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Last updated by Craig McInally 3 days ago
Choosing the right pair of binoculars can be confusing, especially if you’ve never bought them before. With so many uses for binoculars ranging from astronomy to wildlife spotting, it’s important to get a pair that is ideally suited for the activity you’re intending to use it for. We have developed this guide specifically to detail what to consider when looking for binoculars to take bird watching, along with our Top 10 recommendations of the best binoculars for bird watching. You’ll notice that all binoculars have a set of two numbers, which can help you determine whether they are right for your needs. The first number denotes the magnification (sometimes referred to as the power or zoom). The second number refers to the size of the objective lens. For example, 8x42 binoculars means that they come with 42mm lens with 8x magnification.
The prospect of a very large magnification might be attractive, however, there are a number of reasons why opting for the most powerful binoculars might not be the best idea for bird watching. For starters, using binoculars that have extremely high magnification (e.g. 16x or more) will require a tripod to help you gain a steady image, which may not be convenient. Also, the field of view when using more powerful binoculars won’t be as wide so it can be hard to focus on a moving subject. Our preference is for 8x magnification as it affords a wider field of view, comfort, and image stability. They tend to offer greater eye relief as well so are better suited for glasses wearers. A higher 10x magnification can still be used handheld and might be a good compromise if you don’t mind the extra weight, have a steady pair of hands, and would like to get that little bit closer to your subject. We wouldn’t recommend purchasing inexpensive binoculars with a high magnification as the performance was significantly inferior in our tests for image quality, clarity and durability.
A decent pair of binoculars will be okay to use in light rain and humidity. However, you really should think about getting a good pair of waterproofed binoculars, even if you are not the type who likes to look at your subjects while out in the rain. Make sure that your binocular choice is not only waterproofed but also fog proof. If the binoculars have been sealed with O-rings, then they will be moisture proof. Not only will this seal stop moisture from getting inside, but it will also deter dust and other debris from getting onto the lens and messing up your vision. Also, look for binoculars that are Nitrogen filled, as this means that the inside air has been substituted with dry gas and prevents your binoculars from fogging up from the inside. Binoculars that are fully waterproof are also less susceptible to corrosion so are likely to last you a lot longer.
We conduct an extensive survey of our customers throughout the year to learn more about how their Binoculars perform in practice. This enables us to discover exactly what real customers think of their Binoculars and identify the top brands that you can rely on, and report on those whose standards are slipping so that you can make the right choice before parting with your hard-earned cash. Viking Optical are our top pick when it comes to Binoculars for Bird Watching, striking the perfect balance between quality and value for money with a range of models to suit varying budgets, which is why they feature so prominently on our Top 10 list.
Simply the best bird watching binoculars - fantastic quality, incredible value!
Our Best Buy Binoculars for Bird Watching in 2023! Equipped with high quality extra-low dispersion ED Glass they offered comparative performance as even far more expensive ED models we’ve tested, which is why they've topped our list. We'd recommend the larger 42mm lens with 8x magnification as the perfect companion for bird enthusiasts for a brilliantly wide field of view, however, there is a 10x42 variant (if you have steady hands) and an 8x32 if you prefer something more compact. Viking Binoculars are backed by a 10-year warranty and the Vistron ED feels solidly built with a nice tactile finish and easily adjustable metal focus ring with smooth action. They are also suitable for glasses wearers too thanks to the adjustable twist down eyecups and generous eye relief. Nitrogen-filled to stop internal fogging, they are also fully waterproof so should stand up to anything the Great British weather can throw at them. We were blown away by the quality of these binoculars and don't think you'll get a better quality pair of binoculars for birdwatching at this price!
Sharp focus and incredible value make these one of our top picks!
Boasting incredibly sharp focus with 10x Magnification the Avalon PRO HD 10x42 offer exceptional quality and value. They feel very well made yet are one of the lightest pair of full-size binoculars on our list, weighing in at only 550g and come with a Limited Lifetime Warranty for peace of mind. We found that they performed extremely well in low light conditions with clear true-to-life images and the focusing wheel is easy and precise. There was a little bickering over the benefit of the stay-on lens caps - personally I found them to be very convenient but others felt they got in the way (however, worth noting that they can be removed completely). Overall, these are seriously impressive optics for under £200!
An excellent pair of premium binoculars for more serious birders!
For avid and more serious bird watching enthusiasts then a serious pair of optics can be a vital investment and for us the Frontier HD X strike the perfect balance between high-quality components and affordability. Hawke also produce an ED version of this model (which will set you back about another £100) but in terms of price-performance we would give these the edge. The optical performance is superior to many other “ED” binoculars that we’ve tested providing incredible true-to-life colour, excellent contrast and sharpness and dependability in low-light. Chromatic aberration was nigh on impossible to detect and the design and build quality of the Frontier HD X is impressive. If you’re in the market for premium quality on a tighter budget then you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better pair than these under £500.
Affordable quality - an excellent pair of birdwatching binoculars for beginners!
Next up is an entry from Celestron. The Outland X range are designed for the casual or birdwatching beginner and the 8x42 offers an excellent viewing experience for the price. Still manufactured with excellent optics including fully multi-coated lenses and twist-up rubber eyecups for complete comfort with or without glasses. Their armouring provides a secure and comfortable grip, and they are nitrogen purged so completely waterproof. Overall, we loved the Celestron Outland X and they’ve received numerous 5-star reviews from our customers. If you’re looking for an affordable pair of high-quality binoculars for under £100, then you won’t get much better than these!
Seriously impressive optics - if money is no object then this is our top choice!
The Viking Osprey ED are the most expensive binoculars in our round-up of Best Buys and if money were no object then these would be our choice for No.1. They are flat-field binoculars and best suited for enthusiasts looking for a premium set of optics. The sharpness and colour of images is superior to anything else we’ve tested (included even pricier models), meaning they're a joy to use out in the wild. There is a nice weight to them, and the action of the focus wheel and eyecups is excellent. As you might expect from such a high-end pair of birdwatching binoculars the Osprey are equipped with ED glass and high-quality dielectric coatings on the prisms. They are also nitrogen-filled and waterproof up to 1 metre. At nearly £500 these aren’t for casual use, but for an optics enthusiast looking for a trusty pair of high-end optics that will last for many years to come, these will not disappoint!
Best Binoculars for Under £200
Offering excellent performance and optical quality within their price range the Hawke Nature-Trek are a great choice of binoculars for birdwatching. Featuring high-quality BAK-4 Roof Prisms and fully multi-coated lenses they offered us brilliant colour reproduction and handled low-light very well. The inclusion of phase correction coatings on the prism is excellent and well beyond what you find on many others at this level. As well as this their minimum focus, field of view and eye-relief are all good. At under £200 the Hawke Nature-Trek are our Best Buy!
Premium lightweight binoculars with ED glass for exceptional clarity
The Viking Peregrine ED are essentially a more premium version of our pick for Best Buy, and were a close contender for the top spot. Comparing the spec of each you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart; perhaps the only noticeable difference is that the 8x42 Peregrines are lighter (only 600g) compared to the Kestrels (694g). However, although on paper both these models are pretty much identical the Peregrines are equipped with higher quality Extra Low Dispersion glass and dielectric coated, phase corrected BAK 4 Prisms. This means that you get a slightly sharper image (we struggled to pick up any aberration at all) along with all the other benefits present in our Best Buy: rugged armouring, fully waterproof and nitrogen purged, eye-cups, etc. At over £300 they’re not exactly cheap but you are paying a premium for quality and they hold their own against even pricier models in terms of optical quality.
Perfect all-round binoculars
Our Best Buy Binoculars for 2023! These are truly a top-class pair of binoculars, which really impressed us out in the field with sharp focus, good brightness in varying light conditions, and excellent colour reproduction. The Hawke Endurance ED (available in various configurations) are built to last and backed by the manufacturers Lifetime Guarantee. They are produced in a robust polycarbonate, which may not be as classy as a magnesium chassis but is incredibly lightweight and robust - it also helps to lower costs and focus on high-quality optical components. The binoculars are fully sealed and nitrogen-purged, which means they are waterproof and fog proof and intended to provide you with decades of enjoyment and use. The Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) Glass yields crisp and clear views and drastically cuts down on chromatic aberration (colour fringing) and they are fully multi-coated lenses to aid light transmission. Overall, these are excellent binoculars which offer comparable optical quality to much more expensive optics making them incredible value for money and our pick for Best All Round Binocular!
Firm favourite in our testing and one of the best mid-range binoculars you can buy
The Kowa SV II Binoculars are a testament to the Kowa’s 60+ years of optical engineering. Incredibly lightweight and equipped with KR (Kowa Repelling) lens coatings, the SVII are an ideal companion for birdwatching offering beautifully bright, crisp images and an expansive field of view. Fully waterproof and nitrogen filled, these binoculars are built to last and can stand up to anything our British weather can throw at them. All in all, the Kowa SVII 8x42 strikes the perfect balance between high performance and affordability.
All in all a really excellent pair of compact binoculars
A versatile and high-quality pair of compact binoculars, the Avalon Mini HD boast 8x magnification and 32mm objective lens so are a solid choice if you'd prefer something smaller than full-size bins that still handles low-light well. Avalon have done well to keep the size and weight of the Mini HD down - at well under 500g they are far lighter than a pair of full-size binoculars and comparable with some of the other compact binoculars. They are nitrogen-filled so 100% waterproof and fog proof and equipped with high-quality BAK-4 prisms. The optical quality seriously impressed us and handled lower light conditions exceptionally well. All in all a really excellent pair of compact binoculars!
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