The Best Binoculars for Birdwatching and Wildlife Watching

Updated: 4 days ago

Selecting binoculars for birders, birdwatchers, and wildlife-lovers can seem daunting with such a large selection and a lot of differences in price tags. Luckily, we are taking the flocking guesswork out of this process.

Proper binocular selection can allow for amazing views of hummingbirds, such as this Broad-tailed Hummingbird.

Aside from your own senses, binoculars can be the most helpful tool in your birdwatching arsenal. So, how can we select the best binoculars for going birding, watching birds at our feeders, or finding distant wildlife? We can use three selection criteria to select a pair of binoculars:

  1. Budget

  2. Optics Quality

  3. Durability

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Want our top overall recommendation balancing the selection criteria? It is the Nikon Monarch 5 8x42!

We will organize this post by budget while prioritizing quality optics within each budget. We list our least favorite options to our top recommended binoculars within each category. Use the clickable list below to navigate to your preferred binocular budget section:

How to Select Binoculars

Using budget, optics quality, and durability as the main guidelines for binoculars is a great starting point. However, if you do not know anything about binoculars, you might be confused by the various numbers and terminology used in optics. Let's break these down briefly.

What do the numbers on binoculars mean?

A standard pair of birdwatching binoculars have a number set of 8x42. These numbers give you a clue as to how your viewing experience will be with your binoculars. The first number (8x42) indicates the level of zoom your optics provides. A pair of 8x42 binoculars means an object appears 8 times closer than your eye. The second number (8x42) tells you the diameter (length across) of the objective lens. In our example, the objective lens is 42 mm across. The objective lens is the outer lens that allows light to enter into the binoculars. The larger this number is, the more light is allowed into your view!

How much zoom should birding binoculars have?

When it comes to selecting a level of zoom on birding binoculars, our recommendation is to never go below a power of 6 and never above a power of 12. If you have unsteady hands, sticking to a power of 6 or 8 is best to prevent an exaggerated shake from an increased zoom.

How large an objective lens should birding binoculars have?

An extremely large objective lens might seem appealing for low light situations, but an objective lens that is too large can create heavy and awkward binoculars. If you do not like to carry much weight, look for binoculars in the 25 mm range. If you want more light, look at the 42 range. We do not recommend going over 50 mm. A nice in-between set can be around 32 or 36 mm.

Want a quick summary?

  • Lightweight Binoculars: 6x25 or 8x25

  • Mediumweight Binoculars: 6.5x32 or 8x32 or 10x30

  • Recommended Binocular Size: 8x42 or 10x42

  • Large binoculars: 11x45 or 12x56

Birdwatching Binoculars for Kids

Picking binoculars for kids can be tough! If your young birdwatchers are too small to hold binoculars, they almost certainly will not be able to operate the optics solo. In our experience, many children are able to use binoculars efficiently at 9 or 10 years old. However, they will likely need lighter binoculars to remain steady while viewing. Here are our recommendations:

SVBONY 8x25 Permafocus Binocular for Kids

These binoculars are low-quality optics, but they do not require a child to manually focus them. We only offer these as a recommendation for younger-aged children who have small hands and faces, and cannot focus their own binoculars.

See them on Amazon!

Top Birding Binocular for Kids:

Celestron Outland X 8x25 Binocular

If you have children capable of regular binocular use when birdwatching, these binoculars offer an above-average set of optics, great durability, and they are typically offered for a price under $75. This binocular is our top recommendation for children's binoculars!

See them on Amazon!

Small Budget Binoculars for Birdwatching

Whether you are new to birdwatching or just need to stick to a tight budget, this selection of binoculars provides insight into average to above-average optics for under the price of $125. These types of birding binoculars are optimal for those new to birding and wildlife watching. They may last you for 5 to 10 years with proper care, but we would recommend upgrading to the medium budget binoculars when you feel comfortable with using binoculars or have the funds to do it! We only suggest name-brand binoculars for any price point as they are often backed up with warranties and repair options. We have personally field-tested these binoculars. Want to skip the reading? Here is our top recommendation for this category: Nikon Prostaff 3S 8x42.

Bushnell H2O Waterproof/Fogproof 8x42 Binocular

What do we like about these binoculars? They can take serious abuse from hundreds of tweens and teens while still offering average optics for viewing birds. They are fairly compact and lightweight, but we are not a fan of the strap. They are not great in lowlight situations and color lacks much vibrancy, but for the price, these are only bested by the options seen below.

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Celestron Outland X 8x42 Binocular

Celestron may make my favorite affordable sets of binoculars. If you follow the link provided for these binoculars, you will see a large variety of size options. These binoculars come in sizes from 8x25 to 10x50. They are rugged, have above-average optics, and are completely affordable. We frequently use and recommend these binoculars for tweens, teens, and classrooms!

See them on Amazon!

Top Affordable Birding Binocular:

Nikon Prostaff 3s 8x42 Binocular

Nikon's were the first pairs of binoculars for many of the Flocking Around crew. Why? Higher quality glass and durability with very affordable prices. In fact, we have a pair of Nikons that are over 10 years old and still operate at peak performance! If you can afford a little bit more, go with the Nikon Prostaff's. They come with a better warranty service than Celestron or Bushnell. They have better performance in low-light conditions, and colors appear more vivid. This is our top recommendation for low-budget birding binoculars!

See them on Amazon!

Medium Budget Binoculars for Birdwatching

If you have been birdwatching for a few years, or you have a more comfortable budget to purchase higher quality optics, these binoculars make for GREAT selections. Do you need to go up to the next tier eventually? Probably not, unless you are a biologist, hardcore birder, or have plenty of $$$. The birding binoculars in this list are priced well under $500. For those who want quick and easy answers, here is our top recommendation for this category: Nikon Monarch 5 8x42!

Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42 Binocular

Vortex is a storied brand. You will appreciate the feel of these binoculars, the focus is smooth, and they are fairly durable. The optics between these and the Maven C.1's are comparable. The warranty is for life. However, the Maven binoculars get a slight edge due to their slightly better warranty, and their ownership in the Rocky Mountains.

See them on Amazon!

Maven C.1 8x42 Binocular

Maven is a Wyoming-owned optics company that was born after the demise of Brunton. The eyecups, smooth (but slightly tight) focus ring, and amazing, fix anything, lifetime warranty are the highlights of this binocular. One of the Flocking Around crew uses this delightful birding optic, and they offer compliments about the low-light performance and the oversized neckstrap.

See them on Amazon!

Celestron Trailseeker ED 8x42 Binocular

Again, the Flocking Around crew has a member birding with this binocular. What do they like? Better color vibrancy and saturation, beautifully easy focusing, and comfortable feel in the hand. The ED glass creates some of the best glass in this list, but the field of view is one small drawback.

See them on Amazon!

Top Daily Birding Binocular:

Nikon Monarch 5 8x42 Binocular

You will notice a trend is continuing with this binocular. Our Flocking Around crew also does some serious birdwatching with this Nikon binocular. In fact, they have been used for heavy loads of birding for almost 10 years! The durability is FANTASTIC, but the glass used in these optics is by far our favorite. Color and low-light performance are best in the Nikon Monarch 5. The eyecups and neckstraps are not our favorites, but these small drawbacks do not pull these down into the mud. This is our medium-budgeted category recommendation!

See them on Amazon!

Large Budget Binoculars for Birdwatching

If you're a serious 'ticker,' ornithologist, or flushed with cash, this may be the list for you. Unless of course, you are looking for the best binoculars offered. If you are, move forward to the next category in this list.

The binoculars in this category are over $750. If your budget is between $300 and $1,500, either select from one of the options listed in the 'medium budget' or save up and choose one of the following, amazing optics. The binoculars that live in the $500-$700 range are not impressive when compared to the medium budget binoculars (or the large budget). We recommend sticking to the <$500 or the >$1,000 range.

Vortex Razor HD 8x42 Binocular

The Vortex Razor HD birding binocular is the flagship binocular from Vortex. Optics are top-notch, the focus is smooth, balance is great. The differences between the optics in this list are minuscule, however, the warranties of the other two optics are outstanding.

See them on Amazon!

Maven B.1 10x42 Binocular

Maven is our favorite up and comer in the optics world. We field-tested the B1's, and they hold up against the top-tier binoculars. Could they beat them? Possibly. We would need the ability to use them for extended periods to make a final decision. The focus is buttery, low-light performance is phenomenal, and the balance was great for our hands.

See them on Amazon!

Top Large Budget Binocular:

Swarovski SLC 8x42 Binocular

Swarovski is the premier name in birdwatching binoculars. The only reason this binocular is ahead of the Maven B.1's is brand recognition. Swarovski has been around long enough that we know they will not disappear overnight. This pair is not even the flagship binocular for Swarovski. Want those? Move to the next category.

See them on Amazon!

Top-Tier Binoculars for Birdwatching

Woo. You want a pair of these? Go you. If you go birding 24/7 and 7/52, these are for you. However, you could also fly to Colombia and bird for a month at this price point.

The Best Binoculars Money Can Buy:

Swarovski NL 8x42 Binocular

See them on Amazon!

Also, The Best Binoculars Money Can Buy:

Leica Noctivid 8x42 Binocular

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How should I pick binoculars for birdwatching?

The answer to this question comes down to your budget first, optics second, and the quality of the warranty service third. Generally speaking, the more you spend on a birding binocular, the higher quality the glass and warranty service are. However, no binocular is perfect. Simply put, choose the pair of binoculars for your birdwatching obsession that is most comfortable to you and your budget.

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