5 Best Binoculars for Wildlife Viewing (2020)

Whether you’re a beginner enthusiast or a wildlife expert, binoculars are an important tool for the best wildlife viewing. Even though you may have used them before, binoculars present many common challenges among beginners and experts alike – how do you choose the right pair for your needs and what are the differences in types, makes, and models? 

Zooming in on the different features can be a huge task with confusing jargon and meaningless numbers. There are many types and features to sort through, and the technical specs can become overwhelming. Read further as we zoom in on the best binoculars for wildlife viewing and give you a bird’s eye view on how to choose your own pair. 

We Recommend

Best budget option

Nikon Monarch 5
8×42 Binocular

Best for the money

Vortex Viper HD
8×42 Binoculars

Best value/price ratio

Celestron TrailSeeker
10×32 Binoculars

Porro-prism vs. roof-prism binoculars

When looking for the best binoculars for wildlife viewing, you’re likely to come across words like porro-prism and roof-prism. Simply put, these are the differences in how light passes into and out of the internal prisms of the binoculars.

Roof prism binoculars are more compact due to how closely their internal prisms overlap, allowing a sleek design that lines up with the eyepiece.

  • They tend to be more popular for this reason, but while small, their internal construction is more intricate, leading to higher costs.
  • In contrast, porro-prism binoculars have a zig-zag design that offsets the eyepiece from the objective lens.
  • While this allows a clearer image with better depth perception, due to the increase in light reaching the internal lenses, these binoculars tend to be bigger and bulkier due to the design feature.

Porro-prism binoculars, although less popular, still offer good value and performance even if they are a bit bulkier.

  • Still a favorite among bird watchers and hunters alike, porro-prism binoculars have long been the staple of the best binoculars for wildlife viewing.
  • However, since their introduction, roof-prism binoculars have become more popular, especially among hunters, given their sleek design and lightweight construction.
  • Consider these points for your viewing needs to determine which type will work best for you.

What do the binocular numbers mean?

When choosing the best binoculars for wildlife viewing, you will see numbers such as 10×32 or 8 x42. But what you are really interested in is how much better they will help you see than with the naked eye. In other words, you want to know how much closer the object will appear when it is being magnified, and from what distance.

The two numbers used to refer to these features represent the magnification multiplied by the objective lens diameter.

  • More simply put, a pair of 8×32 binoculars would have eight times the magnification power of your naked eye and an object would appear that much closer than without them.
  • An object 800 feet away would appear as though it were 100 feet away. Their objective lens diameter would be 32 millimeters and refers to the size of the front lens, usually the largest part of the optic.
  • The larger the objective lens, the more light that enters the binoculars and therefore, the sharper or brighter the image will be. Although larger objectives usually mean brighter, sharper, and clearer images, they come with a tradeoff.
  • Larger objectives add bulk and weight to binoculars and users should consider how they will hold, pack, and carry their set when choosing a pair.

Which is better 8x42 or 10x42 binoculars?

Now that you know what those numbers mean, how do you decide based on the popular options out there? Do you need 8×42, or would something like 10×42 work better for your purposes? There’s more difference to these two popular magnifications than meets the eye.

Hunters and birders naturally gravitate towards the 10x binoculars simply for the greater magnification, but 8x binoculars have their benefits as well. Both options offer high power, but the difference is in the subtle details. While 8x are often cheaper than 10x units, they can be less powerful for details and identification, possibly making them less practical.

And while a 10x pair offers better image quality, they have a narrower field of view and a smaller exit pupil, which may not work for you. See below for a list of considerations when choosing a pair for the following activities:

  • Backpacking and hiking – lightweight is key when you’re on the move so consider lightweight and compact pairs in the 8×42 camp
  • Birding – birding naturally lends itself to higher magnifications, so consider 10×42 binoculars as you’ll most likely be observing from greater distances.
  • Hunting – Anything in the 7x to 10x range is suitable for hunting and personal selection varies greatly based on what type of hunting you are doing.
  • Whale watching, wildlife viewing, and safaris – You’ll need maximum reach to keep a safe distance when doing any of these activities. 10×42 is best for long-range wildlife spotting.
  • Stargazing – You’ll need maximum power to make it worth your effort in this area. Opt for at least 10x magnification and higher if possible. But remember, anything higher than 10x is best supported by a tripod to keep them steady and give you the best view.

The wildlife binoculars price timeline

Binoculars are one of the few pieces of gear that can last a lifetime and their prices can range from bird brainl to astronomical. Price depends largely on the quality of the optics, lens coatings, and other features such as ruggedness or housing material, not to mention whether they are porro or roof prism binoculars. Depending on the budget and primary purpose of your pair of binoculars, you’re sure to find something suitable in the following ranges:

Budget (0-150$) – You don’t have to break the bank to get into the game. Sets at this price point will deliver good (sometimes great) fields of view at a budget price.

Value (150-300$) – Binoculars in this group will feature brighter images, more accurate color, and better resolution.

Lower Mid-Range (300-500$) – Featuring a step up in glass, this level of binoculars offers brighter images and more accurate hues due to higher quality.

Upper Mid-Range (500-1000$) – Offering exceptional value for optics, binoculars in this range let you step up without shelling out the big bucks. They feature higher quality components and glass enhancing image quality.

High End (1000-2000$) – Premium lens coatings and high-density glass deliver clear images with bright colours and contrast in this range. Many models also come with specific functionalities like digital zoom and image stabilization.

First Class (2000$ +) – Exceptional performance in a variety of conditions, coupled with top notch materials and construction are hallmarks of this elite category. Binoculars in this price range offer unrivaled wildlife viewing experiences

How to choose the right binoculars for wildlife viewing?

When choosing the right binoculars for wildlife viewing, there are a few key things that help to bring clarity to your decision. You’ll want to consider the following points when evaluating optical performance, as well as keeping in mind your own personal considerations.

Aperture – Measured in millimeters, this is the width of the front or objective lens. Larger lenses bring in more light, making objects especially viewable.

Field of View – This specification states the width of the area you will be able to view at a glance. Having a narrower field of view, like in higher magnifications, can make it harder to locate small or moving objects.

Lens Coating – Coatings on the glass can reduce reflection and help determine the clarity and brightness of the image.

Eye Relief – Key for glasses wearers, this is the distance between and eyepiece and your eye while the field of view is visible. Most binoculars allow for some adjustments to the eyepiece through a variety of mechanisms. Look for eye relief of 11mm or more if you wear glasses.

Weatherproof – This feature largely depends on the type of activities you will use your binoculars for. Manufacturers differ in how they describe levels of water resistance. Waterproof binoculars typically employ O-rings to block moisture, while weather-resistant models offer protection against lighter rain situations.

Weight – Consider how and where you will need to carry your binoculars for wildlife viewing when making your selection. Additionally, the weight of your set can impact the length of your viewing session if you’re not using a tripod.

Related5 Best Binocular Harnesses in 2020 (Low-Profile & Full-Size)

Best binoculars for wildlife viewing

1. Celestron 71336 Nature DX 12x56 Binocular

Celestron Nature DX is perfect for every adventure, these binoculars are an excellent combination of premium build, portability, and price. 

Affordable and a favorite among both birders and outdoor enthusiasts, these binoculars offer a mid-size solution at an entry price point

Everyone from beginners to the outdoors enthusiasts will enjoy this top-rated pair of binoculars with impressive specs. 

Offering a robust, waterproof mid-sized body gives you protection without compromising viewing quality. 

The large objective lens and powerful magnification provide detailed views of distant subjects, even in low light conditions. Designed with comfort in mind, adjustable eyecups make them easy to use with or without glasses. 

Premium prism glass and fully coated lenses, along with comfort and durability, make this a great pair of binoculars for wildlife viewing. Specifically designed to endure your travels without fogging up, they even offer premium waterproof protection at a beginner’s price.

Check the price of Celestron 71336 Nature DX 12×56 Binocular here

What we liked

  • Entry level price point for beginners to mid-range enthusiasts
  • Phase-coated BaK -4 prisms for top-rated optics
  • 12x magnification power and 6.5-foot close focus
  • Mid-sized body giving great optics without the bulk
  • Robust, waterproof housing for increased durability
  • Includes carrying case and other necessary accessories
  • Popular brand backed by warranty and customer support

What we didn’t like

  • Difficult to adjust for larger users
  • Size limits length of use 
  • Limited waterproof capabilities

Aperture: 56
Magnification: 12x
Lens diameter: 56mm
Field of view: 5.5°, 289 feet @ 1000 yards
Eye relief: 16mm
Weatherproof: Waterproof
Weight: 2.5lbs

2. Celestron 71402 TrailSeeker 10x32 Binoculars

Premium quality binoculars at an affordable price are the hallmarks of this pair of Celestron Trailseeker 10×32 binoculars

Superior optics and coatings allow for increased light transmission creating sharper and brighter images

Enhanced contrast and resolution provide unrivaled image detail to enhance your wildlife viewing. 

Their durable and lightweight body make them perfect for hiking, birding, or any other activity where transportability is a factor. 

Rugged magnesium alloy frames allow for a sleek design that’s light in weight with the added feature of being waterproof. With fit and function in mind, these ergonomically designed binoculars have an ease of use that make them perfect for bird watching adventures. 

Unique multi-stop twist-up eyecups provide comfort and ease of use with or without glasses. More durable than plastic eyecups, this pair boasts metal eyecups that offer a longer lifespan as well as correct positioning. Their wide field of view makes them ideal for following moving subjects without needing to move your binoculars. Accessories come included with this great all-round pair of wildlife viewing binoculars.

Check the price of Celestron 71402 TrailSeeker 10×32 Binoculars here

What we liked

  • Wide field of view with 10x magnification
  • Durable in any weather 
  • Lightweight magnesium alloy frame
  • Multi stop for correct eye positioning
  • BaK -4 prisms provide brighter and sharper images
  • Phase and dielectric coatings allow for increased light transmission
  • Popular brand backed by warranty and customer service

What we didn’t like

  • Wide field of view may distort edge vision
  • Compact design may not be best for larger hands

Aperture: 32
Lens diameter: 32mm
Field of view: 6.2°, 525 feet @ 1000 yards
Eye relief: 14.4mm
Weatherproof: Waterproof
Weight: 1lb

3. Nikon 7576 MONARCH 5 8x42 Binocular

Take a step up with these lightweight and extremely portable pair of Nikon Monarch 5 binoculars.

Equipped with user-friendly features, these binoculars offer a premium viewing experience designed for comfort in extreme use. 

Waterproof, fog proof, and a rubber-armored body provide strengthened durability built for the extreme. Improved agility and advanced low light brilliance further elevate these superior binoculars. 

Built with Nikon’s legendary glass lenses, they offer excellent range while maintaining superior contrast thanks to multilayer coatings, which provide higher light transmission across the spectrum. 

Improved resolution means more natural-looking images, bringing you that much closer to your wildlife subjects and allowing for a more immersive experience. Rich, accurate colors, extreme portability, along with comfortable viewing and greater light transmission, make these binoculars an obvious choice for all-around wildlife viewing.

Check the price of Nikon 7576 MONARCH 5 8×42 Binocular here

What we liked

  • Small size and sleek design offer extreme portability
  • Comfortable eyepoint design with adjustable eyecups
  • Durable rubber-armored body to withstand extreme use
  • Simple and intuitive central focus knob
  • Multilayer coatings allow for greater light transmission
  • High eyepoint design provides clearer field of view and sufficient space for eyeglasses
  • O-ring sealed for waterproof and fogproof performance

What we didn’t like

  • Fine tuning may be hard to adjust

Aperture: 42
Magnification: 8x
Lens diameter: 42mm
Field of view: 6.3°, 300 feet @ 1000 yards
Eye relief: 19.5mm
Weatherproof: Waterproof
Weight: 1.3lb

4. Olympus 10 X 42 PRO Binocular

Olympus Pro binoculars are designed with the pro in mind, serious outdoor enthusiasts won’t be able to keep their hands off these rugged and durable binoculars. 

A heavy-duty rubberized coating offers a non-slip grip and rugged protection while their weather-sealed design means they can withstand more than a little water. 

It is designed to cope with all-weather, the Olympus 10×42 Pro’s offer exceptional optical performance in a waterproof body

It can endure being submerged up to 3 feet for up to 5 minutes before they will start to leak. The ultimate adventure photography companion, they offer an extremely bright and wide field of view to help you easily find your subject. 

Quality innovations like Ed lenses and phase correcting multi-coating technology (including Olympus’ acclaimed ZERO coatings for high contrast) result in the highest resolution viewing experience.

Check the price of Olympus 10 X 42 PRO Binocular here

What we liked

  • Oil repellent coatings for easy removal of dirt and water drops
  • Build-in dioptric correction
  • Long eye relief and adjustable eyepieces
  • ED lens for chromatic abberation compensation
  • Flip down objective lens cap to prevent loss
  • Suitable for multiple uses including bird watching, hiking, watersports, and nature
  • Exceptional 1.5m close focusing distance allows user to see fine details even at close range

What we didn’t like

  • Focusing wheel may need a lot of turning
  • Potential sharpness loss on edges of field of view

Aperture: 42
Magnification: 10x
Lens diameter: 42mm
Field of view: 6.2°, 525 feet @ 1000 yards
Eye relief: 16mm
Weatherproof: Waterproof
Weight: 1.5 lbs

5. Vortex Optics Viper HD Roof Prism Binoculars

One of the lightest full-size binoculars to date, the Vortex Optics Viper HD Binoculars offer a premium-quality binocular loaded with everything you need and nothing you don’t. 

Perfect for hunters, shooters, and outdoor enthusiasts, these binoculars offer a stunning resolution, color fidelity, and edge-to-edge clarity without the premium price tag. 

Superior extra-low dispersion glass coincides with high resolution and color fidelity offering the ultimate in high definition images.

Don’t let these delicate optics fool you though, their rugged design and extreme durability offer reliable performance in all types of environments. Rubberized barrels, a sturdy focus knob, and Adjustable and locking eyepieces add to the viewing experience. Add on tripod capability, and a clear field of vision these premium binoculars are great for wildlife viewing.

Check the price of Vortex Optics Viper HD Roof Prism Binoculars here

What we liked

  • Smooth magnification and crisp image resolution
  • Clear edge to edge image transmission
  • Superior customer service and warranty
  • GlassPak chest harness included for comfortable all-day carry
  • Other accessories include a rain guard, carrying case, and strap
  • Waterproof, fog proof, and lightweight design
  • Bring in lots of light making them suitable in many conditions

What we didn’t like

  • Eye relief lacks adjustability
  • Close focus is 6.5-7 feet
  • Sleek rubber may be harder to grip than other models

Aperture: 42
Magnification: 8x
Lens diameter: 42mm
Field of view: 6.6°, 347 @ 1000 yards
Eye relief: 20mm
Weatherproof: Waterproof
Weight: 1.5lbs

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