The whole idea of the Best Binocular Reviews website is to help you to find the best optics for your particular needs. Choice is ultimately a good thing, but it can at times become confusing and as the amount of quality binoculars that I review increases, it can in a way make it harder to identify the really great from the very good.
Looking back at the many binoculars that I reviewed in 2011, there were many good ones, a few great ones and then even fewer ones that really stood out. These annual awards are a way for me to highlight the very best binoculars that I have reviewed and thus bring them into the spotlight and hopefully to your attention.
To be eligible for an award, I have to have personally reviewed the binocular. They had to excel in that particular area and for the appropriate categories, value for money was also taken into account.
I would also like to make it clear that like my reviews, the awards have in no way been influenced by any manufacturer and are purely based on my experience with the binocular during the review. These awards are also not just handed out to any binocular and to win an award, the binocular has to have really impressed in that particular category.
Of all the binoculars that I reviewed in 2011, these Traveler EL Binoculars from Swarovski were the most impressive. Scoring a perfect 10 for their Body Construction Quality, Image Quality and for their Extras & Attention to Detail helped them attain a chart topping 93% overall on the Best Binocular Reviews Ratings scale, which at the time of writing is the highest score ever achieved by any binocular - these really are special binoculars.
What really stood out for me on these Swarovski binoculars was just how excellent the view through them is and I would almost describe them as optically impeccable. This is achieved by the use of top quality optical components and coatings. The quality of the workmanship and the attention to detail is also very impressive and I love the quality of all the extras like the carry case, neck strap, lens cleaning cloth and the fact that you get the snap shop adapter is a real bonus.
With a field of view of 140m at a distance of 1,000 metres (=420 feet at 1,000 yards = 8°), these are really some of the very best out there and they easily make it onto my list of wide angle binoculars. This is a real highlight for me and is a major reason as to why these binoculars are so popular amongst birders, especially those who like to travel a lot.
As with any binoculars with such high quality components and build quality these Swarovski EL's don't come cheap, but as they say, in life you get what you pay for and in this case you really do get one of, if not the best mid-sized binocular on the market. So if you are the type of person that demands or needs uncompromising quality and performance then these Swarovski EL 8x32 W B Traveler binoculars may be the optics for you.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Swarovski binoculars.
To be a really great bird watching binocular, you need to have a very high quality image to enable you to enjoy all the beauty of the bird that you are observing at it's very best and in fine detail.
What I really liked about these Ranger's is not only do they feature a whole host of quality optical components and coatings like BaK-4 Prisms, with phase correction and dielectric coatings, fully multi-coated optics and extra low dispersion glass (ED) - but these all add up to produce a fantastic quality image that scored a very impressive 9/10 on the Best Binocular Reviews Scale for Image Quality.
These quality coatings as well as the full sized 42mm objective lenses that help to "capture" as much light as possible also help to produce a nice and bright image that really impressed me when I reviewed them. This is another very important aspect to look out for in a great birding binocular as a binocular that produces a bright image that will perform better in poor light conditions like in thickly forested areas, at daybreak or late afternoon/evening when most birds are at their most active.
Very Wide Field of View
For general birding, another really important feature to look out for is it's field of view. A wide field of view will make it easier to find and track birds, especially small fast moving ones. With a field of view of 425 feet@1000 yards (142m @ 1000m) or 8°, these Eagle Optics binoculars have one of the widest fields of view that I have ever tested and they therefore easily make it onto my list of wide angle binoculars.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Eagle Optics Ranger binoculars.
Scoring a hugely impressive 87% overall on the Best Binocular Reviews Ratings scale, that included a 10/10 for body construction quality, you just know that these water and fogproof binoculars are extremely well made and easily tough enough to handle pretty much whatever you throw at them whilst you are out there in the wild.
As well as this, at only 650g (22.9oz), these are some of, if not THE lightest full sized binoculars that I have ever reviewed, this combined with their well made and well padded neck strap will make them as comfortable as possible even if you have to carry them with you all day.
These Minox binoculars also scored an Outstanding 9/10 for both Image Quality and Optical Components Quality which means you can be sure that you will get a very high quality image to enable you to enjoy all the beauty and all the details of the wildlife you are observing. During the testing of these binoculars, one area where I could really notice the difference between these and the benchmarks that I comparing them with was the contrast of the image, which was especially noticeable in low light conditions. This may seem like a small thing, but it does really make objects stand out that much better and they feel more three dimensional. This really helps with being able to spot things like a deer in a thickly forested area, or even a small bird within the dark canopy of the trees.
Most full sized binoculars come with 42mm objective lenses, these have slightly larger 43mm ones, which will capture more light. This combined with their excellent optics and coatings produce a really bright image that really impressed me when I reviewed them. A binocular that produces a bright image that will perform better in poor light conditions like in thickly forested areas, at daybreak or late afternoon/evening when most wildlife is at their most active.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Minox HG binoculars.
A quality Safari or Travel binocular needs to be small and light enough to easily carry in your luggage, yet tough enough to withstand the rigors of travel.
When I first removed the binoculars from their box, one of my initial thoughts were "wow these feel really light" and the numbers back this up because at 590g (20.8oz), they are one of the lightest high quality mid-sized binoculars that I have ever tested and easily beat many of the binoculars that they were competing against. Their compact dimensions also mean that packing them away in your hand-luggage for the flight or indeed for when you are carrying them out in the field will be no problem at all.
With a score of 9/10 for body construction quality, you can be sure that these water and fogproof binoculars are extremely well made and with their rubberized armour should easily be able to handle pretty much whatever you throw at them on your travels.
The fact that these Kowa's are fully waterproof will not only protect them from moisture and rain, but will prevent dust from entering them that could lead to your view being spoiled. This for me is an important feature to look out for when choosing binoculars that you will take on safari or other adventures where it can get very dry and dusty.
These mid-sized Kowa Genesis binoculars scored 92% overall on the Best Binocular Reviews Ratings scale, a total which ranks them up there with the very best binoculars that I have ever reviewed. They fact that they use ultra high end optics and coatings like extra low dispersion glass and BaK-4 prisms with phase-correction coatings on them it was no wonder that they scored 10/10 for Optical Components Quality, which in turn helped them gain a 9/10 for Image Quality and help them produce a really bright image for a mid sized binocular.
This is important because on safari (and other travel adventures) you will often go out early in the mornings or late in the afternoon when it is cooler and the wildlife is most active, this does also mean that light conditions are not at their best and so a binocular like these that produce a very bright, pin sharp image that has great contrast and colour reproduction are what is needed to get the best possible view.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Mid-Sized Kowa binoculars.
This year I have decided to also give a special mention to a pair of travel and safari binoculars specifically designed for women:
Nikon Sport Optics and SHE Outdoor Apparel collaborated together to produce this mid-sized 10x36 Safari binocular designed with women in mind. Technically there is actually no difference between the standard Nikon Monarch ATB binoculars and the women's binoculars, the difference is all in the styling and the extras like the excellent quality and very stylish carry bag that you get with them as well.
The main features that you are looking for in any Safari or Travel binocular is one that is compact and light enough to easily carry in your luggage, tough enough to withstand the rigors of travel and high quality bright optics that will perform well in low light conditions like early morning or late afternoon/evening when wildlife is at it's most active and when you will be going on safari. These Nikon Monarch binoculars tick all the boxes and more:
Even though they have slightly larger objective lenses than most mid-size roof prism binoculars that I have reviewed, their dimensions of (12.2x12.9cm /4.8x5.0in) means these Nikon SHE 10x36 Safari binoculars compare pretty well with most others in this class. For comparison, the top of the range travel binoculars, and this years winner of binocular of the year, the Swarovski EL 8x32 W B Traveler Binoculars that have dimensions of 13.8 x 11.4cm (5.4 x 4.5in)
At 19.9 ounces (575g), they are also fairly lightweight, compare this once again to the to the top of the range the Swarovski Traveler Binoculars that weigh 21.5ozs (610g).
The 10x36 Nikon SHE Safari Monarch Binoculars are O-ring Sealed and therefore fully waterproof. This not only protects them from moisture, but will prevent dust from entering them that could lead to your view being spoiled, an important consideration when choosing binoculars that you will take on safari or other adventures where it can get very dry and dusty.
They have also been "nitrogen purged", which means that the air inside the binocular has been replaced with nitrogen gas, this prevents the interior optical surfaces from fogging up due to rapid temperature changes or in areas that have high humidity.
36mm Diameter Objective Lenses - In many ways mid-size binoculars like these with 36mm objective lenses are ideal safari binoculars. Small enough to easily fit in with your luggage, yet they still have large enough objective lenses to gather enough light to work well in poorer light conditions. Which is exactly what you find in the early mornings and late afternoons when you will mostly going out on safari as this is the time when the game is most active.
Quality optical components and coatings like Fully Multi-coated Lenses, Bak-4 prisms that have Phase-correction coatings on them also help to ensure that the image produced is pin-sharp and as bright as possible.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Mid-Sized Nikon SHE binoculars.
If you are not female, or don't like the styling on the SHE Safari Monarch Binoculars, you could always get the standard Nikon 10x36 Monarch ATB DCF Binoculars or take a look at some other binoculars that I also highly recommend as a Safari and Travel companion:
For the second year in a row, a Vanguard binocular wins the award for the best value for money binocular!
This time it is their excellent 10x42 Spirit ED Binoculars that scored an outstanding 87% on the Best Binocular Reviews Ratings scale, a score which beats many binoculars that cost many times the amount of these mid priced binoculars.
Their score of 87% included a 9/10 for Image quality, body stats, optical components quality and for extras and attention to detail and it for these reasons as well as their very competitive price tag of around $290 (£270) that I think this Vanguard Spirit ED binocular is a very worthy winner of the Best Value for Money Binocular.
Highlights include, Extra low-dispersion, ED glass, Phase Coated BaK4 roof prisms, Fully Multi-Coated Anti-Reflection coatings on the lenses, all wrapped in a tough water and fogproof exterior.
Their price tag means that they sit in my category of mid priced binoculars, which if you take into account that the highest quality optical elements and coatings are used as well as the lightweight and excellent quality body it is very impressive and must surely be one of the best value for money binoculars out there and definitely the best that I have so far reviewed:
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Vanguard Spirit ED binoculars.
For the second year running, I have decided to award the Best Low Cost Binocular Award to the 10x42 Sierra from Barr & Stroud. This is mainly because for the amount you pay for them they really are a very good pair of optics and I really have not reviewed a binocular this year that is better than these. To be honest though, I don't review that many cheap binoculars (The hint is in the name of this site: The BEST Binocular Reviews) and the Best binoculars tend to cost a little more than $130 / £130, which in a way makes these binoculars even more impressive as they have many of the features and qualities of much more expensive optics.
I know that not everyone has an unlimited budget, but that does not mean that you can't get yourself a decent pair of optics and in some cases there is the gem that goes far beyond just being "decent" and offer a truly excellent price to performance ratio. Enter the 10x42 Sierra Binoculars from Barr & Stroud:
They have many features that are only usually found on much more expensive optics including fully multi-coated optics and Bak-4 prisms with phase correction coatings on the prism glass. This is an expensive process that keeps the light in the correct color phases. The result is brighter images and higher edge-to-edge sharpness.
According to Barr & Stroud these "high-tech phase coatings alone increase prism reflectivity by 8% and it give you on average an extra hour of visibility at dawn and dusk compared to standard binoculars." I can't confirm this, but what I can say is that in their price range the image they produce is excellent, for an entry level 10x42 binocular extremely bright and definitely one of (if not the best) that I have ever tested in their class.
Read full Review - Read my full review of these Bar & Stroud binoculars.
After reviewing these, I was so impressed with their night vision performance that I decided that I just had to take them on a safari holiday with me. For me the amount of weight and space that they took up in my hand luggage was well worth it and this was despite the fact that I was already taking another full size pair of binoculars, my camera, tripod and a video camera with me!
Built like a soviet tank, these Gen 1 night vision binoculars come with a powerful (for a night vision device) 3x magnification and large 50mm objective lenses, their Built-in IR illuminator also means that they can be used in complete darkness.
I must add though that I think this award may have not been so clear cut had I not also had the optional LN-ELIR-1 laser illuminator:
The Luna LN-PB3 binoculars have a built-in accessory slot on top of them where you can mount the Luna Optics LN-ELIR-1 laser illuminator. This is a much more powerful illuminator than the built in one and is actually capable of resolving targets at an incredible distance of 800m. So if you are going to get these night vision binoculars, I highly recommend that you also add the LN-ELIR-1 to your shopping basket as the difference they make is incredible.
Overall the build quality was very high and I would say that these binoculars are ideal for most home security needs, camping trips and most night time wildlife observation.
Read my full Review of the LN-PB3 Luna Optics Night Vision Binoculars.
When I was first contacted by S4Gear, the makers of this binocular harness, I thought that with a name like the LockDown Optics Deployment System, that this was either going to be nothing more than a fancy named gimmick or something very revolutionary...
...Thankfully it was the latter and I can honestly say that for me this is easily the best binocular harness that I have ever used.
Why? Well first and most importantly it attaches the binoculars against your chest in such a way as they will definitely not swing or even move around, yet it still fits very comfortably to your body and makes carrying even heavy binoculars for a long time no problem at all.
They make accessing your optics as well as returning them to your chest very quick and unlike other more conventional binocular suspenders or harnesses, you don't have to put up with your binoculars being pulled against your face, this is because of the design with their "shock cords" they offer tension free glassing.
Another advantage of the LockDown system compared to most other binocular straps is that they have a cover that protects both your objective and ocular lenses from scratches as well as wet weather, meaning you don't have also replace your lens caps every time you use them in the field.
I was also very impressed with the overall build quality of the product and for me all these and the many other features make the LockDown Harness a worthy winner of the Best Binocular Accessory for 2011.
Read full Review of the LockDown Binocular Harness.
This year, I have also decided to give an award for the best online optics retailer and this years winner is Eagle Optics.
To make my decision, I looked at a number of key areas, to see which online shop has the edge:
Informed Advice - This for me was the most important consideration. Larger internet retailers that sell everything from aardvarks to zebras are great as one stop shops, but it would be impossible for you to get some informed advice from them and lets be honest they don't really want you to contact them anyway. What I really like about Eagle Optics and other smaller specialised optical retailers like them is that their staff is made up of experienced birders, hikers, butterfly watchers, kayakers, travelers, hunters, and sports fans and they welcome you to contact them for advice on comparisons, technical information and specifications as well as with help in choosing the right binoculars to meet your needs.
Competitive Prices - When researching a binocular that I am reviewing, I always also take a look at where those binoculars are available for purchase and what prices they are set at. For the most part Amazon tend to offer the best deals, but in my experience Eagle Optics also usually have them at pretty much the same price, which considering the size of Amazon and their obvious buying power this is really impressive. What is more Eagle Optics have a Price Match Promise, where they state that id you find a lower price on an identical product from a legitimate competitor, you can contact them and they will match it for you.
Deals - Everyone likes a good deal. Eagle Optics have a dedicated section on their site that displays all their best deals in one place. They also often offer factory refurbished, second hand or ex-display models for sale at substantially reduced prices.
Shipping Costs - Finding a great deal and then discovering that you have to pay a huge amount on shipping when you have already entered all your contact and payment details is really annoying. That is why I really like the fact that Eagle Optics clearly advertise that they offer free ground shipping on most orders as well as a whole host of other Priority options.
Many Payment Options - It is always very annoying when you get to the checkout section of the shop and they won't accept your preferred payment method. Eagle Optics will accept most U.S and Canadian-billed Credit Cards, Checks, Money Orders, Electronic Funds Transfers as well as with Paypal. What is more if you have a problem or if you don't want to pay on-line there is a phone number for you to call.
Returns Policy - Knowing that if you buy a binocular and if it is defective, not right for your needs or if you're not satisfied with your purchase for any reason and then being able to return it is important. That is why I like Eagle Optics who offer a comprehensive 30 day return policy that enables you to return the product for a full exchange or product refund. Note: you will have to pay for or return shipping costs.
I would love to get your comments and well as your opinions on my awards. Do agree or disagree with any of my choices? (Just remember only binoculars that I have actually reviewed were eligible)