The Best High Powered Binoculars in 2023
When many people think of binoculars, they often think of something like 10x50s, or maybe something smaller like 8x42s or 7x35s. However, while these binoculars are fine, there will be times when you need a little more. Maybe you’re a birdwatcher and you need a higher magnification, or you’re an amateur astronomer with a need for a larger aperture.
Binoculars come in a wide range of magnifications and apertures, so where should you begin? When should you use high powered binoculars? What should you look for? And which are the best high powered binoculars in 2023?
Table of contents
- Magnification and Aperture Explained
- What Can You Use High Powered Binoculars For?
- How to Choose the Best High Powered Binoculars
- Our Top 3 Best High Powered Binoculars
- In Conclusion
- Frequently Asked Questions
Magnification and Aperture Explained
People use binoculars for a wide range of activities, from astronomy and bird watching to concerts, hiking, hunting and sailing. However, before we decide which ones might benefit from high powered binoculars, let’s take a moment to review what high powered binoculars are.
If you’ve bought or used binoculars before, you’re probably aware that they’re always listed with two numbers. For example, you might be thinking of buying 10×50 binoculars. The first number indicates the magnification, while the second is the aperture of the objective lenses, as measured in millimeters.
Magnification is an indication of how much larger an object will appear through the binoculars. For example, if the magnification is 10x, then the object will appear 10x larger, as though you were 10x closer to it. Most binoculars have a fixed magnification, which typically ranges from 6x to 25x.
While it might seem as though higher magnifications are best, that’s not necessarily always true. For starters, a higher magnification will also magnify any shaking from your arms, hands or even the environment. If, for example, you’re on a boat, its rocking can make it difficult to keep the view steady, and this effect will be worse with a higher magnification.
Another issue is the field of view, or how much you can see through the eyepieces. On average, 10×50 binoculars will have a field of view spanning about 6 or 6.5 degrees of sky, but (as you might expect) higher magnifications produce smaller views, with 15×70 binoculars having a field of view of around 4 degrees.
Besides making your view a little less aesthetically pleasing, this can also make it harder to locate your target, especially if your target is moving.
Before talking about aperture, it’s worth noting that zoom magnification binoculars are also available. These tend to produce a lower quality image, but they can still be useful in certain circumstances. Generally speaking, using the zoom feature can affect the color and brightness of the image, so if you’re considering those, they might be best used during the daytime.
When we talk about the aperture of binoculars, we’re referring to the diameter of the objective lenses. These are the large lenses you point toward your target, and the aperture is always measured in millimeters.
On the face of it, aperture might not seem that important, but it plays a very key role. The objective lenses gather light, so the larger the aperture, the more light the binoculars can gather.
During the day, this can produce a brighter, more colorful image, while also allowing you to see more at twilight and throughout the night. If your hobby involves being outside at those times, then you should consider using larger aperture binoculars.
Unfortunately, larger apertures have a notable drawback: not only are they physically larger, but they also tend to weigh more. For example, binoculars with an aperture of 25mm typically weigh around 300g (0.7 pounds), while binoculars with an aperture of 50mm will weigh around 800g (1.8 pounds.)
Some binoculars will have an aperture of up to 100mm, but many manufacturers will produce binoculars with a maximum aperture of 70mm. These will typically weigh around 1.8kg (4.0 pounds.)
Given their weight, it’s often a good idea to mount larger binoculars to a tripod. This will help to steady the image and prevent your arms from aching. However, this will restrict your use of the binoculars, as it’s hard to comfortably observe targets that are more than about 45 degrees above the horizon.
What Can You Use High Powered Binoculars For?
In general, if you’re going to be moving around a lot or if you just want something you can quickly grab and use outside in the yard, then your best bet is to use smaller, more lightweight binoculars.
For example, you won’t want to use high-powered binoculars when you’re hiking or attending a concert (no matter how far away the stage is) because they’re simply too heavy and cumbersome. In both scenarios, a smaller magnification and aperture, such as 8×25, would be a better choice as they’ll be both more compact and more lightweight.
Similarly, if you’re on a boat, you’ll find that a lower magnification is more suitable, as it will allow you to have a steadier view. However, an aperture of 50mm might still be preferable as this will be better suited to low-light scenarios. This being the case, 7×50 binoculars can provide the ideal combination of magnification and aperture for anyone on a boat.
Amateur astronomers, birders and hunters will often choose 10x50s, as they can provide the necessary magnification and aperture, while also remaining relatively lightweight and portable. If they need a higher magnification or larger aperture, 15×70’s or 20×80’s can be a good option, but the additional weight often makes a tripod a necessity.
At first glance, this might seem like a problem, but that’s not necessarily the case. If you plan on staying in one spot for awhile, high powered binoculars on a tripod could give you both the magnification and aperture you need to get the most out of your time. This makes high powered binoculars a good choice for astronomers, birders and hunters, as they will often find themselves in the same location for an extended period of time.
How to Choose the Best High Powered Binoculars
When you’re shopping around for high powered binoculars, there are a number of factors you should take into consideration, such as:
- Magnification and Aperture
- The Environment
While your buying decision might primarily depend on what you need the binoculars for, each of these factors may also have an influence.
Magnification and Aperture
We already know what magnification and aperture mean, but how do they work together? To begin with, we’ll consider how the two combined will affect your view.
Many people like to use 10×50 binoculars, but there are some who’ll go for 20×50 binoculars instead. These obviously have twice the magnification, but the aperture is the same. As a result, your target will appear twice as large, but you won’t necessarily see twice as much detail because the light gathering capabilities of the 20×50 binoculars are the same as the 10×50 binoculars.
Even though your target will appear larger, it won’t appear any brighter or more colorful. For example, in low-light conditions birders may not see any additional markings that might help them to identify the birds. If you’re an amateur astronomer looking at the Pleiades star cluster, the cluster will appear twice as large but you’ll see the same number of stars.
This is why higher magnification binoculars tend to also have larger apertures, with 15×70 and 20×80 being common options, and some manufacturers even producing 25×100.
Since high powered binoculars tend to have larger apertures, they can weigh a lot more than their smaller counterparts. This can restrict their portability and make them difficult to hold for prolonged periods of time. Arm fatigue, which, in turn, can cause aches and pains, can quickly set in when you’re holding heavy binoculars up to your eyes.
You’ll also need to be aware of the weight if you’re planning on taking the binoculars with you on a vacation or trip. In most cases, they’ll still be small enough and light enough to travel with you, but if you want to travel light, you might consider taking less powerful binoculars with you instead.
Depending on where you are and the time of year, the weather can change quickly. Even if you plan your trip to coincide with good weather, there’s always the chance it could change. You’ll want to keep this in mind when looking for high powered binoculars; ideally, if you plan on being outside in all kinds of weather, you’ll want to look for binoculars that are waterproof.
Unfortunately, more often than not, larger aperture binoculars tend to be water resistant, rather than waterproof, and while that’s probably sufficient for short spells, it might not be advisable to spend all day (or night) outside in the rain unless your binoculars are sufficiently protected against the elements.
Our Top 3 Best High Powered Binoculars
Taking into account all the considerations mentioned above, here are our top 3 high powered binoculars for 2023:
- Best Overall: Celestron SkyMaster Pro 15×70
- Best High Magnification Option: Celestron SkyMaster 20×80
- Best Budget Option: Celestron UpClose G2 20×50
When it comes to high powered binoculars, one manufacturer stands out above the rest. Celestron, a US based company, was founded in 1964, and has since built a solid reputation for producing quality binoculars and telescopes at an affordable price. When it comes to high powered binoculars, no other company can match Celestron’s experience or reputation.
Two of our choices come from the SkyMaster range, while our third choice belongs to the UpClose range. The SkyMasters have been specifically designed with astronomy in mind, whereas the UpClose binoculars have more of a general all-purpose design. However, they all can be used for a variety of activities.
Lastly, you’ll notice that each one is of the traditional porro prism design. Porro prism binoculars have barrels that are slightly offset from the eyepieces, giving them a W shape. The newer, more compact roof prism binoculars have barrels that are in-line with the eyepieces, giving them an H shape.
Roof prism binoculars are designed to be more compact and lightweight, but that also means they’re limited in terms of aperture. As such, you’ll find that most roof prism binoculars are no larger than 10×50 – anything more powerful than that would result in larger, heavier binoculars and thereby defeat the point of having something compact and lightweight!
Best Overall: Celestron SkyMaster Pro 15x70
When it comes to larger, more powerful binoculars, it’s hard to beat the SkyMaster Pro 15×70. Once you reach apertures of around 70mm or larger, it’s like holding two small telescopes up to your eyes, but with the added advantage of having a magnification closer to that of binoculars. This means you’ll get a wider field of view than you usually would with a telescope, allowing you to see more.
The SkyMaster binocular range has two versions of each model – the standard and the Pro. The difference is really down to the quality of the optics and the environmental protection. The standard SkyMaster 15×70 has the better quality BaK-4 prisms, but the optics are multi-coated (rather than fully multi-coated.) You’ll also notice that the regular version is water resistant, rather than waterproof.
The SkyMaster 15×70 Pro costs more and weighs a little more, but in addition to the BaK-4 prisms, you’ll find the optics are fully multi-coated for a brighter, clearer image and they’re also waterproof. Ultimately, you may decide that the standard version is fine for your needs, but it’s certainly worth keeping the Pro in mind too.
Best High Magnification Option: Celestron SkyMaster 20x80
If you want the quality of the SkyMaster 15×70 binoculars but need more power, check out its counterpart, the SkyMaster 20×80. Again, this model is available as either the standard or the Pro, with the Pro being waterproof and having fully multi-coated optics.
Whether you’re an astronomer, hunter or birder, the SkyMaster 20×80 is perfectly able to deliver the results you’d expect and need, but at an affordable price that will suit most people’s budgets.
However, if you really want a telescope-like experience (but at a notably higher price) you might also want to consider the grand-daddy of the range – the SkyMaster 25×100. With an aperture larger than many small telescopes, you’ll find it hard to beat the views these binoculars produce.
Best Budget Option: Celestron UpClose G2 20x50
While the selections on our list aren’t overly expensive, it shouldn’t come as any surprise to learn that high powered binoculars cost a little more than the low powered options. That said, if you’re looking for something with a little more power but well within the price range of regular binoculars, then you can’t go wrong with the UpClose G2 20×50’s.
You’ll have, of course, twice the magnification of regular 10×50’s, but the catch is that you won’t get any more light-gathering power. That said, the 50mm aperture should be enough to detect fainter targets on both the land and in the sky during the night, or under low-light conditions.
There are a few other potential drawbacks to be aware of: the prisms are the stand BK-7, the lenses are multi-coated (not as effective as fully multi-coated but still decent quality) and the binoculars are water resistant, rather than waterproof. However, for the price, these 20x binoculars can’t be beat.
High powered binoculars are a great way to get closer to the action, but they come with a higher price and a greater weight, often necessitating the use of a tripod. However, if you intend to stay in one location for a while and need the extra magnification, there are a number of quality, affordable options available.
Frequently Asked Questions
Most people will find that a magnification of around 10x is fine for their needs, but if you need more power, you could find binoculars with a fixed magnification of up to 25x, while some zoom binoculars will magnify up to 40x. It’s worth remembering that the greater magnification isn’t much use without the additional aperture to go with it, and while those higher magnification binoculars will often have larger objective lenses, they’ll also be larger and heavier than the lower magnification alternatives.
Millions of light-years! The nearest major galaxy to our own, the Andromeda Galaxy, is 2.3 million light-years away – and you can see that under dark skies with just your eyes. Binoculars can detect galaxies that are tens of millions of light-years away, but they won’t appear as anything more than faint, misty streaks against the background sky. In terms of terrestrial targets, it really depends upon your local conditions. You’ll obviously see further on a clear, sunny day and a weather app can help you to determine the visibility for your area.
If you want to stargaze with binoculars, it’s a good idea to aim for 10×50’s, as they provide a good blend of magnification, aperture and weight. Ideally, you’ll also want fully multi-coated lenses and BaK-4 prisms for the best quality image. If you’re looking for high-powered binoculars specifically for stargazing, then Celestron’s SkyMaster Pro range is always a good choice.
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