Best Binoculars 2018 Awards

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8th Annual BBR Awards

Annual Binocular Awards LogosOver the past seven years, it has become somewhat of a tradition for me to announce the winners of the BBR Awards at the end of the year. This initially made sense to me because the winners all came from the pool of instruments that I had reviewed and tested throughout that particular year.

However for this year and going forward, I have decided to change things a little and announce the best binoculars of 2018 in January (with the winners being selected from all those I have reviewed in 2017).

Whilst this perhaps may seem a little confusing at first, I have made this change for a couple of reasons:

Firstly I always seem to get a sudden rush of instruments arriving on my desk right at the last minute and just before Christmas and so these often miss the chance of being selected.

The second reason is because I get a fair number of queries from readers who are confused as to why the BBR awards always seem to be a year behind (for example: I was highlighting the best binoculars of 2016 in October 2017).

Genuine Winners

The internet is full of reviews written by people who in most cases have never used or tested the product in question. Then on top of this you get the fake awards bestowed onto these products that haven't been tested!

These really are meaningless as they are dished out based on little or in many cases no understanding of the product and in some of the worst cases that I have seen, are paid for by the brand or manufacturer!

Why the BBR Annual Binocular Awards are different:

Not only are my reviews completely genuine, written after thoroughly researching, using and then testing the binocular. But to win a BBR Award, firstly I have to have fully reviewed the instrument. Then I sit down and take a very close look at each review and see which, if any really deserve to be called the BEST in a particular category for that year.

If I don't believe any deserve to win, or if I have not tested a binocular in a particular category this year, then I will either not offer the award, or I will once again suggest the previous years winner if it is still relevant and in production.

As well as all this I would like to also assure you that my choices as to the winners are completely independent and totally unbiased in any way.

So whilst I will concede that the pool of potential winners does not encompass every binocular or scope on the market, I hope you agree that these awards really do mean something and that the winners really do deserve to be highlighted and recognized. For more details, have a quick read over the BBR Awards Rules at the foot of this page.

Best Binoculars 2018

Right with all the preamble out of the way, lets take a look at this years winners:

Annual Binocular Awards 2015Award Winners:

  1. Binocular of the Year 2018 - Maven B2 11x45 Binoculars
  2. Best Birdwatching Binocular 2018 - Opticron Imagic BGA VHD 8x42
  3. Best Wildlife & Hunting Binocular 2018 - Tract Toric 8x42 & Athlon Ares 10x42
  4. Best High Power & Best Hunting Binocular 2018 - Steiner HX 15x56 Binoculars
  5. Best Mid-Size, Safari & Travel Binocular 2018 - Snypex Knight D-ED 8x32
  6. Best Under $300 & Best Value for Money - Hawke Endurance ED 8x42
  7. Best Low Cost Binocular 2018 (Under $130 £/ €) - Carson RD Series 8x42

Best Binocular 2018

Maven B2 11x45 Binoculars

Shying away from convention a little, these Maven binoculars were a real revelation to me:

The use of extremely high quality optics, the unusual 11x power and larger than normal 45mm objectives all combined incredibly well to produce an image of stunning clarity, brightness and with just a little more reach than you get on your standard 10x instrument. But at the same time you are not sacrificing to much in terms of the field of view.

As you can see below, these achieved an outstanding BBR score of 85%, which in itself is super impressive. However you also need to take into account that I had to judge them against your usual 42mm binocular and so in areas like size and weight, these did loose out a little as can be seen by their Body stats score..

So if a little more weight and size is not a major concern to you, then you could probably replace that 7/10 score for body stats with at least a 9/10... which would make these rank right up there with the very top binoculars that I have ever tested.

Body Quality: 9/10 85%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 7/10
Optical Quality: 9/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 10/10
Extras & Details: 8/10

A Few Highlights:

  • Maven's use of the finest materials and components as well as the highest levels of expertise and build quality is very obvious and in my opinion make them a match for pretty much anything else out there at the moment.
  • There are a whole host of small details and touches like the Metal Maven logo on the sides of the barrels, a classy all metal focus wheel and many more that all add up to differentiate these from the normal, something that I really love.
  • The very high specification optical glass and coatings as well as an obvious expertise in combining them into the optical pathway to produce what is a truly exceptional view and which I believe is as good or better than any bin at this or even the higher "alpha" price level.
  • Image brightness is super impressive, for a high powered 11x device these have an incredibly good low light performance
  • The neck strap is excellent, both comfortable and functional in that it is easily attachable and can be quickly swapped with a harness
  • Unconditional lifetime warranty - cant be beaten or argued against.
  • At only 4.9ft, the minimum close focus distance is incredible, especially for a full sized instrument. This is especially impressive considering their powerful 11x magnification and makes them ideal for long and very short range observation.

Main Specs & Features:

  • Premium Binoculars, RRP Approx: $1000
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics with:
    • 45mm Objective Lenses
    • ED Glass Elements
  • Abbe-Koenig Roof Prisms:
    • Phase Correction Coatings
  • Magnesium Alloy Body:
    • Waterproof & Filled with Nitrogen Gas for fog protection
    • Twist-up eyecups with 16.7mm of relief
    • Tripod Adaptable
  • FOV: 314ft @ 1000 yards
  • Close Focus Distance: 4.9ft
Buy & Compare Prices: Maven B2 Binoculars

Past Winners:

Best Birdwatching Binocular 2018

Opticron Imagic BGA VHD 8x42

Overall I would describe the 8x42 Opticron Imagic binoculars as a superb general and all-round birding binocular as they tick all the right boxes, have no real weaknesses and will perform extremely well in just about any "normal" birding situation.

Image Quality
Made in Japan, the Opticron Imagic incorporates just about the highest level of optics that you could wish for (especially at this price), but almost more importantly, this is backed up with a superior image.

This is key because whilst the image quality is almost always one of the most important considerations, for birding in particular the quality of the view is of paramount importance. I say this because not only does it obviously add to your enjoyment of looking at birds, but in certain circumstances can make the difference between being able to ID them or not.

So it is for this reason that I place an even higher than normal emphasis on this area for the best birding bino award and as you can read in my review of them, they came through with flying colors.

Main Features

  • Mid to High End: approx $700 / £450
  • Made in Japan
  • Single Hinge Body Design
    • Water & Fog Proof
    • Tripod Adaptable
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
    • ED Glass Lenses
    • BaK-4 Roof Prisms
    • Phase Corrected
    • Dielectric Mirror Coating
  • Field of View: 378ft @ 1000 yards
  • Close Focus: 6.6ft
  • Eye Relief: 22mm

Premium Level at a Sub "Alpha" Price
Made in Japan there is no mistaking that the 8x42 Opticron Imagic BGA VHD uses superior quality optics and so whilst not inexpensive by any stretch of the imagination, you do still pay a whole lot less for these than the "alpha" bins out there.

However it is important to keep in mind that in order to achieve this Opticron have obviously had to make a few sacrifices along the way (like with the level of carry case and lens covers), but I do feel that they have got all the most important details spot on and thus are more than deserving winners.

Buy & Compare Prices: Opticron Imagic Binoculars

Hawke Sapphire ED 8x42 BinocularsPast Winners:


Best Wildlife & Hunting Binoculars 2018

This year I received a number of really great binoculars that fall into this wildlife and hunting category, with two in particular that really stand out for me and so to be honest I really could not decide which one I should choose as the winner.

I say this because they are very similar in many ways, very evenly matched, but do differ in price and in a few other small ways. Thus for me to pick one over the other really seems unfair as which you decide on will largely depend on your budget and a few personal preferences. So because of this I have decided to split the award this year, with a high end award and mid range option for you to consider:

Best High End - Tract Toric ED 8x42 Binoculars

Manufactured in Japan, the Toric is the flagship series from American brand Tract Optics.

Produced in both an 8x42 and 10x42 models, in terms of price they are at right near the bottom of what I describe as high end, yet they possess all the features and more than what I would expect to find right at the top of this price category.

With a score of 9/10 for both Optical Components Quality and Image Quality, the Tract Toric's overall BBR score of 82% is outstanding in itself, however this also includes the fact that I had to mark them down somewhat as they are do not come supplied with a carry case and thus they could have easily scored much higher overall.

For hunters especially this is not a big deal as most will use some sort of bino harness and so many will feel that paying for a case automatically and having it included is actually a negative.

Thus if you wish for some seriously superior optics, with an image to match for wildlife observation or hunting and are not to fussed about not having a carry case, then I highly recommend you take a closer look at the Tract Toric binoculars.

Main Highlights & Features:

  • High End: approx $654 / £760
  • Made in Japan
  • Magnesium Chassis
    • Water & Fog Proof
    • Tripod Adaptable
  • Fully Multicoated Optics:
    • ED Glass Lenses
    • Exterior Scratch & Oil-phobic Coatings
  • Schmidt-Pechan Roof Prisms
    • Phase Corrected
    • Dielectric Mirror Coatings
  • Field of View: 377ft at 1000 yards
  • Close Focus: 8.2ft
  • Eye Relief: 19mm

Both the 10x42 and 8x42 models cost around the $660 mark, which for a these super HQ bins looks to me to be a really good deal and far less than you will pay for many others at this very high level:

Buy & Compare Prices: Tract Toric Binoculars

Best Mid Range - Athlon Ares ED 10x42 Binoculars

Athlon Ares 10x42 Binoculars - Best Mid Range Hunting & Wildlife Binoculars 2018Whilst I do believe they offer great value, if your budget does not quite stretch to that of the Toric above, then I wholeheartedly suggest that you take a good look at the Ares from another American brand Athlon.

As you can see below and read about in my review, they posses just about all the features and components that you wish for (9/10) and deliver a stunning image (9/10) as well. So what's the catch I hear you say, why are these so much cheaper?

Well to keep production costs down these are "proudly" manufactured in China (like very many other brands do), the main difference here however is that Athlon optics don't try and hide the fact.

Another highlight for me on the 10x42 Athlon Ares and one that is particularly important in this category is that for a 10x power bino, they do really wide field of view, indeed at 341ft wide at 1000 yards, it ranks up there with many good 8x binoculars!

This wide FOV offers a number of advantages, but for scanning the horizon looking for wildlife this is an important feature one one worth keeping in mind.

Main Highlights & Features:

  • Mid to High End: Approx: $399 / £350
  • Magnesium Chassis
    • Tripod Adaptable
    • Fog & waterproof
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
    • ED Glass Elements
    • Bak-4 Roof Prisms
    • Dielectric Coatings
    • Phase Corrected
  • Eye Relief: 14.7mm
  • Field of view: 341ft @ 1000 yards
  • Close Focus: 2.5m (8.2ft)

With a current retail price of under $400, these Athlon binoculars are very hard to argue against:

Buy & Compare Prices: Athlon Ares Binoculars

Past Winners:

Best High Power & Best Hunting Binoculars 2018

Steiner HX 15x56 Binoculars

The HX series from Steiner is marketed primarily with the hunter in mind and there is no denying that for long range hunting the 15x56 configuration is ideal:

The 15x magnification ensures more image detail at longer distances, but at the same time it is not so high that you have to use a tripod to keep the image steady.

The larger 56mm lenses are also able to capture plenty of light and thus ensure low light performance is not too adversely affected by the high power.

It is for these and a host of other features, components and specifications that I go over i my review as to why I feel that as well as hunting, the Steiner HX 15x56 Binoculars excels in a host of other general use and long range scenarios and thus is why I also put them forward as being the best overall long range, high power binocular that I tested and reviewed for 2018.

Attention To Detail
I could begin by listing all the superior, high end optical components and coatings that you find incorporated into these, however one of the aspects that really struck me about the 15x56 Steiner HX is the excellent attention to the small, finer details on them, which in my opinion separates the HX from the crowd.

The flared eye-cups are an obvious example. They do an excellent job of blocking out distractions and light from the periphery of your view and thus offer a far more immersive and indeed better view. This is especially true in situations where you may have the sun shining brightly from the side as there is no glare on the eye-piece lens as you would get with almost any other instrument. As they are so effective and seemingly easy to implement, it is really surprising to me that this fantastic, but small feature is not found on more optics.

Then there is the ClicLoc neck strap and objective lens cover attachment system. This is simply far superior to the normal methods of attaching these accessories onto your device. Making them, more secure, much easier to take on and off and in the case of the neck strap, swap out with a harness.

Hidden Gems
However there are also a host of other less obvious details that most people will never even know about:

For instance do you know that Steiner use a special rubber (Nitrile butadiene rubber) to make the outer armouring with. Well, they have specifically selected it because it has ability to withstand oil, fuel, and other chemicals and thus not only last longer, but is far less likely to perish than the normal rubbers used by others.

Then there is the chassis, made from Makrolon® that is designed to withstand 11 G's of impact and how about the fact that they use (but don't advertise the fact) that the roof prisms are made using the very best N-BaK1 glass from Schott.

The list goes on, but I think you get the picture and I will leave that for you to find out in the full review.

Main Features

  • Top of the Range - approx $1000 / £1000
  • Single Bridge Polycarbonate Body
    • Waterproof & Nitrogen Filled
    • Dimensions: 7.1in (18cm) x 5.6in (14.2cm)
    • Weight 44.1oz (1250g)
  • Optics:
    • Fully Multi-Coated
    • 56mm Objective Lenses
  • Field of View: 241ft at 1000yds
  • Eye-Relief: 15.4mm
  • Minimum Focus: 8ft

At around $1000, you could never describe the Steiner HX 15x56 as cheap, but considering that you are getting one of the top German made binoculars on the market, then these really do start to like being really good value for money:

Buy & Compare Prices: Steiner HX Binoculars

Best Mid-Size, Safari & Travel Binocular 2018

The great option for many uses, but especially for accompanying you on adventures like birding vacations or wildlife safaris. Mid-sized bins are becoming more and more popular and it is easy to see why: A good one is easier instrument to pack away and carry about, yet also offers an optical performance that is not that far off the equalling the full-sized version.

This year I tested a whole raft of great quality mid-sized devices, but one in particular really stood out from the crowd and sits comfortably up there with my all time favorite binoculars:

Snypex Knight D-ED 8x32

Snypex Knight D-ED 8x32 Binoculars Review, winner Best Safari & Travel Binocular 2018Winner of this award back in 2014 (see past winners below), the "standard" 32mm Snypex Knight ED is a great mid sized instrument in it's own right. However not content to simply rest on their laurels, Snypex have come back this year with a vengeance with the new and improved Knight D-ED.

With a whole bunch of improvements, the Snypex Knight D-ED 8x32 binocular really is seriously impressive:

With a BBR score of 83%, it got 9/10 for both the optical components used and for image quality and it is easy to see why with features like Apochromatic Lenses, ED glass elements, as well as phase and dielectric mirror coatings on the prisms - these really are a match for the "alpha" brands out there, yet come at the fraction of the cost.

Other highlights for me include the fantastic level of accessories that they come with as well as many small attention to finer details like the all aluminium focus wheel, ratchet diopter adjuster and more..

Main Details:

  • Mid-High End - approx $430 / £500 / €500
  • Mid-size, Open Bridge Body
  • Fiberglass Reinforced Chassis
    • Fog & Waterproof
    • Dimensions: 4.25in (10.8cm) x 4.64in (11.8cm)
    • Weight 13.4ozs (380g)
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
    • 32mm APO Objective Lenses
    • ED Glass Elements
    • Phase Corrected Roof Prisms
    • Dielectric Coated
  • Field of View: 351 @ 1000yds (129 @ 1000m)
  • Close Focus: 3.9ft
  • 16.8mm of Eye-relief

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

Buy & Compare Prices: Snypex Knight D-ED Binoculars

Highly Commended

Opticron Traveller BGA ED 10x32 BinocularsScoring 82% and just 1% less than Snypex above, the Opticron Traveller BGA ED 10x32 came about as close as you can get without winning and so I feel they are well worth a mention.

These really excelled in terms of their optical stats, with a really wide view and great quality image.

In comparison to the Snypex, they just lack a little in terms of their accessories and attention to detail, but the difference is very minor and make no mistake these are also up there with the very best mid sized bins on the market.

Past Winners:

Optical improvements take place at a far less rapid pace than that of electronics and as such all of these past winners listed below are still every bit as good and relevant today as when they won their award:


Best Under $300 & Best Value For Money Binocular 2018

Before we get to this years winner, I just wanted to point out that to the Best Value Binocular Award is one of the hardest to win.

This is because to even have a chance, the instrument has to have scored really highly within it's price category on the BBR scale and then also look to offer you more bang for your buck compared to all the other high scorers in other price levels.

What this means is that with the winner you are not only getting a great binocular when compared to it's direct competition, but also one that offers better value with more features, better views etc than what I would expect to see at that particular price. To learn more about the exact criteria required, take a look at this section on the Best Value Binoculars.

Hawke Endurance ED 8x42

Winner Best Value Binocular 2016, the Hawke Endurance ED 8x42 BinocularsWinner of the same award last year, scoring an "outstanding" 80% on the BBR scale and now available for just about $200 / £200, it was always going to take a seriously impressive pair of mid level bins to knock these fantastic Hawke Endurance ED's of their perch.

Whilst one particular instrument did come pretty close (see my honorable mention below), I really could not look past the incredible value for money that you get with these. This is even more so now in that last year these were retailing at about $230, which I thought was incredible value, so now at their current level, these Hawke binoculars are unbeatable at this level:

The main point that I would like to highlight is that with a BBR score of 80% this Endurance ED is the highest scoring Mid Range bino (under $300) that I have tested to date, which is impressive in itself.

However this also means that they easily rank amongst the top Mid-High End ($300 - $500 / £300 - £500) binoculars which is incredible and most certainly worth of the use of the words "outstanding" and "value" in the same breath.

Main Features:

  • Current Price: Approx $200 / £200!
  • Top Hinge Body Design
  • Magnesium Housing
  • Water & Fog Proof
  • Tripod Adaptable
  • ED Glass Elements in the Lenses
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
  • BaK-4 Roof Prisms
  • Phase Corrected Silver Mirror Coatings
  • Field of View: 388ft at 1000 yards
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 6.6ft
  • 18mm of Eye Relief
Buy & Compare Prices: Hawke Endurance ED Binoculars

Athlon Argos 8x42 BinocularsHonorable Mention

  • Athlon Argos 8x42 Binoculars - Another mid level bin, in past years these could these have easily won this best value award. So I do think they are well worth looking into as there is a whole lot to like about Athlon 8x42 Argos and may suit some users preferences better

Other Contenders:

  • Carson RD Series 8x42 - Winner of this years Best Low Cost Binocular Award, these are another easily worth (and more) the $150 you have to pay for them
  • Tom Lock Series 2 10x42 - Great value low cost 10x42 binoculars - At under £100 these are great option for those shopping on a shoestring

Past Winners:


Best Low Cost Binocular 2018 (Under $150 / £150 / €150)

There is no doubt that with the rise of manufacturing and imports from the Asian markets, the increase in competition has meant that in general the level of low cost instruments has risen.

However this has also meant that the market has also been flooded with many sub-standard and in some instances truly terrible products. Thus it is always a great feeling to stumble across a binocular that rises up well above the crowd:

Carson RD Series 8x42 Binoculars

Best Low Cost Binocular 2018 - Carson RD Series 8x42 BinocularsThe first thing I really like about the Carson RD Series 8x42 binocular is that you would never guess by looking at them that these cost less than half of most great quality mid range instruments out there.

They have a simple, understated, but classy look them, the finish on them is excellent and small details like the dimpled focus wheel with etched RD branding on the face really does set them apart from the hoards of generic mass produced instruments I see at this price level.

However the quality is more than skin deep and under the hood they continue to punch well above their price tag:

Firstly it is important to note that unlike some at this level, the optics are fully Multicoated, then rather than Aluminium, the Carson RD 8x42 binoculars also have Silver mirror coatings on BaK-4 prisms.

Both of these and other optical features ensure that the image that they deliver is both brighter and of a higher quality than the majority of their direct competitors. Indeed this is something that I remarked on these in my review of them.

  • Low Cost - approx $149 / £150
  • Open Bridge Body Design Dimensions: 5.3x 2.2 x 5.8ins
  • Polycarbonate Chassis Weight: 21.8ozs (617g)
  • Fog & Waterproof
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
  • Silver Coated BaK-4 Roof Prisms
  • Field of View: 372 @ 1000yds
  • Min Focus Distance: 9.8ft
  • Long Eye Relief: 17mm
Current Price & Where to Buy: Carson RD Series Binoculars

Highly Commended

Tom Lock 10x42 Series 2 BinocularsI would like to draw your attention to the Tom Lock 10x42 Series 2 binocular, that ran the Carson very close and with a BBR score of 70%, would have been right up there with last years winner and which is why I feel that they are well worth a mention and urge you to take a closer look at if you are after a slightly higher powered, but low cost 10x device.

Note: At the moment this very small UK brand not available for sale in the US.

Past Winners:

 
 

Notes, Rules & Regulations

  • To have had any chance of winning, I have had to reviewed the instrument on BBR. This obviously means that an award winner has NOT been compared to ALL the binoculars currently on the market, but only to those that I have fully tested. So whilst the pool of contenders is relatively small, you can be assured that the winners have been thoroughly tested and used and not just based on manufacturers specifications or a "thumb-suck" - they truly are in my opinion deserving of an award.
  • Award winners are chosen by myself. There is no panel of experts or users. Thus those that have won are in my opinion the best in that category for this year, not that of anyone else. I guess this is both good and bad, but for now it is just the way it is.
  • I also feel that it is very important to emphasise that I do not offer an award to any device purely because I have a specific category to fill. To win, I must feel that the binocular, scope or accessory really deserves to and in that particular category. So if there has been no standout for me in a particular category, there will be no winner for this year in that section and the award will go to the previous years winner if it is still in production and relevant. Note: This is the reason you will see that in some categories there are devices that have won the award for more than one year in a row.
  • I choose the winners by going back over all the reviews I wrote last year and then placed all the best ones into a pool. Then I organized each of them into the categories that they were most suited to and from there and after studying them again, made a choice of the best of the best.
  • As it is for most people, price is a factor, however what is more important to me is the value for money within a particular price bracket. So for example a high end binocular is almost always going to be a fairly expensive product, but within this high value price bracket, I look out for ones that offer more for your money than others with a similar price tag by their build quality, quality of their components and just how well they perform both optically and physically.
  • Once again remember these awards are the same as with all my reviews: They are in no way biased towards any product or manufacturer, I have given the award because I honestly feel that they deserve it.

Further Reading

 
Where to Find BBR