One caveat: Cabela’s frequently sells the pre-2018 model at a deeply discounted price, but doesn’t label it as such. I haven’t tested this model, and while the offering is pretty good, the optics are significantly different and potentially inferior.
More great 10×42 binoculars
- Best Luxury Upgrade: Maven B1.2 42mm ED Binoculars for $1,000. These make my top three list of all time. If you can afford it, but Leicas can’t, don’t feel bad. Images are clear, crisp and sharp, with no distortion or softness around the edges. I used them every day for two months and only noticed purple fringing once. They are expensive but well worth the price.
- Budget choice: Nikon Monarch M5 10×42 for $297. These are the higher magnification version of our top pick, and everything I say about them is also true for the 10×42. For those on a budget, this is a great 10×42 option.
- Another good budget choice: Celestron Regal ED 10×42 for $320. The Celestron Regal ED are what I call a sleeper deal. That is to say, you’ll find very little information about it online, but they are excellent binoculars and the price is almost impossible to beat. You get an excellent field of view (6.5 degrees), a sharp, clear image and very little chromatic aberration. I haven’t tested better binoculars that cost less.
- Another update: Nikon Monarch HG 10×42 for $997. Nikon’s Monarch HGs offer a slightly wider field of view and are brighter and sharper than the Vortex or Celestron. I like the Maven B1.2s better, but that might be a matter of taste. If you want to continue on the price plan, the Swarovski EL 10×42 for $2,399 are rightly legendary.
What if you want 8X magnification, but not the size and weight of 8×42 binoculars? This is where 8×32, 8×30 and even 7×32 formats come in. They offer the same magnification, but a narrower field of view: it can be more difficult to track small objects like a warbler flying through the foliage, but with some practice. it’s not too difficult to manage. For hiking and traveling light, this size is a good compromise. I’m still testing other models in this size range, but here are my picks so far.
These Pentaxes are excellent for the price. The 7.8 degree field of view is wide enough for most uses and the extra-low dispersion (ED) glass is very effective. I saw virtually no chromatic aberration, even at the edges. Better yet, the edge sharpness is exceptional—better, in fact, than our top pick. Of course, the field of view is narrower and the magnification lower than that of the Nikons. Like most of our picks, these are waterproof and fogproof. The focus button is also very smooth. And at 20 ounces, I didn’t mind having them around my neck all day. If you’re hiking and it fits your budget, these are the best binoculars I’ve tested for this size and FOV.
More great 8×32 and 7×32 choices:
- Another solid option: Nocs Field Number 8×32 for $175. These NOCs (8/10, WIRED recommends) are compact and lightweight, but still provide a nice, sharp image. They’re not as nice as the Pentax above, but they’re also cheaper. Like other Nocs binoculars, the Field Issue are waterproof and fogproof, and they come in a variety of colors. They offer comfortable eyecups and a nice oversized focus wheel that you can’t miss. These manage to find the right balance between magnification, price and weight.
Compact binoculars often involve a significant compromise in image quality. Depending on your use case, the weight savings may be worth the trade-off, but in general I suggest birders and hunters stick with binoculars that are 32mm or larger. Yes, you can bird with 8x25s, but it’s often frustrating.
Maven’s C.2 series is the first compact binocular I’ve tested that hasn’t frustrated me. Yes, the 28mm field of view is narrow when you’re used to 42mm, but they’re so small and light (just 4.5 inches and weigh just 12 ounces) that I barely noticed them around my neck . If you want compact, lightweight optics that still deliver a bright, sharp image, these are the binoculars for you. They are suitable for general use: wildlife, sports, travel or any time you want binoculars but don’t want to know you have binoculars.
More great compact binoculars
- Another option: Zeiss Terra ED 8×25 for $399. I haven’t tested them extensively, but I’ve used them enough to know that they are lightweight (10.9 ounces) and provide a very good sharp image. They have 8X magnification and come with a nice sturdy, waterproof case. Thanks to their foldable design, they also fit easily into your pocket. The downside is that they are more expensive than the Nikon Monarch 8×42 but offer a much smaller field of view.
- Best budget compact: Nocs 8×25 standard issue for $95. These are detailed below, but long story short, they’re wonderfully compact and lightweight, and the price is right, but the image quality could be better. A great choice for the stadium or general use, but not as good for birders and hunters.
Before I explain why the Nocs are ideal for children, let me be clear: the Nocs are not binoculars for children. These are nice, compact binoculars that fit well into the ultralight category above. I “borrow” them from my kids all the time. I wouldn’t suggest these as the best first pair of binoculars for young children (in which case, check out our budget selection below), but for anyone over the age of 8, they make a great compact first pair of binoculars.
You get good magnification, with a waterproof (IPX7 rating) and fogproof design in a lightweight package (11.8 ounces). These also have two things that make them especially great for kids: sturdy construction and a nice rubberized handle. I can’t tell you how many trees and rocks they’ve hit around my son’s neck, and they’re still as good as new.
More great binoculars for kids
- Economical choice for children: Let’s go, binoculars for $20. If you have kids who are new to binoculars, the price of the Nocs might be too high. If you want to see if your kids are actually using their binoculars before diving, there are plenty of options. I’ll be honest: none of these are great, but they are cheap and lightweight and don’t cost a fortune. Another option is the Obuby Binoculars for $20.
Best Binoculars for Special Use Cases
Image stabilized binoculars: I’m still testing, because it’s a huge category, but so far my top picks are the Fujinon 14×40 Techno-Stabi Image Stabilized Binoculars for $1,300. If you’re on a boat, these are the binoculars you need. They offer plus or minus 6 degrees of industry-leading stabilization, there’s virtually no image lag, they have an IPX7 waterproof rating, and as an added bonus, they float. I did most of my testing on a SUP, which is the most unstable craft I can imagine, and it allowed me to watch birds without going ashore. They’re not cheap, but they definitely deliver.