In this post, you’ll learn how to choose binoculars so you get the most out of your binoculars. It is important to know how to choose the right binoculars for the job they are being asked to perform. You don’t want to end up with binoculars you regret buying.
To choose the best binoculars for you, it is important to understand some basic binocular terminology so you can make an informed decision based on what you’ll be using the binoculars for. Once you understand the basic concepts of how binoculars and optics work, you will be able to make the best decision for your particular scenario.
Are expensive binoculars worth it? How do they compare to cheaper binoculars? How to choose hunting binoculars? These are some of the questions that will be answered in this post.
This post will help you find the right binoculars for any scenario and explain WHY.
How To Choose Binoculars
Choosing the best binoculars for you will depend on what you’re using them for. To get the most out of your binoculars you will want to match binocular specs to what you plan to use them for. For example, weight, magnification, low-light capabilities…etc are all things to take into consideration when choosing binoculars.
Each type of binocular has its pros and cons or ‘trade-offs’ and should be considered when buying binoculars. When these trade-offs are understood, you will be able to make the best purchase decision for your specific use, this way you’ll get the most value of your binoculars.
What Do The Numbers On Binoculars Mean? (8×42, 10×42, 10×50…etc)
The numbers on binoculars tell you the magnification and objective lens size.
For example, on 8X42 binoculars, the magnification is 8X or 8 times the distance you can see with your naked eye.
The 42 stands for how big the lenses are in diameter measured in millimeters of the end opposite of which you look through. In other words, the measurement of the light gathering end of the binoculars. So you could also think of the numbers on binoculars as (8x)(42mm).
Parts of a Binocular | How To Choose Binoculars
Binocular Magnification Explained
Which Binocular Magnification Is Better?
Your goal should be to arrive at a perfect balance between binocular magnification and objective lens size that will best fit the type of activity you will be viewing.
- 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 shaky hands can be an issue for some.
- 12x — Most will need to brace their elbows to avoid a shaky image at this magnification
The main pro for binocular lens magnification is that you can see further. For example, an 8×50 binocular can see 8 times further than your naked eye, a 10×50 can see 10 times further than the naked eye…etc.
Increased Binocular Magnification Considerations
There are some considerations to take into account before you buy a high magnification binocular.
Perceived Shakiness of Hands
Higher binocular magnifications are harder to use off-hand because of increased hand jitters. Of course, your hands aren’t actually shakier because of having a higher magnification, it’s just that higher magnifications enhance small movements resulting in increased perceived shakiness.
A 12x magnification or larger really should have some sort of stabilization devices such as a monopod or tripod. The higher the magnification, the increased importance of better stabilization methods.
Field of View
Higher magnification binoculars also have a smaller field of view. With a higher power lens, you may not see objects in your peripherals.
While you’re busy looking into the deep depth of the landscape, there could be something 40 yards from you that you don’t notice. It will be harder to see with a higher power because your field of view is tighter.
How To Choose Binoculars | Binocular Field of View Explained
Binocular Magnification and Low-Light Performance
As you increase binocular magnification the lenses of the binocular become more narrow. The narrowing of the lenses reduces the light-gathering capabilities of the binoculars.
The lens narrowing allows you to see further, but reduces light gathering capabilities, and also is the reason your field of view shrinks. You can offset this low-light issue caused by higher-powered binoculars by choosing a larger objective lens size.
Binocular Objective Lens Size Explained
Binocular magnification is not the only thing that should be considered when buying hunting binoculars, objective lens size is just as important.
Objective Lens Size Explained | Objective Lens Size Comparison
What Does Binocular Objective Lens Size Mean?
The objective lens is the end of the binoculars that you don’t look through. This is the side that actually gathers light. It is important to know the objective lens size because it is the low-light gathering potential of the binoculars, giving you a better image in low-light situations and often a crisper image overall.
On 8×42 binoculars, the 42 stands for the diameter of the lenses opposite of which you look through, measured in millimeters. In other words, it’s the measurement of the light-gathering end of the binoculars.
As your objective lens size increases, you’re able to draw more light into the lens. This allows for better low-light capabilities. However, there are also some considerations to make before you buy hunting binoculars with big lenses:
You have to be careful buying large-diameter lenses in conjunction with high magnification lenses. Glass is heavy. More glass = more free-hand shakiness.
For example, A 10×50 is better than a 10×42 in low-light situations (all things being equal) but the 10×50 will be a heavier binocular. This is good for those who need to see better in low-light but may need to consider stabilization methods like a tripod to keep them steady.
If you go with a 10×42 then you are sacrificing low-light capabilities because your lens size is smaller and can’t gather as much light but at least you can see further and it’s lighter and less bulky.
It’s all a trade-off, you can fine-tune your binoculars to the exact situations which will allow you to choose the best binoculars for you.
Will you be using them free-hand most of the time? Or will you be able to rest them on something or a tripod when hunting? These are some questions you should ask before buying binoculars.
How To Calculate Binocular Low-Light Performance
Testing Binoculars in Low-Light
Exit Pupil Size
The exit pupil size is an easy calculation that will tell you how well a binocular will do in low-light situations. A higher result means better low-light performance capabilities of the binocular.
Exit Pupil Size = (Objective Lens Size ÷ Magnification)
Binocular Magnification, Objective Lens Size, and Exit Pupil Size Relationship Chart
|Binocular Magnification (x)||Objective Lens Size (mm)||Exit Pupil Size (Low-Light Performance)||Type of Binocular|
So as you can see, all things being equal, 7×50 binoculars will have the best light gathering capabilities out of these examples by far. If lens magnification and size are all that matters, then why not buy cheap binoculars, right? Not so fast. Not all binoculars are created equal.
Types Of Binoculars & Objective Lens Size
There are three types of binoculars: compact, mid-sized, and full-sized. binoculars are categorized into these types by their objective lens size. For example:
- Objective Lens Size 30mm or less — These are referred to as compact lenses, these lenses sacrifice some light-gathering performance for their smaller size and lighter weight. They are good when weight is a factor.
- Objective Lens Size 42mm — These are mid-sized lenses, they are big enough to provide bright images even in low light, still quite small and portable, and offer good free-hand stability.
- Objective Lens Size 50+mm — These are large full-sized lenses that are heavy. They can be tricky to use freehand because of their weight. They’re generally reserved for low-light situations or to help offset the reduced light as a result of highly-magnified lenses.
What Makes Some Binoculars Better Than Others?
Understanding magnification, lens size, and how they relate to each other are the most important aspects to know when learning how to choose binoculars, but there are some finer details to know.
Quality Glass = Better Light Transmission
Not only does light have to get into the binoculars, but the light also needs to pass through the glass effectively. If a binocular has poor glass quality it will not be able to utilize the light efficiently. Thus, it will not perform as well as a binocular with glass that transfers light more efficiently.
You don’t want any reflection from your binoculars. Reflection from your lenses will deflect the light that you want entering your lenses. The best lenses will have coatings on them so that reflection is minimized to the furthest extent possible. This will allow as much light as possible to enter the binoculars so that you can see better in low-light.
Extra Low-Dispersion (ED) & High-Definition (HD) Glass
Extra low-dispersion glass (ED) also known as High-definition (HD) is, as the name implies, focuses the light color spectrum better. This reduces chromatic aberration. Chromatic aberration is the color-fringing (weird fuzzy coloring) that can occur at the edges of contrasting objects or landscapes. ED glass can also improve overall image clarity.
Photo from Gear Expert
What Makes Binoculars Expensive?
Quality-made binocular glass makes a difference in how binoculars will perform. The best binocular glass isn’t created by automated manufacturing to the same extent, at least not yet. In order to achieve the best binocular glass, is made in-house with a lot of research and development. Because of this binoculars take longer to produce and require more employees, this is the reason some binoculars are so much more expensive than others.
How To Choose Binoculars For A Particular Use?
At this point in this article, you should have a pretty good idea of how to choose binoculars for how you will be using your binoculars most often. That said, I have given some binocular size recommendations for each of the scenarios below.
How To Choose Binoculars for Birding
Birds can be small and they can be hard to see. Birds often move in the mornings and evenings, the best way to see birds is by looking for movement. For this reason, the best binoculars for birding are:
- Those that have a wide field of view
- Lightweight so your arms don’t get tired
- Do well in low-light situations
- Great at identifying color
I recommend 8×42 binoculars for the best balance of field of view, low-light capabilities, and weight. I’ve linked two of my favorites for the money below:
Athlon Midas G2 UHD Binoculars
How To Choose Binoculars For Stargazing
The best binoculars for stargazing will be a good balance of low-light gathering capabilities and magnification. If you purchase a tripod for your binoculars, you can buy very high-magnification binoculars with very big lenses (to offset the magnification) to see far into the sky. Binoculars that are 20×80 would be good choices as they have a pretty good exit pupil size (4.0) for their magnification. If you don’t have a tripod, a 10×50 would be your next best bet.
Celestron 20×80 SkyMaster Pro High Power Astronomy Binoculars
How To Choose Binoculars For Hunting
I tested 14 binoculars, at different price points ($250 to $2500), in order to determine the best hunting binoculars for the money. I cover everything from entry-level to high-end hunting binoculars and everything in-between.
How To Choose Binoculars for Hiking & Backpacking
Compact binoculars are a great option for hiking and backpacking because as the name implies, they’re compact. Here is a good time to sacrifice some low-light capabilities for better portability. I would suggest a magnification of 8x if you think you’ll need a little extra low-light performance, otherwise, a 10x magnification will give you extra reach. 8×28’s or 10×28’s would be some of the best compact binoculars for hiking and backpacking. The Vortex Diamondback HD’s are some of the best value binoculars out there.
How To Choose Binoculars For Wildlife Watching
Generally, if you’re planning to hand-hold your binoculars for wildlife watching, you want the largest magnification you can get that won’t affect your ability to hold the binoculars steady. I would recommend 10×50’s because wildlife often moves in low-light situations, but nothing larger for hand-held use. If you don’t need that extra 2x zoom, I would go for the 8×42’s because they will give you extra low-light performance and the image will appear more steady when viewed through a smaller magnification binocular.
Best Binoculars For The Money
Fortunately, high-quality binoculars are more affordable now that binocular manufacturing technology has improved. If you have an old pair that you’ve been using, it’s probably time to upgrade. You’ll notice a tremendous improvement.
I tested 14 binoculars, at different price points ($250 to $2500), in order to determine the best binoculars for the money. I cover everything from entry-level to high-end binoculars and everything in-between in the video below (It applies uses not just hunting).
Comparison Chart of 14 Binoculars Using 10 Categories
|Brand||Build Quality||Bulk & Weight||Usability||Field of View||Brightness||Low-Light||Clarity||Chromatic Abb.||Price||Warranty||Overall|
|Vortex Razor UHD||10||5||10||10||10||10||10||9||5||10||8.9|
|Athlon Midas G2 UHD||7||8||7||10||9||8||9||9||9||10||8.6|
|Athlon Midas ED||7||7||8||10||8||8||9||8||10||10||8.5|
|Vortex Viper HD||9||8||8||9||7||7||8||8||7||10||8.1|
|Vortex Diamondback HD||8||7||8||7||7||7||7||7||10||10||7.8|
|Zeiss Terra ED||8||7||8||8||8||8||8||8||7||8||7.8|
|Nikon Monarch 5||6||10||7||7||8||8||8||7||8||7||7.6|
|Celestron Trailseeker ED||7||7||7||10||6||6||6||7||7||7||7|
|Vanguard Endeavor ED IV||5||7||5||8||7||7||6||7||5||7||6.4|
Are Expensive Binoculars Worth The Money?
There is a point of diminishing return when buying binoculars. You can obtain 80% of the quality by spending 10x less money.
For example, the Athlon Midas binoculars cost +/- 250$, whereas the Swarovski EL’s cost +/- 2500$. So for 10x less money, you can still have at least 80% of what those expensive binoculars offer.
For me, if 250$ binoculars are even 70% comparable to 2500$ binoculars, that’s good enough for me.
I put my binoculars to the test in all types of weather and through rough habitats and I don’t want to be worried about losing, dropping, scratching, or forgetting expensive binoculars.
I hope this article has helped you determine how to choose binoculars for your specific uses. That said, it’s a great idea to head to the store to get some of the binoculars in your hands and up to your eyes so you can get a better feel for how they will work for you.
I have also tested just about all of these binoculars in this review, hopefully, it has narrowed your search for the right binocular quicker. Out of the 14 binoculars I tested, I believe the Althon Midas binoculars are currently the best for the money. I currently use the Midas binoculars and would recommend them to anyone beginner or expert.
I found the Athlon Midas binoculars to be the best value binoculars because they offer, in my opinion, 80% of the value when compared to the most expensive binoculars that cost 5x-10x more money.
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