anything larger than that and they're going to be heavy and awkward to use. I'd also keep the magnification at around 7x-8x - that will ensure a large exit pupil (especially with the bigger objective models) and will help offset the dimming of the view that can happen to high-power optics especially in challenging light. Here's a link to some search results that can help you narrow your choices. https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?setNs=p_PRICE_2%7c1&Ns=p_PRICE_2%7c1&ci=1010&fct=fct_magnification_156%7c7x%2bfct_magnification_156%7c8x%2bfct_objective-lens-diameter_1126%7c50mm%2bfct_objective...

I hope this helps, and safe travels - and please let us know what you decide to go with and how the perform. I love hearing real-world feedback!

Hello. I've narrowed my search down to either the Zeiss 8x42 Terra ED or the Nikon Monarch 8x42. Any thoughts on which would be better suited for a newbie bird watcher?

Hi Jeff - 

Both glasses are excellent choices with the edge going to Zeiss on this one.  It has a much closer minimum focusing distance and a wider field of view. The Zeiss are on a terrific promotion right now so their price is only a bit higher than the Nikon's.

Hi Jeff...

Which Monarch are you looking at? There are three models in the series: 7, 5, & 3. The three is the basic model and performs great, it's not really on-par with the Zeiss...for that you'd need to go with the 7/5 as they get upgrades over the 3 with extra low-dispersion glass, and phase-corrected dielectric coated prisms so there won't be any color fringing and the resolutiona and contrast will be greatly improved. The main difference between the 7 & 5 is that the 7 has a wide field of view to present you with a really immersive observational experience.

A personal recommendation is the GPO USA Passion HD - I have the 8.5x50 and they're my go-to binocular for just about all my glassing needs. https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1359532-REG/gpo_usa_b640_8_5x50_passion_hd_binocular.html

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