Get The Best Birding Binoculars For Your Budget - Reviews of Top Rated Bird Watching Options
If you are a hardcore birder or Ornithologist, I presume you are willing to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a trusted binocular.
And, as for many routine birdwatchers, you also need a solid binocular to catch the spectacle of birds up close.
That said, it is only right that you get the best binocular your money can get.
In that case, this article will save you the stress of combing through several stores and testing countless binoculars only to leave you unsatisfied.
Below I will reveal the best binoculars for birding your money can get whether you on a budget or have thousands to spare, or if you travel across forests or mountains.
Quick Picks For Your Budget:
- Best Pro Choice (Over $1,000): Swarovski EL 12x50
- Best Higher-End (Under $1,000): Vortex Optics Razor HD
- Best Mid-Range (Under $500): Vortex Optics Viper HD 8x42
- Best Budget Buy (Under $200): Nikon Prostaff 7s
Best Binoculars For Birding (2019) By Price
Normally, I don’t categorize product reviews just by price. But, in the world of binoculars and optics, you get what you pay for.
And generally, the higher you pay, the better quality you get.
So, I’ll categorize this review into four (4) price ranges and review the best two binos in each category to give you more options to pick from.
Hardcore Birding: Best Birding Binoculars Over $1000
1. Best Overall - Swarovski EL 12x50
With a 12x magnification, the Swarovski EL has the farthest reach of the binos in the review. And, just as you’d expect, it comes at a hefty price. Also, the highest in this review.
But, it is well worth it if you can afford it.
Plus, it comes bundled with accessories such as a field bag, eyepiece cover, objective lens cover and a lift carrying strap.
This bino is definitely top-notch and its quality is trusted by its manufacturers with a lifetime warranty on its optics and a 10-year warranty on other parts.
You might be wondering if the 12x magnification is suitable for bird watching.
With the Swarovski EL, yes. But, with other binoculars, I’m not so sure.
Of course, at such magnification, there might be a little bit of shaking. But, you still get a clear image. Its non-slip focusing wheel and a wrap-around-the finger grip also helps stabilization and comfort.
The main reason you should consider this binocular is its effectiveness in low light and clarity of images across the whole lenses, even for eyeglass wearers.
Its manufacturers achieved this using their trademark technologies (Swarobright, Swarotop, and Swarodur) to optimize its coating.
If it matters to you as a birder in the wild, the binocular can be submerged in water as deep as 14ft.
This binocular in my opinion is most suitable for researcher and wildlife birders and not backyard bird watchers.
2. Zeiss Victory 10x42 HT
Designed by a Multi-billion dollar company, Zeiss, this binocular is assembled with careful attention to details to give the best viewing experience.
It has 95%+ light transmission which gives you a crystal clear view of whatever is in range. Of course, this is only possible using cutting-edge engineering
This was done the Zeiss way.
The Zeiss Victory 10x42 incorporates Schott HT lenses, Zeiss T* multi-layer coating, and Abbe Konig System. This doesn’t just give you a crystal clear view but also makes it great in low light environments or dense forests.
Not to mention that it has a long range of 10x magnification and the right ergonomics to support it. The casing gives you a good grip and is usable in extreme temperatures.
It has a considerably lightweight build and the focus wheel is well-placed to enhance stabilization and ease of use.
And, you can still catch the swift movement of shy birds in the wild up close with a close focus of 6.2ft.
Definitely, as a top birding binocular, you get other key features, like waterproof, fog proof and a reasonable eye relief of 16mm for birders that wear glasses.
Although a minor issue, its black coating attracts dirt easily but can be easily cleaned.
Top Enthusiast Selection: Birding Binoculars From $500 to $1000
1. Best Under $1,000 - Vortex Optics Razor HD
The Vortex Razor are the best in their category and will almost be as good as the over $1000 binos to an untrained eye.
As you’d expect, it is carefully engineered using state-of-the-art prisms and lenses and anti-reflective coating to allow enough light to pass through the bins. This gives you stunning images even in low light conditions when most birds are visible.
But here’s why I highly recommend this binocular:
Its 10x magnification is backed up with an exceptionally lightweight and ergonomic design to make it stable. Its sturdy magnesium casing is intuitively notched o allow for a good grip.
This is something you won’t find in binos in this category or even above.
Another unique feature is its diopter and eyecup adjustment which gives you a balanced viewing experience on both eyes.
Also, a close focus of 6ft makes it great for birders like you, and other wildlife lovers as well.
However, the only issue I have with this binocular is probably the reason it’s so good for its cost. It is now made in China.
The Razor is definitely water and fog proof in case you were wondering. Plus, its lenses are scratch and dirt resistant. This bino also comes with a lifetime warranty, as you’d expect with a trusted manufacturer. Their warranty doesn’t even need you to show a receipt!
But, the Vortex supervisors in China must be doing a good job because it is still a top-notch binocular.
2. Zeiss 8x42 Conquest HD
Like the Zeiss Victory above, the Conquest binocular is made with sophisticated technology to continue to give you picture perfect views of birds and nature.
But, at only half the price.
As you’d expect, there will be changes in the quality, but may not be noticeable to those who haven’t experienced better binos. For instance, it has a 90+ light transmission which is -5 of the Victory.
Enough with the comparisons.
Among other binoculars in this price range, it has of the best field of view of over 400ft to 1000m. Possibly even the best we’ve seen.
This binocular is does a good job of viewing fast moving birds with its large focus knob. With a close focus range and good grip, it only gets better.
Although a few users with short pupillary distance have had issues with its eyecup range.
It is a rugged choice too as it works fine in extreme temperatures as low as -20 °C or high as 63 °C. Plus, it is rain and fog proof which is a good choice if you are bird watching in rainy areas.
Its Lotutec coating technology rolls water off the lenses and can be easily cleaned.
With all these impressive features about the optics and quality of design, one wouldn’t expect lens covers to be an issue. Yet, it has been a persistent issue with the Zeiss Conquest binoculars.
Mid-Range Choice: Best Budget Binoculars For Birding from $200 - $500
I put in extra effort in this category of binoculars since it seems like the amount most people would consider spending on a pair of binoculars.
But, honestly, I’d advise you to be ready to spend as much as $500 and nothing less for the most rewarding bird gazing experiences.
1. Best Under $500 - Vortex Optics Viper HD 8x42
The Vortex Optics Viper HD 8x42 was the best I could find in this category, though it comes in close to the price cap of $500.
It comes with similar tough build quality like its senior cousin, Vortex Razor. For instance, its waterproof and fog proof qualities are engineered using the same argon purging and O-ring seal technology in the Viper.
Besides giving you image quality as clear as that of binos costing double its price, it has an amazing close focus of 5.1 ft. It’s more like a birder’s dream come true.
Even though the Viper has an impressive close focus, its field of view of 347ft isn’t so impressive. But maintaining focus is a breeze, and the field of view is at least clear even in low light conditions. Additionally, its 8x magnification is great for birdwatching.
Also, it is very comfortable for use over a long time and is very light.
Not to mention it’s one of the best binos for eyeglass wearers with 20mm eye relief. Although, a few customers who don’t wear glasses have complained about its usability.
Perhaps the biggest problem people have had with this product is that its made in China. Some people have outrightly returned it for this reason or for little manufacturer’s fault like dust particles in the bino.
2. Nikon 7548 MONARCH 7
The Nikon Monarch 7 has an optimum 8x42 dimension which is just ideal for bird watching.
The image quality is a must-have to enjoy a good look at nature thanks to its extra depression lenses. It gives a clear and bright glance at the birds in its very wide field of view at different light conditions.
Even better, it has a short close of focus that guarantees you don’t lose any action if the birds fly off. Perhaps if you just enjoy paying attention to details if the birds are close by.
Plus, it is easy to focus and its lightweight frame only makes things better.
In contrast with the Vortex Viper, this binocular is suitable for eyeglass wearers and non-eyeglass wearers with its eye relief and eyecup design. Just try adjusting the eyecups to their limit if you don’t wear glasses.
It comes with several accessories, like lens covers, carrying bag, and its strap is particularly soft and comfortable.
However, there have been misconceptions about warranty terms with different sellers. Also, its waterproof and fog proof capabilities are not particular to boast about in my opinion. But, this is a minor issue and not many people have complained.
In the end, this binocular still remains a top choice in this price category.
Economy Choice: Best Bird Watching Binoculars Under $200
1. Best Under $200 - Nikon Prostaff 7s
The Nikon Prostaff 7s is one of the best budget binoculars for birding.
It is also the perfect choice for a backup bino for the more expensive ones or for casual expeditions.
Remember how you get what you pay for when it comes to optics?
This binocular’s picture quality and color reproduction are probably the best you can get at its price. But it has a smaller range compared to top rated binoculars field of view which is actually not a problem if you haven’t tried them.
Also, it has a nice ergonomic design that makes it easy to focus the lenses and grip the binoculars in different environments.
If you are wondering how…
It has a large knob control wheel and a rubber-like coating to maximize grip in cold or wet environments. Not to mention it is also light which is rare for a binocular with 10x magnification and within its price range.
Among other things, it is somewhat suitable for eyeglass wearers with an eye relief of 15.5mm. Nevertheless, a few users have complained about its lens covers falling off.
Asides the fact that they are just accessories, several other users have no issues with this once the strap is attached PROPERLY.
2. Celestron 71334 Nature DX 8x56 Binocular
This binoc from Celestron is splendid for its price tag which is just below the limit for this category.
I must say it is also very popular amongst casual birdwatchers. Mostly the ones who take a photo of birds & wildlife through its lenses and upload to their Instagram page.
In this light, it displays clear images using multi-coated optics to transmit more light through the Bak-4 prism in the binocular.
The picture clarity is rather great for its price range and I’d personally excuse the aberrations just around the edges of the lens.
Its 8x magnification is good for bird watching, but a few people who haven’t use it may doubt its 56mm objective lens.
Here’s the thing:
The large objective lens obviously makes it a good choice for low light conditions, but the Nature DX 8x56 settles your doubt with a light weight of around 1.5lbs.
For eyeglass wearers, it has a generous, it not too generous eye relief of 23mm.
On the other hand, its close focus of 9.8ft is abysmal. But it isn’t bad at all for birding. Another minor issue with this product is that it doesn’t bring out full colors in low light situations.
In all, it’s a great economy choice and would definitely give you a great sight of birds, wildlife and other landmarks.
How To Choose The Best Binoculars For Bird Watching
If you want to get binocular for birding with your hard earned cash, you need to first identify the best one for YOUR situation.
How do you do this, you ask?
In a bit, I’ll show you the key factors you need to be watchful of in a binocular to find the right one for you, whether you are shopping online or in a local store.
#1 Set A Price Range
Like you already know, the higher the price the higher the overall quality of the binoculars. So, you need to choose a price range which is comfortable for your wallet and purpose.
If you are going to a safari, you definitely should pick a higher price range, than a lower-cost option more suited for a backyard bird watcher.
The magnification is the first of the two (2) numbers on the description of all binoculars. For example, the magnification of an 8x42 or 10x52 binocular is 8x and 10x respectively.
The magnification determines the proximity of birds or objects to your eyes when using a binocular. Try picking magnifications between 7-10x for a solid view of birds.
Anything larger will need a tripod stand and will be too zoomed in to follow the movement of moving birds.
#3 Objective Lens
In descriptions, it is the second number and usually the highest number as well (like the “42” in 10x42).
For better clarification, it is the largest lens/looking glass on the binocular which is the farthest from your eyes.
The size of the objective lens directs the amount of light that passes through your binoculars. The larger the size, the better it is suited for low-light conditions. Also, it determines the size of your field of view which is important for following birds, especially in dense vegetation.
Like any of our favorite birding bloggers, I recommend you choose a pair of binoculars with an objective lens between 30-50mm.
A large objective lens gets you a better view, but also comes at a price:
- More expensive
- Gets heavier with size
Regardless, you shouldn’t choose a binocular below 30mm for bird watching unless you are getting it for a child. But, it can still be used as a backup option for a better pair of binocs.
#4 Exit Pupil
This is the amount of light the eyepiece of a binocular allows to pass through it from the objective lens. Like you’d expect, a higher diameter produces clearer images in low light conditions.
This is because your pupil becomes larger in dim light and it would become hard to position the lens if the exit pupil is small.
For elderlies, the pupil dilates to around 5mm and up to 7mm for younger adults darker lights. So, an exit pupil of around 7.1mm will be a perfect choice.
In the case, you need to calculate the exit pupil of a binocular…
Simply divide the size of the objective lens by the magnification size. For instance, the exit pupil of an 8x42 binocular is calculated: 42/8 = 5.25mm
However, in many cases, you may see a lower exit pupil size in top-end binoculars but still have a better image clarity than low-priced binoculars.
#5 Close Focus
This is the closest distance at which a binocular will give you a focused image.
Consequently, you should put this into consideration if you prefer to view birds at a distance or pay attention to little details, like feathers or talons at a close distance.
If you are interested in the latter, a shorter close focus gets only better. Normally, anything below 6.5ft is good for birding. But you can have your cake and eat it too.
You can choose a larger magnification with a close focus of around 9.8ft since most birds won’t give you more than that space.
Learn exactly how to focus your shiny new pair of binoculars from the video below:
#6 Prism Design
This is similar to me explaining how the engine (prism) of binocular works. There are two prisms to choose from.
This type of prism has an optical path that follows a Z shape to get your eye. It’s an archaic design, but they are less expensive than roof prisms.
You can pay as much as double the price of a good Porro prism binocular for an equivalent of its quality in a roof prism.
But the thing is, it is bulky, heavy, and has many design faults, like dirt retention.
In my opinion, it is old school and hideous.
It has a straight optical path which makes the binocular chassis straight and compact.
The top birding binoculars use a roof prism. It is more expensive but it is worth the price.
You get better waterproofing, dirt resistance and a durable binocular for outdoor use.
#7 Manufacturer Reputation
This is an essential factor you must consider when reading a bird watching binocular review. For the reason that only reliable manufacturers can get the best out of their advertised features.
Today, many manufacturers will advertise high specs but won’t have the cutting edge technology to assemble and apply the right coating to make it actually work as it says.
Some of the top manufacturers are:
#8 Ease of Focus
If you are birding, ease of focus is very important since the movement of the birds is quite unpredictable.
In the instance that a bird abruptly lands in front of you, a bino or spotting scope with a good focusing mechanism will move freely which allows you to reduce the magnification fast enough and conveniently.
The best focusing mechanism is one that has a central knob and you can reach it easily with your index finger.
#9 Eye Relief
Just as important as the other factors to consider is the distance of the lenses from the eyecups. This is especially important and you need to find binoculars with an eye relief between 14-20 mm.
Also, you should ensure that the eyecups retracts easily or flip out of the way.
#10 Weight and Feel
This is important if you would be taking long walks with your binoculars. A heavy bino can be a lot of work to carry around without a good strap or harness.
So, go for a higher objective lens with caution.
Also, make sure the binocular will fit well in your fingers before picking. However, the products in this review have a good adjustable ergonomic design to fit different users.
Finally, if you’ve read through this long guide, then you shouldn’t fall victim of buying a shoddy binocular for bird watching.
Also, if you have no problem spending top dollar to get the best binocular for bird watching from a range and even up close, I’d recommend Swarovski EL 12x50.
It checks all the necessary boxes for an amazing binocular and not only offers you enough magnification and image quality in low light environments but also an optimum close focus.
This is where you can have your cake and eat it too.
For those of you looking to spend less than $500, then you can’t go wrong with the Vortex Optics Viper HD 8x42, which is a great compromise of quality at a discounted price.
And if you have under $200 to spend, then you will want to try the Nikon Prostaff 7s. It is a solid budget option and makes for a great back-up if you already have higher-end optics.