The 8 Best Bird Watching Binoculars of 2017

Can we agree that shopping for the BEST bird watching binoculars can be extremely frustrating?

 

Best Bird Watching BinocularsThere are countless makes and models, all making some pretty big promises. After doing some research, it seemed that more questions arose than answers.

 

How much should I spend? Am I getting ripped off? Is this the best choice for bird watching? Which brand is the best?

 

 

I spent hours upon hours (seriously, way too much time!) digging into dozens of optics trying to find the BEST bird watching binoculars.

 

Good news!

 

I was able to create a list of the 8 best binoculars for birding.

 

Can you guess what birders think is the most important factor when deciding on new optics?

 

Price! Yes, it always seems to come down to price. 🙂

 

To accommodate, the first half of this post is a list of the best birding binoculars across ALL price levels. From the best money can buy ($2,600) all the way down to the best binoculars for birders on a budget ($125) and everything in between.

 

The second half of this post will teach you about bird watching binoculars and HOW to choose them. From the most important birding specifications to the features that affect price, I will give you all the important things to consider.


Table of Contents:

The Best Bird Watching Binoculars

How to Choose Bird Watching Binoculars


 Let’s get started:

 

The Platinum Class (Over $1,500) :

***Make sure to check out the bird watching binocular comparison chart at the bottom of the list!****


1. Zeiss Victory SF 8×42:

 

Best Bird Watching BinocularsWhy you should buy:

 

Do you want one of the best bird watching binoculars that money can buy?

 

If so, then you want the Zeiss Victory SF. Outstanding image quality, huge Field of View, small Close Focus, sleek and comfortable design, and all backed by an amazing company and warranty. It’s hard to find a better binoculars.

 

Why you shouldn’t buy:

 

The biggest drawback to the Victory is the price (~$2,500) !  To many birders, it is not affordable.

 

It’s also not a great choice for a beginner birder or the casual birder. I’d start with one of the less expensive birding binoculars on this list.

 

Other Resources:

 


 

2. Leica Noctivid 8×42:

 

Best Bird Watching BinocularsWhy you should buy:

 

It’s one of the best bird watching binoculars that money can buy.

 

Leica incorporated their latest technologies and best materials to create the Noctivid. As Mr. Hammond would say Leica “spared no expense.”

 

Jurassic Park anyone???

Best Bird Watching Binoculars

 

Seriously, the image quality of the Noctivid is second to none. I am a huge fan. The Zeiss Victory SF has been my favorite binocular, but now there is serious competition!

 

Why you shouldn’t buy:

 

At a cost of over $2,500, the Noctivid is probably out of the price range of many. As much as I want a Noctivid or Zeiss Victory, I can’t justify (yet!) spending more on a binocular than our mortgage payment!

 

If you are a beginner or just casual birder, a binocular farther down on this list may be a better option before making such a big investment.

 

Also, normally the biggest difference observed in a high priced binocular is the brightness and quality of an image in low light situations like sunrise, sunset or a dark forest. If you will be using your optics in bright and sunny conditions, spending this much probably isn’t worth it.

Other Resources:

 


 

The Gold Class ($750 – $1,499):

 

***Make sure to check out the birding binoculars comparison chart at the bottom of the list!****


 

 3. Zeiss Conquest HD 8×42

 

Best Bird Watching BinocularsWhy you should buy:

 

For less than half the cost (~$1,000) , you get very similar features to the Zeiss Victory SF! To the untrained eye, your friends may never know the difference looking through your lens.

 

The Conquest is known to have a very sharp and clear image among many other features that are perfect to watch birds. It still sports a wide Field of View, it’s excellent in challenging light conditions and also has the same warranty and excellent design and engineering that we have come to expect from Zeiss.

 

Why you shouldn’t buy:

 

The Zeiss Conquest is slightly heavier than many of the other optics on this list and many people complain about the quality of the lens covers (these can easily be replaced with a better set).

 

To save a few bucks and get a similar binocular, you can look below at the Silver Class options below. Also, as great as the Conquest is, by spending a few bucks more you can just get one of the best bins on the market today with the Zeiss Victory SF or Leica Noctivid under the Platinum Class.

 

Other Resources:

 


 

4. Leica Trinovid HD 8×42

 

Best Bird Watching BinocularsWhy you should buy:

 

The Trinovid is an overall excellent choice for a bird watching binocular. In many ways, it is very similar to it’s more expensive cousin the Leica Noctivid but for a fraction of the cost (~$950).

 

Thanks to the excellent engineering that has come to be expected of Leica products, the image is outstanding. It is bright, sharp and displays rich colors.

 

I have always loved the ergonomic designs of Leica binoculars. They fit well in my hands and have a very compact design and the Trinovid is no exception.

 

Why you shouldn’t buy:

 

As mentioned, the Trinovid is very similar to the Leica Noctivid (Platinum Class above).

 

The Noctivid does outperform in a few ways. Which it should! It’s quite a bit more expensive.

 

If you are a fan of Leica and can afford it, why not just jump up and buy the Leica Noctivid?  It has slightly better materials, such as the quality of the Extra-Low dispersion glass,  which will give a better overall image.

Other Resources:


The Silver Class ($300 – $749)

***Make sure to check out the helpful bird watching binocular comparison chart at the bottom of the list!****


5. Nikon Monarch 7 (8×42)

Best Bird Watching Binoculars

Why you should buy:

 

I think it’s one of the best combinations of price and performance.

 

First, it is very affordable at around $500.

 

Second, it’s a really great binocular! Backed by the trusted name of Nikon, it features Extra Low Dispersion glass, an extremely wide Field of View and is light and comfortable to carry around.

 

In my opinion, if you can’t afford (or don’t want to pay for!) one of the higher end binoculars, the Nikon Monarch 7 will provide many of the same features.

 

Why you shouldn’t buy:

 

To get the price down, the Monarch 7 does have to sacrifice in a few areas compared to the higher end and more expensive optics. The biggest difference you would notice is the quality of the image, especially in low light situations such as a darker forest canopy, sunrise or sunset. The Monarch 7 does fairly well, but it doesn’t come close to the overall image quality of a Zeiss Victory SF or Leica Noctivid.

 

On the other hand, even though it’s quite a bit cheaper than the higher end (Platinum or Gold Class above) binoculars, $500 is still a nice chunk of money. If that amount scares you or your not sure if bird watching is for you (yet!), then keep reading for some other great but less expensive options.

 

Other Resources:

 


6. Eagle Optics Ranger ED 8×42

 

Best Bird Watching BinocularsWhy you should buy:

 

For an extremely affordable price (~$330) , the Ranger ED has many features that are perfect for bird watchers.

 

First, the images are bright and clear. It features Extra-Low Dispersion glass to enhance color and and contrast. It also has fully multi-coated lenses and dielectric prism coatings to optimize and increase light transmission.

 

To be honest, while testing I found the quality Ranger ED image to outperform many binoculars that were 2x or 3x the price.

 

Eagle Optics also gives the best warranty available among binocular companies! Called the Platinum Protection Warranty, it cover’s all damage to your binocular for life! Incredible! It only excludes loss, theft and intentional damage.

 

Why you shouldn’t buy:

 

The only reason you shouldn’t buy this binocular is if you can afford to upgrade to one of the Gold or Platinum Class choices above. As with most binoculars, the more you pay, the better image quality can be expected, especially in challenging light situations.

 

Other Resources:

  • A full description of technical specifications and other features on the Eagle Optics site.

The Bronze Class (under $300):

***Make sure to check out the helpful bird watching binoculars comparison chart at the bottom of the list!****


7. Nikon Monarch 5 (8×42)

 

Best Bird Watching BinocularsWhy you should buy:

 

Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) glass!! This is the least expensive binocular that you can purchase that includes this high quality and sought after glass. ED glass has a great reputation for giving an outstanding image.

 

Normally priced around $275, ED glass is not the only reason to consider the Monarch 5. Nikon is known for making high quality products and provides as many features as possible for this low price. Not only is the image quality great for this price range, but the binocular is extremely light and easy to hold, water proofed,  and has a dielectric high-reflective coating on the prisms which also helps let more light through to improve the image.

 

The Monarch 5 is an excellent choice for a limited budget or a beginning bird watcher. I don’t think you would be disappointed.

 

Why you shouldn’t buy:

 

One of my complaints is the Field of View, which is only 330 feet. For bird watching, one of my preferences in a binocular is a wide field of view. I don’t want to miss any action!

 

Other Resources:


8. Celestron Nature DX 8×42

 

Best Bird Watching BinocularsWhy you should buy:

 

These are perfect for someone on a low budget, absolute beginners or even teachers that need to provide binoculars to an entire group or class.

 

Very affordable at around $125, but still good enough to provide an excellent bird watching experience. If you try to get cheaper than this, you risk having a very frustrating day due to your cheap and ineffective binoculars.

 

Don’t have a bad day! Make the Celestron Nature DX the baseline of all other binoculars. Please don’t look at anything cheaper than this.

 

Why you shouldn’t buy:

 

If your budget permits, I recommend buying the best pair of binoculars you can afford.

 

Especially if you can afford a little bit more then you can bump up to the Nikon Monarch 5 and get Extra-Low Dispersion glass which will really increase the overall quality of your image!

 

Other Resources:


Wait! Don’t leave yet!


Best Binoculars for Bird Watching Comparision Table:

 

Before you go, check out the awesome table below. It’s a comparison of all the birding binoculars found on this list. By clicking on the headers you can sort the information by the features that are most important to you.

 

Make and ModelApproximate Price
(Click link to
see current cost on Amazon)
Field of View
(feet per 1,000 yards)
Close Focusing DistanceEye ReliefWeight
Leica Noctivid 8x42$2,600404 feet6 feet / 1.9 m19 mm30.3 ounces
Zeiss Victory SF 8x42$2,500444 feet5 feet / 1.52 m18 mm27.5 ounces
Zeiss Conquest HD 8x42$975384 feet6.5 feet / 2 m18 mm28 ounces
Leica Trinovid HD 8x42$950372 feet5.9 feet / 1.8 m17 mm25.75 ounces
Nikon Monarch 7 (8x42)$500420 feet8.2 feet / 2.5 m17.1 mm22.9 ounces
Eagle Optics Ranger ED 8x42$330341 feet5.2 feet / 1.58 m19.5 mm23.6 ounces
Nikon Monarch 5 (8x42)$300330 feet8.2 feet / 2.5 m19.5 mm20.8 ounces
Celestron Nature DX 8x42$125338 feet6.5 feet / 2 m17.5 mm22.2 ounces

 

 

Important House Keeping Items:

 

There were a few things I wanted to share about my process at arriving at the 8 best bird watching binoculars.

 

1. I am not an expert!

 

With that being said, I think this can be a good thing. My reviews are written
from the perspective of a beginner and novice. I keep them simple and try to focus on the best
features of each binocular with the birder in mind.

 

2. Why is every binocular an 8×42? 

 

If you didn’t notice, every binocular that I recommended was an 8×42. This means it has has an 8x magnification and 42mm objective diameter.

 

This is the option I prefer for birding. For me, it’s the best combination of weight, size,
brightness, magnification and field of view. If that is not your preference, most models have
different sizes (10×42, 8×30) available.

 

To learn more about the recommended specifications for the best bird watching binoculars, check out The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Bird Watching Binoculars!

 

3. How did I narrow the list of binoculars down to 8?

 

My process for reviewing and selecting these binoculars included:

 

  • Visiting local dealers and testing each optic personally.
  • Talking to each manufacturer about important features such as lens quality, coatings,
    warranties, etc. Also spending countless hours on their website researching all of the
    technical information, reviewing brochures and guides and sending countless emails for the
    information I couldn’t locate.
  • Reading many other online reviews and expert opinions.

  • Binoculars come in price ranges from $20 to almost $3,000. I did my best to find the best binoculars across all different price ranges. I tried to keep in mind that everyone has a different budget and are at different levels of birding, but obviously by spending more money you expect a higher quality optic.

4. I am human!

 

Lastly, I am known to make a mistake from time to time (just ask my wife!). If you read anything
that doesn’t sound right or has changed, please let me know and I can get it fixed!


How to Choose Bird Watching Binoculars


 

The 6 Most Important Specifications and Features for Birding Binoculars:


1. Magnification: The First Number

magnification


2. Objective Lens Diameter: The Second Number

objective lens


3. Field of View (FOV): The visible area seen through your binoculars.


field of view

  • Angle of View: Some manufacturers will give the Angle of View instead of the Field of View. They represent the same thing, but you will need to convert the Angle of View to Field of View.
  • To do this, just multiply the angle by 52.5. For example, if the Angle of View is 8 degrees, the FOV would be 420 feet. (8 x 52.5 = 420)


4. Close Focus:

close focus


5. Roof vs Porro Prisms:

The prisms in your binocular come in two different styles. The difference is how light enters and travels through the binocular and prisms.

porro binocular Porro Prism: Light zig zags through the binocular.


Porro Prisms: When light enters the lens, it does a zig zag through the binocular to get to your eye. Porro prism binoculars were standard until companies like Zeiss introduced Roof prism binoculars.

  • The biggest advantage of a Porro prism is that they are cheaper to manufacture. This means you can get a higher quality binocular for the same price range of a Roof prism.
  • The disadvantage is that Porro style binoculars are much heavier, clunky and difficult to carry around!!

 

 

roof binocularRoof Prism: Light travels straight through the binocular.

 

Roof Prisms: Though they are smaller, compact and more streamlined, these prisms are more complicated internally. Light goes straight through the barrel to your eye.

  • Highly Recommended: Most bird watching binoculars will be a roof prism design. They are so much easier to carry around and use. They fit in your hand much better and weigh less.
  • The main disadvantage is that for the same quality binocular, they will cost a bit more than a porro prism. This difference very worth it!! To be honest, the prices don’t vary much anymore. Most companies have focused extensively on designing roof prism designs because they are so much easier to carry and preferred by customers.

6. Waterproof and Fog proof:

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a binocular that can withstand the elements. When I go out into the field to watch birds the weather doesn’t always cooperate!
 
There are many times I have battled snow, sleet and rain. I have fallen face first into mud and slipped into creeks. It happens 🙂 Luckily, I don’t have to worry about my binocular and I highly recommend that you purchase an optic with the following features:
  • Waterproof: Most companies use this term to mean that water can not enter. Usually, they will indicate how far underwater or how long underwater they can go before there could be a problem. Make sure it’s Waterproof and not just weatherproof.
  • Fog proof: To prevent your lenses from fogging up in moist or humid conditions, your binocular will need to be filled with dry nitrogen (or argon) gas instead of oxygen. Many times the description will say “nitrogen purged” or “nitrogen filled”.
The good news is that almost all binoculars that cost over $100 come with these two features standard, including any of the binoculars recommended on this site.

 

The Features That Affect Price:


I am going to give a quick quiz!

Looking at the binocular models below, try and guess the approximate cost, or at least try and guess which one is most expensive.

I am only listing the specifications discussed from the above section “The Most Important Specifications and Features for Bird Watching.”

 

 

So what do you think?

 

Looking at just this above table, you might believe that the Nikon Monarch would be more expensive than the Leica Ultravid HD-Plus. They have very similar specifications, with the Monarch having a better Field of View and Close Focus.

 

Surprisingly, the Nikon Monarch 7 costs around $500 while the Leica Ultravid HD-Plus is a very high end binocular, coming in at over $2,000. What is going on here?

 

The 6 specifications and features that are wanted for bird watching don’t necessarily affect the price of the binocular.

 

So, what does affect the price?


It’s all about the image quality! With few exceptions, the image quality is correlated to the price of the binocular.

 

My recommendation is to spend as much as you can responsibly afford! Trust me, it’s worth it.

 

The binocular industry is very competitive and there are many great companies and models on the market. Birding optics can cost anywhere from $100 to upwards of $3,000. Because the industry is so competitive, you are going to get what you pay for.

 

More $ = Better Image and Picture.

 

As we have discussed, binocular manufacturers are on a never ending quest to provide us with a perfect image. Some of the common issue’s consumers experience are loss of brightness and color, depth of field issues, chromatic aberration, fringing and crispness. Many of these are compounded in challenging light environments such as in shady woods or sunrise/sunset.

I have found there are 3 things a company can do to help offset the above challenges.

Again, normally the more expensive the binocular, the better image that should be expected.

 

***Important Note: Most companies don’t reveal much detail when it comes to the below information. These are kept top secret so as not to lose a competitive advantage. For example, Zeiss has been in business a LONG time. They have perfected their engineering and coatings over many years and are not very willing to share their best practices with other companies!***


1. Type and Quality of Glass and Prism:

The importance of the glass and prism can’t be understated! Think about it, light travels through the glass and prisms to reach your eye.

A whole post could be dedicated to the science that happens inside a binocular and how the glass can affect the image. Until that happens, here is a summary:

BK-7 Prisms vs. BaK-4 Prisms: 

  • BK-7 Prisms are found in very low priced binoculars.
  • BaK-4 Prisms are found in most birding binoculars over $100. They have a higher refractive index.
    • There is a vast difference in quality among optics that have BaK-4 Prisms. For example, some are manufactured in China, which supposedly has a lower refractive index than true BaK-4 Prisms. The quality and performance varies among different companies and how they engineer their prisms.

Types of Glass in the Lens:

  • Standard Glass.
  • Extra Low Dispersion (ED) Glass: This is a high quality glass that was only found in the top binoculars, but now is much more common across all price ranges. One of it’s best benefits is it helps reduce chromatic aberration – which is the inability of the lens to focus all the colors to a single point. It causes color fringing around the edges of the image.
  • High Definition (HD) Glass: This is a marketing term used interchangeably with ED Glass.


2. Coatings:

As light moves through your binocular, it enters and leaves different glass surfaces and lenses. Each time this happens, about 5% of the light is reflected back. This creates a problem when that light is relied upon to make the image bright and clear but only half of it reaches our eye!!

 

To fix this problem, companies have developed complex coatings as thin as a few millionths of an inch that is applied to the glass. Every company has their own different coatings and there is no industry standard, but here are a few terms to keep in mind.

  • Coated: At least one coating on the lens surface. Normally magnesium fluorite is used. Cheap binoculars!
  • Fully Coated: At least one coating on all air-to-glass surfaces.
  • Multi-Coated: Has multiple coatings on at least one of the lens surfaces.
  • Fully Multi-Coated: All lenses and internal air-to-glass surfaces are multi-coated. This costs the most to manufacture, but will let the most amount of light through to your eye.


Dielectric high-reflective multi-layer prism coating: I thought it was important to mention this type of coating specifically, because it’s found on Roof style binoculars on the prism and is a great coating to have. It can achieve light reflectance that exceeds 99%, which means better and brighter images! Normally this coating is found on higher end binoculars.

Phase Correction Coating: This coating is also found on better binoculars and is only needed for roof style optics. A roof surface can cause a phase shift of light, which affects the image. The phase correction coatings helps to minimize this occurrence and keep the image clear.


3. Engineering:

The way a binocular is engineered and designed is going to trump many of the other features mentioned in this section.

For example, a binocular can have the best ED glass available, be fully multi-coated on all lenses and have a dielectric high-reflective multi-layer prism coating and still have a really bad image when it reaches your eye!! These features are very important, but useless if the company that made the binocular did a poor job of putting everything together.

Before making a purchase, I recommend doing some research on the manufacturer and learning their reputation.

How long have they been in business? Are they a leader in the optics industry? Where are the binoculars manfuactured (e.g. Germany or China)?


Other Important Things to Consider:

While shopping, consider the following!

So far we have covered two things. First, the most important binocular specifications needed for birding. Second, some of the technology that affects the vast price differences you see among binoculars.

In this section is a list of other questions to ask yourself and to consider. Buying binoculars is a highly personal choice and there is no “one size fits all” model.


Ease of Focus:

  • There is nothing more frustrating when a bird lands a few feet in front of me and I can’t focus my binoculars fast enough before it flies away!! Every optic focuses a bit different, so it’s important to consider.
  • Make sure the binocular you choose only has one central focusing knob and it should be positioned comfortably under your index finger.

  • Is it easy and smooth to focus or difficult and stiff? Can you get a fine focus quickly? Remember, you don’t want to miss any action while messing with the focus.

Eye Relief:

  • It is the distance that a binocular eyepiece can be held away from your eye and still see the whole Field of View.

  • Very important to consider if you wear eye glasses since you already start a little farther back from the eyepiece.

***Recommended: At least 15mm of eye relief is recommended, especially for those who wear glasses!


Warranty:

  • In my opinion, a warranty is a reflection of how confident the manufacturer is of their product. Do they have faith in their engineering? Will it hold up to the rigors and stresses of birding?

  • Every company has a different warranty, so it’s very important to consider. Also, some warranties are voided if the product isn’t registered or if proof of purchase can’t be provided.

***Recommended:

  • Lifetime Warranty for manufacturer defects. Many companies offer this outstanding benefit. (e.g. Zeiss, Leica, Nikon)

 

  • Many also provide a warranty for a limited time for accidental damage that is your fault. For example, Zeiss includes a 5 Year No Fault Policy. This covers any damage caused by normal and intended use!

Weight and Feel:

Before making a final decision on a binocular, it is very helpful to hold it in your hand and be able to test it in the field.

  • How much does it weigh? Is this too heavy to carry around all day?
  • Does it fit well in my hands? Can my fingers access the focus easily?

***Recommended: Under 30 ounces (about 1.9 lbs).

    • Remember from above, as the Objective Lens Diameter increases, so does the size and weight of the binocular. This is one reason that 42mm is recommended for the diameter size. It’s my preference for the best combination of image quality and brightness and the weight is still comfortable.
    • If weight is a concern, my recommendation is to buy a more “mid sized” binocular. Basically, look for an Objective Lens Diameter between 30-35mm. The weight and size tends to be smaller and not a lot is sacrificed on the picture quality.

Summary:

My recommendation for a bird watching binocular has the following features and benefits:

  • Magnification: 8x
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 42mm
  • Close Focus: under 6.5 feet or 2 meters.
  • Field of View: Above 380 feet.
  • Roof style.
  • Waterproof and Fog proof.
  • Easy to focus.
  • Great warranty.
  • Light enough to carry in the field all day and feels good in your hands.

And there you have it!

Go Back to the Top

 

What is your favorite binocular for bird watching? Did yours make the list?

What is most important to your when choosing birding binoculars? Do you prefer 8×42 or another size?

Please share your thoughts!

 

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my newsletter at the top to be made aware when new content is available.

 

Scott

 

Lastly, some of the links to Amazon are affiliate links. That means if you decide to purchase then I receive a small percentage of the sale at no cost to you! This money would help pay for the cost to run this site. Thank you in advance!

Disclaimer

 

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