2011 Binocular Buyer’s Guide
When packing for your next outdoor adventure, remember nothing can enhance your experience like a good pair of binoculars. Observing nature at her wildest often requires that we keep a distance in order to not disturb the natural flow of things, but high-quality binoculars can get you an up-close and personal view of what many people may never be lucky enough to witness. With a high-quality set of binoculars, you may discover that what looks like only a brown stump in a distant field is actually a lynx on the prowl or perhaps a wolf with her pups. This guide is organized by cost (it roughly goes up in price as you read) and divided into two categories to help you shop, but each of these suggestions have something special to offer. There’s sure to be something here you’ll like.
You get a lot of bang for your buck with the Nikon Travelite binoculars. The perfect binoculars for backcountry explorers, the Travelite is compact, lightweight, easy to carry and best of all, its price won’t ruin your budget. Available in 8×25, 10×25 and 12×25, these models feature advances normally seen on much higher-priced models. By utilizing Nikon’s bright, multicoated optics and Bak4 high index prisms, the Travelite delivers a brighter, sharper view during critical early and late periods of the day. Turn-and-slide eyecups and a central focus knob make using the new Travelite simple, and the durable, rubber-armored body protects against hard use. The new Travelite also features enhanced ergonomics and aspherical eyepiece lenses for an enhanced field of view that is uncommonly flat and clear from edge to edge. 8x: $99.99, 10x: $109.95, 12x: $119.95.
Steiner Safari Pro 8×22
The Safari Pro 8×22 binoculars may look stylish enough for the theater, but they’re tough enough for the trail. With optical performance features that make them a joy to use on birds and wildlife, these feather-light and compact binos are the perfect size for your pack. The new, larger center-focus wheel allows for fast focusing on your subject while the extended eye relief brings higher brightness with longer eye relief for use with eyeglasses. The compact 8×22 Safari Pro will fold to fit a pocket or the included compact case. Like all Safari Pro models, they feature the brilliance of Steiner optics, but screen UVA and UVB light by nearly 100 percent for a cool, crisp, comfortable view, making them ideal for hiking, backpacking in the mountains or at the beach. $119.
Alpen Optics Shasta Ridge
Perfect for long hikes or nature tours, Shasta Ridge binoculars fit easily in a pocket or backpack, but can also be worn around the neck all day without bother as they only weigh 15 ounces. These binoculars are fully waterproof, fully multicoated, have long eye relief and feature BAK4 optics that provide clearer, brighter viewing under all conditions. The full-size 42mm models have a sleek roof prism design, while the 26mm models are a compact porro prism design. Shasta Ridge binoculars can handle all types of weather, perfect for outdoor adventurers. $174.
Bushnell Trophy XLT Series
Bushnell has redesigned its popular high-quality and affordable Trophy line of binoculars to feature a sleeker, ergonomic build with fast-focus capability, making these binoculars perfect for checking out wildlife on the move. The new Dura-Grip coating with soft-touch thumb grips makes it easy to use for longer periods of time without discomfort. The fully multicoated lenses feature lead-free Enviro-Friendly glass for greater clarity and light transmission. Trophy series binoculars are 100 percent waterproof and fogproof. Each pair also comes with a set of flip-up objective lens covers. 10×27, $99.99; 8×32, $119.99; 8×42, $189.99; 10×42, $199.99; 12×50, $219.99.
Celestron 10×50 Nature Series
The Nature Series from Celestron features a state-of-the-art design with a modern open-frame style. Significant features include fully multi-coated optics and high-precision BAK-4 prisms to enhance the optical quality with maximum contrast and color rendition. The rugged aluminum main body has a rubber covering for additional protection. Twist-up eyecups provide easy adjustment. The Nature Series is waterproof, and nitrogen purged to be fog-proof. A soft case and straps are included, and the binoculars offer Celestron’s No Fault Lifetime Warranty. $115.95.
Redfield Rebel 8×32
Easy to handle and lightweight, the Rebel 8×32 roof prism binoculars cover virtually any outdoor activity that requires a good binocular. The Rebel’s ergonomic roof prism design reduces bulk and weight. The 8×32 mm model weighs only 17.1 ounces and measures five inches in length. Rebel binoculars perform exceedingly well in the field and are a great value. These binoculars feature fully multicoated lenses and premium BAK4 prisms for image brightness, resolution and edge clarity. They have a fully armored aluminum body to ensure durability and are nitrogen filled to make them waterproof and fog-proof in all field conditions. Twist-up/down eyecups comfortably accommodate users with or without eyeglasses. Each set of binoculars comes with a tripod-adaptable mount, soft case, neoprene neck strap and lens caps. 8×32: $129.99.
Busnell Legend Ultra HD
A favorite of serious outdoorsmen and women, the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD boasts a combination of high-quality optics and premium ED Prime Glass with the new Ultra Wide Band Custom Coating lens technology for high definition performance. Two new midsize roof prism models, the Legend Ultra HD 8×36 mm and 10×36 mm, feature anti-reflective Ultra Wide Custom Coating, which delivers the best available light not only during the peak of the day, but also at dusk and dawn when good optics matter most. Premium ED (Extra Low Dispersion) glass delivers optimal color performance and edge-to-edge sharpness. Compared to similarly priced optics, Legend Ultra HD binoculars deliver a wider field of view and are also more comfortable to use. Longer eye relief means less eyestrain. You can take these binos out in any weather thanks to their 100 percent waterproof construction and new RainGuard HD high-density permanent coating, which scatters less light by minimizing or eliminating moisture on the lens surface. 8×36, $249.99; 10×36, $249.99.
Leupold Katmai 8×32
The Leupold Katmai 8×32 binoculars provide outdoor lovers with full-size optical performance in a compact package that is lightweight and easy to carry or pack. The Katmai 8×32 offers twist-up eyecups that make use easy with or without eyeglasses. The key to Katmai’s performance is the 32mm objective lens, which is larger than the objective lens of traditional compact binoculars and transmits a greater amount of light to the eyes. Generous eye relief helps make the Katmai comfortable to use for extended periods, even with glasses. Built for all-weather use, the Katmai is completely waterproof and has shock-absorbing rubber armor for extra protection. $439.99.
More Than $500
Nikon Monarch X
This binocular line is ideal for nature lovers who understand that wildlife is often most active early in the morning or late in the evening when light conditions are low. The Nikon Monarch X’s 45 mm objective lenses provide larger exit pupils for increased low light performance, while maintaining the balance and comparable weight of many competitors’ 42 mm models. Available in 8.5×45 for the ultimate in light transfer and 10.5×45 for an ideal combination of power and performance, the Monarch X works equally well for the adventure seeker or casual sightseer. By utilizing Nikon’s advanced Dielectric high-reflective multilayer prism coatings, the Monarch X delivers a brighter, crisper view during critical dawn and dusk periods. The long eye relief (8.5×45=20.6 mm and 10.5×45=16.0 mm) multi-position click-stop eyecups make using the New Monarch X easy and fun for those with or without eyeglasses. 8.5×45, $579.95; 10.5×45, $599.95.
Celestron 8×42 Granite Binocular
Celestron’s Granite Series Roof Prism Binoculars are the pinnacle of optical and mechanical design. They are waterproof, nitrogen purged to be fog-proof, feature ED (Low Dispersion) glass to deliver edge-to-edge sharpness with excellent color correction and razor-sharp images while virtually eliminating chromatic aberration, use phase-coated BaK-4 prisms with high-reflectivity coatings for the sharpest and brightest possible images, and the body is made of magnesium, which is much lighter than aluminum and more rugged and tough for handling in any environment. It comes with a standard deluxe binocular strap and carrying case, but a binocular harness strap is available that takes the strain off your neck and distributes the weight load of the binoculars to your shoulders and torso for extended use. The Granite Series is also eco-friendly as the coatings are lead- and arsenic-free. And it also carries Celestron’s No Fault Lifetime Warranty. $688.95
ZEISS Conquest 8×30 Binoculars
The Conquest 8×30 is the perfect binocular for hikers and campers who prefer a midsize binocular at an affordable price. The 17.46-ounce, rugged Conquest binoculars are ergonomically designed for comfort and tough use in the field, and Zeiss’ proprietary multicoating on the lenses and its phase-coatings on the prisms improve light transmission for bright, sharp images and enhanced twilight vision. $649.99
Kowa BD42 Series
The Kowa BD42 series binoculars are an ideal companion for bird-watching or any other outdoor activity that requires a bright image and a wide field of view. These sleek binoculars come in 8x or 10x magnifications, and in dark green housings that blend into your surroundings. The prism is phase-coated to ensure sharp images and outstanding contrast. All lenses and prisms are fully multicoated, ensuring a clear visual range and sharp images. This new coating technology maximizes the reflectivity of the prism and reduces the loss of light, thereby achieving brighter and sharper images. 8×42, $655; 10×42, $685.
Steiner Merlin 10×50
Rugged design and waterproof construction make the Steiner Merlins perfect for handling what Mother Nature can dish out. Despite their hardy exterior, the Merlins sport a sleek, compact design that’s easy and comfortable to use and handle. Merlin binoculars feature a smooth, precise center focus with exceptional brightness, and although the added size of the 50 mm objective lenses lets in more light, it does not make the binocular bulky. The Merlin series features phase-corrected roof prisms and fully multicoated optics for clarity and highest resolution. Each Merlin includes a deluxe protective and weatherproof travel case, a neoprene, nonslip comfort strap, rain guard and objective lens caps. These binos are guaranteed waterproof and feature a 10-year warranty against defects. 10×50, $749.
Swarovski TYROL Pocket Binocular
Clothed in Italian leather, the smallest of all Swarovski Optik’s binoculars, the 8×20 TYROL, is a great-looking travel companion. The Pocket TYROL has a sophisticated lens system comprising a total of 16 lenses, which are treated with all three of the company’s proprietary coatings. This is the reason the images are so exceptionally bright and the field of view so impressive. The Pocket TYROL is dustproof and waterproof, and has adjustable twist-in eyecups allowing eyeglass wearers to enjoy a full field of view. Its appealing design and high-quality leather make it a real eye-catcher. The dedicated handmade leather belt pouch and the leather cord are perfectly matched to the Pocket TYROL. $965.56.
Kowa Genesis 33 Prominar Binocular Series
Weighing in at slightly over a pound, the Genesis 33 Series binoculars give outdoor observers the freedom to survey wildlife for longer periods without suffering arm fatigue. In addition to being exceptionally easy to handle, these binoculars feature four Prominar XC lenses, which deliver unrivaled image quality and virtually eliminate chromatic aberration. Pictures are bright and are highlighted by high contrast and unrivaled color reproduction. The Prominar lens technology offers the highest resolution combined with precise color definition and edge-to-edge sharpness for optimum viewing enjoyment. Their new multicoated optical system and C3 prism coating creates higher reflectivity and minimizes loss of light. Both the 8x and 10x models showcase an extremely wide field of view, making them the ideal optics for observing plants, insects and other objects within close range while revealing a larger field. 8×33, $1,285; 10×33, $1,440.
The Alpen Rainier is lightweight yet tough as nails, making it ideal for those who take the term “roughin’ it” to heart. The Rainier 42 mm binocular family features a new open-hinge body design as well as a new HD ED “high definition extra low dispersion” optical system that delivers state-of-the-art optical performance that rivals some of the best European brands, but for considerably less cost. With reduced weight (just over 29 ounces) and improved holding comfort, the new Rainier is a great option for those looking for top optics. The Rainier binocular features newly designed twist-up eyecups and Alpen’s unique A-lock locking diopter adjustment system. The superb HD ED optical design combined with Alpen’s UBX multilayer coating system, PXA phase coatings, and SHR metallic prism coatings result in extremely bright and sharp images. Fully waterproof O-ring sealed magnesium body construction is the foundation for other features such as long eye relief for eyeglass wearers and close focus distance of 6 feet. And the Rainiers are backed by Alpen’s lifetime factory warranty. 10×42, $1,595; 8×42, $1,538.
ZEISS Victory 8×32 FL Binoculars
The ZEISS Victory 8X32 is a high-performance, midsize binocular in an extremely portable, lightweight size, making them not only perfect for camping but for just about any outdoor event. The Victory’s FL glass produces bright, sharp and vivid images, and the LotuTec water-repellant coating on all ZEISS Victory optics ensures that the image remains clear even in the pouring rain. This lens coating causes raindrops to bead and roll right off, and dirt and grime wipe away with ease. This Victory FL Binocular also features a rugged housing and rubber armor exterior that is durable and comfortable to handle in any weather condition, and the 32 mm objective lets in plenty of light for clear viewing during low light conditions such as dawn and dusk. $2,149.99.