The Best Binoculars for Stargazing in 2022
Astronomy is a unique and exciting hobby that literally allows you to explore the universe, and while you might think you’ll need a telescope, there are benefits to using binoculars instead. However, with so many options on the market, choosing the right ones can be a daunting prospect. In this article we’ll review the best binoculars for stargazing, the best binoculars on a budget, and if you’re just starting out, the best binoculars for astronomy beginners.
Table of contents
- 1 Why Use Binoculars for Astronomy?
- 2 How to Choose the Best Binoculars for Astronomy
- 3 Our Top 3 Best Astronomy Binoculars
- 4 In Conclusion
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
Why Use Binoculars for Astronomy?
If you’ve never used binoculars for astronomy before, you might think they’re of limited use, but that’s not actually the case. For starters, you can see more than just the Moon and stars with just your eyes – for example, planets, star clusters, nebulae and even a galaxy! Now imagine how much more you’ll see with binoculars.
Binoculars might not have the power of a telescope, but they’ll allow you to discover objects that would otherwise remain unseen. Many of the sights you might read about are too faint to be seen with the naked eye, but are well within range of even modest astronomy binoculars.
Binoculars are also lightweight and can therefore be taken anywhere and used at a moment’s notice. Have the skies temporarily cleared? You can grab your binoculars and make the most of your time before the clouds roll in again.
They’re also great for astronomy beginners, as they allow you to practice locating targets before investing in a telescope. That way, you’ll have a good idea of what objects you can see and how to find them; after all, if they can be seen in binoculars, they can be seen in a telescope too!
Finally, there are two other key benefits. You can easily use them during the daytime, (astronomical telescopes, due to the nature of their design, are not really suited for this purpose) and, lastly, they typically cost less than a telescope.
How to Choose the Best Binoculars for Astronomy
All this being said, there are a few things you should know before you buy your astronomy binoculars.
- Magnification and aperture
- Lens coatings and prism types
- Binocular configuration
There are a few other technical details – such as exit pupil, eye relief and field of view – but these three key points are a good place to start. Let’s take a quick look at each one and see how that might affect your decision.
Magnification and aperture
You’ve probably seen binoculars described with two numbers, such as 10×50. Of all the things you should know about binoculars, these two numbers are arguably the most important, as the first number describes the magnification and the second is the aperture of the lenses.
Magnification is fairly self explanatory, but a high magnification isn’t of much use without the aperture to back it up. The aperture is the diameter of the large lenses that point toward your target. Measured in millimeters, the larger the aperture, the more light your binoculars can gather.
Why is this important? Larger aperture binoculars will allow you to see fainter targets and to see more detail. For example, you’ll see more stars in a star cluster with 70mm binoculars than you would with 50mm.
Magnification plays a smaller role here. Let’s imagine you had two binoculars, one 10×50 and the other 20×50, and you used them both to observe the same star cluster. The cluster would appear twice as large in the 20×50 binoculars, but you’d see the same number of stars because the aperture (ie, the light gathering power) is the same.
It might seem best to buy binoculars with a large aperture, but remember that the larger the lenses, the heavier the binoculars. Larger aperture binoculars might be great for stargazing, but their weight can quickly cause arm fatigue and will often require the use of a tripod.
Realistically, the upper aperture limit for handheld binoculars is about 70mm. Many amateur astronomers will go for 15×70 binoculars, while a great choice for beginners (and for more general use) is 10×50. Anything larger than 70mm will typically require a tripod for comfortable use.
Lens coatings and prism types
Binoculars use a combination of external lenses and internal prisms to produce the view you see when you look through the eyepieces. These optical elements are coated with anti-reflective compounds to reduce imperfections and to improve the view, and while there are many types of coating, the two most common you’ll hear of are Multi-Coated (MC) and Fully Multi-Coated (FMC).
If the optical elements are multi-coated, this means that at least one of the optical elements has had multiple layers of coating applied to at least one surface. Typically this will be the external (“air to glass”) sides of the lenses.
If the optical elements are fully multi-coated, this means that the lenses have had multiple layers of coating applied to all surfaces. Depending on the manufacturer, the prisms may also have multiple layers of coating applied.
Generally, the more coatings a lens has, the greater the transmission of light. For example, fully multi-coated optics typically have a light transmission rate of about 95%, so you’ll ideally want to go with these for the best views.
Something else to consider is the prism type. There are two in common usage: the BK-7 and the BaK-4. Of the two, BaK-4 prisms are made from higher quality glass and therefore produce a better image.
Again, while fully multi-coated optics and BaK-4 prisms are preferable, it should be noted that these will cost a little more. If you’re new to binocular stargazing, multi-coated lenses and BaK-4 prisms will most likely be just fine. However, it’s probably best to avoid BK-7 prisms as these can produce a rainbow effect (called chromatic aberration) around bright objects (such as the Moon.)
When you think of binoculars, you probably think of the traditional porro prism binoculars. These are shaped like a W, with the barrels slightly offset from the eyepieces. As the light enters through the lenses, it passes through the prisms and is refracted to the eyepieces.
More recently, manufacturers have developed roof prism binoculars, which are shaped like an H. These barrels are completely straight and require a more complicated configuration of prism to refract the light to the eyepieces.
The traditional porro prism (W) binoculars produce a better quality image, but they tend to be heavier. Roof prism (H) binoculars are more lightweight and are designed for extensive outdoor use (for example, hiking), but the image quality can be a little less and they tend to cost a little more. Generally speaking, porro prism binoculars are best for astronomy, while roof prism binoculars may be better for more general use.
Our Top 3 Best Astronomy Binoculars
Ultimately, of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all option, and the best choice for you will depend upon what you want to observe, your budget and your experience. With these three factors in mind, our top 3 best astronomy binoculars are:
- Best Overall: Celestron SkyMaster 25×100
- Best Budget: Celestron SkyMaster 15×70
- Best for Beginners: Opticron Adventurer WP II 10×50
Best Overall: Celestron SkyMaster 25×100
When it comes to astronomy binoculars, the global market is dominated by a single manufacturer: Celestron. The company has been going from strength to strength since 1964, and has produced an impressive array of products, and an equally impressive reputation to match. Their signature binoculars, the SkyMaster, are a popular choice with amateur astronomers around the world.
The SkyMaster 25×100 is the top-of-the-line model, and make no mistake, with a lens diameter of 100mm and a magnification of 25x, using these binoculars is like holding two small telescopes up to your eyes. The prisms are the better quality BaK-4, and while the lenses are multi-coated (as opposed to fully multi-coated) the resulting views are certain to please.
For example, views of the Moon are stunning, and the binoculars should be more than capable of producing wonderful views of star clusters and nebulae. They’re also capable of detecting stars to around magnitude 10.5 (or fainter, depending on your conditions), which can bring a lot of galaxies within reach too.
On the downside, these may be a little on the pricey side for some, and their weight (8.8 pounds) means a sturdy tripod is a must-have accessory. This also rules them out for some daytime activities, such as hiking, as their weight will significantly reduce their portability.
Best Budget: Celestron SkyMaster 15×70
If you’re looking for an inexpensive, more portable alternative to the SkyMaster 25×100, try the smaller Celestron SkyMaster 15×70. Celestron’s line of SkyMaster binoculars has a range of magnifications and apertures, and the 15×70 is probably their most popular choice.
Essentially, this is a less powerful version of the 25×100, which is why the cost is lower, but it has a few advantages over its larger sibling. For starters, it weighs just three pounds, which is less than half that of the 25×100’s. This means they’re light enough to be used for short periods without a tripod, but if you intend to be outside for a while, it’s probably still a good idea to make use of one.
As with the 25×100’s, the lenses are multi-coated, and while the lenses are smaller, you’ll find they’re perfectly able to detect many of the same targets. More importantly, when you consider the cost, the standard SkyMaster 15×70 is an outstanding choice for the budget conscious observer.
Best for Beginners: Opticron Adventurer WP II 10×50
On the face of it, the Opticron Adventurer WP II 10×50 binoculars might not seem an obvious choice for astronomy. They’re roof prism binoculars, but the image quality more than matches comparable porros and they’re also very lightweight – just 1.7 pounds.
You’ll find the fully multi-coated lenses and BaK-4 prisms will provide outstanding views of almost anything you observe. For example, the binoculars can produce sharp, clear views of the Moon with a noticeable depth of field.
They’re also waterproof (as opposed to being water resistant), which makes them ideal for use outdoors during the day. This is especially useful if you want to use the binoculars for birding or your interest in astronomy wanes (although we can’t imagine why that would happen!)
If there’s a downside, it’s that the 10x magnification might leave you wanting more, and they’re a little on the pricier side compared to similar products from Celestron. However, the quality can’t be beat and you certainly won’t be disappointed.
Whether you’re new to astronomy or are an experienced observer, binoculars are a must-have tool to get the most from the night sky. Not only are they an excellent choice for quick grab ‘n go observing, they can also help you learn the night sky and locate the fainter objects that might otherwise prove elusive.
Regardless of your experience or your budget, there are options available that will open the door to the universe and provide you with the opportunity to explore the night skies above.
Frequently Asked Questions
It really depends on your experience, your budget and what you want to use them for. If you want good, solid, general purpose binoculars you can use during the day, then 10×50 binoculars will work just fine. If you’re serious about astronomy, then you’ll want something with a higher magnification and a larger aperture, such as 15×70 or even 20×80 binoculars.
Absolutely! You’ll see so much more than you can with just your eyes. For example, you’ll be able to clearly identify the dark patches (the lunar “seas”) and see the shadows cast by craters and mountain ranges. Observing the Moon when it’s a crescent will also allow you to more easily see Earthshine – the darkened area of the Moon that’s faintly illuminated by the reflected light from the Earth.
Planets are really best observed with a telescope, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for binocular observers to see. You’ll be able to spot the four largest moons of Jupiter with regular 10×50 binoculars, and when the conditions are right, the phases of Venus. You might also be able to see that Saturn appears elongated, but unless you’re using powerful binoculars, you probably won’t be able to see its rings for what they truly are.
Binoculars will allow you to see hundreds of objects that would otherwise lie beyond the reach of the naked eye. There are many star clusters that can be seen glinting against the backdrop of night, multiple stars that will show two or even three components, faint wispy nebulae and even the dark smudges of distant galaxies. While these sights typically don’t look as impressive as they would through a telescope, there’ll always be a thrill in being able to find these objects for yourself!