Viewing the Moon with Binoculars

Can you see the moon with binoculars?

Answer: Most certainly! You can often get the best views of the moon through binoculars. In this guide, we go through why, all the options, which ones are best for you and your budget.

The following guide to looking at the moon with binoculars was written for BBR by published amateur astronomer Philip Pugh. It not only includes some great information as to the ideal configurations that make up the best binoculars to see the moon with, but he also breaks it down into the different luna phases and how this can alter what can you see on the moon with binoculars.

Please Note: I have also added some actual recommendations based on his advice and thus I hope this will be as interesting and useful to you as it was for me.

Binoculars are suitable for viewing the Moon, especially if you wish to see the full lunar disc and want a quick view, with minimal set-up time.

Also, binoculars are extremely portable. Mine has traveled to many places, worldwide, including New Zealand, which is about as far as you can get from England, without leaving our planet.

What are the Best “Moon Binoculars”?

Just about any pair of good quality binoculars can enhance lunar detail beyond what you can see with your eyes alone. However, a suitable choice will deliver the “wow” factor, especially to those who have never seen the Moon through binoculars or a telescope before.

If you choose even more carefully, you can choose ones that are also suitable for other types of astronomical viewing.

Full Moon with Binoculars

Unlike the considerations for other objects, exit pupil size is not that much of a big deal for lunar viewing. The Moon is extremely bright, especially around the time of a full moon, when it reaches maximum brightness.

Aperture (objective lens size) is of great importance, as it is related to the degree of fine detail that you can see on the lunar surface. The larger the lenses, the more light the instrument can gather and thus create an image with. However larger lenses are heavier and more expensive, so you have to balance portability, usability and price against image brightness and detail.

Magnification helps, too, but too high a magnification and you cannot achieve a steady view without very steady hands or a tripod. Also, if there are any optical defects in your binoculars, these are magnified, too. Higher powers also reduce the field of view. Remember one of the big advantages of binocular astronomy over using telescopes is that you get a nice wide view of the night sky.

Celestron 12x50 - Ideal moon watching binocularsAny chromatic aberration is very noticeable on the Moon, especially blue and red fringes on each side. It is a matter of personal preference, but I prefer to use binoculars for grab-and-go astronomy and if I need a tripod, I may as well carry a telescope out.


As a rough guide, 12x50 binoculars or similar configurations are often the best binoculars for moon gazing and an ideal start for a beginner. Viewing the moon through 10x50 binoculars also has it’s advantages. The lower power makes it easier to keep the image still and this combined with the 50mm objectives, gives you a nice sized 5mm exit-pupil, which makes for a brighter image that can mean you actually see more detail, especially in the thin crescent phases when less light is available (I will get to this later on in the guide).

Note: Smaller, more lightweight and lower power 10x40 or 8x42 binoculars will be easier to hold and keep steady and thus will often be a better option for a child or those with unsteady hands. The lower power means that you still maintain a good size exit-pupil even though the objective lenses (Aperture) is far smaller. As well as lunar observation, these configurations are also suitable for other astronomical use.

The Lunar Cycle & what can you see on the moon with binoculars

“New Moon” is when the Moon, Sun and Earth are roughly in line. Except for a rare solar eclipse, the Moon usually passes above or below the Sun in the sky.

A day or two later, the Moon appears as a thin crescent in the evening sky.

The best time to see this phase is winter and spring.

Viewing the Crescent Moon with binoculars

The Crescent Moon

When the Moon is within three days past new phase, it is very difficult to see a lot of detail, unless you have large, high power binoculars.

However this does not necessarily mean that you have to get some giant astronomy binoculars as you will usually see some shading with binoculars in the 30-60mm aperture range.

Just keep in mind that an instrument with higher powers and larger objectives will also show some small craters, as in the photo on the right.

Waxing Crescent Moon with Binoculars

Waxing Crescent Moon

As the Moon approaches its half phase (also known as first quarter), some of the “seas” appear.

To the left is Mare Crisium (Sea of Crises) and Mare Tranquilitatis (Sea of Tranquillity). More detail becomes visible in binoculars of all sizes and several craters will become within range of small binoculars, even an 8x25.

The best place to find craters is along the terminator – the line that separates the light side of the Moon from the dark.

Waxing Gibbous Moon

Viewing the Waxing Gibbous Moon with BinocularsThe half-phase (or first quarter) is a popular time for lunar viewers but I like it even more just a day or two later, when the phase is called waxing gibbous.

At that time, the southern craters become visible, including Clavius, which can even be seen by sharp-eyed observers without binoculars. Clavius is the large crater at the bottom of the photo.

Above and to the left of Clavius is the prominent Tycho. Tycho is the source of the ray systems that dominate the moonscape at full moon and after.

Both Tycho and Clavius are well within the reach of small binoculars. As you move up through the binocular sizes and magnifications, more craters become visible.

My 15x70 binoculars show scores of craters in this area.

Viewing the Waning Gibbous Moon with Binoculars

Waning Gibbous Moon

After the Moon reaches its full phase, the terminator moves from right to left and Mare Crisium and its surroundings show more detail in every size of binoculars.

Unfortunately, as the Moon moves further round its orbit around Earth, it rises later in the evening and is less conveniently placed.

In summer and autumn, the waning gibbous and third quarter moons rise soon after midnight.

However, you can see the Moon at these phases high in the west around sunrise.

After sunrise, you will not see much detail on the lunar surface with small binoculars, but large binoculars can deliver a nice surprise.

Viewing the Waning Crescent Moon with binoculars

Waning Crescent Moon

The photo on the right shows the Moon just after the half phase.

Here with the waning crescent moon, you can see details of Clavius and Tycho at the bottom but the ray systems from Tycho and other craters have gone.

Also, the moonscape is dominated by the large Oceanus Procellarum, with few features visible.

The crater Copernicus is near the middle of the terminator but is a difficult object for small binoculars. So for best results you really should once again invst in some higher power astronomy binoculars.

Thin Waning Crescent Moon with binoculars

Thin Waning Crescent Moon

As the Moon nears its new phase, it is only visible as an ever-shrinking crescent in the morning sky.

It is not as spectacular as the waxing crescent moon and the stand-out feature is Grimaldi, the dark spot near the bottom. It is a crater that was filled with lava sometime after the impact.

Here because there is less light, you really do need to get a good pair of larger binoculars for astronomy to get the best views possible.

Moon Binoculars – Recommendations

It is tempting to consider buying zoom binoculars for lunar viewing, but these have problems with distortion, especially when used at or near maximum magnification.

Binoculars have short focal lengths, relative to telescopes, so are prone to chromatic aberration. This is reduced with better-quality binoculars but, if you can afford them, binoculars made with extra-low-dispersion (ED) lenses are much better.

However, even small low-quality binoculars can reveal enough detail on the lunar surface to delight the uninitiated.

If you have any spotting scopes or are considering buying any, they are also suitable for lunar viewing.

In general, the wider the aperture and higher the magnification, the better. If possible, use a spotting scope with interchangeable eyepieces, rather than a zoom eyepiece.

Unfortunately, most spotting scopes do not come with eyepieces of standard size, so cannot be used with telescopes.

Like binoculars, spotting scopes with ED lenses deliver much higher quality.

Further Reading

If you would like some more information on using binoculars for astronomy, be sure to check out these guides:

Guide to Choosing the Best Binoculars for Astronomy
Viewing Planets Through Binoculars by Philip Pugh
Guide to Using Binoculars for Astronomy by Philip Pugh

Best 10x50 Binoculars for Astronomy

About Philip Pugh:

Philip is an uninteresting person who does interesting things. He had his first magazine article published in 1980 and has published four books in Patrick Moore’s “Practical Astronomy” series including those shown below.

Like nearly all writers, he has a “day job” and has spent most of his working life as a trainer or technical author. These days, astronomy is his only active interest outside of work and family. He is best known for his interest in the Sun and one of his many activities is to monitor activity using binoculars (with suitable filters). He is also a keen photographer and takes quality photographs using budget equipment.

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