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.

305 Comments

Save your money I bought a pair mine is nothing like they clean something came out of a bubble gum machine

Well, I have never gotten this scope to work! And, I sent  5+ back and haven’t received a refund since ( 1 year +). 
dhjoyrvxxhj

Hello Joe,

We’re sorry to hear that you’re having trouble. In this case, it is best to contact our Customer Service Department. They can be reached via e-mail to [email protected], via Live Chat on our website or by phone at 1-800-221-5743 / 1-212-239-7765 until 6PM ET this evening.

Comprehensive article, thanks!  Lame question? Pair of us on an Alaskan cruise.  Considering dioptric adjustments on one of the eyepieces for hubby's uncomplicated prescription.  Will it be possible for me with a "complicated" prescription to share the binoculars without resetting his adjustment?  Budget is about $500 or slightly more, so torn between one $499 model vs two $199 models.  Help me avoid a divorce, please!  Thanks again.

Most binoculars that have a diopter adjustment have a range between +4 and -4 or +3 and -3. You can share them between 2 people but each user might need to make slight adjustments. I would recommend these models:

 

Diopter Adjustment -3 to +3
 

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1303877-REG/zeiss_524204_9901_10…

 

Diopter Adjustment -4 to +4
 

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1060067-REG/vanguard_endeavor_ed…

 

Or Diopter Adjustment -4 to +4
 

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1470788-REG/meopta_653505_10x42_…

 

We hope this is helpful.

 

I’m looking for recommendations for a decent pair of binoculars for occasional use, bird watching, etc. I’m thinking maybe $200-300 range. Is that feasible?

Hi Please give me advice on what non expensive waterproof binocular can I buy, Challenge: Locate my son when he is surfing , since other 100 surfers at one spot at the same time are wearing black wheat suits and white surfboards all look a like and I cant figure out who is who and I am taking pictures of my son with a lens that can get 200 mts , The opportunity is that I will like to take pictures with my Iphone via the binocular adapter and get the best pictures for performance 

Thanks

Howdy, 

Hope all is well. 

I have a property that has an infinite view from Mexico over the city skyline of San Diego and West to Pt Loma. 

Some of my customers have asked about a telescope or binoculars on a tripod to see it better. The City is approximately 33 miles "as the crow flies." I don't need to see into windows just something to make it a bit sharper. 

Could you please recommend the type of instrument I could use and what I might expect to pay for it. I'm not averse to a used product.

Thanks for your help,

Ben

 

You may want to consider the Barska 25-125x80 Gladiator Zoom Binoculars, BH # BA25125X80GZ for long range viewing. It would have a built in tripod mount which can be attached to the Celestron Regal Premium Tripod,  BH # CETPRP.

 

https://bhpho.to/3zahEHL

https://bhpho.to/3yXJJ4P

Kirk: Loved this article! I would like a high quality nitrogen-purged pair of binoculars for both long-range terrestrial viewing from our balcony and astronomy while camping, using a tripod. I was originally looking at the SkyMaster Pro 20x80, but the high magnification and zoom feature of these are intriguing. I had never considered zoom because I doubted they'd be high enough quality. Is there a way to know at what magnification the optics are optimized or can I assume they are optimized for the highest mag? I don't see anywhere that these are purged, are they? Also how is it possible to have a 125x80 mag, doesn't that mean an exit pupil <1mm? I'm concerned that the exit pupil on these would be like looking through a pinhole...Would this fit the bill? I'm willing to spend more for higher quality. Please advise!

Pg. 2

For reasons illustrated in your article, I've been accused of being a snob by owning Zeiss 8X20, Leitz 8X42 and Steiner 12X40 hunting glasses. I find that each is purposed for a different activity. I love the size of my "Made in West Germany" 8X20's (yeah, they're that old) the optical quality of my focus free Leitzs glasses and the field ruggedness of the Steiners. I can rinse the "gunk" and off of them when I return to base camp. Coa you imagine switching the glasses functions? NO, I can't either. 

Hey P K.,

In the world of snobbery, you are far from the worst offender! There are those who think spending 6 or 7 figures on a car gives them a better driving experience than us mere mortals, but we all know that is really not the case. When it comes to optics, however, there is most certainly a line where the viewing experience becomes transformational. And, to get to that point, you need to spend some money.

Also, don’t lose any sleep with your three pairs of binos. I personally have three different pairs of 7x50s!… two Nikons and a Zeiss, plus a Nikon 8x42 and 8x30. I win! 😊

Thanks again for reading Explora! Happy Holidays!

Best,

Todd

Good article, well thought out and very informative without getting into the "weeds" pun intended.

Thanks

Thanks for taking the time to comment, P K., and for telling us about your "old" dependable field glasses. Some of us here were grownups before the Berlin Wall came down and we remember. Keep enjoying those binocs!

If you’re going to use your binoculars for astronomy, I highly recommend the image stabilized models.  I got a pair of Canon’s from B&H for a trip south of the equator, part of which included a cruise, and I would not have been able to enjoy the Magellenic Clouds as much as I did with regular ‘bouncy’ binos.

And if you’re doing backyard or car camping astronomy, take a kiddies inflatable swimming pool to lay on while viewing the skies.  You can adjust the angle of your head, on one edge of the partially inflated pool, by how much of your legs you put on the remainder of the pool.  

Clear skies!

Thank you for the great suggestions, Kelly! We appreciate your taking the time to post them, as well as having the fortitude to read our extensive buying guide. We hope your astro-gazing trip south was fruitful and enjoyable.

This article has a ton of good information in it... so thank you. My eyes are closer together than the average person. I have a pair of (lower end) Leupolds that work for me but would someday like to take a step up. I recently purchased some Mavens and had to return them because the eye gap at its smallest was still too wide. I'm wondering if there are any tips for people like me or do I just need to play the "try and return" game until I find something that works?

The easiest way to know if a pair of binoculars may work for you before purchasing them would be to check the interpupillary adjustment section under the Performance section of the Specs tab on our website for the binocular you are interested in purchasing.  It will often give you the minimum and maximum adjustment available for your eyes' pupillary measurement (the distance measurement between the center of your pupils).  The easiest way to get an accurate measurement of your pupillary distance would be to visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist during a routine eye exam.  If that is not possible and you have either an Android or an iPhone smartphone, you may also download the PD Pupil Distance for Eyeglasses & VR Headset app by GlassifyMe from the Apple App Store or the Google Play store.  Using your smartphone's camera and a card, you can get the measurement of your pupillary distance, and use that information when looking at binoculars to ensure the minimum size is the same or smaller than your pupil's pupillary measurement.

So what I called "eye gap" like a total noob you call "inperpupillary" like a rocket surgeon. Okay... okay... you know your stuff.  :-D

Joking aside this is extremely helpful. I will definitely purchase my next pair from you guys for going above and beyond.

Happy Holidays!

Luke, a rose by any other name... thanks for taking the time to read and post your compliments. If you need any additional assistance in choosing a binocular, please contact us via phone or online chat, both of which you can find on the SuperStore's landing page.

What an excellent tutorial.  Great work. Thanks.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to post your compliments, Kelly L. Few people with whom we are acquainted know as much about binoculars, spotting scopes, and telescopes as our friend and colleague Christopher Witt. We're pleased that you were able to take away useful information!

I am looking for 8x42 good optical quality binoculars price range $400-800. I have focused in on the Zeiss Terra HD and the Fujinon Hyper Clarity.Big difference in price--$400 vs $700. Are the Fujinon really sharper or truer colors?

Christopher F.

Unfortunately, in this case, I am not sure.  I have personally used the ZEISS 8x42 Terra ED Binoculars and they are very nice binoculars with good optical performance, and they would be a pair I would recommend.  Unfortunately, I have not used the Fujinon 8x42 Hyper Clarity Binoculars before, and we do not currently have the Fujinon 8x42 Hyper Clarity Binoculars on display in our NYC Superstore.  I do expect the Fujinon binoculars to be of very high quality, but I cannot describe the difference in performance, and I have not found reviews online comparing the two binoculars together.  The best I can recommend is as both items are currently in stock, you may purchase the pair you are interested in, and if they do not work for your usage needs, the binoculars may be returned within 30 days of the delivery date for a refund or exchange.

If I were ready to blow up to $3000 each on TWO binoculars, for wildlife viewing and birdwatching, choosing between the 8 and 10 mags, and the 32 and 42 objectives, and between Swarovski NL Pure and Zeiss Victory, what would be the most stellar combo?  Same question if I were going for the $1000 range, of Zeiss Conquest and Nikon Monarch HG.  Am I missing anything?  Thanks!

It is a matter of opinion but I feel the 10x42 range is the best for the magnification, low light ability, and physical size. Both Swarovski and Zeiss are top quality brands and you cannot go wrong with either one. However, I would give Zeiss a slight edge in sharpness over the Swarovski in these ranges.

Thank you for a great article. It really explained a lot. I am looking for a pair of binoculars for the lake, viewing planets and the moon, and maybe some nearby birdwatching. I found a pair of used Steiner Night Hunter, 8X45, for about $125. I have had cataract surgery in both eyes so my distance vision is almost 20/20 for both eyes. However, I do have a severe Anisekonia which may make looking through binoculars more difficult. The Steiner did have a larger than most rubber eyepiece that did seem to help. What would be a good, general purpose binocular for what I need. I'm assuming that these monoculars that you can buy are not very stereoscopic.

      Thanks, Jack

While I am not quite familiar with which binocular options would be best suited for use with persons suffering from severe anisekonia​, if you liked the Steiner binoculars and the larger eyecups used with the binoculars, I would recommend viewing either the Steiner 8x42 HX BinocularsB&H # ST8X42HX, the Steiner 8x30 Predator AF BinocularsB&H # ST8X30PAFB, or the Vortex 8x42 Diamondback HD BinocularsB&H # VO8X42DHDB, as alternatives for your usage needs.  And yes, you are correct; monoculars would not be stereoscopic.

Good call on the "aircraft grade" aluminum. As an engineer and former machinist, I can't tell you how many people fall for this one. It is just another meaningless sales term designed to impress unwary customers.

 

Excellent article too. It is very well written and informative.

Hi!

I am looking to buy a solid reliable pair of binoculars for birding watching that would include watching the red tail hawks in our area as well as our smaller feathered friends. I also am looking to use them for skywatching at night and for using them on hikes in the woods. I am on a budget (retired) so I would prefer getting the best "bang" for my buck and not exceed $500.00 (max).

Thank you for your help and advice (I read your article and was informed and overwhelmed with the info, haha)

I would recommend the Zeiss Terra 10x42:
 

https://bhpho.to/3uF2tmi

 

The black ZEISS Optics 10x42 Terra ED Binoculars feature 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 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 wide field of view. The 60° apparent angle of view also helps to minimize the visible hand shake common in higher-power binoculars.

 

Looking for a pair of bins as a special gift for my son who lives in Seattle area. he's a serious birder and nature watcher. budget $1000-$1500. Must be at least 8x42, also fog and water proof, good in low light for cloudy weather in seattle. weight not too much of an issue. should come with a case. The ability to digiscope is appealing. he wears glasses so twistable eye cups would be a plus. looking at the Kowa Genesis 8.5x44, which is also recommended on Audubon website under their "best birding binocs high end". What do you think of the Kowa genesis? is there an adaptor that would work for digiscoping with the Kowa Genesis? Other recommendations? Thank you.

Yes the Kowa Genesis would be a great pair of binoculars for birding. Then have an 18mm eye relief which makes them good for people who wear eyeglasses and the optical quality is incredible. They use Kowa's Prominar ED glass to minimize chromatic aberration with C3 optical multi-coatings that allow an unheard of 99% transmissivity of each element between 400 and 700 nm, a feature that is very helpful when spotting birds.

Hi. After reading your review, I was interested in checking out the Steiner 8x56, but found out that it is discontinued. Perusing your web page with my requirements in mind, the only alternatives I could find were 7X50's, 8x42's and 10x 42's, the 8x and 10x ones having roof prisms. I will be watching the scenery from an 11th floor apartment and typical distances of interest will be 0.5-2.0 miles. I presume that maginification should be at least 8x, but not more than 10x. I do wear glasses, so eye relief distance is important. So is weight, because I will not always have support for viewing stability. Low light viewability, as well as wide exit pupil are also highly desirable.

I researched the Nikon 8x42 Monarch 7 ATB, Nikon 10x42 Monarch 7 ATB, Nikon 10x42 Monarch 5 and Steiner Marine 7x50. I feel that 7x might not provide enough magnification for my needs. While I like 10x42 for magnification, I worry that it might make exit pupil diameter and viewing stability marginal, but I find this difficult to assess without actually trying the specific equipment. 8x might or might not be optimal from the point of view of magnification, I am not sure.

Given these constraints, what would you recommend? Also, do you know if Steiner or some other company has any product(s) equivalent to the 8x56 which fit my criteria?

Thank you very much for your assistance.

Hi Victor!

One bino you might want to look at is the Swarovski SLC 8x56 (and they also come in 10x56 and 15x56 sizes).  I have some Swaro bins, and they are wonderful!  Very clear and sharp.

Hi.  Im looking for a pair of binoculars for bird watching.  I'm brand new to this.  Weight is an issue, because I have a lot of trouble with my neck.  I wear glasses sometimes, but not all the time, so I think it's probably a good idea to have decent eye relief.  My budget is about $550. I'm not sure whether to get 8 x 32 or 10 x 42.  I want a very good pair and am totally confused with all of the brands!  I'm in my late 50's, if that has any bearing on anything!  Thanks!!

 

I would recommend an 8x42. I feel the 8x magnification works best for bird watching and the 42 objective lens diameter is a good balance between being light weight, small size, and still good in low light. This Zeiss Terra would be an excellent option: https://bhpho.to/3qAGlHY

I live on a high floor with a downtown view. Looking for some binoculars to admire the view. Distance would be 1 to 2 miles. 

The Nikon 12x42 Monarch 5 Binoculars (Black), BH # NI12X42MO5 would be ideal based on the distance at which you will be viewing.  

 

https://bhpho.to/3oTsbAl

 

I'm looking for suggestion for  a Birthday gift for my husband, it loves watching the space shuttle when it takes off, from our house you can only see the small dot in the sky, we also spend time in NC  watching deer and his  would use on a fishing trip as well.  thinking the Swarovski would be a nice choice. Any suggestions?

The Swarovski 10x42 would be a great binocular for viewing wildlife. Please take a look at the following link: 

https://bhpho.to/3o5ixKf

It should be good for viewing rocket launches too, but that would depend on your distance from the launch site.

I am looking for 8 by 20 binoculars for my husband who is visually impaired. He uses binoculars to watch tv. It helps to be lightweight since he has to hold them for long periods. What would you recommend?

Hello Kathy,

An 8X binocular would probably have too much magnification for watching television. Opera Glasses such as the following would be a better option:

 

https://bhpho.to/3qMGh8L

Excellent article.  I am needing objective lens caps for my 8 x 32mm Zeiss Terra ED binoculars.  The originals are horrible.  Suggestions please.

Hello Wayne,

Unfortunately, binocular lens caps are limited to only the included caps or the exact same model cap sold separately as a replacement. It is possible that another cap for another brand might fit but there would be no way to check it. We're very sorry about that. 

Hi Kirk - thanks so much for this great article.   I'm looking for a pair of binnocs for home for bird watching.  We have a few pairs of small ones from Aetec 7x35, Bushnell 7-15x25, and Skygenius 8x21 opera glasses.  So we have something for hikes or travel.  But we're looking for a more powerful and really bright pair for watching hawks and similar that are just out of range of the Aetec's. Maybe also stargazing if that is possible in one pair. And these would mainly be used at home from the deck.  What do you recommend for (well) under 500?  Thx!!

Hi Bill,

I would recommend the Vortex 12x50 Diamondback HD.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1489815-REG/vortex_db_217_12x50_diamondback_hd_binocular.html

Key Features

High Definition Optical System
Phase-Corrected Roof Prisms
Fully Multi-Coated Optics
Wide 62° Apparent Angle of View
Argon-Filled Water & Fogproof
Large Center Focusing Knob
GlassPak Binoculars Harness
Rubber-Armored Magnesium Housing
Tripod-Mountable with Optional Adapter
Twist-Up Rubber Eyecups/Diopter

It features powerful magnification and a generous objective lens for a bright view even in lower light conditions. That being said, the 12x50 Diamondback HD Binoculars from Vortex are a versatile optic suited to a wide range of uses. It can be mounted on a tripod with a separately sold adapter, and comes with a Vortex GlassPak harness for comfortable use during hours of observation.

I am going to buy a binocular for bird watching, The description of binocular mentioned it's power as 60×90.Can you please explain it. 

Unfortunately, there was no mention of a binocular that is 60 x 90.  If possible, please e-mail us to [email protected] so we can go over some options with you in greater detail. 

I am looking for binoculars for beginners interested in astronomy. Preferably, lightweight, waterproof, fog proof, fully multi-coated, BAK4 prism, I would probably share them with people who wear glasses even though I don't. A dioptric adjustment dial and an individual focus model would be nice. My budget is $150, $200 max. I'm also interested in a polycarbonate frame, and porro prism with a BAK4 if possible. 

Is there some reason you are unable to use the filters on the BH binocular page to shop for what you want?

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