The Best Bird Watching Binoculars of 2020 – Expert Birder Guide
Bird watching, or sometimes referred to as birding, is popularly known as a great hobby, especially if you are an outgoing, nature-loving kind of person. It’s hassle-free. You can do it anywhere, anytime, and definitely with anyone. You don’t need to have any prerequisites such as a full-blown techie equipment, doing a lot of field research, or having a gym-fit body to start. A lot of people consider themselves a birder, or a bird watcher while doing all the birding stuff at their backyard, at their lovely humble homes. With plainly just your interests in bird observation and in how they live their avian lives, bird watching can be such a fun recreational activity to do with your family and friends.
In line with this, you may want to bank a lot on finding the right binoculars to best suit your interest. There are numerous makes and models available in the market, usually sorted by its price, weight, image clarity, the field of view, close focus, the overall quality, and (most importantly) the overall feel. By choosing the right one, imagine how many birds you can identify, and who knows, you might discover new bird behaviors and even species.
Our ultimate guide to binoculars covers the basics of birding binoculars and gives some great options for you to choose from. But this article gives you even more. If you want to learn more about the specifications, features, and essential technical data to consider when choosing your birding binoculars, below are the top recommendations, let your Bird Watching 101 begin.
Swarovski EL (8.5×42)
The Swarovski EL 8.5×42 is a sure crackerjack and one of the highest priced binoculars in the market. If you are a person who is more sensitive to quality than quantity, then this is perfect for you.
PROS: It has a complete package of the ideal size, weight, optical performance, and overall design. The focus is non-hypersensitive and gradual, allowing you to get just the perfect amount of focus. It’s the ideal choice, especially for eyeglass wearers, with its edge-to-edge field of view sharpness, you can still easily spot a Hummingbird with its colors all vibrant even under poor light. The close focus range is up to five feet, so you won’t even feel that you are looking through binoculars since the crisp and sharp image won’t look so distant. It is also wrapped in military green rubber for protection from occasional drops and for you to have a no sweat, steady hold. Easy to bring, it’s not too small nor too big and just weighs 29.5 ounces, a little less than two pounds.
Additionally, its nitrogen-purged filled tubes are waterproof and make it less prone to internal fogging. It is built for endurance on rugged weather conditions and bumpy environments. A definite must-have.
CONS: Clearly, this model is not budget-friendly, and it may be the only reason why you should think twice when planning to buy anything out of the Swarovski EL series.
Vanguard Endeavor ED IV (10×42)
If you are a birder who cares a lot about image quality, you might want to consider a pair that uses Extra-Low Dispersion Glass, or ED Glass.
PROS: The Vanguard Endeavor ED IV 10×42 pioneers the SK15 Roof Prism, which is known to have a high refractive index, offering outstanding image quality, superb colors and light transmission, thus giving you a great bird watching experience. This model black in color, with engineered magnesium housing for protection, and only weighs 1.73 pounds.
If you consider yourself an all-nighter, you don’t have to worry about bird watching at night. This is also geared up with advanced multi-layer coatings that give a “cut above” light transmission, even in low light places. Similar to other high-end binoculars in the market, the Vanguard Endeavor ED IV 10×42 is also nitrogen purged to provide fog proof and waterproof protection.
CONS: At the moment, most of the bird watchers who have used (and still using) this pair of binoculars have really great reviews. It offers a fair price and a superb performance. So, if you want to take your bird watching experience to a much greater level, this is a highly recommended pair for you to choose and switch to a new brand.
Wingspan Optics Voyager (10×42)
Now, this is much more of an entry-level choice, and it doesn’t go with a steep price compared with other high-end binoculars. So, this is perfect for starters who are also on a pretty tight budget. Wingspan Optics is well known for its products specifically for bird watchers, and the Voyager 10×42 is one of their most fabulous makes.
PROS: The price of this model is almost just a one-fourth portion of the total cost for most binoculars with the same quality. On top of its affordability, these 1.5 pound-weighing binoculars are easy to throw in your backpack, or you can also put it on your belt, just make sure that you are wearing a sturdy one. The quality and sharpness of the images you can see are fantastic, with the fully multi-coated 42mm lenses that allow it to deliver a sharp, bright, and color vibrant image that you deserve.
It also features a super durable anti-slipping grip, and tubes are also nitrogen-purged, making it waterproof and fog proof, too. This pair of binoculars can withstand rocky environments and unpleasant weather conditions.
CONS: If you are an eyeglass wearer, you may need to remove it first if you are going to use a Voyager 10×42.
Swarovski CL Pocket (10×25)
Aside from the full-sized pair of binoculars that are typically used for bird-watching outings and events, you may also opt to a Swarovski CL Pocket 10×25 and other compact binoculars for spontaneous and casual bird watching. Although this, similar to the Swarovski EL 8.5×42, is also a bit pricey.
PROS: A perfect travel buddy for you. This sturdy, compact pair only weighs 3.5 ounces and can even be brought single-handedly. But despite its small size and 25mm objective lens diameter, the Swarovski CL Pocket 10×25 does not fail to give an exceptional Swarovski experience.
It has a wide field of view of 294′ at 1000 yards providing a prominent view and excellent visual clarity. Compared with other compact pairs, this model has more comfortable eyecups, and a full bridge to give you a powerful, solid grip. If you’re wearing eyeglasses, nothing to worry about for the future. This model still works well even with your eyeglasses on, although removing them always gives you a better experience.
CONS: A fun fact for most Swarovski models is that you get what you pay for at a comfortable price. Getting a Swarovski experience is so bizarre that it goes with an undeniably high price. If you aren’t that much up for a superb experience and do not want to spend so much, then this is less recommended.
Leupold BX-1 Yosemite
If you are looking for a competent compact pair with a fair price, the Leupold BX-1 Yosemite might be the best for you. This can be considered as a counterpart of the Swarovski CL Pocket 10×25, but for bird watchers who are on a budget.
PROS: The Leupold BX-1 Yosemite is a Porro prism-designed compact pair that comes with a small size, but huge in performance. It has a shadow gray finish and weighs just a pound, making it a perfect travel pal for your spontaneous and casual bird watching. The field-ready case that comes with also makes it easier to carry. You can open it one-handed, and it can be worn on your belt or strapped over your shoulder.
Leupold is also known to have pioneered the waterproofing technology and continues to guarantee waterproof and fog proof binoculars that can withstand any weather or environment conditions you are using them in. With a fully multi-coated focal point framework, it ensures an exceptional brightness for clarity, color fidelity, and contrast.
The Leupold BX-1 Yosemite has 6x magnification, which may be lower compared with the majority. This is surprisingly advantageous, knowing that this can offer a wider FOV and a much more steadiness. Moreover, it’s twisted-up eyecups provide more eye relief, thus continuously gives you comfort even with extended viewing.
CONS: Works well for eyeglass wearers; however, comfort is not optimized. Also, a minor issue with the focusing wheel; it starts as very stiff and slackens up with use, even so, it still requires two fingers for best control on pushing and pulling.
The first five binoculars are so far the best picks in the market. Should none meet your needs, you may try checking these picks, too.
Zeiss Victory SF (8×42)
PROS: One of the best features of the Zeiss Victory SF (8×42) is the uniqueness of its focus knob location. With this, you no longer need to stretch out your finger to the side to reach it because the focus knob will be close to your index finger—it’s just right underneath. This is a big deal for most bird watchers since refocusing is always present in bird watching. It provides a more comfortable, instinctive, natural focusing, with a little less hassle.
Moreover, the knob is designed to prevent your finger from slipping, especially if it’s wet. This helps you switch your view quickly from a sparrow skipping the ground to a soaring hawk above. Thus, making bird watching more exciting. Its close focus range is around five feet, which is excellent if you would like to look at a hummingbird up close.
Its 18mm also provides a competitive long eye relief similar to a 10-power Smart Focus, which is just another good news for eyeglass wearers out there. This allows them to enjoy a full FOV without the need to give up a part of it. They can now choose which power they prefer, with or without their glasses on.
Last but not least, the Zeiss Victory Smart Focus (8×42) provides an exceptional 444 feet FOV at 1000 yards, which gives a more transparent, realistic view comparable to someone just looking plainly through a tube. A wide FOV is a vital factor to a great bird watching experience, and Zeiss Victory nailed it.
CONS: The catch with all these bizarre experiences is, again, the price. Most notably, for beginner bird watchers, this is not a great first choice since it’s not as affordable for most birders.
Leica Noctivid (8×42)
Inspired by “The Little Owl,” the Leica Noctivid (8×42) has been popularly known as one of the top birding binoculars on earth. This model has been in a competition against the Zeiss Victory Smart Focus (8×42) and the Swarovski EL (10×42).
PROS: The Leica Noctivid (8×42) close focus is 6.2 feet, just 6 inches long, and weighs 1.9 pounds. Eyeglass wearers can also opt for one of these. This model offers a narrower field of view with its generous 19mm eye relief, allowing eyeglass wearers to experience the similar pleasure that the non-wearers get out of a wide field of view. Another useful feature of this model is its hand-friendly, open-bridge design. This enables birders to carry it easily in just one hand, a perfect must-have for travelers.
CONS: A bit pricey for starters or casual bird watchers. This model is competent win sustaining good quality images even in unfortunate light situations, so for those who typically prefer to do the birding in sunny and bright conditions, splashing out money for this may not be worth it.
Zeiss Conquest HD (8×42)
This feature of this model is somehow similar to the Zeiss Victory Smart Focus, although the Zeiss Conquest HD (8×42) only costs almost less than half the price of SF. Yet, the difference in the optical performance between the two is quite unnoticeable.
PROS: The Zeiss Conquest HD (8×42), as what would be expected from a thousand dollar-worth binocular, has exceptional optical quality. It offers sharp and bright images and lesser chromatic aberration. No other binoculars of this price range can provide this visual quality.
This model is yet another binocular the eyeglass wearers can opt to; they will find it easy to use with its 18mm eye relief. Although this may not benefit the non-glass wearers a bit, since the eyecups are a little short, requiring them to hold their binoculars with a subtle space away from their eyes. This issue has already been resolved through with Zeiss providing longer eyecups as an alternative; however, it must be upon request.
CONS: The only drawback of this model is probably the weight. It is a little heavier in comparison to other pairs with similar features. Additionally, there are lots of complaints in regard to the lens covers’ quality.
Leica Trinovid HD (8×42)
The Leica Trinovid HD (8×42) is a great bird watching binocular. Compared with the Leica Noctivid (8×42), the features are quite similar but varies a bit in pricing.
PROS: This model is recognized as part of the top middle-sized binoculars for bird watching. Its objective lens diameter is 32mm and offers a bright image with its generous four mm exit pupil. It is also nitrogen-filled and nitrogen purged, ensuring you a lesser chance of internal fogging, and a waterproof depth of up to 15.5 feet. Moreover, bragging its die-cast aluminum and polyurethane coating, this model is sturdy and also offers a shock-absorbing characteristic.
CONS: The Leica Trinovid HD (8×42) is always being compared to its expensive Leica cousins. If someone can afford a Leica-branded binocular, he or she will just usually jump up and grab a Leica Noctivid with only a little fraction of additional cost. It’s easy to get since the Noctivid has better materials like the ED glass, which offers better quality images.
How did it go? Were you able to have your personal best pick? If still no, the next list includes the most affordable ones, usually just under $500. But don’t forget to consider the quality though, anywhere, you can check them here:
Nikon Monarch 5 (8×42)
Now, this model is regarded as one of the best in this particular price range. The brightness and resolution of Nikon Monarch 5 (8×42) are almost comparable with other binoculars the cost twice its price.
The good thing about this model is its hand-friendliness. It weighs just 1.35 pounds and is one of the lightest full-size binoculars. It also has a great design, not to mention its comfortable twist-click up eyecups, and a precise and smooth focus knob that turns one ¼ lock to lock turns.
It brags a 19.5mm eye relief, which works well for both wearers and non-wearers of eyeglasses. It offers both to see the full field of view.
On top of that, even with a low price, this model is surprisingly comfortable to carry, waterproof, and has Dielectric High-Reflective Multilayer Prism Coating, which primarily allows more light to get through, thus improving the image.
Nikon Monarch 7 (8×42)
Nikon Monarch 7 (8×42), on the other hand, offers an extraordinary wide FOV that makes it easier for you to locate a subject. It suits bird watchers on a budget who, at the same time, is looking for quality binoculars. This pair has a nitrogen-filled housing that makes it fog proof and waterproof, no matter how severe the weather and environment condition can even get. It also boasts its extra-low dispersion glass (ED glass) elements that enhance the image’s color and brightness.
With its durable, rubber coating, this Nikon Monarch 7 (8×42) has enough ruggedness to withstand any weather condition; and it is comfortable to carry. So, if you are trying to find an indestructible, high-quality pair of binoculars, then this Nikon Monarch 7 (8×42) is the best in store for you.
Vortex Viper HD (8 x42)
The Vortex Viper HD (8 x42)’s overall score ranked second next to the Vanguard Endeavor, which has won because of the Viper’s scale-less diopter adjustment. The rest of the features are comparable and the two models mainly differ with the design.
The Vanguard Endeavor has an open-bridge design with a long, one-hand grip, while the smaller Vortex Viper HD is more compact, lighter, and shows a solid-bridge design.
- Outstanding optical performance and quality.
- Generous 20mm Eye Relief.
- A close focus range of 5.1 feet.
- Bright and clear images because of its Extra Low Dispersion Glass (ED Glass).
- Fully multi-coated lenses.
- DHR Prism Multi-Layer Coating that optimizes the transmission of light.
Cons: The only possible drawback for this model is most likely because it does not have a diopter scale. The Vortex Viper HD (8 x42) is indeed a competitive pair that surpasses a lot of optics that are twice the price.
Last but not least.
Celestron Nature DX (8×42)
The Celestron Nature DX (8×42) gets the position of the best-picked quality binoculars priced below $250. This model is suggested for bird watching enthusiasts who are also on a tight budget, and could also be for some parent out there who does not see the point of spending $1,000 for a kid’s present.
Despite its very affordable price, the Celestron Nature DX (8×42) covers all the needed specifications and requirements for bird watching purposes.
This model shows image details that are surely not found in other low-priced binoculars for beginners. Packed with fully multi-coated lenses that provide exceptional light transmission, producing a sharper and brighter image, even in poor light. With a close focus of 6.5 feet, it is still not bad to be able to observe nearby subjects such as plants, insects, and of course, birds.
More surprisingly, at a lower price, you can get a waterproof binocular purged with nitrogen that helps prevent internal fogging of your lenses during unlikely weather conditions.
This Celestron Nature DX (8×42) is also covered by a rubber armor engineered for durability, and eyecups with a multi-stop functionality that helps with a proper eye positioning. Perfect for eyeglass wearers as well.
The pair of binoculars that will best suit you depend mainly on the kind of bird watching activity that you do; it may be casual, spontaneous, consequential, or professional. Your description as a bird watcher does not rely on the type of binoculars that you use, but with how much fun you get out of it. Have a happy birding.