Birding Binoculars

Purchase considerations are:

  • Objective lens size - Larger = better light gathering ability but heavier.
  • Power - High power = better magnification, but smaller field of view and more subject to hand shake. 8x to 10x are preferred for bird watching.
  • Lens Quality - A $1,000 binocular will give you a much better image quality than a $100 binocular
  • Other - Retractable eye cups for use with eye glasses, easy to use adjustments, waterproofness.
See Binocular Basics below


There are basically two types of construction roof prism (a straight tube) and porro (objective lens and eyepiece are offset). Porro prism designs are easier and less expensive to manufacture, because the tolerances are not so demanding. Quality of roof prism binoculars has improved so they are now equivalent to porro designs.


The Age of Binoculars - Winter 2005 Living Bird at Cornell - Best Binoculars
[Image quality, score] - High = better; range 12.6 - 29.4

For the first time, birders on a tight budget have some real choices for decent binoculars.
1. Nikon 7x35 Action EX $130 9.3° 487'@1,000 yds. [3.2, 22.7]- Leads the economy group in overall quality. Exceptionally wide field of view
2. Eagle Optics 7x32 Denali - $89 [3.2, 21.3] - a small, lightweight roof prism that certainly seems worth its very low price.
4. Leica Ultravid BR 8x20 $700 3.5/4 3. Nikon TravelLite 10x25 got 3 out of 4 at Optics Test '09 | Outdoor Life
5. Nikon Travelite V $110 8x25 & 10x25 3/4 Outdoor Life 2010

$200 to $500 range:
Leupold Wind River 6x32 Katmai $370 [4.5, 27.7]
Nikon Monarch 8x42, $290 6.3° 330'@1,000 yds. [4.3, 26.0]- clearly the top-rated of any mid-priced, full-power birding binoculars.
Several other 8x42 models present some nice choices in this very affordable price range. The Opticron BGA Imagic, Leupold Wind River Pinnacle, and Celestron Noble all offer an image comparable with the Monarchs, but their overall feel did not impress reviewers quite as much.

In the $500 to $1,000 category, we were hoping to see some exceptional quality at prices that a wide range of birders could still afford. In general, though, the 14 models in this group did not rate any higher than the top-ranked, less expensive models.

High End:
Zeiss FL T 8x42 [$1,500, 5.0, 29.4]
Swarovski's 8.5x42 EL [$1,820, 5.0, 27.9] - These ELs received the highest scores of any binocular for all three subjective categories.
Zeiss 10x42 [$1,550, 5.0, 27.4] was the only 10x model to receive this highest image rating.
Leica Ultravid BR 7x42 [$1,500, 5.0, 28.6]

[price, Image Quality, field of view]
Nikon 8x20 Premier LX. [$500, 3.8, 23.3] - Top-ranked among the compacts roof prism binocular with a sharp image and excellent close focus, but with an awkward feel.
The Bushnell 7x26 Custom Compacts [$380, 3.8, 24.0] , are still perhaps the best compact binoculars available for birding.
Zeiss 8x20 Victory [$429, 3.6, 22.8] and the slightly pricier Swarovski 8x20 B [$599, 3.9] ; both provide a sharp image but suffer from an awkward feel and focusing mechanism.

Consumer Reports Nov. 2008 recommended: [price image quality, score]
Full size
Swarovski 10x42 WB [$1,350, 5, 94]
Pentax DCF HR II 10x42 [$300, 4, 81]
Nikon Premiere HGL 10x25 DCF [$430, 5, 90]
Zeiss Victory Compact 10x25 BT [$500, 4, 89]
Zeiss Classic Compact 8x20 BT [$450, 4, 89]
Canon 8x25 IS [$300, 4, 87]
Olympus 8x21 RC [$60, 4, 84] (Best Buy)

Compacts: it's about pockets and wallets... recommends the Nikon Venturer (replaced by the Premier) and Zeiss Victory.

Old List from 1999 Living Bird

Field of View: Measured as width of field (inches) seen from a distance of 15 feet.
  Field for:
in./15' 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30
ft./1000 yds. 233 266 300 333 366 400 433 466 500
Degrees° 4.4° 5.1° 5.7° 6.3° 7.6° 8.2° 8.8° 9.5
10x = 14-22 (4.4-7.0°); 8x = 17-24 (5.4-7.6°); 7x = 20-30 (6.3-9.5°)

Binocular Basics for Birding from some of the sites below:

  • Binoculars are labeled by size e.g. 7x35. The fist number is the magnification. The second number is the aperture-the size of a binocular's front, or objective lenses in millimeters.
  • As power increases, several things happen: the field of view becomes smaller, making objects harder to find and keep centered; the brightness of an image decreases, because light is diffused over a greater area; external vibrations, body tremors and imperfections in the objective lenses and prisms are accentuated.
  • A birder, will want binoculars that perform well in dim light or shade, while a boater may want binoculars with high magnification and a wide field of view.
  • Song bird watchers tend to like 7-8 power while hawk watchers with steady hands will use up to 10 power or tripod mounted scopes.
  • The greater the aperture, the more light will pass through the binocular, resulting in a brighter image. A large aperture is optimal for viewing wildlife at dawn or dusk when lighting is low.
  • The difference with expensive binoculars is the quality of the optics resulting in a much clearer image, but they also tend to have other benefits such as sturdier construction reducing the chance of misalignment of the two sides. In Consumer Reports tests, the more expensive binoculars generally allowed users to see small print from 20 or 30 percent farther away than the lower-scoring ones.
  • Your eyes will compensate for barrels that are slightly out of alignment, but you are likely to get a headache after using them for a while.
See: Shopping for Binoculars and 2005 review at Cornell

See: Wildlife Watching at NWF
Optics at Bird Watchers Digest
Optics at
Better View Desired Online.
Bird Watching Binoculars
Reviews at Excelsis
Optics Test '09 | Outdoor Life
      "The Age of Binoculars" at Cornell
Eagle Optics:
    Guide to Binocular Design
The Age of Binoculars Winter 2005 Living Bird
Pocket Binocular Reviews at
Swift Ultra Lites review Spring 2005 living Bird
Dealers: B&H | Adorama | Camera World of Oregon | HotBuysElectronics | |

last updated 9 Nov 2009