Reviews You Can Rely On

The 7 Best Binoculars of 2024

We bought and rigorously tested binoculars from Vortex, Nikon, Leica, Swarovski, and more to help you find the best pair for your viewing pleasure
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Best Binoculars Review
Credit: Natalie Kafader
By Benjamin Hickok and Jessica Riconscente  ⋅  May 3, 2024

The Best Binoculars for 2024


Over the past decade, our optics experts have tested over 50 of the best binocular sets. Our current review assesses 16 of the top models on the market. Whether you're looking at a new pair for birding, to scout a new route while backpacking, or simply to gaze off into the distance, our hands-on testing cuts through product confusion by examining all of these binoculars side-by-side. Our testers have used these binoculars while exploring wildlife refuges, guiding wilderness tours, and on countless day hikes through wilderness areas in the West and abroad. This in-depth review offers expert recommendations to help you see the fine details of each pair of binoculars.

Make sure you're well-equipped for wherever your next adventure takes you. Our best hiking gear list will help you out. If your new binoculars are going with you on overnights off the beaten path, take a look at our comparative review of the best hiking boots or consider investing in one of our best backpack picks to carry whatever gear you need to get you there.

Editor's Note: We updated our binocular review on May 3, 2024, to provide you with more information on our award winners and buying advice.

Top 16 Binoculars - Test Results

Displaying 1 - 5 of 16
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Awards Top Pick Award Best Buy Award   Best Buy Award 
Price $210 List
Check Price at Amazon
$87.81 at Amazon
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$95.00 at REI
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$146.95 at Amazon
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$290 List
$207.98 at Amazon
Overall Score
56
52
41
53
71
Star Rating
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Pros Good clarity, small and lightweight, relatively comfortableDecent clarity, compact, lightLight, good grip, very comfortableInexpensive, good rubber gripExcellent brightness, great clarity, comfortable
Cons Poor low-light performanceBelow average light transmission, poor eye relief, poor field of viewPoor light transmission, poor close range focus, no eye coversPoor clarity, shows a yellowish dark tintSlightly heavy for backpacking
Bottom Line An inexpensive, small, and packable model that offers surprisingly good opticsCompact with decent clarity for budget-tier optics, and a good option for backpackersBudget-friendly, quite comfortable, and above average field of view, but otherwise a below-average performer with awful clarityDon't be enticed by the price, these had some of the worst clarity we've seenAn excellent balance of price and all-around performance with particularly impressive brightness
Rating Categories Vortex Diamondback... Nikon Trailblazer A... Nocs Provisions 8x2... Nikon Prostaff P3 1... Vortex Diamondback...
Clarity (35%)
5.0
5.0
2.9
3.9
6.2
Brightness (20%)
4.6
3.5
3.1
5.5
8.1
Comfort (15%) Sort Icon
8.3
7.9
7.9
7.0
6.6
Field of View (10%)
5.0
5.2
6.3
6.2
8.4
Ease of Adjustment (15%)
5.1
4.4
3.3
5.2
7.1
Close Focus Range (5%)
7.9
8.3
3.0
8.0
8.9
Specs Vortex Diamondback... Nikon Trailblazer A... Nocs Provisions 8x2... Nikon Prostaff P3 1... Vortex Diamondback...
Measured Weight 14.7 oz 10.5 oz 12.1 oz 20.6 oz 23.1 oz
Measured Interpupillary Distance Range 55mm - 74mm 38mm -75mm 58mm -73mm 56mm - 75mm 56mm - 75mm
Measured Size 4.7" x 4.1" 2.7" x 4.1" 4.3" x 4" 5.9" x 4.2" 5.7" x 5.1"
Measured Close Focus 7.4 ft 6.6 ft 16.1 ft 7.1 ft 5.5 ft
Measured Eye Relief 18.0 mm 10.5 mm 12.5 mm 15.5 mm 18.0 mm
Glass Type HD Eco-Glass ED Not mentioned HD
Magnification 8 10 8 10 8
Objective Lens Size 28 25 25 42 42
Claimed Field of View 332 ft 342 ft 357 ft 367 ft 393 ft
Claimed Close Focus 6.0 ft 11.5 ft 16.4 ft 9.8 ft 5.0 ft
Claimed Eye Relief 18 mm 10 mm 10 mm 15.7 mm 17 mm
Waterproof/Fog Resistant Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Tripod Adapter Yes No No No Yes
Measured Lux Reading from Brightness Testing 390 lux 237 lux 224 lux 748 lux 1163 lux


Best Binoculars for Most


Vortex Viper HD 8x42


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Clarity 7.5
  • Brightness 8.9
  • Comfort 5.6
  • Field of View 9.0
  • Ease of Adjustment 4.5
  • Close Focus Range 8.7
REASONS TO BUY
Very clear and bright
Easy to adjust
Comfortable
REASONS TO AVOID
Front heavy and unequally balanced
Difficult to turn focus knob
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Interpupillary Distance Range 56mm - 74mm
Measured Weight 25.4 oz
Measured Size  5.7" x 4.3"
Measured Close Focus 6.0 ft
Measured Eye Relief 18.0 mm

Offering what we believe to be the greatest ratio of performance and price, the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 is the best choice for those looking to invest in a quality pair of optics. Their high-quality glass created some of the brightest and clearest images in our testing, making us happy to stay out in prolonged wildlife viewings during dawn and dusk. They also boast a 6.0-foot close focus range that will allow you to view critters up close but not scare them away. An exceptionally wide field of view, one of the best in our testing, the Viper HD is a great binocular for those who are on the hunt for wildlife that moves around often and can be harder to pin down.

During testing, we were amazed by the performance in both our practical and objective brightness testing. The Viper HD does have a favorable magnification and large objective lens to help with capturing light, but we found our results went beyond the useful specifications with a high-quality lens to give this set an added boost when it comes to brightness. As a result, we were able to see more patterns, shapes, and color variations, helping us better identify animals.

Experience clear and bright viewing without spending thousands with the Vortex Viper HD 8x42.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The Viper HD costs a decent penny, so these binoculars are not for the faint-hearted. These are for those of you looking to upgrade your current entry-level set and wanting to invest in something that's a performance step up. Being an 8x magnification, the Vipers are best suited for viewing wildlife such as birds, where you do not need to scan a far horizon but rather peer out with a wider field of view to catch all the action.

Although the Vortex Viper had impressive results in clarity and brightness, it didn't necessarily excite us with its comfort and adjustability. One of the biggest standout features is its difficulty in adjusting the focus knob that had our fingers pumped from a workout when put to use. We were left confused by the intense knob tension, hoping that this might be an outlier in manufacturing. If ease of adjustment or higher magnification is your top priority, the similarly priced Nikon Monarch M7 10x42 can be a great alternative that will also help step up your game with wildlife viewing.

Read More: Vortex Viper HD 8x42 review

binoculars - testing the vortex viper hd 8x42 against binoculars over four times...
Testing the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 against binoculars over four times its retail price.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Also Great


Nikon Monarch M7 10x42


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Clarity 7.8
  • Brightness 7.2
  • Comfort 5.6
  • Field of View 6.1
  • Ease of Adjustment 8.5
  • Close Focus Range 8.8
REASONS TO BUY
Great clarity
Easy to Adjust
Great close focus range
REASONS TO AVOID
Middling field of view
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Interpupillary Distance Range 57mm - 74mm
Measured Weight 25.5 oz
Measured Size  5.8" x 4.5"
Measured Close Focus 5.8 ft
Measured Eye Relief 17.0 mm

Placed among our top-ranked binoculars in the product test lineup, the Monarch M7 10x42 impresses as an exceptional performer across nearly all test metrics. This full-sized, general-purpose binocular stands out for its bright, crisp, and color-accurate viewing experience. Notably, it offers a reasonable weight at 25.5 ounces and greater compact dimensions compared to other high-end 10x42 models. Furthermore, the M7 excels in ease of adjustment and boasts an impressive close-focus range, making it a great tool for a wide range of distances you wish to view from.

Like a smooth dial on a car stereo, the focus knob on the Monarch M7 felt effortless to push and pull with our fingers. It takes less than a half rotation to adjust from our set short distance of 20 feet to our long distance of over 250 yards away, making the knob sensitive to our touch and allowing us to adapt quickly when searching for many different kinds of animals in the wilderness.

A great alternative to our top pick if you value easy adjustability.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The M7 is constructed with a higher magnification, designed for looking far beyond a tree stand or pond. The 10x magnification performs well for hunters and adventure enthusiasts scouting across a large plain or far distances over an ocean. That being said, more advanced birders prefer a higher magnification to help aid in difficult distinctions amongst birds, where a closer look can be helpful.

Just know that the magnification is indirectly proportional to the field of view, so the M7 will challenge your skills at honing in on the fluttering creatures. The ED glass and multicoated lens produce a nice crisp clarity, but we did notice more pronounced vignetting (blurriness at the edges) that might annoy some if you're often peering out at a cluster of animals at once. Although it delivers fairly bright views with good light transmission and great ease of adjustment, it falls slightly behind the Vortex Viper HD 8x42, a comparably priced model, in terms of brightness while remaining nearly equal across other test metrics. If you value brightness over ease of adjustment, then you'll want to consider the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 before settling on the Nikons.

Read More: Nikon Monarch M7 10x42 review

binoculars - a snapshot of the viewing performance by the nikon m7.
A snapshot of the viewing performance by the Nikon M7.
Credit: Jessica Riconscente

Best of the Best at a Premium Price


Zeiss Victory SF 10x42


85
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Clarity 9.5
  • Brightness 8.8
  • Comfort 6.4
  • Field of View 6.1
  • Ease of Adjustment 8.9
  • Close Focus Range 9.5
REASONS TO BUY
Incredible clarity and brightness
Extremely close focus
Awesome construction quality
REASONS TO AVOID
Prohibitively expensive
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Interpupillary Distance Range 56mm - 77mm
Measured Weight 28.2 oz
Measured Size  6.8" x 4.5"
Measured Close Focus 4.5 ft
Measured Eye Relief 19.0 mm

The Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 stands out as superior among the binoculars our team evaluated, offering a notably distinct improvement in clarity and performance compared to most others in our lineup. We were first apprehensive with the high dollar amount, but when comparing it to the next tier below in price, it was evident that the cost went to premier lens technology that had our jaws drop when trying them out for the first time. Constructed with a 10x magnification didn't stop this pair from our brightness testing, registering an admirable amount of light in our objective testing, something we noticed as well when we were out in the field.

Measuring comfort can be a bit ambiguous and subjective to the individual. To reduce these concerns, we broke down different components of the ergonomics of binoculars to get a more analytical result of what everyone will experience when out viewing. Binoculars can be a forearm burner, especially when you're looking out for extended periods of time, which is our goal. The Zeiss Victory helps out our forearms by designing its balance point just slightly back from the midpoint, alleviating some of that tension caused by the downward force of the large objective lens at the other end. It seems remedial in the land of design concepts, but we found that most of the balance points in our selection teeter in an unfavorable way, causing problems of fatigue.

One of the most impressive optics we've tested - the Zeiss Victory SF 10x42.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The Zeiss Victory is for those who do not have a limit on what they're willing to spend on a pair of binoculars. Amongst the other high price tags, the Zeiss stands out as the best all around. It wasn't the brightest or the most clear, but consistently stood near the top where others had a larger difference amongst our diverse testing. This pair was a favorite of our advanced testers because of its higher magnification and a beneficial balance point that allowed us to keep our eyes on the prize for a longer period of time before needing to take a break.

While the Zeiss did perform well overall, we did see a couple of design quirks that bugged us. The eye cups weren't the easiest to work with. They do not have distinct retracting notches, making us twist back and forth to try and find the resting place each barrel needed to match each other. While we did favor the mid-point design, there's still the underlying factor that comes with a high-quality lens, a higher weight. If you're looking at this section, you would also not shy away from other high-price tag products like the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 or the Leica Noctivid 10x42. The Swarovskis have a lower magnification correlating to its stellar brightness for those birders or short range viewers out there that favor a wider field of view. The Leicas narrowly beat out the Zeiss overall for clarity, so if that aspect is your greatest concern, then you'll want to set your eyes on those pair of optics. Regardless of these three, you'll be delighted to know that we did see a significant step up in performance that could warrant a high investment if you have no limit to the dollar amount.

Read more: Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 review

We were excited to get our hands on these high-quality optics.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Best Bang for the Buck


Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42


71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Clarity 6.2
  • Brightness 8.1
  • Comfort 6.6
  • Field of View 8.4
  • Ease of Adjustment 7.1
  • Close Focus Range 8.9
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent brightness
Great clarity
Wide field of view
A great value
REASONS TO AVOID
Some color fringing
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Interpupillary Distance Range 56mm - 75mm
Measured Weight 23.1 oz
Measured Size  5.7" x 5.1"
Measured Close Focus 5.5 ft
Measured Eye Relief 18.0 mm

The Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42 provides great optical clarity and impressive brightness, approaching the level of performance typical of premium binoculars. Combined with a great close focus range and exceptional field of view, we believe that the majority of amateur and intermediate users alike will be highly satisfied with these bins, especially at the price.

Running the Diamondback HD 8x42 through our brightness testing, we were pleased to find a high output at the other end where our light meter logged a high lux reading that stood with the big dogs in this lineup. A result that was affirmed from our outings during stringent scenery at dusk and dawn. This is a helpful attribute for our viewing pleasure that can make the difference between sighting a rare species or being left in a dark shadow that would forever have us wonder what we were looking at.

A great pair of binoculars for those with a smaller budget.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Vortex has a wide series selection of binoculars to choose from, a scale of luxury to economic. With a reputable brand to back, the Diamondbacks lie on the cheaper side but do not compromise much in comparison. This series is designed for the beginner birder or adventurer wanting a wide field of view and elevated brightness to make it easier on their eyes along with their pockets. If you're overwhelmed by the high price tags in this article, don't worry; this pair will be a great companion for your adventures.

While the affordability is a plus, you'll have to take a hit with performance. We did notice some color fringing that gave high-contrast areas such as twigs or leaf edges a highlighter glow. Also on our more stringent testing from a far, we found it difficult to distinguish patterns on our bird models. These rigorous tests are conducted to differentiate the lineup, so although there were a few weaknesses shown, we still believe this product hits a great price point with positive remarks from us. If you're willing to invest a bit more or simply find the Monarch M7 on sale, we'd recommend these for a shift up in optic performance that will have you becoming a serious contender for the birding big year.

Read more: Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42 review

binoculars - the diamondbacks take in a good amount of light, helping in those...
The Diamondbacks take in a good amount of light, helping in those less-than-ideal viewing scenarios.
Credit: Jessica Riconscente

Best on a Tight Budget


Celestron Nature DX 8x42


64
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Clarity 5.8
  • Brightness 7.4
  • Comfort 5.4
  • Field of View 6.8
  • Ease of Adjustment 6.6
  • Close Focus Range 7.5
REASONS TO BUY
Inexpensive
Good clarity and brightness
REASONS TO AVOID
Average construction quality
Unergonomic balance point
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Interpupillary Distance Range 57mm -74mm
Measured Weight 22.8 oz
Measured Size  5.4" x 4.5"
Measured Close Focus 8.0 ft
Measured Eye Relief 18.0 mm

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. The image quality is the best we've seen in this budget-conscious price range. It rivals models that cost more than twice as much. The supple focus knobs and easy eyecup adjustments continue the list of beginner-friendly features. We enjoyed the 7.8-foot focus range as it let us view nearby butterflies and fascinating insects.

We were impressed by its ability to take in light, boasting a high lux reading out of the ocular lens. We were able to make out difficult patterns through thick forests. The underside of foliage wasn't overtly dimmed a common occurrence with poor-quality lenses.

We took as many measurements as we could to create the most comprehensive review.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

You don't need a four-figured binocular to have fun. The Celestron Nature DX helps as an introductory pair for the beginner or even part-time dabbler. Going on a trip to a biodiverse safe haven? These can be a quick grab for your next adventure, where you typically wouldn't be slugging around a pair of binoculars. These are a safe bet for those that are not wanting to invest in such a price piece of gear.

That being said, the low price evidently entails some downsides. The rubber coating of the Nature DX 8x42 feels lower quality than premium models, and the hinges likewise feel a little less sturdy. The glass is of lower quality, so low-light situations yield slightly dim images. Considering everything, these gripes are minor, and we would wholeheartedly recommend the Nature DX 8x42 to anyone searching for a budget-friendly pair of binoculars. If you're looking to invest in better construction quality without going into the quadruple digits, the Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42 is another option we recommend considering.

Read more: Celestron Nature DX 8x42 review

The Celestron Nature is a great option for birders looking for an inexpensive, full-sized pair of binoculars with good performance.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Best Travel Binoculars on a Budget


Nikon Trailblazer ATB Waterproof 10x25


52
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Clarity 5.0
  • Brightness 3.5
  • Comfort 7.9
  • Field of View 5.2
  • Ease of Adjustment 4.4
  • Close Focus Range 8.3
REASONS TO BUY
Good close focus range
Great value
Light
REASONS TO AVOID
Poor brightness score
Hard to adjust
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Interpupillary Distance Range 38mm -75mm
Measured Weight 10.5 oz
Measured Size  2.7" x 4.1"
Measured Close Focus 6.6 ft
Measured Eye Relief 10.5 mm

While the Nikon Trailblazer ATB Waterproof 10x25 does not have super impressive scores, keep in mind that it is being compared against models that sometimes cost 20-30 times more. If you're not a birder and looking for a great option on a tighter budget, these might be all you need. These compact, lightweight binoculars have excellent close-range focus and offer the baseline clarity you need to see your kid score their first soccer goal or get a better view at a concert.

We were impressed with how small this product can get, shrunken down to a minuscule 2.7 inches by 4.1 inches. Recording its weight, we noticed it was less than two/three times full-size binoculars. The small ounces were evident when we went for long scouting missions in the backcountry or when assessing an animal's behavior, where we stalked them for extended sessions.

Need an affordable pair of binos, that can live in the center console? The Trailblazer has got you covered.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The Trailblazers hit a niche group due to their compact size and low weight, giving us the courage to pack these on backpacking trips where we start to count every ounce. They can live in backpacks where you might need to take them out on a few occurrences where the requirements are not higher. The 10x magnification helps those wishing to see far distances in route planning or across a grassland for general movements of big game.

Compared to the best binoculars, these are not in the same league in the brightness, clarity, and field of view metrics. So you get what you pay for. But if you are looking for more general outdoor binoculars and are not focused on the very best clarity and brightness, these might be your next travel companion. However, if you can afford to spend a bit more, we think the Celestron Nature DX 8x42 offers additional benefits that come with a full-size binocular.

Read more: Nikon Trailblazer ATB Waterproof 10x25 review

binoculars - the trailblazers condense down to a manageable size for traveling.
The Trailblazers condense down to a manageable size for traveling.
Credit: Jessica Riconscente

Best Compact Binoculars


Vortex Diamondback HD 8x28


56
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Clarity 5.0
  • Brightness 4.6
  • Comfort 8.3
  • Field of View 5.0
  • Ease of Adjustment 5.1
  • Close Focus Range 7.9
REASONS TO BUY
Good clarity
Small and lightweight
Relatively comfortable
REASONS TO AVOID
Poor low-light performance
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Interpupillary Distance Range 55mm - 74mm
Measured Weight 14.7 oz
Measured Size  4.7" x 4.1"
Measured Close Focus 7.4 ft
Measured Eye Relief 18.0 mm

If you're hoping 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 14 ounces, these still provide good optical clarity and an exceptional performance-to-weight ratio. Combine that with sturdy construction, a comfortable grip that is inherent in Vortex products, and a relatively low price, you have the perfect option for backpacking birders on a budget.

While testing in the field, we enjoyed the light and compact design, especially after using full-size bins. We liked that we could comfortably use these with one hand, which could benefit us in times when we need to scribble down notes or adjust something with the opposite hand.

Compact with impressive performance for the price and size, but that performance comes with a slightly higher price tag than more modest models.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The Diamondback HD 8x28 hit the Goldilocks size where they're not as big as full-size bins but not too small that they hinder viewing pleasure. The 28mm objective lenses can get the job done with favorable outdoor conditions, so they can suffice in areas where you prefer to cut weight over improved brightness and clarity.

When you reduce objective lens size, there is often a degradation in the feasibility of the eye relief. The DiamondBack HD 8x28 sits on the cusp of these problems. When we put on glasses and brought the pair to our eyes, we saw a slight darkening at the rim of our view, a result of insufficient eye relief set by the eye cups. If this is worrisome to you, then pull away from smaller objective lens sizes and look to a full-size set like the Nikon Monarch M5.

Read more: Vortex DiamondBack HD 8x28 review

The Vortex Diamondback HD 8x28 binoculars are small enough to take with you on any outdoor adventure.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
85
Zeiss Victory SF 10x42
Best of the Best at a Premium Price
$3,000
Editors' Choice Award
82
Leica Noctivid 10x42
$2,999
81
Swarovski EL 8.5x42
$2,632
73
Nikon Monarch M7 10x42
Also Great
$500
Editors' Choice Award
73
Vortex Viper HD 8x42
Best Binoculars for Most
$640
Editors' Choice Award
71
Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42
Best Bang for the Buck
$290
Best Buy Award
65
Nikon Monarch M5 8x42
$290
64
Celestron Nature DX 8x42
Best on a Tight Budget
$170
Best Buy Award
58
Vortex Crossfire HD 10x50
$220
56
Vortex Diamondback HD 8x28
Best Compact Binoculars
$210
Top Pick Award
53
Nikon Prostaff P3 10x42
$150
52
Nikon Trailblazer ATB Waterproof 10x25
Best Travel Binoculars on a Budget
$100
Best Buy Award
50
Nikon Aculon A211 8x42
$110
41
Nocs Provisions 8x25 Waterproof
$95
40
Adorrgon 12x42 HD
$100
38
Bushnell H20 10x42
$100

We put the top binoculars through an extensive and rigorous side-by-side testing and performance rating process.
Credit: Natalie Kafader

How We Test Binoculars


Since 2013, we've researched hundreds of pairs of binoculars and selected 16 of the best to run through our rigorous, side-by-side testing process. With this set of binoculars, we've spent hundreds of hours (and counting) in the field. The conditions ranged from sunny plains to dark, shady forests. We also took painstaking side-by-side photos through all of our binoculars so our readers could better understand how the optics compare.

Our testing of binoculars is divided into six metrics:
  • Clarity tests (35% of overall score weighting)
  • Brightness tests (20% weighting)
  • Comfort tests (15% weighting)
  • Field of View tests (15% weighting)
  • Ease of Adjustment tests (10% weighting)
  • Close Focus Range tests (5% weighting)

Overall, our test fleet of binoculars was subjected to numerous testing procedures to rate their performance. We put the most weight on clarity as we constantly ask ourselves, is anything else worth it if you cannot identify what you are looking at? This was tested using a standard ISO chart (a chart used to test digital still-imagery cameras) and by placing model birds on a tree to compare the same bird side-by-side in identical lighting scenarios and distances. While assessing clarity, we dove deep into the characteristics of the image the lens produced by looking at distortion, vignetting, color fringing, and any other visual that stood out while in use. We stood at a set short range and long distances to give you data on how the binoculars adapted for certain situations. Brightness can also play a big role in the quality of the image and often has consumers reaching for a larger objective lens to muster up enough light when viewing at dawn and dusk. To get a more objective data set, we upgraded our test plan by designing and constructing specific devices to mount to each binocular that was connected to a light meter. Registering a spike from the light meter based on a set standard of luminous light allowed us to compare each binocular to one another. To read more about our thorough test plan, look to our How We Test article.

To give you the most unbiased review, we designed our test plan to incorporate objective testing.

Why Trust GearLab


Jessica Riconscente, our primary tester, is an avid birder and has spent numerous days and hours designing test procedures, measuring, and collecting data. She brings a vast knowledge of industrial technology and heavy machinery, often manufacturing products to tight tolerances that have helped her develop critical problem-solving and technical analysis skills to our testing of different optics. Jessica has tested hundreds of outdoor and home products for GearLab. She is a certified California Naturalist and Master Educator for Leave No Trace(LNT) practices. She currently utilizes her binoculars to demonstrate her favorite LNT principle, respect wildlife, while teaching LNT Trainer Courses at Lake Tahoe Community College. Jessica is an adventurer at heart, hiking deep into wilderness areas just to hunt for a rare bird. She also takes her binoculars abroad, flying to rainforests, most recently in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Peru, to view the condensed variety of wildlife.

Ben Hickok also brings his technical and analytical talents to our binocular review. Ben has many years of experience in the field hunting a myriad of big game, upland birds, waterfowl, and small game. This and many other backcountry adventures have him frequently reaching for his binos. His countless hours of handling different models of binoculars, combined with Jessica's thorough testing, culminate this review designed to identify the best option for all needs, budgets, and preferences.

Jessica Riconscente, our lead tester, performing a clarity test in...
Jessica Riconscente, our lead tester, performing a clarity test in the outdoors.
The Victory SF 10x42 is a highly adjustable pair of binos.
The Victory SF 10x42 is a highly adjustable pair of binos.
A good pair of binoculars are comfortable, ergonomic and easy to use.
A good pair of binoculars are comfortable, ergonomic and easy to use.

How to Pick the Best Binoculars for You


At first glance, many binoculars look similar, but they vary drastically in the quality of their components, resulting in a wide range of performances. Furthermore, they are designed for certain applications that you may not be aware of when selecting your next pair. The sheer number of availablity and price range included in your selection can add another layer of confusion as well. We understand your frustrations, as we had them at one point. Over the many years of research and testing, we've created this guide to help alleviate those confusions and provide you with the necessary information to steer you to the best pair for your viewing pleasure.

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 end) in millimeters. Larger objective lenses can let more light make it to your eyes, resulting in a brighter image. However, it also means the binoculars will be larger and heavier. Knowing what numbers you should be looking for in a model is important, so we broke down the ideal uses for all magnifications and objective lens sizes below.

Magnification
  • 8x — The standard magnification. It 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 like the extra power, but shaky hands can be an issue for some.
  • 12x — Most will need to brace their elbows to avoid a shaky image at this magnification, as 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 even backpacking.
  • 42mm — Considered full-sized, these lenses are big enough to provide bright images even in low light but small enough to wear around your neck comfortably.
  • 50+mm — These tend to be large, heavy, and borderline burdensome. This lens size is 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 who can handle the extra magnification without introducing too much shakiness. Among stargazers, 9x63 is also popular because larger lenses gather more light and illuminate more stars.

Does Brightness Matter?


If you're a hunter or birder, you'll often find yourself scouting in the early mornings or late evenings when wildlife activity sees a spike. These scenarios create more stringent conditions where some binoculars falter, leaving you constantly squinting trying to figure out what you're looking at. A larger objective lens helps to bring in more light, but there are certain limitations to the size since, as you increase, so does the weight. Theoretically, an increase in magnification also plays a role in reduced brightness, but we have learned over the years that the quality of the lens plays a large role in truly bringing in light. Some of the best 10x magnification can bring in more light than a low-quality 8x magnification. That's not to say this is usual, but pay close attention to our Brightness metric to get accurate comparisons of each model before ruling one out purely on manufacturing specifications.

What's Your Budget?


Although there's no strict correlation between performance and cost, we do find that the quality of binoculars does follow a tier system where, in general, the more you fork over, the better your chances of receiving a better view out of the lens. Binoculars are a category of gear that can range from the price of a 30-rack to the price of a used vehicle. The big question is, how much are you able to spend on this piece of gear? Favorably, it's nice to know that if taken care of properly, these can last a lifetime, so we suggest you look towards an investment opportunity when choosing which price tier you would like to strive for when picking your next pair. See our How to Choose Binoculars article for more details on how to pick the perfect pair for your needs.

Analysis and Test Results


To help you find the right pair of binoculars, we focused on the models that fit into practical tiers for most people. After spending countless hours using these binoculars and taking diligent notes on performance, our tally of scores helps to give a clear picture of each model's performance. Binos that score well across all metrics are granted awards, and some models receive accolades below for performing well in specialized areas. 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.


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 is not linear. For example, we think the very expensive Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 is the best model on the market. Still, the Vortex Viper offers roughly 80% of the performance for about a quarter of the price. We also believe that the Vortex Diamondback and Celestron Nature DX offer better performance than their prices suggest, which makes either of them a great choice for anyone shopping on a smaller budget.

If you're an expert birder who is willing to make a serious investment, you may consider the Zeiss Victory SF 10x42.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Clarity


For this review, we define clarity as the amount of detail one can see through the lenses and use an International Organization for Standardization chart specific to measuring optical clarity. For more on that, see our How We Tested Binoculars article.


We also recruited several model birds of different shapes and sizes and observed them through each pair of binos, taking side-by-side photos through the lenses so you can see what we saw.

binoculars - the clarity of the zeiss victory sf (bottom right) is unparalleled.
The clarity of the Zeiss Victory SF (bottom right) is unparalleled.
Credit: Jessica Riconscente

Price doesn't always dictate performance, but in the case of binoculars, the relationship is almost linear. The most expensive pairs offered the greatest clarity and a truly immersive experience that is only available to those with a multi-thousand-dollar budget. Those premium models that offered near-perfect clarity were the Zeiss Victory SF 10x42, Leica Noctivid 10x42, and Swarovski EL 8.5x42.

ISO Chart setup for clarity testing.
Credit: Natalie Kafader

Of the more accessibly-priced models we tested, the Nikon Monarch M7 10x42 and the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 offered the best clarity without entering the multi-thousand-dollar price range.

binoculars - you should be able to closely identify any bird using the zeiss...
You should be able to closely identify any bird using the Zeiss Victory SF.
Credit: Jessica Riconscente

The Nikon Monarch M7 10x42 allowed our team to see ISO chart zone 9 with exceptional clarity. Only the slightest aberration is visible at the edges, and a slight distortion occurs, but any unnatural hues are more subtle compared to most other models. With the Vortex Viper HD 8x42, we were treated to consistently crystal clear images in various lighting conditions. It also maintained good clarity to the edge of the image, making for an immersive viewing experience. We were able to see zone 9 of our ISO chart, although the slightest magenta hues towards the top and cyan hues toward the bottom edge were visible.

binoculars - the clarity results from some of our entry-level binoculars.
The clarity results from some of our entry-level binoculars.
Credit: Jessica Riconscente

Notably, the Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42 also performed well in our clarity testing, which is impressive considering its more modest price tag. While these models both have slightly more edge blurring and aberration than the top-scoring products, for the most part, they provided a crisp, immersive image that allowed us to easily pick out all of the defining features of birds.

binoculars - iso chart results of the budget binoculars in our lineup.
ISO chart results of the budget binoculars in our lineup.
Credit: Jessica Riconscente

The Celestron Nature DX 8x42 punched well above its price class in our clarity testing, particularly in bright light situations. They produced a crisp image rich with detail and only showed slight blurring around the edges. Things became a bit less crisp in low-light situations, but we could still 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. To test brightness, we compared 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.


Two of the higher-end models dominated brightness, just as they did clarity. The Zeiss Victory SF trailed the performance of the Swarovski and the Vortex Viper HD 8x42. Beyond the apparent observed brightness when looking through each model, our test results were validated by a controlled test to measure Lux at the eyepiece from a controlled light source. Where our team measured 1112 Lux with the Zeiss Victory SF, they measured 1340 Lux and 1288 Lux with the Swarovski and Viper HD, respectively.

Measuring light transmission in our brightness testing, using custom 3D printed parts.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The Nikon Aculon A211 8x42 punches well above its weight class, and the Diamondback HD 8x42 also did a very respectable job gathering and transmitting behind the 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 plan on 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 on a tighter budget.

binoculars - larger lenses generally gather and transmit more light than smaller...
Larger lenses generally gather and transmit more light than smaller ones.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Another good performer, considering its inexpensive price point, was the Celestron Nature DX 10x42. While it's not quite as bright as some more expensive 42 mm 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 could still 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 compact 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, making it a great choice if you are looking for a compact pair of binos.

The Vortex Diamondback HD 8x28 offers surprising brightness from a compact pair of binoculars.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Comfort


There is an adage that goes “the best pair of binoculars is the one you use.” If you have a pair of binoculars that are comfortable to hold, carry, or look through, chances are you're actually going to use them. In our tests, we found the Vortex Diamondback HD 8x28 to be the most comfortable of the lot.


There are many factors that affect how comfortable they are, like rubberized coatings on the barrels, indentations for your hands and thumbs, an open bridge, comfortable interpupillary distance, padded straps, adjustable eyecups, and sufficient eye relief. All of these measurements are very subjective and will differ between individuals. For instance, everyone's eyes are not the same distance apart, so not everyone will be comfortable with the same 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.

We found the balance point of every model.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The good news is you'll likely be able to use almost any pair in our product lineup for hours on end without any nagging discomfort, no matter what model you buy.

The compact models, due to their lightweight and smaller size, proved to be the most comfortable overall, with the Vortex Diamondback HD 8x28 standing apart in particular.


Among the most premium models, the Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 led the rest by adding comfort to exceptionalism despite the greater weight of being a full-sized binocular at 28.2 ounces. It's worth mentioning that the Victory SF is incredibly well-balanced, which aids its comfort score and makes up for its heaviness.

Among full-sized models that don't require a second mortgage, the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 has subtle details like the thumb indents that make them feel a bit more ergonomic and comfortable. Similarly, the 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.

Vortex Vipers are ergonomic and easy to grip.
Vortex Vipers are ergonomic and easy to grip.
The Nikon Monarch 5 is an easy-to-handle model that fits in any hands.
The Nikon Monarch 5 is an easy-to-handle model that fits in any hands.

Field of View


The field of view is measured as the width of the image you see when looking at something at a fixed distance. Most companies measure this in feet, at one thousand yards. However, different manufacturers have different testing procedures that can lead to results that aren't entirely comparable across all models, nor are they completely unbiased.



That's why we measured the field of view in our testing by utilizing a common vertical board fence at a fixed distance. While set to the maximum magnification, we used every model to count the number of visible vertical boards. We scored every model based on the average for the entire test group and observed a range from as little as 43 boards to as many as 64.5 fence boards.

The Nikon Aculon A211 8x42 field of view.
The Nikon Aculon A211 8x42 field of view.
The Adorrgon in our field of view tests.
The Adorrgon in our field of view tests.
One of the best (Nikon Aculon) versus the worst (Adorrgon ) in our field of view testing. The difference is incredible.

The top pairs with 10x magnification were the Nikon Prostaff P3 10x42 at 54.5 fence boards, and both Nikon Monarch M7 10x42 and Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 at 54 fence boards.

Vortex dominated the field of view for binoculars with 8x magnification. The Vortex Viper HD 8x42 and Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42 allowed our team to observe 64.5 and 62.5 vertical fence boards, respectively.

Ease of Adjustment


The ability to quickly and accurately focus on an object can be the difference between seeing that rare bird, spotting that bull elk, or hearing about it from a friend with better optics. Will you be able to maintain accurate focus or accidentally offset the diopter, resulting in a blurry image? For the ease of adjustment metric, we assessed 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, the ease of adjusting the diopter, and whether or not the diopter locks. We also evaluated the interpupillary distance adjustment and whether or not the measured eye relief would be good enough for those with glasses. The criteria are mainly subjective and based solely on several testers' opinions, sans the locking diopter and measured eye relief.


The Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 stood above the rest for all-around great adjustability. Although the Nikon Monarch M7 10x42 and Leica Noctivid 10x42 also offered a close level of adjustability. The aforementioned models offer a smooth focus knob and locking diopters that are easily adjusted but are stiff enough that you won't inadvertently move them.

Measuring the eye relief of the Swarovski EL.
Credit: Abriah Wofford


The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 and the Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42 also are easily adjusted, although the Diamondback does not have a locking diopter, while the Swarovski does. Due to the 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 at the entry-level tier of binoculars.

binoculars - adjusting the eye pieces on the nikon monarch 5 8x42.
Adjusting the eye pieces on the Nikon Monarch 5 8x42.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Close Focus Range


Close focus refers to the closest distance 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 16 feet, and the vast majority of things you'll be looking at will be farther away. However, a closer focus range allows 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. We think this is an important feature for a quality set of binos, so we measured each model's close focus range.



The top pairs in the 10x range were the Zeiss Victory SF 10x42 and the Leica Noctivid 10x42, which offer focus ranges down to 4.5 and 5.3 feet, respectively. In the 8x range, Vortex models cleaned up. The Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42 and the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 were fairly close and able to focus down to 5.5 and 6 feet. The Nikon Monarch M7 10x42 and Nikon Monarch M5 8x42 also deserve mention as the M7 was able to focus down to 5.8 feet, while the M5 was able to focus down to 6.2 feet.

binoculars - the nikon monarch m7 in our close-focus range testing.
The Nikon Monarch M7 in our close-focus range testing.
Credit: Jessica Riconscente

Conclusion


At their best, binoculars can open up whole new opportunities to explore and allow a greater appreciation of the fascinating ecology that surrounds us every day. 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.

Benjamin Hickok and Jessica Riconscente