The largest independent gadget news and reviews site in the UK, Pocket-lint recently published an article on what they say are the best binoculars that money can buy, which I obviously took a keen interest in and decided that I would take a look and post my own opinions their selections as well as give my own advice of what I think are the best binoculars that money can buy in each of their categories:
Best Binoculars for Safaris
Nikon Sporter EX 10X50 (£125/$150)
Rather large and weighty at 825g, these Nikon Sporter EX binoculars are ideal for game viewing from the comfort of a Jeep. Used in daylight, the Sporter EX proves ideal for wildlife spotting; images are bright and have plenty of stability, and the rugged design is one reason why you’ll find this kind of bins in the hands of safari guides all over Africa and India.
Not particularly portable, but easy to operate and thoroughly advanced in terms of what you’ll see, our only criticism is the separate lens caps which could be easy to lose. If you want to get away from a safari vehicle and deep into the bush on a guided walk, we have two pieces of advice – always take a man (or woman) with a gun, and aim for a pair of binoculars no heavier than 400g.
Best Binocular Reviews Says:
The choice of any large and heavy binoculars like the 10X50 Nikon ones above that Pocket-lint say are the best binoculars for safaris that money can buy is a very interesting choice for me!
Whilst it is true that the larger objective lenses will let in more light than a smaller pair of optics and therefore have the potential to produce a brighter and better quality image and it is true that whilst you are “game viewing from the comfort of a Jeep” the size of your binoculars is not important. But what they fail to remember is that you have to get there first and for most people this means a lot of travelling that will most probably include one or more flights. It is for this reason that I highly recommend that you consider a more compact pair of binoculars that is much easier to travel with.
As for the brightness of the image, if you really are after the best that money can buy, the quality of the lenses, prisms and coatings on the very best binoculars will more than make up for the slightly larger objective lenses on a inferior binocular.
So my choices for the Best Binoculars for Safaris would be:
- Money No object:
Swarovski EL 8x32 W B Traveler Binoculars
- Winner: Best Safari & Travel Binocular 2011
Kowa 10x33 Genesis XD Binoculars
- Winner: Best Safari & Travel Binocular 2010
Minox 8x33 BL Binoculars
- Women’s Safari Binoculars
Nikon 10x36 SHE Safari Monarch ATB Binoculars
For more information on making the right choice on your exact needs, take a look at my guide the the Best Binoculars for Safari Holidays
Best Binoculars for stargazing
Canon 18X50 IS (£969.98/$1400)
If you’re hand-holding binoculars, we’d normally recommend you stay with a pair that offers a maximum of 12x magnification. We were tempted to find some mountable bins for this one but instead settled on this tech-heavy pair that is much more portable. The real trick of the Canon 18X50 IS is its Optical Image Stabilisation tech which at a stroke makes it ideal for serious stargazers with money to burn.
Once you’ve got the image in focus – a simple process using a central knob – press the button just behind. Hold it down and the image magically steadies. It’s an impressive feature and of great use, although it does mean using two AA batteries which add to the weight slightly.
Rubber-coated and weighing almost a kilo, these Canons offer 18x magnification and a 50mm lens and gives a wide field of view ideal for the night watch. The only drawback is the oddly shaped shoulder bag.
If you’re willing to put up with the bulk of propped-up bins – most likely carted around in the boot of your car – go for something with a whopping aperture like the Celestron SkyMaster 25x100 astronomy binoculars.
Best Binocular Reviews Says:
For my money the Canon 18X50 IS binoculars are another very “interesting” choice for the best handheld astronomical binoculars. Sure they are a great pair of optics and the 18x magnification is very powerful alowing you to see more detail and resolve more stars (though it still is not powerful enough to turn your binocular into a telescope for observing planets). The large 50mm objective lenses will also let in plenty of light (which is an important feature at night) and the Image Stabilization will help you keep them still enough to prevent excessive image shake meaning you can use them without a tripod.
A problem with these is that they are fairly heavy, meaning that with the IS you can use them without the need of a tripod, but it will not take very long for your arms to become tired, especially looking upwards.
The other downside with this choice however is their high magnification also means they have a very small field of view – it is only 65m wide at 1000m (3.7° – Real Field of View). What this means is that unless you know the sky at night very well, it will be really easy to get “lost” with these and not know where you are looking or what cluster or constellation you are looking at especially because you will be seeing far more stars that you can with the naked eye.
A pair of 10x50′s is ideal, but any good pair of binoculars with a magnification of between 7x an 12x and a large objective lens will still show you hundreds of star clusters, nebulae and even some galaxies, yet you will still have a reasonably wide field of view making it easier to find objects in the sky and you wont need to carry the extra weight and bulk needed for the Image Stabilization.
For me hand holding binoculars for stargazing should not be looked at as a substitute for a telescope, they compliment each other and provide you with a different experience, so play to each of their strengths. A pair of binoculars will give you a good view of a wider area, and then when you want to see details, use a pair of giant binoculars mounted on a tripod or a telescope.
So my selection for the best hand held binocular for stargazing that money can buy:
If you do want a very high powered pair of binoculars, get something that is specifically designed for viewing the stars: a pair of giant binoculars like the Celestron SkyMaster 25x100′s that Pocket-Lint suggest or the very popular Celestron 15x70 SkyMaster’s and mount it on a tripod which is actually really simple to do.
For more, read my article on Binoculars for Astronomy
Best for travelling light
Leica Monovid 8x20 (£299)
The bigger the objective lens, the brighter the image you’ll see – which generally means bigger binoculars are better. That’s not good news for those in the habit of travelling light but there are some great options nonetheless, such as the Leica Monovid 8x20. It’s a pricey option, but build quality is awesome. Lightweight (it weighs just 122g) though waterproof to 5m, the eyepiece cuts out the residual light and it’s quick to set-up and easy to focus. It comes with a magnetic closing leather pouch complete with belt clip and a separate close-up lens.
Stored in the lid and attaching to the end of the Monovid, the close-up lens enables close-ups from around 20cm and it’s the kind of add-on that only a monocular design allows. You won’t find this on any pair of binoculars we know of. The monocular idea does takes a bit of getting used to and keeping it steady isn’t always easy, but this quick-draw option is perfectly suited to travellers after something for watching wildife or even for outdoor gigs, though it’s not suitable for stargazing.
Best Binocular Reviews Says:
If you had to be really pedantic, I guess you would say that the Leica Monovid’s are not actually binoculars, but to be fair they are VERY compact and lightweight. As Pocket-lint says, using a small monocular does take a bit of getting used to and in my opinion the view you get is nowhere as good as using a pair of binoculars. For that reason I would opt for a pair of compact binoculars for travelling light.
But when it comes to size, not all compacts are made equal and what you really need is a pair that can fold away small enough to fit into your shirt or jacket pocket when not in use. So look out for roof prism compacts that have a duel hinge design that makes them far smaller than standard single hinge or porro prism compacts when folded. For more details take a look at my article on the Best Compact Pocket Binoculars.
My selections for the best binocular for travelling light:
Best for wet conditions
Kathmandu Waterproof 10x25 binoculars (£39.99)
As well as weight – these from Kathmandu weigh a mere 290g – another thing to consider is how hard-wearing your binoculars are. You’ll be using them outdoors, at dawn and dusk when moisture level can be high, possibly during the rain and perhaps on-the-go during a walking safari with a guide.
These good value binoculars, which come complete with nylon pouch and cleaning cloth, have twist-up eyecups and a very grip-able rubber-like coating. With decently high magnification, this durable pair is waterproof – technically for five minutes in a metre of water (any deeper and the pressure will force water in). That’s just enough time to dive into the Zambezi River after them, then. A good-value candidate for backpackers and hikers.
Best Binocular Reviews Says:
Here I totally disagree with the advice that Pocket-Lint are giving out. Can they really believe that these cheap binoculars are the very best waterproof binoculars that money can buy?!
If you are looking for a rugged and waterproof binocular then it is well worth spending a little more getting a higher quality product that because of the fact that it uses higher quality components and higher precision engineering it will be far more watertight, more rugged and most probably much longer lasting. On top of this most will also be fogproof unlike the Kathmandu Waterproof 10x25 binoculars listed above!
So make sure that the binoculars have also had their internal air replaced with a dry gas like nitrogen making which will also protect the optics from fogging up when you get rapid temperatures or in places where there are very high humidity levels. This dry gas will also have the side benefit of protecting the inner workings from corrosion because there is no internal moisture.
As well as being waterproof and fogproof, also look out for binoculars that have a “hydrophobic coating” coating applied to their lenses that have water repelling properties, that not only repel water, but they are have more resistance to abrasions and make it much easier to remove your fingerprints and dirt particles from the lenses. Lenses treated with the hydrophobic coating allow water to just roll off them. Many Zeiss Binoculars have this coating on their lenses, which they call their LotuTec coating and Leica binoculars have something similar which they call their AquaDuraTM-Coating.
These days most of the mid to high end binoculars on the market are both water and fogproof so my advice would be first look at all the other features you require and then just check if they are, removing any that are not from your short-list. So for my selections for the best binoculars for wet conditions, take a look at my favourite binoculars:
If you are wanting a completely waterproof binocular designed for using on the water in all the worst conditions then my advice is to go for a proper marine binocular, many of which are designed to float on the water should they fall overboard and can safely be submerged in fairly deep water. For more take a look at my section on Marine Binoculars.
Best for bird watching
Pentax 8-16x21 UCF Zoom II (£96)
Thoroughly compact and ultra-lightweight at just 280g, these hand-held binoculars from Pentax are ideal for wildlife. While the standard 8x magnification lenses are ideal for close-ups in the foreground, it could be a bit limiting for some situations, so Pentax has niftily included a 16x magnification option.
It’s not at the cost of brightness or glare, both of which are boosted and reduced, respectively, though it is more difficult to focus in 16x mode. Easy to align, its double magnification status does mean it’s slightly trickier to operate and the need to switch between modes does mean more tinkering with the focus. Scratch-proof and well made, its faux leather pouch is the strongest of all its price competitors here.
Best Binocular Reviews Says:
Phew… where to start! Firstly the Pentax 8-16x21 UCF Zoom II binoculars are definitely NOT and never will be the best binoculars for bird watching that money can buy. I would even go as far to say that even Pentax would agree with me that they have better birding binoculars in their range and there are litterly thousands of binoculars that would be better than these for birdwatching.
If you are considering getting a pair of binoculars with variable magnifications, please first read my article on Zoom Binoculars, or at least be aware of their drawbacks.
Field of View
Then one of the most important features to look for in a great birding binocular is their field of view (FOV) which is basically the width of the image that you can see at a particualr distance. The Pentax Zoom II binoculars above have a FOV that varies from only 52m to 87m at 1000 meters which is not great. A wide FOV makes it far easier to spot small objects like birds in the first place and then it is easier to keep them in your view as they dart about a tree or bush. Take a look at my guide to Wide Angle Binoculars which also lists some of the many binoculars that have fields of view of more than 130m at 1000 meters.
Birds like many other animals are mostly active in the early mornings and evenings when the light is not at its best and so it makes sense that you get a binocular that not only captures plenty of light, but also transfers as much of possible to your eyes. So reasonably large objective lenses are important, but even more important are good quality anti reflective coatings on the lenses as well as on the prisms.
For more please ready my guide to Birdwatching Binoculars.
My selection of the best Birding binoculars that money can buy:
- Full Size: Eagle Optics 8x42 Ranger ED Binoculars
Winner of the Best Birding Binocular 2011
- Full Size: Swift 8.5x44 Audubon ED Binoculars
Winner of the Best Birding Binocular 2010
- Mid Size: Swarovski 8x32 EL W B Traveler Binoculars
Winner Binocular of the Year 2011
- Mid Size: Minox 8x33 BL Binoculars
Winner Best Safari & Travel Binocular 2010