The Best Binoculars for Bird Watching in 2023
Millions of people across the world are bird watchers, and with so many different types of birds in every environment, every day brings new opportunities to see something new. It makes sense that you’d want to see as much as possible, and binoculars can certainly help you make the most of your time outdoors. But what should you look for when choosing binoculars? And which are the best binoculars for bird watching in 2023?
Table of contents
- Why Use Binoculars For Bird Watching?
- How to Choose the Best Bird Watching Binoculars
- Our Top 3 Best Binoculars for Bird Watching
- In Conclusion
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why Use Binoculars For Bird Watching?
You could, of course, simply use your eyes for bird watching. After all, people have done this for thousands of years without any problems, but binoculars allow you to see so much more.
For starters, birds at a distance can be difficult to identify, whereas binoculars make it easy. By magnifying the view, you’re able to see the bird as if it were much closer, enabling you to better see its markings and make a more accurate identification.
However, binoculars aren’t your only option. You may have also thought about using a spotting scope, but these have one essential drawback: portability. They’re great if you’re planning on staying in a specific spot for a little while, but they’re not very practical if you’re hiking.
Another issue is magnification. Spotting scopes typically have a magnification of 15x or more, which makes them great for watching birds at a distance. However, this higher magnification has a drawback. The field of view – ie, how much you can see – is smaller, which can make it harder to locate your target.
Lastly, since a spotting scope is mounted to a tripod, this can limit its movement, making it potentially difficult to track the bird if it takes flight. (The smaller field of view can also make it difficult, especially if you lose the bird and then need to find it again.)
You have none of these issues with binoculars. They’re designed to be compact and lightweight, so you can take them anywhere, and while most models can also be attached to a tripod (for greater stability) it’s not a necessity.
Binoculars have another advantage over spotter scopes. Since you’re using both eyes, you have a better depth of field, giving you a more realistic view. Using both eyes also allows you to see more detail.
How to Choose the Best Bird Watching Binoculars
When it comes to choosing the best binoculars for bird watching, there are a number of factors you should keep in mind:
- Field of view
- The environment
The higher the magnification, the larger the object will appear. While this might sound like a good thing, you should also keep in mind that a higher magnification means a smaller field of view. A smaller field of view can make it harder to find and track your target, and the restricted view could be less aesthetically pleasing.
To some extent, it also depends on the size of your target and how far away it is. If it’s too close (or too large) then the combination of magnification and the smaller field of view could mean you won’t be able to properly appreciate it, or even identify it.
Taking all this into account, a magnification of either 8x or 10x is best, with 8x being preferable.
Weight is important for two primary reasons: firstly, you’ll probably be carrying the binoculars from one place to another and you don’t want to carry anything too heavy.
Secondly, the heavier the binoculars, the more likely it is that your hands will shake as you hold them. This can cause an additional problem with higher magnification binoculars: the shaking will be more apparent when you look through the eyepieces.
If you have 8x and 10x binoculars of the same weight, the view through the 10x binoculars will seem to shake more because the larger magnification makes the shaking more apparent.
Obviously then, it’s best to find binoculars that weigh as little as possible. On average, 8x or 10x binoculars roof prism binoculars will weigh about 575g (1.25 pounds.)
(Incidentally, roof prism binoculars are the newer, more compact – and more lightweight – style of binoculars. Porro prism binoculars are the traditional style that provide a slightly better quality image but weigh more. Roof prism binoculars are shaped like an H, whereas porro prism binoculars are shaped like a W.)
The field of view
To some extent, this is a matter of personal preference, but if you’re new to bird watching you’ll probably find a wider field of view is easier to work with. For starters, it’s easier to find your target, but it also makes for a more aesthetically pleasing view, as you’ll not only see the bird, but also its surroundings.
The field of view is typically measured in terms of feet at 1,000 yards. This indicates the size of an object that would fill the field of view from a distance of 1,000 yards. For example, if the binoculars have a field of view of 350 feet at 1,000 yards, then an object 350 feet wide would span the field of view from a distance of 1,000 yards.
Higher numbers (for example, 500 feet versus 300 feet) produce a wider field of view, since you’ll be seeing a view that’s 500 feet across from 1,000 yards, rather than 300 feet.
Two binoculars with the same magnification will show your target at the same size. However, the binoculars with the larger field of view will allow you to see more of its surroundings. Therefore, most people prefer binoculars with a wider field of view.
While you might not mind the rain, your binoculars might have a problem with the moisture. Moisture isn’t good for binocular optics, so you’ll want to make sure your binoculars are water resistant, at the very least, or better yet, waterproof. Realistically, this shouldn’t be an issue if your binoculars were produced by a reputable manufacturer, and each of the binoculars on our list is waterproof.
This is also important as it will provide your binoculars with some protection if you happen to drop them into a river, lake or even the ocean. However, it’s not a good idea to rely on this protection alone, and you should always take the proper precautions to avoid getting them wet in the first place!
Our Top 3 Best Binoculars for Bird Watching
There are almost as many binoculars as there are birds, but we’ve taken the guesswork out of the selection process. After looking at numerous models, from manufacturers ranging from Bushnell to Zeiss, we’ve chosen three of the best for you.
Here are our top 3 choices for hiking binoculars:
- Best Overall: Vortex Crossfire HD 10×42
- Best Lightweight: Steiner Safari UltraSharp 8×22
- Best Budget Option: Tasco Essentials 8×42
Best Overall: Vortex Optics Crossfire HD 10x42
The Crossfire HD 10×42 binoculars have the perfect combination of magnification and aperture. With an aperture of 42mm, you might expect them to be a little on the heavy side, but that’s not the case. Weighing in at 652g (1.4 pounds) they’re still lightweight enough that you can easily carry them and use them for long periods without suffering any ache or fatigue.
The field of view (325 feet at 1,000 yards) is enough to provide you with outstanding views of the bird’s environment, while the fully multi-coated optics produce, sharp, distortion-free and colorful views. As an added bonus, they’re also waterproof and fogproof, with rubber armor to protect your binoculars in the event they should be dropped.
If there’s a downside, it’s that beginners might find 10x magnification to be a little more than you need, but if you’re looking for outstanding close-up views, these are the ones for you.
Best Lightweight Option: Steiner Safari UltraSharp 8x22
If you like to take your time while bird watching, nothing is worse than having binoculars that are so heavy you can’t hold them without suffering from arm fatigue. True, you could mount your binoculars on a tripod, but that only restricts your freedom to follow the bird as it takes flight. And what if you like to move from location to location?
Steiner’s Safari UltraSharp 8×22 binoculars are the most lightweight option on our list. Weighing just 228g (0.5 pounds) you can carry them and use them for an extended period of time without worrying about your arms aching or growing fatigued. You’ll also find they have a generous field of view (410 feet at 1,000 yards), are waterproof and fog proof and, lastly, are very reasonably priced.
The downside? While an aperture of 22mm is fine for bird watching and most nature related activities, you’ll find it’s not enough if you also like astronomy, but for the weight and price these can’t be beat.
Best Budget Option: TASCO Essentials 8x42
Binoculars can be pricey, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money to get top quality. Tasco’s 8×42 Essentials binoculars produce a magnification of 8x, and with an aperture of 42mm, you’ll be sure to see all the detail you need. The weight is also pretty good too – just 290g (0.6 pounds).
The trade-off is that the lenses are multi-coated (rather than fully multi-coated), but this shouldn’t make a huge difference, especially if you’re new to the hobby. You’ll also find that these are not waterproof, so you’ll need to be careful if you’re bird watching near water.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to enjoy bird watching – you only need to spend your money wisely. Binoculars provide a versatility that’s hard to beat; they’re lightweight, portable and capable of producing views that wow. Investing in a good quality set of binoculars will allow you to see more and enjoy more, without the hassle of suffering from arm fatigue or losing sight of your target.
Frequently Asked Questions
All binoculars have two numbers associated with them. The first is the magnification of the binoculars, while the second is the aperture (diameter) of the lenses, measured in millimeters. The greater the magnification, the larger your target will appear, whereas aperture determines how much light your binoculars can gather. The larger the aperture, the more light the binoculars will gather and the more detail you can see. However, apertures larger than 50mm can be heavy, making them harder to use for an extended period of time.
When it comes to choosing the best binoculars for bird watching, you really want something compact and lightweight that you can easily carry with you. Roof prism binoculars (shaped like an H) are ideal, with a magnification of either 8x or 10x. In terms of aperture, around 40mm is plenty, so either 8×40 or 10×40 is fine. Lastly, if you’re going to be around water, it’s a good idea to make sure they’re waterproof.
This is really a matter of personal preference, as a higher magnification will allow you to see more detail, but could also restrict your field of view. This will limit how much of the surroundings you’re able to see. On average, 8x binoculars will give a field of view of around 395 feet at 1,000 yards, whereas 10x binoculars will produce a field of view of around 320 feet at 1,000 yards