For those wanting a closer look at birds, bears, or stars, binoculars are the tool to use.  Fortunately, over the years the relative price of binoculars has come down while optical quality has gone up.

For example, my 1978 Bushnell Custom 9X36 porro prism binoculars are not as sharp or as bright as my 2006 Bushnell Legend 8X26 porro prism binoculars.  As well, the Legends are waterproof and dustproof, weigh about 1/3 as much, and are relatively inexpensive.  However, the Customs have an outstanding field of view (but only without glasses), excellent depth of field, and a fast focus.

While the little Legends serve to look at the moon or stars, those with a thirst to drink in the night sky should acquire instruments with much greater light gathering and transmission ability, such as a 7X50.  A 7X50 will gather and transmit about FOUR times as much light as an 8X26. 

Higher magnification and bigger lenses may be tempting, but note the following downsides: 

  • Magnification amplifies any optical imperfections. 
  • Any tremor, even from a heartbeat, will be magnified.
  • Closest focusing distance will be farther away.
  • Weight will increase with bigger lenses. 

 If you are buying binoculars for children, ensure that they can be adjusted for close set eyes (50 mm interpupillary distance).   

Noteworthy for those with small faces are the 6×30 Leupold Yosemite Binoculars.  These porro prism binoculars offer a very good set of specifications for the price.  They should satisfy most observers for casual all-around use.   

Porro prism binoculars typically provide much better performance than Roof Prism binoculars of same price.  Comparable optical quality in a roof prism binocular can cost more than twice as much.  This is due to the physics of light transmission through the different designs and the costs associated with manufacturing them in these ways.  

Following are some binoculars that I would  suggest to a family member, with respect for their age, interests, and budget: 

Bushnell Elite e2 7×26

Bushnell Legend 8×26   

Leupold Yosemite 6×30

Hawke Nature Trek 7×30

Celestron Nature Series 8×30

Steiner 8×30 Wildlife Pro CF 

Vortex Raptor 6.5×32

Vixen Foresta ZR8x32 WP

Nikon 8x32SE CF (Superior E)  

Carton Adlerblick 7×42 F590

Swarovski Habicht 7×42 GA

Fujinon 8×42 BFL

Minox BD 8×44 BP 

Swift Optics 820 ED Audubon 8.5×44

Captain’s Helmsman 7×50

Orion Ultraview 10×50

Pentax PCF WP ll 20×60    

Garrett Signature 15×85 HD-WP


Vendors and Reviews  

Royal Astronomical Society of Canada 

Bird Watching   

Cloudy Nights 

Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

Holger Merlitz 


The best binoculars are

the ones you have…

with you.