Best Binoculars

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One of the best places to utilize a nice pair of binoculars is on a camping trip. Bird watching,  fishing, and hiking are all activities that are worth a closer look. Check out: 30 Gorgeous Spots for Spring Hiking and Camping on a Budget

Our Picks

Nikon Aculon A211 8x42
Bushnell H2O 10x42
Bushnell PowerView 10x25
Celestron Cometron 7x50
Tasco Essentials 10x25
Explore One 6x21
Barska Blackhawk 10x40 Monocular
Vortex Solo 8x25 Monocular
Barska 3x25 Blueline Opera Glass

Nikon Aculon A211 8x42 Review

From $80 Best

Best Binoculars for Birding and Wildlife Under $100

Pros:

  • High-quality BAK4 porro prism.
  • 420-foot field of view at 1,000 yards.
  • Durable, non-slip rubber armor.
  • Lenses made with lightweight lead- and arsenic-free glass; multicoated to improve brightness.
  • Limited lifetime warranty and no-fault repair/replacement policy.

Cons:

  • Not waterproof or fogproof.
  • 12 mm eye relief is probably too short for people who wear glasses.
  • Diopter adjustment, for fine-tuning the focus to account for any differences in vision between left and right eyes, is a bit tight, some reviewers say. On the upside, it's unlikely to get knocked out of focus once set.

Takeaway: These 8x42 Nikon binoculars (model 8245) are an excellent choice for general use and sporting events, as well as wildlife- and bird-watching. The 8x magnification allows a very wide field of view. Reviewers admire the optics and consider these some of the best binoculars for the money.

Bushnell H2O 10x42 Review

From $95 Best

Best Binoculars for Hunting Under $100

Pros:

  • Excellent optics, clarity, and sharpness for the price.
  • Waterproof and fogproof.
  • 305-foot field of view at 1,000 yards.
  • Roof prism made with high-quality BAK4 glass.
  • 17 mm eye relief is plenty long enough for people who wear glasses.
  • Multicoated lenses reduce glare and let in more light.
  • Non-slip rubber provides a firm grip.
  • Included lens caps remain attached to the binoculars so they don't get lost.

Cons:

  • A handful of complaints about double vision and difficulty focusing.

Takeaway: Bushnell H2O 10x 42mm binoculars garner high praise from users. The clarity and brightness are impressive, reviewers say, and the waterproofing allows them to take this model kayaking, whale watching, or into a duck blind without worry of water damage.

Editors' Note: Two retail chains will no longer be selling Bushnell binoculars following a consumer outcry against the brand's parent company, Vista Outdoor, which manufactures guns that include assault-style rifles. Consumers who support the boycott may want to consider the Nikon 8245 Aculon A211 8x42 or the Barska Blackhawk 10x40 waterproof monocular instead.

Bushnell PowerView 10x25 Review

From $19 Best

Best Compact Binoculars Under $50

Pros:

  • Compact and lightweight (8.5 ounces).
  • Tough, durable build; non-slip rubber armor.
  • More capable than expected for the price, reviewers say.
  • Anti-glare lens coating (single layer) on all air-to-glass surfaces allows more light in.
  • 300-foot field of view at 1,000 yards.
  • Comes with a case and neck strap.
  • Available in a camouflage pattern.
  • Lifetime limited warranty.

Cons:

  • Setting the focus and proper eye position can be tricky.
  • Image isn't as clear and crisp as some reviewers would like.
  • Not waterproof or fogproof.

Takeaway: The Bushnell PowerView 10x25 binoculars have a compact yet sturdy build, making them a fine choice for hiking, traveling, sporting events, outdoor concerts, and the like. Some users consider the image quality only so-so, but most rate this model an excellent value for the money.

Editors' Note: Two retail chains will no longer be selling Bushnell binoculars following a consumer outcry against the brand's parent company, Vista Outdoor, which manufactures guns that include assault-style rifles. Consumers who support the boycott can look to our runner-up choice among compact binoculars, the Tasco Essentials 10x25.

Celestron Cometron 7x50 Review

From $35 Best

Best Binoculars for Stargazing Under $50

Pros:

  • Porro prism preferred for stargazing.
  • User-friendly; reviewers say it's easy to adjust the spread of the eyepieces.
  • Good image clarity and brightness.
  • 357-foot field of view at 1,000 yards.
  • Comes with a case, lens caps and cloth, and neck strap.

Cons:

  • Somewhat heavy, at 27.3 ounces, and bulky, given the porro prism and large objective lenses.
  • 13 mm eye relief is on the short side for people who wear glasses.
  • May fog up in humid conditions.
  • Some reviews lament that distant planets appear fuzzy.
  • BK7 prism glass (lower quality than BAK4).

Takeaway: Celestron Cometron 7x50 binoculars (model No. 71198) are often deployed for gazing at the stars, although reviewers say faraway planets don't look as clear as the moon. User-friendly and inexpensive, this model is a good choice for first-timers seeking astronomy binoculars.

Tasco Essentials 10x25 Review

From $13 Good

Good Compact Binoculars Under $50

Pros:

  • Very good image clarity.
  • User-friendly; reviewers say the focus is easy to adjust.
  • Lightweight, pocket-size design.
  • Rubberized grip.
  • 300-foot field of view at 1,000 yards.
  • Strap included.
  • Limited lifetime warranty.

Cons:

  • Prone to breaking, some users report.
  • No carrying case.
  • Not waterproof or fogproof.

Takeaway: The bargain-priced Tasco Essentials (Roof) 10x 25mm binoculars may be a bit fragile, but they're cheap enough that it doesn't matter to many buyers. These small binoculars are the lightest we researched, at 8.4 ounces, and consumers say they're easy to use -- a good option for kids as well as adults.

Buying Guide

Choosing Binoculars

Whether for bird-watching, whale-watching, hunting, or sporting events, a good pair of binoculars is essential to bring you closer to the action. Optics quality can vary considerably, but some models provide surprisingly good clarity for a low price. Cheapism.com identified high-performing binoculars under $100 for a variety of activities. Our top picks include both full-size and compact binoculars. We also homed in on some of the best binoculars for kids, a couple of monoculars, and a pair of cheap opera glasses.

Binocular Brands.

Most binocular manufacturers offer products at a variety of price points. Popular brands in the Cheapism range include Bushnell, Tasco, Barska, Celestron, Simmons, Vortex, and Olympus, which also sell more expensive binoculars. Expect to pay a premium for binoculars from Zeiss, Nikon, Leupold, Leica, and Canon, which often cost hundreds of dollars; some models run well over $1,000.

Binocular Magnification and Objective Lens.

The numbers typically included in binocular model names refer to the magnification and the size of the objective lens (the lens at the front, farthest from the eye), measured in millimeters. For example, 10x50 binoculars have a magnification of 10x and an objective lens diameter of 50 mm.

Magnification refers to how much larger a distant object will appear, or how much closer it will seem to you. With 10x magnification, objects appear 10 times closer than they actually are (so an object 200 feet away appears as if it's 20 feet away). For most outdoor activities, such as bird-watching or sightseeing, 7x or 8x is appropriate. Higher magnifications can be useful for hunting, or seeing precisely where a target was hit at a shooting range. But the higher the magnification, the smaller the field of view (more on that below) and the more difficult it is to hold the binoculars steady. For activities such as opera or theater, a lower magnification, such as 3x or 4x, is often preferable.

Binoculars with higher magnifications also require more light to display a sharp, clear image. The size of the objective lens determines how much light is collected. The greater the diameter of the lens, the more light comes in, and the brighter the image appears. This makes large objective lenses useful for spotting faint celestial objects while stargazing, for example, and in other low-light situations. But if you want compact binoculars that are small and light enough to stuff in a pocket or bag and hold for long periods, look for objective lenses of 28 mm or less. Most of the models on our list come in several configurations with different magnifications and objective lens diameters, albeit at different prices.

Pricey vs. Cheap Binoculars.

In the Cheapism price range, it isn't too difficult to find binoculars suitable for general use. But if the goal is superior light transmission for use in the dark or for seeing sharp, high-contrast images during daylight hours, budget binoculars will disappoint. High-end binoculars feature high-quality optics as well as better overall build quality, and may include extra features such as image stabilization or a built-in rangefinder. The cheapest binoculars typically have a center knob for focus adjustment, while pricier models have diopter adjustment for fine-tuning the strength of the right and left ocular lens separately, to compensate for the strength or weakness of each eye. At the very top of the category, where prices soar into the high triple digits and beyond, superior optics are the norm, along with comfort features for the eyes, rangefinding up to 1,900 yards, tripod compatibility, and more.

Binoculars vs. Monoculars.

In addition to our picks for best cheap binoculars, we reviewed two good monoculars under $50. The choice between binoculars (two lenses) and monoculars (one lens) depends largely on personal preference as well as the intended use. Binoculars generally are more comfortable to hold and use over longer periods and produce less eye fatigue. They are well suited for sitting in a blind, say, waiting for a deer to come by. There also are many more models at various price points to choose among. Monoculars are compact and more likely to fit in a pocket, and a good choice when trying to catch an image for a few seconds or while moving. They are arguably a better value, as well: According to the hunting site Reloader Addict, the optics on a monocular are generally higher quality than those on a pair of binoculars selling for the same price.

Cheapism.com participates in affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission if you choose to purchase a product through a link on our site. This helps support our work and does not influence editorial content.

Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table

(from $80.00)
Magnification/ Objective Lens 8x 42 mm
Prism Porro (BAK4)
Field of View (at 1,000 yds) 420 ft.
Eye Relief 12 mm
Weight 26.8 oz.
Waterproof No
(from $95.00)
Magnification/ Objective Lens 10x 42 mm
Prism Roof (BAK4)
Field of View (at 1,000 yds) 305 ft.
Eye Relief 17 mm
Weight 25 oz.
Waterproof Yes
(from $19.00)
Magnification/ Objective Lens 10x 25 mm
Prism Roof (BK7)
Field of View (at 1,000 yds) 300 ft.
Eye Relief 9 mm
Weight 8.5 oz.
Waterproof No
(from $35.00)
Magnification/ Objective Lens 7x 50 mm
Prism Porro (BK7)
Field of View (at 1,000 yds) 357 ft.
Eye Relief 13 mm
Weight 27.3 oz.
Waterproof No
(from $13.00)
Magnification/ Objective Lens 10x 25 mm
Prism Roof
Field of View (at 1,000 yds) 300 ft.
Eye Relief Not specified
Weight 8.4 oz.
Waterproof No
(from $16.00)
Magnification/ Objective Lens 6x 21 mm
Prism Roof
Field of View (at 1,000 yds) Not specified
Eye Relief Not specified
Weight 9 oz.
Waterproof No
(from $43.00)
Magnification/ Objective Lens 10x 40 mm
Prism Roof (BK7)
Field of View (at 1,000 yds) 315 ft.
Eye Relief 17 mm
Weight 10 oz.
Waterproof Yes
(from $49.00)
Magnification/ Objective Lens 8x 25 mm
Prism Roof (BAK4)
Field of View (at 1,000 yds) 378 ft.
Eye Relief 15 mm
Weight 5.6 oz.
Waterproof Yes
(from $35.00)
Magnification/ Objective Lens 3x 25 mm
Prism Roof (BK7)
Field of View (at 1,000 yds) 367 ft.
Eye Relief 8.33 mm
Weight 6.35 oz.
Waterproof No

Binoculars Reviews: What We Considered

Most binoculars reviews and roundups of the best binoculars focus on expensive image-enhancing instruments. When searching for the best binoculars in our Cheapism price range, we relied primarily on the experiences of users who have posted reviews on mainstream retail sites such as Amazon, B&H, Cabela's, Dick's Sporting Goods, Best Buy, and Walmart. We also sorted through expert commentary on specialty retail and news sites like Optics Planet, REI, Reloader Addict, and Space.com.

Image clarity with the models on our list is somewhat hit and miss. Some deliver sharp and clear images, but others fall a tad short. Intermittent reports about shakiness at far distances and fuzziness, especially in low light conditions, dog all the models we researched. And yet, the many expert and user reviews we read say the best inexpensive binoculars hold their own for everyday and amateur use, providing a generally clear image, ease of handling and focusing, and enough adjustability in the focus to work with the user's eyesight.

Prism.

Binoculars contain a prism that turns the image right-side up as it comes through the lenses. There are two types: porro prisms and roof prisms. Porro prisms are bent so the front and rear lenses are offset from the eye pieces, which enables a wider field of view and greater depth perception. Binoculars with roof prisms have a straight ocular path between the front and rear lenses, which makes the binoculars less bulky and potentially able to withstand more wear and tear. Binoculars with roof prisms are more difficult to adjust for the spacing between your eyes but much more compact. Consumers who don't mind using a larger pair of binoculars can generally get higher quality for the same price by opting for a porro prism over a roof model.

Two levels of quality further distinguish binocular prisms. Most lower-end binoculars sport BK7 prisms, which square off a bit at the edges, yielding some distortion. BAK4 binocular prisms offer better quality viewing -- they're more rounded, which gives better edge-to-edge clarity, and are made with higher-quality optical glass. In general, BAK4 prisms are more expensive, but several of our top picks are made with BAK4 prism glass.

Field of View.

The field of view determines how much surface area the user sees in the distance. It's listed as the number of feet around a center point that is visible at 1,000 yards. For example, with a 300-foot field of view, a hunter looking for deer 1,000 yards away can search an area 300 feet wide without panning the binoculars.

Again, this is where the intended use should help guide the purchase decision. Users have a wider field of view with lower magnification than with higher magnification. Sports enthusiasts may prioritize a wide field of view for following fast action over ultra-sharp detail and a closer look at the players. For birders, a wide field of view can make it easier to find and track birds in flight.

Eye Relief.

This is an important factor for people who wear glasses. Eye relief refers to the distance between the eyes and the eyepiece and the associated point at which the full image comes into focus. Basically, if this distance is long enough, it's possible look through the binoculars wearing glasses and see a full image. If the distance is too short, looking through the binoculars will be like looking through a tube. Some experts suggest that eyeglass wearers should look for eye relief of at least 11 mm; others recommend 14 mm as a starting point. Expect to spend at least $50 on binoculars with eye relief of 14 mm and above.

Ease of Use.

User-friendliness is a mark of our recommended picks. Binoculars aren't particularly hard to manage, and for the most part buyers are satisfied with the simple operation of the binoculars they've chosen. There are exceptions, however, mostly having to do with focusing the lenses. Reviewers complain about the challenge of bringing the binoculars into focus, or grouse about a focus ring that seems stiff or a little too small to adjust easily. Weight is also a consideration here. Binoculars with porro prisms and/or large objective lenses tend to weigh more and may be uncomfortable to hold for long periods.

Waterproofing.

If you plan to use binoculars in wet conditions (say, hunting in the rain) or on a boat, waterproof binoculars are worth considering. If moisture seeps inside the lens of binoculars without waterproofing, the image will be blurred. Waterproof binoculars are sealed to keep moisture out. Many waterproof models are well beyond our price range, but we found several cheap waterproof binoculars and monoculars that are noted in reviews for their solid construction and ability to keep water at bay. Models identified as fogproof are filled with a gas such as nitrogen to keep moisture from condensing on the lenses.

Durability.

All things being equal, higher-priced binoculars are more durable than budget models. That said, longevity depends on frequency of use, and perhaps abuse. Low-cost binoculars are generally lightweight, which makes them great for tossing around, but dropping them often will probably knock the lenses out of alignment. We paid particular attention to toughness when researching binoculars for kids, choosing a pair made to withstand inattentive handling. Our top picks come with limited lifetime warranties.

Additional Products We Considered

Explore One 6x21 Review

From $16

Best Binoculars for Kids

Pros:

  • Sturdy, rubber-coated construction; hard for kids to break.
  • Diopter adjustment allows separate focusing for each eye; most cheap binoculars marketed to kids have only a central focusing knob.
  • Comes with a nylon wrist strap and a carrying case that straps onto a belt.
  • Brightly colored design.
  • Lightweight, at 9 ounces.

Cons:

  • Limited magnification (6x).
  • Mediocre focus and image clarity.
  • Not waterproof or fogproof.

Takeaway: Make no mistake: Explore One 6x21 binoculars are designed solely for children, not adults. They're more a toy than a piece of field equipment, with so-so optics and limited magnification. That said, they're functional in the most basic sense, and inexpensive and tough enough to withstand abuse. Reviewers say kids really enjoy using them.

Barska Blackhawk 10x40 Monocular Review

From $43

Best Monocular Under $50

Pros:

  • Waterproof and fogproof.
  • Compact and comfortable, with a textured grip and ergonomic finger rests.
  • Durable build.
  • 17 mm eye relief allows users to wear glasses.
  • 315-foot field of view.
  • Comes with a case, lens covers and cloth, and a wrist strap.
  • Limited lifetime warranty.

Cons:

  • Some reports of distortion and problems focusing.

Takeaway: The Barska Blackhawk 10x40 Monocular is ideal for hunters and sportsmen who need rugged optics in the field. It's weatherproof and designed for tough conditions, yet easy to hold and use. Some buyers are disappointed with the optics, but most reviewers give this model a hearty endorsement.

Vortex Solo 8x25 Monocular Review

From $49

Best Compact Monocular Under $50

Pros:

  • Excellent brightness and image clarity.
  • Solid, sturdy build.
  • Lightweight, at 5.6 ounces.
  • BAK4 roof prism.
  • 378-foot field of view.
  • Waterproof and fogproof.
  • Lanyard and carrying case included.
  • Unlimited lifetime warranty.

Cons:

  • Lacks sharpness, some reviewers say.
  • Narrow focus ring can make focusing tricky; the ring is a bit stiff.

Takeaway: The Solo 8x25 Monocular from Vortex Optics is a good choice for anyone who prefers a monocular over bulkier binoculars. The optics are impressive, and users appreciate the light weight and compact size. This monocular has a couple of shortcomings, but it's a handy tool that's easy to carry while hunting or hiking.

Barska 3x25 Blueline Opera Glass Review

From $35

Best Opera Glasses Under $50

Pros:

  • Compact, lightweight, and stylish.
  • Easy to focus on costume detail or performers' faces.
  • 367-foot field of view.
  • Lightweight, at 6.35 ounces.
  • Comes with a leatherette drawstring pouch and a gold-trim cord that's comfortable around the neck.
  • Limited lifetime warranty.

Cons:

  • Some users would prefer stronger magnification, although 3x is typical for opera glasses.
  • Some reviewers admire the elegant design but not the optics.

Takeaway: Nights at the opera -- or the theater or the ballet or any other performance -- are made more enjoyable by a good pair of opera glasses like the Barska 3x25 Blueline Opera Glass. These stylish opera glasses don't have particularly strong magnification but provides a closer look at the stage than the naked eye while maintaining a wide field of view.