Best Binoculars

Cheapism's updated list of the best binoculars for the money includes the best binoculars for hunting, birding, and stargazing under $100 and the best compact binoculars under $50, as well as binoculars for kids and eyeglass wearers -- plus two monoculars and a pair of opera glasses.

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.  

We Looked At

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.

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.

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.

Our Top Pick

Nikon Aculon A211 8x42
Our Picks
Nikon Aculon A211 8x42

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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Bushnell H2O 10x42

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.

  • 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.

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

Bushnell PowerView 10x25

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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Celestron Cometron 7x50

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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

Tasco Essentials 10x25

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.

  • 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.

  • Prone to breaking, some users report.

  • No carrying case.

  • Not waterproof or fogproof.

Other Products We Reviewed

Bushnell Permafocus 7x35

When the action is changing all around you, having binoculars that you don't need to focus is a blessing. In Bushnell Permafocus 7x35 reviews, this model wins accolades for the constant sharp and clear view of a football on the move, a bird winging through the air, or, as a review at the company's site reports, the numbers on racing boats as they start and finish a competition. And, with a field of view that extends 578 feet wide, you get to see all the action all the time, not to mention the scene around the action. According to binoculars reviews at Binoculars.com, these binoculars are a must-have for bird-watching, hunting, whale and dolphin watching, as well as for sporting events and relaxing by the lake. One review at Amazon also points out that focus-free binoculars are a good choice for kids who might not be able to manage the manual focus on other models. A review at B&H comments that the Permafocus 7x35 enabled a traveler with poor vision to take in all the sights during a vacation.

As with most cheap binoculars, however, a Bushnell Permafocus 7x35 review notes that you lose some clarity around the edges. Additionally, the permanent focus is designed for distance viewing -- at least 50 feet away -- so plans for close-in observation will be thwarted.

At 22.5 ounces, the Bushnell Permafocus 7x35 (starting at $44, Amazon) is heavier than most of our top picks. If you're using it to watch a game, you might feel compelled to put it down after a while, although it does come with a tripod mount. As the full name of this model indicates, it features 7x magnification and objective lens width of 35mm. The eye relief is 12mm, which is just about the minimum for eyeglass wearers, and some sites say it's an OK fit with spectacles. The Permafocus 7x35 features a BK-7 Porro prism.

Most people who posted Bushnell Permafocus 7x35 reviews agree with a user at Optics Planet who comments that these binoculars are a solid value and well worth their price.

lg olympus roamer 8x21 dpc i lg

When you're travelling around and curious about your surroundings, you never know when you might need to see something up close. Cue the Olympus Roamer 8x21 DPC I. Reviews of this model say the light weight and small size make it carry-around-friendly; at Binoculars.com, for example, users report the Olympus Roamer 8x21 DPC I fits in a purse or hangs comfortably around your neck and doesn't add to the load you might already be hauling, be it birding equipment or camping gear. Reviews also note you can hold this pair up to your eyes for extended periods without straining your arms. Users report taking these binoculars to performances, concerts, and sporting events, and birders say distant images are clear and sharp, although having good light is a necessary condition. One student who posted a binoculars review at Amazon crows about having spotted more wildlife than his peers while using the binoculars during a class trip and an artist says this model enables her to see detail in the scenes or objects that she's translating onto a painted canvas, although she comments that the dimensions seem flat. Reviews further indicate that users appreciate the independent focus for each side of the binocular as well as the moderate price point.

The Olympus Roamer 8x21 DPC I (starting at $30, Amazon) weighs a mere 5.9 ounces and provides 8x magnification with an objective lens width of 21mm. In addition to the center focus, the Olympus Roamer 8x21 features built-in dioptric eye adjustment, which lets you adjust the right lens so you can see clearly even if the vision in your eyes is different. And, unlike budget models designed solely for distance viewing, you can focus on objects as near as 7.2 feet with the Roamer 8x21. The 336-foot field of view is about average for this price range, as is the 11mm eye relief. These binoculars sport a BK-7 Porro prism system that's encased in a single housing, which gives them a relatively sleek look.

In sum, the Olympus Roamer 8x21 DPC I provides a good viewing experience at a very competitive price. The dioptric adjustment is a welcome extra.

lg bushnell powerview 8x21 lg

It's clear from Bushnell Powerview 8x21 reviews that some users regard this as an entry-level model, one that makes a practical and fun gift for kids or grandkids. With a starting price of $14, these binoculars are certainly cheap enough to replace if lost or broken and, they're easy to focus. And yet, as one review at Binoculars.com points out, this is not a toy and it meets the needs of adult users, as well. Binoculars reviews generally report it provides a good enough view of wildlife in its many forms, comes in handy at the theater or opera, and serves as a trusty aid during travels. As one review at Viewpoints notes, the binoculars do not disappoint despite the very low price. At Amazon, a user reports being pleasantly surprised at the quality and says the Powerview 8x21 has replaced a pricier and larger pair as the binoculars of choice for concerts; another writes that he uses the binoculars at the shooting range to check the accuracy of his shots instead of retracting the target holder. We did come across a few gripe about not getting a clear or sharp image, especially around the edges of the viewing field.

With a folding design and a weight of less than 7 ounces, the Bushnell Powerview 8x21 Binoculars (starting at $14, Amazon) is sufficiently light and compact to carry anywhere, and its many admirers do. The field of view is a respectable 378 feet, so you'll see a large area around a central object and the 8x magnification is powerful enough for casual users; the minimum focus distance is 21 feet. Eyeglass wearers might struggle a bit given the 10mm eye relief; the fold-down eyecups should help, but one user asserts they're too small to stay down. The Powerview 8x21 contains a roof prism made of BK-7 glass.

The main selling point for the Bushnell Powerview 8x21 is the price, which many reviewers consider a steal. These binoculars are suitable for users of all ages in situations where getting a better view enhances the overall experience.

Vivitar CV-1025V 10x25 Binocular Digital Camera

When you're out birding and come across an unusual specimen, what fun it would be to take a picture so you could identify it later. Sure, you could also bring along a camera, but if the two were blended into one ... Indeed, most people who bought the Vivitar CV-1025V (starting at $21, Amazon) say they chose it for the digital camera functionality. But according to Vivitar CV1025 10x25 reviews, the results are exactly what you'd expect with a $20 camera; in other words, subpar. As a pair of binoculars, reviews at sites such as Amazon generally give it a passing grade. Users say it's fine for sporting events and hiking through the woods and for anyone who's just curious about how binoculars work. A binocular review at B&H, however, gripes that it's hard to focus and elsewhere another review expresses disappointment with the optics. But it's the camera that takes the most heat. Reviews report pictures come out blurry, the batteries must be removed when not in use, the settings are hard to adjust; one user complains that lining up the shots is tricky and the subject of the picture rarely shows up where you intended it to be.

The Vivitar CV1025 10x25 has, as its name indicates, a 10x magnification and objective lens diameter of 25mm. Eye relief is 11mm and the field of view at 1,000 yards is 303 feet. There's a center focus and a roof prism, which helps keep the CV1025 fairly compact. The camera can hold up to 160 images; it features a 3/4-inch preview screen and 640x480 resolution.

If you're looking for a two-for-one novelty item, the modest price of the Vivitar CV1025 10x25 will appeal. But if you actually want to make use of its distinguishing feature -- the camera, that is -- you're in for some disappointment.

Barska Gladiator 7-21x40

The Barska Gladiator 7-21x40 (starting at $30, Amazon) features a zoom lens that closes in on the objects you see far away along with a wide objective lens that should let in enough light for night viewing. In fact, a Barska Gladiator 7-21x40 review at Amazon reports that parent and child use it for everything from covertly observing cats to getting a close look at the moon. However, a review at Optics Planet asserts that the variable magnification from 7x up to 21x is better in theory than in practice. The field of vision is diminished below a magnification of 10x, and anything above a magnification of 14x looks blurry. Several binocular reviews posted at Amazon further gripe that the focus mechanism is too loose, that misaligned optics produce double images, and heavy anti-glare coating on the lens reduces the light needed for proper viewing.

The Barska Gladiator 7-21x40 features a roof prism with BK-7 glass and a center focus that includes a thumb lever for zooming. The field of view changes with the magnification you're using, but is 261 feet at its lowest (7x) magnification; at this level you're better off focusing on an object and not the field around it. Eye relief at 7x magnification is 14mm - a good distance for eyeglass wearers. The Gladiator 7-21x40 features a Porro prism with BK-7 glass and at 27.9 ounces, it's a bit on the heavy side (there is a tripod mount).

The zoom and variable magnification feature holds out the promise of wide-ranging viewing opportunities. But if that freedom is what you want in a pair of binoculars, this model may not get you there.

LaScala Optics Othello 3x25 Opera Glasses

If you've been to an opera or ballet and found yourself seated in the rear balcony, you may wish you had brought along a pair of opera glasses. The LaScala Optics Othello 3x25 Opera Glasses (starting at $30, Amazon) are an attractive and cheap option, as LaScala Optics Othello 3x25 reviews point out. One review on B&H Photo notes these compact opera glasses look a lot more stylish than her birding binoculars and also fit into a small evening bag. Another review on OpticsPlanet says these are compact and not particularly powerful, but are just right for indoor performances, be it a circus or play. Another review on L.A. Splash notes these small binoculars work best in low light conditions, displaying good resolution and brightness. The LaScala Optics Othello 3x25 has a fixed focus and field of view of 588 feet at 1,000 yards. It weighs just 4.5 ounces and is equipped with a mini flash light that glows red that comes in handy if you're trying to read a program or seat number. Moreover, you have your choice of color; the LaScala Optics Othello 3x25 is available in combinations like titanium and gold, black and gold, white and gold, and burgundy and gold. These small binoculars are a good choice for cultural entertainments but won't be particularly useful in the great outdoors.

Explore One 6x21

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.

  • 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.

  • Limited magnification (6x).

  • Mediocre focus and image clarity.

  • Not waterproof or fogproof.

Barska Blackhawk 10x40 Monocular

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.

  • 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.

  • Some reports of distortion and problems focusing.

Vortex Solo 8x25 Monocular

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.

  • 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.

  • Lacks sharpness, some reviewers say.

  • Narrow focus ring can make focusing tricky; the ring is a bit stiff.

Barska 3x25 Blueline Opera Glass

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.

  • 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.

  • Some users would prefer stronger magnification, although 3x is typical for opera glasses.

  • Some reviewers admire the elegant design but not the optics.

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.

Features Comparison

Sort by:
Review Score:
Product Title
Magnification/ Objective Lens
Prism
Field of View (at 1,000 yds)
Eye Relief
Weight
Waterproof
Product Title
Magnification/ Objective Lens
Prism
Field of View (at 1,000 yds)
Eye Relief
Weight
Waterproof

Nikon Aculon A211 8x42

$80
8x 42 mm
Porro (BAK4)
420 ft.
12 mm
26.8 oz.
No

Bushnell H2O 10x42

$95
10x 42 mm
Roof (BAK4)
305 ft.
17 mm
25 oz.
Yes

Bushnell PowerView 10x25

$19
10x 25 mm
Roof (BK7)
300 ft.
9 mm
8.5 oz.
No

Celestron Cometron 7x50

$35
7x 50 mm
Porro (BK7)
357 ft.
13 mm
27.3 oz.
No

Tasco Essentials 10x25

$13
10x 25 mm
Roof
300 ft.
Not specified
8.4 oz.
No

Explore One 6x21

$16
6x 21 mm
Roof
Not specified
Not specified
9 oz.
No

Barska Blackhawk 10x40...

$43
10x 40 mm
Roof (BK7)
315 ft.
17 mm
10 oz.
Yes

Vortex Solo 8x25 Monocular

$49
8x 25 mm
Roof (BAK4)
378 ft.
15 mm
5.6 oz.
Yes

Barska 3x25 Blueline...

$35
3x 25 mm
Roof (BK7)
367 ft.
8.33 mm
6.35 oz.
No