As far as expensive hobbies go, a decent, professional pair of binoculars cost a pretty penny. Like cameras, and specifically, camera lenses, binoculars can come with a whole host of pricey features and specifications, including professional quality glass, and the highly coveted ability to image stabilize. Truly top of the line binoculars can easily break the bank at just over a mere $1000.
While these extras are certainly beneficial, and appropriately priced, for a budding novice or intermediate hobbyist, extravagantly spending money might not be a wise financial investment.
This is where budget binoculars come into play. Perfect for new birders and those seeking more reasonably priced alternatives, we’ve put together a list of binoculars that don’t compromise quality while managing to still hold steady places in the market as affordable options.
Basic Binocular Know-How
Before jumping the gun to purchase your, perhaps first, pair of binoculars, it’s worth understanding some basic binocular terminology.
Binoculars listings are often posted with a set of numbers tacked onto the end or beginning of the model name or model number. These numbers represent the magnification and objective lens diameter respectively of the binocular in question, and understanding these two features is extremely important to grasping a sense of what your binoculars will be capable of.
Numbers will always be listed as magnification x objective lens diameter, meaning the first number you see represents the magnification of your binoculars, while the second represents the complex sounding objective lens diameter. As an example, binoculars listed as 8×42 are common, where 8x is the magnification, and 42 is the objective lens diameter.
The magnification of your lens represents how enlarged objects will appear through your lens. An 8x binocular will magnify objects to be 8 times larger than what is perceptible with your unassisted vision, while a 10x pair will magnify objects by 10 times.
While objective lens diameter sounds complicated, the number actually just represents the size of your binocular’s lens in millimeters. The most important take away with objective lens diameter is that its size determines how much light your binocular’s lens will collect. As with camera lens, more light produces a brighter image.
Combined, these features also determine your area of view; larger magnifications will narrow your area of view, while larger objective diameters will widen it.
While these are the basic building blocks of binocular knowledge and ownership, other features can factor heavily into your purchasing decision. Eye relief, build material, portability, and weatherproofing can all make or break your compatibility with a pair of binoculars.
Keeping all of these features in mind, read on to find out which of our five chosen budget binoculars suit your usability requirements best.
1. Nikon ACULON A211 8×42 (Overall Winner)
The popular Nikon ACULON A211 has to take this list’s place as best overall binoculars within a budget range. Reasonably priced around $80, the 8×42 version of Nikon’s ACULON A211 offers prospective buyers a broad range of features and specifications all while fitting comfortably into a low-range budget.
The lightweight 8×42 version comes equipped with slip-resistant, protective rubber armor, a comfortable, well-designed grip, and lens caps that can be clipped to straps and belts. The design is overall ergonomic and user-friendly, perfect for buyers looking for binoculars that will fit comfortably in their grip for long viewing sessions. That being said, users are also able to mount the binoculars on a tripod for further comfort.
At its price point, the ACULON A211 has great optical quality. They possess anti-reflection, multi-coated optics for improved image contrast and brightness. And, alongside their aspherical eyepiece lenses, the A211’s BAK4 prism produces sharp, crisp images with lessened distortion. Finally, the large diameter makes them decent binoculars for viewings from dawn until dusk.
This version of the ACULON is best suited to those on a budget who desire a sturdy, user-friendly option for beginner or intermediate use. This model brings with it a great set of broad, quality features without sacrificing ergonomics or image quality.
2. Nikon PROSTAFF 3S 8×42
Another Nikon, the company’s 8×42 PROSTAFF 3s binoculars are another popular, top seller among birders and nature enthusiasts alike. As with the ACULON, many of Nikon’s quality features make it into this model, including a somewhat light but durable build, eco-friendly glass, and protective rubber armoring on a comfortable, slip-resistant grip.
While possessing many basic similarities to the ACULON, the PROSTAFF 3S takes it several steps further. This model is built with a longer eye relief, perfect for glasses wearers, weatherproofing, and impressively, a fog-proof build making viewings in difficult conditions doable without damaging the binoculars.
Optically, the 8×42 provides a moderate level of magnification, bright, crisp images, and reduced internal diffraction with the use of a high-reflectivity silver alloy prism coating. Color rendition and contrast are solid with this model, and users will generally be pleased with the images produced by these binoculars.
While the PROSTAFF model has several pros over the ACULON, it’s price, which just breaks $100, might dissuade potential users from purchasing it. Otherwise, the 8×42 PROSTAFF 3S binoculars are a solid, comprehensive pick for buyers looking for tough and versatile gear to travel with.
3. Celestron Outland X 10×42
The Celestron Outland X 10×42 binoculars are a versatile, optically excellent choice for buyers on a budget who desire 10 times magnification. For many, a 10x magnification alone is enough motivation to pick up something priced like the Outland X, especially with the quality these binoculars bring to the table.
They provide a great area of view at their magnification and price point, and, equipped with a BAK4 roof prism and multi-coated lenses, the image quality is bright, sharp, and clear. The binoculars are equipped with rubberized armor for a better, comfortable grip, and are able to be tripod mounted. These are quality features on 10×42 binoculars, priced at an amazing range.
4. Bushnell Legacy WP 8×42
Bushnell prides itself on providing an optically complete, but affordable, system for users of all proficiency levels. The Legacy WP 8×42 binoculars are equipped with high quality, anti-reflection, multi-coated lenses, and a BAK4 Porro prism design, able to deliver bright, crisp, and sharp images.
Additionally, this model comes equipped with a long, 18mm eye relief to avoid viewing fatigue, and comfortable, twist-up rubber eye cups, perfect for those who wear glasses. The Legacy WP model is also waterproof and fog-proof, making it a great companion for those that plan to spot in less than ideal conditions. Finally, these binoculars are tripod-compatible with an additional adapter.
5. Nikon Trailblazer 8×25 ATB (Budget Winner)
Nikon’s Trailblazer 8×25 are folding, compact, travel-friendly binoculars, perfect for spotting birds and wildlife, and portable enough to carry with you comfortably. For such a small, low-price option, the Trailblazer’s optical performance is amazing, boasting a high-index BAK4 roof prism and anti-reflection, multi coated glass. The colors are accurate, and the images are bright and sharp.
Even better, the Trailblazer binoculars are waterproof and fog-proof, quality features for such an affordable option. Users do, however, have to deal with an area of view that is narrower than most of the models on this list, which might be a deterring factor for certain buyers. That being said, the price and quality alone make the Trailblazer ATB a very worthy investment.
Picking the Best Budget Binoculars
While there’s no right or wrong binoculars to choose from, and these models all possess similar qualities and specifications, picking a pair for your individual preferences might be as simple as price, or as complicated as optical ability.
Whatever your choice, these five options are sound and affordable investments, guaranteed to deliver quality optical performance at a price that can’t be beaten.