In a lot of ways, the best binoculars for birding are the best binoculars in general; they allow you to see a clear, close-up image that makes you feel as though you're right next to the action. That said, watching a sports game or a play isn't the same thing as zooming in on a hummingbird. If you're wondering how to choose binoculars for bird-watching, a good pair requires three things: a larger magnification and objective lens, high-quality glass prisms, and a lightweight but durable design.
First thing's first: the magnification and objective lens. Binoculars always have a set of numbers attached to them — let's take 8 by 42 (usually written as "8x42"), for example. The first number is the magnification power, while the second number is the diameter of the objective lens. In the above example, the binoculars magnify the image eight times compared to the naked eye and have a 42-millimeter objective lens. (The larger the objective lens, the more light it'll allow through, meaning the image will be clearer and brighter — but the binoculars will also be heavier.) Most bird-watchers opt for magnifications between 8 and 10, depending on how close they typically get to the wildlife, but some go up to 12 for long-distance viewing.
Next, consider the type of lens. Glass lenses aren't as durable as plastic, but they typically provide better image quality — especially if all surfaces have been coated multiple times. Then there's the prism material: BAK4 (also known as barium crown glass) is considered the best type because it transmits light clearly.
Last but not least, there's the way the binoculars feel in your hand. For the most part, a more powerful set will be heavier, but some of the best-selling brands have found a middle-ground between quality and portability.
That's a ton of information — but I've narrowed down the four best bird-watching binoculars, so you can spend less time researching and more time outside.
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1. The beginner pair
Looking for something cheap and compact that still gets the job done? These Aurosports binoculars still offer high-quality 10-times magnification with multi-coated BAK4 prisms, but they're also lightweight, fit in the palm of your hand, and fold up for easier travel — all for $26 a pair. This pair is likely not the best one for master bird-watchers, but for beginners or those who are always on the move, it's a great option that's backed by a 4.4-star overall rating on Amazon.
One reviewer says: "I am new to bird-watching, so I purchased these binoculars to help me with my new hobby. I am happy with my purchase especially for the price. It was a good buy. It is compact, lightweight and the focus is great!"
- Magnification and objective diameter: 10x25
- Prism type: BAK4
- Weight: 0.75 pound
2. The pair for serious birding
Yes, these are an investment, but for those who are serious about birding, reviewers on Amazon wrote that the Nikon Monarch 5 binoculars are "worth every penny." They have 8 by 42 magnification and objective diameter, and they're built with extra-low dispersion glass, which creates a sharp image with high light transmittance. (In other words, everything looks vivid, even in darker environments.) The Monarch 5 is also waterproof, fog-resistant, and protected with a rubber coating.
One reviewer says: "These were a gift for my daughter, who's an avid bird watcher. She's tried many different binoculars, but feels these are the best. She was thrilled to receive them for her birthday. You get a very clear view no matter what the weather conditions or time of day."
- Magnification and objective diameter: 8x42
- Prism type: BAK4
- Weight: 1.3 pounds
3. The mid-range pair for long-distance birding
Even though these Adorrgon binoculars have a reasonable price tag, they still offer all of the best features, including: multi-coated lenses, BAK4 prisms, and a powerful 12 by 42 magnification. As a result, they're great for people who can't necessarily get up close to the wildlife. They're also lightweight, durable, and work well in lower-light environments, which is why over 2,000 reviewers have given them a perfect five-star rating on Amazon.
One reviewer says: "These binoculars are well designed and easy to use, with or without my glasses. The feeders are 20-25 feet from the back door, and the binocs not only let me see each bird in detail, but which birds are eating which type of seed! These are so reasonably priced, I'd recommend them highly for any casual birder."
- Magnification and objective diameter: 12x42
- Prism type: BAK4
- Weight: 1.1 pounds
4. The tough weather-proof binoculars
If you expect to encounter some extreme weather, these Celestron binoculars are worth the price. Yes, they have multi-coated BAK4 prisms, but they're also waterproof, fog-proof, rubber-coated, and backed by a limited lifetime warranty. You also get unlimited access to the brand's expert technical support, and the set comes with a carrying case, lens caps, a cloth, a neck strap, and an eyepiece that keeps the rain out of your eyes. Plus, the pair comes in a range of magnification and objective lens strengths.
One reviewer says: "This is perhaps the best Amazon purchase I have ever made, not only because of the quality of the product — which I am very happy with — but because of the way Celestron backed it up. My interest in birding had reached a point when it became time for a new, more serious pair of binoculars. [...] I have used them in pouring rain and heavy snow with no issues."
- Magnification and objective diameter: 8x32, 8x42, 10x32, 10x42, 10x56, and 12x56
- Prism type: BAK4
- Weight: 1.75 pounds (for the 8x42)