When I am on a hike, out walking in the countryside or sneaking through the bush whilst on safari, I always like to have a pair of binoculars with me, but on many of these types of occasions, I also usually want to have my camera with me as well.
So on these walks a really compact binocular makes sense, but there is much more to it than just selecting a "small binocular" because rather than having them dangling round my neck when not in use and where they can get in the way when I am trying to photograph, they need to be able to fit it into my trouser, shirt or at least my jacket pocket.
So if like me you want a true pocket binocular, it is important to look out for more than just the smallest advertised dimensions as this usually only describes the size of the instrument when it is open and not when folded into it’s smallest shape.
For example if you look at the image above, both are described as compact binoculars and the one on the right actually has smaller advertised dimensions than the one on the left, but as you can see once folded the one on the left is a true pocket binocular, whilst the other will only fit into larger jacket pockets, which in hot conditions is far from ideal!
So when it comes to size, not all compacts are created equal and you need to know what to look out for:
Porro vs Roof Prism Compact Binoculars
Many compact binoculars, especially the cheaper ones are built using porro prisms,
where the objective lenses and the eyepieces are not in line with each other. This prism design has a few advantages over the roof prism in that it does not require some of the expensive coatings to achieve the same optical quality, but on the down side, it makes for a far less compact shape, especially when folded:
The main problem with compact porro prism bins regarding their size is even though their width and length dimensions when opened may be as small or even smaller than a roof prism compact, they often have a very rounded shape that can make them awkward to fit into your pocket. Obviously this depends on your pocket and if you have a large jacket this will be no problem.
However this is not to say that you should never opt for a porro prism compact because as I have mentioned, they are cheaper and easier to manufacture and so if you are looking to buy a cheap pair of compacts and you are not concerned about them fitting into your shirt pocket, then they may be exactly what you require.
Ok, so when looking for a pair that will easily to fit into your shirt or trouser pocket, you should go for a roof prism. But hold your horses as once again not all roof prism compacts are created equal and once again you can get a number of different designs that make a big difference to their size, especially when folded:
Single vs Double/Dual Hinge Compacts
If you take a look at the main picture of this article right at the top of the page again, both use roof prisms, the chassis of the Swarovski CL Pocket on the right has a two hinge design, whilst the Minox BD 7x28 only has one in the center. Both are great little compacts, both have roof prisms, you can see that once they are folded to their smallest possible size, the Swarovski is much more compact and is thus a true pocket binocular.
So for the Best Compact Pocket Binoculars, I would usually narrow my search down to roof prism compacts with this double hinge makeup and below are a few that I have reviewed and that I would recommend depending on your needs and budget:
If you are looking for the best of the best compacts, then the new Swarovski CL Pocket should be on your very short list.
Scoring and outstanding 87% when I reviewed them, they contain many of the high end features of their larger siblings, these offer a performance better than most pocket binoculars and as good as many mid to high level full sized bins.
Steiner have combined good quality optics including Bak-4 prisms, fully multi-coated lenses with a tough water and fog proof body on these Wildlife XP’s.
These mid priced dual hinge compacts from Steiner make ideal travel, safari, camping and hiking binoculars.
Scoring an excellent 73% when I reviewed them, the Opticron Oasis 10x28 combines a lightweight and very compact dual hinge roof prism body that is both water and fogproof, with high end optical components that include phase correction and highly reflective mirror coatings on the prisms.
High quality compact binoculars from Eschenbach that feature phase coated Bak-4 prisms, fully multi-coated lenses and a tough waterproof exterior.
Like all the very best pocket binoculars, these do not come cheap, but you can be sure that you are getting a high quality product that will produce a superior image.
Whilst they may not be cheap, the Leica Trinovid binoculars include some of the best quality glass and coatings available on any compact for the highest optical performance possible making the 10x25 Trinovid binoculars perfect for carrying anywhere and everywhere.
Low Cost/Cheap Compacts
Approx price: $60 / £55
Once again the double hinges on these Levenhuk Rainbow compacts permit them to fold up into a tiny shape, but like the others on this page, it also gives them a very wide IPD range and thus they can adjust to fit the faces of those with close or even far set eyes.
As they come in a wide range of bright colours as well as having a really wide field of view, I envisage them as a good choice for those wanting to make a style statement at sports events like horse racing, cricket and tennis.
Another option and a great one if you are on a budget and looking for a cheap pair of compacts is the unique offset single hinge design as found on the Vanguard Orros compacts:
Whilst the Vanguard Orros may only have a single hinge, it is offset to the right, which enables it to fold into a much smaller size than almost all other single hinge compacts that I have used and as you can see from the images above it makes them almost as small when folded as the dual hinge design.
The other advantage of this offset hinge is that it means that the focus wheel is located to one side. So unlike most compacts where the distance to the focus wheel in your hands is much less than that on a full sized bin, which can make them awkward to use especially for those with larger hands or when wearing gloves, these replicate the distance on larger bins when using your right hand.
The opposite is true with your left hand, with the focus wheel now very close to your index finger, which will help those with smaller hands (like older children) to be able to easily reach and turn the wheel.
The Vanguard Orros cost under $100 / £100 yet is still comes with some reasonably good quality components and coatings and is well worth checking out if you are on a tight budget: