The Best Bird Watching Binoculars of 2021 – Expert Birder Guide
Bird watching (or birding) is a popular pastime among nature enthusiasts. Whether you are a novice or a well-seasoned birder, finding the right binoculars can enhance your viewing experience exponentially. There are numerous makes and models available in the market that are ideal for bird watching.
Our ultimate guide to binoculars covers the basics of birding binoculars and gives some great options for you to choose from. Here, we’re diving into the top choices of 2021, with suggestions for varying budgets and experience levels.
Swarovski EL (8.5×42)
The Swarovski EL 8.5×42 is one of the highest priced binoculars on the market. This model is geared toward experienced users with working knowledge of the more nuanced aspects of optical performance.
PROS: It offers a complete package with ideal size, weight, optical performance, and overall design. The focus is non-hypersensitive and gradual, allowing the user to adjust for the perfect amount of focus. With its edge-to-edge field of view sharpness, it’s an ideal choice for eyeglass wearers. The close-focus range is up to five feet, providing a crisp and sharp image that won’t look too distant. Wrapped in military green rubber for protection from occasional drops, it also guards against sweat, providing a steady and secure grip. Weighing 29.5 ounces (a little less than two pounds) makes it easily portable for on-the-go birding.
The nitrogen-filled tubes are waterproof, making it less prone to internal fogging. It is built for endurance in harsh weather conditions and rugged environments. A definite must-have for experienced users.
CONS: This model is not budget-friendly, and the intricacies may be lost on novice users.
Bluebird Optics Zonos 8x25mm
If you’re looking for a compact option, the Bluebird Zonos is a great one. It also has a much more affordable price point than the Swarovski option above.
PROS: Inexpensive, compact, and highly effective are the three words that come to mind with this bino. Bluebird, a subsidiary of our highly recommended partners Upland Optics, sells directly to consumers over the internet instead of relying on third party retailers. Therefore, you are giving all of the purchase price towards quality glass instead of a middle man. The Zonos is incredibly affordable thanks to the power of this model. It’s designed to be a compact binocular, and can fit in a good sized pocket. It’s definitely one of the most portable options on this list, weighing under a pound. Incredibly, despite its low price and tiny frame these binoculars sport ED glass, meaning the image quality from them is fantastic.
CONS: They are definitely a compact binocular, and therefore don’t expect the same kind of viewing as their full sized 10x42mm counterparts.
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 offers the SK15 Roof Prism, which is known to have a high refractive index, offering outstanding image quality, superb colors and optimal light transmission, particularly in low-light conditions. This model is housed in engineered magnesium for protection, and only weighs 1.73 pounds.
Similar to other high-end binoculars in the market, the Vanguard Endeavor ED IV 10×42 is also nitrogen-purged to provide fog- and waterproof protection.
CONS: These tend to be a bit higher-priced than similarly performing models, and some users find them heavy for long viewing sessions.
Wingspan Optics Voyager (10×42)
Perfect for beginners with a more modest budget, Wingspan Optics is well-known for its bird-watching products, and the Voyager 10×42 is one of their most reliable models.
PROS: The budget-friend price of this model is nearly a quarter of the price for most binoculars with the same quality. On top of its affordability, these 1.5 pound-binoculars are highly portable. The multi-coated 42mm lenses deliver the sharp, bright, and color-vibrant viewing that is appealing to birding enthusiasts.
This pair of binoculars can withstand rocky environments and unpleasant weather conditions, and features a durable anti-slip grip. The tubes are also nitrogen-purged, making it fog- and waterproof.
CONS: Eyeglass wearers may not find these comfortable, and the very basic functionality might frustrate more experienced users.
Swarovski CL Pocket (10×25)
The Swarovski CL Pocket 10×25 is among the most popular compact binoculars for spontaneous and casual bird watching.
PROS: This sturdy, compact pair only weighs 3.5 ounces and can even be used single-handedly. Despite its small size and 25mm objective lens diameter, the Swarovski CL Pocket 10×25 gives an exceptional viewing experience.
It has a wide field of view of 294 feet at 1000 yards, providing excellent visual clarity. Compared with other compact pairs, this model has more comfortable eye cups, and a full bridge to give you a powerful, solid grip. This model works well for eyeglass wearers, even with its small stature.
CONS: As with most Swarovski models, this tiny titan comes with a hefty price tag, especially when compared to other compact models. Casual users may opt for a model in a more modest price range.
Leupold BX-1 Yosemite
Birders looking for a competent, compact pair of binoculars may find the Leupold BX-1 Yosemite most appealing. This model can be compared to the Swarovski CL Pocket 10×25 in size and performance, but at a fairer price.
PROS: The Leupold BX-1 Yosemite is Porro prism-designed, with a shadow gray finish and weighing just a pound. The field-ready case 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 known for pioneering waterproofing technology and continues to guarantee waterproof and fog-proof binoculars that can withstand most weather conditions. 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. Although it’s lower compared with the majority, this is surprisingly advantageous, offering a wider field of view and greater steadiness. The twist-up eyecups provide more eye comfort, even with extended viewing.
CONS: Budget plays a role in expectations here. This model outperforms many others in the same price-point, but users seeking finesse should opt for a different pair.
Zeiss Victory SF (8×42)
This model has been recently redesigned for both optics and ergonomics, incorporating features such as the Ultra-FL concept, ErgoBalance concept, SMART FOCUS concept and Field Flattener technology.
PROS: One of the best features of the Zeiss Victory SF (8×42) is the uniqueness of its focus knob location. Its position just beneath the index finger is ideal for the frequent refocusing that comes with bird watching. It provides a more comfortable, instinctive, natural focusing, with a little less hassle.
Its close focus range is around five feet, and the gripped focus knob prevents slipping, which allows for for precision. At 8x magnification, it provides ample image enlargement with the added benefit of steady viewing.
Last but not least, the Zeiss Victory Smart Focus (8×42) provides an exceptional 444 feet FOV at 1000 yards, a vital factor in a great bird watching experience.
CONS: Once again, price becomes a possible barrier for people looking for precision at a reasonable price.
Leica Noctivid (8×42)
Inspired by “The Little Owl,” the Leica Noctivid (8×42) has been consistently favored by bird watchers. This model adequately competes against the Zeiss Victory Smart Focus (8×42) and the Swarovski EL (10×42).
PROS: The Leica Noctivid (8×42) is just 6 inches long, and weighs 1.9 pounds. This model offers a generous 19mm eye relief, allowing eyeglass wearers to experience an uncompromised wide field of view. The light-gathering capabilities make it a super choice among the others in its class, even in dawn or dusk settings. Its hand-friendly, open-bridge design enables birders to carry it easily in just one hand.
CONS: The highly sensitive focus elements can take some getting used to, and novice users may not appreciate the capacity of this device the way more experienced viewers will.
Zeiss Conquest HD (8×42)
This model is similar in optical performance to the Zeiss Victory Smart Focus, although the Zeiss Conquest HD (8×42) costs half the price.
PROS: The Zeiss Conquest HD (8×42) has exceptional optical quality. It offers sharp and bright images and lesser chromatic aberration. Few other binoculars in this price range can compete with this visual quality.
With 90% light transmission, this model is highly functional in low-light environments and offers outstanding target clarity. This model also offers superb FOV in its class.
CONS: The 18mm eye relief is great for eyeglass wearers, but other users may find them short and uncomfortable. Zeiss offers longer eyecups as an alternative, but only upon request.
Leica Trinovid HD (8×42)
The Leica Trinovid HD (8×42) is one of the best mid-sized binoculars for bird watching. It offers an array of features for users who venture into rugged terrain or harsher weather conditions.
PROS: Its objective lens diameter is 32mm and offers a bright image with its generous four mm exit pupil. It is also nitrogen purged, preventing internal fogging. The rubber armoring provides ample shock-absorption and secure handling, and the device is waterproof to a depth of up to 13 feet.
CONS: The stand-apart features appeal mostly to adventurers who enjoy more challenging conditions. Birders who prefer to explore in fairer weather may not see the allure here.
If budget is your primary concern, the following list offers options for up to $500:
Nikon Monarch 5 (8×42)
Regarded as one of the best in this particular price range, The brightness and resolution of the Nikon Monarch 5 (8×42) are nearly comparable with other binoculars twice its price.
PROS: At just 1.35 pounds, this is one of the lightest full-size binoculars. It offers comfortable twist-click up eye cups, and a 19.5mm eye relief, which works well with or without eyeglasses to provide an unobstructed field of view.
This model is surprisingly comfortable to carry, is waterproof, and has Dielectric High-Reflective Multilayer Prism Coating, which allows more light to get through, thus improving the image.
CONS: Durability can be an issue during more rugged activities or harsher environments, and although they are lightweight, some users may find them bulky to carry.
Nikon Monarch 7 (8×42)
The Nikon Monarch 7 (8×42) is a sturdier option in the same price class. It suits bird watchers on a budget who are also looking for quality binoculars.
PROS: This pair has a nitrogen-filled housing that makes it fog- and waterproof, and a durable rubber coating that protects against impact or weather damage. It also boasts its extra-low dispersion glass (ED glass) elements that enhance the image’s color and brightness. It weighs 1.5 lbs, and is more comfortable to carry than the Monarch 5.
CONS: The caveat across the board is that these are good “for the price.” Serious users will likely find the finer points of these lacking, or opt for a compact model at a higher price point.
Vortex Viper HD (8 x42)
The Vortex Viper HD (8 x42) ranks second to the Vanguard Endeavor due to one feature: the Viper’s scale-less diopter adjustment. The rest are comparable and the two models mainly differ with the design.
Pros: The Vortex Viper HD is compact, light, and is equipped with a solid-bridge design. It offers outstanding optical performance and quality with a generous 20mm eye relief and a close focus range of 5.1 feet. The Extra Low Dispersion Glass (ED Glass), and DHR Prism Multi-Layer Coating, which optimizes the transmission of light, provide bright and clear images.
Cons: Some veteran users of Vortex products find redesigns in ergonomics and focus functionality to be inferior to previous models.
Celestron Nature DX (8×42)
The Celestron Nature DX (8×42) are the best binoculars priced below $250. This model is highly recommended for kids or novice users on a strict budget.
PROS: Despite its very affordable price, the Celestron Nature DX (8×42) covers all the needed specifications and requirements for bird watching purposes. Packed with fully multi-coated lenses, it provides exceptional light transmission, producing a sharper and brighter image, even in poor light. With a close focus of 6.5 feet, it is within recommended range for observing nearby subjects such as plants, insects, and of course, birds.
CONS: Durability, particularly with the eye cups, seems to be an issue for many users.