Got your eyes to the skies?
Any cosmic explorers looking for the best binoculars for astronomy and stargazing would do well to stop clicking and start scrolling. Our team sat down for an in-depth side by side comparison of nearly 30 of the best binoculars we could find, lining them up by magnification, lens diameter, & durability.
The result is a list of the 6 best binoculars for stargazing in 2019, which we are listing here for your shopping convenience. After that we are pointing the binoculars at some of the more technical information on how to choose the best binoculars for you, getting real nerdy so you don’t have to. After all, the light from some of these celestial bodies has been traveling for millions of years just to get to your eye, so the very least you can do is offer it your complete and undivided attention.
Best Binoculars for Looking at the Moon
ORION 9546 Resolux 15×70 Waterproof Astronomy Binoculars
MAXIMUM MAGNIFICATION: 15x
OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER: 70 mm
EYE RELIEF: 18 mm +
WEIGHT: 5 LBS
BEST FEATURE: GREAT LONG DISTANCE VIEWING
Maybe it’s a little bit obvious, but if you are looking for a good pair of stargazing binoculars, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to start with a company that’s named for one of the most widely-known cultural constellations in the world. ORION has been known for their high-quality optics for some time, so maybe it’s also not a surprise that this is where we chose to start.
The bottom line: the 9546 RESOLUX binoculars are one of the “safest bets” if you’re looking into getting into stargazing. While the magnification isn’t quite what advanced stargazers are looking for, its actually quite perfect for the novice to intermediate astronomer looking for a great pair of lenses to practice with. The resolution is still better than what you need to see some of the closer planets and stars.
What we’ve always appreciated about ORION is that you can tell how much they care about their optic technology when you look at how durable and rugged the housing is on almost all their products. We’re talking all-metal construction with thick rubber armor. It’s one of those strange things that serves two related purposes: preventing you from dropping your binoculars, and protecting your binoculars when you do.
A few drawbacks to the model include weight, which at 5 LBS is not terribly heavy, but exactly as heavy as some other models which offer greater magnification and resolution. The result is that it can be difficult to hole these still by hand unless you are braced against the ground and looking directly up. One solution would be to mount them on a tripod to safe your arms the effort.
The eyecups can chafe slightly after continued use, though the rubber cups will probably also get a bit softer with time.
Best Cheap Binoculars for Stargazing
CELESTRON 71198 Cometron 7×50 Binoculars
MAXIMUM MAGNIFICATION: 7x
OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER: 50 mm
EYE RELIEF: 13 mm
WEIGHT: 2 LBS
WATERPROOF?: WATER RESISTANT
BEST FEATURE: CHEAP / LIGHTWEIGHT
Here’s my problem when I go out into the field without a tripod: my arms get tired really quickly, especially when trying to hold a pair of binoculars steady while directed at one of the craters on the moon. There are really two solutions to this, the first being to stop forgetting the tripod at home. The second solution which has the added benefit of increased portability is to buy a new set of binoculars that just don’t weigh as much.
At 2 LBS, the CELESTRON Cometron binocs are one of the more moderately weighted sets on our list. This allows a significantly extended hand-held viewing time, not to mention sheds some pounds from the overall pack weight. This is going to allow you to get just a bit further into a good, dark stargazing area away from the light pollution of the city.
We also should mention that the Cometrons are also the most affordable pair of binoculars that we have looked at yet. They’re significantly less expensive that a prosumer-level scope like the ORION RESOLUX. In terms of how this affects overall performance, we can safely say that you aren’t going to see much of a drop in quality with the actual lenses. What you will need to look out for is durability. Generally speaking one of biggest drawbacks to buying cheap binoculars is that their outer casings are made from less durable materials. In this case, that would be lightweight aluminum.
Remember: even two different sets of binoculars that both claim to be made of aluminum will feature significantly different thicknesses in the metal. So one might break a whole lot easier than the other when it’s dropped. And let’s face it: you’re going to drop them at least one. It just happens.
Best Image Processing on Astronomical Binoculars
ORION 9326 Giant View 25×100 Astronomy Binoculars
MAXIMUM MAGNIFICATION: 25 x
OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER: 100 mm
EYE RELIEF: 18 mm
WEIGHT: 10.1 LBS
BEST FEATURE: VERY BRIGHT IMAGING
Anyone looking to take their handheld stargazing to the next level would do well to take a closer look at the ORION 9326’s. These offer some of the brightest imaging and best magnification that you can find in a pair of binoculars. It’s true that they are at the higher end of the spectrum when it comes to consumer binoculars, but the dedicated astro-enthusiast is going to need something like this if they really want to see things in the highest definition possible.
The 25x magnification works wonders for terrestrial and astronomical viewing alike, however, at this level of magnification it is almost absolutely necessary for you to use a tripod. Unless you’re a trained sniper you won’t be able to hold these things steady enough to take advantage of that level of magnification. So trust us on this one and go ahead a get yourself a tripod.
The only thing that keeps these binoculars from being the very best of the best on our list is that there are low levels of chromatic aberration as a result of the layered lens coating. Amateur stargazers will likely not be able to notice, but this in conjunction with a slight comma towards the outer field of view force us to reduce the rating by a half star.
Even with those considerations, the ORION 9326 offer some of the highest specialized performance in a binocular at this price range. Durable and bright, they’re not a purchase that you are likely to regret.
Best Prosumer Astronomy Binoculars
ZHUMELL 25x 100 TACHYON Astronomy Binoculars with Case
MAXIMUM MAGNIFICATION: 25x
OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER: 100 mm
EYE RELIEF: 15.4 mm
WEIGHT: 9.5 LBS
BEST FEATURE: DURABLE HARD CASE
Once you start stargazing with any level of regularity, it is highly likely that you are going to become interested in astronomical filters, which are threaded add-ons that can be attached to upper-level stargazing binoculars like the ZHUMELL TACHYON’s. The ability to upgrade the lenses further or to moderate different levels of light gives the viewer ultimate control in image processing, and considering just how very far away these images are, we could use all the help we can get.
In terms of performace, the TACHYON binoculars are really quite similar to the ORION 9326 which we looked at above. The feature identical magnification capabilities and lens diameter, meaning that image processing is very similar on both models. Considering both binoculars side-by-side, we couldn’t help but think that the Orions offered am image that was ever so slightly brighter than the Zhumells. However the threaded lens capabilities of the Zhumells were much greater. And considering that they are a few bucks cheaper there might be more than one reason to go with Zhumell over Orion.
This is another set of binocs where a tripod is absolutely necessary to get a clear and stable image. Generally you are going to want a tripod with anything above 15x magnification, but let’s be honest, it helps at all magnifications, and keeps your arms from getting too tired.
There’s a pretty good 25 year warranty available on Zhumell’s products, which we feel we have to mention to anyone who still isn’t sure which binoculars to buy for looking up at the stars.
Best Magnification on Stargazing Binoculars
SUNAGOR MEGA ZOOM Binoculars 30-160×70
MAXIMUM MAGNIFICATION: 160x
OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER: 70 mm
EYE RELIEF: 15 mm
WEIGHT: 3.2 LBS
BEST FEATURE: GOOD DISTANCE VIEWING
Seeing as how there was no one on our team who was particularly well-familiarized with the company SUNAGOR, one of the “new kids on the block” in terms of optical technology, we decided to give these zoom-capable binoculars a dedicated spin to see how well they stacked up against the other products on our list.
After putting a little digging into the topic, seems that the only aspect that anyone is talking about in regards to the SUNGAR MEGA ZOOMS is the wheel-operated zoom function, which supposedly lets you take these puppies from a healthy 30x magnification to an absolutely batty 160x magnification. This sounded a bit too good to be true, so we had to check for ourselves.
As it turns out, the zoom function isn’t particularly useful on these binoculars. Any magnification beyond 30x and the image becomes quickly darkened and out of focus. The thing is when you crank up the magnification like that without allowing for a longer diameter objective lens, then you simply aren’t going to be getting enough light through the lenses to produce a clear image. And if you want a lens with an objective diameter big enough to facilitate 160x magnification, then you are pretty much buying a telescope at that point.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is perhaps a topic for a different day.
We do have to say, though, that if you use these binoculars at 30x magnification (the base setting) you are going to get a crystal clear image with pretty decent stability. In fact it is one of the clearest images you can get with any binoculars of this specification (30×70).
Best Premium-Quality Stargazing Binocular
BARSKA BLUELINE 2x, 40×100 Waterproof Jumbo Binocular w/ Premium Hard Case
MAXIMUM MAGNIFICATION: 40x
OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER: 100 mm
EYE RELIEF: 23.6 mm
WEIGHT: 16.93 LBS
BEST FEATURE: INCREDIBLY DURABLE
You aren’t going to find a more high-performance stargazing binocular that the BARSKA BLUELINE. We’ll put it simply for you so that you won’t miss it: the BLUELINES have the best image quality to magnification ratio of any other product that we looked at. And while this level of performance does mean that they are going to be considerably more expensive than any of their competitors, the increase in both resolution and brightness would be an absolute necessity for anyone who needs to be uncompromising when it comes to their stargazing. Seriously, these are professional-level binoculars, and you can tell from the moment you take them out of the box.
The included hard carrying case is not only a great bonus, but it’s actually a necessity if you are really considering going more high-end on a new pair of stargazing binoculars. As long as you take care of these things and make sure not to drop them, the lenses will stay in place for years and years, meaning you are not only investing in a great piece of optical technology, but also something that could very well become a family heirloom as it passes down from generation to generation. The only negative thing that we have to say about the BLUELINEs is that we have heard about some slight to moderate quality control issues at the factory. This means that pairs have been sent out with defective or missing pieces, so be sure to give your binoculars a thorough inspection before use in case you need to send them back for a replacement pair. In that department, BARSKA is actually a pretty good company to work with; their customer service department will get a new pair shipped out to you right away if anything is wrong with them.
There are a few ways to tackle the inevitable question of “What’s the best pair of binoculars in 2019?”
For instance, you could break it down by overall value. After all, not everyone is going to want to pay upwards of a thousand bucks for a pair of hobby binoculars. In addition it can be nice to have a less expensive product around that you are not really worried about breaking. Is this the case? Then there is really no better pair than the Celestron COMETRON binocs, which come in at under 30 bucks and still manage to produce a pretty good image of closer celestial bodies like the moon.
However if you’re looking for some top-tier optical equipment that offers the very best in both magnification and image quality, then we can’t really recommend anything other than the BARSKA BLUELINE binocs. You are going to be paying quite a bit more for these babies, but in terms of sheer performance you will be hard pressed to find anything that comes even close.
How to Find the Best Stargazing Binoculars: A Comprehensive 2019 Buying Guide
Now that we have taken our little stroll through the best 6 stargazing binoculars of 2019, we can take the rest of the post to spend some time with the more technical aspects of shopping for a new pair of binoculars. Shopping for any piece of technology can be a daunting task, and binoculars have some very specific aspects that might require a bit of education to fully understand what you’re getting into.
Here’s a few good starting points that you can use on your quest:
The whole point of binoculars is to make distant images appear brighter. This is done by manipulating the incoming light beams in order to magnify the image, or make it bigger.
Magnification is the first of the two numbers that you will see when shopping for binoculars. For instance, a binocular that is rated at 40×100 has a magnification factor of 40x. In other words, the image can be displayed at up to 40 times its actual size. (We’ll get to that second number in a moment).
While more magnification sounds like it would always be a good thing, there are some other considerations for high magnification binoculars that can complicate things a bit. For example, the greater magnification that a binocular can offer, the less stable the image is going to be. At higher magnifications, it becomes necessary to utilize a tripod for the best-quality astronomical viewing.
OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER
The objective lens is the most important part. Sometimes referred to as the front lens, is one of the most important parts of a binocular because the diameter of said lens determines how much light is entering the scope at any given point or for any given distance.
Because photons bounce off an object at all sorts of infinite angles, a thing that is far away is much harder to see clearly than something that is close to you. In essence, if you are looking at a closer object, your eyes are simply catching more photons, and thus light information.
Therefore, the bigger the diameter of the front lens, the greater amount of light can enter the lens chamber, and thus, a brighter image can be produced. This is one of the reasons why objective lens diameter is just as important as magnification when shopping for a new pair of binoculars … because you can have the best magnification in the world, but if your scope is too small, you won’t have enough light to tell what you’re looking at.
EYE RELIEF ADJUSTMENT
The measurement of eye relief available on a binocular is not always an easy number to find. Not everyone knows that this eye relief thing is all about, because strictly speaking, you don’t really need to know about it in order to get the best out of your binocs.
Measured in millimeters, eye relief is the distance that can exist between the eye and the eyepiece while maintaining a complete field of view. This distance can be of added importance for people who wear glasses who cannot put their eye directly up to the eye piece when the glasses are on. And considering that more than 6 in 10 people wear glasses, it might not be a surprise that eye relief has increased in general to the neighborhood of 20 mm on some models.
WEIGHT & CONSTRUCTION MATERIAL
We’re putting weight and construction material into the same sub-category for the simple reason that they are so closely connected when it comes to binocular design. Generally speaking, the more high-performance the binoculars, the heavier or thicker material that the manufacturer is going to use to encase the lens assembly. It is important that this casing is remarkably durable, because even as slight mis-alignment of the lenses can lead to an improperly leveled image. This is why binoculars can get worse and worse the more that they are dropped.
Almost all binoculars offer some measure of diopter adjustment, so you usually don’t have to worry about looking for it advertised on the product specifications.
Because a large number of people have different vision in each eye, it is helpful to have the ability to precisely adjust each eyepiece individually so the user doesn’t have to close one eye in order to see things perfectly.
ASTRONOMY LENS ADAPTABILITY
Just like high-end cameras, some of the nicer (read: more expensive) binoculars for stargazing offer threads around the tip of the objective lens so that additional specialized lenses can be utilized. These can increase magnification or act as a new, wider objective lens, or they can filter out harmful amounts of light, such as some filters that are specially designed to allow viewing of the sun.
Stargazing with Binoculars: Do I Really Need to Use a Tripod?
The question of whether or not you are going to need a tripod in order to get the best imaging out of your newly-purchased astronomical binoculars really comes down to a matter of magnification. When you are looking at an image that is highly magnified, such as a distant planet like Neptune, even miniscule movements in your hand can cause the image to fly all over the place. In other words, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep the binoculars steady enough for your eyes to focus on the image.
Adding a good tripod to your stargazing equipment is the single most effective way to reduce eye strain and arm strain that can come as a result of trying to hold the binoculars as still as possible.
While our team recommends using a tripod for all stargazing, we find that it becomes absolutely necessary for any binoculars with a magnification rating of 30x or above.
Frequently Asked Questions
• Q: What is the strongest magnification for binoculars?
A: In terms of the binoculars on our list, the ones with the strongest magnification would probably be the SUNAGOR MEGA ZOOM binoculars, which advertise a staggering magnification factor of 160x. Most of the products on our list however hover somewhere near the 30x mark, which is more than enough for even the advanced stargazer to get a good image of that astral body that they can’t stop thinking about.
Here’s the thing about magnification: the further away an image is, the less light from that image is going to pass through into the lens. This is why a wider objective lens width is necessary to compensate and allow more light in. Without the additional light, highly magnified images (like those at 160x) will be too dim and/or blurry to really distinguish.
Our advice is that if you are really looking for something with that level of magnification, consider purchasing a telescope.
• Q: What should I look for when buying binoculars?
A: If you are browsing the web for a new pair of binoculars for stargazing, you are going to want to compare the products you are looking at by a number of factors, including:
- MAGNIFICATION FACTOR
- OBJECTIVE LENS WIDTH (MM)
- SPECIAL FEATURES
For a detailed look into how exactly these features come together to make a great pair of binoculars, be sure to check out How to Find the Best Stargazing Binoculars above.
• Q: How heavy are they? Is a Tripod always necessary?
A: Because binoculars come in a number of different price ranges, there is going to be a pretty considerable difference in how much one pair weighs versus another. For the purpose of our review, the binoculars listed here can range anywhere from 2 pounds to 20 pounds. Generally speaking the higher magnification and wider lens, the thicker casing is going to be used. This means more metal, which means more weight.
Regarding the tripod, it is not strictly necessary for stargazing. However we can’t recommend one enough. Not only are your arms going to get tired holding up a 10 pound (average-weight) pair of binoculars, but the added stability of a tripod means that you can keep the image absolutely still.
Our real Pro Tip is that you should absolutely be using a tripod for 30x magnification & above.
• Q: Is this binocular good to look at the planets and the moon? A: That’s precisely what astronomical binoculars are for. The added magnification necessary to get a clear picture of anything in space requires some pretty wide objective lens diameters. So much light has been scattered from the super-distant image that even the most powerful binoculars can have a hard time producing a clear & well-lit image. By increasing the lens diameter to allow for massive magnification factors, it becomes entirely possible to explore the greater cosmos from the safety of your home planet, looking at everything from the craters on the moon to the beautiful linear dance of Saturn’s many moons.