I know that I say this almost every year, but this year I have tested and reviewed more binoculars than ever. So whilst it is great that I have been so busy and that my list of fully reviewed binoculars continues to grow and grow, this very fact does make it harder and harder for you to discover the very best from this ever expanding list.
The Very Best Binoculars
So as a way of highlighting the very best that I have reviewed, I created the BBR Awards back in 2010 and every year since then I have been highlighting the very best binoculars, scopes, night vision devices and accessories that I come across in a range of different categories.
Unlike many of the so called "awards" that I have come across that seem little more than advertisements or badges that manufacturers get by paying for, I can assure you that the BBR Annual Binocular Awards are exactly like my reviews: 100% completely independent and totally unbiased.
These winners are genuinely binoculars that I honestly feel deserve to win an award in a given category. For details on which binoculars are eligible for an award and for exactly how I choose each one, take a look at the: BBR Awards Rules at the foot of this page
For those who don't know, Swarovski Optik updated their flagship EL series this year and as such sent me their most popular model, the EL 8x42 to review.
Now over the years, I have tested a number of Swarovski binoculars as well as a number of other "alpha" type products from other similar high end brands and I have to say that with their improvements (mostly revolving around usability and comfort), this is to date my absolute "money no option" favorite for a full-sized pair of optics.
With a whopping BBR score of 93%, it ranks with the very, very best that I have ever reviewed and comes with all the features and level of performance level that you would expect to find on a bin at this price level and I have no hesitation is awarding it the title of Binocular of the Year 2016.
In my review of these, I was really impressed how Snypex have raised the bar once again with their latest flagship series.
Retaining ALL the impressive optical features of the 'standard' Knight ED, including an APO (apochromatic) lens design with ED glass elements, they have now added to it by incorporating dielectric coatings onto their phase corrected prisms for the highest levels of reflectivity. As well as this, new water repellent coatings have also been included onto the exterior lens surfaces for an added layer of protection and which shows a great attention to detail.
Speaking of attention to detail, Snypex have also made upgrades to the exterior and accessories with the additions like the all metal focus wheel and a new neck strap that comes with quick release clips making it simple to turn it into a hand strap.
So what was already a fantastic instrument has now literally become an outstanding binocular with a BBR score of 85%! Thus it is for these reasons and the many others that you can go through in the review that I can, without hesitation recommend it as an excellent binocular for general wildlife observation and hunting.
These top of the range/high value optics are at the time of writing, available for about $490. For the latest prices in your country, please check the link below:
As good as the Snypex is, I have to mention that the Opticron DBA VHD 10x42 binoculars ran them very, very close.
Equal in just about every single department, for me it was a really tough choice to select an outright winner.
In the end it just came down to a few minor things like the metal focus wheel on the Snypex (although these Opticron's counter that with a lockable diopter positioned on the focus wheel!).
I also thought that the rigid Snypex carry case is superior to the soft case you get with the Opticron DBA VHD, but that really is about it and so do feel that this bin is also really worth checking out.
This year I have reviewed quite a few mid-sized binoculars that make ideal travel companions and perfect on a safari. Of those, the pair that scored the highest was this 8x32 Endurance ED from Hawke Sport Optics that achieved an outstanding 80%.
Indeed I was lucky enough to have it with me on a trip that I took back to Zimbabwe earlier on in the year and this it got a true testing as to it's capabilities as a travel and safari binocular (see example photo below). Needless to say it passed with flying colors and which is why I have no hesitation in awarding it the best in this category for 2016.
At the time of testing, I found that this mid range optic will set you back about $210 / £150 / €200, for current prices, be sure to check the link below
Low Cost Options:
I'd like to also highlight the following binoculars for those who have a smaller budget (Under $130 / £130). Whilst they may not be able match the Hawke Endurance ED in all aspects, they were all more than decent and for many people who are going on safari and may only to use their binoculars for this trip and then infrequently afterwards will be more than adequate:
Also worth investigating is my long list of past winners. Improvements in Optics technology move much slower than that of electronics for example and as such all of these listed below are still every bit as good and relevant today as they were when I tested them:
This year the list of contenders for the Best binocular for birdwatching was larger than ever with many coming very close, but I just felt that none matched the all-round strengths of the outstanding 8x42 Snypex Knight ED Binoculars:
To gain the maximum enjoyment out of watching birds and for aiding bird identification... especially when LBJ's (little brown jobs) are involved, the quality of image delivered to you through your optics is super important and that is why and more than any other category, I place a large emphasis image quality when choosing a winner each year.
Scoring a mega impressive 9/10, the Eschenbach Trophy D ED ranks up there with the very best I have tested. Apart for their expertise, this is achieved by incorporating the highest quality glass and coatings into their design:
Important Optical Features
Wide Field of View
Next on most birders checklist when selecting their ideal optics, is one that has a wide field of view which makes it more easily find and then follow birds, especially the small faster moving ones! At 408ft wide at 1,000 yards away, these Eschenbach Binoculars are once again up there with the very best 8x binoculars.
Premium German Quality at a Reasonable Price
Made in Germany to the highest standards, there is no mistaking that the 8x42 Eschenbach Trophy D ED is a quality optical instrument. But what also really impressed me about them was whilst you would never call them cheap, these Mid-High End binoculars currently retial for around: $430 / £309, which is ALOT less than you can expect to pay for many other top of the range premium brands:
If you are on a tight budget, then I strongly suggest that you take a look at the Helios Mistral WP6 8x42, a joint winner of this years Best Low Cost Binocular (se below) it contains many of the features you look for in a good all round birding optic, including a wide field of view and good quality as well as bright image.
This Helios bin sits comfortably within my Low Cost category and currently will set you back about £110:
In order for any binocular to be eligible for this particular award, it has to achieve a very high BBR score within it's particular price range when I test it. Thus it means that in my opinion you are getting a great binocular when compared to it's direct competition. To learn more about the exact criteria required, take a look at this section on the Best Value Binoculars.
This year one binocular series really stood out for me:
This mid-priced (approx. $230 / £180) instrument from Hawke Sport Optics achieved an 'outstanding' score of 80% on the BBR scale meaning they are not only one of the best ever binoculars that I have reviewed at this price level, but also rank very highly within the Mid-High End ($300 - $500 / £300 - £500) instruments positioned above them, which I find really impressive.
When I first started BBR over eight years ago now, the general quality of instrument that you could expect to see in this price range was far below that what you can get now.
Many factors have contributed to this increase in quality, including the rise of manufacturing and imports from the Asian markets. This certainly does not please everyone, but what it has done is lead to lower production costs and increased competition.
Sure there are still loads of terrible cheap optics out there, but if you look hard enough, you can also find some real gems and this year I tested a few goodies that I have no hesitation in recommending to those on a tight budget.
Three models in particular stood out for me and it has been really tough for me to separate them. Indeed the first two listed below both achieved the exact same score (68%) on the BBR scale and so I have decided to have a joint winner in this category this year:
I really like the body design and shape of the Savanna R 8x33 from Opticron and the quality of included accessories is way above that which you normally receive at this level and so to me it really does show what is possible in this price range:
Whilst both of these instruments are roof prism binoculars, they have different configurations and body designs. So the choice you make will largely depend on which design you prefer and which specifications (e.g.: 42mm vs 33mm lenses) are more important to your needs.
The Helios also excels in that it has a wider field of view but offers you less eye-relief.
Also coming really close to winning was the Levenhuk Karma Pro 8x32. With a BBR score of 67%, it only scored 1 percent less than the two listed above and which is why I feel it is most certainly worth mentioning and bringing to your attention should you be in the market for a low cost pair of optics.
I only reviewed a couple of cheap binoculars this year, none of which I think deserve to be highly recommended and so this sub-category award will roll over to last years winner:
On the whole these Levenhuk Atom 10x50 binoculars are in my opinion better than what their very low price tag would suggest and so from that point of view, I think you are getting some good value for money.
Highlights included a good quality and bright image, wide view for a 10x binocular and a good build quality.
The fact that they use porro prisms helps with the image quality and brightness as they do not require a number of expensive treatments in order for them to deliver the same performance as a roof prism made from the same glass. However I think it is important to keep your expectations to a realistic level and thus mind that there are a number of areas where these and indeed every bin in this price range dol fall short when compared to more expensive products.
However if this is your maximum budget, then these Levenhuk Optics are not at all bad and far better than having not optics at all.
If you prefer a roof prism binocular, take a look at last years winner below, the Tom Lock Series 1 really surprised me when I tested them and still make a great choice for 2015/16:
This large aperture scope from Snypex cannot be described as cheap (approx $850), small or lightweight, but the quality of the external parts, optical components and accessories cannot be denied, which in turn all added up and directly translated into scope that was simply a pleasure to use.
Two spotting scopes really stood out for me this year, the Snypex above and then the really compact and travel friendly 50mm Endurance scope from Hawke Sport Optics.
Although it does not quite match the Snypex in terms of high end components, for a mid level scope (Approx $399 / £330) it still contains a raft of higher end features and performs incredibly well - even for digiscoping, which for such a small scope is really impressive.
When I first started best binocular reviews (BBR), smart phones were still very much in their infancy and thus at the time, if you wanted to take photo through your binoculars or spotting scope, it meant having to use your camera. This form of digibinning/digiscoping did and still does work very well and whilst it has it's advantages, the main downside is that it is just simply not as convenient as using your phone, which most people will carry about on themselves regardless.
However the main problem I have had is that whilst you may have your phone with you, many of the adapters that connect your phone to your bins/scope can be quite fiddly to set up and use and so unless I am specifically going out to take photos, I usually don't bother taking one with me.
There are a few exceptions to this and this is most certainly the case with the SnapZoom Adapter, which I not only found easy to adjust to accommodate a range of phones, but is then also very easy to attach to and then take great looking photos through your binoculars or scope.
It is for this main reason, as well as a number of other great features that I have no hesitation in declaring it the best binocular accessory for 2016.
In the three categories below I did not feel that I reviewed a binocular/device that was deserving of an award this year. So if any of them are of interest to you, please go back and look at the 2015 winners:
I would love to get you opinions on my selections, do you own any of those listed here and if so, what are your thoughts on them?