As a bird photographer, you undoubtedly have the experience of struggling to spot a bird with just one eye looking through the viewfinder on a camera. It often becomes impossible to locate a bird with a telephoto lens screwed to the front of the camera.
A pair of binoculars is a much better option in those situations. You’ve two eyes to spot the bird, which is a much better position to be in initially when you’re struggling to spot your subject. Also, it’s powerful enough to give you a clear, focused, and magnified view of the bird before you take a picture with your camera.
In this discussion, we’ll look at six of the best binoculars for bird watching that you can buy right now. If you don’t want to read through the entire review, you can check the list in the table below to pick the right pair of binoculars –
- Vortex 8×42 Diamondback HD binoculars
- Vortex Crossfire HD 8×42 Binoculars
- Nikon ProStaff 10×30 7S Binoculars
- Celestron Nature DX 12×56 Binoculars (second best)
- Nikon Monarch HG 10×42 (top pick)
- Celestron 10×50 Ultima Porro Binoculars
Among these, I prefer the Nikon Monarch HG 10×42 because of its insane optical quality, handling, weatherproofing, and build quality. Nikon’s long history in building high-end optics comes through in this design. It’s solid, has some weight, and is surprisingly hand-holdable. Yes, it’s costly and will be out of the reach of beginner birding enthusiasts. But this is a great option if you are a professional bird photographer or don’t mind paying extra for quality.
The Vortex 8×42 Diamondback HD binoculars would be my second choice. I will briefly summarize the major differences between the Vortex’s Diamondback and the Crossfire designs later in this discussion. In short, I like the Diamondback for its superior build quality, handling, and weather resistance.
Vortex 8×42 Diamondback HD binoculars
When choosing a pair of binoculars, it’s always best to balance the ideal magnification power and Objective lens diameter. I feel 8x to 10x is the perfect magnification for binoculars for bird watching. The Vortex 8×42 Diamondback HD offers a magnification of 8x, and the Objective lens diameter is 42mm giving a bright and crisp view of the scene in front. The field of view you can see is 130.48 m @ 1000m. That is still a wide field of view compared to the other binos on this list. The actual angle of view is 7.5 degrees.
I have always felt that a minimum eye relief of 16mm is necessary if you’re wearing spectacles, as I do. This ensures that you can see the edges without them getting cropped out. The Vortex 8×42 Diamondback HD offers an Eye relief of 17mm, ensuring you can view the edges without issues. Even then, I always recommend testing your equipment and seeing that your vision isn’t getting impaired; only then buy.
Another good thing about these binoculars is that they have twist-down eye cups. This means you can adjust the eye relief depending on whether you wear spectacles.
Many users prefer to use a tripod to set down their binoculars. This is to have a hands-free experience when possible. A separate tripod adapter allows you to mount the binoculars on a steady platform conveniently.
The housing of the binoculars is filled with Argon, and the O-rings are sealed, which means this is a weather-sealed design that you can take anywhere. Also, the fact that the housing contains Argon and not air means there is less chance of fog building up.
A word about the Vortex Crossfire and Diamondback designs
If you feel the Vortex 8×42 Diamondback is a bit more expensive than your pocket permits, you can look at the Vortex 8×42 Crossfire HD Binoculars as an alternative option. However, there are physical similarities between the two designs, going by the fact that Roof-prisms power both the designs, there are also a few differences between the two.
The Crossfire is a bit bulkier than the Diamondback. The Diamondback also has superior weather resistance, a major deciding factor for many users. If you spend considerable time outdoors and expect your equipment to be exposed to the elements, you need weather resistance (if not weather sealing).
That being said, the Crossfire is much cheaper than the Diamondback. And that also is a major deciding factor. Many users are looking for inexpensive options to start. And for them, the Vortex 8×42 Crossfire HD Binoculars (discussed below) are a good option.
Vortex Crossfire HD 8×42 Binoculars
This option has an 8x magnification and an Objective lens diameter of 42mm. This is an excellent combination for bird watching in the backyard and garden. The 42mm Objective lens diameter captures a lot of light for a crisp view through the eye-cups.
This is a true weather-sealed design. The binoculars are completely waterproof with nitrogen-filled housing, ensuring they can perform without fogging or water seepage when exposed to inclement weather. This allows these binoculars to be used in any weather conditions.
The lens uses high-definition glass and an index-matched lens configuration. Additionally, the lens features XR Plus anti-reflective coating. Together, these elements ensure that the lens can handle tricky lighting to deliver reduced chromatic aberration, high contrast, excellent colors, and sharpness from edge to edge.
The 8x magnification is powerful enough to allow close focusing of subjects several dozen meters away. At the same time, the magnification isn’t so much that the binoculars will suffer from shaking.
The Objective lens diameter of 42mm ensures that much light is captured and the final view through the eye-cups is bright and crisp. The focusing distance of the binoculars is 6 feet. That allows for a closer view of a subject.
Speaking of focusing distance, the Vortex 8×42 Crossfire HD has a large focusing knob that allows easy and accurate focusing. Even if you’re operating with your gloves on. And the twist-down eye-cups ensure that users with spectacles can efficiently operate them just as without spectacles.
The field of view of the Vortex 8×42 Crossfire HD is 130.48m @ 1000m.
Nikon ProStaff 10×30 7S Binoculars
The Nikon 10×30 ProStaff 7S is a pair of phase-corrected compact binoculars featuring a roof prism. The binoculars are coated with multiple coatings. The phase-corrected roof prisms have been coated with highly reflective mirror coatings to ensure that they don’t suffer from internal reflections and, in the process, improve their light loss. Adding glass and optical coatings ensures the lens can produce high-contrast views without issues.
At 420 grams, the Nikon 10×30 ProStaff 7S is a lightweight pair of binoculars. When you’re headed outdoors with this piece of glass and polycarbonate resin-crafted design around your neck, you will thank yourself for choosing it. It’s easily hand-holdable for a long and does not weigh you down.
The construction is very robust. This O-ring sealed design can withstand water up to a depth of 3.3 feet for 10 minutes. Additionally, the lens’ housing is nitrogen-filled, ensuring there is never a chance of fog build-up, no matter the weather outside.
The 10x magnification is decent for bird watching. However, the only thing that’s probably where these binoculars lose out is the size of the Objective lens. At 30mm, this is much smaller than some of the other binoculars I have listed here.
The actual angle of view of the Nikon ProStaff 10×30 7S is 6 degrees. The field of view is 104.25m at 1000m. The rubber eye cups have a twist-up design that ensures that users with and without spectacles can use these binoculars. That said, the Eye-relief is 15.4mm.
However, you get what you pay for. The price range at which this lightweight pair of binoculars is available very affordable. This is an affordable option to boot for someone who is just starting in bird watching.
Celestron Nature DX 12×56 Binoculars
The Celestron 12×56 Nature DX is a slightly expensive option and one that I would put one podium above the Vortex 8×42 Crossfire HD. With more money, you get binos. That’s as simple as that. The Celestron 12×56 Nature DX has 12x magnification. For most bird watching, I recommend 8x to 10x; at this magnification, it will require steadier hands to operate. But you can also mount this baby on a tripod using the threaded mount for connecting a tripod adapter. That allows you to track birds over longer distances.
The angle of view of the Celestron 12×56 Nature DX is 5.5 degrees. That translates into a field of view of 95.95 m @ 1000m. That’s understandable, considering the larger magnification.
The construction quality of the binos is excellent. It’s waterproof, ensuring it can endure bad weather without significant issues. Also, the housing is filled with nitrogen that prevents fogging issues and maintains performance. Additionally, the rubber layer of the housing ensures that a user can conveniently operate the binos without any problems.
The lens features BAK4 prism glass, superior to BK-7, and offers better clarity and brightness. Additionally, the lens features an anti-reflective, fully multi-coated design that improves contrast when viewing through the eye-cups.
Speaking of eye-cups, the eye-relief distance of the Celestron 12×56 Nature DX is 16mm. This is at par with the other binos that I have listed here. It’s good enough for users who wear spectacles and those who don’t.
Nikon Monarch HG 10×42
The Nikon Monarch HG 10×42 is at the top of the Nikon lineup of binoculars. It has an impressive mix of magnification and a large objective lens diameter to capture a sharp and bright view. A 10x magnification is an excellent option for bird watching. It’s neither too long a magnification to be unwieldy nor too wide.
Also, the large 42mm objective lens ensures that the binoculars can collect a lot of light. It comes in handy when working in conditions where it’s overcast or when your subject is perched between thick foliage.
This is a robust construction. The design uses lead and arsenic-free extra-low dispersion glass elements, which suppresses the effects of chromatic and other forms of aberrations. In addition to that, the design incorporates phase-corrected and dielectric-coated roof prisms, which further safeguards against the impact of light loss that cheaper binos suffer from. The Nikon Monarch HG 10×42 has also got full multicoating as well as an anti-reflective coating. This ensures that it displays superior light transmission resulting in a bright display.
One of the features of the design is a short bridge. This ensures that the gripping surface is bigger and the binos’ weight is less. Incidentally, the weight of the Nikon Monarch HG 10×42 is 680 grams. The housing is nitrogen filled to prevent issues from the fog. Also, the watertight construction ensures that the Nikon Monarch HG 10×42 can withstand moisture, rain, and dusty conditions. This is ideal for working in any weather situation and across all terrain.
The price tag of the binos is the highest of all the ones discussed here. The good news is you get some of the best features, easily making this the best birding binoculars on this list.
Celestron 10×50 Ultima Porro Binoculars
The Celestron 10×50 Ultima is a porro prism-powered design that combines 10x optical zoom and a large objective lens of 50mm diameter. Larger lenses can capture a lot of light. They come in handy when working in low light conditions.
Porro prism-powered binos are known to be heavier and bulkier, and the Celestron 10×50 Ultima lives up to that reputation. It’s heavy at 740 grams. However, not too heavy to not be hand-holdable on your next bird-watching sojourn.
The shape of the focusing wheel is narrow compared to other porro prism binos I have used. Additionally, the wheel is placed towards the back. This is also unlike traditional porro prism binos. That said, the body of the Celestron 10×50 Ultima is smaller than many other porro prism binos. One benefit of that is that it’s easier to reach the focusing wheel.
The construction of Celestron 10×50 Ultima is crafted out of aluminum. On top of that, they have used a rubberized top layer. The makers state that the binos are weather sealed. However, in my experience, I have seen that porro prism binos with an external central focus aren’t the easiest devices to make completely weather sealed.
One important thing I need to mention here is that I wouldn’t say I like the shape of the eye cups. Although the eye relief is 18mm which is huge, the design is old-fashioned.
What do the letters 10 x 42 or 8 x 42 written on binoculars mean?
The first number, that’s 10 or 8, suggests the magnification property of the binocular. 10x means that the binoculars can magnify a subject ten times more than what the naked eye sees. An 8x magnification suggests that a subject can be magnified eight times compared to what the naked eye sees. The second number that is 42 represents the diameter of the objective lenses. The objective lens is the one that shows you the image that you see via the back of the binoculars. A larger objective lens can capture a lot of light.
What is the best magnification for bird-watching binoculars?
When it comes to bird watching, binoculars more isn’t always the best. Higher magnification makes it more difficult to hold steady and, therefore, difficult to use. For bird watching, an 8x to 10x magnification is enough. If you’re watching birds, lower magnification results in a brighter image. So, between an 8x and a 10x magnification with the same Objective Lens Diameter, an 8x binocular will offer a better viewing experience than the 10x one.
Do binoculars with more magnification necessarily mean better?
More magnification isn’t always best when watching birds in the open using a binocular. This is because you’re going to be confronted by shakes induced by hand movement. If you’re watching birds in your backyard or garden, a simple 8x magnification is more than enough. A longer magnification of 10x is necessary when watching birds over long distances such as vast fields, wetlands, or landscapes. Especially small birds.
Should you go for higher magnification with binoculars or lower?
Higher magnification in binocular work is like a double-edged sword. Higher magnification means a more zoomed-in view. However, when you zoom in, your field of view drops significantly. A wider field of view ensures it’s easier for you to track your subject. The sweetest field of view for bird watching is between 7 to 9 degrees. Anything wider and you’ve lower magnification, and anything smaller and you have a lower area of view.
Weatherproofing – is it necessary for your binoculars?
If you consistently head outdoors and expose your gear to inclement weather, then you do. There are, however, different types of weatherproofing, and you need to understand which one will work for your specific case. Some binoculars are marketed as weatherproof but not completely weatherproof because they’re not sealed against water seepage. Sealing is a must-have if you expose your gear to rain and the elements have complete weather. The best weather-sealed binoculars are also nitrogen-filled rather than air-filled. This prevents moisture from building up inside the binoculars and, with it, prevents condensation and fogging.
Roof prisms vs. Porro Prisms
Roof prisms and Porro prisms are two different prism types used in binoculars. The kind of prism used in the construction determines the shape and design of the binocular. They each have their advantages and disadvantages. Porro prisms offer superior clarity and usually result in binoculars with a wider field of view. But at the same time, they’re bulkier and have less waterproofing. They’re also fragile.
On the other hand, Roof prism-powered binoculars are more durable and have a lighter weight associated with them. They have excellent waterproofing qualities and better magnification but a narrower field of view. They also have less clarity than Porro prism binoculars.
Our aim here is to provide a review of some of the most popular binoculars on the market for all levels. As always please provide us with feedback with how you get on.