Bird watching has been the favorite activity of people for decades now. Modern binoculars have made things especially easy due to their great magnifications. That way, people can observe their favorite species without intervening too much into their habitat. Still, to be able to have a clear picture and a pleasant viewing experience you will need to have the best bird watching binoculars. In this guide we will review some of out favorite models and give you priceless tips and information on how to choose the right model for you.
Before we move on to some of the top models we picked for this year, let’s check out a brief comparison chart between all the birding binoculars.
Top Birding Binoculars Comparison Chart
|Swarovski EL||10x42mm||1.85 lbs||$$$$$||5/5|
|Zeiss Conquest HD||10x42mm||1.7 lbs||$$$||4.5/5|
|Swarovski CL||10x30mm||2.6 lbs||$$$||4.5/5|
|Leica Duovid||8-12x42mm||2 lbs||$$$$$||4.5/5|
|Canon IS||10x50mm||2.6 lbs||$$$||4/5|
Best Binoculars Models
Swarovski EL Swarovision Binoculars
Birding Rocks Rating:
The Swarovski EL model line is great for people who want to take something durable and elegant on their birdwatching adventure. This model features a shockproof construction which can also withstand water and humidity very well. It has a 10x magnification power which is enough for most birdwatching needs. Everything in it screams quality, as with any other product from this company. If you want to learn more about it, check out our full review!
Carl Zeiss Conquest Binoculars
Birding Rocks Rating:
The Zeiss Consuqest HD is a very durable binoculars model which has wide, flat lenses that have high contrast and will be very easy on your eyes. The good eye relief distance is greatly appreciated by users who wear glasses. Overall, this is the model with the widest field of view out of all the ones we reviewed and is also the most compact one, weighting at only 1.7 pounds. Check the full review for more of its features.
Swarovski Optik CL Companion Binoculars
Birding Rocks Rating:
The CL line by Swarovski has all the characteristics of the EL one with a few exceptions. It is also far cheaper and a better overall choice for people on a budget. It comes with covers for your lenses and straps to make it easy to carry around. It isn’t exactly heavy but isn’t light either. Still, the compact footprint make it an ideal traveller’s companion. If oyu want to learn more about it, visit out full review on it.
Leica 8 to 12 x 42 Duovid Binoculars
Birding Rocks Rating:
The leica Duovid series offer premium binoculars at a premium price. Still, everything you touch on this model is solidly built and made out of the best materials possible. It has a central hinge which makes it foldable and therefore really compact for hunters and birdwatchers who carry around a lot of extra baggage. It is also very small but not very light. The magnification here ranges from 8x to 12x and thanks to the 42mm lenses you get great viewing angle, clarity, and contrast.
Canon Image Stabilization All-Weather Binoculars
Birding Rocks Rating:
Last but not least are these binoculars from Canon which are a bit unusual compared to the rest of the models. They have built-in image stabilization and are also tripod-compatible. Putting them on a tripod will be all you want, though, as they weight almost 3 pounds and don’t come with a wrist or a neck strap. Still, for people who need more than 10-15x magnification range, these are ideal and can zoom far enough to see even the tinniest birds!
Birding Binoculars Buyer’s Guide
Birdwatching is a fascinating hobby that allows you to get up close and personal with nature. But when you want to catch every fine detail, including the markings and the rich colors of a bird you sighted, you need the best birding binoculars. These are the optical devices that allow you to easily sight and identify common and rare birds in their natural habitats, catching all of the important details that really matter to the birder.
Becoming a Birder
According to statistics provided by Fish and Wildlife, there are more than fifty thousand birders located all over the US. Birdwatching is also considered the fifteenth most popular outdoor activity in the country. So, if you’re not a birder yourself, then the chances are you probably know one or two. While there are some other great accessories you’ll bring along on your birdwatching adventure, by far the most common, and the most important, are the binoculars.
While some birders prefer to use telephoto lenses or spotting scopes, the serious birder will often rely more so on their binoculars than any other type of tool.
Using binoculars provides many advantages over other optical tools. They’re much lighter, highly portable, and allow you to enjoy a natural 3D view of birds. This is because you’ll look through a couple of optical tubes, which will provide more of a natural view compared to telephoto lenses. Many types of telephoto lenses and spotting scopes also require the use of a tripod or some other type of support in order to clearly view wildlife. This will require the user to haul even more gear, which is a drawback for most birders, especially those who hike miles into the backcountry for the ultimate birding experience.
Birding at its Best
If you’re new to birding, then you may need to do a little exploring on your own in order to find local hotspots, or learn where you can find certain rare species of birds. This is all part of the adventure. But if you’re not sure when the time is right to finally sight that elusive bird, then our article on what is the best time of day for birdwatching can teach you how to determine prime birdwatching times, based on location and bird species. To learn more, click here.
You can also learn more about cataloging your sightings, and why keeping track of each bird can be important to future outings by clicking here to read our article on how to keep a birdwatching journal.
Obviously, if you’re searching for a pair of birding binoculars, then you want a dedicated pair that’s specifically designed for this hobby. However, if you plan on hiking through the backcountry to sight rarer birds, or you want a pair of lightweight binoculars to take with you during your next camping trip, then a lightweight pair will be more appropriate. Doing some research in order to find the perfect pair will be important since binoculars are available in a variety of weights, styles, and sizes.
Binoculars are available in a couple of different styles:
- Porro prism
- Roof prism
Roof prism binoculars have a straight barrel light path, while porro prism models are generally larger and heavier and come with a lower price tag considering the roof prisms go through a more rigorous manufacturing process.
Inside binoculars are two prisms on each side. Once the light makes it through the convex lens it will change direction, causing the image to appear upside down.
This is where the two prism design comes in. Prisms are basically pieces of glass that reflect light. Each time the light refracts it bends at ninety degrees. With two prisms the light bends at one hundred and eighty degrees. This will make the image appear the way it’s supposed to. Prisms are why some binoculars are bulky and heavy, especially in the middle of the barrels where the prisms are located.
Better Quality Prisms
Porro prisms were the original design. These are the prisms that are arranged at ninety-degree angles from each other. They’re considered very-light efficient and can provide impressive contrast.
Introduced by Zeiss and Leitz companies in the 1960s, roof prisms feature an eyepiece and objective lens. This type of prism results in binoculars that are easier to hold and haul due to their more compact, smaller design.
But as we mentioned, the manufacturing process is much more complicated compared to porro prisms. Porro prisms are much efficient, more affordable, and show better contrast compared to roof prisms.
Porro Prism Design Options
Currently, the BK7 and the BAK4 are the two major prism designs on the market today. Looking through the binoculars at a distance can help to determine which type of porro prisms the binoculars contain. BAK4 lenses are higher quality and show an exit pupil that’s circular. BK7 are considered lower quality and have a noncircular, more squared-off exit pupil.
These prisms are not quite as durable as roof prisms and are not usually waterproof. However, the porro prism binoculars have their own unique place and purpose, but roof prism binoculars are considered a better buy for birding purposes.
Magnification power is usually the second consideration, after prism type. Binoculars with a lower magnification can mean you won’t be able to view details as clearly as you can with binoculars with a higher magnification level. However, higher magnification binoculars can also come with some drawbacks and can be difficult to keep stable.
8x or 10x are both magnification levels that are perfect for birding. If you want to use a higher magnification, then you’ll need to be in a stabilized environment, such as sitting in a chair or hiding out in a hunting stand. Lower magnification binoculars tend to do well for sporting events or concerts, but often aren’t the best choice for birding, considering even the smallest details can be very important to the birder.
FOV or field of view involves the area in which you can see at a certain distance. As an example, one pair of binoculars may have a four hundred foot field of view at one thousand yards, which translates to the ability to see four hundred feet of an area while looking at an object that’s approximately one thousand yards away.
But when an object appears much larger, you’ll be able to view less of the surroundings. Because of this, it’s often a tradeoff between the field of view and magnification.
Eye relief will be a crucial feature to birders who wear glasses. This is because if the eye relief is too short, then the user may only be able to see the center of images when staring through the binoculars. Binoculars with a longer eye relief will allow you to view the entire image.
Since there can be several lenses in a pair of binoculars, the lens coating is very important. Even top of the line lenses tend to lose approximately five to ten percent of the light if they have just a single coating. Lenses that are not coated can lose anywhere from twenty to thirty-five percent of its light. This can obviously result in terrible image quality. The best birding binoculars will have lenses with multiple layers of coating, which can reduce the loss of light down to the tenth of a percent. Pretty impressive, right?
Basic Coating Info
On the spec sheet or directly on the packaging you should clearly see whether or not the lenses are coated, the type of coating used, and how many layers of coating there are.
Single Layer Coated Lenses
If the packaging simply states that the lenses are coated, this will often indicate that there is just a single layer of coating. In most cases, it will be a thin coating of anti-reflective magnesium fluorite.
Fully Coated Lenses
Lenses that are fully coated will contain an anti-reflective coating on each side of the ocular and objective lenses, as well as on one side of the prism.
Just because lenses have several layers of coating doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re higher quality lenses. In fact, it’s totally possible to find single coating binoculars that offer a top of the line performance. Additionally, multilayer coating can simply mean only some of the lenses have extra coatings, while other surfaces, such as the prisms, do not.
Some manufacturers may even use lower-quality coating materials that don’t provide the type of protection and enhanced viewing experience that the manufacturer claims that it does.
Full Multilayer Coating
This means that there are multiple layers of coating on every surface. This type of coating is usually found in higher priced binoculars.
Phase Correcting Coats
Earlier, we touched on the differences between prisms and noted that roof prisms are often found in higher priced sets of binoculars because their manufacturing process is quite rigorous. When light passes through roof prisms, it folds back on itself. This can lead to some peaks of light waves, which can line up and then go out of phase, resulting in reduced clarity and brightness. To remedy this issue, manufacturers will add a type of phase correcting coat on the face of the prisms.
Binocular Numbers Explained
Most pairs of binoculars will display a set of numbers, such as 10×50. The number ten indicates the level of magnification, while the second number refers to the size of the objective lens, which is fifty millimeters. A larger objective lens will allow more light to enter, providing a clearer, sharper image.
What is the Twilight Factor?
This is the number that’s used to compare how effective binoculars are in low light conditions. This number is found by multiplying the magnification by the size of the objective lens and finding the square root. A higher twilight factor indicates more details that can be seen in low light. For reasonable low light use, you’ll need a pair of binoculars that have at least a seventeen twilight factor, or higher.
A pair of binoculars that have a higher magnification can struggle with keeping the image steady, especially the closer the image appears. This will often equal a greater shift in the picture for every movement.
The two types of stabilization systems available include passive and active.
This type of stabilization system will use a sensor in order to detect movements. A mechanism inside the binoculars will offset the movement. This often includes the movement of the prism and/or the lens.
Passive systems will include a gyroscope that adjusts based on movement, working to hold the image steady.
The Perfect Birdwatching Binoculars
For birdwatching purposes, you’ll need to balance your desire for getting in closer to capture every detail of a bird and the FOV to view the bird as it takes off or moves from branch to branch. On average, seasoned birdwatchers will go for an 8x magnification. This will allow for adequate FOV. Additionally, before you choose your first pair of binoculars, make sure the lens coatings are not designed to reduce blue from the picture, which can increase contrast. For some settings, this can be a big plus, but when it comes to birding, seeing color is very important. If possible, try to stick with models that come with coatings that are basically neutral and designed to retain the true color.
Our site is dedicated to helping you choose the best birdwatching binoculars, whether you’re looking for an entry-level pair, or you’re an experienced birder and you’re in need of binoculars that can handle lighting and weather conditions when you’re traveling through the backcountry. Each model offers top of the line features and components that are designed to enhance your birdwatching experience by providing you with a crystal clear, bright image, regardless of lighting conditions.
If you’re new to birding, be sure to stop by and check out our article on birdwatching for beginners, for more information regarding what other gear you’ll need for your first adventure.