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

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

More great 10×42 binoculars

  • The ultimate luxury upgrade: Binoculars Maven B1.2 42mm ED ($1000). They are in my top three all time list. If you can afford these but not Leicas, don’t feel bad. Images are crisp, sharp and crisp, with no distortion or softness at the edges. I used them every day for two months and only noticed purple fringing once. They are expensive but worth the money.
  • Choose a budget: Nikon Monarch M5 10×42 ($285). These are the higher magnification version of our top pick, and everything I say about them also applies to the 10×42. For those on a budget, this is a great 10×42 option.
  • Another good budget choice: Celestron Regal ED 10×42 ($340). The Celestron Regal EDs are what I call a sleeper bargain. In other words, you will find very little information about them online, but they are excellent binoculars and the price is almost impossible. You get a great field of view (6.5 degrees), a sharp clear image and very little chromatic aberration. I haven’t tested better binoculars that cost less.
  • Another upgrade: Nikon Monarch 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 the Maven B1.2s better, but that may be a matter of taste. If you want to keep going in terms of price, the Swarovski EL 10×42 ($2399) are deservedly legendary.

Best compromise choice

What if you want 8x magnification but not the size and weight of 8×42 binoculars? This is where 8×32, 8×30, even 7×32 in some cases come into play. They offer the same magnification but a narrower field of view. For hiking and light travel, this size is a good compromise. Since the 8×32’s field of view isn’t as wide, it can be more difficult to track small objects like a nettle flying through leaves, but with a little practice it’s not too difficult to manage.

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, yet provide a nice clear image. As with other Nocs binoculars, the Field Issue is waterproof and fog resistant and comes in a variety of colors. They offer comfortable eye cups and a nice big focus wheel that you can’t miss. They manage to hit the sweet spot between magnification, price and weight, making them a great choice for beginners or anyone looking to travel light.

Best compact choice

Compact binoculars often involve 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 8x25s, but it’s often disappointing.

The Maven C.2 series is the first compact binocular I’ve tested that didn’t disappoint. Yes, the 28mm field of view is narrow when you’re used to the 42mm, but they’re so small and light—just 4.5 inches and weighing just 12 ounces—that I barely noticed them around my neck. If you want a compact, lightweight optic that still delivers 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 them extensively, but I’ve used them enough to know they’re light (10.9 ounces) and provide a very good, sharp image. They have 8x magnification and come with a nice sturdy waterproof case. The foldable design means they fit easily in your pocket. The downside is that they are more expensive than the Nikon Monarch 8×42, but offer a much smaller field of view.
  • Best Budget Compact: Nocs Standard Edition 8×25 ($95). These are detailed below, but the short story is that they are wonderfully compact and light and the price is right, but the image quality could be better. A great choice for the range or general use, but not so good for birders and hunters.

Before I dive into why Nocs are great for kids, let me be clear: Nocs are not binoculars for kids. They would fit nicely in the ultralight category above. These are nice compact binoculars. I “borrow” them from my kids all the time. Nor would I suggest them as the best first binoculars for toddlers (in which case, see our budget pick below). But for anyone over the age of 8, this is a great, compact first pair of binoculars.

You get good magnification with a waterproof (IPX7 rating) and fog-resistant design in a lightweight package (11.8 ounces). They also have two things that make them especially great for kids: sturdy construction and a nice, rubberized handle. I can’t tell you how many trees and rocks these have crashed into while around my son’s neck and they are still as good as new.

More great binoculars for kids

  • Budget choice for children: Let’s Go Binoculars ($25). If you have little ones who are new to binoculars, the price of Nocs may be too high. If you want to see if your kids are actually using their binoculars before diving, there are a number of options. I’ll be honest: neither of these are great, but they’re cheap and light and don’t cost a fortune. Another option is the Obuy binoculars ($30).

The best binoculars for special occasions

Fujinon 14×40

Photo: Fujinon

Image stabilized binoculars: I’m still testing since this is a huge category, but so far my top pick is the Fujinon 14×40 Techno-Stabi Stabilized Binoculars ($1,500). If you’re on a boat, these are the binoculars you want. They offer industry-leading stabilization of plus or minus 6 degrees, almost no image lag, have an IPX 7 water resistance rating, and as an added bonus, they float. I did most of my testing on a SUP, which is the most unstable watercraft I could think of, and they made birding possible without going ashore. They’re not cheap, but they definitely deliver.

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