A selection of some recommended models for the theater:

Collection: 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?

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.

Roof prism and Porro prism

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 8x42.

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 8x42 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:

  • Magnification
  • Weight


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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between opera glasses and binoculars?

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.

Can you use binoculars at the theater?

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.

Is aperture important for the theater, a concert or sporting event?

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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