The Best Opera Glasses in 2023
Whether it’s the opera, theater, a concert or a sporting event, not all of us can afford the best seats. More often than not, we find ourselves some way further back, and either squinting at the stage or relying on the big screens to see what’s happening.
That’s where opera glasses and compact binoculars come in handy. These can magnify the view and allow you to get closer to the action, but without the arm fatigue that comes with holding larger binoculars for long periods of time. So what should you look for when choosing opera glasses and compact binoculars? And which ones are best?
Table of contents
- What’s the Difference Between Opera Glasses & Compact Binoculars?
- What Do the Numbers Mean?
- How to Choose the Best Opera Glasses or Compact Binoculars
- Our Top 3 Best Opera Glasses and Compact Binoculars
- In Conclusion
- Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the Difference Between Opera Glasses & Compact Binoculars?
When you think of opera glasses, you probably imagine a set of small binoculars with a handle. Maybe you imagine audience members at the opera or theater holding these glasses up to their eyes to get a better view. For the most part, that’s exactly what they are.
Opera glasses are designed to be small and lightweight, so they can be taken and used almost anywhere. Since they’re specifically designed for the opera and theater, they typically have a low magnification of around 3x or 5x, which is enough to magnify the view in most theatrical environments.
This is fine if you’re at the theater, but what if you’re enjoying a concert or a sporting event? Many of these take place in large stadiums, with the musicians or players more like ants than people. That’s where compact roof prism binoculars come in.
Like opera glasses, roof prism binoculars are designed to be small and lightweight, but with a larger magnification so you can get a better view.
Traditional binoculars, where the barrels are offset from the eyepieces to form a W shape, are known as porro prism binoculars. They’re typically larger and heavier, which makes it difficult for hikers, birders and concert-goers to carry and use for an extended period of time.
Roof prism binoculars are designed to be more lightweight and compact than traditional binoculars. This is thanks to the internal configuration of the prisms, and unlike porro prism binoculars, the barrels of roof prism binoculars are not offset from the eyepieces. They’re simply straight, giving the binoculars an H shape.
Of the two, the traditional porro prisms have slightly better image quality, but unless you’re planning on using the binoculars for stargazing, this shouldn’t won’t be an issue. That being the case, if you need binoculars for a concert or a sporting event, roof prism binoculars are probably the way to go.
What Do the Numbers Mean?
Whether you’re choosing opera glasses, porro prism binoculars or roof prism binoculars, you’ll find there are almost always two numbers associated with them. For example, you might see binoculars listed as being 8×42.
The first number is the magnification, and indicates how much larger the view will appear. To use our example, if you’re watching a performer on the stage, then 8×42 binoculars will make that person appear 8x larger.
The second number is the aperture of the objective lenses, as measured in millimeters. The objective lenses are the large lenses you point toward your target, whereas the eyepieces are the much smaller lenses you look through.
The larger the aperture, the more light the binoculars can gather. This is important for activities that take place in low light conditions (such as astronomy, or potentially hunting and birding) but isn’t such a priority at the theater, a concert or sporting event, as the stage or field should be well lit.
How to Choose the Best Opera Glasses or Compact Binoculars
While there are a number of factors you could take into consideration when buying opera glasses or compact binoculars (such as optical coatings and prism quality), the two key factors are:
As mentioned earlier, traditional opera glasses have a low magnification of around 3x or 5x, as you’re usually a lot closer to the stage than you would be for a concert or sporting event.
Binoculars, however, are a different story. You’ll typically find the magnification range to be anywhere between 6x and 25x, but as you might expect, the larger the magnification, the heavier the binoculars tend to be.
The magnification you need will really depend on the event you’re attending. If you’re going to the theater, then a low magnification of around 3x or 5x is fine. However, if you want something for a concert or sporting event, the chances are you’ll want something with a magnification of around 8x or 10x.
The biggest factor that influences the weight is the aperture of the objective lenses. Fortunately, you don’t need a large aperture for the theater, concerts or sporting events, and as a result, you won’t have to worry about arm fatigue. Either way, it’s worth remembering that traditional porro prism binoculars can sometimes weigh twice as much as their roof prism counterparts, so when it comes to weight, you’ll probably want to stick to roof prism binoculars.
Our Top 3 Best Opera Glasses and Compact Binoculars
As mentioned earlier, opera glasses are a little different than binoculars and are best suited for the theater. Binoculars have a higher magnification, and are typically better suited to situations where you might be further from the action, such as concerts and sporting events.
That said, it’s often a good idea to invest in something that can be used in a variety of situations, and we’ve made our selections accordingly:
- Best Overall: Pentax Papilio II 6.5×21
- Best Opera Glasses: Levenhuk Broadway 325F
- Best Budget Binoculars: Celestron Outland X 8×25
Best Overall: Pentax Papilio II 6.5x21
Pentax, of course, is a very well known and established brand. While it’s primarily known for producing camera equipment, it also produces high-quality binoculars that can be used in a wide variety of situations, and the Papilio II is no exception. With a magnification of 6.5x, these binoculars are powerful enough for concerts and sporting events, but can still provide some great, close-up views in the theater – especially given their close focus of only 50cm.
Other benefits include their weight – a very light 295g – and the optics, as the prisms are the better quality BaK-4 and the lenses are fully multi-coated. This improves the quality of the image by reducing side-effects, such as chromatic aberration, which results in a rainbow-like color distortion around high contrast objects. All in all, these binoculars are the ideal choice, regardless of the scenario or how you intend to use them.
Best Opera Glasses: Levenhuk Broadway 325F
When it comes to traditional opera glasses, it’s hard to find a pair that are both high quality and from an established manufacturer. Fortunately, the Broadway 325F from Levenhuk ticks both boxes. Established in 2002, the US-based company specializes in a variety of quality optical equipment, such as binoculars, microscopes and telescopes, particularly for markets outside the US.
Their Broadway 325F opera glasses come with a chain, rather than a handle, so they’re used like regular binoculars, but they’re specifically designed for the theater. For example, they have a lower magnification of 3x and a close-focus of just 3.5m, which is perfect for seeing the performers on the stage. They’re also very lightweight – only 70g – compact, and even have their own pouch for additional convenience.
Best Budget Binoculars: Celestron Outland X 8x25
Celestron are a very well respected manufacturer with over 50 years of experience producing all kinds of optical equipment – from monoculars and binoculars, to microscopes and telescopes – with its range of binoculars and telescopes being particularly popular with hunters, birders and amateur astronomers alike.
The company is known for producing inexpensive but high quality equipment, and the Outland X 8×25 binoculars are a good example of this. Besides the low cost, you’ll also find these are waterproof and fog proof, they have the higher quality BaK-4 prisms and, at 450g, are pretty lightweight. The downside? The magnification of 8x might be a little too much if you’re in a small theater, and the optics are multi-coated (rather than fully multi-coated), but neither of these factors should have a negative influence on your decision.
You can use low-powered opera glasses for the theater, but you’ll probably need something with a little more magnification if you’re going to a concert or sporting event. Fortunately, compact binoculars are lightweight, inexpensive and have just the right power, making them useful for a variety of situations and activities.
Frequently Asked Questions
Opera glasses were primarily used in the theater but have fallen into disuse in recent years. They are smaller than binoculars, and have a lower magnification, as the performers on the stage are indoors and closer than the objects viewed by binoculars outdoors. Their relatively low power (usually 3x or 5x) may make them unsuitable for concerts and sporting events where the stage is further away. In contrast, roof prism binoculars are also designed to be compact and lightweight, but have the additional magnification needed for outdoor use.
Yes, but be sure to use something lightweight, compact and with a lower magnification. Depending on the size of the theater, you may find yourself considerably closer to the stage than you would at a concert or sporting event, so low-powered binoculars (8x or less) are better suited to that environment. Size and weight are also important, as you’ll need to have them available at your seat and may find yourself holding them for an extended period of time.
Generally speaking, aperture doesn’t play a large role when it comes to binoculars for the theater, a concert or a sporting event. Larger aperture binoculars (eg, 50mm or more) can gather more light, and are therefore best suited to low-light situations. Since stages and sporting arenas tend to be well-lit, this isn’t such a concern, but if you want binoculars for use for other outdoor activities (such as birding, hunting or astronomy) you might want to consider a larger aperture instead.
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