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Published Oct. 15, 2021

The thrill of spotting your next bird never gets old, especially when you’ve got binoculars to see every feather in detail. If you’re new to birding, binoculars are your ticket to seeing more from a single location. The best birdwatching binoculars capture light and color to make it feel like you could reach out and touch the feathers with your fingers. 

Binoculars come in a wide price range from price tags that will make you wonder if you’re buying a small car to one that’s easy on the wallet. A pair that fits in your budget, birding habits, and hands will let you spot birds like never before. Keep reading to check out our top picks and get a few tips before buying. 

How we chose these products

Methodology 

For a serious birder, binoculars are an investment. However, a casual amateur doesn’t need quite the same list of features. But both users want the same thing, the ability to see birds with accurate colors and clear images. To do that, I judged the binoculars based on their image clarity, brightness, focus speed, close focus performance, ergonomics, and weight. 

Clarity and brightness: Clarity and brightness come down to the lens and prism design and their coatings. Coatings help target colors and reduce reflection to increase the light that enters the binoculars. 

Focus speed: Birds move fast, and binoculars that quickly focus mean you still get to see your target. 

Close focus performance: If you’re lucky enough to get within ten feet of a bird, you want to be able to get even closer with your binoculars. 

Ergonomics and weight: You might have to wait a long time for a bird to appear. Ergonomics and weight can let you relax while watching and waiting.

Best overall: Vortex Razor UHD 8×42

Accurate and Bright

The Vortex binoculars gather light like a pro and easily focus on tiny birds while rendering accurate, bright colors.

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 Why It Made The Cut: Outstanding durability, light gathering, and color clarity (not to mention close focus) push the Razor HD to the top of the pack.

Specs:

  • Magnification: 8
  • Close focus: 6 feet
  • Weight: 2 pounds ounces

Pros: 

  • Color-correcting, index-matched lenses
  • Anti-reflective coating maximizes light transmission for better clarity in low light
  • Water- and fog proof
  • Adjustable eye cups for viewing with or without eyeglasses

Cons: 

  • Expensive

Vortex binoculars are high-quality and well-made, in general. The Vortex Razor UHD 8×42 takes everything that makes Vortex a great brand and contains it in a design that’s easy on the eyes and excellent in low light. It contains an APO system that corrects colors, so what you see is truer to life. The UHD part of the name comes from extra-low dispersion glass that increases resolution and color accuracy. 

An anti-reflective coating maximizes the amount of light that enters the lenses for improved low-light performance. (That opens up dawn and dusk viewing for those who want to start early and/or stay late.) This model is also waterproof, fog proof, and scratch-resistant thanks to an AmorTek coating. We particularly like the adjustable eye cups. They’re more comfortable and let multiple users get a comfortable fit.

Best value: Tasco Essentials 8×42

Affordable Clarity

For a small pair of binoculars, the Trasco Essentials provide bright images with life-like colors.

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Why It Made The Cut: The Tasco Essentials has just enough of everything for the beginner birder and won’t put you over on a tight budget. 

Specs:

  • Magnification: 8
  • Close focus: 30 feet
  • Weight: 10.2 ounces

Pros:

  • Multi-coated lenses improve resolution and brightness
  • Compact size and lightweight
  • Weather-resistant housing

Cons: 

  • Slow to focus

The Tasco Essentials 8×42 may not have the focal speed and crystal clarity of some of the more expensive models on our list, but it’s impressive in its price range. A lightweight design and weather-resistant housing create binoculars for those who don’t want to get weighed down while on more rugged birding adventures. 

Prism and lens coatings create clearer images and offer good brightness at this price point. You might have to wait a little longer at dawn and dusk for the best visibility, but you’ll get great views without investing an arm and a leg in your binoculars.

Where you’ll see a big performance difference with this model is that they are much slower to focus. However, be patient, and you’ll get your views. 

Best close focus: Maven B3 8×42

Clear in Close Quarters

The Maven B3’s 10x magnification lets you get about as in-depth as you could want.

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Why It Made The Cut: The Maven can get crystal clear close focus and includes focus adjustments that are a cinch to do, even when you’re freaking out about being super close to a new bird. 

Specs:

  • Magnification: 10
  • Close focus: 4.5 feet
  • Weight: 16.25oz ounces

Pros:

  • Easy to adjust focus
  • Extra-low dispersion glass maximizes available light
  • Excellent clarity and color at close distances

Cons: 

  • Polymer body feels less durable

The Maven B3 gets users drooling over its impressive focus and the ease with which you can achieve that focus. This pair also features extra-low dispersion glass that resists reflection to maximize the amount of light that enters the binoculars. For you, more light means better clarity and color even as conditions start to dim. 

While we love this model for its close focus, the Maven is definitely up there with the top binoculars for distances too. A wide field of view makes it easier to spot small, quick birds. This model is completed with a durable casing to protect them from the elements. 

Best upgrade: Swarovski Optik EL 42

Ultimate Clarity

The EL 42 provides incomparable brightness and clarity with balance that makes them feel much lighter than they are.

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Why It Made The Cut: Swarovski Optik put together the ultimate birding binoculars with crystal clarity, perfect brightness, and balance that are hard to find with any other binoculars.

Specs:

  • Magnification: 8.5
  • Close focus: 10.8 feet
  • Weight: 29.5 ounces

Pros:

  • Balance feels light and maneuverable
  • Lens quality and construction provides life-like clarity
  • Captures maximum amount of light for incredible brightness

Cons: 

  • Lugs are only compatible with Swarovski neck straps and harnesses

If you’re looking for the very best on the market, the Swarovski Optik EL is definitely it. They feature HD lenses with fluoride that improves the focus point for all colors so that there’s virtually no color fringing (where colors separate at the edges of an image. Prism coatings with names like Swarobright, Swarotop, and Swarodur work with the enhanced lenses for top color reproduction and transmission. 

The coatings also help the binoculars capture a maximum amount of light for clear viewing in dim conditions. Swarovski also incorporates field flattener lenses to create a nearly flat image. That enhances the sharpness from edge to edge. 

These binoculars are an investment, but that’s not the only con that could point you toward another pair. The lug on the body is only compatible with Swarovski lanyards and harnesses.

Best ergonomic design: Nikon Monarch 7 8×42

Happy Hands

Comfort matters when you’re in the field, and the Monarch 7’s ergonomics make it a pleasure to use.

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Why It Made The Cut: The Monarch 7 provides excellent views while staying comfortable in the hands for all-day use, making it our choice for ergonomics. 

Specs:

  • Magnification: 8
  • Close focus: 8.2 feet
  • Weight: 16 ounces

Pros:

  • Lightweight and easy to grip
  • Extra-low dispersion glass and prism coatings focus colors and enhance brightness
  • Rubber-armored coating makes it easier to hold

Cons: 

  • Eye cup protectors may not have a tight fit

The Nikon Monarch 7 8×42 has been a front contender in the binocular world since they hit the market. It’s how they feel in the hand that we like. Comfortable—that’s the word that best describes this pair of binoculars. The shell design, light weight, and the rubber-armored coating make it easy to hold the binoculars all day. 

The Monarch 7’s also have prisms with phase correction coatings that improve resolution and provide better color rendition. They also increase the resolution for sharp visuals. However, the eye cup protectors have been known to have a loose fit and come off easily. 

Things to Consider Before Buying Birdwatching Binoculars

What do the specs mean?

Binoculars have numbers like 10×42 or 8×42 after the name. The first number is the magnification, and the second is the diameter of the objective lens. (The objective lens is the one closest to the bird.) The objective lens can give you a good idea of how big the binoculars are. Larger lenses also gather more light for brighter, clearer images. 

Field of View

Birds are small, so you need to balance magnification with field of view. Birdwatchers tend to prefer 8x magnification for its wider field of view over the extra magnification offered with 10x models.

Lens and Prism Design and Coatings

Lenses and prisms with high-tech coatings help focus colors and capture light to provide clear, color-accurate images. These coatings and lens designs are often why two pairs of binoculars may look the same on the outside but have hundreds of dollars difference in their price. On the inside, the more expensive binoculars have extra coatings that focus colors for better accuracy and allow more light to enter the lens. That helps create brighter images and clarity from one end of the lens to the other.  

FAQs 

Q: Which is better 10×42 or 8×42 binoculars?

Binoculars with 10x magnification offer a closer view. However, they also have a smaller field of view, which could make it hard to spot the bird. Most birders prefer 8x binoculars because they get good magnification with a wider field of view. 

Q: Are Swarovski binoculars the best? 

Swarovski binoculars cost as much as a small used car. The lens’ materials used in their binoculars may be similar to those of other less expensive binoculars, but their coatings are not. Swarovski has unique, advanced coatings not used by any other manufacturer that, in many ways, make them some of the best models on the market.

Q: How do I choose birdwatching binoculars?

Start with your budget. Then look for a pair that’s comfortable to hold and easy to focus. You should be able to reach the focus while holding the binoculars to your eyes. Next, consider the specs like the magnification, field of view, and coatings. These will determine the clarity of the images, color accuracy, and brightness. 

Final Thoughts

If you’re ready to invest in binoculars to use for every bird outing and conditions, the Vortex Razor HD 8×42 are the ones. This pair’s color, clarity, and brightness outshine their price point. However, if you’re on a more conservative budget, the Nikon Monarch 7 ATB 8×42 provides great viewing at half the cost of the Vortex. 

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