Best Binoculars for Cruise Ships 2023

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Cruise Ship Binoculars

What are the Best Binoculars for Cruising?

>> Skip the blurb, show me a list of recommended cruising binoculars

No matter if you are going on a cruise to Alaska, Norway, the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, a good pair of binoculars is an essential item to add to your packing list and here is my guide to why and which ones you should get:

Whilst many cruise ships have a selection of binoculars for you to use, often those available are not the best quality, get a little worn, can have markings on the lenses and you can never be sure that there will be any left if there is an exciting sighting of whales or dolphins for example.

It is because of these and indeed a number of other reasons that we will cover below that my suggestion is that if you have the space, get yourself a decent pair of binoculars to take on your cruise ship holiday.

Important Features

Cruising BinocularsMost good quality marine binoculars will have all of the qualities and more that you need. So in many ways they may be ideal and the perfect cruise binoculars for some, but for others they may also be slightly overkill. Let me explain:

Features often found on marine bins like their wide field of view and lower magnification that helps to maintain a more steady view even in rough waters are ideal. But for most people on a holiday cruise, a range finder or digital compass may be of interest but not essential and a floating neck strap that keeps them from sinking will be of no use because even if you drop them overboard, I doubt you would be able to convince the captain to turn the ship around to go and find them!

Most marine binoculars are also fairly large and heavy, which may not be a problem on board, but if you also plan on taking your bins with you when you go out on day trips then you may be better off with a more versatile pair that is also a little smaller and lighter.

So lets take a closer look at all the features that will be important on your holiday, so that you can find the best cruise ship binoculars for your exact needs:

Size

A big consideration for most people when going on a traditional holiday or a safari holiday, especially when travelling by air is the size and weight of their gear as it all has to packed away in their luggage.

However on a cruise ship things are a little different as you have less size and weight restrictions, plus less worries that your baggage will get damaged en route. However that is not to say that you want to carry too many very large and heavy suitcases onto the boat.

Also keep in mind that if you plan on using them when you go on excursions onto land at different locations during your cruise holiday, carrying a large full sized pair along with your camera, map, guide book and other items may not be ideal.

  • Full Size bins usually have objective lenses of between 42mm to 45mm
  • Mid-Size bins have 30mm to 36mm objective lenses
  • Compact binoculars often have objective lenses between 21mm and 28mm
  Full Size Mid-Size Compact
  GPO Passion ED 8x42 Binoculars Opticron Explorer WA ED-R 8x32 Binoculars Swarovski CL Pocket 8x25 Binoculars
  GPO Passion ED 8x42 Opticron Explorer WA ED-R 8x32 Swarovski CL Pocket 8x25 Binoculars
Objective Lens: 42mm 32mm 25mm
Weight: 25.8ozs (731g) 15.5ozs (440g) 12.2ozs (346g)
Length: 6.0in (15.2cm) 4.7in (11.9cm) 4.3in (10.9cm)
Width: 5.1in (13cm) 4.6in (11.7cm) 3.9in (9.9cm)

The larger the objective lens, the more light your binocular can capture and therefore assuming everything else within the optical system is the same, bins with bigger lenses will produce an image with a higher resolution that is potentially brighter in bad light than smaller ones.

However in good light, image brightness and quality will not be a problem even when using small compacts (as long as they are of a good quality). For more on this please see my Complete Guide to the Exit Pupil and this article comparing 8x42 vs 8.5x45 Binoculars both of these articles go into great detail explaining how the objective lens size affects image brightness and quality.

Another aspect to keep in mind when deciding what size to get is that larger and slightly heavier bins can be easier to hold onto and tend to resist moving about a little better. This means that they can be easier to hold steady preventing image shake, which can be very important when standing on the deck of a boat or ship in rough water.

So to sum up:
In terms of size, there really is no right or wrong choice, but what you do decide on should take into account your own personal preferences and needs:

  • If a small size and low weight is very important to you and you are prepared to sacrifice a little on image quality and brightness, then I would opt for a compact binocular
  • If you want the best possible quality image and brightness and are not bothered by size and weight, then choose a full sized binocular
  • OR - If size is fairly important, but not critical and image quality, brightness and field of view are important but also not critical then a mid-sized binocular could be the perfect compromise between the two for you.

Field of View

A binocular's field of view (FOV) is essentially a way of describing the width of the image that you see when looking through them and is usually described as a measure at a set distance often at 1000ft or 1000 meters.

A wide FOV makes it more easier it is locate and track objects, which can be very important in many situations where what you are looking for is small and fast moving - so birds for example.

On a ship it will make it easier for you to locate landmarks, other boats and ships as well as any potential marine animals or even birds. However whilst it is advantageous, I would not say that a really wide FOV is critical.

A bins FOV is also connected to it's magnification, which we will go into more detail below:

Magnification

The main reason for taking a pair of binoculars on a cruise is to get a better view of distant objects, so it is understandable that most people assume that the higher the magnification (more power) the better. But tis is not at all the case and it is possible that you can have too much of a good thing:

Image Shake
The main problem with high powered binoculars on a ship or on any unsteady/moving platform is that as you increase the power, it becomes harder and harder to keep the image steady as any movement you make is progressively magnified in the view through the binoculars. It is for this reason that most purpose built marine binoculars have a relatively low power of around 7x.

If you really want a higher power or if you have unsteady hands, a good option then would be to go for bins that have some sort of image stabilization built within them that can really help. For more, I highly recommend taking a look at the range of Canon Stabilized Binoculars.

Narrow View
As you increase the magnification, your FOV decreases (see field of view above). So whilst optics with a powerful magnification enable you to see loads of detail, the narrow FOV makes it harder to locate objects and you see less of the whole picture.

So to sum up:
With magnification it's not about getting the most powerful pair of binoculars> Rather you have to make a compromise between image detail, seeing the whole picture and being able to get a nice steady view of whatever you are looking at.

So whilst most dedicated marine binoculars will have fairly low powers of 7x, they are often designed to be used on smaller vessels like yachts that move about more, or by captains in very rough seas. Thus on a cruise ship, you should also be able to get away with magnifications of about 8x to 10x.

Porro or roof prism binoculars

Style of Binocular

For the most part, bins come in two main designs/styles that largely depends on the type of prism they use, so you get Roof Prism or a Porro Prism. Once again there is no right or wrong choice but both have unique advantages that once you know, you can make a choice that is better for you:

  • Roof Prism Advantages: The prism shape means that you can have a smaller more compact roof prism binocular than most porro prisms that have the same size objective lenses. There are also less moving internal parts, so tend to be tougher and longer lasting.
  • Roof Prism Disadvantages: At the cheap end of the market, roof prisms are quite often optically inferior to porro prism's. There are a number of reasons for this which I go into detail in this article: Cheap Binoculars – Is a Roof or Porro Prism Best?

  • Porro Prism Advantages: Their shape means that they often have their objective lenses slightly further apart, which can translate into a better stereoscopic image and a wider field of view than many porro prisms. They are also cheaper to make than roof prisms and so tend to be optically superior in the cheap to mid price ranges.
  • Porro Prism Disadvantages: Can be rather bulky when compared to porro prisms with the same size lenses and are harder to make dust and waterproof and have more moving parts so there is a little more chance of something going wrong.

I also urge you to take a look at the video below:
Not only do I go over some of the main features of the roof prism Hawke Endurance ED Marine 7x32 binoculars, but I also compare them to the Porro prism Steiner Navigator Pro 7x30 binoculars and discuss them main differences between the porro and roof prism shape and what it brings to the table. Both of which I would suggest as being ideal binoculars for cruise ship holidays, but which is best will depend on your personal needs and preferences:

Price

Most people will have a budget in mind on what they feel comfortable to spend on their optics, this will usually relate to your own personal circumstances and how highly you rate the importance of quality versus price.

However if you can just take one pice of advice from this page then please try to keep well clear of very cheap binoculars as you will only be getting something that will disappoint and frustrate you and in some cases you will be better off without any bins at all.

Value for Money
Best Value For Money BinocularsThis also does not mean that you have to spend a massive amount either. It is true that some of the very best binoculars can be expensive, but there also some really very good optics out there that will not only add to the enjoyment of your cruise, but you can enjoy using them for many, many years.

To give you more of an idea, take some time to read some of my reviews on BBR as well as this section on the Best Value For Money Binoculars that I have reviewed in different price categories.

Other Important Features

Water & Fog Proofing
It is obvious that you should look for a binocular that is completely sealed and waterproof. Whilst you may not drop them into the water, you may subject them to rain or spray coming off the sea. The seals will also protect the insides from dust and the dry gas (usually nitrogen) that is used inside them to make them fog proof will also prevent the insides from corrosion, which around the sea can be important.

Water Repellent Coatings
Some bins, especially the higher end ones come with special coatings on the outer lenses that repel water. This is great when using them in light rain or in a spray. These coatings can also make the lenses easier to clean and get water marks off them, which in turn helps them last longer as the glass will need less frequent and less vigorous cleaning.

Eye Relief
If you wear glasses, make sure you get a pair that has enough eye-relief to enable you to keep your glasses on whilst using the bins and still get the full view without any dark rings forming on the edges.

For most eyeglass wearers, this will mean you will need an eye-relief of at least 15mm.

 

Specialist Marine Binoculars

Vanguard Mariner binoculars (7x50)As I mentioned earlier, binoculars specifically designed for marine use tick all the boxes and much more, but they are very specialist and so if you plan on using them on land or taking them on a walk whilst on holiday, you may find many of them a little bulky or cumbersome.

However for those who want compass headings, rangefinders and the best binoculars designed specifically for use on the water then this will be the way to go.

For more on these and for a selection of the best then take a look at my page on marine binoculars.

 

Ideal Cruising Binocular Reviews

Top Choices

Below are my personal, hand picked choices that for the reasons mentioned above, I feel make the best cruise ship binoculars:

Best All-Round Binocular for Cruise Ship Holidays

Hawke Endurance ED Marine 7x32

Hawke Endurance ED Marine 7x32 BinocularsThis instrument from Hawke Sport Optics is far from your typical marine binocular and it is these differences that in my opinion make it an ideal choice for many to take onboard a cruise ship.

7x32 Configuration
Not the most powerful binocular out there, but combining the 7x magnification with 32mm lenses it produces exit pupils that are almost 4.6mm in diameter (32÷7) which is ample for a mid-sized instrument, which in combination with their good quality optics and coatings helps ensure you are presented with a bright image, even in poor light conditions.

This slightly lower magnification also makes it easier to maintain a more steady, shake-free view, which on a moving platform like a boat or ship is important.

  • Mid-Level - approx $299 / £230
  • Mid Sized, Single Hinge Body
  • Water (IP67) & Fog Proof (Nitrogen Filled)
  • 32mm Objective Lenses with ED elements
  • Phase Corrected BaK-4 Roof Prisms
  • 7x Magnification for more stable images & wider views
  • Very Wide Field of View: 145m @ 1000m / 435ft @ 1,000 yards
Current Price & Where to Buy: Hawke Endurance ED Marine Binoculars

Best Pro-Level Binocular for Alaska Cruises

Steiner Navigator Pro 7x30

Steiner Navigator Pro 7x30 BinocularsWith their moderate 7x magnification, tough waterproof housing and aquaphobic coatings these are designed specifically for uses out on the water.

The Steiner Navigator Pro 7x30 binocular is an excellent choice for almost all marine uses, be that speed boating, sailing, yachting or indeed Kayaking and canoeing. For most cruise ship holidays, the marine specific features may be a little overkill in many cases, but even so, their relatively small size makes them easy to pack into your luggage and carry about the ship and it is good to know they will be more than fine should the weather turn bad.

  • Mid-Level - approx $250 / £250
  • 7x Magnification for image stability on the water
  • Steiner’s Sports-Auto-Focus system: once set-up no further focal adjustments are necessary with images sharp and in focus from 20 meters to infinity
  • Nitrogen pressure filling: 100% waterproof (up to 5 meters) and fog proof
  • Steiner’s Hydrophobic “Nano-Protection”  on the outer lenses making water sheet off them
  • Steiner’s NBR Long-Life Rubber Armor designed to withstand sun and saltwater environments without perishing
Current Price & Where to Buy: Steiner Navigator Pro Marine Binoculars

Best Cheap Binocular for Cruises (Under $130 / £130 / €130)

Opticron Savanna WP 6x30 Binoculars

Opticron Savanna WP 6x30 BinocularsI have to say that these Savanna WP binoculars from Opticron and in particular the 6x30 configuration combined with using Porro prisms that give it their traditional-looking binocular body shape was a real revelation to me this year.

I actually chose them as one of the instruments to take along with me on a Kayaking trip as their somewhat unique setup made them perfect for this. But it also makes them ideal for a whole host of other uses and I highly recommend them as a low-cost option for observing wildlife in places like forests or for backyard birding, taking to sporting events, or stashing in your bug-out bag. As well as this they are great for children or anyone with unsteady hands.

6x30 Configuration
Combining a very moderate 6x power 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 actually 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.

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 lo- 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)
  • Fully Multi-Coated Optics
  • 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

If these hand-selected choices are not quite what you want, also see below where I have listed a selection of what I consider to be good binoculars to take on a cruise. I have split them up into in the three main size categories as some people may prefer smaller models that are not only easier to pack, but better for taking out with you on any day excursions:

Full-Size Cruise Ship Binoculars

These larger bins will take in more light, producing a better quality image and will perform better in low light, but will take up more space in your luggage and may not be ideal if you decide that you want to take them off the ship when you stop off at any ports on the way on an excursion or day trip.

 

Snypex Profinder HD 8x42 Binoculars Review

High quality optics encased and well very protected in a high quality chassis and all at an affordable price. These Snypex Profinder binoculars rank up there with the better mid-range bins that I have tested.

Optical attributes worth underlining include a fully multicoated system with water repellent coatings on the lenses, BaK-4 roof prisms that are phase corrected to ensure a bright and high resolution view in even the most adverse conditions.

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 75%
Excellent
Body Stats: 7/10
Optical Quality: 7/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 7/10
Extras & Details: 8/10

 

Opticron Verano BGA HD 8x42 Binoculars Review

These mid-high level open bridge 8x42 binoculars from Opticron feature phase corrected roof prisms with their own Oasis coatings that they proudly say has a transmittance of more than 99%, which easily beats most bins that use aluminium or silver mirror coated prisms for a brighter, higher resolution view.

Other highlights include a very long eye-relief and 4 stage twist-up eye-cups, a water & fog proof body that is tripod adaptable and much more...

Price: (4/6) Mid-High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 7/10 75%
Excellent
Body Stats: 7/10
Optical Quality: 7/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 8/10

 

Eagle Optics Denali 8x42 Binoculars Review

Updated, the new mid priced 8x42 Eagle Optics Denali binocular comes with upgraded coatings and a higher quality prism.

You also get a closer minimum focus and even more eye-relief, making them an ideal all-round instrument and perfect for the eye-glass wearer.

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 7/10 72%
Excellent
Body Stats: 7/10
Optical Quality: 7/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 7/10
Extras & Details: 7/10

 

Athlon Argos 8x42 Binoculars Review

These mid range, open bridge 8x42 Argos binoculars from Athlon Optics boast features like FMC optics and BaK4 roof prisms that have both Dielectric and Phase correction coatings.

Indeed they Use exactly the same very high level optical coatings as more expensive binoculars from Athlon, which at this price is super impressive.

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 7/10 75%
Excellent
Body Stats: 7/10
Optical Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 7/10

 

Pentax ZD 8x43 ED Binoculars Review

Pentax Sport Optics flagship series contains all the qualities, components and coatings that you would expect from a high end instrument from a quality optical manufacturer.

Hybrid Aspherical lens elements containing ED glass and a range of specialized high receptivity coatings ensure that these really do deliver a superior image in terms of their clarity, color reproduction, sharpness and low light performance that I feel is as good as the very best at this price level.

Add to this a very well made, classy looking yet tough and waterproof chassis and you have the makings of a very fine binocular.

Price: (5/6) High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 9/10 80%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 9/10
Optical Stats: 7/10
Image Quality 9/10
Extras & Details: 6/10


Note: If you are on a reasonably tight budget and want a full sized instrument also take some time to check out my guide and recommendations on Binoculars For Alaska Cruise under $200 / £

Below are a selection of what I consider to be the best Mid Size binoculars for cruises that I have reviewed. These to me make the ideal compromise between portability and image brightness and quality:

Mid-Size Cruise Ship Binoculars

 

Pentax AD 9x32 WP Binoculars Review

With quality components and coatings, these mid-high end Pentax binoculars are aimed at the more serious users who need or appreciate the convenience of a more portable and lightweight instrument, but are also not willing to sacrifice too much in terms of optical performance.

Features include fully multi-coated optics, BaK-4 phase corrected prisms, water and fog proof housing and five stage twist-up eye-cups with 16mm of eye-relief.

Price: (4/6) Mid-High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 75%
Excellent
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 7/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 6/10

 

Minox BL 8x33 HD Binoculars Review

The Minox BL HD is an updated and reworked version of the really popular and already excellent Minox BL 8x33, that now includes HD lens elements that improve the image quality even further.

Made and hand finished in Germany, other highlights include a fully waterproof compact and lightweight open bridge body design, phase correction coating on the roof prisms, long eye-relief and a really wide field of view.

Price: (4/6) Mid-High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 80%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 9/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 7/10

 

Celestron Granite 9x33 Binoculars Review

Top of the line mid-sized binoculars from Celestron with that feature a lightweight open bridge magnesium body that protects high end optical components. These include fully multi-coated lenses, with ED glass elements and Bak-4 roof prisms with phase correction and very highly reflective dielectric mirror coatings that really do help produce a superior view.

Price: (4/6) Mid-High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 82%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 9/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 8/10

 

Snypex Knight D-ED 8x32 Binoculars Review

These 8x32 Snypex Knight D-ED binoculars come about as close as any as being the perfect general use mid-sized instrument.

The highest quality optical components like APO lenses with ED glass elements, Bak-4 Dach roof prisms with phase correction and dielectric coatings all come together to deliver an image that is as good as many high quality full sized instruments...

Price: (4/6) Mid-High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 83%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 8/10
Optical Quality: 9/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 9/10
Extras & Details: 8/10

 

Swarovski CL Companion 8x30 Binoculars Review

Weighing just 17.6oz ounces and measuring 4.7 inches long by 4.5 inches wide, it's hard to believe Swarovski can pack so much of their renowned optical excellence into such a compact unit and make it just that bit more affordable, but they have.

Ideal for anyone looking for a premium compact binocular to take travelling, on safari, hiking, camping or to a sporting event, the CL Companion includes their legendary Swarotop & Swarodur anti-reflection coatings as well as phase correction and Swarobright coatings on the roof prisms producing an excellent high quality image even in low light situations.

Price: (5/6) High Value Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 9/10 88%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 10/10
Optical Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 9/10
Extras & Details: 9/10


If having a small lightweight bin is very important to you, then take a look at the compacts below that I feel will make ideal cruise ship binoculars, especially for those who want to carry them about wherever they go:

Compact Cruising Binoculars

 

Pentax VD 4x20 WP Binocular & Monoculars Review

A compact binocular that the Transformers would be proud of!

The Pentax VD 4x20 can be split in half and thus converted into two 4x monoculars, which in turn can be placed end-on-end, transforming it once again into a mini-sized, but powerful 16x Spotting Scope!

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 82%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 9/10
Optical Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 10/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 6/10

 

Steiner Wildlife 8x24 Binoculars Review

The double-hinge, roof prism design, combined with a tough exterior and fully water and fog proof chassis makes these a true pocket sized binocular that just ask to be taken anywhere and everywhere you go.

Other highlights include a fully multi-coated optical system, wide field of view, excellent close focus distance and with it's Click-Lock attachments system probably the best neck-strap I have ever seen on a compact.

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 83%
Outstanding
Body Stats: 9/10
Optical Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 9/10
Image Quality 8/10
Extras & Details: 8/10

 

Steiner BluHorizons 10x26 Binoculars Review

Compact Steiner roof prism binoculars with the double hinge design makes them a true pocket binocular ideal for lightweight travel and uses like skiing and hiking.

The sunlight adaptive optical system reduces glare and makes for a less washed out and more vibrant image in very bright light conditions.

Price: (3/6) Mid Priced Binoculars
BBR Ratings:
Body Quality: 8/10 78%
Excellent
Body Stats: 9/10
Optical Quality: 8/10
Optical Stats: 8/10
Image Quality 7/10
Extras & Details: 7/10

 
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