One caveat: Cabela’s frequently sells the pre-2018 model of these at a steep discount but doesn’t label it as such. I have not tested that model, and while the deal is pretty good, the optics are definitely different and potentially inferior.

More Great 10×42 Binoculars

  • Best luxury upgrade: Maven B1.2 42mm ED Binoculars for $1,000. These are in my top three all-time best list. If you can afford these, but not the Leicas, don’t feel bad. Images are clear, sharp, and crisp with no distortion or softness in the edges. I used them every day for two months and only noticed purple fringing once. They’re expensive but well worth the money.
  • Budget pick: Nikon Monarch M5 10×42 for $267. These are the stronger-magnification version of our top pick, and everything I say about those holds true for the 10×42 as well. For those on a budget, these are a great 10×42 option.
  • Another good budget pick: Celestron Regal ED 10×42 for $320. The Celestron Regal EDs are what I call a sleeper deal. That is to say, you’ll find very little information about these online, but they’re excellent binoculars, and the price is almost impossible to beat. You get great field of view (6.5 degrees), a sharp clear image, and very little chromatic aberration. I have not tested a better binocular that costs less.
  • Another upgrade: Nikon Monarch HG 10×42 for $997. Nikon’s Monarch HG offer a slightly wider field of view and are brighter and sharper than the Vortex or the Celestron. I like the Maven B1.2s better, but that might be a matter of taste. If you want to keep going price-wise, the Swarovski EL 10×42 for $2,399 are deservedly legendary.

Best Compromise Picks

What if you want 8X magnification, but not the size and weight of 8×42 binoculars? That’s where 8×32, 8×30, and even 7×32 in some cases, 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 flitting through foliage, but with a little practice it’s not too hard to manage. For hiking and traveling light, this size is a good compromise. I am still in the process of testing more models in this size range, but here are my picks so far.

When I head out hiking, the Celestron 8×32 Trailseeker ED (8/10, WIRED Recommends) are the binoculars I want around my neck. They’re light enough to hardly notice them, but have great optical performance for this price. The Trailseekers offer phase and dielectric-coated BaK-4 prisms, which is rare in this size binocular at this price (another way you might see this listed is roof prism binoculars with multi-coated optics). It works. The ED glass keeps fringing and other chromatic aberrations under control even in very bright, high-glare conditions. With a roughly 7.9-degree field of view, I find birding with these to be very similar to my 10X42, both the power and objective lens size are smaller, but the field of view ends up almost the same.

Small, lightweight, and portable. Comfortable eyecups. Easy to focus. Very little chromatic aberrations.

These Pentax are also 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 basically no chromatic aberrations, even on the edges. Even better, the sharpness to the edge is outstanding, better, in fact, than the Celestrons, but the magnification is less and the FOV is also slightly narrower. As with most of our picks, these are waterproof and fogproof. The focus knob is also very smooth. And at 20 ounces, I didn’t mind having them around my neck all day. If you’re hiking and this is in your budget, these are also a great choice.

More Great 8×32 and 7×32 Picks:

  • Another solid option: Nocs Field Issue 8×32 for $175. These Nocs (8/10, WIRED Recommends) are compact and lightweight, but still provide a nice sharp image. They’re not quite as nice as the Pentax above, but they’re also cheaper. As with Nocs’ other 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 hit the sweet spot between magnification, price, and weight.

Best Compact Pick

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 that birders and hunters stick with 32-mm or larger binoculars. 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 didn’t leave me frustrated. Yes the 28-mm field of view is narrow when you’re used to 42 mm, but these are so small and light—just 4.5 inches and weighing only 12 ounces—that I barely even noticed them around my neck. If you want compact, lightweight optics that still deliver a bright, sharp image, these are the binoculars to get. They’re good for general-purpose 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 have not tested these extensively, but I’ve used them enough to know that they’re lightweight (10.9 ounces) and deliver a very good, sharp image. They have 8X magnification and come with a nice rugged, waterproof case. The folding design means they also easily fit into your pocket. The downside is that they’re more expensive than the Nikon Monarch 8×42 yet offer a much smaller field of view.
  • Best budget compact: Nocs Standard Issue 8×25 for $106. These are detailed below, but the short story is that these are wonderfully compact and light, and the price is right, but the image quality could be better. These are a great choice for the ballpark or general use, but not as good for birders and hunters.

Best for Kids

Before I dive into why the Nocs are great for kids, let me be clear: Nocs are not kids’ binoculars. They’re fine compact binoculars that fit well in 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 kids (in that case, see our budget pick below), but for anyone over the age of 8, these 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 specifically make them great for kids: rugged construction and a nice, rubberized grip. I can’t tell you how many trees and rocks these have bashed into while around my son’s neck, and they’re still as good as new.

More Great Kids Binoculars

  • Budget pick for kids: Let’s Go Binoculars for $20. If you have little ones that are new to binoculars, the price tag of the Nocs might be too high. If you want to see if your kids actually use their binoculars before diving in, there are a multitude of options. I’ll be blunt: None of these are great, but they’re cheap and light and don’t cost a fortune. Another option is the Obuby Binoculars for $20.

Stargazing Binoculars

When you think stargazing you probably think telescopes, but binoculars can work too, especially larger, higher magnification models like these Celestron Skymasters. The first thing to know is that these are huge, most of the time you’ll want to use them with a tripod, which is not included in the price (they do include an adapter, which I used to put them on a photo tripod, which worked fine). The Porro prism design (see below), with 15x magnification and 70mm objective lenses make these are nice and bright, perfect for getting good views of the moon. They also work for larger clusters and nebulae. They do work for birding as well, but its more like using a spotting scope. They’re nice for digiscoping though if you’re viewing something reasonable stationary, like water birds.

As with all Celestron binos there’s a nice big, smooth focusing knob, and they also have long eye relief which makes them easy to use with glasses. There is a fair bit chromatic aberration, especially with bright stars or the moon, but I didn’t find it distracting. In fact, for the price, these provide surprisingly great views.

Best Binoculars for Special Use Cases

Fujinon 14×40

Photograph: Fujinon

Image-stabilized binoculars: I am still testing, as this is a huge category, but so far my top pick are the Fujinon 14×40 Techno-Stabi Image-Stabilized Binoculars for $1,300. If you’re on a boat, these are the binoculars you want. They offer industry-leading stabilization of plus or minus 6 degrees, there’s hardly any image lag, they carry an IPX7 waterproof rating, and as an added bonus, they float. I did most of my testing on an SUP, which is about the most unstable watercraft I could come up with, and these made it possible to bird-watch without going ashore. They’re not cheap, but they definitely deliver.

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