Best Mid to High End Binoculars for Birdwatching & Safaris

I received this BinoWizard question from George who lives in South Africa and who is after some mid to high end binoculars for Safari and Birding:

Have A Question For Me?Question:

I would really appreciate some help on buying some binoculars. I’m based in South Africa & have a friend who will be in the US for a week next week. Some advice on mid tier good quality bins for Safari / Birding would really be appreciated!

More info:
I’m happy to go to about $500 – 600 max.
Transportation is not really my main concern. I do both walking, driving & sometimes eve canoe safaris & game viewing. I occasional carry a camera but its not too shoot wildlife – its compact to shoot some of the scenery. If I’m walking I’ll carry a small back pack or camel back. I’m no pro birder or ranger but a ken enthusiast.

I have been spoilt in that a friend of mine who’s a ranger has lent me his Swarovski 10x42 & 8x42’s before – and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed using them. But even a used pair online is still $1800 which is just too expensive for me with South African Rand.

I was considering the Snypex Knight based on your review, but was concerned about the little user feedback & info I could find on them given on Amazon & the likes.

From what I’ve read the Bushnell Legend series & Nikon Monarch seem to have a lot of positive feedback – particularly the Bushnell’s

I recon 8x42 are probably best for me so that I don’t get the shake of 10x42’s.

In summary: I want a pair of binos with really good quality optics glass, – Durable – Comfortable on a long walk or the likes so not too heavy or bulky & comfortable against the eye sockets. (I don’t wear glasses but my GF does) – Good worldwide after sale warranty & support – Bang for buck. – Waterproof & anti fog.


Answer

Firstly many thanks for sending in your nice and detailed question to the BinoWizard as it really helps me get a good understanding of your needs and wants. Hopefully I can offer some advice. Indeed your question pretty much sums up what I need and want out of a bino when I go back home for birding & safari’s in Zimbabwe and South Africa, so this is kind of a nice refresher to myself as well :-)

Size Still Matters

As you will notice that in most of my articles where I recommend the ideal binocular to take on safari, I put a lot of emphasis on making on size and usually recommend either a full compact or a mid sized instrument. This is because most of these questions come from people travelling to Africa from another continent and thus they have to pack for a holiday where they will be traveling via airplane and thus it only makes sense to ensure your luggage is as small and lightweight as possible.

However your case is different in that you probably climb in your vehicle to get to your safari or birding spot and even though you often walk in the bush, you’re not carrying about tons of other gear.

So in your circumstance, I do agree with you that a full sized bin, usually with an objective lens of around 42mm is a good choice

Mid Size?
However, I personally would also not totally rule out a mid sized bin (usually around 32mm), especially as you have a good budget.

I say this because I have used some higher quality mid sized instruments that have good quality glass and coatings that in my experience perform at a level that is extremely close to the full sized version. Sure in very bad light conditions you may see a difference in image brightness, but even then it is often quite small.

Yet on the plus side, you get a smaller and more lightweight device to carry about and pack away in your backpack when not in use. So unless you really need a bin that is going to perform at or just after sunset or perhaps just before sunrise, I would also probably not totally discount a mid sized bin as an option.

Magnification

I think in terms of magnification, you are spot on with wanting an 8x power. As you say, they are easier to keep still than a 10x instrument, which on a canoe is especially relevant.

On top of this you also list your interests as birding as well as viewing the more popular, flightless and usually larger animals that most people go on safari to see. As you probably know most keen birders opt for lower powered devices (usually 8x or 7x) for their bird watching binoculars and this is largely down to the fact that you get a wider field of view than on a higher powered binocular.

A wide field of view makes it easier to quickly locate an object and then follow it. When looking for that elephant or herd of Zebra in the bush in front of you, it is not an issue, but with a small LBJ (little brown job) hopping quickly about in the canopy above you, a wide view is really an important feature.

For more info: How Different Objective Sizes & Magnifications Affect a Binocular.

Binocular Comparisons

Right, so we have decided that we are looking for 8x42 / 8x32 binoculars with a wide field of view with, quality optics glass, – Durable – Comfortable on a long walk or the likes so not too heavy or bulky & comfortable against the eye sockets. – Good worldwide after sale warranty & support – Bang for buck. – Waterproof & anti fog and a max budget of $600.

I have always found that the best way to help choose between binoculars, is to create a table listing their main features and especially highlight those that are important to my preferences, needs or intended use. This then makes it much quicker and easier to compare the relative strengths and weaknesses. I go over this process in more detail in my article on how to choose between different binoculars, but as your “BinoWizard”, I have created one for you below :-)

So below is a shortlist of instruments that I considered before my recommendations below:



Note: I have also included the Hawke Nature-Trek 8x42 at the end of the table, which is a really good bin within it’s lower price range, but I am not suggesting it for you, it is just for comparison as I wanted you to see a good example of what you get for the extra money with the others.

I have also highlighted in green the features or specifications that I feel are either strong points or aspects that are above and beyond what I would expect to find in this price range. Then highlighted in red are weaker aspects when compared to the others on the list. Note: this does not mean that this is bad, only that in this area they not quite as good as the best.

My Recommendations:

Out of those in the table above, below are the two that I would take and place on my very short list of the best binoculars for safaris and birding for you and your needs:

Bushnell Legend M-series 8x42 Binoculars

Bushnell Legend M-Series 8x42 BinocularsWhilst their name may be a bit of a mouthful, these Bushnell’s really do look like great bins and at their current marked down price on Amazon, they also look to be a real bargain and really tough, if not impossible to beat.

It is just a real shame that I have not actually used and tested them, so I obviously cannot comment on the view from experience. But from their really impressive list of features and specifications, they really should perform at a very high level and I’d be super surprised if they didn’t.

Highlights
Apart from all the features that you would expect to find at this high end level like fully multi-coated optics, water and fog proofing etc, the major highlights for me include:

Wide Field of View: At 426ft wide @ 1000yds (142m @ 1000m), these do have a really nice wide field of view, which as we have discussed is certainly a feature I put a lot of emphasis on when birding, but can also help when scanning wide open areas looking for game.

I like the fact that the Bushnell Legend M-Series binoculars have water repellent coatings added to the exterior lenses. In rain this obviously helps, but also will help prevent water and oil marks (e.g. fingerprints) which you usually have to clean. Remember the less often you have to clean your lenses the better. They don’t however mention any hardened scratch resistant coatings.

Question Marks & Concerns
Whilst I would not consider them to be heavy, these are not the most lightweight pair of 42mm bins out there, which is just something to keep in mind.

Bushnell do state that they offer a lifetime warranty on all their Legend’s, however I am not sure how it will work having purchased it in the US and then use it in South Africa. You may be able to arrange a repair or replacement with a dealer in SA and I am sure that Bushnell has one which is a good thing.

As I say, I can’t comment on the view quality, nor indeed the build quality or the level of accessories that they come supplied with as Bushnell don’t offer that info on their site.

 

Hawke Sapphire ED 8x42

Levenhuk Karma Pro 8x32 BinocularsThese Hawke binoculars are fantastic, winning my award as the Best Birding Binocular of 2013 and amongst other things I was super impressed by the image quality, which is made possible by using the highest quality optics.

Another very strong feature of these is their incredibly wide field of view, which at 26ft @ 1000yds (142m @ 1000m) matches that of the Bushnell Legend M Series above.

Indeed these and the Bushnell’s are very evenly matched in almost every single aspect… apart from the current price. So whilst their RRP price is almost the same, the current offer price on the Bushnell’s is actually incredible.

 
 
 


Which to choose?
As you can see they are very similar in terms of their specs and features.
If you can get the Bushnell at the offer price, I would be very tempted to give them a try.

If not, then it may just come down to which body style and design you like best. To my preference, both have the advantage over standard single hinge bins in that the cut away open bridge or top hinge design leaves more of the barrels free to hold onto which is something I like. As to which design you like best, that will be up to your personal preference.

I hope that this has been of some help to and I’d love to know which binocular you eventually choose.

 

Have A Question For Me?Need Some Help or Advice?

If you are undecided as to which binoculars are best for your needs, or are confused by all the options available and don’t have the time (or don’t want to) read through my reviews, then please feel free to contact me for some personal optics advice. Ask the BinoWizard Here

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