Call it a hobby. Call it a pastime. Call it a sport.
Birding has become enormously popular in the past few years.
If anything, a report by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service indicates there are more than 45M birders in the US alone.
Now, whether casual or professional, there’s always a common denominator in these bird watchers; a pair of bird watching binoculars.
While there’re numerous instruments for birding, a binocular is almost de rigueur for anyone looking to observe birds in the wild. You’d also be hard-pressed to find professionals without a pair of the best birding binoculars.
There’re numerous benefits of having a pair of binoculars over other options for birding purposes.
For example, bird watching binoculars are much more portable and lighter than spotting scopes and the larger telephoto camera lenses.
These instruments are also better at affording you a more natural “3D” view of the birds since you’re looking through two optical tubes instead of a single tube on a monocular. For almost any bird that crosses your path, a good pair of binoculars for birding will give you access to fine details, make colors pop up, and improve the chances of identifying what you’ve seen.
Finally, binoculars for bird watching don’t need any mounting tripods or alternative support to ensure a steady view. It means you carry less gear into the field.
But the best binoculars for birds don’t come cheap. In fact, you’re likely to stretch your budget to get the best binocular you can afford.
The good news is, they’re long-term investments and will start paying off the day you get them.
Plus, several brands have started to trickle down their lower-priced models. You’ll be surprised at the image quality of options prices at a few hundred dollars.
Now, if you need help in selecting the best binoculars for bird, read on as we’ve reviewed the top 5 binoculars for birding in the market. We’ve also included a handy buying guide to help with the selection.
Table of Contents
The Best Birding Binoculars For The Money
#1 Nikon Monarch 7 ATB - Best Binoculars Overall
After looking at everything from the pricey picks to the budget options, we decided to start our list of the best binoculars for bird with something within reach of most birders.
The Monarch 7 is part of Nikon’s Monarch series- a line consisting of binoculars renowned for the quality craftsmanship, reliability, and, more importantly, price.
This crowd-tested favorite is an upgrade to the Nikon Monarch 5 and a premium step-up. But it doesn’t cost an arm; instead, it’s priced between economy and the nosebleed section.
Price aside, we highly recommend the Nikon Monarch 7 as a birding binocular for reasons I’ll share with you later in the review.
Features and Benefits
Size and Weight
I’ve used a couple of good binoculars for bird watching before, but weight has always been the dealbreaker for me.
While the Nikon Monarch 7 isn’t the lightest binocular for birding out there, its 1.5 pounds rarely fatigues me, even when I need to observe for the whole day.
Alongside the lightweight design, Monarch 7 is well-balanced and has excellent ergonomics, which makes it easy to handle.
The central focus knob is conveniently placed, and I love how they turn smoothly throughout its entire range, even when I’m wearing gloves.
The other thing I love about the Monarch 7 is the construction. The construction is durable.
Monarch is housed in a rubberized polycarbonate armor, bolstered with fiberglass to keep the weight down while bolstering the sturdiness.
The rubber casing is just rough enough to prevent slippage but comfortable enough to the touch.
Combine this with a nitrogen-filled housing, and you’ve the perfect watching binoculars for wading. The waterproof housing means you can be rest assured dropping Monarch 7 isn’t game over.
Wide Field of View
One of Monarch’s strongest suits is the wide field of view.
Nikon Monarch has a field of view of 420 feet at 1,000 yards, perfect for sweeping a landscape of targets.
But what does the 420 FOV mean for birding?
One, it’s easier for you to follow the warbler hopping from one branch in the treetop. It’s also easier to locate moving birds more easily as you don’t have to put the binoculars for bird watching down to re-spot the bird with your eyes.
The wide field of view is also important for scanning in open country or even viewing out to sea from shore. When scanning a distant shoreline, you won’t miss a duck swimming or even a hawk perched on a tree.
To sum up, Monarch 7 offers a spacious view, and you’ll see what’s happening next to the bird you’re observing.
We’ve gone into much detail about the best magnification for birding in the buying section, but generally, the 7x and 8x powered magnifications are the best options for birding.
Nikon offers a magnification of 8x, and the objective lens size of 42mm is ideal.
When you divide the magnification into the lens size, you get a 5.25 mm exit pupil value, which is great for bright views in the low-light environment.
Monarch delivers exceptional image clarity and brightness and will operate well even in low-light conditions such as pre-dawn and twilight.
The other benefit of the 8x magnification is you prioritize getting the most magnification without compromising the ability to use your watching binoculars handheld.
Unlike the high-powered birding binoculars, it’s easy to use the Monarch without a tripod or even a stabilizer because it doesn’t magnify your hand’s shakiness.
Monarch also has a decent close focus of 8.2 feet. It’s good but not great.
While it should allow you to focus on birds close to you in the bushes, you may want an option with a closer focus, perhaps down to 5 feet if you want more details.
Generally, a wider field of view translates to less eye relief- the distance between the ocular lens and your eye.
Eye relief is essential when wearing glasses and should be wider than 16mm.
Fortunately, the Monarch 7 has an eye relief of 17.2, which is more than the minimum. However, it’s a bit shorter than the Monarch 5, with an eye relief of 19.5 mm, so it may cut off the field of view.
But that’s not a problem on Monarch 7 because the wider field of view makes up for the slightly “shorter” eye relief.
The Monarch 7 can be tailored to suit everyone’s needs but it suits some purposes better than others.
One such use is birding.
The binocular gives such a high level of detail, making it the ultimate binocular for birding.
All comes down to the larger lenses and the technology used.
Let’s start with the roof prism binocular with phase correction. This helps with the preservation of clarity and details, even from the furthest extremes of distance.
On the other hand, the ED Glass lenses and multi-layered optical quality coatings produce high optics, while the high reflective dielectric prisms coatings ensure light is preserved when passing through the chassis of the bi.
Simply put, watching birds through these evolutionary binoculars is like standing next to the birds. Every feather is crystal clear, the difference in coloration is clear, and there’s little chromatic aberrations between the shades.
#2 Celestron TrailSeeker Binoculars 8x42 - Best Value Binoculars for Bird Watching
Beginners don’t always take good care of their birdwatching binoculars, so I wouldn’t advise them to purchase any high-end Leicas or Swarovskis.
Instead, I would recommend a value option such as the Celestron TrailSeeker Ed Binoculars.
It’s a handy pick that manages to strike a balance between cost and performance.
And trusting in Celestron’s long-term reputations as well as many good experiences with their products, you can always expect quality for this birding binocular.
But how does it perform?
Features and Benefits
Shape and Design
The TrailSeeker sits comfortably amongst the light weight binoculars for bird watching in the market.
Coming with a measly weight of 666g, this binocular for bird watching is pleasantly light to hold and operate, even for extended periods.
This is even more impressive considering the binocular has a magnesium chassis, which helps with the overall sturdiness and durability.
Along with the magnesium chassis, you’ll also love the textured rubber grip in the areas in contact with your hands.
The spongy armor provides a little more impact resistance and generally has a higher level of a comfortable grip and essential feature when birdwatching during light-rain showers.
As with the Monarch 7, Celestron has also incorporated a waterproof and fog proof design. While they don’t quantify the maximum depth, I’m sure it’s more than sufficient for protecting the binocular, even on the wettest of days.
The interior space has also been filled with nitrogen gas, and unlike regular air, it’s moistureless, so it’s rust and fog-proof.
Wide Field of View
TrailSeeker’s wide field of view is important for many users but will be particularly handy for birders.
Indeed, with a wide field of views of 426 feet at 1,000 yards, the Celestron is a great pick for locating fast-moving birds in dense foliage or even scanning the sky for raptors.
Depending on your observing situation, the wide FOV is essential when scanning wider areas and taking in more of the view without having to pan the view.
But it’s at closer ranges where it excels most;
Firstly, because it produces a “bigger” picture and makes it easier to locate your targets quickly, it is particularly helpful for small birds.
Again, if it’s a fast-moving and erratic bird, the view makes it easier to follow.
The real test with any binoculars is at low light.
Fortunately, if the reviews are anything to go by, the TrailSeeker excels in the dawn/dusk and the overly cast or rainy days.
With an 8x magnification and an exit pupil of 5.25, Celestron makes it easy to ID waterbirds in the ocean or flying raptors against a hazy backdrop.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t pull accurate color reproduction and high definition as I would have wished on the birds at a distance or in flight.
It’s not a surprise, considering what you pay for.
With such a wide view and good close focus distance, it still surprises me how Celestron achieves such a good amount of eye relief.
At 17.2 mm, TrailSeeker doesn’t break any record and misses out on what I would class as binoculars with very long eye relief.
But not a problem.
A combination of their multi-position eyecups gives you plenty of room for customization, which birders wearing glasses can take advantage of.
As for the optical quality, these bird binoculars produce bright, sharp images, free from aberrations, except possibly towards the very edge of the field.
Of course, don’t expect quality similar to that of $2,500 binoculars. But remember these costs nearly a tenth of that.
Some of the important features promoting the excellent performance include:
- 23mm ocular lens caps make it easy to line up your eyes with larger lens elements while eliminating the possibilities of dark rings forming on the edge of the view.
- Extra low dispersion glass (ED glass) reduces chromatic aberrations and results in a higher definition image.
- Roof prism made from BaK-4 glass for recorrecting the upside-down images
- Anti-reflection coatings that result in brighter and higher-quality images
But as we mentioned earlier, unless you’re used to the ultra-expensive instruments, these are a wonderful compromise between quality and price.
#3 Swarovski SLC - Premium Pick
The Swarovski Binoculars are described as a multi-purpose binocular for wildlife observing, but to me, it also looks like a great option for birders.
But before you make a run for it, keep in mind the SLC, as with any Swarovski or Leica binoculars, is at the upper echelons of the high-end binocular lineup, and it’s an expensive binocular.
Features and Benefits
Design & Shape
Swarovski’s SLC range takes second fiddle to the expensive EL range, but it’s still priced and built premium.
The only noticeable difference is the SLC has a more conservative open bridge body design; land lacks flatteners.
It’s not a dealbreaker as the payoff is compact binoculars and a more portable body.
At just 765g, these birding binoculars are lighter than most 42mm options.
But one thing I’ve noted is the compact size might be a big problem if you’ve large hands. I couldn’t get my hands around the barrels.
Swarovski’s construction is awesome too, and I love the leatherier pattern to it. It’s comfortable, grippy, and un-rubbery. It has a nice feel, and the thumb-indent helps the bins feel secure in the hand.
And as with all Swarovski Binoculars, the SLC is weatherproof and will stand up to abuse.
Field of View
Swarovski SLC has a field of view of 330 ft, which falls short of our previously reviewed binoculars for birding.
It’s not a surprise, given that higher magnification binoculars feature a narrower field of view.
Still, it’s a decent option for spotting the birds of prey, waterfowls, and large birds as they’re generally slow-moving and often out in the wild, where a narrow field of view is a non-issue.
NB: If you’re specifically after a wide field of view, I would recommend that you choose the SLC 8X42, which has a massive FOV of 408 ft.
Handling & Ease of Use
The look, feel, and precision of Swarovski feel premium and promote ease of use,
The mechanism is close to ideal, though the focus wheel is slow when trying to catch birds on the fly.
It’s a little heavy too, and occasionally, you’ll experience traces of scratchy stickiness, but that happens for almost any other greaseless design.
Otherwise, the close focus knob is great-smooth and with no free play.
Swarovski might have failed on the FOV, but it makes up for that with greater magnification.
Offering a 10x 42 optical magnification, Swarovski offers more detail when spotting the birds.
According to users, the 10x magnification offers complete image clarity while out and about, especially when zooming on a single bird.
And since the binoculars have a waterproof and fog proof build, the optical zoom is perfect for rainy situations where you can’t move as quickly as you want from one target to the next.
Keep in mind the higher power has plenty of shakiness, as it magnifies the little movements in your hands.
But not so much that you’ll need a tripod or a stabilizer. Instead, you simply need to maintain your hands stable.
Overall, the Swarovski is all about the finer details, and you’ll love the incredible magnification it offers.
For such incredible detail and magnification, expect some compromises.
One of them is eye relief.
At 16mm, the amount of eye relief is not world-class, but it should be just sufficient to ensure birders that wear glasses can view the full image.
HD Optical System
Swarovski’s is a work of art, and it’s one reason this pair of binoculars is an acclaimed set.
In the field, the optical system delivers amazing clarity and sharpness across every range of conditions.
The lenses will cope with everything from catching a duck in the lake to picking out warblers in the varied dappled light of a broadleaf canopy, while the extra-low dispersion glass (ED glass) offers even better image clarity.
A close focus of under 2M is also handy for picking dragonflies and butterflies.
#4 Celestron Nature DX - Best Entry Level Binoculars
Professional-level binoculars aren’t exactly cheap binoculars- we’ve already seen how the SLC pushes the pair to a four-figure price tag. Not the most affordable binoculars for birding.
But if you’re on a budget and still need a decent bin, Celestron has the perfect pick for you.
The Celestron Nature DX is one of their latest entries, and according to the brand, this model is specifically designed to meet the needs of the new and intermediate users.
Still, it has retained as many high-end features as possible to deliver a superior view within its class.
But at this price range, there’re also many competitions. And in our Nature DX review below, we’ll see how it stacks up against the competition and indeed how good they are for birding.
Features and Benefits
Design & Build
To cut costs, Celestron has opted for polycarbonate.
Polycarbonate is fairly standard for birding binoculars at this price range, and though it can’t compare to aluminum, it’s lightweight and durable.
It’ll take on a beating, yet it won’t fatigue you even when strapping it for extended periods.
Plus, Celestron’s Nature armor is fitted with a swirling, curvy textured rubber that improves the ergonomics by helping to increase the grip in areas in direct contact with your fingers.
Field of View
Celestron Nature’s field of view is 388 ft at a distance of 1,000 yards.
It’s a bit disappointing, considering it’s an 8x binoculars- all our other 8X options have a field of view greater than 400 feet.
While it’s not brilliant, it’ll let you scan the horizon, take in the entire forest in front of you or even see a small bird jump from branch to branch.
Comfort is something I always consider when purchasing a new binocular. So, I was interested to know how Nature compares to its peers regarding eye relief,
The good news is, the bin has a decent eye relief of 17.5mm, which isn’t all too shabby.
Of course, I would have hoped for long eye relief, but I can’t complain about what I get considering what I paid. Plus, the eye relief is still within acceptable limits.
Celestron DX has an 8 by 42 configuration, a setup common among the birding binoculars.
8x is perfect for most hunting and birding applications, and with this size, you get more details and superior performance.
To cut to the chase, the DX will make you smile every time you use them.
First, your eyes will feel effortless to relax into the image, and every time you focus, you’ll find yourself enjoying the experience.
Secondly, you don’t have to go through the trouble of adjusting the focus and diopter setting when trying to get a great view.
Nature DX might be a budget binocular, but one department they don’t cut corners with is optical clarity.
The bin uses fully multi-coated lenses, and by employing BaK-4 prisms with phase correction settings, you’ll enjoy better image contrast and better resolution.
The image offered by the DX is incredible for the price and comparable to options that are at least $100 more than what they’re selling for.
However, with a pair of cheap binoculars specifically designed for beginners and intermediate, the image quality isn’t going to the of the same standard as the professional bins,
At this price, expect some blurring around edges and slight aberrations.
#5 National Geographic 6x21 Children's Binoculars - Best for Kids (Compact Binoculars)
What a better way to nurture your kid’s birding enthusiasm than get them a National Geographic Binocular by Bresser.
The National Geographic is specifically tailored for kids, and it comes with all the features and improvements to keep your young one interested in birding.
It’s not an expensive option either, and for a beginner binocular, you won’t feel a pinch in your investment.
But does it have what it takes to be the best binocular for bird for your kid?
Features and Benefits
Design & Shape
Like your kid’s first bicycle, buying binoculars for your kid is challenging because you’re unsure what they want and whether they’ll take to the hobby.
Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about any of that.
Bright and colorful, National Geographics are made to appeal to your kids. The bin’s aesthetics will certainly intrigue any kid.
And that’s not all!
The binoculars are lightweight and compact, perfect for little hands and faces.
National Geographic’s construction also prioritizes kids’ use, which is evident from the choice of materials.
First, the rubberized texture is thicker than most adult-sized units, and this helps offer a good level of protection to the chassis and optics underneath.
When the rubber is combined with the small size, it makes these bins easy to hold.
Underneath the rubber armor is a polycarbonate plastic chassis. For an instrument at this price, it’s not a surprise, and indeed, many birds’ binoculars are made from plastic.
Of course, it’s nowhere as robust as aluminum, but it’s cheaper to make and more lightweight.
The only slight tradeoff with the material is the limited strength.
Most binoculars have 8x or 10x magnifications, but this pick has limited power and for very good reasons.
Probably, the most important benefit of the lower magnification power is it makes it easier for kids to hold their image still. Remember, higher magnifications exaggerate movements more than lower ones. And for kids with unsteady hands, it’s vital to ensure they get a steady image.
Next in line is the wider field of view.
Lower-powered bird watching binoculars have a wider field of view as they’re less zoomed.
This will make it easier for your kid to locate birds, butterflies, or any other objects they wish to view at a closer range and find it easy to follow it.
Field of View
National Geographic has a decent field of view at 360 ft at 1000 yards.
It’s no match for some of the adult-sized options we’ve seen, but it’s in many ways comparable. In fact, it has a wider field of view than the super expensive Swarovski SLC.
With such a wide FOV, it’s easy for your kid to locate birds.
More importantly, they can even follow an object if it’s moving, such as a bird or butterfly.
Like most of Bresser’s kid-specific instruments, National Geographic has a tiny 21mm objective lens.
The benefit of the small size is it helps with the weight and compact dimension.
On the flip side, the smaller objective lenses sacrifice the maximum light transmission. While this is not a problem during the day, National Geographic isn’t ideal for use in low-light conditions.
The National Geographic utilizes a roof prism made from BK-7 glass.
It’s an acceptable choice but certainly not desirable.
Along with the prism, the optics are fully multi-coated, and this helps with improving the image brightness and quality.
Best Birdwatching Binoculars Buying Guide
It’s easy to think that all birders have similar needs, but that’s further from the truth.
For example, a birder watching over long distances in wide-open areas like the coast or near a lake will need a different binocular for a birder observing in a thickly wooded forest.
So, yes, it’s actually impossible to say this is the best binoculars for bird and just leave it at that. Instead, you need to decide if a pair is best for your specific niche, or maybe decide whether it’s a good all-around option.
Once you’ve made the decision, we can now take a look at the different features and specifications to understand how they affect the binocular’s performance.
What to Consider when Purchasing the Best Binoculars for Birding
Getting closer to better views is the primary reason you need a binocular for a binocular.
And, thus, it makes sense to consider magnification, zoom, or what people call power.
However, just because you need to get closer to the bird and distinguish as much detail as possible, many birders assume the binocular with the most powerful magnification is the best.
But that’s farther from the truth.
Bigger isn’t always better.
There’re several drawbacks of having a higher magnification binocular for birding, and the main ones are:
- The narrower field of view
- Shaky image; the slightest movement is magnified
- Less apparent depth
- Less bright image
While the use of a tripod and adapter can help solve image stabilization, there’s a little you can do about all the other drawbacks.
But magnification power is relative, and with no reference point, I know most of you are still in the dark.
So, what magnification is best for birding?
Generally, if you plan to use a single pair of bird watching binoculars for all your bird spotting in different situations, an 8x magnification is the most popular pick.
Here’s why we recommend the 8x bird watching binoculars for birding:
1) Wide Field of View
With 8x bird watching binoculars, it’s more likely that you’ll easily identify a bird instantly without having to search about it.
This is particularly true for the smaller, fast-moving birds that don’t stay put.
2) Better Image Stability
Generally, high-powered optics are shakier because any hand movement is magnified as much as the image is.
In contrast, the lower 8x magnification is more stable, and it’s easier for birders to see more details.
3) Better with glasses
Generally, most people find it easy to see more detail on 8x than 10x.
To sum up, the lower magnification models, particularly the 7X and 8X, work best for most types of terrains in a wide variety of situations, forested to open fields.
The images on these instruments tend to be brighter and offer a wide field of view. A wide field of view is essential when following fast-moving birds or even scanning for birds in a wide area.
However, don’t discount the 10x instruments.
They’re more powerful and will show greater details, which is vital when spotting fowls or birds of prey.
These birds tend to be slower moving and are often located in the open, where a narrow field of view isn’t an issue.
However, when using the 12x magnification, you’ll require an image stabilizer to overcome the shake.
Field of View (FOV)
The field of view refers to the width of the scene in view when looking through a binocular.
A wide field of view is necessary for most birding as it makes it easier to find small, fast-moving birds. It’s also easier to follow them in flight or as they hop about in the canopy above you.
The wide field of view also gives you a better orientation while offering a more immersive, big-picture experience.
On the flip side, you lose the detailing you find on the high-powered options. The view is also so large that it might sometimes result in image distortion.
Eye relief is important if you use glasses and want them to remain while bird watching.
As we mentioned earlier, eye relief refers to the distance from the ocular lenses where you see the full field of view.
Generally, bird watching binoculars with a longer eye relief is suited for users with glasses as it gives them plenty of room to play with.
Here, birders that wear glasses should look for an eye relief of at least 15mm to see the full image.
The downside of longer eye relief is a reduced field of view
Size and Weight
The importance of your binocular size and weight depends on where, how, and when you do your birding.
But the objective lens has the biggest influence on the weight and size of your bird watching binoculars.
For example, compact binoculars are easy to hold and carry. Unfortunately, they’ve a small lens, mostly between sizes 25mm to 28mm.
These lenses can only allow so much light, and while they’re great for traveling, they don’t offer bright image quality, especially in poor conditions.
On the other hand, the full-sized bird watching binoculars are bulky, but that is irrelevant if you do your bird watching from a fixed spot.
Their benefit, however, is their large objective lens, which creates a large exit pupil, allowing light to enter.
This creates an even brighter image quality and is necessary when observing birds in poorly lit conditions.
Ease & Speed of Focusing
As with any pastime where objects are always on the move, it’s important to consider the speed at which you can focus the bird watching binoculars.
This is because if you can’t focus the bird watching binoculars fast enough, you could easily miss a good view.
The focus wheel should be intuitive, easy to use, and as simple to turn accurately as possible.
Fog Proof and Waterproof
Birdwatching is often done in the outdoors, and sometimes, in horrible conditions,
So, you need an option that can stand up to the torrid weather conditions.
While it’s not always necessary to get fully waterproof binoculars, you should at least look for an option with water and fog proof construction.
Completely sealed binoculars not only prevent moisture but also stops dust and debris from getting inside and spoiling your lenses.
It’s also a good idea to consider binoculars that are either nitrogen or argon purged. These binoculars have their internal air replaced with dry gas to prevent fogging.
Generally, fogging occurs when there’s rapid temperature changes in places with high humidity levels.
The second benefit of anti-fogging is it prevents rusting because there’s no moisture to support it.
Anti-Reflective Lens Coatings
Most of the modern-day binoculars feature some sort of anti-reflective coating to a sit-in light transmission.
While they may seem trivial, they make a huge difference to the brightness and image quality produced.
For example, a binocular with a smaller objective lens but high anti-reflection coating may even outperform a binocular with a larger objective lens but with no coating.
Best Bird Watching Binoculars Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: What is the best magnification for bird watching binoculars?
While the 8x will give you a smaller image, they’ve a wider field of view, so it is easy to spot the birds effortlessly and even follow them in flight. This is not to mention the 8x binoculars don’t suffer from image shakiness and can be handheld.
Q: Which is better, 8×42 or 10×42 binoculars?
A: I would recommend the 8×42 because they hit the sweet spot between ease of and performance. They’ve a wider field of view and offer just the right amount of magnification, without shakiness. More importantly, they generally have a longer eye relief, so are better suited for glass wearers.
Q: Are 10×50 binoculars good for birding?
A: They’re decent options, especially if you want to see a magnified image with much greater detail. But they’re not the best because of a narrower field of view and generally short eye relief.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
Our winner for the best binoculars for birding is Monarch 7.
We choose this option because it has numerous positive traits that support bird watching.
One of them is the wide field of view at 420 feet. It’s so big that it’ll make it easy to sweep across a large area and even follow the birds on the move.
Monarch 7’s magnification also hits the sweet spot between ease of use and power. It’ll show as many details as possible, yet, it doesn’t suffer from shakiness, even when it’s handheld.