The Best Binoculars For Bird Watching | How To Choose

Birdwatching is so much better with a pair of binoculars to hand. You can get up close, see the colours and the detail, understand so much more about behaviour. But when it comes to choosing the right pair of binoculars, the technical specifications can be bewildering and the selection overwhelming. In this article, we help you find the bird watching binoculars that are right for you. 

The Best Bird Watching Binoculars. 

Before you can decide which bird watching binoculars will be best for you, you should spend some time thinking about how you plan to use them. This will help you to determine which features are going to be most important to you. 

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Here are some of the questions you could consider before starting to look at the technical specification and different models.

  • Will you be using your binoculars mainly for watching birds in your garden?
  • Will you be using them in hides on nature reserves?
  • Will you be using them on hiking trips or camping trips where you need to carry them for long periods?
  • Will you be using your binoculars in low light conditions, at dawn or dusk, for example, or even on British winters days?
  • Will you be taking them on holiday with you?
  • Will you be using them to view birds at longer distances? Birds of prey, sea or estuary birds, for example. 
  • Will you be taking your binoculars out on the water?
  • Do you plan to be out bird watching in bad weather?
  • Do you wear glasses?
  • Do you have shaky hands?

All these considerations and more will effect which pair of binoculars you choose.

Understanding the Technical Bit

The technical jargon used to describe binoculars can sound like a foreign language or some sort of a mathematical equation at first. But you need to get your head around the basics if you are going to choose the right pair of binoculars. 

So let’s take a simple look at the technical bit. 

Magnification. 

This is usually the first thing you will see in the description of a pair of binoculars. 6x, 8x, 10x or even more. 

These numbers refer to the binoculars’ magnification – how close they will bring you to an object. 

Whatever your budget and whatever your needs, there's a perfect pair of bird watching binoculars out there for you. Click To Tweet

At first, it’s tempting to think that the higher magnification you go for, the better. But there are trade-offs. Higher magnification will often come hand in hand with a decreased field of view, increased weight and increased sensitivity to movement, causing loss of focus if your hands are shaky. 

For the majority of bird watching, we would suggest 7x to 10x magnification is ideal. 

Objective Lens Diameter

This is the lens furthest from your eyes, and it gathers light into the binoculars. The diameter of the objective lens is usually shown straight after the magnification. For example, binoculars described as 7×32 would have 7 x magnification and a 32mm diameter Objective lens. 

The bigger the objective lens diameter, the more light will be collected into the binoculars, and the brighter and more colourful the image will be. 

So for bird watching, a larger objective lens is critical. But there are trade-offs between objective lens size, weight and magnification. 

So we would suggest that a 42mm objective lens is a good level to aim at for most bird watching. For a compact, go-anywhere pair, 25mm is a good compromise. 

Larger objective lens sizes can give good results, but they do make the kit heavier and more sensitive to vibration. Some of the largest objective lens sizes require mounting on a tripod to use them effectively. 

One reason to consider an objective lens above 32mm would be if you plan to use your binoculars in low light conditions; a high-value objective lens will be useful here. But beware of the trade-off in weight and steadiness.

Field of View

This is another important factor for bird watching. The wider your field of view, the easier it will be to spot birds and to track them as they fly. 

Again, there tends to be a trade-off between magnification and field of view. So the higher magnification, the narrower the field of view. 

Field of view is generally expressed as either degrees or width of vision at 1,000 meters. 

Look for a field of view of between 5 and 9 degrees for most bird watching. A wider field of view will be important for you if you watch birds in wide-open spaces rather than in your garden. 

Close Focus

This is all about how close you can be to something and still focus on it. At first, this may seem unimportant. You buy binoculars to see things at a distance, right?

But actually, if you are wanting to see the detail of a blue tit on your bird table or even a butterfly on your buddleia, being able to focus at close range is important.  

Having a close focus of 3 to 4 meters is good for birds and other wildlife. 

Depth of Focus

This is about the range of distances you can see clear detail at, without having to refocus. Clearly, this is an important feature when bird watching. It refers to the variation in the distance you can be from an object without having to refocus. 

This is complicated stuff, and you will rarely see the depth of focus expressed in figures in a binocular spec. But some designs of binocular give a better depth of focus than others – more of this tater. 

Lens Coatings

The lenses of binoculars are generally made of glass, and glass reflects light. As we know, the more light you get into binoculars, the brighter, clearer, and sharper the image will be. 

So lens coatings are good. The options available are complex, but as a rough guide, binoculars marked as “coated” have the lowest level of coating, whilst those labelled “fully multi coated” offer the most advanced anti-reflection treatments. There is a cost associated with higher levels of coating, but it’s worth aiming for as much as you can afford. 

Coatings can be so effective in allowing more light into the binoculars that they can make a pair with, say, 25mm Objective lenses, perform as well as a pair with 32mm lenses. This can be especially important if you are looking for a pair of compact binoculars. 

Eye Relief

This is important for anyone planning to wear glasses whilst using binoculars. Eye relief is the distance your eye can be from the viewing lens and still see through the binoculars properly. 

If you are wearing glasses, you will need a high eye relief, ideal 15mm or above. Adjustable eye cups can also be useful. 

Porro Prism or Roof Prism

This is all about how the lenses are arranged within the body of the binoculars to achieve magnification. 

Porro prism is the traditional design and results in the traditions angled or stepped binocular shape. 

Roof prism binoculars arrange the internal lenses differently to achieve a sleeker, more compact, straight body. 

Though Porro prism binoculars can be heavier and bulkier, they do have several advantages. 

Firstly the wider spacing of the objective lenses makes for a deeper field of focus (meaning less need to refocus) and a more immersive viewing experience. 

Secondly, Porro prisms are cheaper to produce, so you can often get a higher spec piece of kit for a lower price than it’s roof prism equivalent. 

So if size and bulk aren’t massively important to you, then it can be well worth considering a pair of Porro prism binoculars. And they look cool too!

Waterproofing, Waterproofing and Anti-Fogging

It may be that you plan to be out in all weather with your new bins, Or you could be taking them boating, in which case water and weatherproofing are probably going to be high on your list of must-have features.

But even if you only ever plan to use your binoculars for watching birds in your garden on sunny days, these features are still worth considering. 

The need for waterproofing and waterproofing is clear if you will be out and about with your equipment. But the secondary benefit of these features is that they will extend the life of your binoculars. 

The most common reason for having to replace a pair of binoculars is that they have dust of dirt inside them, distorting the image, or they have started for fog. 

Water and weatherproofing can help to keep dust and dirt out of your binoculars for longer. Look especially for pairs sealed with O rings. 

Having the interior of the equipment filled with a dry gas like Argon or Nitrogen can also help keep fogging at bay for longer. 

Focus

Birds are fast-moving, so you will need to be able to focus your binoculars quickly and easily. 

Look for a central focus ring that is easy to reach and turn. 

Size and Weight

Some Night Vision Binoculars, and binoculars used for astronomy, can be huge and very heavy. 

This isn’t generally the case with bird watching binoculars. Porro prism models tend to be slightly larger, but most bird watching binoculars now are fairly compact and relatively light. 

This being said, if you are planning to travel or hike with them, or you want a pair that will just slip into a pocket, you will need to look at a compact option. We’ve highlighted our top pick of the compacts below.

Outer Body Protection

The outer body covering of your binoculars can make them easier to use and help to prolong their life.

Look for rubberised grips and bodies. These make the equip-emend easier to hold and protect against knocks and bumps, which might damage the weatherproofing or knock the internal lenses out of alignment. 

Cost

You can spend a small fortune on binoculars if you wish. You can also get a perfectly respectable starter pair for under £50.

We have a bargain pick for you below, and all our recommended models come in under £600

When deciding how much you want to spend on a pair of binoculars, it’s worth thinking about how long you might have them. Mine are over 30 years old and belonged to my Dad. They still work just fine and don’t look like an antique. 

The point is that unlike, say, camera or mobile phone technology, binoculars aren’t changing that fast. If you invest in a good pair, it’s unlikely that something dramatically better is going to appear on the market in a few months time. 

A good pair of binoculars can be with you for the long haul, so it might be worth spending a bit extra on them.

Bird Watching Binoculars – Our Top Picks

Here are our top picks at the time of writing. We have tried to cover all the bases: garden bird watching, bird watching for kids, bargain birding binoculars and a long-range option. 

Best All-Rounder: Nikon BAA840SA Prostaff 7S 8×42 Binocular

Performance

  • Magnification x 8
  • Objective Lens: 42mm
  • Field of View: 6.8 degrees
  • Close Focus: 4 meters
  • Eye Relief:19mm
  • Coated Lenses: Yes, Multi-Coated

Features

  • Weight: 650gms
  • Size: 152x130x520mm
  • Weatherproofing: Yes, waterproof to 1 metre for 10 minutes, O ring sealed and nitrogen filled. 
  • Other: Shockproof rubber armoured body, comes with case, lens caps, neck strap and guarantee.
  • Price: Under £200

This is a whole lot of binocular for your money and at a very reasonable price. 

Nikon is a highly regarded manufacturer, and this product doesn’t let them down. 

8x magnification makes these binoculars suitable for garden bird watching and strong enough for use in wide-open spaces. 

The 42mm objective lens is a real winner, allowing plenty of light for a bright, sharp image even on the murkiest English winter day. 

At just 15×13 cm, they are smaller than a paperback book and will easily slip into a bag or even a coat pocket. 

Eye relief is 19mm, making them ideal for spectacle wearers. 

The binoculars are waterproof and nitrogen filled for environmental protection and long life. And the body is rubber-armoured and easy to hold.

If there is one drawback, it would be the close focus, which at 4 meters, is a little long for watching insects or butterflies. All in all, these binoculars are a great choice. 


Best Bargain Buy: Olympus 118755 8 x 40 DPSI

Performance

  • Magnification x 8
  • Objective Lens: 40mm
  • Field of View: 8.2 degrees
  • Close Focus: 4 meters
  • Eye Relief:12 mm
  • Coated Lenses: Yes

Features

  • Weight: 710gms
  • Size: 139x182x580mm
  • Weatherproofing: N/A
  • Other: UV protection to prevent eye damage
  • Price: Under £50

We mentioned earlier that going for an old school Porro prism pair of binoculars can get you more bang for your buck. Well, these Olympus binoculars are a perfect example. 

Binoculars for under fifty quid (at the time of writing)? It would be tempting to pass them but thinking they will be cheap rubbish – but you would be missing a trick.

These binoculars give you 8x magnification and an impressive 40mm objective lens to capture plenty of light. 

There is a wide 8.2-degree field of vision and single-layer anti-reflective coating on the lenses.

They are neither big nor especially heavy, and Olympus are obviously a reputable manufacturer with a long-standing reputation in the optics industry. 

Drawback? The 12 mm eye relief might make them tricky to use with glasses. And the close focus again, if 4 meters. Maybe a little on the long side. 

But for such a reasonable price, these really are a great piece of kit. You could pay a whole lot more for way less performance.


Best Compact Binoculars: Swarovski CL Pocket 8x 25

Performance

  • Magnification x 8
  • Objective Lens: 25mm
  • Field of View: 6.8 degrees
  • Close Focus: 2.5 meters
  • Eye Relief:17 mm
  • Coated Lenses: Yes, fully multi-coated

Features

  • Weight: 346 gms
  • Size: 109x65x46 mm (Folded)
  • Weatherproofing: Waterproof to 4 meters
  • Other: Metal body with rubber grips, double hinged.
  • Price: Under £600

You may think that if you are getting a tiny pair of binoculars, you should be paying a tiny price?

Wrong.

To miniaturise a pair of binoculars, the optics need to be made smaller. Smaller optics capture less light. This can be counteracted by using the very best glass and coating, but of course, these don’t come cheap.

So, there are plenty of cheap compact binoculars around, but you may find performance disappointing. 

We’ve taken the view that if you get a pair of truly pocket-sized binoculars, you are going to take them everywhere and get a huge amount of use out of them. So it’s worth spending a bit more. This is why we have chosen the Swarovskis in this category. 

They are a truly tiny piece of kit that perform as well as (if not better than) full-sized binoculars. 

The 25mm objective lens is smaller than others we have looked at so far, but the quality of the lenses and prisms used and the fact that they are fully multi-coated means you do not lose out on brightness or clarity, even in lower light conditions

They offer 8x magnification, which is good for most bird watching situations, and a respectable 6.8-degree field of view. So you can easily track birds on the wing. 

The bins are waterproof to a depth of 4 meters and nitrogen filled. Even if you don’t drop them in the drink, this still means they should stay clear and fog-free for many years to come. 

A 17mm eye relief makes them ideal for use with glasses.

According to the manufacturer, the close focus is 2.5 meters, though other reviewers have achieved good results at even closer quarters. Either way, it’s a good range of looking at small creatures up close. 

The body is fully constructed from metal with rubber grips. Most binoculars now are made from polyester. So these feel more robust. 

The double-hinged design means they fold up into a tiny package to fit into your pocket whilst still allowing for the eyepieces to be comfortably spaced when in use. 

These are a smart and stylish pair of go-anywhere bird watching binoculars which you should get masses of use and enjoyment from. 

Well worth the hefty price tag, in our opinion.


Best for Garden Bird Watching: Vanguard Endeavor ED 8×42

Performance

  • Magnification x 8
  • Objective Lens: 42 mm
  • Field of View: 7 degrees
  • Close Focus: 2 meters
  • Eye Relief:19 mm
  • Coated Lenses: Yes, multi-coated

Features

  • Weight: 790 gms
  • Size: 138x51x124 mm 
  • Weatherproofing: Yes
  • Other: Lightweight, ergonomic hinge.
  • Price: Under £300

We have a pair of binoculars that hang on a hook by the back door, ready to grab whenever something interesting kicks off at the bird table. 

They never leave the house. So size and weight aren’t massively important. Neither is a huge range, as our back garden isn’t the savannah. 

What is important is getting a clear, bright view of our garden birds at any time of day and being able to focus in on bees, butterflies and dragonflies at close quarters. 

These binoculars from Vanguard tick all the boxes for a good piece of garden bird watching kit. 

Yes, they are double the weight of the Swarovskis, and they probably wouldn’t fit into your pocket. But they give a bright and clear image in most light conditions and best of all they have a superb close focus of just 2 meters. 

8 x magnification is more than enough to follow the action in most back gardens, whilst a 7-degree field of view will allow you to easily spot activity in trees and bushes. 

Excellent 19mm eye relief also makes them suitable for any members of the family who wear glasses. 

These binoculars give you all the performance you need for garden bird watching in a robust build that should last for years. 


Best for Long Range Bird Watching: Pentax SP 16×50

Performance

  • Magnification x 16
  • Objective Lens: 50 mm
  • Field of View: 61m @ 1000m
  • Close Focus: N/A
  • Eye Relief:15 mm
  • Coated Lenses: Yes, fully multi-coated

Features

  • Weight: 907gms
  • Size: 198x165x58 mm 
  • Weatherproofing: Yes
  • Other: Nitrogen filled, cast aluminium body, BAK4 prisms
  • Price: Under £200

Whilst 8x magnification binoculars are just about perfect for most garden bird watching and do a good job in other situations, too, if you are watching birds in wide-open spaces regularly or on a special trip, you might want to invest in an additional pair with a bit more power. 

We struggled to come to decide on a winner in this category. If you really want to push the boat out ( to the tune of £1500 + ), then go for the Swarovski Optic 15×56 .

They are a superb piece of kit with power, style and the very best optics. 

If, however, your pockets aren’t quite that deep, these Pentax bins do an excellent job at a fraction of the price. 

For bird watching in wide-open spaces, like an estuary, lake, at the coast or even out on safari, if you’re lucky, you need a little more power to spot birds at greater distances. 

As we discussed at the start, increased magnification comes with trade-offs in size, weight, field of view and image stability. 

So for this category, we have looked for an option that gives increased magnification without too many compromises on the other categories. 

This Pentax model is a Porro prism design, so it offers value for money from the outset and a more immersive viewing experience which can help to offset the effects of any shortcomings in the field of view. 

Though these binoculars are very reasonably priced, they are still made to the highest standards with fully multi-coated lenses, nitrogen anti-fogging and high-end BAK4 prisms. 

The large 50mm objective lens gives great colour and clarity even in low light, and for their magnification, the image has good stability. 

At 16x magnification, these binoculars will serve you well in wide-open spaces for a price that won’t break the bank.


Best Birdwatching Binoculars For Kids: Bresser Junior Binoculars 6×21

Performance

  • Magnification x 6
  • Objective Lens: 21 mm
  • Field of View: 7 degrees
  • Close Focus: N/A
  • Eye Relief:15 mm
  • Coated Lenses: Yes, multi-coated

Features

  • Weight: 180 gms
  • Size: 95x110x35mm 
  • Weatherproofing: Yes
  • Other: Shockproof, 5-year warranty
  • Price: Under £50

Giving kids their own pair of binoculars can be a great way to get them into birds watching and into nature generally.

If you buy “toy” binoculars that are typically 2x or 3x magnification, your children will not get much from the binoculars beyond playing at looking through them. 

Give them adult binoculars, and they will probably be too big and heavy for a small child to use for long. 

These binoculars are a real, working pair, specifically designed for children from age 5 up. 

Bresser are a reputable manufacturer, and the build and optics of this model are good. 

The 6x magnification is the perfect compromise – strong enough to bring things close but not so strong that they need to be held super steady. 

Saying that these bins are so small and light that it should be possible for even the smallest hands to keep a grip on them comfortably for quite a while. 

They are also fully rubber-armoured to make them easier to grip and protect against bumps.

The colour and styling are cheerful but not babyish, so your child should be happy to use them for years to come. 


The Best Bird Watching Binoculars for You

There is so much beauty in the detail of our birds. Owning a good pair of binoculars can bring immense pleasure by bringing those details into focus. 

Whatever your budget and whatever your needs, there’s a perfect pair of bird watching binoculars out there for you. Hopefully, this guide has given you some idea on how to choose. 

If you have questions or suggestions, we would love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below. 

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