Shopping for binoculars isn’t so easy anymore. Innovative new manufacturers are taking on established companies and the result is a flood of high-quality optical technology and steadily decreasing prices. The result for us consumers is clear, more choices and better prices.
It could be that you are looking to acquire a good pair of birding binocularsthat will help you catch a glimpse of rare species and old favorites alike, either from the comfort of your living room or from a distant field, spotted with cranes.
Or maybe you are chasing down a deer, and need a pair of compact hunting binoculars that offer the high performance image quality of a professional model with the lightweight construction that make them easy to take along in your pocket.
Whatever your adventure is, there is a pair of binoculars made just for you, and we’re here to help you make that decision.
Most Comfortable Budget Binoculars – Nikon 8245 ACULON A211 Binocular
|MAGNIFICATION MAXIMUM||8X or 10x|
|OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER||42mm or 50mm|
When it comes to selecting a reliable optics brand, there is no better place to start than Nikon. They’ve been defining the lens game for years, and if they’re current product line is any indicator, there is no reason to think that they’ll be toning it down anytime soon. The ACULON A211 is a comfortable and versatile pair of binoculars that are clearly built to last.
And wouldn’t you know it? The ACULON actually comes in two different lens styles that are both under $100. The 8×42 are significantly more affordable, and are more than adequate for most outdoor activities. The 10x50mm are slightly larger and more expensive, but not a bad option for advanced enthusiasts who are looking to up their game a bit, not to mention a bit better in low light.
They are certainly not the most compact pair of binoculars on our list, but they are lightweight enough to make up for it.
One problem we had with this model was that the lens caps didn’t seem to “grip” very well. Our team found that the lens caps were falling off regularly, which might not be the best thing for a pair of optics that is most likely going to be hitching a ride in your backpack. That last thing you want is scratched lenses.
Aside from some flexible plastic components, the construction is strong enough, though we wonder how firmly mounted the lenses are. For now, avoid dropping these on hard surfaces if at all possible.
Best Compact Binoculars for Birdwatching – Wingspan Optics Nature Sport 8×32 Waterproof
|OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER||42mm|
We thought our eyes had deceived us when we saw the price that was listed on the package for the new model by Wingspan Optics. That’s because their NatureSport binoculars are both fogproof and waterproof, as well as being remarkably compact and a feathery 15.2 ounces. We never expected such a versatile birdwatching product to be able to make a list like this one, but somehow they’ve done it.
The best feature here is simply the all-around convenience of compact and portable optics at a price point that won’t make you worried about taking them out into the wilderness where they, and you, belong.
The fact that Wingspan Optics is offering these with a lifetime warranty says a lot about how they feel about customer service, but the question remains, do they offer the service because they know they are going to break? Or because they are confident that they will not?
We can say with confidence that it is unlikely you are going to have to use the warranty. The pair we received was about as strong as anything else we’ve seen, and the whole body of the binoculars are coated with a non-slip material that will make it even less likely for you to drop them in the first place. The weakness of the NatureSport model is in its sight eyepiece. While the eyepiece is adjustable, it can be difficult and tedious to adjust it to the perfect setting for viewing.
Best Roof Prism Binoculars – SOLOMARK HD 10×42 Roof Prism Binoculars
|OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER||42mm|
If you don’t know SOLOMARK for their binoculars, then perhaps you know them for their impressive line of night vision goggles or telescopes, both of which contain some of the most cutting edge optics technology for the price range. The HD series is both affordable and effective, and is a respectable entry into the sub $100 tournament.
There is no doubt that the HDs are a good all-around pair of binoculars, however, their real strength is in birdwatching. With slightly more magnification than most compact models and only a few ounces of extra weight, the HD is a pair that the advancing birdwatcher may want to consider as they move to upgrade their equipment.
The manufacturer touts this model for its ultimate durability, claiming that they are waterproof, fogproof, and drop proof at the same time with an added anti-slip grip that would make damage harder to come by.
42mm lens is nice and bright, the perfect thing for detailed birdwatching when the slightest variation in color might lead to a misidentification of species. Low light handling here is poor to moderate; if you are looking for something that can operate in dimmer conditions then you are going to want to consider spending a few extra dollars on a more premium model. In addition, they are a bit bulky for what they are, and slightly more cumbersome than what we are looking for in a compact birdwatcher’s binocular.
Best High Powered Binoculars – Wingspan Optics VOYAGER 10×42 High Powered Binoculars for Bird Watching
|OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER||42mm|
|WEIGHT||1 lbs 5 oz|
With the release of the VOYAGER series High Powered Binoculars, optics manufacturer Wingspan has renewed their dedication to providing prosumer-level equipment and technology at budget pricing, making it possible for more people than ever to start enjoying the art of birdwatching without a significant investment.
The VOYAGER represents a step up from Wingspan’s NatureSport series, which had both a smaller magnification factor and lens diameter. For only a few bucks more, the VOYAGER is increasing both the size and clarity of the given image, all inside a sleek package that feels good both in the hands and in front of the eye.
The adjustment system here has a lot of play, which can make sudden and pinpoint in-the-moment adjusting something of a difficulty. We can imagine how easy it would be to lose a bird in your sights because you couldn’t get the eyepiece right in time. However, the mechanics of it are well-built and smooth. The lens caps are attached. This we find slightly annoying. On the one hand it does prevent the caps from disappearing on us, but on the other hand, they are just dangling there and can easily get in the way.
Best Binoculars for Your Smart Phone – Gosky 10×42 Roof Prism Binoculars for Adults
|OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER||42mm|
You know what everyone is saying now days. If you don’t have proof, then it didn’t happen. What better way than to capture your rare bird encounter with friends and family than by connecting your binoculars to your smartphone and snapping a few pictures?
Gosky’s ingenious Roof Prism binoculars are specifically designed to operate with an included smart phone mount. All you have to do is attach the phone to the lens via the included adaptor, and you’ve now got a way to capture images from all of your favorite adventures.
One of the other features we really appreciated was the simplicity and functionality of the tripod interface. These binoculars really were designed with high-performance magnification in mind, and the ability to firmly mount to a tripod is incredibly important for long distance sighting.
A great anti-drop coating here that also feels burly enough to stand up to some considerable beatings. We expect a pair of these to last more than a few years if handled properly. Some minor fogging was present upon the field test. It doesn’t seem like a widespread problem with Gosky, more like individualized cases. Fortunately they’ve got a great warranty program and the customer service team over there is stellar.
Best Budget Binoculars for Hunting – Bushnell Powerview Binocular with Realtree AP Camouflage
|OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER||42mm|
Perhaps the only problem with getting a pair of binoculars with Realtree AP Camouflage is that you might up and disappear the moment you leave them on the forest floor.
Gear giant Bushnell has a wide range of binoculars in their catalog in just about every price range you would imagine. The Powerview lies somewhere in the middle of what you might call entry level binoculars. In other words, these binoculars don’t share some of the more durable or high performance components of Bushnell’s premium line.
Having said that they perform quite well. A 10x magnification is more than adequate for most outdoor activities, where a pair of camouflaged spectacles will be most appreciated. Hunters might like the compact size, but the extra magnification of a 10x versus an 8x has increased the weight to just under two pounds, which is somewhat heavy for a hunter on the go. We can say this: Bushnell knows how to make a lens cap that grips firmly to the lens, so we don’t have to worry about them coming off in the backpack or while they’re around our neck.
Best Binoculars for Birdwatching From Home – Celestron NATURE DX Binocular
|OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER||42mm|
Celestron’s NATURE DX series of binoculars could quite possibly be one of the most respected product lines in the industry. That’s because Celestron is consistently delivering some of the best performing optical technology. Sometimes is can be hard to tell the difference between one brand and another, but we were pretty stunned to see the difference in image brightness and clarity between this model and the other ones on our list.
We love the solid rubber armor. It feels like it can take a beating, though they are so nice that we would never let that happen to them.
The NATURE DX are available in an impressive range of magnifications and lens diameters, everything from 8×32 to a massive 12×56. They get significantly more expensive at the upper end of the range, but everything from 8×42 down meets the “under $100” mark that we are trying to hit. And no matter which pair you buy, you are getting the same quality standards and customer service that Celestron has become known for.
One big problem that seems inherent in the NATURE DX series is a loose eye relief dial, which makes it remarkably difficult to retain precise adjustments for more than a few minutes; even minimal movement of the binoculars can cause the wheel to move and change the adjustment setting. If they could tighten this wheel up a bit then we would be looking at a truly world class pair of binoculars. Perhaps also it’s worth mentioning that they’re a tad heavy. At 2.5 lbs, they’re actually the heaviest binoculars on our list. For us, this makes them ideal for storing beside the living room window for the occasional at-home birdwatching.
Best Budget Binoculars for Birding – Bushnell LEGACY WP Porro Prism Binocular
|OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER||42mm|
We were excited to try out Bushnell’s relatively new LEGACY WP series of binoculars because we had heard so much about how durable they were. They’ve got one of the toughest rubber paneling that we have seen, which would give them a high impact rating in our book. They’re available up to 10×50, but the best deal is most certainly coming in at the 8×42 level.
The classic look of these binoculars is doing something for their appeal. Unlike all the compact models that we reviewed here, the LEGACY isn’t afraid to trade a little bit of size for a lot of performance. And that’s where it really counts, doesn’t it?
We should probably take a moment to talk about Porro Prisms, which have managed to remain popular for so long because of their ability to provide increased depth perception and a wider field of view than traditional prisms, though the technology comes at a price. These prisms feature “V”-shaped tube placement that limits how compact and lightweight they can be.
Is the Porro Prism the reason that the LEGACY series has been selling so well at the outdoor shops? We could see that being the case. It is the go-to binocular style of many long-time birders, many of whom don’t mind a pair of binoculars with a bit more weight to them. These are BIG binoculars, and they have the HEFT to go along with it. This makes them less ideal to take with you on that afternoon hike, and perhaps better kept in the car, or for dedicated birdwatchers who don’t mind the extra weight.
How to Find the Best Budget Binoculars Under $100 for You
If you are reading this, then chances are you’ve already got your budget lined up for your next pair of binoculars. The next step in choosing the right pair for you is to stop and consider what the primary purpose of the binoculars will be. While many of the binoculars in this price range are suitable for most general purposes, some pairs may have additional features that would make them more or less suitable for your specific activity.
So, what is it you like to do?
Go for something waterproof and rubber coated for durability. For boating, there really isn’t a need for higher magnification factors, because of the movement of the boat.
Think of it like this, the more zoomed in you are, the more drastic the visual changes will be that are seen through the binoculars. This is why birders who employ zoom lenses often have to make use of a tripod for image stability.
If you are on a boat that is constantly moving with the water, then even a tripod would not be able to produce a stable image. For this reason, it is better to look for binoculars with high waterproof and fogproof ratings, and preferably something more durable.
Equine Sports / Stadium Sports
Compact models may be convenient for storage inside of a backpack, however a good zoom function might be more important here.
Music Concerts / Live Theater
Here, the zoom is key. What better way to see your favorite performer up close?
Hiking / Outdoors
Any standard size binoculars are adequate. Look for lightweight models, compact models, and something waterproof if you are going to be out there camping for a while.
Depending on your style of hunting, you might want up to 12x or 16x magnification for distant game, however, hunters who like staying light and moving fast would appreciate something more compact.
The standard specifications for bird watching binoculars these days seems to be 8×42, though for more detailed species definition at a distance many birdwatchers prefer something closer to 12×50.
Low Light Conditions
7×50 offers the best light gathering for such conditions.
For a more comprehensive guide on how to shop for premium binoculars, Check out the Audubon Society’s Guide to Buying Binoculars.
A Guide to All Those Binocular Numbers
It is somewhat embarrassing for us to admit that we had gone way too far in life to not understand what all those little numbers meant that were displayed beside binocular displays. You know the ones … they appear as two numbers, separated by an ‘x’. Like 7×50 or 8×32.
What exactly do they mean?
The First Number is the POWER or MAGNIFICATION of the binocular. So essentially, if your binoculars were 7×50, then the object you are viewing will appear 7x magnified, or seven times closer than it actually is in real life.
The Second Number refers to the diameter of the OBJECTIVE LENS, also known as the FRONT LENS. The larger this lens is, the more light is able to enter, and the brighter your image will appear.
The Exit Pupil: A Rough Measure of Brightness
The next number that comes into play when discussing binoculars is the EXIT PUPIL. While it sounds more like a bad movie from the 80s, it’s actually a quick (& somewhat rough) way to determine how bright the image is going to be. More specifically, it is the size of the light image that is visible at the eye piece, measured in mm.
To determine the exit pupil, you divide the objective lens diameter by the magnification factor. So a binocular model that is 8×32 would have an exit pupil of 4mm, because 32/8 = 4.
Relative Brightness (RE) … What is It?
Many binoculars these days will also feature an RE number with the specifications, which is an additional way to measure image brightness. The other thing you need to know about relative brightness is that it can be derived by squaring the exit pupil. Therefore, binocular with an exit pupil of 4mm will have an RE of 16.
Binocular Prisms: Porro Prisms vs. Roof Prisms
When it comes to consumer binoculars, there are two main kinds of prism that are used in construction. They both function in a similar way using image erecting prisms, but there are some subtle differences in how they get that done.
It would not be incorrect to say that Porro style prisms are the more traditional choice for binocular construction. The prisms are offset and have those recognizable V-shaped tubes. There are also varieties known as reverse Porro prism binoculars which are capable of being more compact and portable with their inverted tube design.
In general, Porro prisms feature wide construction with lenses that are more distantly separated and for this reason are not capable of being as compact as roof lenses. However they tend to be significantly more affordable.
Because roof prism binoculars are constructed with two parallel tubes, it is possible to make them significantly smaller and more lightweight than those that are
Entering the world of budget binoculars was an eye opening experience. With all of the visionary products on the market these days, we were surprised to find so many good features on binoculars that are affordable enough for anyone.
For me? I’m an at-home birdwatcher, who likes to sit by the fire and wait to see what kind of birds might be passing through the neighborhood. For that reason, the personal pick has got to be the CELESTRON NATURE DX. They’re not the best for hiking because of their size and weight, but for a pair of binoculars to store by the couch, they are just perfect.
However there is no denying that binoculars weren’t just built for home bodies. Hunters, hikers, and photographers require specialized magnification technology and lightweight, compact components. For any outdoor adventure, you really can’t go wrong with the BUSHNELL POWERVIEW, which offer some of the best performance for the money that you can find.
Can I Use Binoculars if I Wear Eye Glasses?
Yes! The notion that individuals who wear eyeglasses are unable to properly use binoculars is outdated and false. This is because almost all binoculars utilize rubber or plastic eyecups that can either twist or fold to prevent the user’s glasses from getting in the way of the eye cups.
The term ‘eye relief’ refers to the distance that a pair of binoculars can be held away from the eye while continuing to provide a complete field of view. A longer or ‘extended’ eye relief can be particularly helpful for glasses wearers as it allows them to be held further from the eyes.
The Diopter Adjustment
Because some people experience differences in vision between their two eyes, the diopter adjustment allows for precise adjustment of a single eyepiece so the user can achieve a fine-focus image in both eyes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Those little numbers you see next to a binoculars description are references to the visual specifications that they offer. More specifically, the first number refers to magnification, and the second number to the diameter of the objective lens.
Click on over to our Guide On Binocular Numbers posted above for more information.
Most binoculars include a tripod mount, however some budget models might not, so it is important to check before you purchase.
All of the binoculars on our Best Budget Binoculars list do indeed have tripod mounts.
If the binoculars you are interested in do not have a tripod mount, some third party manufacturers have some cool binocular tripod adapters available.
It is perhaps safe to say that a majority of binoculars on the market are waterproof these days, although there are surely some exceptions on the more affordable end of the price range. Generally speaking, if a pair of binoculars is waterproof or fogproof, it will be advertised as such because it increases the value perception of the product.
Watching the ballgame through binoculars is a great way to catch the action, however the variable distances that are required of such a large field would require constant refocusing and adjustment. We recommend looking for a pair of binoculars with a good zoom function. And because many football games take place in the evening when temperatures are changing rapidly, you might check that they are fogproof as well.