With the days getting longer and the sun shining brighter, families tend to spend more time soaking up rays, exploring roads less travelled, taking in outdoor concerts or games, or sightseeing. As an Optics writer for B&H, I’m frequently asked for binocular recommendations from friends and family - and random people at restaurants once or twice - so I’m here to share some of my favorite binos and what they’re good for. I’m not going to go into excruciating detail about terminology here, so if you start to get a little confused about some of the things I discuss, head on over to The B&H Binocular Buying Guide so you know what I’m talking about. (Just don’t forget to come back.)
A set that I recommended to my friends with kids is the Aculon T11 8-24x25 zoom binocular from Nikon. The reverse Porro prism design makes it easy for their three-year-old daughter to use, while the zoom capability lets them really get up close—especially when they go to the Bronx Zoo or Riverside Park. They are lighter than my personal binos (discussed below), and since my friends also have a one-year-old, they can simply stow the Aculons in their stroller without much fuss.
For something a bit more rugged than the zooms above, take a look at the Steiner 10x26 Champ. With an apparent viewing angle approaching wide-angle and a fast-focus system, this is a simple-to-use binocular that performs great in all types of weather. Ribbed rubber armoring provides a secure grip in cold or wet conditions, and I especially like their angled eye cups. When held up to the eyes, the eyecup essentially seals the entire eye socket to block peripheral light from leaking in from the side—this helps to make images brighter and sharper. Another little design feature you might like is the double-hinge bridge. Utilizing a hinge for each optical tube allows them to fold and tuck under the bridge, making them very compact when not in use.
A friend of mine likes the Kowa 8x25 SV25-8 binoculars I gave him for his birthday earlier this year. They are very similar to my Vortex, except for two major differences: The Kowa’s have an exceptional 4.9' close-focus distance and a double-hinge bridge system. It was the close focus that attracted my friend, because he has bird feeders set up on his back porch, and he likes being able to make detailed observations at a little over five feet from where he has his coffee. Like the Steiners that I discussed above, the double-hinge design makes them very compact, and at less than 10 ounces, he hardly notices them if he leaves them around his neck or in a cargo pocket when he’s out hiking.
My wife and I like to travel, and we especially like to travel light, so we leave very little room for non-essentials, but if I’m going to be at the top of the Eiffel Tower or the London Eye, I’m going to have a pair of binoculars. Heck, even if I’m taking my nephew to the top of Empire State Building or out to the Statue of Liberty one Saturday afternoon, I’m going to bring binos. I carry a pair of Vortex 8x28 Diamondbacks. Besides fitting nicely in the hand, they have phase-corrected roof prisms and multi-coated optics so views through them are bright and clear, with accurate color rendition, plus they’re filled with argon and O-ring sealed to be water- and fog proof. Weighing less than a pound and shorter than 5 inches in length and width, they fit easily in a pocket or pack. If you’re looking for a little more power, they also come in a 10x version. Besides sightseeing, they are my companion when I’m hiking and camping, because I know they’ll be able to handle whatever the world throws at them.
The Leupold 8x30 Yosemite binocular is one of my all-time favorites and one that I gave my dad. He and the other old-timers meet at the Oyster Bay marina most mornings to drink coffee, enjoy the sunrise, and watch the boats and birds. This bino has a nice wide field of view and the Porro prism design is comfortable in his hand. The large focus knob is easy for him to manipulate—even in the winter when he’s wearing gloves. Representing a very popular line for Leupold, the Yosemite is offered in multiple colors and magnifications. I chose the middle-of-the-road 8x, but if you want an exceptional field of view go with the 6x and if you want more power, choose the 10x power version. Roof prisms tend to be more expensive to produce over Porros, so while their performance is similar to my Vortex, the Leupolds cost almost $40 less.
If you’re looking for an entry-level optic for birding, or are heading out to the range or into your blind, the Vortex 8.5x32 Raptor should be your constant companion. Opting for a slightly higher magnification than normal, they’ve made the Raptor with a wide field of view and an ergonomically shaped housing for comfort and convenience. The 32mm objectives pushes this optic into the bottom-end of the full-sized category without being excessively heavy or bulky, with improved light-gathering capabilities versus the smaller versions we’ve discussed so far. The smaller objectives also enable them to be easily used by those with smaller faces—especially children. For an even larger field of view, you can go with the 6.5x version.
Firmly in the full-size range and ideal for birding, hunting, and general nature-watching are the Hawke Sport Optics 8x42 Nature-Trek binoculars. They have all the features you want from a bino designed for extensive outdoor use: nitrogen-filled optical tubes, fully multi-coated optics, highly-reflective silver prism coatings, a fast focus knob, and they’re tripod mountable, if you’re so inclined. What I especially like about these is the use of polycarbonate for the housing material. Besides being lightweight, as well as impact and corrosion-resistant, polycarbonate is also temperature resistant. If you’re going to be moving from a warm cabin outside and into a cold winter morning, this housing won’t expand and contract like metal housings might – it will also stay a comfortable temperature and won’t get cold to the touch. If you want more power, Hawke offers the Nature-Trek in a 10x version.
My final recommendation comes for my cousin who recently bought a place on the water in Florida. He wanted something to watch the boats during the day and the stars at night. After recommending a spotting scope and telescope, he made it clear that ease of use was key and he didn’t think he’d like having to hold one eye closed, especially if he was looking for long periods of time. We settled on Nikon’s 12x50 Aculon A211. Outfitted with large objectives, a high magnification, and tripod mountable, they met all of his requirements. They’re also made with environmentally-friendly lead and arsenic-free glass, and as a new dad he liked that he wasn’t contributing to the pollution of the planet. Nikon equipped these with an aspherical lens system so there is very little distortion across the entire field of view and helps to correct astigmatism that is common in larger lenses. Bear in mind that because of the high-magnification, hand shake will be more pronounced, and the larger objectives will add weight, so you may want to pick up a tripod and tripod adapter, and mount these for a steadier view that won’t fatigue your arms. Depending on what you’re looking for, Nikon makes the 50mm A211’s in a variety of powers from 7x to 16x fixed magnifications plus a 10-22x zoom model.
From sightseeing, to birding, to stargazing, there is a binocular made for you and your family, so pick up a pair from B&H’s large inventory to enhance whatever activity you’re heading out to enjoy this Summer. Time flies fast, and so do birds, so you don’t want to miss anything.