Binoculars – Why Bother?
For anyone who enjoys hunting, birdwatching or just generally experiencing the outdoors, a decent set of binoculars can improve the experience immeasurably.
I inherited my first pair of binoculars from my Uncle and have never ‘looked back’ since. I remember receiving the rather massive, unsightly 10×50 unbranded glasses, complete with their massive hard vinyl case and tiny thin plastic strap.
They were a constant companion to me on fishing trips and long countryside walks. In addition, I believe they were responsible for developing my love of ornithology – a passion I still have to this day.
A lot has changed since then and unlike those massive binoculars from my Uncle Robert. Owning a great pair of binoculars doesn’t mean you have to lug around a large, heavy and unsightly pair.
The trend for carrying binoculars all but went away in years past. Hunters and fishermen who were already carrying a lot of equipment preferred to leave them at home, relying on the use of a riflescope or doing away with magnifying binoculars altogether.
In recent years, binoculars have increased again in popularity. This is probably because of two factors. Firstly, the manufacturers of binoculars have improved their processes.
With sets becoming much lighter and easier to carry. The second reason is that it is now possible to buy good binoculars without spending a lot of money. Many reasonably priced variants weigh very little and have outstanding power and clarity.
It is time to consider a reliable pair as an essential piece of kit for any outdoors pursuit. For those who enjoy hunting, scanning with regular field glasses is far simpler than scanning with a spotting monocular or using a rifle scope.
For the casual outdoor enthusiast, even the best cheap binoculars will add quality to your experience. Flora and fauna will be brought closer into view, allowing you to spot features and wildlife you would otherwise miss.
What To Look For in Your Binoculars
Here are the key features to look for when choosing the best binoculars 2020.
Magnification is the key reason most people cite as leading them to purchasing a set of binoculars. It is essential to consider magnification power when you’re browsing around. While decent magnification is important, you don’t need to rush out and buy a pair of binoculars with the greatest magnification or anything super powerful. If you are a hunter, your rifle scope is a better tool for focusing in on small details. Having a set of binoculars on hand with moderate power will aid you immensely in scanning a larger area of ground. This brings detail to features and makes observing animals and birds easier than it would be using the naked eye alone.
If your goal is general use, it is advisable to carry a smaller, portable pair of binoculars. Somewhere in the region of between 8x magnification and 12x magnification will suffice. Choosing these types of glasses will provide enough details to assist in spotting what you need to see.
It will also allow a greater field of view to make observing and scanning an area much simpler. Anything below 8x or 6x magnification offers less benefit than the burden of carrying them and are unlikely to be much more beneficial than the naked eye.
Going higher than 12x magnification increases an element of shake into the viewing experience. You may also be advised to move to a tripod and spotting scope under those circumstances. The best portable variations are between 8x and 12x magnification and are compact in size.
Size and weight
As mentioned in the introduction, the best portable binoculars have come a long way in terms of size and weight. Even some of the cheaper binoculars will easily fit into a pocket or side pocket of a rucksack.
Modern binoculars are so light, you will hardly notice they are there. This is different from times past when I lugged very large binoculars around with an uncomfortable strap cutting into me.
These did little to make for comfortable trekking and more often than not ended up in my backpack until I was settled into camp for the evening. With modern variants you can have all the advantages of comfort, compact size and light weight.
In addition, you do not have the disadvantages of leaving them at home or in your bag. In saying that however, the best type of binoculars are the ones you have with you.
It is hard to believe that the can weigh as little as five ounces and take up less room than a drinks bottle. They are usually ergonomically shaped to fit into an accessible trouser or jacket pocket.
These will hardly even be noticeable as a carry item until needed. The intention of many binocular manufacturers in recent years has been to provide quality equipment. This means binoculars which are small, light and as such be an indispensable tool for the outdoorsperson. Even the best cheap binoculars will meet the primary consideration of small size and light weight.
Weatherproofing and ruggedness
The one thing you don’t want is a pair that straight up fall to pieces. Binoculars which fog up, snap or otherwise cannot handle the environment are also out. It is essential that any set of lenses are up to task.
This may involve some research beforehand, but this will pay off a hundredfold when you’re selecting a pair. Look for a pair with good durability, quality build and great longevity. Some of the cheaper sets may have enough power to weight ratio, but simply cannot handle being dropped.
A simple bump or even being carried in wet and dirty conditions could ruin them. These are very important considerations to make in order to get the best binoculars for the money when you shop.
The best possible iterations will be rubberised in order to minimise dents and scratching to the outer surface. They should be easy to grip, provide some shock proofing and be water and fog free.
Even the best cheap binoculars will have a sealed exterior and be purged inside to avoid corrosion fogging. Binoculars that meet this criteria will last a lifetime. Prioritise these when making a shortlist of options for getting the best possible value for your money in 2020.
The quality of the optics is also worth of consideration. Looking through any binoculars should add to your experience of viewing in the outdoors and shouldn’t detract from it.
That being said, even the cheaper variations should still have decent quality optics. There is really little need to overspend in order to have the very best quality glass. Keep in mind, travel-sized binoculars are a tool for convenience and aren’t intended for spotting finer details.
Generally, the best advice is to buy the best glass you can afford. Do not overextend your budget in order to find the very finest lenses. There are many manufacturers of portable binoculars, and many of them have been about for a good number of years.
A good rule of thumb for hunters is that if the company makes a good quality rifle scope, the chances are they make good quality, smaller-build binoculars. I have included a list of offerings from the best manufacturers below.
It is advisable to leave the budget offerings where they are and even purchase an entry-level pair of binoculars from an established and reputable binocular manufacturer. This advice will serve you well in the field as even the cheaper variants will long outlast a no-name set provided they come from a reliable manufacturer. Even if they look better in terms of aesthetics.
8 of the Best Compact Binoculars 2020
Leupold BX-1 Compact Binoculars – Best Value
Let’s start with the ancient and venerable Leupold optics. This company are the original pioneers of binoculars and rifle scopes. You may wish to treat yourself to one of the more premium quality variants – especially for constant use over a longer period of time. You really ought to consider this unique set of lenses.
Already selling very well in 2019, it is little wonder these have proved to be one of the best-selling pairs on the market. A never before seen balance of quality and price, Leupold offers the best value from this list. You will struggle to find a travel sized set of binoculars from this company again at such a low price.
These are a seriously attractive. They are manufactured out of high quality materials and the build quality is impeccable. With the correct maintenance and care, you may never need to purchase another pair again. The legacy of Leupold is unquestionable. Buying into this brand may be the easiest decision you make in 2020.
These are a compact 10x binocular. If you’re looking for something on the smaller side, they may be a bit long. This is made up for in their narrowness and they are not ungainly or difficult to fit into a pocket. They are certainly not the smallest binoculars on this list. But it is worth sacrificing a bit of length for the world-class quality optics you get.
Very few companies in the world have quite the reputation for the quality and heritage that Leupold does. Their multicoated lenses are considered amongst the very best in the world. Their design and longevity are a testament to the high-quality craftsmanship and manufacturing practices used in manufacturing these.
Leupolds are notoriously durable and can easily be regarded as reaping the best value for money possible. The binoculars are fog and waterproof, nitrogen purged with a phase coated prism. The multi coated lenses have a scratch resistant finish. This means that even the most testing conditions won’t leave you with a serious case of buyers remorse.
The exterior of the binoculars is coated in grey rubber, anti-shock armour which brings the quality styling to the fore. These are a fine-looking set of binoculars and are competitively priced. At the time of writing, we are unsure if Leupold will continue to manufacture these for the long term, or whether they will be a collectible cult classic. Either way, you should invest in a pair of one of the best optics on the market in 2020.
Steiner Tactical 10×28 Compact Binocular
Steiner have a long heritage of making quality portable binoculars. For 75 years they’ve made little else. To put it simply, Steiner, as a brand, are nothing if not reliable. They frequently put out high-quality and tough field equipment. Steiner are unlikely to dissapoint you, regardless of what you purchase from them. Don’t take my word for it, several countries around the world use Steiner to supply their military. The US Coast Guard know they are the best binoculars for the money – that’s why they purchase from Steiner. They supply Steiner Tactical binoculars across the entirity of United States.
They are a little on the large side. These would be at the very limit of what you could describe as truly ‘compact’. They are just over 5 inches in length, but you get a lot of value crammed into a ‘not so compact’ space.
With 10x magnification and outstanding optical quality and field of view the Steiners are one of the best pairs around in their respective pricing range. The glass is multicoated as you’d expect, and the prism and lenses are of outstanding quality. They may be the only pair you ever actually have to buy.
While they are a little large in size, they are quite light in weight. They tip the scales at just under 1 pound. They are suitable for a larger cargo pocket or in a coat pocket. The build quality is extremely good, and the nitrogen purged, rubberised binoculars are as tough as they come. You shouldn’t expect fogging, or any real problems at all. Even in the harshest conditions these will perform like the excellent quality precision instruments they are. Treat yourself to a pair of Steiners.
Zeiss Terra ED Compact Pocket Binocular
Zeiss have been manufacturing binoculars since the end of the turn of the 20th century. They practically invented the binocular in 1894 and the name Zeiss have been synonymous with outstanding quality lenses for more than 100 years. Unbelievable that they perform properly 125 years on from the day they were manufactured. In those days all binoculars were hand assembled using soldered brass and glass. With modern manufacturing methods and increasingly accurate computerised machinery, Zeiss binoculars are truly world class glass.
It is hard to imagine better image quality without parting with a few thousand pounds. The way they manufacture the glass for these optics is mind-boggling. Considering that these would commonly be considered a “budget” pair – the build quality and sheer craftmanship is stunning. The multicoated lenses are coated with a high-tech polymer which should keep them scratch free for a lifetime.
The multi coated prism from this set of Zeiss binoculars are of a similar standard to that you would expect in lenses supplied to NASA. The brightness from these modest 8x binoculars is beyond what would be expected. The crispness of detail is absolutely outstanding – especially considering the pricing.
A slight downside to these is that they aren’t quite as rugged as others in the same category of optics. They are sufficiently durable, however. They have features you’d expect such as fog proofing and a nitrogen purged interior.
These are small enough to fit in larger sets of pockets. Therefore, I would not consider these for heavy expedition use. For the casual occasional or semi-regular outdoorsman this should create few concerns. For muddy conditions, hard hunting or trailblazing, you may be best choosing a more rugged, rubberised compact binocular.
Nikon ProStaff 7S Compact Binocular
Nikon glass needs no introduction. It is a world leader in the world of optics and their products are recognised the world over. Nikon takes product quality very seriously indeed, from their cameras all the way through to their binoculars.
Nikon quality, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is generally always great. So these should do exactly what they’re supposed to every time with simplicity and little fuss. They’re more than worth their weight in gold – expect quality multi coated lenses, high-quality materials and great build quality throughout.
Nikon binoculars have a unique, baked on coating which improves the brightness and overall quality of the lenses. Nikon is the best binoculars for the money when it comes to brightness. You will not find anything quite as bright as Nikon in the same price range.
Like the Steiners, these compact binoculars weigh in at under a pound which makes them transportable without giving away any of the Nikon toughness. Nitrogen purged and coated in shockproof rubber; these are pound for pound the best compact binoculars 2020.
Vortex Optics Vanquish Binoculars
The best cheap binoculars on this list are from a manufacturer called Vortex. These are ideally placed within the optics market to meet the needs of anyone looking for a decent pair. It is a mystery how Vortex continue to make such high-quality products for such reasonable prices.
Very compact and of the highest quality, Vortex have understood the balance between great quality and competitive pricing. These are easily as good as some of the more ‘premium quality’ products that cost double the price. Vortex are getting everything right for this market.
This particular pair have 8x magnification, are super small and are the only binoculars of thise scale to use an internal porro prism system. This means that the quality is even better than you would expect.
Vortex prides itself on providing high quality glass and these don’t disappoint. They’re multicoated inside and out and sealed in a nitrogen flushed body.
You should expect a lifetime of use from these binoculars without any issues with internal fogging. Adding extra value, the compact binoculars have a high-quality shock proof rubberised coating for the toughest of environments.
For a compact binocular they are very small at only 4 inches long and well under a pound in weight. If you’re looking for small compact binoculars at a reasonable price, these are amazing value. Quite simply the best binoculars for the money.
MINOX BF Compact Binoculars
MINOX is traditionally a camera manufacturer which specialised in very compact 35mm cameras back when film was the go-to medium for photography. Their cameras managed to pack in an incredible number of features in an almost indestructible, high quality miniature body. Hunters and outdoorsmen may be unfamiliar with the brand.
This company has have taken their camera ethos through to the compact binocular market. In turn they have created an extremely durable, highly desirable compact binocular at a reasonable price.
MINOX products are highly sought after in many industries. This includes the toxic, salty and completely unforgiving maritime industry. This offering from is your chance to own one of the best compact binoculars 2020 without spending a high amount of money.
The lenses used by MINOX are second to none. The lenses chosen for these ultra-compact binoculars have been scaled down from their fine very camera lenses. Phase coated with prism and multicoated glass; the image quality is absolutely outstanding. The MINOX compact binoculars have been created with a great deal of care and attention. In order to preserve natural colour when viewing and the image quality is excellent. They have scaled down some of their finest camera lenses for these 8x binoculars.
The MINOX compact binoculars are not the most rugged in this list, but they make up for it in size, crispness and sheer optical power. I expect them to be very tough, and fog and waterproofing are guaranteed. Even the toughest day in the field will prove little challenge for these little compact binoculars. The MINOX compact binoculars have a very good rubber coating which will save them from receiving dings and scratches. Budget may be a constraint and you do not wish to compromise on image quality. You could do a lot worse than to buy these fine little binoculars. A favourite for any outdoorsman who takes usability and transportability seriously.
Olympus 10×25 WP II Binocular – Most Comfortable Small Binocular
Olympus have comfortably made the transition from being mainly a camera manufacturer into the sport optics market. This company have traditionally made reasonably priced products of high quality. These are are no different, being some of the better quality optics you can find in this price range. They offer great ruggedness and performance at a highly completive price point. They may not offer the extreme ruggedness and build quality. Certainly not in the same league of some of the compact binoculars on this list. They are however some the very best cheap binoculars on the market.
The slightly lower quality is reflected in the price point and the differences are negligible to say the least. You can expect them to perform well in most outdoors situations and will handle most environments with relative ease.
The optics are very good quality and at 10x magnification they offer excellent crisp focus with very good colour fidelity. The finish is nearly perfect, and for a folding binocular the fit is very good. The prism is also of good quality with phase coating and provides for high contrast images in good rendition. The tones and colours are similar to how things would look using the naked eye. This is an excellent bonus for hunters looking to stalk prey.
The binoculars are housed in aluminium, which means they will be tough. The rubberised coating should protect the body from all but the most serious knocks. Water ingress and fogging should not be a consideration as these neat little lenses are very well sealed. The coating on the lenses actively repels dust which is another carry over from their camera heritage. These optics are an excellent ‘every-day’ binocular to just leave in the car or truck for times when you need to see things closer up.
I would expect these to hold their own in most situations. One warning however is the risk of some parallax errors because of their folding design. It may take a little more setting up than some of the others. They may also not be as immediately usable at times when they are needed in a hurry.
Wingspan Optics Spectator Compact Binocular
I didn’t want to only review the most recognisable and long-established brands on the market for this article. After all, you may wish to mix it up with a newcomer who offers high quality without a premium price.
One such set of binoculars are these fantastic Wingspan Optics. It keeps the pool fresh having a newcomer to break a market and Wingspan have filled the gap between high end optics and cheaper alternatives.
The quality of this pair isn’t exactly out of this world. Although, this is only when rated side by side against legendary optics companies like Steiner, Zeiss and Leupold. They do however offer 2 key things. One being a high degree of usability and the second thing being a very low price point. It may well be that when you compare these optics to some of the more established firms you’ll find that despite their low pricing point, their still incredibly reliable.
The prism and glass is of very good quality. I did feel that some lens coatings were neither as dense or durable as some of the others. This saves a lot on costs but leads to a slightly duller and less sharp image. Wingspan have gone some of the way to fixing this slight problem by fitting a larger objective lens. This is unusual for a product of this small size. Despite this they remain surprisingly small and easy to carry in a jacket or trouser pocket. I have chosen these optics because the quality is higher than you would find in any chain store binocular.
It is well worth noting that these are not the most refined optics in the world. These, however, are incredibly rugged and durable. They are veritable workhorses and guarantee fog free, waterproof and dust-free viewing. Don’t take my word for it, Wingspan have offered a lifetime guarantee with these binoculars. They will replace them from the factory if they are broken for any reason. That is a confident offer from a newcomer. So, for a working pair offering good quality at a reasonable price they may be the best you’ll find in 2020.
If you enjoy the outdoors, or you are a hunter, I would recommend a reliable and sturdy pair of field glasses. I consider them an essential piece of kit which will enhance your ability to take in the environment. It is also clear from this review that you can really spend as little or as much as you want and still come home with a decent pair.
Always assess the balance of quality against price. Do not scrimp on price if you are looking for a rugged set of binoculars. Also don’t spend too much on a daily carry which will rarely, if ever, be in a challenging environment. I guarantee one thing, start carrying binoculars regularly and you will be surprised at how often you reach for them. You might wish to identify that bird flitting about from tree to tree in front of you as you hike. There may be a fascinating rock formation you wish to check out further. Anything could catch your eye. For the hunter, a decent set of small binoculars could help spot that trophy buck which has been eluding you.
Every seasoned hunter, mountaineer and soldier have called upon these essential pieces of equipment from time to time. How they ever fell out of fashion or common use we may never know. One thing remains certain, there has never been a better time to seek out very high-quality optics. Pricing in this industry has literally never been more competitive. Consider putting a set in your walking jacket or car glovebox. Having them there gets you that all-important close-up view of your surroundings. You might even be at the start of a binocular renaissance.