Whale watching can be the adventure of a lifetime, unless you don’t see any whales, that is. While some savvy ship captains seem to know exactly where and when to find whales on every trip, others lean a lot on luck. But just because a whale doesn’t breach right beside your boat doesn’t mean you have to miss all the action.
The right pair of binoculars can completely change your whale-watching experience. Instead of racing from starboard to port trying to catch a glimpse, you can hold steady and scan out to sea with extra magnification. And the best binoculars for whale watching will catch these incredible animals in all their majesty.
So, let’s take a look at the best currently on the market to make sure you get the most from the whale watching experience as possible, starting with the…
Top 6 Best Binoculars for Whale Watching in 2023 Reviews
1 Celestron OutlandX – Best Budget Binoculars for Whale Watching
Size: 8 x 42
Our first pair of whale-watching binoculars is the OutlandX 8×42. These binos are inexpensive at just a touch over $60. However, they’re a great starting point if you need a rugged pair of binos for whale watching.
At 22 ounces (624g), these are still a compact sized set of binos which makes them easy to travel with and also easy to hold up for longer periods of time. They come with a soft carrying case, neck strap, and caps for both the objective (outside) and ocular (eye-side) lenses. As with most ocular lens caps, these are unfortunately easy to lose, so you’ll have to keep an extra eye on them.
Not the widest view…
The 8x magnification is a pretty good choice for whale watching. Provided by Ba-K4 (barium-potassium) roof prisms, you get an OK but slightly narrow field of view of 356 feet from 1000 yards. These are roof prisms that keep the binoculars smaller and more streamlined but do sacrifice field of view somewhat.
Your close-range focus here is 13 feet, though you’re mostly going to have your focus set to infinity for whale watching. That’s good news because the short-throw focus knob here is overly sensitive and pretty fiddly to adjust.
For glasses wearers, you’ve got a good eye relief of 18mm, which is a comfortable distance to let you keep your glasses on, as you should. The rubber eyecups slide out if you don’t wear glasses for a comfortable view.
Not the best in low light…
And the view here is OK. It’s not incredibly sharp, not as bright as you might expect from 42mm ocular lenses. At dusk or in the early morning (when whale watching is best), you might find yourself straining to see out at sea. There’s also fairly significant color aberration here, though that’s not so much of a concern for whale watching as it might be for, say, birding.
But these binos are waterproof, and the lenses are nitrogen purged, so they’re fog-proof. There’s a nice rubber coating to protect them and improve your grip.
All told, this is not a bad beginner model for the price, easily making them one of the best low-cost whale watching binoculars you can buy.
- Lightweight and compact.
- Waterproof and fog-proof.
- Short throw focus ring is tricky to use.
- Less bright than expected.
- Some color aberration present.
2 Nikon 7239 Action Extreme All-Terrain Binoculars – Best Affordable Binoculars for Whale Watching at Dawn and Dusk
Size: 7 x 50
Next in line, we’re going to have a look at the Nikon 7239 Action Extreme All-Terrain Binoculars. These guys are more than double the price of the Celestrons at around $150.
But do you get double the binoculars?
First off, you get a different magnification. This is 7x rather than 8x, so you’re looking at a little less magnification but actually a smaller field of view. Despite using a porro prism design and having lower magnification, the Nikons get you a view of 335 feet from a distance of 1000 yards while we saw 365 feet with the Celestrons.
At the same time, these binos are way brighter…
With big 50mm objective lenses, they let in a lot of light. If you’re out spotting whales in the early morning or late evening, you’ll find these let you see a whole lot more. During bright days, though, these binos may actually be too bright, although it would need to be a very sunny day indeed for that to be the case.
Speaking of glasses, the 17.1mm eye relief here is more than enough to comfortably wear eyeglasses with. The rubber eyecups twist out and lock for the comfort of non-glasses wearers. There’s also a diopter ring on the right ocular to help you set focus if your eyes are not equally strong.
The image you get here is quite sharp and has good contrast. There is a light bit of color aberration that’s you’ll notice here if you were to use these binos for birding, but for whale watching, it’s not going to be an issue.
These binoculars are coated in a good rubberized armor for durability and come with a padded strap for extra convenience. They also have four lens covers that are the usual fiddly things you have to keep a close eye on. The binos are waterproof and have nitrogen purged, fog-proof lenses. However, they are quite beefy at 35.3 ounces (1000g), which makes them fatiguing to hold up for long periods.
- Waterproof with fog-proof lenses.
- Sharp, bright, and good contrast.
- Good for glasses-wearers.
- Narrow field of view for 7x magnification.
3 Bushnell H2O Xtreme – Most Powerful Affordable Binoculars for Whale Watching
Size: 10 x 42
Next up on our list of the best binoculars for whale watching is the H2O Xtreme 10 x 42 from Bushnell. This rugged model is only a bit more expensive at $160.
Let’s see what they’re all about…
With 10x magnification, these are the most powerful binoculars that we’ve seen so far. However, this has both pros and cons. On the one hand, you get better magnification to bring everything closer. On the other hand, you get a narrower field of view (only 305 feet at 1000 yards), also partially due to the use of roof prisms here. They’re also harder to keep steady when hand-holding these binos.
Luckily, though, they’re tripod compatible. You need to buy a tripod adapter and, of course, a tripod, and cart all this around, but that will make them nice and steady when you’re using them.
The big plusses on the H2O Xtreme model are about durability. They have nitrogen purged fog-proof lenses and also feature an IPX7 waterproof rating, so you have no worries using them even in driving rain. Just don’t drop them off your boat!
The rubberized coating protects them from scratches and scrapes and also improves their ability to weather bumps and bangs. All this adds up to them being one of the most durable affordable binoculars for whale watching currently on the market.
Bushnell also offers a limited lifetime warranty on all their binoculars…
At 25 ounces (705g) and 5 inches in length, these are a good mid-sized set of binos that are easy to carry around. They come with a padded strap, soft case, and lens covers. For 10x binoculars, they’re good and bright with their 42mm objective lenses. You get a nice sharp image here with a lot of contrast and no noticeable color aberration, thanks to the fully multi-coated lenses.
- Waterproof, fog-proof, and ultra-durable.
- Sharp image.
- Lifetime warranty.
- High magnification makes them less stable when hand-held.
- Narrow field of view.
4 Fujinon Mariner WPC XL – Best Eye Relief Binoculars for Whale Watching
Size: 7 x 50
The $230 Fujinon Mariner binoculars we’re going to look at next are another 7 x 50 unit like the Nikons we saw earlier. They have a built-in compass to help you keep track of where you’re looking so you can even take note of your whale spotting.
The tough polycarbonate body provides some durability against scrapes and knocks. It’s also O-ring sealed and waterproof. These binos will even float if you ever accidentally drop them in the sea as long as the provided floatation neckstrap is attached. The body could be less slippery, however, if they had used more rubber on the outside.
The eye relief here is also extra-long at 18mm. This means that glasses wearers can use them and get nice crisp focus with their glasses on. They’re also really bright. Even at first light or late twilight, the fully-multicoated lenses, large 7.1mm exit pupils, and big objectives make it easy to see and make out detail. You also get a nice spacious 367 foot field of view at 1000 yards, helping you to see a wide section of ocean at one time.
You get a very sharp image here with plenty of contrast and low or no visible distortion. They focus well; however, you’ll have to get used to using the IF (individually focusing) rings on each eye piece. These can be useful if you have one eye that’s weaker than the other, but are a lot slower and clumsier to use than CF (central focus) systems.
With a length and width of 7 inches x 8 inches (180mm x 210mm) and a weight of 32 ounces (910g), these binos are no shrinking violets. Because they’re bigger and heavier, and not all that well protected from bangs, you’ll have to be a bit careful with them. But at least they come with attached lens caps to protect them from scratches.
- Very sharp image.
- Excellent brightness.
- Built-in compass.
- Waterproof with fog-proof lenses.
- A bit pricey.
- Fairly big and heavy.
- Body could be rubberized for better grip and protection.
5 Steiner Marine – Best Auto-focus Binoculars for Whale Watching
Size: 7 x 50
Our last of three 7 x 50 binocular models is the $275 Steiner Marine. They’re a bit pricier than the Fujinon unit we just saw, so let’s see how they stack up.
Heavy but a quality view…
The Steiner Marine binoculars weigh in at 37 ounces (1049g) and measure 8.2 x 5.2 inches (208 x 132mm)in width and length. These are some big binoculars and are the heaviest on our list. That’s a strike against them as far as comfort goes because they’re more fatiguing to hold up for long periods while whale watching.
But the optics here really make up for the weight. You’ve got high-quality Ba-K4 porro prisms, and fully multi-coated lenses like you’d expect on binos at this price range. The brightness is really up there, perhaps tied with the Fujinons or even a little brighter. But they’re definitely sharper and have the best contrast we’ve seen so far.
You’ve got really long eye relief here as well. At 20mm, this means glasses wearers can get a very comfortable focus with glasses on just like everyone else. There’s a diopter ring if you have one eye weaker than the other. It’s very stiff, but once you set it, it stays put. Then that’s all you need to do because these binos have auto focus!
The so-called “Sports Auto Focus” allows you to get a sharp image immediately from 20 feet away up to infinity. So when you need to grab these binoculars to see a breaching whale, you’ll get a great focus every time.
Built to last…
The housing is also waterproof, with fog-proof lenses. There’s a nice rubber surface for a great grip and some knock protection. You also get lens caps and a neck strap for further protection. But if all else fails, Steiner stands by these binoculars with a ten year warranty.
- Auto focus.
- Excellent sharpness and contrast.
- Very bright.
- Big and heavy.
6 Canon Image Stabilization III – Best Premium Binoculars for Whale Watching
Size: 12 x 36
Our very last pair of binoculars for whale watching comes from Canon, a company famous for cameras and copiers.
But are their binoculars up to scratch?
In this case, they’re more than just up to scratch – these are some of the best binos money can buy. That is, if you have a whole pile of it, because these best high-end binoculars for whale watching with image stabilization sell for anywhere between $800 and $1000!
So what do you get for a grand? Starting with top-quality porro II prisms and immaculate Canon EF lenses, these binoculars give you 12X magnification. While that’s much more powerful than most of the binos we’ve been looking at, you may think this will lead to a lot of shaking when they’re hand held.
In fact, it’s not so…
This is where the image stabilization comes in. An efficient vari-angle prism system and tiny motors sense vertical and horizontal movement and correct it immediately to preserve a smooth and steady image. This isn’t going to take away all the motion of the ocean when you’re out at sea, but neither would a tripod. Instead, the IS extends your ability to hand-hold these high-powered binos for smooth whale watching.
We’re looking at the sharpest, best contrast we’ve seen thus far. They also use flattening correction lenses to virtually eliminate all curved distortion across the field of view. And with 36mm objective lenses, these binos are really bright for their 12X power.
For this price, I would have expected auto focus as well as the image stabilization. The center focus is good, but manual focus takes extra time. As for size and weight, these binos are surprisingly compact at just 5 x 6.85 inches. They also weigh 23.2 ounces (660g), which is surprisingly light.
They have a limited field of view of just 262 feet at 1000 yards, but this is to be expected because of the 12X magnification. I just wish they were waterproof to provide more durability out at sea.
- Great magnification with image stabilization.
- Sharp, high contrast, and bright image.
- Not waterproof.
- Very expensive!
How to Choose the Best Binoculars for Whale Watching?
Binoculars come in all different sizes and magnifications. However, there are a few features you definitely want to look for when choosing the best binoculars specifically for whale watching.
Most binoculars for whale watching are 7x or 8x magnification. This generally gives you a wide field of view with enough magnification to see some great whale images. 7 x 50 binoculars can also provide a lot of brightness for early morning or dusk spotting, when whales are at their most active.
Higher magnification like 10X or 12X can give you closer images but are harder to keep steady, without a tripod or built-in image stabilization anyway.
What use are binoculars if you can’t see something great through them? You want to look for an image that’s sharp and which provides true-to-life or even enhanced contrast. You also want enough brightness to make them useful in low-light situations. Though color aberration isn’t a big problem like it might be in bird identification, it’s better not to have it, naturally.
Size and Weight
While not as crucial as, say, binoculars for sporting events, size and weight can be important. Bigger binoculars are more cumbersome to carry around and attract more bumps and bangs. Heavier binoculars can be harder to hold up for extended periods while you’re scanning the horizon.
However, moderately heavy binos can actually be held steadier than both heavy and light binoculars, so there is a sweet spot to look out for somewhere between 20-25 ounces.
Whales live in the ocean, and the ocean is wet. Not only do you need waterproof binoculars for all sorts of weather, but you also want to be sure they won’t fog up on you when you’re out spotting. And wet conditions require a nice, grippy body that’s easy to hang onto.
You also want binos that will survive some bangs and bumps. And when in doubt of your ability to keep them safe, look for a good warranty for extra peace of mind.
For Glasses Wearers
If you wear glasses, eye relief, or the distance from the ocular lens to where your eye can focus, should be high. You’ll need at least 12mm or 0.47 inches to allow you to focus while wearing your glasses, but longer relief is even better.
Looking for More Superb Binoculars or Additional info on Buying the Right Pair?
Then, it’s well worth checking out our comprehensive comparisons of the Best Binoculars for Birding and the Best Binoculars for Sporting Events that you can buy in 2023.
And for even more great info, our guides on Binocular Parts and Their Functions, What Do The Numbers ON Binoculars Mean, as well as How to Repair Binoculars at Home, could well come in useful.
You may also enjoy our in-depth reviews of the Best Handheld Magnifying Glasses, the Best Endoscopes for iPhone, the Best Headband Magnifiers, and the Best Endoscopes for Android currently on the market.
So, Which of These Best Binoculars for Whale Watching Should You Buy?
We’ve just seen some really superb binoculars for whale watching. But now it’s time to choose a champion by taking everything into consideration.
For me, the best whale watching binoculars are the…
These are rugged binoculars with an excellent image. They’re not overly heavy, and they have waterproofing and fog-proofing to help you handle the weather. You can even drop them in the ocean, though it’s not recommended. You can get better binoculars, but for the price, these are the best deal, making them the best value for money binoculars for whale watching on the market.
Whether you choose the Fujinon Mariners or another pair of binos from this list, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. All of them will help you spot some amazing whale shows and greatly enhance your whale watching experiences.
Happy whale watching!