Where would birders be with a pair of quality binoculars?
Confused and perplexed is the answer! Imagine seeing a small fluttering creature in the top of a tree and having no ability to zoom in and identify it properly.
Without a good set of birdwatching binos, we would basically be wasting our time.
And one of the questions I am constantly asked is, what are the Best Binoculars for Birding? So, I decided to share my views and break them down into the best across various price bands so that there is something for every birder’s budget.
I considered all the important factors in my decision, image clarity, weight, field of view, close focus range, overall quality, price, and my own experiences of using the brands over my many years of birdwatching.
So, let’s get started at the lower end of the price bracket with the excellent…
Top 5 Best Binoculars for Birding To Buy In 2023 Reviews
1 Nikon Action Extreme 7×35 ATB Binoculars – Best Budget Binoculars for Birding (under $200)
For an economy, low-priced or even, I hate to call them this, the best cheap pair of binoculars without having to compromise too much quality, you have to go for the Action Extreme 7×35 ATB Binoculars from Nikon.
Being only a 7x magnification means that they feature an exceptionally wide Field of View (FOV) of 429 feet! This makes it easy for beginners to get the bird they are looking for into view.
Amazing quality for the price point…
The BAK-4 Multilayer Coated Prisms give you a clear sight picture, sharper colors, and excellent low-light performance, while the Aspherical lenses eliminate virtually all signs of distortion.
And even though they are at the lower end of the market in terms of price, they are still 100% Waterproof and Fogproof, being nitrogen-filled and O-Ring Sealed.
For unparalleled strength, they also feature a Rubber Armor coating with a Non-Slip Grip and are shockproof, so should be fully protected against the occasional bang or drop. And even if you do drop them, they are covered by the amazing Nikon 25 year limited warranty.
But why are these cheaper than the ever-popular Nikon Monarch that I will be looking at next?
Well, it’s because these are porro prism binoculars, as opposed to the Monarchs, which feature a roof prism design making them a little more expensive. The design also makes these binoculars a little heavier, weighing 30.1 oz compared with the Monarch’s 20.8 oz. They also have a different shape, again dictated by the prism design.
But if you are on a tighter budget and don’t mind about bulkier design and a little more weight, then these are a fantastic pair of cheap bird watching binoculars.
Great range of affordable options…
They are available in a range of magnifications – 8×42, 10×42, and 12×42. And are also available with the Realtree apg HD camouflage pattern.
- Fantastic value considering the price.
- A manufacturer you can trust.
- None considering the incredibly low price.
2 Nikon Monarch 5 ATB 8×42 Binoculars – Best Value for Money Birding Binoculars ($200-$500)
If you’re looking for the best mid-priced binoculars for bird watching, you can’t really beat the Monarch 5 ATB 8×42 Binoculars from Nikon.
Having said that, the Katmai 6×32 are a serious contender in the mid-price bracket; however, Cornell advised that even though the Katmai are better for butterfly watching, while the Monarch’s are the best binoculars for bird watching.
They feature an all-new ED High-Reflective Multilayer Prism Coating (ED stands for Extra-Low Dispersion), which produces incredibly bright, clear images. They also have a high degree of phase-Correction with fully multi-coated lenses, also helping with clarity and a bright image.
Like the Action Extremes I just reviewed, these are also ATB (All-Terrain Binoculars) and are fully waterproof, fog proof, and shockproof, so you can use them anywhere in any conditions.
Lightweight and practical…
They also feature a lightweight and ergonomic design that makes them very comfortable for use on long walks for hours on end, weighing only 20.8 ounces.
And more impressive specs include the long eye relief (up to 20mm), which is ideal for those who wear eyeglasses, and an amazing close focusing distance of 8.2 feet (2.4 meters). They also have handy features included, such as turn and slide rubber eyecups, a very smooth central focusing knob, and quality flip-down lens caps.
For similar features from competitors binoculars, you would expect to pay over $500 at least for this level of quality. But these are just over half that price, which just shows the value you are getting, easily making them the best value bird watching binoculars around.
- Fantastic quality for the price.
- Rugged construction.
- Long eye relief and amazingly close focus distance.
- Lightweight design.
- Excellent warranty.
3 Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10×42 Binoculars
Next up in my Best Binoculars for Birding review, if you’re looking for an alternative in the mid-priced range, then the Legend Ultra from Bushnell comes in a very close second to the Monarchs, especially if you are looking for the best value pair of x10 binoculars.
Featuring a Rainguard HD water-repellent lens coating, the lightweight magnesium chassis is completely waterproof and fog proof, so you should have no issues using these in any weather conditions.
With ED Prime Glass and Ultra Wide Band Coatings, you will get a clear and precise image of anything you are looking at. However, due to the higher magnification (x10), these are not as good for low light conditions as the x8 Monarch’s I have just reviewed.
Therefore if you are out a lot during dawn and dusk, you’ll probably be better off with a pair of 8×42 or, if higher magnifications are important, a pair of 10×50’s. They are also slightly heavier (24.7 Oz.), although still relatively lightweight, due to the higher magnification as well.
However, regardless of the higher magnification, they still offer an excellent field of view, so you should have no problem getting your latest sightings in view.
As with the Monarch, they also feature long eye-relief, as well as a locking diopter for us spectacle wearers. And they come with a soft carrying case, a Microfiber carry bag, and a neck strap.
- Excellent image quality.
- Relatively lightweight for 10x binoculars.
- Rugged, waterproof, and fog proof construction.
- Very popular choice amongst birdwatchers.
- Excellent value for money.
- Only available as a 10×42.
4 Vortex Viper HD Binoculars – Best Affordable Binoculars for Birding ($500-$1,000)
The best choice in this category, in my opinion, is the Viper HD from Vortex. Moving up in not only quality but size, these are 10×50 and feature an advanced HD optical system with an enhanced anti-reflective lens coating for amazing image quality and excellent light transmission.
The dielectric, multi-layer prism coatings aid in giving incredibly bright, color-accurate, and clear images with enhanced resolution and contrast.
Come Rain, come shine…
The compact chassis is rubber-armored with an armortek coating that ensures the Viper HD will stand up to any conditions while out in the wilds. They are also argon purged and o-ring sealed to ensure top quality waterproof and fog proof performance, regardless of the weather.
They are also incredibly comfortable and easy to use with adjustable multi-position metal-reinforced eyecups for a perfect custom fit whether you wear glasses or not. There is also a locking right eye diopter that adjusts for differences in focus between your eyes.
Choice of magnifications…
The Vortex HD Vipers are available in a number of different sizes, from 8×32 to 15×50. The 8×42 and the 10×50 models are a great choice for general birding.
Or if you do a lot of static birdwatching, such as seawatching, where a greater magnification is needed, and there is no real issue with having a heavier binocular, go for the 15×50 for seabird watching heaven!
Lasts a lifetime…
Vortex are so confident in their build quality that these come with the Vortex VIP Warranty. This is an unlimited lifetime warranty, and you don’t even need to fill out the warranty card or keep your receipt, although I recommend you do, just for good measure.
All this adds up to a fantastic pair of binoculars that will serve you well for many, many years to come. If you’re happy spending a bit more, these are an excellent option that you will never regret buying.
- Solid and stylish design.
- Excellent field of view for higher powered binoculars.
- Crystal clear, bright sight picture.
- Choice of magnifications.
- Rugged construction.
- Lifetime warranty
- None, they really are that good.
5 Zeiss Victory 8×42 HT – Best Premium Birding Binoculars (over $1,000)
Moving into the serious money category, the best option currently on the market is the Zeiss Victory 8×42 Binoculars. These offer incredible overall quality and produce stunningly clear, bright, and vivid images.
So, what makes them so good?
Well, let’s start with the 92% light transmission, which gives you an incredibly bright image with all the clarity you need for a perfect view. The Ultra-FL Concept contains SCHOTT fluoride glass for absolute color fidelity, clarity, and the finest resolution of details, even in the most challenging environments and the harshest conditions.
They also have an extremely wide field of view; in fact, they increase the observable area by up to 20% when compared with other binoculars.
True-to-life image quality…
These were developed for the most demanding situations that you can encounter while birdwatching. And the LotuTec lens coating is guaranteed to give you a clear and unhindered view in all weather conditions.
The outstanding SmartFocus allows you to quickly and intuitively respond thanks to the improved focusing speed with a natural, comfortable hand position. They also feature excellent eye relief, making them a great choice for any birder.
Simply the best…
And don’t just take my word for it, Cornell’s have continually given the Victory HT’s their Top Rating in their annual surveys, and these are considered by most birders who have used them as the finest binocular they have ever looked through. High praise indeed.
If you can afford them, you simply can’t go wrong with the Zeiss Victory HTs; they will be one of the best binocular investments you ever make.
- Incredible build quality from a legendary binocular manufacturer.
- Fantastic color reproduction.
- 20% wider field of view than its competitors.
- Superb clarity and brightness in all conditions.
- Amazing resolution.
- Expensive, but quality comes at a cost.
Coming to the end of my review, and I’ve given you what, in my opinion, are the best within all the price categories.
However, there are some very close seconds and a pair of ‘how much?’ binoculars that I haven’t included because most birdwatchers would never spend that much on a pair of binoculars, regardless of how obsessed they are.
So, I’ll start with those, the first of which is the…
1 SWAROVSKI Optik 10×42 EL Laser Rangefinder Binoculars with Tracking Assistant – The Ultimate Birding Binoculars
Coming in at over $3,500 dollars these are, as I mentioned, out of the price range for most birdwatchers. But if you have just won the lottery or spend every waking minute watching birds so don’t need a house anymore, they are the best binoculars money can buy.
If you like the sound of the EL’s but still want some money to spend on food, then go for their more affordable cousin, the…
2 Swarovski Optik 15×56 SLC Series Water Proof Roof Prism Binocular with 4.5 Degree Angle of View, Green
Again, a fantastic pair of birding binos, and still expensive, but not shockingly so.
Coming back down to earth in terms of price, well slightly, the following binoculars from Leica are great options, just not my favorites, which is why they didn’t win their respective categories.
For a semi-affordable super high-quality pair of binoculars, go for the LEICA Trinovid HD Robust Waterproof Lightweight Compact Binocular, or if you want to spend a little more, the LEICA Geovid HD-R 2700 Binocular are well worth the price tag.
Best Binoculars for Birding – FAQs
What’s the best magnification for binoculars for bird watching?
Well, that will depend on how you use them and what type of birding you do most. The choices are either 7x, 8x, 10x, or more than 10x magnification.
If most of your birding is long distance, such as viewing raptors in open areas, shorebirds or lake/marsh birds, or over open plains where there is plenty of light, the best option is 10x.
However, if you are birding at shorter distances, such as in forests or scrub, or you are going on longer hikes where weight might be an issue, then 8x or even x7 such as the Nikon Action 7×35 Binoculars is a better choice.
If you love sitting on a cliff watching the sea and waiting for the birds to fly by on migration, then something more powerful and heavier is a good option, such as a 15×50 or even a pair with a 60mm lens for more light at higher magnification. Or go for a scope if you prefer?
I, like most birders, use a selection of all the above depending on where I am birding.
What does 8×42 mean in binoculars?
The numbers on binoculars relate to the magnification and the size of the objective lens (the one furthest from your eyes).
In the case of an 8×42 pair of binos, 8 is the strength of magnification, and 42 is the diameter of the objective lens measured in millimeters. When the objective lens is too small relative to the magnification, sight images will be less bright.
Around 1:5 is the golden ratio for magnification versus image brightness. Therefore 8×42 and 10×50 are very popular choices.
For a more detailed explanation, check out What Do The Numbers ON Binoculars Mean.
What should I look for when buying binoculars?
First off, think about what type of birding you normally enjoy, then go for a suitable magnification for that, as explained above. Then match that with an objective lens which is roughly five times larger than the magnification for brightness and a good field of view.
In terms of specifications, always go for multi-coated or fully multi-coated lenses and BaK4 prisms or better. Also, consider the eye relief if you wear glasses.
A wider field of view is a plus, especially if you are new to birding, because it makes it easier to locate birds. Also, consider what type of conditions you bird in; if you end up in all sorts of weather, then make sure your binoculars are waterproof and fog proof.
And finally, weight can be an issue if you trek for mile upon mile. Therefore, I recommend lighter binoculars if this is an issue, such as a light pair of 8×42’s.
What are the best cheap binoculars?
There are a number of very cheap unheard-of brands of binoculars currently on the market, and even though some are better than others, I wouldn’t recommend buying any of them.
Stick with recognized lens manufacturers which have a history of producing quality products and offer an impressive warranty. The 7×35 Nikon Action Binocular range is incredible for the price and would suit any birder regardless of a limited budget. So, why go for something unknown which may not last you that long when you can buy an affordable quality product instead?
Looking for More Great Information on Binoculars?
Then check out my In-depth Guides to Binocular Parts and their Functions and How to Repair Binoculars at Home.
But Which of These Best Binoculars for Birding Should You Buy?
Well, considering they are the best of the best in their respective price ranges, you can’t really go wrong with any of them. So, just decide on how much you want to spend and go from there.
In terms of my personal favorite, the…
Nikon Monarch 5 ATB 8×42 Binoculars
…are a fantastic choice for most birders because they just offer so much for the price. They are also within the range of people who are just getting into birding and are easily the best beginners birding binoculars out there at the moment.
However, since I’ve been bird watching for far too many years, I will never stray away from my beloved…
They have served me well in so many bad weather conditions and never complained or had a problem that I consider them a true friend for life. The build quality is amazing, and the image is simply stunning.
Yes, I, like every birder, am tempted by the pot of gold that is the SWAROVSKI Optik 10×42 EL Laser Rangefinder Binoculars with Tracking Assistant, but I need to wait till I win the lottery first!
Enjoy your birding, and enjoy your next pair of quality binoculars!