The Best Binoculars for Stargazing and Astronomy in 2021
When it comes to stargazing, most people think a telescope is required to enjoy the beauty of the cosmos. But telescopes are large, expensive, and require a lot of setup time. Astronomy binoculars are a great alternative and offer a highly enjoyable stargazing experience without the bulky equipment.
It’s important to understand what makes a particular model the right choice for you. We cover some options in our overall binocular guide, but here we focus on devices specific to astronomy.
While this is not always the most important factor to consider for binoculars in general, it is crucial when gauging binoculars for stargazing. The objective lens is the lens at the end of the binoculars and ultimately determines how much ambient light enters the binoculars.
Because astronomy binoculars are used during the night time, they need all the ambient light that they can get. Minimally, astronomy binoculars should have 70-mm objective lenses, but ideally, stargazing binoculars should offer objective lenses that are closer to 100-mm in diameter.
Prisms rectify inverted images seen through the binoculars. The prism arrangement generally does not impact the quality of the image, but it does impact the price and size of the binoculars.
- Roof – Roof prisms are the more compact of the two, which makes them good for a smaller device. But keep in mind that astronomy binoculars are almost always larger than average binoculars, so a roof prism might provide a slightly less bulky option. That said, roof prisms are more difficult to make which increases the cost of binoculars using them. Additionally, this kind of prism alignment suffers more from refraction than porro.
- Porro – Porro is an offset aligned prism arrangement which inherently increases the size of the binoculars, but given astronomy binoculars are already large and are often mounted on tripods, the weight and size may be less of a concern. One of the best qualities of Porro prisms is that they cost less than roof prism arrangements. Even better, this kind of prism does not require as many coatings.
The quality of the glass determines more about the image quality than anything else. While the objective lens, the magnification, and other factors can influence image sharpness, nothing beats out the quality of the glass for performance impact.
- BAK4 – This type of glass uses a finer grain of molecule which reduces the amount of light scattering and leads to superior image quality. That said, it is a bit more expensive than most of the other types as well.
- SK15 – SK15 glass is interesting in that it refracts more light than the other two major types, but it incurs less light dispersion. This means that binoculars with SK15 glass need better coatings but still provide clear, accurate images. That said, this type of glass is generally combined with one of the other two types rather than used on its own.
- BK7 – BK7 is the lowest grade of glass used for binoculars and is not great for stargazing. This is because astronomy binoculars already have to deal with difficult conditions from low levels of light in the first place. That said, binoculars with BK7 glass are the least expensive and can work for someone who wants a test-run without commitment.
- ED/HD – Extra-low-dispersion glass, also called high-definition glass, is one of the best qualities of glass available. ED glass accounts for the different wavelengths of light and accommodates them individually. This type of glass tends to accompany high-end binoculars and costs more than most of the other types, but it also provides some of the best performance.
- Crystal – There are a couple of different materials that fit into this category with fluorite crystal being the most common. One thing to look out for is “fluorite glass” which is not the same thing as fluorite crystal. Because of its molecular structure, fluorite and other types of crystal can provide the clearest image qualities available and are almost always the most expensive.
The magnification is the first number in the pair of numbers associated with binoculars and determines how much larger an image will appear compared to the naked eye.
For astronomy, magnification is especially important when you want to look at celestial objects within our solar system. For example, most models with a 10x magnification will allow you to see the moon and star clusters clearly. However, binoculars with 20x or higher magnification will give viewers a clear look at Jupiter’s rings.
The field of view is the width of visibility through the binocular. The larger the field of view, the wider the portion of the sky you can see at once, which is important for full constellation viewing. One thing to keep in mind is that the larger the magnification, the smaller the field of view. But if you want astronomy binoculars to look at planets, comets, and moons in our solar system, this is not the most important factor to consider.
All binoculars have some level of coating on their lenses, which is meant to help control levels of reflection, light transmission, color aberration, and image distortion.
- Coated – Coated optics features some kind of anti-reflective coating on some of the lenses so that the light that passes through the glass does not get reflected between the prisms, which distorts the image. This distortion occurs primarily through a loss of the ambient light reflected through the objective lens.
- Fully Coated – Fully coated just means that all of the glass surfaces have been coated by one type of anti-reflective coating.
- Multi-coated – These binoculars feature different types of coatings to prevent the reflection of various wavelengths of light. However, much like with coated glass, standard multi-coated binoculars will not coat all of the glass.
- Fully Multi-coated – Fully multi-coated binoculars coat all of the different glass surfaces in multiple types of anti-reflective coatings. This is generally considered to be the best type of coating.
- Phase Shifted – Phase shifted coating is a particular type of coating that does not prevent the ambient light from reflecting out of the binoculars. Instead, this type of coating accounts for how light entering the binoculars shifts in angular position and otherwise distorts the image. With this type of coating, the binoculars display a clearer, truer image than those without it.
Best Astronomy Binoculars
Celestron is one of the more affordable optics companies with even their high-end models offering extremely competitive prices. However, the Celestron 71008 SkyMaster is our pick for the best budget-friendly astronomy binoculars.
PROS: Although the objective lenses meet the minimum astronomy standards with 70 mm, this model is equipped with a powerful 25x magnification.
Even better, the Celestron 71008 SkyMaster uses multi-coated, BaK-4 glass, so you do not have to worry about distorted images due to ambient light reflection. The Perro prism arrangement provides quality at an affordable price.
CONS: Magnification at this strength renders these binoculars very heavy and challenging to focus. Inexperienced users may find these to be too much binocular for their needs.
Orion is another option in affordable binoculars, though Orion tends to favor the long-range/astronomy niche more than Celestron. This model offers great performance at a much less expensive price point than you might expect.
PROS: These binoculars have 80 mm objective lenses, 20x magnification and a field of view of 168 feet– the second-largest on our list. These features combine to give users well-balanced functionality for a variety of viewing experiences.
Cons: Some users report issues with the focus and collimation (the merging of the image from each individual cylinder), resulting in blurred images and what feels like double vision.
The Celestron 71017 SkyMaster is the next step up from the 71008 SkyMaster. The Celestron 71017 SkyMaster improves upon the former with a few key features.
PROS: Larger objective lenses at 100 mm in diameter offer 33 percent more light reception. The Celestron 71017 SkyMaster supersedes its little brother in the field of vision at 156 feet. Both offer comes the solid Bak-4 glass utilizing a Porro lens structure, keeping them somewhat more affordable than their competitors.
CONS: The excessive weight of these makes a tripod a necessity, and quality control from the manufacturer seems spotty at best.
Less well-known than some of its counterparts, Barska offers high-end models that provide plenty of performance, and makes our list with some key features.
PROS: The Barska Encounter binoculars are the only models on our list that provide multiple magnification settings. The binoculars accomplish this by providing two sets of eyepieces, one rated at 20x magnification and another rated at 40x magnification.
Constructed entirely of metal, the Barska Encounter is packaged in a foam-lined, hard-backed carrying case to protect it from damage. This model is also waterproof.
CONS: These binoculars are extremely heavy (16 pounds) and absolutely require a tripod. The field of view is also sacrificed for the magnification capabilities.
The Orion 9326 Giant View is the company’s flagship model, but still falls within a moderate price range.
PROS: This device offers many of the same features as some of the others on this list (100mm objective lenses, 25x magnification, Bak-4 glass) but offers more durability and less bulk. While it still benefits from a tripod, the Orion Giant View weighs 10 pounds, versus the hefty 16 pounds of the Barka.
The 18mm eye relief make this a desirable option for eyeglass wearers without obstructing the field of view.
CONS: This model doesn’t have any particularly stand-out features in its class. Users might opt for the Celestron SkyMaster with the same specs at about $50 cheaper.
Pentax might be known more for its camera lenses and other photographic equipment, but the company offers plenty of general optics equipment too. Pentax SP WP binoculars are one of their better models of binoculars that also work well as trail astronomy binoculars.
PROS: These are one of the few stargazer-friendly models that can be hand-held comfortably. They are lighter and more compact than most of the other options that we reviewed.
The 60-mm objective lenses is slightly smaller than the recommended size for astronomy, but the 20x magnification is adequate. They are relatively inexpensive binoculars and combine BaK-4 glass with an extremely durable build to provide a great all-around value, especially for beginners.
CONS: Keep expectations modest, as this model trades power for size and portability.
APM is one of the few companies on our list that specializes in astronomical equipment, though they tend to focus more on telescopes. Still, with a niche focus on stargazing, it comes as no surprise that the APM ED-100 binoculars are some of the best performing we encountered.
PROS: First, the optical performance is top-notch with 100 mm objective lenses combined with one of the best magnifications we found at 30.5x. Even better, these binoculars use FK-61 ED glass which is higher quality than even BaK-4 and provides truer, clearer images.
The APM ED-100 binoculars offer nitrogen-filled waterproofing combined with a magnesium alloy body. Durability is an added bonus.
CONS: The only real issue with these binoculars, outside of the high price tag, is their relatively small field of view at only 147 feet.
Meade Instruments is another company that specializes in astronomy equipment, though this company branches out a bit further than others of its ilk. That said, the Meade Instruments AstroBinoculars still offer one of the better budget-friendly values that we came across.
PROS: Collimation alignment is not problematic in this model, which is a common complaint among several other brands. It features a solid 70-mm objective lense, and offers the widest field of view on the list at 231 feet.
CONS: The magnification is a mere 15x, falling short if your objective is to see very detailed images far into space. They also are not waterproof, so be mindful of foggy or rainy conditions.
Levenhuk sits at the high-end of the “budget-friendly” niche for binoculars, offering slightly improved performance for a lower price than most other companies.
PROS: The Levenhuk Bruno Plus offers decent optics that allow in plenty of ambient light thanks to 80-mm objective lenses. For more info visit Clean Queen website. The magnification of these binoculars falls a bit below average at only 20x. However, the Levenhuk Bruno Plus makes up for this with a list-leading 168-foot field of view. The use of BaK-4 glass and a 5-element Porro eyepiece, instead of the traditional 4, only cements its place on our list.
CONS: Little protection is offered in terms of texture or rubber coating, so durability is a concern.
The Kowa Highlander Series might be the last product on our list, but it stands in a class on its own. The price point and quality components set it apart from most other comparable devices.
PROS: The crown jewel on this model are the fluorite crystal objective lenses. Despite measuring at a modest 82-mm, the difference here is quality over quantity. The crystal clarity toes the line of telescope quality, and 32x magnification allows for more-than-adequate detection of celestial details.
It is more durable than most, constructed with a magnesium alloy body. It is fully waterproof and nitrogen-purged so fogging is not a concern.
CONS: Expensive, and if the primary use is astronomy, stargazers may opt for a telescope instead.
Astronomy binoculars are in a class of their own, and it’s important to remember there are distinct differences between average-use binoculars and those designed for stargazing. Weight and power, in particular, are important to keep in mind, as it’s highly improbable to find light and compact binoculars that also offer enough power to see beyond the stars.