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Best Binoculars (2023): Nikon, Celestron, Swarovski, Zeiss

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One caveat: Cabela’s often sells the pre-2018 model at a steep discount, but doesn’t label it as such. I haven’t tested that model, and while the deal is great, the optics are definitely different and potentially inferior.

More Great 10×42 Binoculars

  • best luxury upgrade, Maven B1.2 42mm ED Binoculars ($1,000), These are on my top three best of all time list. If you can afford these but not the Leicas, don’t feel bad. Images are clear, sharp and crisp with no distortion or softness at the edges. I used them every day for two months and only once noticed purple discoloration. They are expensive but worth the money.
  • Select budget: Nikon Emperor M5 10×42 ($285), These are the stronger-magnification versions of our top pick, and everything I say about them holds true for 10×42 as well. For those on a budget, these are a great 10×42 option.
  • Pick another good budget: Celestron Regal ED 10×42 ($340), The Celestron Regal ED are what I call a sleeper deal. Which is to say, you’ll find very little information about these online, but they are excellent binoculars, and the price is nearly impossible to beat. You get a great field of view (6.5 degrees), a sharp clear image and very little chromatic aberration. I haven’t tested a better binocular that costs less.
  • Another upgrade: Nikon Emperor HG 10X42 ($957), Nikon’s Monarch HG offers a slightly wider field of view and is brighter and sharper than the Vortex or Celestron. I like Maven B1.2 better, but it may be a matter of taste. If you want to continue value-wise, then Swarovski EL 10×42 ($2,399) Worthy legendary.

best compromise pick

What if you want 8x magnification, but not the size and weight of 8×42 binoculars? That’s where 8×32, 8×30, even 7×32 in some cases come in. They provide similar magnification, but a narrower field of view. For hiking and traveling light, this size is a good compromise. Because the field of view isn’t as wide as on the 8×32, tracking smaller objects can be more difficult, like a warbler fluttering through foliage, but it’s not too hard to manage with a little practice.

I’m still in the process of testing more models in this size range, but here are my picks so far.

The Nocs Field Issue 8×32 binoculars (8/10, WIRED recommends) are compact and lightweight, but still deliver a nice sharp image. Like Nocs’ other binoculars, the Field Issues are waterproof and fogproof, and they come in a variety of colors. They offer comfortable eye cups and a nice oversized focus wheel that you can’t miss. These magnifiers manage to hit the sweet spot between price and weight, making them a great option for a beginner or anyone traveling light.

Best Compact Pick

Compact binoculars often have a significant compromise in image quality. Depending on your use case, the weight savings may be worth the trade-off, but in general, I suggest birders and hunters stick with 32-mm or larger binoculars. Yes, you can bird with the 8×25, but it’s often frustrating.

Maven’s C.2 series is the first compact binoculars I’ve tested that didn’t let me down. Yes, the 28-mm field of view is narrow when you get used to the 42mm, but they’re so small and light—just 4.5 inches and weigh only 12 ounces—that I barely noticed them around my neck . If you want compact, lightweight optics that still deliver a bright, sharp image, these are the binoculars to get. They are good for general purpose use – wildlife, sports, travel, or any time you want binoculars but don’t want to know you have binoculars.

  • Another option: Zeiss Terra ED 8×25 ($380), I haven’t tested these extensively, but I’ve used them enough to know they’re light (10.9 ounces) and deliver a very nice, sharp image. They have 8X magnification and come with a nice rigid, waterproof case. The folding design means they easily fit into your pocket too. The downside is that they are more expensive than the Nikon Monarch 8×42, yet offer a much smaller field of view.
  • Best Budget Compact: NOC Standard Digit 8×25 ($95), These are detailed below, but the short story is that they’re surprisingly compact and lightweight, and the price is right, but image quality could be better. A great choice for ballpark or general use, but not as great for birders and hunters.

Before I talk about why Knox is good for kids, let me be clear: Knox is not a children’s telescope. They would fit nicely into the ultralight category above. They are fine compact binoculars. I “borrow” them from my kids all the time. Nor would I recommend these as the best first pair of binoculars for young children (in that case, see our budget guide below). But for anyone over the age of 8, these make a great, compact, first pair of binoculars.

You get good magnification in a lightweight package (11.8 ounces) with a waterproof (IPX7 rating) and fog-proof design. These also have two things that make them great for kids in particular: rugged construction and a nice, rubberized grip. I can’t tell you how many trees and rocks have been broken around my son’s neck, and they are still as good as new.

More Great Kids Binoculars

  • Choose a budget for kids: Let’s Go Binoculars ($25), If you have little ones who are new to binoculars, the NOC can cost a lot. If you want to see if your kids actually use their binoculars before diving in, there are several options. I’ll be blunt: neither of these are great, but they are cheap and light and don’t cost a fortune. there is another option Obubi Binoculars ($30),

Best binoculars for special use cases

Photograph: Fujinon

image-stabilized binoculars: I’m still testing, as this is a huge category, but so far my top picks are Fujinon 14×40 Techno-Stabby Image-Stabilized Binoculars ($1,500), If you’re on a boat, you need these binoculars. They offer industry-leading stabilization of plus or minus 6 degrees, there’s hardly any image lag, they carry an IPX 7 waterproof rating, and as an added bonus, they float. I did most of my testing on a SUP, which is about the most unstable watercraft I could come up with, and these made it possible to watch birds without going ashore. They aren’t cheap, but they certainly deliver.