Binoculars can be used for a wide variety of activities. Whether you're birdwatching, hiking, hunting or stargazing, you'll find binoculars perfectly suited to your needs. Even better, you won't have to sacrifice quality or functionality if you're working to a budget. Today's binoculars are as varied as the activities you can use them for, so where do you start? What should you look for when choosing your binoculars? And what are the best budget binoculars in 2023?
What can binoculars be used for?
The question isn't so much "why use binoculars?" as "why not use binoculars?". Essentially, binoculars enable you to see distant objects more closely and in far greater detail than you could with the naked eye alone. As such, they can be considered essential for a wide range of activities, including:
While it's true that some binoculars are better suited to certain activities, it's quite possible to find binoculars that will be the ideal companion for whale watching.ideal accessory for any activity and any budget.
You may also think that binoculars can be big, bulky and heavy, and that you probably don't like the idea of wearing them around your neck or over your shoulder. The last thing you want is to suffer arm fatigue if you want to observe something for an extended period of time.
That's a good thing, modern binoculars are often designed to be compact and portableThis makes it possible to find a good all-round solution that can be taken and used almost anywhere. So are there any good-quality general-purpose binoculars you can buy on a budget? Or should you expect to invest more money?
How to choose the best binoculars
When it comes to choosing the best budget binoculars, it's important to keep in mind the following points. binoculars, it's a good idea to think about the main use you'll be putting the binoculars to. A larger aperture may be better suited to nocturnal or low-light activities (e.g. astronomy), while a lower magnification may be better suited to navigation.
Once you know what your needs are, it's easier to understand the different factors that can influence your decision. Most activities require you to keep the following factors in mind:
Aperture and weight
When it comes to magnification and aperture, if you've ever bought or used binoculars, you probably know that these two figures are always specified at the outset. For example, you may see 10x50 binoculars, which means that the magnification is 10x and the aperture is 50 mm.
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 the size or closeness of an object through binoculars. A magnification of 10x will show your target as if it were 10x larger, or, to put it another way, as if it were 10x closer.
You could be forgiven for thinking that magnification is king - after all, isn't the whole point of binoculars to look at something from afar as if it were up close? However, sometimes less is more, and that may be the case here.
There are several reasons for this:
Higher magnification can reduce the field of viewSo you'll see less of your surroundings. If you're hiking and want to enjoy the scenery, you'll see less with higher magnification.
Since higher magnification limits your field of vision, it harder to locate and track your target.. For a start, it's a little harder to find your target because the higher magnification forces you to aim more precisely. Similarly, star gazers may have difficulty locating an object with 20x binoculars, as the smaller field of view can make star hopping to your target more difficult. Finally, if you're looking at a moving target that suddenly pops out of frame, higher magnification can make tracking and locating more difficult.
Everyone's hands and arms naturally shake in one way or another. Normally, you don't notice this, but when you hold binoculars in front of your eyes, the movement becomes more apparent as these movements are amplified by the binoculars. The higher the magnification, the more shaky the view. Similarly, the heavier the binoculars, the more your arms will be subject to muscle fatigue, which will also lead to shaking. If you're on a lake or ocean, the situation is made even worse by the rocking of the boat.
Binoculars generally have magnifications ranging from 6x to 25x. 10x and less being the most popular.. You'll find that 12x, 15x and 20x magnifications are also available, but unless you have a specific reason for requiring a higher magnification, most people find 10x more than adequate.
For example, astronomers may need 15x or 20x, as many sites in the night sky are small and benefit from magnification. If you're a hiker looking for panoramic views, or intend to use your binoculars on a boat, a lower magnification, between 6x and 8x, will be preferable.
(Also, avoid binoculars with zoomas they often produce an inferior image).
Aperture and weight
Although magnification is important, it would make much less sense without aperture. Binocular aperture indicates the size of the objective lenses that face the target (rather than the eyepieces through which you look) and is measured in millimetres.
As mentioned above, as an example, 10x50 binoculars have a magnification of 10x and an aperture of 50mm.
Why is this important? L'aperture determines how much light the binoculars can collectThis can be important in low-light scenarios. Night hunters and astronomers need this light-gathering capability; it makes it easier for hunters to track their target in the dark, and easier for astronomers to locate a faint target in the night sky.
For daytime use, it can also affect image brightnessThis can be important for birdwatchers and hunters checking markings on their targets.
Binoculars come in a range of apertures, from compact 20 mm binoculars to giant 100 mm ones. However, as you might expect, there is a trade-off: the larger the aperture, the heavier and more expensive the binoculars.
If you're attending a concert or looking for binoculars for hiking, a smaller aperture of between 20 and 40 mm should do the trick, while hunters, birdwatchers and astronomers will prefer an aperture of around 40 or 50 mm.
For example, if you're an astronomer, you'll probably want to observe the Pleiades star cluster. If you had two binoculars - a 10x50 and a 20x25 - the cluster would appear twice as large in the 20x, but you'd actually see more stars with the 10x50. This is because the 50 mm aperture lets in more light, allowing you to see the less bright stars.
Larger apertures, between 60 and 100 mm, should be used with a tripod.Their weight can make them uncomfortable to use for more than a few seconds. For this reason, larger apertures are better suited to situations where you'll be on location for several hours.
When we think of binoculars and the environment, we think mainly of weather conditions and protecting your binoculars from knocks and falls.
Here are some examples, if you're going out in the rain, you need to make sure your binoculars are water-resistantYou may also want to consider anti-fog binoculars. Similarly, if you often find yourself near water (river, lake or ocean), you should opt for waterproof binoculars.
Unfortunately, not all binoculars are built to these standards, and you'll find that models at the lower end of the price scale may lack these features.
If you're worried about knocking or dropping your binoculars, you should also look for shockproof binocularsThe best of these are often specialized items that can be expensive. Most popular models on the market come with a rubber frame, which should protect the binoculars from accidental knocks, but may not be enough to prevent damage if the binoculars fall on hard ground.
Frequently asked questions
How much do decent binoculars cost?
The price of binoculars can vary considerably, but this doesn't necessarily mean that more expensive binoculars are better suited to your hobby. Specifically, top-of-the-range binoculars may feature electronic components that stabilize the image, or very strong armor designed to withstand the hardest knocks. You may also find that expensive binoculars have better quality optics. However, if you're simply looking for good, versatile "everyday" binoculars, you don't need to spend a lot of money.
What are the different types of binoculars?
There are essentially two types of binoculars: Porro prism binoculars and roof prism binoculars. Traditional Porro prism binoculars have a barrel slightly offset from the eyepieces, giving them a W-shape. More recent roof prism binoculars have a straight barrel and an H-shape. Roof prism binoculars are designed to be lighter and more compact than Porro prism binoculars, but they tend to have smaller apertures and are therefore less powerful.
What should I look for when buying binoculars?
In addition to the points mentioned above (magnification, aperture, weight, shielding and weather protection), it's a good idea to know what coatings are used on the optics. Never settle for multi-coated optics (MC), as fully coated optics (FMC) are the best. There are two common types of prism - BaK-4 and BK-7 - of which the BaK-4 produces a better image quality. Finally, always read reviews, ask for advice where you can, and be wary of unfamiliar brands. Well-known and respected brands include Alpine, Bushnell, Celestron, Nikon, Orion, Steiner, Vixen and Zeiss.