Binoculars are some of the useful tools out there. Whether you’re out sightseeing or if you want to indulge in a hobby like bird watching, a good pair of binoculars will get you there.
But buying decent binoculars isn’t easy with so many aspects to take into consideration. This was what confused me most when I wanted to buy binoculars for myself.
I’ve decided to compile some of my findings into a buyer’s guide that will help you pick out the perfect binoculars for yourself.
Best Compact Binoculars Review 2020
Now before we actually dive into the best binoculars out there, I want to address just how you should pick them out. Buying binoculars isn’t as simple as you would think; there are many things that you have to take into consideration. I have found that one pair of binoculars doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.[table “15” not found /]
1. Leica Ultravid BR 8×20 Compact – Binocular with AquaDura Lens Coating (Editor’s choice)
If you’ve dealt with optics of any kind, you have probably heard of Leica before.
They have made a great name for themselves for optical equipment like professional cameras and microscopes.
That kind of reputation extends well to their high-end range of quality binoculars. The Leica 8×20 BCR Ultravid compact binoculars are proof of this concept.
Right off the bat you can see the quality of the binoculars when you first hold them. The BCR Ultravid features a sleek compact design with a smooth finish.
The lenses here are made from high quality fluoride glass that is sure to give you outclassed images even in the most unfavorable conditions.
The exterior of these binoculars is designed to be completely waterproof so splashing water on it won’t damage it.
The Leica 8×20 BCR Ultravid is based off the roof prism design which helps bring great images without the cost of added weight or discomfort.
What’s more, the Ultravid is fog proof which makes it easy to bring into humid and damp environments.
In terms of performance, the Leica 8×20 BCR Ultravid does not disappoint.
The smooth focus system allows you to easily adjust the focus of blurred images. This system works in tandem with an in built focus stabilizer to provide consistent focus levels throughout.
- Smooth Focus with built in Focus Stabilizer System.
- Encapsulates a waterproof and fog proof design.
- The binoculars have a lightweight roof prism design.
- There have some been durability issues with this particular model.
2. SkyGenius 8×21 – Best for The Money
Skygenius isn’t as popular or well known as some of the other high-end brands on here.
But if these binoculars are anything to go, then there really should be no doubt of their quality standards.
The SkyGenius Compact Lightweight Binoculars take the word compact to the next level. Not only are these binoculars compact but they’re practically pocket sized.
When folded down, these binoculars will fit perfectly in the palm of your hand with room to spare. This means that you can easily carry them around and even put them in smaller pockets like front shirt pockets.
To keep up with the compact design, they’re also extremely lightweight. Weighing in at just under 6.08oz which is less than the weight of your average apple, it’s one of the lightest binoculars out there.
This makes it a great binocular for children and people that might struggle with heavier binoculars.
The image quality is further increased by having aspherical lens design that balances the visual components without distorting them.
On the outside, you can find that these binoculars are built to last with a rugged rubber exterior that protects against falls and scrapes.
These are one pair of binoculars that are sure to last you years to come.
What’s more is that the lenses for these binoculars come multicoated to protect from unnecessary glare and reflections. SkyGenius has proven that it doesn’t take much to make a decent pair of binoculars at an affordable price point.
- Great for discreet use in venues like concerts, operas, shows.
- Extremely lightweight and portable design.
- Highly rugged exterior.
- Multi-coated lenses.
- Objective lens diameter is too small for professional use.
3. Vortex Optics Viper HD 10×42 – Best for Hunting
Vortex Optics is a well-established American brand that has been operating for almost a decade and a half.
They are widely known for making all kinds of high grade optical equipment like binoculars, range finders, tripods, monocular, and rifle scopes. They have a certain level of quality that can be easily trusted.
The Vortex Optics Viper HD is one of the newest models off the Vortex Optics binocular range. Right from the get-go you can see the inspiration for the design of these binoculars.
The Viper has a well-shaped exterior with moulded grips and a military green colour scheme. The visual aesthetics of the design will make these binoculars fit right in with your hiking or hunting gear.
Visual Optics even goes the extra mile by providing a neck strap, lens covers, and rain guard with the binoculars at no cost.
There’s no mistaking that the Vortex Optics Viper HD binoculars are meant for professional use. These binoculars don’t mess around with their 10x magnification power.
This should be more than what you get from an ordinary pair of binoculars. The large 42mm objective lenses make it ridiculously easy to see in the dark which makes them perfect for night hunting or hiking trips.
As for the image quality, there should be no real concerns here. These binoculars come fitted with Vortex’s HD lenses which provide superior image clarity and balance.
Other features include multi position eye cups that can be manually adjusted to provide a custom eye relief that work for you.
While these binoculars may cost you more than double of what other binoculars offer, they’ll last you much longer.
The exterior of the binoculars is built with tough materials that include waterproofing and fog proofing. Even if you do damage your binoculars somehow, Vortex Optics offers an unconditional lifetime warranty. Well worth the price tag if you ask me!
- Extensive 10x magnification power.
- Includes accessories like neck strap, lens covers, and rain guard.
- Lifetime Warranty included.
- HD lenses with 42mm objective lens diameter.
- Much heavier than most compact binoculars.
- Price is very expensive.
4. Zeiss Terra ED 10×25 – Best for Birding
Carl Zeiss is another brand that carries a great level of prestige with it. The company is recognized as a leading manufacturer of optical products including things like high quality camera lenses and binoculars.
The Carl Zeiss Victory Compact proves that it lives up to its namesake with its incredible design.
The exterior of the Carl Zeiss Victory Compact reveals the true nature of its design. The binoculars are made from durable and rugged glass fiber housing.
You also will find that these binoculars have an asymmetrical offset hinge that helps with adjustment. This makes it so these binoculars are more forgiving to all kinds of face types and shapes.
If you have experienced discomfort with other binoculars, this may be the one of the binoculars you want to go for.
There’s no doubt that the Carl Zeiss Victory binoculars are a pair of compact binoculars. They weigh in at just over half a pound which makes them great for bringing along with you on trips with lighter baggage load.
The focus knob is set off to one side which keeps it out of the way, so it doesn’t get disturbed accidently but also keeps it within reach for easy adjustment.
Carl Zeiss being Carl Zeiss, there should be no doubt about the image quality of the Victory Compact binoculars.
The binoculars also come with a standard eye relief of 14mm which should be good news to anyone that wears glasses. Add in the fact that you can change the distance between the two eye pieces, and you have a customizable pair of binoculars that will work with you rather than against you.
- Very lightweight and compact.
- Durable glass fiber reinforced exterior.
- Adjustable hinge allows for multiple configurations.
- Cost much more than comparative models with similar specs.
- Eye piece covers are very flimsy.
5. MINOX BV II 62030 BR 8×25 – Great for Travelers
Minox is brand that has been around for quite a while but rarely ever sees the limelight. They have focused their attention on specialized products miniature cameras and professional film cameras.
But lately they’ve started tapping into the consumer market with their cameras and binoculars. The BV II BR Compact is one of their forays into consumer ocular equipment.
The Minox BV II 62030 BR Is designed to be a heavy-duty pair of binoculars for tourists and travelers. The design philosophy that Minox adopts here is of functionality and durability over style.
You can see that when you first pick these binoculars up. You’ll see that the hard shell feels sturdy and lacks any unnecessary styling or colours.
They’re also designed to be waterproof and fog proof which a plus when you’re bringing these binoculars to fishing trips or rainforest excursions.
This makes it a great camera for observing tourist landmarks, going out fishing, or just looking at wildlife. The lenses are high quality enough to give you crisp images that balance all the image components well.
The fact that the Minoc BV II uses a roof prism means it’s going to be very lightweight. Weighing in at just less than half a pound it proves that you don’t need a full-size pair of binoculars for decent image quality.
It’s definitely not the best pair of binoculars out there you can buy. But for relatively cheap price point and decent functionality, they’re good enough for entry level beginners.
- Simplistic and durable design.
- Great for tourists, travelers, and hikers.
- High quality binocular lenses.
- Adjusting the focus properly takes great care.
- Could be a bit cheaper.
6. Nikon 7549 MONARCH 7 10×42 – Cool Binocular for Hiking
Nikon has been regarded as one of the best brands in the sphere of optical equipment out there. Whether it’s high quality DSLR cameras or professional grade microscopes, Nikon knows what it’s doing.
So when the company comes out with its new Monarch 7 binoculars, you can expect them to be pretty solid.
You can get a feel for the classic Nikon aesthetics right off the surface. The surface texture has a nice feel to it and the build feels solid enough to hold up.
You can find durable rubber covering the binocular’s exterior making it possible to stand up to the roughest conditions out there.
But at the same time, it’s also comfortable enough to hold and use for hours without feeling any adverse effects.
The level of quality on the Monarch 7 isn’t just limited to the outside of the binoculars. You’ll find that the lenses have been given similar treatment with the low dispersion glass.
The lenses are also coated with high reflective multi-layer prism coating to the glass. This not only helps curb light dispersion, but it helps bring back some of the great color reproduction. Nitrogen gas filled in on the inside helps them keep fog free even in the mistiest conditions.
Nikon has designed the Monarch 7 to be the ultimate nature binoculars. The image clarity is helped by the prism coatings on the lenses as well as the prisms themselves.
- Great binoculars for outdoor daytime use for landscaping and wildlife use.
- Phase correcting multi coated lenses and prisms.
- High quality lenses with low light dispersion.
- Not as compact or lightweight as other competing models.
7. Canon 10×30 Image Stabilization II – Awesome Semi-Digital Binoculars
Canon is another very well-respected optics brand that is widely known for its cameras and ocular equipment. The Canon IS II Binoculars are the latest from their line-up of binoculars.
At first glance, the Canon IS II Binoculars will stick out at you like something out of a futuristic sci-fi thriller. That’s because these are one of the few semi-digital binoculars on this list.
They may look a bit bulky to some but there’s no denying that Canon threw in some style points in here. However, the binoculars don’t just look good but they’re also surprisingly resilient.
These binoculars fully boast waterproofing and fog proofing right out of the box.
Image quality doesn’t take a back seat in the Canon IS II. These binoculars feature a fully-fledged magnification power of 10x.
To support the stability of the image at such a high magnification factor, there is an in-built image stabilizer. This image stabilizer works by digitally correcting any unwanted motion and keeping the image as solid as possible.
- Digital image stabilization.
- HD lenses provide great image clarity.
- Comfortable eye relief.
- Balanced magnification and field of view.
- Needs batteries for image stabilization.
- Design is a little bulky.
8. Steiner Safari UltraSharp 10×26 – Best for Kids
Steiner manages to bring its absolute best to the table with the new Safari Ultrasharp binoculars. These binoculars will tick all the right boxes no matter what you might want to use them for.
The Steiner Safari Ultrasharp binoculars are some of the best-looking binoculars that you will find. On the surface they have a rustic brown and matte clack color scheme going with clever accenting.
On each of the barrels, there are small fin like protrusions that look great and double as hand grips. The eye cups are angled to provide a better fit and provide hours of comfort.
The double hinge design system in the middle helps the binoculars fold up nicely so you can easily put them in your pocket.
Despite being the most comfortable binoculars out there, Steiner also manages to make sure the Safari Ultrasharp doesn’t lack in the image quality department.
The binoculars come with a magnification of 10x with 26mm objective lens diameter. This makes it a great versatile pair of binoculars that can be used to observe details up close regardless of the time of day.
While Steiner definitely has some better offerings out there, the Safari Ultrasharp provides all the necessary features and more at an affordable price.
- Elegant looks with a great two tone color scheme.
- Ergonomic design with rubberized grips.
- Great value for money.
- Excellent double hinge folding system.
- Eye relief is lower than what you’d expect.
9. Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10×25 – Best for Safari
It would be a crime to talk about compact binoculars and not talk about the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD.
These binoculars have been lauded as one of the best compact binoculars out there by both amateur and professional users. They have also won awards from several magazine publications.
The Bushnell Legend Ultra HD has a very clean-cut design. There aren’t any distracting elements on the binoculars themselves.
A standard black color scheme with rubber grips converging through the sides makes for really clever design choices.
The Bushnell Legend Ultra also has a double hinge system that makes for easy adjustment and helps it fold up nicely. The half a pound weight makes them easy to handle and carry around.
Bushnell takes great care in making sure all the specs fit in with each other without conflicting.
Full multi coating helps get the best image possible with phase coated prisms to deal with any nasty reflections or glare. With additions like this, Bushnell makes sure that this binocular isn’t just a legend in name only.
- Robust design with useful rubber grips.
- Full multi coated lenses and phase coated prisms.
- All the specifications are cleverly balanced.
- Amazing value for money.
- Focus knob is very hard to reach.
10. Celestron 71330 Nature DX 8×32 – Best on Budget
Celestron is a name you may or may not know of. It’s been a brand that has been around for some time focusing on optical equipment like telescopes, microscopes, and binoculars.
The basic design of the Celestron Nature DX binoculars is just that, simple. The only thing worth noting in the design is the army green color scheme.
Other than that, the overall design is kept relatively clean and it works great. The eye-cups have a twist up feature that help you adjust them individually. This makes for a great plus for people with glasses.
It’s hard not to focus on the name of these binoculars. In this case, they definitely live up to their name. The 8x magnification factor and makes sure you have enough width to see nature and wildlife properly.
The 32mm objective lens diameter makes this very much a binocular for daytime use. To make these binoculars ready for outdoor use, the usual weather proofing like water resistance and fog proofing is provided.
Aside from having incredible image quality, durability, and weather proofing, Celestron also manages to keep the price below $100.
This is something you’ll struggle to find with big name binocular manufacturers. For basic landscaping, bird watching, or general outdoor use there’s no better place to start than getting the Celestron 71330 Nature
DX Compact binoculars.
- Cheap entry level price for beginners.
- Robust design with weather proofing.
- Fully coated lenses reduce glare and reflections.
- Heavier than most compact binoculars out there.
Buying Guide – Things to Look for When Buying a Binoculars in 2019
The kind of binoculars that work best for me may not exactly translate well into what my buddies may want to use. It’s a delicate process and one you should spend some time and attention on. The payoff is definitely worth it because you’ll have a of pair binoculars that are absolutely perfect for you.
For me personally, a lot time was spent researching information off various sources before I could plop down to my nearest store. Now, you may not have the same motivations or the luxury of time that I had. So this is why I’ve outlined some of the more important points and condensed them down so it’s easier to digest all that information. There’s much more to it than this but these aspects should be enough to decide on what kind of compact binoculars you should buy.
Size of the Binoculars
Something I learned very early on in my research is that the size of the binoculars is its most crucial aspect. You can spend hours comparing all kinds of features and aspects but until you know what size you want, you’re practically clueless. Binoculars come in countless different shapes and sizes across the board and this for a very good reason. Changing the size and shape of pair binoculars doesn’t just the way it looks or feels but it alters the way it will function. This is why you’ll see various types of binoculars being offered for various purposes with very little crossover.
Typically you’ll find that binoculars are expressed in a number format like 7×35 or 8×40. It seems confusing at first but these numbers represent something about the binoculars. Say we have a pair of 7×35 binoculars, the 7 here is the magnification which is 7 times while the 35 tells us the size of the objective lens (more on that later).
It’s okay if you don’t want to get into the specifics of it. These numbers will just act as a reference to tell us what kind of binoculars we want. When you need to pick out a pair of binoculars for a specific activity, these will be the numbers that you’ll be referring back to. Luckily for you, I did some of the work for you and organized sizes based on their use. Here are some of the most common sizes you’ll find.
These binoculars are some of the largest so naturally they offer a wider field of view and capture more light. They’re mostly recommended for wildlife and fishing expeditions. The only downside here that I’ve found is that they’re big, heavy, and extremely bulky. Definitely not something I would have on myself all the time.
These binoculars are pretty straight and narrow across the board. They’re lighter than full sized binoculars but still have some weight to them. They offer a balance between getting a good well-lit image and a moderate level of comfort.
These are the binoculars we’re going to be looking at for the purposes of this guide. As their name implies, they’re the smallest and lightest binoculars that you will come across. Compact binoculars are great for outdoor activities and sports where you constantly need to carry your binoculars around.
Going off the point above, magnification is also a very important factor to keep in mind while buying binoculars. As we’ve previously learned, the first number in a binocular’s numbering format is its magnification. Magnification is simply how larger your binoculars can make an object seem. For example, if we have a binocular with the magnification power of 7, it will make things seem 7 times as large as they actually are. If you look at a 10 foot tall tree through these binoculars, it will look as if it’s a 70 foot tall tree.
Magnification factors in when you have to consider what you will be looking at through the binoculars. More magnification means being able to view things farther away but it will also amplify tiny movements like your hand movements. Note that size doesn’t necessarily factor into magnification. Smaller binoculars can have just as much or more magnification than larger ones.
Field of View
Field of view is something that’s tied in with magnification. Usually, field of view affects the visible width of the area that you can see through the binoculars. To put it simply, it indicates just how much of the image you can get in one instance. If your binoculars have more magnification, they’ll have a narrower field of view. Likewise, if they have less magnification, they’ll have a wider field of view.
It’s hard for me to outright recommend what you should go for because it all depends on the specifics of your task. For some situations, you might need more magnification. For others, you might want more field of view. Generally, for moving targets like birds and wildlife, a wider field of view is more important to keep track of them. For observing stationary objects and minute details, it’ll be best to go with a narrower field of view and more magnification.
Diameter of Objective Lens
When we discussed size, we talked about the number format. The latter number in that is diameter of the objective lens in mm. Because this is a physical attribute, it’s linked directly with size. Larger binoculars will have a larger objective lens diameter while smaller binoculars will have a smaller diameter.
But what does this mean in actual practical use? Typically, the diameter of the objective lens will determine the amount of light entering the lens. The more the light enters the lens means you get a much brighter and clearer image. I initially got into the pitfall of believing that the largest binoculars will be the best. But what I hadn’t considered was they will also mean lugging around a heavier and bulkier pair of binoculars.
Eye relief is the distance from the eye piece to your eye. It doesn’t affect anything related to the image that you see but it does help with the comfort of using the binoculars. More distance means more eye relief which can give you better comfort. But having too much might mean that you won’t be able to get all of the field of view in your sights. This is something that will change from person to person because face shapes differ and no two people will find the same level of relief comfortable.
If you’re like me and wear glasses, eye relief can be extremely important so that your glasses don’t bump up on your eye piece. Many people recommended that I remove the eye piece rubber before using them which ended up working like a charm. I also found it’s best to get eye relief of 11mm or more if you wear glasses.
Prisms are important pieces of equipment inside binoculars because they make sure the image is oriented properly. Without prisms, the image will appear upside down because of the way the light enters the binoculars. There are two basic prism types that binoculars are available in porro and roof prisms.
Porro prisms are more commonly found in affordable binoculars because they’re cheaper to produce. They provide a decent image for the price range, but they are much heavier. Roof prisms are what you’ll find in expensive binoculars out there. They’re costly to produce but they produce a good image and are much more compact and light that your porro prisms.
Exit pupil means exactly what it sounds like, which is the size of the light exiting the binoculars and hitting the pupil of your eyes. You might have noticed that our pupils constrict when light hits them, but they dilate when in the dark. The exit pupil works in a similar way by focusing light on a particular diameter.
How big or small you want your exit pupil to be depends on the lighting conditions around you. For low light conditions you want a larger exit pupil to take in as much light as possible. Likewise, when you’re using your binoculars in the harsh daylight, you want your exit pupil size to be smaller, so you don’t get blinded with light and have a focused image. You can calculate the exit pupil of any binoculars by dividing the objective lens with the magnification. I’ve found that exit pupil of around 5mm or higher is better for low light conditions while 2mm seems to be the golden mark for daylight use.
A lens doesn’t just let all of the light pass through it, sometimes it bounces and reflects from the surface. This will often result in glare or reflections clouding your image on the lens. A good way to get around that it by adding coatings on the glass that help curb any negative effects of this phenomenon. Different manufacturers have different methods of applying these coatings and you may come across terms like coated, multi-coated and fully multi-coated. Here’s what they mean:
This is the most basic type of coating where only one layer of coating is applied to one side of the lens.
This is where multiple layers of coating are applied to one side of the lens.
This is the best type of coated where both sides of the lens have multiple coatings on them.
Don’t forget that just because a binocular seems coated it doesn’t mean that it will be useful. I’ve come across hundreds of cheap binoculars that have coloured tints on them that don’t do anything other than make everything seem coloured. It’s a good idea to test the binoculars in store if you want to check the effect of the coating and rely on established brands.
Last but not least, we have to focus a bit on the weather proofing of the binoculars. Since a lot of us primarily use our binoculars outdoors, we need something that can stand up to the elements. Because of this, a lot of brands will weather proof their binoculars using different technology.
The most basic type of weather proofing that I have seen is waterproof binoculars which can be helpful in rainy conditions or if you’re out at sea. It’s important to understand that there are different levels of waterproofing. Some are able to withstand water splashing on them while other can handle being submerged for a period of time.
My personal favorite type of weather proofing is when binoculars are made to be fog proof. This is done by adding an inert gas into the barrel and prevents the lenses from fogging up when you move from hot to cold environments.
Now that we’ve learned about all the different aspects of binoculars, it’s time to summarize what to look for.
- Make sure your binoculars are sized to fit your needs.
- Keep your magnification power and field of view balanced.
- Ensure that your objective lens diameter and exit pupil match the lighting conditions of your use.
- Get a pair of binoculars that have adequate and functional lens coating.
- Decide if you need weather proofing of any kind.
Now that you know what to look for in a pair of binoculars and what the best binoculars are, you should be more than capable to pick out your own pair. If I were to give any last piece of advice it would be this: make sure whatever you choose will fit your needs specifically.
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