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Binocular Buying Guide

Updated on February 18, 2013

Binocular Buying Guide for General Consumers

There is nothing like having a good pair of binoculars for outdoor activities and sporting events. With so many different brands, different models, and different features how do you know which ones are right for you? This binocular buying guide will help you understand the terminology related to binoculars so you can determine which kind is right for you.

This lens will explain the terminology (not in technical terms) but in terms that are easy to understand. It will also make recommendations on binoculars for astronomy, birding, marine, hunting, and more.

(Image Credit to TGardArt - Licensed via Creative Commons with Attribution)

Understanding Binocular Features

Binoculars are one of the most commonly purchased optical devices, that have a variety of uses. They can allow you to view wild animals from a distance without disturbing them, or allow you to bring spectator sports action up close and personal.

They are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles and many offer special features that are tailored to a specific use. So let's start by talking about the different type of features available for binoculars so you can take these into consideration as you narrow your choices.


Binoculars typically come in three common sizes: compact, mid-size, and full-size. There are pros and cons for each size, but how you intend on using the binoculars can be the biggest factor to consider when choosing.

  • Compact Binoculars - Compact binoculars offer the benefit of being both light weight and portable. They will often weigh less than one pound, which is ideal if you will be wearing them around your neck for an extended period of time. This makes these binoculars easy to carry and have readily on hand for quick use.

    On the downside they are often not as easy to use as larger binoculars, because of their smaller exit pupil size. The exit pupil size is simply the size of the round disc of light you see at the eye piece. The larger the round disc of light, the brighter the object. In humans, the pupil opens only 2-5 mm during the day, and 5-7 mm at dawn and dusk.

    You will need an exit pupil size which accommodates the differences in your pupil. Having binoculars with an exit pupil size that is too small can make the binoculars hard to use in bumpy conditions and they will not be as bright as binoculars with a larger exit pupil size.

    The exit pupil size can be determined by dividing the Aperture by the Magnification. For example, an "8x42" pair of binoculars has a 5.25mm exit pupil size because 42/8=5.25. Good quality optics will have an exit pupil size of more than 4mm.

  • Mid-size and Full Size Binoculars - These sizes of binoculars are what most people usually consider as standard, and they tend to be easier to use due to the larger pupil size (which is one of their biggest advantages). They are easier to look through and your view will not be as easily affected by movement.

    Binoculars of this size will usually provide a crisp, clear view for hunters and bird watchers alike.

    The main drawback of these binoculars is their size and weight. They will obviously be more cumbersome and less portable. They can weigh as much as a pound and a half to over two pounds, so carrying them around your neck can be more tiring that a set of compact binoculars.


The magnification is simply a multiplier of how many times closer an object will appear to be when looking through the binoculars. This is the number that show up before the "x". For example, an 8x21 would make the object appear to be 8 times closer to the viewer. A 10x50 would make the object appear to be 10 times closer. A 15x70 would make the object appear to be 15 times closer, and so on.

Binoculars that have a magnification of 7x - 12x are most common and typically suffice for most common uses. You should be aware though, that as the level of magnification increases it will be more difficult to hold them steady to maintain a clear image. Once you get over 12x, you may want to consider a tripod mount for stability. These are a common requirement for astronomical viewing, and most binoculars in this range will have a built-in tripod adapter.


Some binoculars have a zoom capability that allow you to adjust the level of magnification instead of just having a fixed level of magnification. This is similar to the zoom feature that is available on most digital cameras.

To determine the level of zoom capability, you will notice two numbers that show up before the "x". For example, an 8-16x21 pair of binoculars will provide you a zoom range that is adjustable between 8x and 16x. So when looking through these binoculars, objects can appear to be 8 to 16 times closer to the viewer, or anywhere in between that range.

Field of View

The field of view is essentially the size of the area that can be seen when looking through a pair of binoculars. For example, the Bushnell 8x2 PowerView FRP compact binoculars has a field of view of 378 feet at 1,000 yards. So this means that you will be looking at a 378 foot wide area 1,000 yards away from you when looking through these binoculars.

The field of view can be important if you are attempting to track fast-moving objects, or if you are scanning the sky for birds. A wider field of view will generally make the binoculars easier to use.


The aperture is essentially the size (the diameter) of the front of the lens of your binoculars. This is represented in millimeters. The aperture determines the amount of light that is captured in an image. A larger aperture allows more light to be captured, making the binoculars brighter or better for using in low light conditions.

The aperture is typically represented by the second number in the binocular's specs. For example, the 8x21 binoculars we talked about earlier has a magnification of 8 and a front lens opening of 21 millimeters.

Realize that the aperture will affect the brightness of the binoculars, and most people are usually happy with an aperture of 20 - 60 millimeters for recreational use. If you are looking for a pair of binoculars for astronomical use, then you will want a higher aperture. Many of the astronomical binoculars have an aperture of 70, 80, or even 100.


The focusing feature on a pair of binoculars allows them to be adjusted for a sharp and crisp image.

There are two main types of mechanisms used in binoculars for focusing; central focusing and independent focusing.

Most all of the consumer-grade binoculars will utilize central focusing. It is the most common and allows both tubes to be focused at the same time using a single lever.

Independent focusing will often appear on larger, professional binoculars. It allows the focus of each tube to be adjusted individually.

I would recommend sticking with central focusing for ease of use and cost. Again, most all consumer binoculars will use central focusing.

Image Stabilization

This feature helps to avoid the shakiness or movement of an image while being viewed through the binoculars. This feature is typically only available on binoculars with a high magnification or zoom. This option isn't available on most common binoculars, and this image stabilizing technology can add a lot of additional cost.

Bird Watching Binoculars

Bird watching is a popular pass time that requires a pair of binoculars that will offer crisp and bright images to be enjoyed. Here are three recommended models of bird watching binoculars.

The Bushnell NatureView 8x40 binoculars are ideal, offering coated optics, an excellent close-focusing design and extended eye relief. The textured center focus knob makes it easy to make precise adjustments to focus. You get a wide field of view with these binoculars. The Bushnell NatureView has a 4.4 out of 5 star rating.

The Bushnell H20 8 x 42 Roof Prism Binoculars are O-ring sealed and nitrogen purged, which allows them to be fully submersed in water. These are great for outdoor use and you will never have to worry about the optics fogging up due to changes in humidity. The rubber coating and textured pads give you a secure grip, even in wet conditions. The large center focusing knob is easy to operate even with gloves on. You get a 365 field of view at 1000 yards. Image quality and clarity is great with the Bushnell H20, and they have a 4.8 out of 5 star rating.

The Brunton Echo Compact Binocular has a 5 out of 5 star rating. They are a compact pair of binoculars that fit in your pocket. These binoculars have BaK-4 prism glass that offers crisp, bright images. They are scratch-resistant and reduce glare. The twist-up eye relief system reduces eye strain, so you can use them comfortably for hours. They are encased in a waterproof frame.

They are available in an 8x25 or 10x25 model, giving you a field of view of 429 ft or 342 ft at 1,000 yards respectively.

I really like the portability of these binoculars, and they weigh less than one pound. The 5 year warranty guarantees that you can be using the Brunton Echo binoculars for years to come.

Bushnell Natureview 8x40 Porro Prism Birding Binocular

Bushnell H20 8 x 42 Roof Prism Binocular

Brunton Echo Compact Binocular

Astronomy Binoculars

Whether you are an amateur or professional star gazer, a good pair of astronomy binoculars can make your star gazing a much more enjoyable experience. A good pair of astronomy binoculars should be able to be mounted to a tripod for stability. This is a must. They should also have a large aperture for crisp and bright images, and you want a strong magnification.

Here are three of the best astronomy binoculars that we recommend. They are some of the highest rated and won't hurt your wallet.

The Celestron 15x70 SkyMaster binoculars have a respectable 4.4 out of 5 star rating, considering their low price. They have multicoated optics and BaK-4 internal prisms which will give you bright images. They also have an adapter for attaching them to a tripod, which is a must for star gazing. They focus easily and the 15x magnification will get you up close and personal with the stars.

The Oberwerk 15x70mm binoculars are another great choice for astronomy. The large 70mm objectives gather an excellent amount of light. They include low-reflection broadband multi-coatings that offer great light transmission. They have rugged rubber-armored metal bodies and all-glass lenses. The brass 1/4-20 tripod adapter threading allows the Oberwerk 15x70 binoculars to be mounted on a tripod for celestial viewing. With a 4.8 out of 5 star rating, these are definitely worth a closer look.

The Orion Mini Giant 15x63 Astronomy Binoculars grab excellent light but don't have the weight or bulk of larger astronomical binoculars. The 63mm objective lenses deliver bright images of the constellations and stars. The high-grade BAK-4 prisms are multi-coated to permit the highest light transmission possible. Images are sharp, bright, and vivid. These binoculars are relatively compact compared to other astronomy binoculars It also has the tripod-mount for steady images. The 5 year warranty will give you peace of mind.

Celestron SkyMaster Giant 15x70 Binoculars

Oberwerk 15x70mm Binocular

Orion Mini Giant 15x63 Astronomy Binoculars

Hunting Binoculars

A good pair of hunting binoculars needs to be rugged, and stand up to the punishment that outdoors men put them through. They should be waterproof since they will get extended exposure to the elements. A wide field of view is also desired, which will help hunters detect game moving through the woods. They need to be able to gather a good amount of light, since they are often used in low light conditions. Lastly, a camouflage finish is often desirable, so that you can avoid detection by game in the woods. Here are three of the models of hunting binoculars that are highly recommended.

The Bushnell Realtree Roof Trophy 10x42 Binoculars have fully multicoated optics and BaK-4 prisms. These work together to give you bright, sharp images. The rubberized coating makes these binoculars both durable and are easy to grip even in wet conditions. They have sealed O-rings and are nitrogen-purged, which makes them both waterproof and fogproof. You will love the fast focus system and the Realtree camouflage finish. They also have flip covers for the objective lenses. These are ideal for viewing wildlife at long range, giving you a 325 ft field of view at 1,000 yards. These binoculars have a 5 out of 5 star rating.

The NIKON 7297 Monarch ATB 8x42 Binoculars have Dielectric highly reflective lenses that give you brighter images, sharper colors, great low-light performance. They are great for hunters to use under the canopy of the woods where light is dim. The rugged rubber coating is like armor, and makes them both durable and easy to grip even in wet conditions. The are guaranteed to be completely waterproof and fogproof. What really attracts me to this model is Nikon's 25 Year Limited Warranty and No-Fault Repair/Replacement Policy. The Monarch ATB is available in 8x42, 10x42 and 12x42 models. It is also available in camouflage patterns: Team REALTREE and REALTREE APG HD. These binoculars have a 4.6 out of 5 star rating.

The Bushnell Legend Ultra-HD 10x42 Binoculars have a wide field of view (340 ft at 1,000 yards), and allow you to view moving animals or other objects with great clarity. The 10x magnification and a 42-millimeter objective are a great combination for any outdoors man, especially with their waterproof and fog-proof construction. They are lightweight thanks to the magnesium chassis and have soft touch grips. They come with a deluxe binocular harness and premium carry case. The Bushnell Legend Ultra-HD binoculars have a 4.4 out of 5 star rating.

Bushnell Realtree Roof Trophy 10x42 Binoculars

NIKON 7297 Monarch ATB 8x42 Binoculars

Bushnell 10x42mm Legend Ultra HD Binoculars

Marine Binoculars

Marine binoculars need to be tough due to the punishment they can take while navigating the open water. They need to be both waterproof and shockproof in order to last the test of time. They also need to have maximum light transmission to be effective in low light conditions. Here are a few of the marine binoculars that we recommend.

The Steiner 7x50 Marine binoculars are excellent for both boaters on the open water and shore use. They are equipped with marine glass that offers sharp images and very bright optics. The black rubber armor makes them easy to grip and makes the durable. The autofocus system puts everything into focus from 20 yards to infinity once it is calibrated to the user's eyes.

The waterproof and shockproof housing, provides the protection needed for marine use. They also have BAK-4 prisms, fully multicoated optical surfaces, a 354 ft field of view at 1,000 yards, and outstanding light transmission. These binoculars come with a web strap, a rain and spray guard for the eyepieces, and an attached objective lens cap. They are backed by a 10-year warranty to protect your investment.

The Bushnell Marine 7x50 Binoculars are built to withstand extreme nautical conditions. These 36 oz binoculars are corrosion resistant, and they will even float. The BaK-4 prisms offer bright, clear, crisp viewing. The fully multi-coated optics give ultimate light transmission and brightness. The 7.1 mm exit pupil makes viewing easy on the open water in bumpy conditions. You will love the non-slip rubber armor cushioning. The Bushnell Marine 7x50 has a 4.4 out of 5 star rating.

The Nikon 8208 Oceanpro 7x50 Binoculars are 100% waterproof and 100% fog proof. You will like the long eye relief and quick easy central focus. They are light weight and shock proof. The BAK-4 high index prisms and multi-coated lenses offer bright, clear imates. These binoculars have a 4.4 out of 5 star rating.

Steiner 7x50 Marine Binoculars

Bushnell Marine 7x50 Waterproof Binoculars

Nikon 8208 Oceanpro 7x50 Binoculars with Compass

Have a question or comment about binoculars?

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Reader Comments

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    • Glenn McCarthy profile image

      Glenn McCarthy 

      5 years ago

      Thank you for explaining the differences. An interesting and useful lens.I'm thinking about buying for cruising and touring and this lens has been very helpful.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I thought I only need one. I realize now there are different types. Thanks for the education.


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