Personal preference plays a large role in picking binoculars. In optics there is a large spectrum of prices, subtle differences are many and the process of selecting one or describing why you like a particular one can be intimidating. Binoculars follow the general rule: you get what you pay for, and purchasing the best you can afford almost always pays off.

As you select new binoculars, we encourage you to try several pairs on your own and figure out what you like, if you haven’t already done so. Rather than provide a comprehensive list of the specifications and ratings for all of the binocular models we aim to help you find binoculars that will fit you and your birding style.

The sheer number of binocular models has steadily increased over time, and fortunately so has the overall quality of models in all price ranges. The price tag for the top models has crept way upwards, optics-makers have also improved optical performance with new types of glass, new lens coatings, and new ergonomic features that reduce weight and bulk. A fully waterproof and relatively compact roof-prism design, with high-quality, close-focusing optics, adjustable twisting eyecups, and excellent eye-relief are all now standard for models in nearly every price range.
Competition for brand loyalty among an ever-more-discerning and growing birder market has also fueled a trend toward greater corporate attention to service, sustainability, and support for birding and conservation programs. Along with fine optics, birders can now expect lifetime service warranties, superior customer support, and company presence at birding festivals and on conservation websites.

Things To Consider When Choosing Binoculars:

With all that’s exciting and new in the world of binoculars, the same basic principles still apply for choosing the right binoculars for your birding needs. The daunting task of selecting from among the dozens of binocular models available can be made simpler by considering the following options.

Price: In general, we recommend spending as much as you can afford on binoculars because a higher price usually indicates higher quality and durability. We were excited, however, by the excellent choices in the lower and midpriced categories. We’ve selected our Top Picks in each of five price ranges. Many birders always opt for the latest top-of-the-line binoculars, several models in the “New Midrange” are so nice, they really make us wonder whether the extra $1,000 to $2,000 might be better spent on a trip to an exotic birding destination or to help support your favorite bird organization. For birders on a tight budget or educators looking to buy several binoculars, we were pleased to see a few remarkably good models for under $200– although how well these hold up under rugged or wet field conditions remains to be seen. Please note: the prices we list are the manufacturer’s suggested list prices; you can often find lower prices than these online or at discount retailers.

Stabilization: Hand-shake can also be an issue for people who are not used to 10x binoculars, but this also depends on the weight and ergonomics of the particular model. If you opt for lower-priced binoculars (under $400), we generally recommend using only lower-magnification models.

Ergonomics: As with wines, the many subtle variations in binocular design make it all the more important to try as many binoculars as you can before buying. Our reviewers made copious comments on the weight, balance, ease and closeness of focus, and overall feel of each model. There were as many opinions as there were sizes and shapes of hands and faces, with each reviewer keying in on different features. If you wear eyeglasses while birding, eye-relief is the all-important metric, and fortunately most binoculars now provide an excellent image for us bespectacled types.

Corporate Sustainability: With so many choices in binocular manufacturers and distributors, consumers may also consider what the companies give back to the birding community and to conservation. Several optics companies are major contributors to nonprofit birding and conservation organizations, support bird expeditions or research projects, or provide optics for international birding guides and students. We urge all companies to support these important activities and publicize them to the birding community.

Many birders always opt for the latest top-of-the-line binoculars, several models in the midrange are so nice, they really make us wonder whether the extra $1,000 to $2,000 might be better spent on a trip to an exotic birding destination or to help support your favorite bird organization. For birders on a tight budget or educators looking to buy several binoculars, we were pleased to see a few remarkably good models for under $200– although how well these hold up under wet or rugged field conditions remains to be seen. Whereas some birders prefer using higher magnification to discern greater feather detail and for long-distance birding (for example, hawk watching, seabird watching, or peering into the rainforest canopy), others prefer the slightly brighter image and wider field of view offered by 7x or 8x binoculars. Hand-shake can also be an issue for people who are not used to 10x binoculars, but this also depends on the weight and ergonomics of the particular model. If you opt for lower-priced binoculars (under $400), we generally recommend using only lower-magnification models.