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The Best Binoculars of 2016

by Patrick Hyde •

In A Nutshell

  • The best pair of binoculars is the Carl Zeiss Victory HT Binoculars. They are the brightest binoculars available, and sport a robust and ergonomic design. There is no better option for bird watchers and hunters.
  • Nikon Monarch 5 offers a much more affordable yet comparable quality pair of binoculars.
  • The best pair of compact binoculars for hikers and everyday use are Bushnell Legend Ultra HD.

The Details

Stellar improvement in binocular technology has leveled the optical playing field. Specialty brands such as Swarvorski and Zeiss still have an edge over their lower priced competitors, but the gap has narrowed enough that you can comfortably purchase a mid-range option without losing much in the way of clarity, color, durability, and ergonomic design.

There are a few important considerations to weigh when picking out a pair of binoculars, and what option is best for you depends on whether you will be gazing at stars or birds.

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The optical specification of a pair of binoculars is represented by a number that looks like a basic multiplication equation. 8×42 and 10×42 are the standard binocular specifications, and are the numbers that are best for general purpose use.The first number, which is invariably the smaller of the two, refers to the magnification power of the binoculars. It represents how many times larger the object will appear through the lens than it would to the naked eye.

The second number is the objective lens diameter, which is the larger piece of glass at the front of the binoculars. Objective lens diameter determines how much light is let in. The larger the lens diameter, the more light is let in. Photographers can think of it like aperture on a camera lens. A larger lens also means the binoculars will be heavier, which might compromise how long you are able to hold them steady. Increasing upper arm strength is a great solution to this problem, and will allow you to hold a pair of binoculars for longer while enjoying more light.

Field of View

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The field of view is determined by the size of the eye piece and represented in degrees. Therefore, a 7.0 degree field of view would be 7 out of a 360 degree circle.  Wide angle are 7 or more degrees, while standard binoculars are around 5 degrees.

As magnification goes up, the field of view goes down. Birders will sacrifice some field of view for increased magnification. If you want to take in scenic panoramas, opt for a wide angle lens.

Other Factors To Consider

Get a pair of binoculars with a long eye relief if you wear glasses. Eye relief is the vertical distance to which your eye is supposed to sit, and is measured in millimeters. 13-15mm is considered a long eye relief, and the minimum a bespectacled individual would want to comfortably use the binoculars.

Reactual readers will also want to take note of the lens coating. The objective lens will be protected by an anti-reflective coating to minimize glare when light hits the surface. Fully multi-coated lenses are the best for performance and durability, as they enhance clarity, maintain integrity of color, and protect the lens from scratch and other damage.

We also highly recommend you choose a pair of binoculars that is waterproof or, at the very least, water-resistant. Even if you don’t plan to use your binoculars by water, fog and moisture in the air could potentially damage your pair.

Zeiss Victory HT: The Best Binoculars For Hunters and Birders

Zeiss Victory HT 8x42 6

If you have the money to spare, there is no better pair of binoculars available than Zeiss Victory HT. The manufacturer is a specialty optics company with more than 200 years of binocular manufacturing expertise, and the Victory HT are engineered with precision to deliver the brightest color and most ergonomic design of any pair of binoculars. Released in 2012, Victory HT are made in Germany with the best products and most advanced technology.

They are the brightest premium binoculars in the world. They are the highest contrast and deliver more than 95% light transmission, 5% higher than other premium binoculars on the market. This jump is thanks to the new Schott High Transmission glass, which is exclusive to Zeiss. Schott has been developing special optical glass for more than 125 years, and their HT glass has the highest transmittance levels of any optical lens. This cuts down on a phenomenon known as “thermal lensing effect” and increases blue spectral range, which is particularly helpful in low-light situations.

Hunters and birdwatchers benefit most from the extra color in low light situations, as the HT glass makes the most of deep twilight. The lenses are protected by anti-fogging material which keeps them clear in the early morning cold. The extra color is still noticeable in general daytime use, but the difference is not as drastic as in dim or low-light viewing. If you plan to use your binoculars in daytime, the extra price tag is probably not worth the incremental improvement in color crispness.

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The ingenious design of the Zeiss Victory HT sets it apart from competitors. It has a compact bridge and a large easy-to-use focus wheel. The comfort grip system allows you to grasp both optical tubes without a hinge in front of binoculars, and a long eye relief provides a comfortable viewing experience for those with and without glasses. It also has a double hinge feature which increases durability by minimizing the chance of breaking and a robust chassis that is made from lightweight magnesium.

The biggest drawback of the Zeiss Victory HT is obviously the price. Some commenters noted that other premium priced binoculars come with better kit (case, cleaning cloth). The lifetime warranty and 5 year no fault policy do provide some peace of mind for dropping so much on a pair of binoculars.

Zeiss also offers the Victory HT in 10×42, which gives you stronger magnification at the expense of a few degrees in field of view. Another option is the 10×54 version of the Victory HT, which Zeiss launched in 2014. Much lighter than other models with such a large objective lens diameter, this option is great for stargazers and deer hunters who need to make the most of nearly non-existent light.

Another Option For Bird Watching: Nikon Monarch 5

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If you are willing to sacrifice color quality, Nikon’s Monarch 5 Series offers near identical image quality for a fraction of the price. It is a mid-level binocular with multi-coated Nikon ED (extra-low dispersion) lens that delivers sharp, high-contrast views. The ED Glass lenses and Dielectric High-Reflective Multilayer Prism Coating were previously reserved for Nikon’s more expensive models, but are available in the Monarch 5 series.

They have a 6.4 degree field of view, and maintain image sharpness outside of a 5 degree diameter up to 80%.

The exceptional design of Monarch 5 is durable and intuitive. It is very light, though not as light as Zeiss (21 oz versus 16 oz). The focus knobs are precise and smooth, very easy to adjust and find the best clarity. We appreciate the fully waterproofed rubber armored fog proof housing, which make this a durable and comfortable pair of binoculars to hold.

One complaint Monarch 5 owners have is that the lens cap is loose fitting, which leads to many lost caps. Nikon assures that this was an intentional design choice, but it nonetheless leads to problems.

 Best Compact Binoculars For Everyday Use: Bushnell Legend Ultra HD

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Compact binoculars are lightweight and portable, perfect for hiking and general use while travelling. Any pair with an objective lens diameter smaller than 30mm is considered to be compact.

Bushnell Legend Ultra HD offers stunning HD image, thanks to ED Prime Glass. They are coated with anti-reflective lens and are secured in a lightweight magnesium chassis that is waterproof and fogproof. 

Comments 2

  1. Great Stuff! These guidelines are really useful for one who wants to purchase binoculars for hunting and stargazing. Always purchase a brand that is known for creating high quality optics gear. It is also a good choice for hunters who want the most lightweight binoculars for hunting.

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