Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Binoculars of 2021

We bought and tested binoculars from Vortex, Athlon, Nikon, Leica, Swarovski, and others to help you find the best
Photo: Jenna Ammerman
By Max Mutter ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Monday November 8, 2021
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Over the last 7 years, we've tested 30 of the best binocular sets for looking off into the distance. Highlighting 15 of the market's most deserving in this review, we take a gander at top models for birding, backpacking, and bushwacking. With hundreds of different options that might all look the same, we cut through the confusion by testing all products hands-on and side-by-side. Our testers have used them while exploring wildlife refuges in Oregon, helped guide wilderness tours with each pair, and brought them along on many wilderness hikes. After our rigorous testing, we offer the best recommendations that will have you seeing fine details from afar.

Top 15 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 15
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Awards Editors' Choice Award   Editors' Choice Award  
Price $2,954 List$2,700 List
$2,700 at Amazon
$2,700 List
$2,780 at Amazon
$639 List
$487.00 at Amazon
$476.95 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Incredible clarity, brightness, comfort, and construction qualityExcellent clarity and brightness, great construction quality, quite comfortableExcellent clarity and brightness, great construction qualityVery clear and bright, easy to adjust, comfortable, high-quality constructionHigh quality construction, very comfortable to use, great clarity
Cons Prohibitively expensiveVery expensiveVery expensive, not quite as comfortable as other high-end modelsOn the expensive sideHeavy for backpacking or carrying long distances
Bottom Line One of the best all-around models that we tested, but they also carry a high price tagHigh-end bins that are nearly as good as the Swarovskis, but not quiteHigh end binoculars that live up to their pedigree, but have some downsides compared to other high-end modelsThis model is our first choice and offers just about the best clarity and brightness you can get from a binocular without a quadruple-digit price tagGood optical quality, but not the best in the price range
Rating Categories Swarovski EL 8.5x42 Zeiss Victory HT 10x42 Leica Noctivid 10x42 Vortex Viper HD 8x42 Nikon Monarch 7 ATB...
Clarity (25%)
10.0
10.0
10.0
9.0
8.0
Brightness (20%)
10.0
10.0
10.0
9.0
8.0
Ease Of Adjustment (15%)
10.0
10.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
Construction Quality (15%)
10.0
8.0
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10.0
10.0
Comfort (10%)
10.0
9.0
9.0
10.0
10.0
Close Focus Range (7.5%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Field Of View (7.5%)
9.0
10.0
10.0
9.0
9.0
Specs Swarovski EL 8.5x42 Zeiss Victory HT 10x42 Leica Noctivid 10x42 Vortex Viper HD 8x42 Nikon Monarch 7 ATB...
Glass Type HD HD HD HD ED
Multi - Coating FMC FMC FMC FMC FMC
Magnification 8.5 10 10 8 10
Field of View (ft/yards) 399/1000 330/1000 337/1000 409/1000 351/1000
Close Focus 4.9 ft 6.2 ft 6.2 ft 6.5 ft 8.2 ft
Eye Relief 20 mm 16 mm 19 mm 18 mm 16.4 mm
Prism Roof Roof Roof Roof Roof
Waterproof/Fogproof? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Size (Length x Width) 6.3 x 4.8 in 6.3 x 5.0 in 5.9 x 2.7 in 5.8 x 5.3 in 5.6 x 5.1 in
Weight 29.5 oz 28.4 oz 30.3 oz 24.2 oz 26.3 oz


Best Binocular for Most People


Vortex Viper HD 8x42


92
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Clarity 9
  • Brightness 9
  • Ease of Adjustment 9
  • Construction Quality 10
  • Comfort 10
  • Close Focus Range 8
  • Field of View 9
Waterproof/Fogproof: Yes | Close Focus: 5.1 ft
Very clear and bright
Easy to adjust
Comfortable
On the expensive side

Offering what we believe to be the best balance of performance and price, the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 is the best choice for those that are looking to invest in a quality pair of optics. Their high-quality glass created some of the brightest and clearest images we came across in our testing. In fact, the only models that we found to be better than the Viper HD in our image quality testing retail above a couple of thousand dollars. They also boast a 6.5-foot close focus range and are comfortable in hand, with a nice supple focus knob and an overall weight that's on the lighter side for a full-sized pair optics.

The Viper HD has one major downside: a high price. They certainly aren't cheap. However, if you're looking for high-end optical quality without spending a couple of thousand dollars on the premium models, we think the Viper HD is the best choice.

Read review: Vortex Viper HD 8x42

Best of the Best at a Premium Price


Swarovski EL 8.5x42


99
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Clarity 10
  • Brightness 10
  • Ease of Adjustment 10
  • Construction Quality 10
  • Comfort 10
  • Close Focus Range 9
  • Field of View 9
Waterproof/Fogproof: Yes | Close Focus: 4.9 ft
Incredible clarity and brightness
Extremely comfortable
Awesome construction quality
Prohibitively expensive

If you're looking for the absolute best optical quality on the market in a pair of binoculars likely to become a family heirloom, the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 is the best choice. This model surpassed the other premium models in our testing, offering both better image quality and superior comfort. Its ability to maintain perfect clarity across the entirety of the image is what sets the EL apart, whereas most models leave some blurring at the edges. This creates an incredibly immersive image that made us feel like we were sitting just a few feet away from our avian subjects.

There's just one downside of the EL, and it's a big one: price. These cost as much as a used car and are more of an investment than a purchase. However, if you're a serious birder who wants the best of the best or you're embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime safari, these will undoubtedly take your experience to the next level.

Read review: Swarovski EL 8.5x42

Best Bang for the Buck


Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42


85
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Clarity 8
  • Brightness 9
  • Ease of Adjustment 8
  • Construction Quality 9
  • Comfort 9
  • Close Focus Range 9
  • Field of View 8
Waterproof/Fogproof: Yes | Close Focus: 5 ft
Excellent brightness
Great clarity
Comfortable
Too heavy for backpacking

We’ve been very impressed with Vortex's HD glass, and the Vortex Optics Diamondback HD 8x42 is perhaps the best use of it to date. These binos manage to offer clarity and brightness that rivals that of models that cost orders of magnitude more, while remaining in a reasonably palatable price range. The brightness is what really impressed us. Throughout testing we were treated to bright images with vivid colors, even as the sun began to go down and the shadows got long. Top that off with a user-friendly focus knob and thumb indents that make for a very comfortable grip, and you’ve got a fantastic pair of bins.

It’s hard to find much wrong with this model. Like all full-sized bins they are a bit heavy for backpacking, and they fall just short of field-leading image quality, but you’ll have to pay much more for that. Overall, these bins offer one of the best values we’ve ever seen and will likely serve almost anyone well.

Read review: Vortex Optics Diamondback HD 8x42

Best for Birders on a Budget


Celestron Nature DX 8x42


70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Clarity 7
  • Brightness 6
  • Ease of Adjustment 8
  • Construction Quality 6
  • Comfort 7
  • Close Focus Range 8
  • Field of View 8
Waterproof/Fogproof: Yes | Close Focus: 6.5 ft
Inexpensive
Good clarity and brightness
Average construction quality
Mediocre performance in low light

When shopping for your first pair of binoculars, sticker shock is common. If spending several hundred dollars on a new hobby makes you nervous, the Celestron Nature DX 8x42 is a perfect choice. In this price range, the image quality is by far the best we've seen. In fact, it rivals models that cost more than twice as much in that regard. The supple focus knobs and easy eyecup adjustments continue the list of beginner-friendly features. We enjoyed the 6.5ft focus range because it let us get a good look at any nearby butterflies or interesting insects, a big plus for days when the birds just aren't singing.

The low price does entail some drawbacks. The rubber coating of the Nature DX 8x42 feels lower quality than higher-priced models, and the hinges likewise feel slightly less sturdy. The glass is also of lower quality, so low light situations yield slightly dim images. However, the large 42mm objective lenses help in these situations, meaning they perform a bit better in low light than the compact models often found in this price range. Overall, these complaints were minor, and we would wholeheartedly recommend these to anyone looking for a pair on a budget.

Read review: Celestron Nature DX 8x42

Best Value on a Compact Model


Vortex Diamondback HD 8x28


69
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Clarity 8
  • Brightness 5
  • Ease of Adjustment 7
  • Construction Quality 8
  • Comfort 7
  • Close Focus Range 8
  • Field of View 5
Waterproof/Fogproof: Yes | Close Focus: 6 ft
Good clarity
Small and lightweight
Relatively comfortable
Poor low light performance

If you're looking for an affordable option that is lightweight, compact, and of good quality, it's hard to do better than the Vortex DiamondBack HD 8x28. Weighing in at a svelte 14 ounces, these still provide good optical clarity and an exceptional performance-to-weight ratio. Combine that with sturdy construction, a surprisingly comfortable grip, and a relatively low price, and you have the perfect option for backpacking birders on a budget.

The lack of brightness is the only real downside of the DiamondBack HD 8x28, which is a sacrifice you have to accept if you want the small size and weight of 28mm objective lenses. The lenses still gather plenty of light in most situations — just don't expect any miracles on an overcast predawn morning.

Read review: Vortex DiamondBack HD 8x28

Best for Travel and Hiking


Leica 10x25 Ultravid BCR


82
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Clarity 8
  • Brightness 9
  • Ease of Adjustment 8
  • Construction Quality 10
  • Comfort 9
  • Close Focus Range 6
  • Field of View 4
Waterproof/Fogproof: Yes | Close Focus: 10.3 ft
Small and compact
Lightest we tested
Short field of view

The Leica 10x25 Ultravid BCR is the perfect pair for a backpacking bird nerd that wants to check some more species off their life list while not being weighed down. Despite a small 25mm objective lens and an impressively lightweight of 9.4 oz, these still offered great clarity and exceptional brightness in our testing. For those with larger hands, the smaller barrels and smaller focus knobs may be less comfortable to hold and use, but overall we were pleased with the Ultravid's comfort.

Again, the primary drawback of this pair is the price. If you're willing to deal with the weight of a full-sized pair, such as the Viper HD, you can get brighter optics for less. However, if you want quality optics in the most portable package possible and are willing to pay for it, the Leica 10x25 Ultravid is the cream of the crop.

Read review: Leica 10x25 Ultravid BCR

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
99
$2,954
Editors' Choice Award
The best in our testing, and our first recommendation for those that are willing to shell out the money for a pair of high-end optics
95
$2,700
Top notch optics that just aren't quite as comfortable as the Swarovskis
93
$2,700
Amazing optics that lack a few of the touches of other high-end models
92
$639
Editors' Choice Award
Gets close to the quality of multi-thousand dollar high-end bins at a much lower price
87
$500
A great pair of bins, but not the best at its price point
85
$270
Best Buy Award
One of the best overall values on the market, particularly for mid-range price shoppers
82
$799
Top Pick Award
The perfect choice for backpacking bird nerds that want good optical quality in a lightweight package
78
$500
Solid construction and decent optics, but not as bright or clear as other similarly priced models
77
$290
Decent binoculars with good optics, but it can't keep up with its competitors
77
$330
Decent overall optics, but fails to compete with the value of other mid-range options
77
$280
Among the best optical clarity and brightness we've seen for the price
73
$440
Decent all-around, but not a particularly good value per dollar
70
$150
Best Buy Award
The best choice for those on a tight budget
69
$190
Best Buy Award
Some of the best portable bins you can buy on a budget
66
$439
Good field of view, but the distinct lack of brightness is a huge drawback

A quality pair of binoculars enhances any adventure.
A quality pair of binoculars enhances any adventure.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Why You Should Trust Us


Author Max Mutter has spent countless hours peering through binoculars, starting with a childhood fascination with bird watching and culminating in a career as a field biologist for the likes of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and several non-profit conservation organizations. Max's professional and academic fieldwork has brought him to four continents, and his research at Oxford University into the impacts of natural gas extraction on avian populations was recently published. Max has been leveraging his binocular knowledge and expertise as both a tester and writer in GearLab's bino review since 2017, and he's now tested over 50 different models.

For this review, we researched more than 200 pairs before selecting 30 of the best to run through our rigorous, side-by-side testing process. We've spent over 400 hours (and counting) in the field with these binoculars. The conditions ranged from sunny plains to dark, shady forests. We also took painstaking side-by-side photos through most of our binoculars, so our readers can get a better idea of exactly how the optics compare.

Related: How We Tested Binoculars

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Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

What Do All The Numbers Mean?


Binoculars are generally described with two numbers, separated by an x, such as 8x42. The first number refers to the magnification, or how many times larger the lenses will make something appear. The second number refers to the diameter of the objective lens (the big lenses at the front) in millimeters. Larger objective lenses can let more light make it to your eyes, resulting in a brighter image. However, it also means the model will be larger and heavier. It's important to know what numbers you should be looking for in a model, so we broke down the ideal uses for all magnifications and objective lens sizes below.

Magnification
  • 8x — The standard magnification. Brings images close enough to see clearly but not so close that shaky hands are an issue.
  • 10x — Those with steady hands or lots of experience tend to like the extra power, but hand shake can be an issue for some.
  • 12x — Most will need to brace their elbows to avoid a shaky image at this magnification; it is generally reserved for specialty uses, like scanning the horizon from the bridge of an ocean liner.

Objective Lens Size
  • 28mm — Considered compact, these lenses sacrifice some brightness for their smaller size and lighter weight. They're good for longer hikes and maybe even backpacking.
  • 42mm — Considered full-sized, these lenses are big enough to provide bright images even in low light but small enough to comfortably wear around your neck.
  • 50+mm — These tend to be large, heavy, and borderline burdensome. They're generally reserved for extreme low-light situations like stargazing.

The most popular bino magnification/size combos are 8x28 for times when weight is an issue, 8x42 for general wildlife viewing, and 10x42 for more experienced wildlife observers that can handle the extra magnification without introducing too much shakiness. Among stargazers, 9x63 is also popular because the much larger lenses gather more light and can illuminate more stars.

Analysis and Test Results: Reasonably Priced Binoculars


In this section, we focus on the models that would work best for most people. If birding is more of a lifestyle than a hobby for you, and you're willing to spend the big bucks to get the best pair possible, see our high-end shootout section below.

Related: Buying Advice for Binoculars


Value


For binoculars, image quality is largely dependent on the quality of glass used, and good glass is expensive. Therefore, if you pay more, you tend to get better performance. However, that trend definitely is not linear. For example, we think the absurdly expensive Swarovski EL is the best model on the market, but for about a quarter of the price, the Vortex Viper offers roughly 80% of the performance. We also believe that the Vortex Diamondback HD and Celestron Nature DX offer better performance than their prices suggest, which makes either a great choice for anyone shopping on a budget.

Clarity


For this review, we define clarity as the amount of detail one can see through the lenses. We tested it by using the ISO 12233 chart. The chart was downloaded and printed on a piece of 11x17 paper at 1200 dpi resolution.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

We also recruited a couple of bird models (Garry the Goldfinch and Barry the Bluebird) and observed those models through each pair, taking side-by-side photos through the lenses so you can see what we saw.


Of the more accessible, non-premium models we tested, the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 offered the best clarity. We were treated to consistently crystal clear images in a variety of different lighting conditions, allowing us to clearly see zone 10 on our ISO chart. It also maintained good clarity all the way to the edge of the image, making for an immersive viewing experience.

Our top contender in the mid-range price tier. The Vortex Diamond HD...
Our top contender in the mid-range price tier. The Vortex Diamond HD provided the most consistent brightness, clarity, and color accuracy in our testing.
Photo: Max Mutter

Earning solid scores in our clarity tests were both the Nikon Monarch 7 ATB 10x42 and the Leica 10x25 Ultravid BCR. These models allowed us to see zones 8 and 9 clearly on the chart with just a little defocusing near the last millimeter or two of the edges. They include multi-coated lenses, ED or HD glass, and excellent craftsmanship, which is probably what makes them so clear.

The Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42 offers great clarity and impressive...
The Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42 offers great clarity and impressive brightness at a mid-tier price.
Photo: Max Mutter

Notably, the Nikon Monarch 5 8x42 and the Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42 also performed well in our clarity testing. Considering their modest costs, this is impressive. While these models both have slightly more edge blurring than the top-scoring products, for the most part, they provide a super crisp, immersive image that allowed us to easily pick out all the minute, defining features on birds.

Both the Nikon Monarch 5 and Vortex Diamondback have great clarity...
Both the Nikon Monarch 5 and Vortex Diamondback have great clarity, but the Nikon is clearly brighter.

The Celestron Nature DX 8x42 punched well above its price class in our clarity testing, particularly in bright light situations. The image they produced were very crisp with rich detail, and the blurring around the edges of the image was very slight. Things became a bit less crisp in low light situations, but we were still able to see identifying features on smaller birds during late dawn and early dusk.

Brightness


Brighter images make for more vibrant colors, better details, and less eye strain. Our brightness testing involved comparing images from each pair, side-by-side, in mid-day bright light, overcast conditions, and early dawn/late dusk lighting. In each test, we paid attention to how bright each image looked upon first viewing, how faded or dull any colors appeared, and whether subjects were starting to look like silhouettes. In general, the larger the objective lens, the brighter an image seemed to be, but we noticed some large differences in brightness between models with the same objective lens size.


Vortex Optics dominated this category, with both the Viper HD 8x42 and the Diamondback HD 8x42 topping our scoresheet just behind the super expensive premium models. The former is slightly brighter than the latter, but both provided impressive color and detail in all of our low light tests. If you’re looking to do some bird watching very early in the morning, very late in the afternoon, or in a place often shrouded in fog and clouds, these are great choices.

Here you can see the difference in brightness and clarity between...
Here you can see the difference in brightness and clarity between the Vortex Viper HD, the Celestron Nature DX, and the mid-range Athlon Midas.
Photo: Steven Tata

Though they didn't shine quite as brightly as our top scorers, two other models also excelled in our brightness testing. Even during overcast conditions, both the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 and the Leica 10x25 Ultravid BCR provided bright images in our testing. We were surprised at how well the relatively small Leica performed in this regard. It seems this company's high-end glass can make up for some lack of objective lens size.

In our brightness testing, the Nikon Monarch 5 performed well above its price point. During dusky, early mornings when the light was at a premium, these impressed. They are the least expensive option that still offers exceptional low-light performance.

Another good performer in this metric was the surprisingly inexpensive Celestron Nature DX 10x42. While it's not quite as bright as some of the more expensive 42mm models with higher quality glass, it certainly holds its own. Though birds and other animals did get a bit dim during dawn or dusk, we were still able to make out some colors.

Although they are much less bright than all of the full-sized models we tested, we were impressed by how much light the small lenses of the Vortex DiamondBack HD 8x28 gathered. Sure, many birds became silhouetted in the early morning and late evening lighting, but during the day, its images looked quite bright and vivid.

Comfort


There is an adage that goes "the best pair of binoculars is the one you use." If you have a pair that isn't comfortable to hold, carry, or look through, chances are you're not going to use them. There's a lot of factors that affect how comfortable a pair will be, like rubberized coatings on the barrels, indentations for your hands and thumbs, an open bridge, comfortable interpupillary distance, padded straps, adjustable eyecups, and eye relief. All of these measurements are very subjective and will differ between individuals. For instance, not everyone's eyes are set the same distance apart, so everyone will be most comfortable with a slightly different interpupillary distance. For someone with glasses, the amount of eye relief can be a big concern but can also be of little concern to others.


The good news is we really didn't run into any models that were uncomfortable to hold. You'll likely be able to use them for hours on end without any nagging discomfort no matter what model you buy. However, the Vortex Viper has subtle details like the thumb indents that make them feel a bit more ergonomic and comfortable. Similarly, the tacky rubber coating on the Nikon Monarch models allows for a solid feeling grip whether you're squeezing the barrels like your life depends on it or using a dainty fingertip grip as if you're sipping tea at a fancy party.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Construction Quality


For the most part, when it came to construction quality, all of the models that we tested fell into the good to great range. We didn't run across any models that felt poorly made — they all felt like they would stand the test of time barring any traumatic drops or lens scratches.


That said, we certainly did notice the hinges and moving parts on some models felt a bit sturdier than others and that some rubber coatings were just a bit tackier and more durable. In general, this was a "You get what you pay for" situation, with the more expensive models feeling slightly better constructed than the lower-priced ones. We found the differences to be minor enough that we wouldn't consider construction quality as a reason by itself not to buy a less expensive pair, nor a reason to pony up for a pricier pair.

Ease of Adjustment


The ability to quickly and accurately focus on an object can be the difference between seeing that rare bird or hearing about it from a friend. Will you be able to maintain accurate focus or will you accidentally offset the diopter, resulting in a blurry image? We looked at the following items for the ease of adjustment category: how quickly one can focus from one spectrum to the other, how easy it is to focus on an object to get the most detail, how easy it was to adjust the diopter, and whether or not the diopter locked. We also evaluated the interpupillary distance adjustment. The criteria were subjective and based solely on several testers' opinions (with the exception of the locking diopter).


The only pairs with a locking diopter are the Leica Ultravid BCR and the Vortex Viper. The top pairs in this group with the smoothest adjustments and easiest focus were the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 and the Nikon Monarch 7 ATB 10x42. With all of these models, even novices could follow birds in flight and keep them in focus without much issue. This is attributable to their smooth focus knobs.

A smooth focus knob, like on the Leica Noctivid pictured here, can...
A smooth focus knob, like on the Leica Noctivid pictured here, can make a huge difference in your experience.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

The Nikon Monarch 5 8x42 also provides a nice, supple focus knob, and its diopter adjustment is smooth enough to make easy adjustments but stiff enough that you won't inadvertently move it. Due to a friendly focus knob that lets us lock in on a clear image quickly and efficiently every time, the Celestron DX Nature 8x42 also scores well.

Field of View


The field of view is measured as the width of the image you see when looking at something 1000 yards away. Models with a 380-foot field of view, for example, should show you a 380-foot wide image when looking at a ridge 1000 yards away.

The field of view is measured at a thousand-yard distance because you'll probably only notice a difference when looking at objects far away. So if you're scoping out lines on a distant ridge, you'll probably appreciate a wider field of view. If you're using binoculars to watch wildlife, which will generally be within a couple of hundred feet of you, it's likely you won't be able to notice the difference between a 300 foot and 450-foot field of view because the difference will be negligible at shorter distances.

Opting for a higher magnification means an automatic sacrifice in the field of view, so we considered magnification when scoring field of view.


The top pair with 10x magnification was the Nikon Monarch 7 ATB 10x42 with a field of view of 351 feet at 1000 yards. The top pairs with 8x magnification were the Athlon Midas G2 8x42 UHD and the Celestron TrailSeeker ED 8x42, both sporting an impressive field of view of 426 feet at 1000 yards.

Close Focus Range


Close focus refers to the closest distance at which a pair of binoculars can clearly focus on something. This is less important to consider as even the worst models have a close focus range of 15 feet, and the vast majority of things you'll be looking at will be farther away. However, a closer focus range does allow you to be a bit more curious. For instance, you can get an incredibly detailed look at a butterfly that landed in the bush right in front of you. About the best close focus range you can find is 4.5 feet, meaning most people would be able to focus on a bug that landed on their foot.


The top pair in the 10x range was the Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10x42, which can focus down to 6.5 feet. In the 8x range, the Zeiss Terra earned the top score, able to focus down to 4.9 feet. Two Vortex models, the Viper HD 8x42 and the Diamondback HD 8x42 are close behind at 5.1 and 5 feet, respectively. If you’re particularly concerned about close focus range, we would suggest one of these models.

Performance Comparison: High-End Shootout


In this section, we examine the three top-of-the-line models that we tested: the Swarovski EL, the Leica Noctivid, and the Zeiss Victory HT. These models are meant for the most serious birders and wildlife enthusiasts and will likely become a family heirloom that will be passed down through the generations.

Swarovski does not make an 8x magnification bino in their EL line, opting instead for 8.5x magnification. Therefore, for all of our image comparisons, we used the 10x versions of all the models to keep things consistent.

The competitors prepare for testing.
The competitors prepare for testing.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Clarity/Brightness


All of these high-end models have top-notch glass that can let lots of light in and render clear images, thus they all earned perfect scores in these metrics. However, there are some relatively minor differences if we really split some hairs. In most tests, the crystal lenses of the Swarovski EL's were able to let in just a bit more light than the other two. We feel this generally results in a slightly crisper image as well. However, these differences are definitely slight at best, the kinds of things one would only notice in the kind of rigorous, side-by-side tests that we conduct. Bottom line, if you're willing to pay the high price for any of these premium optics, you're going to get an excellent view when you finally see that Kirtland's warbler.

Photo: Steven Tata

Adjustment/Focus


All of these models offer easy adjustment, but there are a few areas where one is slightly better than the others.

Focus


All three models have supple focus knobs that allow for quick and predictable focusing. Though each knob feels slightly different, within a few minutes of using each, they felt completely intuitive. You won't have to worry about annoying focus slips with any of these.

Diopter


Here we have to give an edge to Zeiss. They use a small and stiff knob separate from the main focus knob to adjust the diopter. The knob is supple enough that you can easily adjust the diopter, yet stiff enough that you won't accidentally adjust it by mistake.

The Zeiss&#039; diopter adjustment is our favorite of the three high-end...
The Zeiss' diopter adjustment is our favorite of the three high-end models.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

In contrast, both the Swarovski and Leica models require you to pull back on the focus knob until it actually moves and you hear a click. Then you can use the focus knob to adjust the diopter. You can push the focus knob back into its original position once you're done, then you're good to go. While this mechanism works great on both models, there is a slight chance that you could pull the focus knob back in a fit of excitement and completely miss that Swainson's hawk flying by. This is by no means a likely occurrence, but it is possible.

Eye Cups


We loved the eyecups on the Swarovski and Zeiss models. Both use threaded eyecups that twist in and out and have very conspicuous stopping points, so you can be sure both eyecups are set on the same depth. The Lecia's also use threaded eyecups, but the stopping points are less solid, and we often had trouble getting both cups set to the same depth. This was particularly annoying when sharing them with multiple testers with different eyecup preferences because it took much more finagling to get the eyecups to an acceptable and even setting.

It can be a bit difficult to get the Leica&#039;s eye cups even.
It can be a bit difficult to get the Leica's eye cups even.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Field of View at 1000 Yards


Here the Leica models have a slight edge. When comparing the 10x magnification models, Leica provides a 337-foot wide field of view at 1000 yards. The Swarovski comes second with a 336-foot field of view, and Zeiss comes in last at 330 feet. If you opt for an 8x magnification model, the Leica and Zeiss field of view increases to 443 and 408 feet, respectively. Swarovski does not make 8x models, but their 8.5x version provides a field of view of 399 feet.

Leica offers the widest field of view of the high end models we...
Leica offers the widest field of view of the high end models we tested.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

In Hand Comfort


With hand comfort, it's the little things that count. The Swarovskis are the only pair of the three that put thumb indents at the bottom of the barrels, and it makes a world of difference. The Swarovskis feel so much better in-hand than the other models. The slightly narrower base of the Zeiss barrels made for a more comfortable hold than the Leicas, but neither held a candle to the Swarovskis.

you can&#039;t beat the way the Swarovski EL feels in your hand.
you can't beat the way the Swarovski EL feels in your hand.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Close Focus


Here again, Swarovski comes out on top with a close focus of 4.9 feet. Our lead tester stands at 5 feet, 8 inches, so functionally, that means anything in front of his feet, be it a butterfly or another interesting insect, will be in focus. The Zeiss and Leica models are no slouches, both with a close focus of 6.2 feet, but the difference is noticeable if you like to look at little critters.

Conclusion


At their best, binoculars can open up whole new worlds of exploration and allow a greater appreciation of the fascinating ecology that surrounds us everyday. At their worst, binoculars can make far away things look even cloudier than they do with the naked eye. We hope our meticulous testing results and real-world lessons help you find a pair that will provide the former experience rather than the latter.

Max Mutter

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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

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