The Best Binoculars Review

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An expensive, high end pair, the Swarovski EL 10x32 is the premier binocular to own in the birding community. The amazing clarity of image wins it our Top Pick award.
Credit: Stephanie Bennett
What is the best performing pair of binoculars? Here at OutdoorGearLab we took this question out into the field with 13 different pairs to find the standout models through rigorous hands-on testing and use outdoors. We traveled to the Leavenworth Spring Bird Fest, passed these magnifiers between teams of grad students performing wildlife research, and took them on hunting and boating trips. Each pair was analyzed for clarity, magnification, ease of adjustment, portability, and durability. What we found is that, often, there is not one pair that will fit every niche perfectly, but there are a few that are pretty close. Read on to discover what pair you'll want for your next adventure!

To learn how these things work and which type best suits your activity of choice, check out our Buying Advice article. You will find an in-depth description on the different designs as well as a glossary of terms that will allow you to become a pro in no time.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Binoculars Displaying 1 - 5 of 13 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Swarovski EL 10x32 Swarovision
Swarovski EL 10x32 Swarovision
Read the Review
Nikon Monarch 7 10x30
Nikon Monarch 7 10x30
Read the Review
Nikon Monarch 3 8x42 ATB
Nikon Monarch 3 8x42 ATB
Read the Review
Canon 10x30 IS
Canon 10x30 IS
Read the Review
Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x25
Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x25
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Top Pick Award  Editors' Choice Award       
Street Price $2,299
Compare at 1 sellers
$397
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Varies $227 - $265
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$450
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$150
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Amazing attention to detail, crisp & clear images, stunning clarity, works well with glassesLightweight, compact, amazing clarity, 10x magnificationCrisp and clear image, compact and easy to use, works well in low light situationsImage Stabilization feature, crisp clear image, easy to focusLight, compact, spectacular clarity, great design, easy to focus
Cons Price-tagNeck strap is uncomfortableHigher price than other modelsExpensive, needs batteries, does not fit different face sizes comfortablyWashes out in direct sunlight
Best Uses Birding & Wildlife ViewingBirding, wildlife viewing, hiking and huntingWildlife viewing, bird watching, and backpacking / hikingWildlife viewing, bird watching, huntingBirding, wildlife viewing, hunting, hiking, concert / sports events
Date Reviewed Jul 13, 2014Jul 13, 2014Nov 10, 2013Nov 10, 2013Nov 10, 2013
Weighted Scores Swarovski EL 10x32 Swarovision Nikon Monarch 7 10x30 Nikon Monarch 3 8x42 ATB Canon 10x30 IS Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x25
Magnification - 20%
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Clarity - 50%
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Ease Of Adjustment - 10%
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Durability - 10%
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Portability - 10%
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Product Specs Swarovski EL 10x32 Swarovision Nikon Monarch 7 10x30 Nikon Monarch 3 8x42 ATB Canon 10x30 IS Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x25
Focusing System Central Focus Central Focus Central Focus Central Focus Central Focus
Magnification 10x 10x 8x 10x 10 x
Field of View 360 ft / 1000 yds 383 ft / 1100 yds 330 ft / 1000 yds n/a 285 ft / 1000 yds
Close Focus 6.2 Ft 6.56 Ft 9.8 Ft 13.8 Ft 6 Ft
Eye Relief .787 in .62in .95 in 0.57 in .61 in
Exit Pupil 3.2 3 5.25 3 2.5
Prism roof Roof Prism Roof Porro Prism Roof
Waterproof/Fogproof? yes yes yes yes yes
Size (length x width) 5.43 x 4.33 in 4.68 x 4.84 in 6.1 x 5.1 in 5 x 5.9 in 3.9 x 3.1
Weight 20.45 oz 15.5 oz 24.9 oz 22 oz 8.1 oz

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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Nikon Monarch 7 10x30
$399
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Nikon Trailblazer 8x25 ATB
$85
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Nikon Prostaff 7 10x42
$240
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Bushnell H20 10x26
$95
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Nikon Monarch 3 8x42 ATB
$230
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Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x25
$274
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Canon 10x30 IS
$550
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Olympus Trooper 10x50 DPS
$80
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Bushnell Legacy 8x42
$126
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Vanguard Endeavor ED
$350
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Celestron Cavalry 15x70
$160
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Bushnell NatureView 6x30
$140
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Selecting the Right Product
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The models in our test. From (T to B): Bushnell Legacy, Nikon ProStaff, Vanguard Endeavor ED, Bushnell NatureView, Bushnell H20, Bushnell Powerview Compact, and Nikon Trailbazer.
Credit: Stephanie Bennett

Binoculars may help you see your objective better, but choosing the right pair for your specific use can be a rather misty process. They come in many different shapes, sizes, magnification powers, and costs; which makes it incredibly difficult to wade through the extensive variety on the market. We explain which work best for different applications in detail at the end of our Buying Advice article, please refer to this to help you work through what model will best suit your needs. For starters, consider the following questions:

. What is your intended use for these fun magnifiers?
a. Hunting
b. Wildlife / Bird Watching
c. Boating / Sailing
d. Concert Viewing
e. Hiking
f. Star Gazing
g. Just 'cause

. When and where will you use these things?
a. Just day light
b. Mostly at concerts or sporting events
c. Any lighting condition
d. Only at night

. How important is weight and compact size to you?
a. Very! I need these to be portable and fit in my backpack.
b. Kind of… I'm okay with sacrificing a little weight for improved vision.
c. Don't Care! I just want the best of the best.

. What is your price range?
a. Below $100
b. Below $300
c. Below $500
d. Price is not a factor

By answering these four simple questions, you are able to funnel your final decision into a few different pairs. See our Buying Advice and our individual reviews for more details on which pair of binoculars will work for you.

History of Binoculars
The history of binoculars is in many ways bound directly to the history of the telescope, since they are essentially twin telescopes mounted side-by-side. In 1608 the Dutch optician Hans Lippershay applied for the first patent on the design of the telescope. He was able to fabricate a model that matched his designs, although his patent was refused by the States-General of Holland on the premise that the concepts and ideas were already widely known. However, at the same time it was requested of Lippershay "to ascertain … whether he could improve it so that one could look through it with both eyes." He apparently did so, mounting twin telescopes side-by-side, and thus the first binoculars were born.

Spyglasses, or "opera telescopes," using Galilean optics, meaning a convex objective lens coupled with a concave focal lens, became popular throughout the 1700s, but due to difficulties in alignment, focusing and magnification when attempting to mount two telescopes side-by-side, binocular versions were almost impossible to produce with the technology of the day. Many of these issues were solved in 1823 with the patent of a frame with two bridges to hold the glasses together. J. P. Lemaire of Paris is then credited with adding a third bridge and coupling the focusing of the two telescopes together, thereby cementing the design of modern opera glasses, or Galilean binoculars, which remains essentially the same today.

However, due to the limitations of Galilean optics and the necessary small size of practical binoculars, opera glasses had a small magnification power. An alternate strategy for creating functional binoculars was to mount twin Keplerian telescopes, which had greater magnification power. The Keplerian design used two convex lenses but required more optical elements in order to right the inverted image for viewing, and so were larger by necessity. The same difficulties in matching alignment and focus were too much to overcome, and these large designs never became popular for production until the late 1800s. Soon thereafter the invention of the Porro prism made Keplerian binoculars obsolete.

In 1854, Ignatio Porro of Italy conceived of the idea of righting the upside-down image produced by convex objective lenses by using two separate right angle prisms, eliminating the Keplerian need for erecting lenses, and thereby shortening and shrinking the size. But the inability to produce the very high quality prisms necessary for the invention to work meant that modern prism models waited until 1894 to be produced. The first Porro prism binoculars were a collaboration of three Germans: instrument maker Carl Zeiss, glassmaker Otto Schott and optical designer Ernst Abbe. Very shortly thereafter, in 1897, the first roof prism design was produced by the firm of Hensoldt in Germany. Many variations of the roof prism design soon followed, incorporating different shaped prisms to achieve the same result of eliminating the offset lenses needed for the Porro prism design. Roof prism designs again allowed the twin telescopes to be straight. Virtually all modern binocular designs incorporate one of these two prism systems.

Types of Binoculars
The first way they are defined is either by their shape; Porro-Prism vs. Roof Prism, OR, by their end use; marine, wildlife, star gazing, concert viewing, and hiking.

Then each pair will be named with two numbers: the magnifying power x size of the optical lens. For example, if you see the Nikon Trailblazer 8x25 ATB in the store, you can quickly identify three things:
  • The magnification capability is 8 times what you see with the naked eye.
  • The optical lens is 25 mm, which means that it will be a smaller and more compact set.
  • The exit pupil score is .13 (25 / 8), meaning they will work in both broad daylight and cloudy weather.

So, if you are looking for a lightweight & compact product that can be used in different lighting conditions and for different activities, while sacrificing a just little bit of clarity, then this could be the model for you. But, if you want something with a stronger power or that will work in the dark to look at stars, you need to look elsewhere. If this seems confusing, we break this down further for you, define all those complicated words, and also help guide you through this decision process in more detail in our Buying Advice.

Criteria for Evaluation
Our evaluation was based on quite a few different metrics, with the most important being clear vision, followed closely by magnification. The whole point of purchasing and using binoculars in the first place is to not only magnify an object, but to clearly see the object through the barrels. This metric is incredibly important if you are using your pair to avoid hazards out on the water or trying to correctly identify a bird by its eye color while it is perched in a shady tree. The second most important factor is magnification, which incidentally also effects the shape, size, and weight. Other key factors we measured were ease of adjustment, durability, and portability.

Clarity
Clarity is in the eye of the beholder, and in the case of reviewing product models, this is quite literal. During our testing period, we used each pair in different light conditions to see if deformities exist in the lens and structure that impact the clarity of the image, and to compare the performance of different models side-by-side. Two of the most telling testing dates were out on the slopes of Mount Baker on a cloudy day and at the Whistler Bike Park in the blinding sun.

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One of two key testing locations: Table Mountain on the shoulders of Mount Baker, WA. A grey day allowed models with a high exit pupil score to shine in a low-light situation.
Credit: Stephanie Bennett

During our Mount Baker test there was no direct sunlight, and the test models had to perform in a low light setting. This simple test day allowed those models with a high exit pupil score to shine, such as the Nikon Monarch 7 10x30, Nikon Prostaff 7 10x42, Bushnell Legacy 8x42, Vanguard Endeavor ED, Swarovski EL 10x32, and the Bushnell NatureView 6x30. Most of the viewing for the day was on stationary objects, such as Douglas Fir trees dotting the slope a half mile in the distance, or the lone visitor poking around the lake basin below.

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One of two key testing locations; The Whistler Bike Park not only showcased talented mountain bikers, but the ability for certain models to perform in direct sunlight.
Credit: Stephanie Bennett

The second key test was on a bright sunny day at the Whistler Bike Park. We chose this testing location for two specific reasons: It was bright, sunny and there were people consistently moving through the bike park at high speeds. This test allowed us to not only score performance in direct sunlight, but also to score the ability to remain focused on moving objects. As surprising as this might sound, sunlight can result in poor visibility of an object by how the light refracts in the various mirrors and lenses inside. This shows up as either white spots, items losing their color and seeming to be washed out, or fuzziness around the outside of the field of view. A few of the products that fell victim to the bright sun were the Vanguard Endeavor ED, Bushnell H20, and Nikon Prostaff 7.

Clarity and ease of adjustment go hand-in-hand when fully assessing the clarity. As mentioned above, we chose to hold a test in the Whistler Bike Park to also test how easily each pair stays focused on an object that is moving quickly and erratically. Some pairs required constant adjustment, but others held a crisp and clear view of mountain bikers careening down the trails, hitting jumps, and banking turns at over 20mph. This type of movement is similar to watching wildlife that moves quickly, or following a bird as it flies from the branch the second you have it in sight. Some of the products we tested that performed notably well were the Swarovski EL 10x32 Swarovision, Nikon Monarch 8x42, Nikon Prostaff 7 10x42, Bushnell NatureView, Bushnell Legacy 8x42, and the Canon 10x30 IS. Each of these models were able to follow bikers through the park while they weaved in and out of different lighting and zipped by quickly.

We also took a hard look at the field of vision when rating clarity, which is important to hunters and boaters as they survey the landscape for a 6-point buck or a distant channel marker. The wider the field of view, the easier it is to view an entire landscape versus honing in on a specific area. Models that shined in this arena were the Nikon Trailblazer 8x25, Bushnell Nature View 6x30 and the Bushnell Legacy 8x42. All three pairs have a field of view range in excess of 400 ft / 1000 yards, which means that at a distance of 1000 yards, your width of view is over 40 feet. For activities such as hunting where you need a wide field of view, 344 ft / 1000 yards is the minimum field of view recommended.

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A crisp and color correct image taken through the ED glass of the Swarovski EL.
Credit: McKenzie Long

Lastly in terms of clarity, we analyzed the color correctness presented by the visible image in each pair. Often when viewing an image through a lens, different wavelengths of light (different colors) will pass through the lens but be refracted at different rates. This means that the wavelengths are not converging on the same focal point and results in an image with color aberration or color defect. This manifests in the form of a fuzzy purple outline around viewed objects or a blurrier, faded image.

This used to be corrected with the inclusion of calcium fluoride crystals in the manufacturing of the glass, but this method resulted in glass that was sensitive to temperature changes and that would crack easily.

Now, telescopes, cameras, binoculars, and other contraptions that involve viewing through a lens compensate for this with Extra-low Dispersion glass (ED glass). This type of glass is manufactured with certain chemicals that reduce light dispersion and results in focusing the different color wavelengths on the same point without compromising the durability of the lens. Products that use this type of glass are more expensive, but also typically higher quality. The models in our review that use ED glass are the Nikon Monarch 7, the Vanguard Endeavor ED, and the Swarovski EL. The Swarovski and the Nikon in particular presented clear, color correct images making it easy to identify a bird by its coloring and correctly note beak shapes.

Magnification
Magnification is one of the main reasons why someone purchases binoculars in the first place; to allow a far off image to appear closer. Most of the models we tested have a magnifying power of 8x or 10x, but there were a few on the fringes. The lowest power model we tested was the Bushnell NatureView at 6x, and the highest was the long-range viewing Celestron Cavalry 15x70.

One thing to remember when choosing a pair is just because it has a high magnification, does not mean that you will be able to clearly see what you want. Sometimes on models with higher magnification powers (usually 10x and up) objects end up looking shaky. Your hands tremor slightly while holding them, and this motion is amplified through the magnification. In our experience, 8x can be the sweet spot: it provides ample magnification while disguising the shakiness of hand holding. We noticed this in the exceptionally clear vision of the Nikon Monarch 8x42.

However, as is the case with the Nikon Monarch 7 and the Swarovski EL, the shape and size has been reduced, making them more compact, lighter, and easier to hold. Since these pairs fit in hand so well, the shakiness of the image is minimized. The smaller pairs with high magnification powers ended up being our favorite models because they allow you to see far distances and see clearly.

Ease of Adjustment
You hear a bird song in a nearby tree, and just as you bring the tiny songbird into focus, it flies off to another tree. You try to follow it, but your binoculars quickly go out of focus and you're struggling to adjust. All you see is a tiny blob in a far off tree, and you can't tell if it's a pine cone or your feathered friend. You can extrapolate this simple story to any other experience out in the wild, and it illustrates the importance of being able to quickly and easily adjust your pair.

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The size of the Nikon ProStaff allows it to be adjusted with one hand.
Credit: Stephanie Bennett

Another good assessment of adjustability is the ability to hand off your pair to your companion, who may need to change the fit for a different interpupilary distance or adjust the diopter knob quickly to see exactly what you are excitedly talking about. Sticky knobs or products that are not intuitive to use can cause frustration. While conducting these tests, our review models were handled by people of all shapes, sizes, and experience levels to ensure that our assessment of adjustability was uniform across all hand sizes, face sizes, and levels of familiarity with this type of equipment. What we found was quite surprising; the pair that worked the best for everyone was the Nikon Trailblazer. You'll find in our scoring that this pair scored just a little higher than average in each category, which is why it is our recommendation for beginners. However, what was equally surprising was that some were incredibly difficult to adjust, even for the most experienced users. Non-intuitive design and construction complicated users' abilities to use the equipment effectively. In this specific case, the Bushnell NatureView, which is an otherwise high scoring model, stood out for its less-than-desirable adjustment design. On this pair, the focus knob is in the same spot as the knob thats adjusts to the shape of the face. This causes constant problems and frustration. One thing we noted with most of the Bushnell products was that their focus knobs were incredibly sticky, resulting in taking more time than others to find the perfect focus setting.

Durability
If you are like us, you lose things often, including your car keys. So, when given a pair that come with lens caps that are not attached, it is guaranteed that they will be lost within minutes after taking them out of the box. Protecting the lenses is a top priority, and either not providing lens caps, or not providing a way to attach them is an automatic deduction against durability in our book. The Swarovski EL stood out for all its included accessories. It came with a protective case, caps for both the objective lens and the eyepieces, and a neck strap to keep it safe while out in the field.

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The attached lens caps on the objective lenses of the Vanguard Endeavor ED. Having attached caps increase the durability by protecting the lenses.
Credit: Stephanie Bennett

Other factors we considered when assessing durability was waterproofness, surviving a fall of five feet onto a rock, the thickness of the outer coating on the barrels, and if the lens was recessed from the outer edge. The most durable model we tested was also the one that works best for boaters and sailors, since durability is paramount in those situations, the Bushnell H20.

Portability
Portability is only important if you plan on packing yours to walk a certain distance away from your car. And, as we mentioned earlier, a small size on a pair with a high magnification can mean the difference between a shaky image and a clear one. If you plan on using your pair to go on a hiking or hunting trip, you will want them to be small, lightweight, and compact. In order to fully compare portability, we took each pair on day and overnight trips into the North Cascades, and scored them based on how easy they were to pack, how heavy they were, and on the overall bulk of the case.

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The compact and portable Trailblazer fits easily into one hand.
Credit: Stephanie Bennett


The outliers in the portability category are the Nikon Trailblazer, Nikon Monarch 7, and the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x25. If weight and size are not an issue at all, and you prefer to have clearest vision available, then the Swarovski EL, Nikon Prostaff 7, Olympus Trooper 10x50 DPS, Canon 10x30 IS and Bushnell NatureView will be right up your alley.

Editors' Choice Award: Nikon Monarch 7 10x30
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The Monarch 7 has extra-low dispersion glass for chromatic aberration compensation, which makes for clearer viewing.
Credit: Stephanie Bennett
In our first round of testing the Nikon Monarch won our Editors' Choice award. So it came as no surprise when we evaluated a larger test group that the Nikon Monarch 7 10x30 beat out the rest and won our highest accolades.

The Monarch 7 weighs 9 ounces less than the Monarch , is slightly more compact due to the smaller optical lens size, but is more powerful with a 10x magnification. This smaller size allows the higher magnification to increase viewing power without the shakiness that comes with larger pairs with a 10x power.

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In order to manage the higher magnification power in the Nikon Monarch 7 10x30 and reduce shakiness, Nikon significantly reduced the size and weight of this model, pictured here alongside the much larger Nikon Monarch 3.
Credit: Stephanie Bennett

Tester after tester raved about the compactness and ease of use of this pair, while simultaneously being blown away by its clarity and magnification. The Monarch 7 is made with ED glass, which reduces color aberration and ensures in a crisp and colorful image. Even though it scored slightly lower than the Swarovski EL 10x32, it more then made up for it in price. The Swarovski 10x32 retails for over $,500 while the Nikon Monarch 7 retails just under $400, making it a steal. With such a significant price difference but such a small difference in performance, the Monarch 7 took the overall prize. This is our recommendation as the most versatile, best all-around product.

Best Buy Award and Best for Beginners: Nikon Trailblazer 8x25 ATB
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John showing off how small and compact the Trailblazer is, while still packing a powerful viewing punch in any lighting condition.
Credit: Stephanie Bennett
Weighing just below 10 ounces, the Nikon Trailblazer 8x25 ATB can fit into your palm and not hurt your wallet all at the same time. The Trailblazer scored higher then average in our tests and is small and simple to use. If you are looking to purchase your first pair and do not want to empty your wallet, the Nikon Trailblazer 8x25 will definitely fit the bill. Its small size and light weight makes this the perfect pair for backpackers or hikers who plan to pack their magnifiers with them. It is an all-around quality product for those just starting out and is reasonably priced so is less of a commitment than some higher-end models. For under $100 this pair will allow you to see what you need to without compromise on performance.

Top Pick Award for Birding: Swarovski EL 10x32
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With a magnification power of 10x combined with a compact size and light weight, the Swarovski manages to present a well-magnified image without any shakiness.
Credit: Stephanie Bennett
If your passion is birding, and you keep an ongoing ticklist of the creatures you have sighted, then the Swarovski EL 10x32 Swarovision, created by the renown crystal manufacturer, is the magnifier for you! With superior clarity, magnification and ED glass improving the color, this pair allows you to identify birds from 7 feet to 40 feet away. Our testers raved about their ability to see the slightest colorations or markings on any bird, allowing them to easily identify distinguishing characteristics of their perched feather friend. At almost $3000, the Swarovski pair is a long-term investment that you will not regret, as long as you have your life-list in one pocket and a Sibley's in the other.

Top Pick Award for Hunting: Nikon Prostaff 7 10x42
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Using the conveniently camouflaged Nikon Prostaff 7 during a hunting excursion in the San Juans. Its portable size and high magnification with limited shakiness makes this an excellent pair for hunting.
Credit: Stephanie Bennett
If the camouflaged barrels don't give it away, then the stellar field of view coupled with a crisp clear image will – the Nikon Prostaff 7 10x42 is designed for a hunter. A magnification power of 10x and a clear image helps when viewing wildlife. A portable size and weight, the Prostaff 7 traveled through the mountains of the North Cascades and on a three day hunting trip into the San Juan Islands of Washington, never disappointing during any of its tests. It even assisted on one testers first kill of the season!

Top Pick Award for Boating: Bushnell H20 10x26
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Our Top Pick for Boating, the Bushnell H2O is tested out in the field during a windy and stormy day.
Credit: Stephanie Bennett
With a thick, indestructible, plastic ribbed casing, the Bushnell H20 10x26 is perfect for the high seas or the backyard kiddy pool. At 13.6 ounces, this compact and lightweight model held up while sailing on the Pacific Ocean. Combining clear vision and a high magnifying power, as well as trustworthy durability and waterproofness, this pair fit our needs for the day while being passed around to different people scouting dolphins and identifying markers.


Ask an Expert: Angie Merritt
Angie is a wildlife biologist that specializes in birds and avian research. She has worked for over 10 years on many different research, monitoring and rehabilitation projects. She's seen birds in all sorts of places, including Northern Minnesota, coastal California, the Sierra's of California, Glacier National Park, Missouri, Arizona and Kauai. She's currently a graduate student at UC-Davis working a project with an endangered bird called the Ridgeway rail in the San Francisco Bay area.

What type of binoculars do you consider ideal and use, and for which situations?
For the money and quality, most non-profits and/or struggling graduate students with an observational element to their project go with Eagle Optics, the company I feel has set the bar. The other common player I see at this table is Nikon, specifically their "monarch" model.

The high rollers in the binocular world boil down to Swarovski, Leica, and Zeiss, which will run into the thousands of dollars. These high-end bins (or knockers, both affectionate nicknames used by people who live in the binocular world) are beautiful, but not practical for people like me. The more obscure but great brands in my experience: Vortex and Pentax.

Two numbers are associated with bins, and they are organized in the "x" manner, e.g., "8 x 40." The first number represents the magnification, usually 8 or 10 is all you need. The bigger the magnification, the harder it is to stabilize your view. Since I drink too much coffee in the early mornings, I often prefer a good 'ol 8x40. However, when I can handle it, I go with my 10x50s. When I'm searching for nests, the higher magnification is key because you are peering deep into a bush for a little bird nest, or looking high on a cliffside for a little puka with a thrush in it. However, my hawk-watching friends go with the 8x__'s because they can react and focus quicker on a bird of prey zipping by, which makes for easier identification.

The second number in the bin world represents the lens diameter of the outer lens; this represents the amount of light let in for a clearer, sharper image. This becomes important at dawn and dusk. If you are just shopping for the best deal and want an inexpensive product, make sure that that the second number represents at least times the magnification: so "40" is most frequently associated with 8x, and "50" is most frequently associated with 10x. This does not mean the second number needs to be even or odd, so go for the "8x43" or "10x54" if you like, just make sure that the divisor of your two numbers equals and some change.

What is the most important aspect that you wouldn't compromise when buying a pair of binoculars?
I would not compromise the magnification or lens size in the correct ratio. However, waterproofing is equally important for anything I have done.

What type of strap do you use and why?
Affectionately called the binocular "bra", I like Cabela's Pro harness.

What types of things do you do to maintain good working condition?
I use single-use lens wipes. I try to do this sparingly because you really never know if there is a tiny grain of something on the lens that will scratch. I have taken waterproof models and dunked them before wiping them down, but this is still a risky thing.

Do you have any advice on how to keep your binoculars safe and clean when in the field?
KEEP YOUR LENS CAPS ON. Clearly, you need to take them off before you can see the birds. But, put those caps back on afterwards. They come with any decent product, and you should buy them if they aren't included.

What types of lenses would you buy if you wanted a great all-around binoc?
My perspective is pretty avian-centric, but the bird business is a pretty big part of the world economy (some $80 billion according to my professor). Some hunters use them beyond birds, and some people probably spy on their neighbors. For the big game stuff, or if you are a long distance back-packer, I say go with cheap and light, so that you always have them on you. In this case, the lightweight Bushnell lines are perfect, even if you sacrifice much of what I have just recommended with regards to magnification, brightness, and field-of-view. They should be a part of every camping kit—you never know when you might see Sasquatch.

What's the coolest thing you've observed through your binoculars?
I saw a tiger shark take out a baby albatross that swam a little far out of its comfort zone near Midway Atoll in Hawaii. The boat captain let us take turns with a pair of decent Nikons, if I remember the brand correctly. I wish I had brought my own!

Do you have any tips for bird and wildlife watching?
Do not forget your binoculars at home. This is poor form, every time.

Are there any other things that you think are important to consider when choosing a product, that we didn't cover?
Customer service is also important to me. I mentioned Eagle Optics: they repair and replace for free (excluding shipping), and do a bang-up job every time and the other companies I mentioned also have good reputations.

What other types of accessories do you use? What things do you look for in those accessories (tripod or stabilization device, camera adapter, special strap, etc…)?
Honestly, I use nothing other than the bins (which come with lens caps or do not buy said bins) and the bino-bra (which will save your neck). I would use a scope before I would get a tripod or stabilizer. Scopes get brought into the field for color-band re-sighting, nest monitoring, or remote island monitoring. Binoculars are meant for use during an active task. If you are going to set up a base camp you might as well have a scope.

Stephanie Bennett
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by Stephanie Bennett
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