Best Bird Watching Binoculars 2021

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In this section of the BBR Bino Awards, I will highlight the winners for the Best Binoculars for Birding 2021 in a range of sub-categories. Please note that this section will also contain several winners from previous years that are still available and which I feel are still relevant and well worth considering.

Annual Binocular Awards LogosBBR Binocular Awards

Since their inception way back in 2010, the BBR Binocular Awards have grown to become what I believe are the most important binocular and related optics awards on the web. For me, they are also the main way in which highlight the very best binoculars in a range of categories that I have fully tested and reviewed in the past 12 months. For more information on the awards, the rules, and the ethos as well as to view the winners in all the other categories, please take some time to check out the main 2021 Best Binoculars BBR Awards Page, or the more recent 2022 BBR Awards.

Awards: Binoculars for Bird Watching 2021

This year I have decided to split a number of the most popular categories away from the main awards page and give them their own section as in years past, I often found that I wanted to highlight and award more than just one binocular for birding as there are many sub-categories within this niche. For example, I think it would be good to have winners in different price ranges or to have the best compact birding binocular and a best long-range birding binocular winner for example.

Best 8x42 Birding Binoculars 2021

General, All-Round, Value-for-Money, Birding Binos for use in a variety of conditions & environments

In this first section I am looking for a very high-performance instrument, but not at any price. So whilst not cheap these winners have what I would describe as an excellent performance to price ratio and are what I consider to be right at the sweet-spot in this regard. As well as this core price to performance ratio, they must also possess many other attributes like a wide field of view for example that make them an ideal all-round birding binocular:

Two Winners this Year
Over the last couple of years, I have been spoilt for choice in this particular niche as the winners have been very strong.

Both the GPO Passion ED 8x42 (winner in 2020) and the Hawke Frontier 8x42 ED X binoculars (winner in 2019) are not only very evenly matched, but both make extremely good binoculars for birding, and thus I knew that it was always going to be tough for any instrument to come along and beat them this year. So whilst I have tested several very good binos, in my opinion, there were none that I would consider to be better than these two for what I would describe as a general, all-round birding binocular.

Therefore, this year, not only am I going to re-award a previous year's winner but because I really can't bring myself to separate or choose between them again, I have decided to have joint winners and let you opt for which you prefer the most! So listing them in alphabetical order, the two best general birding binoculars for 2021 are:

1. GPO Passion ED 8x42 Binoculars

By combining excellent quality materials and coatings and an extremely high degree of workmanship and all at a very competitive price, German Precision Optics (GPO) has produced an instrument that delivers an exceptionally bright, high-quality view with an impressively wide field of view which in my opinion makes them an ideal all-round birding binocular.

Excellent Quality Image
The GPO Passion ED 8x42 binoculars incorporate many top-end features and components including ED (extra-low dispersion glass) elements in the lenses, Schmidt-Pechan roof prisms that are both dielectrically coated, and phase-corrected that all come together to a bright, superior quality image.

Extremely Wide Field of View
As most birders will know, having a wide field of view is an extremely important feature as it enables you to more easily find and then follow your subjects, this is especially true of the small faster-moving ones at closer range. At 426ft wide at 1,000 yards, these GPO binoculars have an extremely wide view that ranks up there with the very widest 8x42 binoculars that I've ever come across.

As well as great quality optics, I found these GPO binoculars to have an excellent build quality and a general performance that was well above what I would expect to find in just about every area.

Main Highlights & Details:

  • Mid to High-End Binoculars. approx: $350 / £400 / €400
  • Single Top-Hinge Body Design
    • Magnesium Chassis & Bridge
    • Water & Fogproof (Nitrogen purged)
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
  • ED Glass Lenses
  • Schmidt Pechan Roof Prisms
    • Dielectric Mirror Coatings
    • Phase Corrected
  • Very Wide Field of View: 426ft at 1000 yards
  • Close Focus: 6.6ft
  • 18mm of Eye Relief

Outstanding Quality at a Reasonable Price

Buy & Compare Prices: GPO Passion ED 8x42 Binoculars

2. Hawke Frontier 8x42 ED X Binoculars

From having the same width of view to the same amount of eye-relief and same close focusing distance and many of the same or similar high-end optical features, the superb Hawke Frontier 8x42 ED X binoculars are in many ways very similar to the GPO Passion ED's above.

High-Quality Optics & Excellent Image
Like the GPO, the Hawke Frontier ED-X incorporated ED glass elements within their lenses and have phase-corrected and dielectrically coated roof prisms. One area where they do differ however is that these Hawke's also include extra water repellent coatings on the outer lens surfaces. These all added up to give them a superior and I must say outstanding 9/10 score for the optical components used and an almost perfect 9/10 for the image quality. Which for an instrument at this price level is as good as it gets.

Wide Field of View
Measuring 426ft wide at 1,000 yards, these Hawke binoculars have the same extremely wide view as the GPO above, both of which rank up there with best and both are what I would consider as being wide-angle binoculars which as I have already mentioned is often especially important for many types of birding.

Main Highlights & Details:

  • RRP: $389.99, £389.99 retail price approx: $400 / £380
  • Single Hinge Body Design
    • Magnesium Chassis
    • Waterproof & Fogproof
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
  • ED Glass Lenses
  • BaK-4 Roof Prisms
    • Dielectric Mirror Coatings
    • Phase Corrected
  • Very Wide Field of View: 426ft at 1000 yards
  • Close Focus: 6.6ft
  • 18mm of Eye Relief

Outstanding Quality at a Reasonable Price
Considering the level of optical and exterior components used and the high quality of their construction, the relatively low price point of $349 / £389 is seriously impressive:

Buy & Compare Prices: Hawke Frontier ED X Binoculars

Past Winners Still Very Highly Recommended

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 quality is backed up with a superior image.

With a mega impressive 9/10 for Image Quality, the Eschenbach Trophy D ED ranks with the very best. As well as their obvious manufacturing expertise, this is achieved by incorporating the highest quality optics into their design.

Best of the Best Birding Binoculars 2021

The winner in this section is quite simply the very best binocular for birding that I have ever tested and reviewed here on BBR and is ideal for those who simply want the best no matter the price:

Swarovski EL 8.5x42 Binoculars

Swarovski EL 8.5x42 Binoculars - Best of the Best Birding BinocularsWinner of the overall award for binocular of the year in 2016, and scoring an eye-watering 93% on the BBR scale, which to-date is still the highest score ever achieved, the latest version of the 8.5x42 Swarovski EL is in my mind still the best overall binocular for birding that I have come across and thus have no hesitation in recommending it in 2021 if you want the ultimate birding binocular.

Standout Highlights:
Scoring a perfect 10/10 for both the optical components used and the resulting image quality, there is no doubt that the use of the best glass, coatings, and their obvious technical expertise translates into an incredible view, which is matched by a few, but in my experience never surpassed as the view through the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 is simply superb and most certainly a highlight that cannot be overstated.

Build quality and the quality of materials and components used on every single aspect of this product, including the accessories is as good as it gets. Period.

The eyecups and 20mm of eye-relief is excellent and whilst not class-leading, the field of view is up there with the best in this size category, which if you consider that they actually have a slightly more powerful 8.5x magnification than the usual 8x, makes it even more impressive and as we know, a wide FOV is an important feature for most types of birding.

Body Build & Components Quality: 9/10 93%
The VERY Best
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Components Quality: 10/10
Optical Stats: 9/10
Image Quality 10/10
Extras & Details: 10/10
  • Alpha- Level Binoculars - approx - approx $2100 / £1500 / €1500
  • Magnesium Chassis
  • Fog & Waterproof
  • Fully Multi-Coated
  • Dielectric Coated, Phase Corrected Roof Prisms
  • Wide Field of View: 399 @ 1000yds
  • Min Focus Distance: 4.9ft
  • Long Eye Relief: 20mm
Current Price & Where to Buy: Swarovski EL Binoculars

Best Long-Range Birding Binoculars 2021

Kite APC 16x42 Image Stabilised Binoculars

Kite APC 16x42 Image Stabilised Binoculars - Best Long Range, High Power Birding BinocularsIn stark contrast to the low-power 6x30 Opticron's below, these very powerful 16x binoculars from Kite Optics are a very different beast, but just like them, they were a real revelation to me when I tested them and proved to be far better than I had ever wished or hoped for.

Image Stabilization
Firstly IS technology has come a long way in recent years and as I say in my review of them, the first time I turned the Kite APC 16x42 binoculars on and looked through them I was blown away by just how much more stable the image was. This lack of image shake enabled me to fully enjoy and take in all the extra image detail that the high 16x power provides, which for birding, in particular, is not only enjoyable but can be important when trying to identify LBJ's (little brown jobs) or very similar species with only minor differences in markings.

16x42 Configuration
This unique and somewhat extreme combination does have it's down-sides which I go into in great detail in my review which I urge you to read if you are interested, but for long-distance observation of just about anything, but in particular wildlife and birds where you may be at the coast, on a lakefront, on rolling hills or out in wide-open fields and don't want the hassle of carrying about a tripod, then these Kite APC IS binoculars are well worth considering.

  • High-End Binoculars - approx $1000 / £950 / €950
  • Image Stabilisation
    IS Correction Angle: 2°
    Batteries: 2x AA (+ 2xAA spare)
    Battery Life: 120 hours(including use of the internal spare battery)
  • Waterproof: IPX7
  • Fogproof: Nitrogen Filled
  • Fov: 204ft @ 1000yds / 68m @ 1000m
  • Eye Relief 14mm
  • Close Focus: 4m / 13.0ft
Current Price & Where to Buy: Kite APC Binoculars

Best Low Cost / Back-Yard Birding Binoculars 2021

Opticron Savanna WP 6x30 Binoculars

Best Low Cost Binocular 2021 - Opticron Savanna WP 6x30 BinocularsThe very moderate 6x power combined with mid-size 30mm lenses and a traditional Porro-prism shape all combine to produce an extremely versatile and easy to use binocular suitable for older children and adults alike and I could easily put it forward as a contender in many categories. Already a winner in the main BBR Awards section as the best low-cost binocular, I have no hesitation in describing them as an excellent choice for many types of close-range wildlife observation and birding, be that in forests or just your back garden.

6x30 Configuration
Combining a 6x magnification with 30mm lenses makes for an interesting combination and I am somewhat surprised that it is not more commonly found: Firstly it produces 5mm exit pupils (30÷6) which is more than decent and for a mid-sized instrument is large, which along with quality optics and coatings play a big part in maintaining a bright image in low light conditions.

As well as helping produce a larger exit-pupil the lower power also makes it easier to maintain a more steady, shake-free view. Another huge advantage is that it helps produce a wider view. Measuring 420ft wide at a distance of 1000yds, the field of view on these is really impressive allowing you to quickly locate objects (especially smaller ones) and then follow them if they are fast and erratic moving (like birds for example). So as a close-range birding binocular (be that in forests or just backyard birding), or a binocular to take to an outdoor sporting event where you will see more of the action without having to pan the view about, these are certainly a good choice.

Porro Prisms
Whilst not as compact, at this lower price point Porro prism binoculars like these are often optically superior, delivering brighter, better quality views when compared to low-cost roof prism binoculars. For the reasons why, see Cheap Binoculars – Is a Roof or Porro Prism Best? and I found these Opticron Savanna WP binoculars to be an excellent case in point as they produce a remarkably bright image considering the small 30mm lenses and in my opinion, the quality is easily amongst the best in this class and matches that of far more expensive instruments.

  • Low Cost - approx $130 / £100
  • Comfortable Porro Prism Body Design
  • Water & Fog Proof (Nitrogen Filled)
  • Right Eyepiece Diopter
  • Twist-Up Eyecups
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
  • BaK-4 Porro Prisms
  • 6x30 Configuration = Large 5mm Exit Pupil
  • Wide FOV: 420ft at 1,000 yards / 140m at 1,000 meters
  • Minimum Focal Distance: 9.8ft / 3 meters
  • Eye Relief: 21mm
Current Price & Where to Buy: Opticron Savanna WP 6x30 Binoculars

Best Compact Birding Binoculars 2021

Steiner Wildlife 8x24 Binoculars

With a BBR score of 83% these Steiner 8x24 Wildlife binoculars is one of the best compact binoculars that I have ever used and reviewed. Indeed to-date there is only one compact that has ever scored higher and that is the ultra-high-end Swarovski CL Pocket 8x25 binocular (see below). So when you keep in mind the relatively low price point of these Steiner binoculars you can appreciate the excellent performance to price ratio that they offer.

Double Hinge Design
The Steiner Wildlife 8x24 is what I describe as being a true pocket-sized binocular due to the double-hinge body design and the use of the more compact roof prisms.

Build Quality & Components Used
Not only do they look great, feel robust and work well, but in just about every area, I found the attention to detail, build quality, components, and materials used to be at least very good and often excellent which once again at this price range is rare in my experience.

Tough as well as Fully Water and Fogproof
Unlike their full-sized relatives, for whatever reason, many more compacts, even mid and high-level ones are not fully sealed, which for a "take-anywhere" type of instrument is obviously not ideal, so the fact that the Steiner Wildlife 8x24 binocular is not only fully sealed and thus both water and dustproof, but pressure-filled with nitrogen to prevent fogging is most certainly an important feature in my opinion.

Body Quality: 8/10 83%
Body Stats: 9/10
Optical Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 9/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 8/10

Main Specs & Features:

  • Mid-High End Compact Binoculars: Approx: $190 / £180 / €180
  • Double Hinge Body Design with Metal Bridge
    • Polycarbonate Makrolon Housing
    • NBR Long Life Rubber Armouring
    • Fully Waterproof (2m)
    • Anti-Fogging Nitrogen-Pressure-System
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
    • Schmidt Pechan Roof Prisms
  • Wide FOV: 114m @ 1000m / approx: 342ft @ 1000 yards
  • Minimum Focal Distance: 2m (6.5ft)
  • Eye Relief: 14mm
Buy & Compare Prices: Steiner Wildlife Binoculars