Binoculars Test: The best outdoor binoculars – which one to choose.

best outdoor binoculars

Top equipment for bird and animal watching

To find the best binoculars, we sent an ornithologist to Mexico for testing and bird watching.

To find the best binoculars, we had a professional ornithologist watch over 100 pairs of birds for 17 hours. The binoculars in the test field competed against his own, more than 2,000 euros expensive Leica Ultravid binoculars. It was spotted in the mountains and hills of southern California, then on a research trip in the rainforests of southern Mexico. The result: The Athlon Optics Midas ED 8 × 42 was the best binoculars in the test. It is just as powerful as the Leica model, but costs just one-fifth of it. It also offers the widest field of view of all tested binoculars. The test was conducted by Wirecutter.com in America.

Top recommendation for binoculars: Athlon Optics Midas ED

The Athlon Optics Midas ED 8 × 42 benefits, like most lenses in the test field, from a revolution in prefabrication that allows for the highest optical quality at a low cost. From $ 400 you get a pair of binoculars, which comes close to the quality of much more expensive models.

However, the two looks of the Athlon Midas ED are not its only strength: this binoculars are exceptionally durable and easily withstand both the subtropical climate of the Mexican rainforest and the scorching temperatures of the California desert. The focusing wheel can be adjusted reliably and steplessly over a wide depth range so that you can easily concentrate on what you want to see, no matter where you are.

The Athlon Midas is available in the manufacturer’s German shop for $ 400.

Price: from $ 400

Athlon Optics Midas ED

The binoculars Midas ED 8×42 from Athlon Optics convinced us in the test.

User’s reviews of Athlon Optics Midas ED


The second-placed binoculars: Celestron TrailSeeker

The cheaper Celestron TrailSeeker 8 × 42 is an alternative to the Athlon Optics Midas ED binoculars . This model also convinces with a comparatively large field of view. However, the edges of the image are clearly blurred, while the view through the Athlon Optics Midas ED is sharp from edge to edge.

Price:  $260

Celestron trail seeker

The Celestron binoculars are cheaper than our top model and convinced in the test in terms of light properties, optical resolution and close focus.

Celestron Trailseeker 8×42 Binoculars user’s review

A favorable binocular recommendation: Carson VP 8×42

The Carson VP 8 × 42 is a good choice if you want to spend little money. At half the price of the Athlon you get almost the complete performance – but have to compromise on the size of the field of view.

Price: $190

Carson VP 8x42

The Carson binoculars prove that nowadays you get top quality at a price that only a few years ago would have been scrap binoculars.

Carson Optical – VP Series Binoculars HD review

Best compact binoculars: Pentax AD 8 × 25 WP

The affordable and compact Pentax AD 8×25 WP is ideal for day hikes and traveling. The binoculars are all solid – the eyecups are comfortable, the hinges were not too loose and the focus was fast and surprisingly accurate at each distance. Not for professional ornithologists or stargazers – but a cheap, very compact binoculars for everyone.

Price:  $160

Pentax AD 8×25 WP

This binocular combined in the test comfort in pocket size with sufficient magnification.

Pentax 8×25 UCF WP unboxing and review (russian language + subs)

Why you should trust our test

Since elementary school, Daniel S. Cooper, I am an avid birdwatcher, the last 20 years I have worked as a professional ornithologist. I have also published a few dozen scientific papers on the topic. Professionally, I conduct birdwatching trips for beginners and experts, and also work as an expert on conservation organizations, businesses and government agencies.

Over the years, I have looked through binoculars of various types and makes and set myself on the over 2,000-euro Leica Ultravid. After eight weeks of testing over 30 binoculars in the $ 100 to $ 550 range, I can honestly say that if my Leica binoculars get lost tomorrow, I would not hesitate to replace it with one of our top recommendations.

best outdoor binoculars

The author tests binoculars in Mexico.

Who needs a pair of binoculars?

You may be wondering why this test is so focused on bird watching. The answer is simple: binoculars that are ideal for ornithologists are also ideal for any other use situation – whether you are hunting, doing sports or needing binoculars for any other reason.

No matter what you plan to do, your binoculars must do two things: they have to move closer to distant objects – and they need to be clear and sharp. The better the binoculars, the better you can see the birds in the trees, the athletes on the field, the antlers of a deer, or the butterflies gathering in a dry patch of mud along a path. We tried to choose binoculars that handle all these tasks well.

best outdoor binoculars reviews

Demanding conditions for the binoculars test – dense vegetation and different light conditions.

How do we choose the models in the test?

What exactly is good binoculars made of? The optics of the binoculars consists of three main components that affect their performance: the ocular lenses (in the eyepiece), the objective lenses (the lenses farthest from the face) and the prism, which we will discuss in more detail later.

The eyepiece lens is a magnifying glass. So, if you look at the specifications of the binoculars, the first number indicates how much the lens magnifies. For all the models we tested, this is an “8” – the image size is eight times what you see with the naked eye.

The objective lens collects light; the corresponding number – in our case 42 – indicates the diameter of the lens in millimeters. The larger the lens, the more light it can absorb.

We decided to restrict our tests to 8 × 42 binoculars, as we use z. B. 10x binoculars have felt too wobbly. In addition, the 42mm lens size offers an ideal compromise between brightness and clarity on the one hand and the weight of the binoculars on the other. Compact binoculars with smaller lenses are often too dark.

We also excluded zoom binoculars and binoculars with digital camera. In the first case, the models suffer from poor optics with so little light and sharpness that the advantage of multiple magnification levels is quickly nullified. In the latter case, the quality of the cameras is so far behind even the simplest modern smartphones that we can only advise against it.

The good news is that the technological advances in binoculars have benefited optics in recent years. Twenty years ago, while spending around $ 500 to get decent, watertight binoculars from US manufacturing, cheap, China-made glasses are pushing the market for comparable performance. More than 2,000 such models can be found for example on Amazon.com – most of them with very similar designs.

best outdoor binoculars

On the left a Carl Zeiss Porro Prism binoculars, probably from the year 1966. The Zeiss 8 × 50 binoculars cost then 150 euros (175 dollars) and was considered the best in the world. On the right a modern roof prism binoculars.

Most of these binoculars are now equipped with roof prisms rather than old-fashioned porro prisms. Rooftop prism binoculars, which can be easily recognized by their “H” shape, guide the light in a straight path through the binoculars, from the objective lens to the eyepiece. Porro Prism binoculars, typically “A” shaped (see photo above), reflect light at two 90 degree angles. Porroprisma glasses have been cheaper to make for a long time, but heavier and less durable. Nowadays roof prism glasses can also be produced very cheaply, which gradually pushes Porro models out of the market. Further background on technology in binoculars can be read on this page .

Another technology that has become cheaper is the ED lens (“ED” stands for “extra-low dispersion”). ED lenses typically weigh less and transmit the light better than standard lenses. Among the four models recommended by us are the two best ED lenses.

The last important component of modern large and affordable binoculars is optical coatings (“coatings”), for example, lens coatings improve light transmission and color fidelity or reduce reflections on the glass surface. “Previously, the degree of coating was an important distinguishing factor between cheap and expensive binoculars. Nowadays, at least in the models we recommend, the highest level is used consistently – all glass surfaces are coated, and most binoculars have between 10 and 16 such surfaces.

It was also important to us that eyeglass wearers get along perfectly with the binoculars. Binoculars only work if the correct distance between your eye and the eyepiece lens of the binoculars is maintained. The glasses would increase this distance, unless you have the ability to adjust the internal or external position of the eyepiece lens. This function is called eye distance; by default, wearers need at least 15 millimeters of leeway. In old-fashioned models, there are fold-down rubber shells that we do not recommend. Modern glasses, on the other hand, have twist-out eyecups that can be variably adjusted.

The object distance is another important distinguishing criterion for binoculars. Some models enlarge distant objects well, but weaken at very close – like a butterfly on a flower; In addition, the variance in the field of vision (the size of the area you can see when looking through the binoculars) is also considerable, with each model differing by up to 20 percent.

In our test we focus on models in the price range between 100 Euro and 550 Euro – cheaper glasses fall in terms of quality significantly, whereas you often pay in high-end models a lot of money for little extra service. Most of the brands we offer offer a wide range of waterproof (or at least water resistant) lenses, guaranteeing long life and generous return modalities. All in all, you get to a test group of around 150 glasses.

In order to find a manageable set of test finalists, we initially excluded manufacturers that only make one model or use Amazon exclusively as a distribution channel. 17 different 8 × 42 binoculars for a price of mostly less than 350 euros moved into the closer test field.

As we tested

I first took these 17 models to some of my favorite beaches and the mountains and deserts of southern California for a few weeks to get a feel for the glasses. However, I found that the force of habit stood in my way: with familiar objects – bird species I’ve seen a hundred times over – I already knew what I would see before lifting the binoculars.

I could not evaluate the actual performance of the device so objectively. Therefore, I decided to start with the unknown, such as: A group of birds that you do not see too often. When observing exotic birds, one perceives a multitude of unexpected features and optical signals, preferably under physically demanding or at least very different circumstances.

Therefore, I selected the five best binoculars from the first tests and took them to an unknown area in southern Mexico. Working in the field is the ultimate test for any binoculars. So I spent ten days observing the Mexican Sierra de Chiapas with the models Athlon Optics Midas ED , Eagle Optics Ranger ED, Nikon Monarch 5 and Vixen Optics Foresta DCF HR ; I took one day each model.

Review: Athlon Optics Midas ED 8×42

The best binoculars for almost everyone. The Athlon Optics Midas ED 8×42 is still affordable ( 380 euros on Athlon Optics, 550 euros on Amazon) and convinces with great looks – this performance can only be found on much more expensive models.

The binoculars I use every day as a professional ornithologist is the Leica Ultravid 8 × 42, which I bought seven years ago for over $ 2,000. But when I looked through the Athlon Optics Midas ED pair, I could hardly tell the difference to the Leica – and that at a fifth of the price.

Test report- Athlon Optics Midas ED

The Athlon Optics Midas ED is an incredible bargain with spectacular looks, low weight and durable construction.

What makes the Athlon Optics Midas ED Binoculars so great? First, the image brightness. When watching the birds very often you look into something very bright – like the sky – or something darker, z. For example, in a dense thicket, and would like to be able to see the bird clearly and brightly in both situations. The Athlon Optics Midas ED performed well on both fronts. While I barely recognized the throat coloring of early-morning foliage with other tested models, the Athlon was almost as if the glaring, whitish background of the sky was not there – the colors literally came to life.

Southern California and Southern Mexico also saw some other glasses as true to color, including the Bushnell Legend L Series, Celestron Trail , Carson 3D, and the Nikon Monarch 5 (my favorite of four Nikon models in this price segment). But neither the Nikon nor the Carson model had the wide field of view in the distance, which distinguishes the Midas ED. The Carson 3D binoculars were incredibly sharp and as bright as the Athlon, but created a sense of tunnel vision, probably because the field of view is 20 percent narrower than the Athlon’s.

These differences in field of vision became all the clearer when trying to distinguish between the different types of wren in the undergrowth of southern Mexico: the narrower field of the Nikon pair, which is otherwise an excellent jar, seemed to take more time to find the birds than the Athlon binoculars. At the end of the trip, I almost automatically grabbed the Athlon every morning.

One of the best features of the Athlon Optics Midas ED is the easy focus adjustment. It can be infinitely and precisely adjusted over a wide depth of field. Some models, such as the Nikon Prostaff 5, focus very fast, but that often meant the loss of detail in the distance. This sounds confusing, but makes sense if you think of the wheel as a volume control. Less rotation between silence and full volume means you can quickly switch between the extremes, but you can not reach exactly the desired level; On the other hand, it takes forever until a volume control is set with too much rotation. With binoculars you want the golden mean – fast focused but with granular accuracy.

The close focus is essential when it comes to seeing details of butterflies, wildflowers and the like. The Athlon delivered a razor sharp picture even at a distance of two meters, some other model (eg the Nikon Prostaff 7S ) only worked from five meters upwards . The Prostaff 5 is a budget budget model, but rather unsuitable for observing butterflies or other extremely close objects.

Warranty periods are another important criterion for devices such as binoculars, which are often used in rough outdoor use. The Athlon Midas ED struck me as accidentally on a dirt road in Mexico – but worked perfectly thereafter. Almost all the companies I could reach offer a complete, transferable, lifetime warranty of the type “You can drive over it with a truck”. Modern binoculars are more robust than ever. They are largely waterproof, all of our recommended pairs are also sealed against dust.

Small weaknesses

The Athlon glass is supplied with a series of lenses for the lens (larger lens); most other binoculars use caps that fit over the lens. The insertable lenses make for an elegant look, but we’ve noticed that they fall out easily. But that was the only (minor) flaw in a product that was otherwise almost perfect.

Review: Celestron Trail Seeker

Almost as good: A bit cheaper than our top recommendation, but with excellent light characteristics, optical resolution and close focus.

Our runner-up, the Celestron TrailSeeker 8×42 , is sturdily built and, at around 650 grams, was one of the lightest binoculars we tested (the Athlon weighs about 50 grams more). Celestron has been manufacturing high-quality telescopes since the 1960s, but also offers a large selection of binoculars (14 product lines and more than 30 different models).

Test Report- Celestron Trail Seeker

The TrailSeeker binoculars from Celestron are robust and have a large field of view.

Review: Carson VP

Great prospects for a low price: price awareness has its limits with binoculars, models under 100 Euro we can not really recommend; they have clear deficits in terms of both appearance and stability. But for a bit more money, the very functional Carson VP-8×42 binoculars offer excellent optics, the minimum focus distance is three meters shorter than the Nikon ProStaff 5, and the Carson is robust, waterproof and fog-free.

Test report- Carson VP

The Carson VP is extremely cheap for a really good pair of binoculars.

Review: Pentax AD 8 × 25 WP

The Pentax AD 8×25 WP is one of the smallest compact binoculars we tested. These glasses fit in any pocket and are lightweight – yet so powerful that you can even in distant or hidden motifs in nature still recognize details. Although you have to make compromises in comparison to heavier models, especially in poor lighting conditions and over long distances – you can transport glasses in this format while traveling and comfortably while saving weight.

Test report- Pentax AD 8×25 WP

This binocular combines pocket-sized comfort with sufficient magnification.

Compact binoculars are essentially downsized versions of full-size binoculars, with a similar rubberized construction to protect against bumps, watertight seals, a central focusing knob, turn-out eyecups, and folding hinges – but they are about half the size and weight (less than 300 grams) instead of over 400 grams). Since the lenses are narrower, the field of view is limited compared to larger models. But especially if you have neck or shoulder pain or you do not mind sacrificing a little optical performance, the compact models are a great choice for “easy” bird or butterfly watching or planting. They are also ideal for mountain bikers or backpackers.

I reviewed ten different compact binoculars from major brands before choosing the Pentax AD. The look of all compact binoculars in the test field is good to great; all have turn-in eyecups that rotate flush with the lenses when wearing glasses; most are shockproof or rubberized. Still, when all the compact models were lying around in my backseat, I kept reaching for the Pentax AD, not the others.

The Pentax AD weighs about 270 grams (less than half the weight of the Athlon Midas 8 × 42 binocular, our top full-size model). All compact binoculars, especially those with high magnification, tend to “tunnel-look” because they have a narrow field of view that makes it difficult to find a distant target through the lens. Visually, the Pentax AD compact binoculars have a larger field of view than some of the other models; the colors of birds, flowers and butterflies are as bright as the comparative glasses.

Test report- Pentax AD 8×25 WP 2

The Pentax AD are compact enough to fit in a bag.

Unlike all the other models we’ve tested (with the exception of the Nikon Prostaff compact cameras), the Pentax AD straps are mounted between the eyepieces and not at their sides, where they interfere with the thumb when focusing. This of course means that the straps are a bit impractical when lifting the binoculars, but this is rather a minor inconvenience than a real disadvantage. The eyepieces on the Pentax AD are rubberized and therefore less susceptible to temperature fluctuations in the field, so you do not freeze in cold weather.

The Pentax AD has joints that can be adjusted independently of each other (depending on the width of the eyes). To observe an object at a fixed distance you can also lock the hinges.

With rubberized eyepieces and well-placed straps for the straps, the Pentax AD is comfortable to use.

Small weaknesses

As compact and practical as the Pentax glass may be: with far-off subjects or in low-light conditions (eg in the rainforest) or for quickly locating fast-moving birds in dense vegetation, a “full-blown” binocular is naturally clear to the compact model consider.

Care and Maintenance

A simple trick to make things faster with binoculars: do not hold your binoculars to your eyes and then pan, then scan for what you are trying to spot. Instead, you stare with your naked eye at what you want to see and then lift the binoculars into view. This will allow you to see everything you are looking at immediately in the magnified view.

As for the cleaning of the lenses of your binoculars: please never breathe the lenses and then rub with a microfiber cloth or shirt sleeve. This can cause dust already on your lens to leave small scratches. It is better to use a lens pin or bellows first to remove the dust, and then use either lens cloth or liquid and a microfiber cloth. Further information can be found in the article on camera cleaning .

Other binoculars in the test

Given the strong similarity in design between the brands and models, small details in design and performance can become very important. If you’re a long-time user of binoculars, you may need to get used to it: Most models today focus in the opposite direction, meaning current models rotate the wheel to the right to zoom in on objects. On some models (such as the Opticron Oregon 4 LE WP ), the cinch loop was where I rested my thumbs when looking through the binoculars; maybe it’s just me, but I could not get used to it.

On one of the Opticron models, the black color peeled off the rivets on the strap as I pulled it out of the box. In addition, the ring around an eyecup was loose and released as I attached the strap.

On the Nikon Prostaff 7S model , the rubberized coating is so sticky that it kept sticking to my fingertips as you turn the focusing wheel . All in all small details, but worth mentioning is that the Athlon Optics Midas ED had none of these problems.

Other shortcomings in the binoculars just mentioned focused mainly on what they did not do. On some models ( Nikon Prostaff 7S , Opticron Discovery WP PC ) I was bothered by small details, such as the fact that the rotatable plastic eyecup could be pushed down too easily while I was carrying the binoculars. As a result, the level was no longer right when I moved the binoculars to the eye.

More annoying and painful was the effect of several binoculars in the test: they produced mild to fairly severe eye pain behind the pupils when I looked through the lenses for more than a few seconds (especially with the Eagle Optics Denali pair and a few Opticron models) or that caused my eyes to twitch nervously after dropping the binoculars and trying to concentrate on something else. This transition from looking through the binoculars to looking at something else was smooth and practically seamless with the binoculars I recommended.

Incidentally, a curious problem with the Nikon Monarch 5 was a loud squeaking noise from the focusing wheel, which often occurred when it came into contact with the rubber housing. At first I thought this was a coincidental and recoverable issue, but in online reviews, other users complained about it. However, the problem seems to be limited to individual copies. So send her back when you hear that noise.

Carson 3D 8×42 : The very small field of view creates a tunnel view, so that this binocular is less suitable for dark lighting conditions.

Nikon Monarch 5 8×42 : This model was our recommendation in an earlier version of this review , but is surpassed by the current models. In addition to a squeaking focus wheel (possibly a unique problem), the smaller field of view of this binoculars led to a kind of tunnel vision.

Nikon Prostaff 7S 8×42 : This binoculars convinced us with its optical quality. However, we had a problem with the loose eyecups, which could be pushed down too easily.

Opticron Discovery 8×42 WP PC : The good image quality of this binoculars was also overshadowed by an eyecup that was pushed down too easily.

Opticron Oregon 4 8×42 LE WP : Our pattern showed optical errors, including some distortion and glare. In addition, we found ergonomic issues, including a strap attachment point in an inappropriate location that interfered with the use of the eyecup cover and focus wheel.

Vixen Optics Foresta 8×42 DCF HR : This binocular was one of our favorites, despite a slightly brownish image in certain scenarios, such as looking at seascapes. But after some time, we noticed the poor performance in low light conditions. This was shown by the lack of color, as I looked at warblers in front of treetops in the back light. Also this model had eyecups that loosened with time.

Vortex Optics Crossfire 8×42 : This binoculars seem like a retrospective look into the past. It feels cheap, has poor range resolution and limited low-light clarity.

Compact binoculars

I have tested ten binoculars from popular manufacturers that offer compact models in various sizes and shapes. Most had an 8x magnification, from the smallest available (8×25, 8.5×21) to models that looked and felt like fullsize binoculars (8×32, 8×33).

The Pentax Papilio II 8.5×21 and the Nikon ProStaff 8×25 ATB are both “chunky” compact binoculars with offset eyepieces (in contrast to the usual roof prisms). They may be more comfortable for some users as they make it easier to keep. Unfortunately, the Papilio needed too much time to focus (on the other hand, you can get very close to the focused object). The Nikon showed a satisfactory performance. However, I got mild eye pain when focusing on distant objects, like ducks swimming on a lake.

The Carson RD 8×26 , Levenhuk Karma Pro 8×25 , Maven C2 10X28 and Minox BF 8×25 watertight models are part of a series of “new compact” binoculars similar to the smaller versions of the full-size 8×42 models, but only about two-thirds of the To have height and weight. At this size, however, they are too big to slip into most pockets. The exception is the wide coats that make us less agile than we would like from this group. In addition, I noticed quality reductions on all four models: eyeballs that rotate indefinitely (maven), eyecups that are not flush on the eye (Levenhuk, Minox), and distortions on distant objects (Carson).

The Athlon Talos 8×32, Minox BV 8×33 and Vortex Diamondback Classic 8×32 are “Tweener” or “Large Compact” binoculars – not very compact but one size smaller than the full size. They have a large focusing wheel, wide and heavy body and weigh as much as some models of the full-size class. Although I would not trade them for an 8×42 pair (because of the narrower field of view), I actually found them to be a comfortable size for the bird / nature study and found no serious drawbacks in testing (though the Vortex Diamondback made me feel light-eyed)



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *