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Best binoculars 2021: Get closer to nature with the UK's best compact and full-sized binoculars

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Fancy doing a spot of birdwatching or getting closer to the sporting action? Here's our pick of the finest binoculars

Apart from birdwatching, there probably aren't many instances you can think of that require a pair of binoculars. But there are many more (legal) use cases than you think. Going to the races for the day? They'll come in handy if you want to watch the horse you backed make it across the finish line. The best binoculars can enhance your enjoyment of the great outdoors hugely; a bad pair can put you off for life. But how do you tell the difference? And are cheap binoculars always a bad move?

To help you make the right decision, we’ve put together a list of the best binoculars you can buy, from the bargain basement to the very best on the market. And if you don’t know your objective lenses from your Porro prisms, scroll down to get the full lowdown on what features you should be looking for in our handy buying guide.

READ NEXT: Best telescopes for budding astronomers


Best binoculars: At a glance

  • The best all-round option: Celestron Trailseeker 8x42 | Buy now
  • The absolute best option: Swarovski NL Pure 10x42 | Buy now
  • Best option under £400: Nikon Monarch 7 | Buy now
  • Best for image stabilisation: Canon 12x36 IS III | Buy now
  • Best option under £100: RSPB Puffin 8x32 | Buy now

How to choose the best binoculars for you

To look at, one pair of binoculars would appear to be much the same as another. Some might be smaller than others but, by and large, they’re made up of a pair of barrels with lenses at either end, attached to each other with a hinge in the middle.

Dig deeper, however, and you’ll discover there’s a whole world of features and specifications that determine how good a pair of binoculars are and the sort of activities they’re suited to.

What type of binoculars should I buy?

You’ll probably have noticed if you’ve ever shopped for or used a pair of binoculars that they all have a pair of numbers – like 8x42 or 10x25 – written somewhere on them.

The first number designates the magnification level. An 8x pair will enlarge your subject eight times while a 10x pair will make it ten times bigger. The second number tells you how large the objective lenses (the big ones on the end) are in millimetres.

The most important number is the magnification level. You might think here that bigger is better, right? Well, that’s not strictly true. While a 10x or 12x magnification will allow you see things further away that bit closer, higher magnification such as this has knock-on effects.

At higher levels of magnification, it's hard to hold binoculars steady enough to see a stable image. A higher magnification also usually means a narrower field of view. Field of view (or FOV), incidentally, is another figure usually stencilled on the binocular somewhere. It's normally expressed in degrees and refers to how much you can see from left to right when you’re peering through them.

What is the best magnification level for bird watching?

The sweet spot for birdwatching and nature-spotting binoculars is 8x. This gives you a reasonably broad field of view (usually around seven to eight degrees) and magnification, and allows you to hold them easily without getting too much distracting shake. If you’re more of a stargazer and need binoculars for looking at the moon and constellations, you’ll want a higher magnification level – 12x and up – but you'll need to think about attaching them to a tripod.

What benefit is there to buying binoculars with bigger lenses?

The size of the objective lens is most critical to the quality of the image you see through your binoculars. The larger the lens, the greater its light-gathering ability. Too small and the image will be murky and dim; too big, though, and the binoculars will be too bulky and heavy to be practical.

That’s why we’ve mostly focused on binoculars with 42mm objective lenses (and why most manufacturers do the same) because they strike the best balance between light gathering and practicality. If you want pocketable binoculars, choose a pair with 25mm or 32mm lenses.

If you’re mostly going to be stargazing or mounting your binoculars to a tripod, you can get away with larger lenses. In summary, then, an 8x42 pair of binoculars 8x magnifies a scene and has 42mm lenses; a 10x25 pair has 10x magnification and 25mm lenses.

Should I care about features such as prism types or ED glass?

The other terms you might hear connected with binoculars and see on specifications sheets are Porro prism, roof prism and ED glass.

  • Porro and roof prisms: All binoculars use prisms to keep the size down, otherwise they’d all be huge and look like a pair of telescopes strapped together. Prisms come in different flavours, though, and the type of prisms used dictates the shape and size of your binoculars. Traditional A-shaped binoculars use Porro prisms. Porro prism binoculars tend to be larger and bulkier than roof-prism binoculars, but slightly cheaper. More modern H-shaped binoculars use roof prisms. These are the most popular type in use today because they tend to be smaller and lighter than Porro-prism optics.
  • ED or HD glass: ED (extra low dispersion) glass (also referred to as HD glass by some manufacturers) is a special type of glass that’s designed to keep chromatic aberrations under control. You can spot chromatic aberrations by looking at a dark object silhouetted against a bright background – a kestrel against the sky, for example. It manifests as colour fringing around those objects. Binoculars with ED or HD glass tend to keep such fringing to a minimum and the image you see through them will be clearer and sharper as a result. ED glass is more expensive than standard glass, however, so you’ll tend to see it only in more expensive binoculars of above £200.

The other key features to look out for

  • Close focus: Great for spotting insects and inspecting flowers from close range. The best binoculars let you focus from as close as 1.5m away.
  • Waterproofing: You’re going to be using your binoculars outside so it’s best to be sure that they won't let in water if you’re caught in a rain shower. They'll fog up and condensation will form on the inner surfaces if this happens.
  • Fogproofing: To prevent binoculars from fogging up when transitioning from the cold outdoors to the warm indoors, manufacturers fill their binoculars with an inert gas (usually argon or nitrogen) that has no water content and thus inhibits condensation.
  • Eye relief: If you wear spectacles, binoculars with long eye relief and adjustable eyecups will make it much easier for you to see the full field of view while wearing your glasses. Look for binoculars with eye relief of 14mm or longer. The more the better, though, as this will give you more opportunity to tweak for the best view.

The best binoculars you can buy in 2021

1. Opticron Discovery WP PC 8x42: A brilliant buy for £169

Price: £169 | Buy now from Amazon

These short, stubby Opticrons may not look particularly exceptional but if you want the very best in optical quality for not much cash, they’re a good shout. Technically, they're slightly better quality than the Celestron Trailseeker 8x42 and present a sharper, clearer image that’s more neutrally coloured.

They focus half a metre closer – as close as 1.5m – which means they’re excellent for getting up close and personal with butterflies and bees.

They’re cheaper, too, than the Trailseekers and feel better made, with a smoother focus dial and longer 22mm eye relief, so they’re better for glasses wearers, although we’re not too keen on the cheap-feeling lens caps.

Where these Opticrons fall slightly short is in what’s included, or rather not included, in the box. All you get is a basic pouch and a simple, non-padded strap, whereas the Celestrons include a stretchy neoprene strap, a pouch with extra compartments and a harness.

Still, if the best-quality image is important to you, they’re fantastic for the money and represent a big step up from the cheaper Olympus 10x25 and RSPB Puffin 8x32 models below.

Key specs – 8x magnification, 42mm objective lenses, 7.5° field of view, 22mm eye relief, adjustable eyecups, 1.5m close focusing distance, 747g (with strap and lens caps)

2. Nikon Monarch 7: Best binoculars under £400

Price: £399 | Buy now from Park Cameras

Our favourite binoculars for under £200 are the Celestron Trailseekers and the Opticron Discovery WP PC 8x42 (see above), but what if you have more cash to spend? You could do a whole lot worse than opt for a pair of Nikon Monarch 7 8x42.

These binoculars are more solidly built and put together than the Trailseekers with a smoother focus ring that's easier to adjust with just one finger. The sculpted, rubbery body of the Monarch 7 feels better made, too, and they're more comfortable to grip than the Opticron Discovery. Naturally, at this price, they're also waterproof and nitrogen filled to help mitigate fogging.

Close focusing at 2.5m isn’t quite up to the same standards as the Trailseeker and you don’t get as many accessories in the box, either – only a wide nylon strap, front and rear lens caps and a fairly basic padded pouch.

Where it counts, however, is image quality and this is where the Nikon Monarch 7 excels. Using ED (extra-low dispersion) glass and fully multi-coated internal prisms, the viewable image is astonishingly bright and clear. Compared with the Trailseekers, the difference is night and day with more deeply saturated colours and sharper details at the edges of the frame. The field of view might not quite be as wide at 8˚ compared with 8.5˚ on the Trailseekers, but the flip side is that the image is sharper at the edges.

My only criticism is that, in bright conditions, there's noticeable purple fringing visible around the edges of some objects against blue sky. These binoculars are solid value for money for anyone seeking the very best in image quality.

Key specs – 8x magnification; 42mm objective lenses; 8° field of view; 17.1mm eye relief; adjustable cups; 2.5m close focusing distance; 650g

Buy from Park Cameras


3. Pentax SD 8x42 WP: Waterproof with a 30-year warranty

Price: £336 | Buy now from Amazon

In the crowded mid-price market there are plenty of good binoculars to be had. Our favourite is currently the Nikon Monarch 7 but the Pentax SD 8x42 WP isn't far behind.

These are roof prism binoculars, waterproof and although they don't use extra low dispersion glass (ED) like the Nikons, the glass is fully multi-coated to reduce flare and glare. These are also fully waterproof to the extent that they can be submerged in up to 3m of water. Throw in a 30-year warranty and you have a pair of binoculars that are likely to last you a long time.

Image quality is excellent with a decent 7.5° field of view and excellent sharpness across the frame. Colour reproduction is neutral and brightness is a hair's breadth better than our lower mid-price pick, the Celestron Trailseeker.

My only complaint is that the focus adjust wheel is a little stiff and needs a fair bit of effort to shift. Oddly, the diopter adjustment wheel, which is handily located just behind it, is far easier to tweak.

Overall, at the price, the Pentax SD 8x42 WP is a good buy but the Nikon Monarch 7 is even better if you can get it for the same price or less.

Key specs – 8x magnification; 42mm objective lenses; 7.5 ° field of view; 12mm eye relief; adjustable eyecups; 2.5m close focusing distance; 615g

4. Swarovski NL Pure 10x42: The best binoculars you can buy

Price: £2,410 | Buy now from Park Cameras

Swarovski’s range of binoculars is generally regarded as one of the very best in the business, and you’ll see its products hanging around the necks of many celebrity and professional naturalists. Its newest range, however – the NL Pure – is next-level brilliant, combining an astonishingly wide field of view with ultra-sharp optics, neutral colour rendition and the best ergonomics we’ve ever experienced in a pair of binoculars.

In fact, the field of view is so wide – on the 10x42 it’s 7.6-degrees and the same as older EL 8.5x42 – that you can step up in magnification without the usual pitfalls of doing so. We generally prefer 8x binoculars over 10x or 12x binoculars because, normally, they strike a better balance between magnification and field of view. These binoculars, however, give you the best of both worlds. The 8x NL Pure have an even wider field of view at a frankly unbelievable 9.1-degrees.

The large, raised central focus wheel also makes them incredibly easy and quick to focus and the ergonomically shaped barrels mean they're extremely comfortable to hold. If you love spending lots of time outdoors peering at far-away wildlife, these are the binoculars for you. They're also robust and, as with the previous model, waterproof down to a depth of four metres.

We tested the NL Pure 10 x 42 for a month and didn’t want to give them back at the end of the loan. The only bad thing about them is that to buy a pair of our own would require a serious financial commitment. If you are passionate about your birdwatching, though, you can't get better than this.

Key specs – 10x magnification; 42mm objective lenses; 7.6° field of view; 18mm eye relief; adjustable cups; 2m close focusing distance; 850g

Buy now from Park Cameras


5. Swarovski EL 8.5x42: Still incredible but not quite the best

Price: £1,605 | Buy from Park Cameras

The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 are no longer the best binoculars money can buy – that honor falls to the NL Pure, reviewed above – but they're still stupendously good and considerably cheaper, too. Like all Swarovski Optik binoculars, they're optically beyond reproach: so bright and clear that looking through them feels like an exercise in biological enhancement.

They're exceptionally sharp across a wide 7.6° field of view and no discernible chromatic aberrations. They offer a touch more magnification than a regular 8x binocular, yet they’re not at all difficult to hold steady and close focus is superb: you can peer at subjects from 1.5m. Focusing is incredibly easy on the finger, too. The focus wheel is both light and smooth and super accurate.

The EL 8.5x42 are also highly practical and incredibly well made. The eyecups feel solidly constructed and extend out in three notched stages (eye-relief is an extra-long 20mm). The stretchy padded strap included in the box attaches via quick release clips to the side of each barrel, allowing for the quick attachment of other accessories, and strap length adjustments can be made quickly by rotating a dial on each strap to release and spinning it back the other way to lock the strap in position once you’ve made your adjustments.

Dioptre adjustment is easy, made not by grasping a ring on the right eyepieces, but by flicking the focus wheel up, adjusting to your eyes and flicking it back down to lock it in. Naturally, these binoculars are solidly built and waterproof to a depth of 4m.

The Swarovski EL 8.5x42 are truly exceptional binoculars. They’re not cheap, but if you do have the money and nature-watching is your passion, you will most certainly not be disappointed. They’re simply magnificent.

Key specs – 8.5x magnification; 42mm objective lenses; 7.6° field of view; 20mm eye relief; adjustable eye cups; 1.5m close focusing distance; 974g (with strap and lens caps)

Buy now from Park Cameras


6. Canon 12 x 36 IS III: Image stabilisation works wonders

Price: £759 | Buy now from Amazon

Image stabilisation isn’t just for cameras: Canon has also built its shaky hands reduction tech into its range of binoculars, and it works incredibly well. Pop a pair of AA batteries into a compartment on the Canon 12 x 3 IS III's belly, press a small button on the top and, like magic, all handshake disappears, leaving you with a crystal clear, super-steady image.

Normally we wouldn’t recommend using a pair of 12x magnification binoculars without a tripod but with stabilisation these work just fine, and are optically splendid. They present a sharp, bright image right out to the very edge of your field of view with neutral colour representation.

There are some downsides, though. The high magnification level means the field of view isn’t particularly broad – at just 5° you’ll spot less than you would with a pair of the much cheaper Celestron Trailseekers. These aren’t quite as bright to look through as binoculars much cheaper, plus there’s visible colour fringing around objects set against bright backgrounds. They don’t focus particularly closely, either, so they’re not great for peeking at insects and flowers. And eye-relief isn't very long at 14.5mm – glasses wearers beware.

And we’re a little disappointed with the accessories supplied in the box. The strap isn’t padded, bizarrely you don’t get lens caps for the objective lenses, and the rubber, non-adjustable, roll-down eyecups won’t be to everyone’s taste. Even the ocular lens caps aren’t tethered. However, for that stupendously good image stabilisation we’re willing to forgive a lot.

Key specs – 12x magnification; 36mm objective lenses; 5° field of view; 14.5mm eye relief; non-adjustable eyecups; 6m closest focusing distance; image stabilisation; 726g (with strap and 3 x AA batteries)


7. Celestron Trailseeker 8x42: The best all-round binoculars

Price: £180 | Buy now from Amazon

The best all-rounders in the binocular business are light, practical and offer up a bright, sharp image with a wide field of view and the Celestron Trailseeker 8x42 deliver on all these fronts. The field of view is an impressive 8.12°, the “phase-coated” optics deliver a crisp image (although it does soften a little at the edges of the field of view) and close focusing is an impressive 2m, so you’ll be able to observe insects and flowers close up as well as our feathered friends.

Despite this, and a comparatively reasonable price, the Trailseekers are well-designed and well-built and they come with a generous selection of extras. The tough-feeling green rubber housing is fully waterproof and the eyecups are adjustable in three stages, with eye-relief stretching all the way out to 17mm.

What’s most impressive, though, is the range of accessories on offer here, with a neoprene-padded strap, high-quality carry bag, lens cleaning cloth and even a shoulder harness all supplied in the box.

Key specs – 8x magnification; 42mm objective lenses; 8.12° field of view; 17mm eye relief; adjustable eyecups; 2m close focusing distance; 729g (with strap and lens caps)

8. RSPB Puffin 8x32: The best binoculars under £100

Price: £60 | Buy now from the RSPB

The general rule is that the cheaper the binocular, the more difficult to focus and to see a clear image they get. These compact binoculars buck that trend spectacularly.

Typically sold at RSPB bird reserves, they cost a bargain £60 yet the image you see through them is clear and crisp with little distortion, and you won’t spend ages adjusting them thanks to the wide 7.5° field of view.

True, you don’t get such luxuries as extra-close focusing (take the 2.5m close focus claim with a large pinch of salt, it's actually longer than 3m), and they’re quite soft at the edges of the field of view. The strap and pouch are basic, and eye-relief is a low 13.6mm. Glasses wearers would be well advised to try these out before buying.

However, the binoculars themselves feel solidly made, they’re light and portable and offer screw-out eyecups – a lot more than you’d expect for the money.

Key specs – 8x magnification; 32mm objective lenses; 7.5° field of view; 13.6mm eye relief; adjustable eyecups; 2.5m (claimed) close focusing distance; 489g (with strap and lens caps)

Buy now from the RSPB


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