The Best Budget Binoculars in 2023

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Cheap binoculars

by Richard J. Bartlett

Updated on: 18 February 2023

Binoculars can be used for a wide variety of activities. Whether it’s birding, hiking, hunting or stargazing, you’ll find there are binoculars that are perfectly suited to meet your needs. Best of all, you won’t have to sacrifice quality or functionality if you’re working with a budget. Binoculars today are as varied as the activities you can use them for, so where should you begin? What should you look for when choosing your binoculars? And which are the best budget binoculars in 2023?

What Can Binoculars Be Used For?

The question here isn’t so much “why use binoculars?” but rather “why wouldn’t you use binoculars?” Essentially, binoculars allow you to see distant objects up-close and in much greater detail than you could with just the naked eye. As such, they could be considered essential for a wide range of activities, including:

  • Astronomy
  • Bird watching
  • Concerts
  • Hiking
  • Hunting
  • Sailing
  • Whale watching

While it’s true that some binoculars are better suited to certain activities, it’s entirely possible to find binoculars that will serve as the perfect grab ‘n go accessory – regardless of the activity or your budget.

You might also be thinking that binoculars can be large, bulky and heavy and you probably don’t like the idea of carrying those around your neck or over your shoulder. You especially don’t want to suffer arm fatigue if you want to observe something for an extended period of time.

Fortunately, modern binoculars are often designed to be compact and portable, making it possible to find a good all-round solution that can be taken and used almost anywhere. So are there good quality general-use binoculars you can buy on a budget? Or should you expect to invest more money instead?

How to Choose the Best Binoculars

When it comes to choosing the best all-round budget binoculars, it’s a good idea to think about what you’ll primarily be using the binoculars for. A larger aperture may be better suited to low-light or night-time activities (eg, astronomy), whereas a lower magnification may be best for sailing.

Once you understand what your needs are, it’s easier to understand the various factors that can influence your decision. Most activities require you to keep the following factors in mind:

  • Magnification
  • Aperture & Weight
  • The environment

In terms of magnification and aperture, if you’ve bought or used binoculars before, you probably know that these two numbers are always specified upfront. For example, you might see binoculars as being 10×50, which means the magnification is 10x and the aperture is 50mm.

Let’s take a closer look at what this means, and how each of these factors plays a part in your activities.


Magnification, of course, is an indicator of how much larger/closer an object will appear through the binoculars. A magnification of 10x will show your target as though it were 10x larger, or, to put it another way, as though it were 10x closer.

You might be forgiven for thinking that magnification is king – after all, isn’t the whole point of binoculars to look at something far away as though it were close-up? However, sometimes less is more, and that may be the case here.

There are several reasons why:

  1. A higher magnification can reduce the field of view, so you’ll see less of the surroundings. If you’re hiking and looking to enjoy the scenery, you’ll actually see less of it with a higher magnification.
  2. Since a higher magnification limits your field of view, it can make it harder to locate and then track your target. For starters, it’s a little more difficult to find your target as the higher magnification requires you to have a more precise aim. Similarly, stargazers may have difficulty locating an object with 20x binoculars, as the smaller field of view can make it harder to star hop to your target. Lastly, if you’re looking at a moving target that suddenly moves out of frame, a higher magnification can make it harder to track and find again.
  3. Everybody’s hands and arms naturally shake to some extent or another. Normally you wouldn’t notice it, but when you hold binoculars up to your eyes, the movement becomes more apparent as those small movements will be magnified by the binoculars. The higher the magnification, the more the view will shake. Similarly, the heavier the binoculars, the more your arms will be prone to muscle fatigue, which will also result in shaking. If you’re on a lake or the ocean, the situation is made even worse by the rocking of the boat.

Generally, binoculars have magnifications that range from 6x to 25x, with magnifications of 10x and lower being the most popular. You’ll see that 12x, 15x and 20x are also available, but unless you have a specific reason for requiring a higher magnification, most people find 10x to be more than adequate.

For example, astronomers may have a need for 15x or 20x, as many of the night sky sights are small and benefit from being magnified. If you’re a hiker and are looking for scenic views, or you intend to use your binoculars on a boat, then a lower magnification of between 6x and 8x would be better.

(Incidentally, steer clear of binoculars that feature a zoom magnification, as these will often produce an inferior image.)

Aperture & Weight

As much as magnification is important, it would mean a lot less if it wasn’t for aperture. Binocular aperture indicates the size of the objective lenses that are turned toward the target (rather than the eyepieces you look through) and is measured in millimeters.

As mentioned before, as an example, 10×50 binoculars have a magnification of 10x and an aperture of 50mm.

Why does this matter? The aperture determines how much light the binoculars can gather, which can be important in low light scenarios. Night-time hunters and astronomers need this light-gathering ability; it makes it easier for hunters to track their target in darkness, and makes it easier for astronomers to locate a faint target in the night sky.

During daytime use, it can also affect the brightness of the image, which can be important to birders and hunters as they ascertain markings on their target.

Binoculars come in a range of apertures, from compact 20mm binoculars to 100mm giants. However, as you might expect, there’s a trade-off here: the larger the aperture, the heavier and more expensive the binoculars.

If you’re attending a concert or are looking for binoculars to take hiking, a smaller aperture of between 20mm and 40mm should be fine, whereas hunters, birders and astronomers might prefer an aperture of around 40mm or 50mm.

For example, if you’re an astronomer, you’ll probably want to look at the Pleiades star cluster. If you had two binoculars – a 10×50 and a 20×25 – the cluster would appear twice as large in the 20x, but you’d actually see more stars with the 10×50. That’s because the 50mm aperture can gather more light, allowing the fainter stars to be seen.

Larger apertures of between 60mm and 100mm are best used with a tripod, as their weight can make them uncomfortable to use for more than a few seconds at a time. With this in mind, larger apertures are better suited to situations where you might be staying put for a few hours at a time.

The Environment

When we think about binoculars and the environment, we’re really thinking in terms of the weather and protecting your binoculars against knocks and drops.

For example, if you’re going to be outside when it’s raining, you’ll want to make sure your binoculars are water resistant, and you might also want to consider fogproof binoculars. Similarly, if you’re going to be near water a lot (such as a river, lake, or the ocean) then you’ll want to consider binoculars that are waterproof.

Unfortunately, not all binoculars are built to these standards, and you might find that models on the lower end of the price scale may be lacking in these features.

If you have concerns about knocking or dropping your binoculars, you should also look for shockproof binoculars, but the best of these are often specialized items that can be expensive. Many of the popular models on the market will have rubber armor, which should protect the binoculars against accidental knocks, but may not be enough to prevent damage if the binoculars are dropped against the hard ground.

Our Top 3 Best Budget Binoculars

Taking into account all the considerations mentioned above, here are our top 3 budget binoculars for 2023:

Best Overall

Celestron UpClose G2 10x50
Celestron UpClose G2 10x50
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Celestron is a US based company that specialize in a range of optical products, with a particular focus on binoculars and telescopes. It’s a respected manufacturer, known for producing quality products at an affordable price, including a number of binocular ranges to suit a variety of activities and budgets.

Of these, you’ll probably get the best bang for your buck with the UpClose G2 10×50 binoculars. These are a good choice if you’re looking for decent, inexpensive 10×50’s. They’re the traditional porro prism binoculars, which makes them a little heavier, but the 50mm aperture means they can be used under all light conditions and for all manner of activities. Alternatively, if you need something lighter and aperture isn’t an issue, consider the UpClose G2 10×25. You’ll get half the aperture, but at less than half the weight and with the same magnification, making this a potentially better option for daytime activities.

Best Lightweight Option

Steiner Safari UltraSharp 8x22
Steiner Safari UltraSharp 8x22
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If you plan on taking your binoculars hiking, you’ll probably want compact, lightweight binoculars that can be easily carried and used at a moment’s notice. This being the case, it will mean opting for binoculars with a smaller aperture, but that doesn’t mean you need to compromise on quality.

Steiner, another well-respected manufacturer, has been producing optical equipment since 1947. The Safari UltraSharp 8×22 weighs just 228g (less than a third of Celestron’s G2 10×50’s) and is also waterproof, making this a great choice for all-weather hikers. The downside? The 25mm aperture might not be suitable for low-light conditions, night-time hunting or astronomy, but if you need quality, durable and inexpensive binoculars for regular daytime use, this could be the one for you.

Best Higher Magnification Option

Bushnell Pacifica 20x50
Bushnell Pacifica 20x50
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Need something with a little more power? Maybe you’re planning a night-time hunting trip or a night out under the stars. Either way, if you’re looking for a higher magnification, you’ll need the aperture to go with it. If Celestron’s G2 UpClose 10×50 binoculars aren’t up to the task, you might consider the Bushnell Pacifica 20×50.

Besides featuring a magnification of 20x and an aperture of 50mm, these binoculars are also waterproof, which could be useful if you have difficulty seeing any streams and rivers in the dark! The downside is that these weigh 1kg (2.2 pounds) which makes them the heaviest of our three picks, so if you think you plan on staying in one place for a while, it’s probably best to bring along a tripod.

In Conclusion

Good binoculars don’t need to cost a lot of money, and if you’re working on a tight budget, you can save money without sacrificing quality. This can be a big plus if you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors and your binoculars are at risk of being lost or broken! Whether you’re hiking, hunting, birding or stargazing, there are a lot of options available, making it possible to get what you need without compromising on what you want.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do decent binoculars cost?

Binoculars can vary greatly in price, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that more expensive binoculars are better suited to your hobby. More specifically, high-end binoculars may have electronic components that will stabilize the image or very tough armoring that’s built to withstand even the hardest knocks. You might also find that expensive binoculars have better quality optics. However, if you’re simply looking for good, “everyday” multi-purpose binoculars, you don’t need to spend a lot of money at all. 

What are the different types of binoculars?

In essence, there are two types of binoculars: porro prism and roof prism. Traditional porro prism binoculars have barrels that are a little offset from the eyepieces, giving the binoculars a W shape. The more recent roof prism binoculars have straight barrels and an H-shape. Roof prism binoculars are designed to be lighter and more compact than porro prisms, but they tend to have smaller apertures and to be less powerful as a result.

What should I look for when buying binoculars?

Besides the points mentioned above (magnification, aperture, weight, armor and weatherproofing) it’s a good idea to be aware of the coatings used on the optics. Never settle for less than multi-coated (MC) optics, with fully multi-coated (FMC) being the best. There are two common prism types – BaK-4 and BK-7 – of which BaK-4 produces the better quality image. Lastly, always read the reviews, ask advice where you can, and be wary of brands you’re not familiar with. Some well-known and well-respected brands include Alpine, Bushnell, Celestron, Nikon, Orion, Steiner, Vixen and Zeiss.

Richard J. Bartlett

Born and raised in England, Richard has had a passion for the stars since the age of six and has been writing about astronomy for 20 years. During that time, he’s had the opportunity to use a wide selection of binoculars, both for astronomy and daytime use, and owns more than ten binoculars himself. Richard now lives in southern California, and can often be found outside with his binoculars whenever the skies are clear.


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