Binoculars are a quick and convenient way to spot things you would never see with the naked eye. Except when the light is poor, that is. Then things change quickly, and many binoculars that are excellent during the day become next to useless.
A great pair of binoculars for dawn, dusk, or gloomy days will have a large exit pupil. They’ll also have excellent optics and coatings that allow for maximum light transmission so that even in low light, you can still spot what you need to.
So, what are the best low light binoculars available on the market today? Thanks for asking! Now let’s find out…
Top 6 Best Low Light Binoculars in 2023
1 Nikon Prostaff 5 (7572) – Best Budget Low Light Binoculars
Size: 10 x 50
As usual, I’m going to start at the lowest end of the price range and work my way up. That means we’re beginning with the Prostaff 5 10×50 binoculars from Nikon.
While the cheapest low light binoculars on my list, this pair of binoculars is still pushing $200. If you want a good pair of low-light binoculars, you’re going to have to pay a bit more than you would for something basic.
So, what features are we looking at here?
These are pretty big binoculars at 7.4” long and 5.5” wide. They also weigh 28.7 ounces (814g), so they’re beefy, despite being built from fiberglass-reinforced polycarbonate.
With their 10x magnification, this can make them a little bit hard to hand-hold without bracing or at least using a special grip. But, that same 10x power gives you the boost you may need to spot objectives long-range.
For 10x power…
They still have an OK field of view (FOV) of 293 feet at 1000 yards. They can focus as close as 16.4 feet. Also, they have a huge amount of eye relief, up to 19.6mm, which means they’re more than comfortable to wear your glasses with.
This is thanks to the twist-up, multi-click eyecups that help you get the perfect position for your eyes.
The image they present is clear and sharp, thanks to the multi-coated lenses and prisms found inside. In low light, these binoculars stand out.
They have an exit pupil of 5mm (50mm objective lens/10x magnification), which is moderate but better than what you’ll find with smaller lenses. This lets in enough light to be pretty darned effective at dawn and dusk.
These binos are covered in a rubber armor coating to help you grip them easily. They’re nitrogen-purged to make them fog-proof in most conditions. And, they’re waterproof, although I’m not sure to what extent.
- Clear and sharp.
- Good in low light conditions.
- Waterproof and fog-proof.
- Good eye relief.
2 Bushnell Trophy Xtreme – Best Close Focus Low Light Binoculars
Size: 8 x56
Next up, Bushnell is treating us to their Trophy Xtreme 8×56 binos. Bushnell makes some of the best mid-range binoculars out there, so let’s see if these fall into that category as well.
What you get with these binos…
Priced a little higher than the Nikon at just over $200, we can make a pretty direct comparison between these two binos. First and foremost, the big 56mm objective lenses here take in tons of light and produce an exit pupil of 7mm, which is about the maximum size of the human pupil. This means that even in dusky, dull conditions, there’s the least amount of difference between the brightness you can see through these binos and with the naked eye.
The fully multi-coated lenses and PC-3 phase-coated BaK4 prisms here allow for great light transmission. You get a clear, sharp image here with no chromatic aberration that rivals the Nikon we just saw. However, there is a tiny bit of softening towards the outside of the field of vision.
Using these binoculars…
At 6.4” by 5.7”, these are a decent size. However, they’re very heavy at a whopping 38.1 ounces (1080g)! With 8x power, this still doesn’t make them shaky when you handhold them.
However, they can be tiring to hold up for long periods and to wear around your neck. Thankfully, with 17mm of eye relief, they’re some of the most comfortable low light binoculars for glasses wearers.
So, what can you see?
With 299 feet FOV from 1000 yards, these are surprisingly narrow for 8x power binos. The close-focus distance is great, however. They can focus from just ten feet away, making them a great tool for birding and even bugging.
- Great close focus.
- Very bright in low light conditions.
- A bit of softening around the edge of the image.
- Very heavy.
- Narrow FOV.
3 Zeiss Terra ED – Best Value for Money Low Light Binoculars
Size: 8 x 42
Even though Zeiss is one of the priciest high-end brands when it comes to binoculars, they still make some great mid-range models as well. The roughly $400 Terra ED 8×42 is one worth taking a look at.
These binoculars are assembled in China, and some parts are made there. However, the glass is all German-made Schott ED (extra-low dispersion) glass. With fully multi-coated lenses, these long eyes can transmit 88% of incoming light, which is pretty darned good.
However, they have a smaller exit pupil than the Bushnell of just 5.25mm, so they have less to work with from the start. All told, I think the brightness is better here than with the Bushnell.
Sharp and clear
Furthermore, the image in the Terra HDs is way sharper. There’s no distortion here, and the clarity makes them easy to use for extended periods without experiencing eye fatigue.
They’re also significantly lighter than the Bushnells at just 25.6 ounces (725g), and that makes them easier to handle and carry around. The FOV at 1000 yards is 375 feet, and get this – they can focus down to just 5.3 feet away.
The body of these binos is tough and covered in durable rubber armor. The barrels are nitrogen-purged to make them fog-proof. Additionally, these are waterproof and can even be submerged down to 100 mbars of pressure, which means about three feet of depth.
Likewise, the hydrophobic outer coating on the lenses forces water to bead up and run off quickly. As a result, these are some of the best binoculars for rainy weather and low light conditions you can buy.
- Waterproof and fog-proof.
- Excellent sharpness and contrast.
- Good brightness in low light conditions.
- A bit heavy.
- A bit pricey.
4 Vortex Optics Viper HD – Best Lightweight Low Light Binoculars
Size: 8 x 42
Vortex Optics is a relative newcomer to the optics world, having been founded in 2004. However, they’re already made a splash with their durable, high-quality mid-range binoculars, scopes, and other optical equipment. So, it’s no surprise that one of their products is on this list of the best low light binoculars.
The 8×42 Viper HD costs about $75-$100 more than the Zeiss Terra, so we should be expecting a lot from them here. At the same magnification and objective lens size, the Viper HD also has the same 5.25mm exit pupil.
Again, this is more than enough for bright days and performs quite well in lower light conditions.
High definition glass…
These binos also use extra-low dispersion glass, what Vortex calls its HD glass, in the lenses. They’re also XR fully multi-coated, which is Vortex’s proprietary coating to reduce reflection on all air-to-glass boundaries.
The dielectric coated, phase-corrected roof prisms keep the design relatively compact while allowing for a whole lot of light transmission. However, head to head with the Zeiss Terra, they’re not quite as bright.
Nor is the clarity and contrast quite as good. The close focus is six feet, which is very similar to the 5.3 feet of the Terra. They’re close, but this isn’t horseshoes.
But they do have some other advantages over the Terra…
For starters, the FOV is a huge 409 feet at 1000 yards. So, these are some of the widest FOV low light binoculars you can find.
While they’re slightly bigger at 5.6” by 4.9”, they’re also slightly lighter at 24.5 ounces (695g). They also come with a neckstrap, a nice harness, a carrying bag, and lens covers to keep them safe from the elements.
Built to be tough…
The barrels are argon-purged to make them fog-proof. They’re also waterproof with an O-ring seal to keep out both liquid and dirt penetration.
The lenses of these binos are covered in Vortex’s ArmorTek coating to protect them from scratches, oil, and dirt. And the body is covered by durable rubber armor for protection and great grip.
- The lightest binoculars I reviewed.
- Good brightness, sharpness, and contrast.
- Waterproof and fog-proof.
- Excellent FOV.
- Come with a harness and other accessories.
- More expensive but not as sharp or as bright as the Zeiss Terra.
5 Hawke Frontier ED – Most Durable Low Light Binoculars
Size: 8 x 42
The Hawke Sport Optics Frontier ED binoculars are pushing $500, so they’re in the same range as the Viper we just looked at.
Like the Viper, we also need to compare these to the cheaper but excellent Zeiss Terra to see if the extra investment is worth it. While Hawke is a British company, these binos are still made, like most these days, in China.
With the same 8×42 size, we get the same 5.25mm exit pupil on the Frontier. They’re 5.5” long and can fold to 4.1” wide, making them smaller than both the Terra and Viper. However, they’re a bit heavy at 25.6 ounces (725g). Good thing they come with a padded carrying pouch and a padded neckstrap to improve comfort.
Built for the outdoors…
The ED glass lenses here help to transmit more light with less dispersion, so more gets to your eyes. These binoculars also use a roof prism design that employs BaK4 dielectric mirror-coated prisms for accurate reflections.
The lenses are fully multi-coated and topped off in a water-repellent coating to help shed rain. Also, the bodies are waterproof (rated IPX7 – submergible) and fog-proof, thanks to nitrogen purging. Therefore, these are some of the best all weather low light binoculars you can buy.
What does this do for the image?
All these features contribute to a bright, clear, sharp, and well-contrasted image. There is no chromatic aberration here at all, making them great for birding or other color-sensitive spotting.
Are they as good as the Terra? I’d have to say the sharpness is there, but they’re slightly less bright in lower light conditions, which is what I’m focusing on in this review.
But, there’s one feature where they blow the Terra away. Where the Terra gave us 375 feet of FOV from 1000 yards and the Viper gave 409 feet, the Frontier HD gives a whopping 426 feet. This helps to improve the image and reduce the looking-down-a-straw effect.
- Widest FOV yet.
- Waterproof and fog-proof.
- Good brightness and contrast.
- A bit heavy.
- A bit pricey.
- Not as bright as the Terra.
6 Steiner Night Hunter – Best Premium Low Light Binoculars
Size: 8 x 56
Steiner is a big name in optics, especially for hunters and other outdoors people. Their Night Hunter 8×56 binoculars are also the most expensive on my list by a long shot, retailing for over $800.
If they’re that much more expensive, are they that much better?
With 8x magnification and huge 56mm objective lenses, you get an exit pupil of 7mm, the same as the Bushnell Trophy Xtreme I reviewed earlier. But, these are markedly brighter thanks to higher-quality optics.
Surprisingly, we don’t see ED glass thrown into the marketing mix with these binoculars, even at this top-end price. However, there’s no doubt that the German N-BaK4 HT Schott glass they do include is top quality.
Seeing is believing…
The image you get here is very clear and sharp. The contrast, I think, lags behind the Zeiss Terra, but only a little. However, the brightness is noticeably the best of all the binos we’ve seen. Steiner boasts 96% light transmission, and I believe it.
In low light conditions, you’re getting an image as bright as what your own eyes can see. The fully multi-coated lenses include Steiner’s Diamond Night Coat for extra low-light transmissibility. The result is the best high performance low light binoculars we’ve seen.
No need to focus…
With the Night Hunters, you get a FOV of 405 feet at 1000 yards (135m at 1000m) which is close to the top score on this list. The focus, however, is something totally different. The close focus range is quite far out at 65.6 feet (20m), making these binos not very effective for close spotting.
However, thanks to their “sports autofocus,” they are sharp from 65 feet to infinity without you having to focus. This is good since there’s no central focus knob at all.
Other than that, we’re looking at many of the same features we’ve seen with other binoculars. These have rubberized armor to protect the body. But, they also have shock-proofing and can withstand forces of up to 11G.
They’re nitrogen purged for fog-proofing. And they’re very waterproof and submergible down to 16 feet (5m), so a little rain won’t hurt. But to help out, they also have an outer lens coating of Steiner Nano-Protection to repel water and improve scratch and smudge resistance.
Sounds great, but is there a downside?
Well, there is, if you consider weight and bulkiness to be an issue. These binos are very heavy at 35.3 ounces (1100g). They’re also the biggest we’ve seen so far because of their Porro prism design – they measure 8.3” wide and 8.4” long.
- Superior low light performance.
- Clear and sharp with good contrast.
- Auto-focus from 65 feet to infinity.
- Fog-proof, shock-proof, and waterproof down to 16 feet.
- Big and quite heavy.
- Very far close focus range.
How to Buy the Best Low Light Binoculars
When buying binoculars, there are tons of options and features to consider. When you need something specifically for low light use, you have to look even closer to find the best fit. So, here’s an explanation of the factors to consider when choosing the best binoculars for low light.
The size of binoculars doesn’t mean the overall dimensions. Instead, we’re talking about numbers like 8×42 or 10×50. The first number gives the magnification power, so 8x or 10x in these examples. The second number is the diameter of the objective lenses, 42mm or 50mm here.
Bigger magnification gets you closer to the action but gives you a narrower field of view. Bigger objective lenses let in more light for a brighter image.
You always have to choose between stronger magnification and a wider field of view. So, think about your needs and how far away you have to see. Birders will prefer 8x, while hunters often go for 10x power.
This is the objective lens diameter divided by the magnification. So, 8×42 binos have 5.25mm exit pupils, and 10×50 have 5mm ones. The exit pupil is the circle of light that comes through your binos to your eyes.
The human pupil closes down to about 2-3mm in bright light and opens to 7-8mm in darkness. A big exit pupil of 7mm will let as much light through your binoculars as your pupils can take in. So, the image that you see could be as bright as what your naked eye can see.
Glass, Coatings, and Light Transmission
Light has to pass through the binocular lenses and prisms first, and this causes some dispersion and light loss. No binoculars have 100% transmission of light – they all lose some light as they magnify images and reflect light to your eyes.
It’s the quality of the glass and the coatings that control light transmission. Fully multi-coated lenses limit reflections and allow more light through, as do dielectric coatings on the prisms. Extra-low dispersion (ED) glass ensures more light gets through to your eyes as well.
But, all of these features can increase the price and weight of your binoculars.
Dimensions and Weight
Quite simply, bigger binoculars are bulkier and more prone to bumps. Heavier binos are harder to hold up for long periods and also weigh down on your neck when you’re carrying them. But, they may provide better images, so this is another trade-off to consider.
If you’re going to be outside in low light and rugged conditions, durability is key. Fog-proofing is pretty standard on mid-priced binos these days.
Waterproofing, though, can be quite variable. So, look to high ratings if you know you’re going to get soaked. Shock-proofing keeps the optics in place even if your binos get dropped or take a big hit.
Looking for a Better View?
We can help with that. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best High Power Binoculars, the Best Binoculars For The Money, the Best Binoculars Under $100, and the Best Binoculars Under $200 you can buy in 2023.
Also, take a look at our detailed reviews of the Best Binoculars for Birding, the Best Binoculars for Whale Watching, the Best Binoculars for Theater & Opera, and the Best Binoculars for Sporting Events currently on the market.
Which of these Best Low Light Binoculars Should You Buy?
Look, it’s easy to just throw money at a problem, but that’s not a luxury most of us have. It would be ridiculous of me to suggest that the Steiner Night Hunters didn’t display the very best low light performance of all the binoculars I reviewed. But they’re also big, heavy, and very expensive.
However, if we’re going to look for the best deal, the ones I think simply can’t be beat are the…
They come at a mid-range price and provide a low-light performance second only to the Steiner. They’re clear, sharp, and have amazing contrast. Also, they’re durable and built to last by one of the world’s top binocular companies.
So, choose the binoculars that best suit your needs and your budget, and I don’t think any of these models will disappoint.
Until next time, keep an eye out.