Picture this. You’ve splashed out for a dream holiday, going on safari to see the “Big 5” game animals. You’re traveling along in a jeep with your companions when you suddenly come screeching to a halt. “Lions!” announces your guide. All heads whip around, and all hands raise binoculars… except yours.
Why haven’t you got binoculars?!
I woke from this bad dream just the other day, and it made me realize I haven’t yet done an article on the best binoculars for wildlife viewing. So, that’s what I will be covering today!
Whether you’re out hunting or just admiring the majesty of nature, a great pair of binoculars will enhance your experience like nothing else.
Top 6 Best Binoculars for Wildlife Viewing in 2023 Reviews
1 Bushnell Falcon Binoculars – Best Budget Binoculars for Wildlife Viewing
Size: 7 x 35
I’m really, really surprised that I’m able to start this list with a pair of Bushnell binoculars. Bushnell is known as a top brand in optics, so to find the Falcon 7×35 for under $30 is something of a shocker.
Let’s manage our expectations here…
For this low price, there’s no way that Bushnell has used the top-quality glass that their high-end products are known for. These are a simple 7x magnification pair of binoculars with 35mm diameter objective lenses.
They use a porro prism design which causes them to be a bit wider and bulkier but also lets in more light. And for smaller objective lenses, they still let in enough light to give you a 5mm exit pupil. At 21 ounces (595g) and over 8 inches wide, they’re not tiny. But, you have saved on streamlining costs.
Gives a good gander…
The lenses here are multi-coated for durability and extra brightness, but the prisms are not. In the end, we’re still looking at a fairly sharp image here with moderate brightness. There is some chromatic aberration here, so if you’re an avid birder, that may put you off.
But again, for this money, I’m very pleased. You get a good field of view of 420 feet at 1000 yards distance. And with a 12mm eye relief, these are comfortable for glasses wearers.
My one concern…
The durability of the focus ring. It’s smooth, and the throw is, I think, right on the money. It’s just perfect for getting the right focus in a hurry. However, after just a little bit of use, I already felt this loosening up. This makes me worry about long-term durability.
You haven’t got water or fog-proofing here either. However, for the low price, I still think you’re getting a lot more than your money’s worth.
- Very inexpensive.
- Sharp image.
- Good focus control.
- May not be durable for an extended period.
- A bit big and bulky for the magnification.
2 Celestron Nature DX – Best Fog-Proof Binoculars for Wildlife Viewing
Size: 8 x 42
Celestron has been doing very well in the lower-priced end of the binoculars and telescopes market lately. Let’s see how their Nature DX binoculars stack up against the competition.
The Nature DX binos offer 8x magnification and wider (42mm) objective lenses compared to the Bushnell we just saw. They use a roof prism design to make them more compact, so they’re just 5.6″ x 5”. Still, they weigh more at 24.9 ounces (705g), and that can make them more difficult to use for long periods.
Getting your money’s worth…
These binos are priced down under $140 right now, but that’s still 4.5 times the price of the Bushnell. But you do get a whole lot more for your money here. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be on my list of the best binoculars for wildlife viewing.
First of all, the fully multi-coated lenses are of better quality. And they use phase-coated BaK4 prisms for additional sharpness and light transmissibility. The objective lenses are made from ED, or extra-low dispersion, glass. Combined, this all brings a very clear, very sharp, and brighter image.
For 8x binos, these have a decent field of view of 393 feet at 1000 yards. The exit pupil is 5.25mm making them bright for daytime use. Although not great for low light conditions. They have a close focus range of just 6.5 feet (2m), which is great for close-range spotting and even bugging.
On top of that…
They’re nitrogen purged, which means they won’t fog up. In addition, the durable rubber-coated bodies are claimed to be waterproof, though I’m not sure to what extent. The twist-up eyecups allow a generous eye relief of 17.8mm, plenty for glasses wearers.
They also come with a carrying case, padded neck strap, and lens covers. These are all okay, but not fantastic. Overall, these are some of the most affordable binoculars for wildlife viewing you can buy.
Is there anything not to like here?
Not much. I’m just a little bit concerned about the durability factor once again. And manufacturers’ claims of waterproofing should offer a tested IP rating to be more specific.
- Relatively compact.
- ED glass and coated lenses and prisms.
- A bit heavy.
- Unknown level of waterproofing.
3 Nikon Aculon A211 – Best Adjustable Zoom Binoculars for Wildlife Viewing
Size: 10-22 x 50
With the Aculon A211 from Nikon, we’re back to the wider porro prism design we saw with Bushnell. But, we do get something new and exciting here – a 10x to 22x zoom!
Unlike the other binoculars on this list which have a fixed focus, these Nikon Aculon lets you zoom out for spotting and then zoom in tight for a great ID or viewing experience. And with the price just under $150, they’re also not going to break the bank.
Nikon is known for great, high-level binoculars…
However, affordable lines, like the Aculon, don’t use all the same quality of glass and construction. They use multi-coated lenses and BaK4 prisms made from Nikon’s “Eco-glass,” which is guaranteed lead and arsenic-free. However, this isn’t ED glass like we just saw with the Celestron.
With the 10x zoom…
You have a tighter field of view of just 199 feet at 1000 yards, and of course, this shrinks as you zoom in. At the same time, they have 50mm objective lenses, which help take in enough light that you get a 5mm exit pupil. Although, this diminishes to 2.3mm when fully zoomed.
The image is generally clear and sharp at lower magnifications. However, at full zoom, there is a bit of fringing and color aberration that again might put birders off. Furthermore, the 10x magnification can be a bit much for some users. It’s harder to keep steady in hand than with 7x or 8x binos.
Of course, you can use a tripod, but that’s not always convenient for quick spotting. They also have a close focus distance of 49 feet, which is way too far for many applications. If you’re spotting game for hunting, this is perfectly acceptable. But, if you’re out birding, you’ll want to focus closer.
At 7.8 x 7.8 inches long and wide, these aren’t overly bulky. However, they’re heavy at 33.9 ounces (961g), and that can make hand-holding them even trickier. The 8.6mm eye relief is probably just enough for glasses wearers, though not very liberal.
All in all, these are a clear and useful pair of zoom binos with a great zoom mechanism. But, they’re not going to be right for every application.
- Zoom control and focus are both spot on.
- The image is generally clear and bright.
- Unknown waterproof rating.
- Long close focus.
- Some fringing and aberration at full zoom.
4 Steiner Wildlife Binoculars – Best Value for the Money Binoculars for Wildlife Viewing
Size: 8 x 24
Steiner is another big name, especially in big game binoculars. The just over $200 Wildlife 8×24 binoculars are a good example of this German brand’s ability to make some of the most dependable binoculars for a wide range of applications.
At 8x magnification, you’re right in the sweet spot for bird watching or wildlife viewing. They’re also compact and light enough to carry around and use all day.
With a weight of just 12.3 ounces (350g), these are lightweight and easy to use binos. They measure 4.5” by 4.8”, so they’re a bit smaller than the Celestron, another roof prism-designed pair of binos. All told, these are some of the best compact binoculars for wildlife viewing on the market.
Does the small 24mm objective diameter affect brightness?
Since these binos are compact, have a small objective diameter, and use roof prisms, I’d expect them to be pretty dull. They have an exit pupil of just 3mm, which makes them OK for daytime spotting. But, definitely a no-go for low light.
They do also have a tiny bit of fringing and chromatic aberration, although it’s barely noticeable.
So, what do they do well?
The field of view here of 342 feet at 1000 yards is decent for 8x binoculars. The image quality and sharpness we get are very well produced, despite not using ED glass.
Furthermore, they are nitrogen purged for fog-proofing and are waterproof. This time we get the actual stat – submersible down to 6.5 feet (2m) of pressure. They can focus as close as 6.5 feet as well, and the focusing knob is well set.
Throw in a good case and a convenient click-lock strap, and you got a great deal on some of the most durable binoculars for wildlife viewing you can buy.
- Fog-proof and waterproof.
- Lightweight and compact.
- Sharp, clear image.
- Not good for low-light situations.
- A tiny bit of fringing and color aberration.
5 Upland Optics Perception HD – Best Image Sharpness Binocular for Wildlife Viewing
Size: 10 x 42
Upland Optics has been making a name for themselves in the mid-range to higher-end optics market. They gear their products towards the hunting community, and these Perception HD binoculars are no exception.
This time, we’re looking at a heftier price of around $300 for these binos. They’re also a whole lot heftier than the Steiners at 23 ounces (652g). Measuring 5.5” x 5.2”, they’re still compact, owing to the roof prism design they employ.
At 10x magnification…
You get a lot of power here, although they might not be to everyone’s taste. It limits your ability to hand-hold them steady and also narrows your field of view. However, these binoculars have an impressive FOV of 339 feet at 1000 yards, thanks to the 42mm objective lenses.
This large diameter also gives them a useable brightness. However, the exit pupil is just 4.2mm, which means that while they’re good in bright conditions, in low light, you will struggle.
As for sharpness…
This is the best I’ve seen so far. They use ED glass and fully multi-coated lenses to produce a crisp image with no flaws.
Additionally, they’re nitrogen purged for fog-proofing and also are waterproof, though again, no rating is given. The rubber armor of the body seems like it will protect them from lots of bumps and scrapes.
My one concern is the twist-up eyecups. They’re not as tight as I would like to see, and I’d be concerned about them shifting during use if you’re not careful. For the price, though, the image here is outstanding.
- Very sharp and clear image for a moderate price.
- Relatively compact.
- 10x magnification may be too much for some users.
- Eyepieces could be tighter.
6 Vortex Optics Viper HD – Best Premium Quality Binoculars for Wildlife Viewing
Size: 10 x 50
The last product on my list of the best binoculars for viewing wildlife is not for the faint of heart. At least the price isn’t. At nearly $550, Vortex Optics’ Viper HD binoculars are a serious investment.
But are they worth it?
This is another roof prism-designed pair of binos with a somewhat compact design. At 28.4 ounces (805g), they are heavy, but they do thankfully come with a chest harness to take the load off your neck.
They measure 6.5” by 5.2”, so can still fit easily into almost any bag or even cargo pockets. Although, at this price, keep them in their protective case.
Not for the birds…
Once again, 10x magnification may not be for everyone. If you’re out spotting game at long range, yes, this is about the most powerful magnification you can handhold.
But, for birders and other wildlife enthusiasts, it may be too much. However, they’ve managed a close focus of just eight feet here, which is quite useful.
The large 50mm objective lenses collect enough light to give you an exit pupil of 5mm. You also have a wide FOV of 346 feet at 1000 yards, very respectable for 10x magnification. The 16mm eye relief makes these more than comfortable to wear glasses with as well.
Now, how’s the image?
Really, really good. This pair of binos uses ED glass, XR fully multi-coated lenses, and dielectric multi-coated prisms to bring you the clearest, sharpest image yet.
They’re argon-purged for fog-proofing and waterproof (to what level?), plus the shells are highly durable. In other words, if you can afford the price, they should last for a long time.
- Excellent clarity and sharpness.
- Relatively compact and moderate weight.
- Come with a chest harness.
- 10x magnification may not be best for everyone.
Best Binoculars for Wildlife Viewing Buying Guide
Binoculars come with such a range of sizes and features that they can be a little intimidating. So, here are some of the main features you probably want to look for in binoculars for wildlife.
When I talk about the size of binoculars, I mean the two most important numbers on them. These are the magnification and the diameter of the objective lenses (the ones pointing at what you’re looking at).
You’ll see numbers like 8×42 or 10×50. The first number tells you the magnification power, here 8 times or 10 times what your eyes see. Higher magnification gets you closer to what you’re looking at but can be harder to hold steady. Lower magnification binoculars can be handled more quickly and easily.
The second number, the diameter of the objective lenses in millimeters, gives a good measure of the amount of light they let in. A 50mm diameter will let in more light than a 42mm diameter at the same magnification.
Dimensions and Weight
It’s pretty straightforward. Lighter, more-compact binoculars are more convenient. Heavier binoculars can give you more features and better image quality. Think about which is more important to you. Or, choose a compromise with a pair that gives you moderate weight and good image quality.
Glass, Image Quality, and Brightness
The lenses and internal prisms of binoculars can vary quite a bit in quality. Lenses that are fully multi-coated reduce glare and transmit more light, making the binos brighter.
Quality glass in your prisms also transmits more light and gives a sharper image. ED or extra-low dispersion glass is the best, but it will increase the price of a pair of binoculars substantially.
When I’m talking image quality…
The things to look for are the sharpness of focus and good clarity. If you have fuzziness around the edges of an image, or “fringing,” this can be distracting.
Cheaper lenses can also distort colors. This causes chromatic aberration, which can interfere with things like the identification of species. As a general rule, the more you pay for binoculars, the better glass you should have in them.
Your pupil is a hole in your eye that lets light in. On bright days, human pupils close to about 4mm in diameter. So, any binoculars that have an exit pupil that size or larger will seem as bright as normal. If it’s smaller than your pupil, things will seem dark and dull.
However, in lower light conditions, your pupils open up. Binoculars with larger exit pupils will let you see more light when it’s dim outside.
Of course, there’s no use having good optics in your binoculars if they aren’t built to last. Nitrogen and argon purging pushes the air out of the tubes of your binoculars, replacing it with those gases. This protects your lenses from fogging up in a much wider range of temperatures.
If you expect to be using your binoculars in all weather conditions, make sure they’re fog-proof. Waterproofing is also a must if you’ll be out in the wild.
IP ratings or stated water depth pressures help us understand what a pair of binoculars can withstand. Just stating “waterproof” isn’t very helpful, but it’s still better than nothing.
Last but not least…
Finally, the body of your binos should be able to stand up to the scrapes and knocks of the outdoor world. All knobs and dials should also stay tuned and at the right tightness to keep everything running smoothly.
Searching for A Great Pair of Binoculars?
We can help with that. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Binoculars For The Money, the Best Binoculars for Birding, the Best Binoculars for Whale Watching, the Best Binoculars for Sporting Events, the Best Binoculars for Theater & Opera, and the Best Binoculars Under $100 you can buy in 2023.
Also, take a look at our detailed reviews of the Best High Power Binoculars, the Best Budget Night Vision Monoculars under $200, the Best Budget Telescopes, the Best Magnifying Glasses, the Best Headband Magnifiers, and the Best Handheld Magnifying Glasses currently on the market.
What Are The Best Binoculars for Wildlife Viewing?
Right out of the gate, I’m going to let you know that this is a hard one. Different people want to view wildlife for different reasons – safari, hunting, birding, even bugging – and their needs are different. So, choosing the best all-around binoculars for wildlife viewing is tricky.
In the end, though, I’m going to give it to the…
They are very small and lightweight, letting you carry them anywhere. Furthermore, they still have great optics inside, and the price is affordable for a pair of fog-proof and waterproof binoculars.
That’s my choice for the champ, but don’t be afraid to choose what’s best for you and your specific wildlife viewing needs.
Until next time, keep an eye out.