5 Best Zoom Binoculars for Birding & Wildlife (2019)

Binoculars are an absolute must for wildlife viewing, especially bird watching. For birders, great binoculars can help you get close to the action and observe the details of birds in their native habitats.

Most birders use fixed lens binoculars (for example, 8×42 or 10×42). However, even when you use quality fixed lens binoculars there are moments when the object you are viewing is just beyond range, appearing too small even while using high-grade optics.

On the contrary, zoom binoculars feature a range of magnification options (for example, 10-22×50 or 15-35×70). Bird watchers who use zoom binoculars can zoom in on birds without physically moving closer and risk scaring the birds away.

This guide covers the features of zoom binoculars and provides suggestions on which zoom binoculars might be right for you.

We recommend

Best price/value ratio

Nikon 8252 Aculon
A211 10-22×50

Best for travel

Nikon Aculon Compact
8-24x25mm

Best budget option

Barska Zoom Gladiator
10-30×50

Types of Binoculars

There are a few different types of binoculars. Before you purchase a pair, it’s important to know the differences and determine which binoculars will be best for you.

  • Galilean Binoculars– These are compact binoculars that use the same structure Galileo Galilei used when he viewed the night sky in the 17th century. Most frequently these binoculars are used as opera glasses. The design which features two convex lenses and two concave lenses, without the use of a prism, make these binoculars less than ideal for viewing wildlife. 
  • Roof Prism– Many sport binoculars use a roof prism in conjunction with 2 convex lenses. This allows for a wider field of view and brighter, clearer images. Roof prism binoculars are more compact and are a great option for anyone planning to take their binoculars with them on a long hike. 
  • Porro Prism– Many sport binoculars also use the porro prism system. This system still uses the 2 convex lenses allowing for wider field of view and clear images. But the design of the porro prism makes the binoculars much larger and heavier. These binoculars may be ideal for backyard bird watchers who want to see birds up close from the comfort of their home. 
  • Fixed Lens Binoculars– Fixed lens binoculars feature either a roof prism or porro prism system. These binoculars includes only one magnification setting and a focus knob to clear up the finer details within an image. Higher-end fixed lens binoculars offer exceptional image quality.
  • Zoom Binoculars– Unlike most other binoculars, zoom binoculars feature a range of magnification. These binoculars can be bulkier but you’ll have the option to zoom onto your subject to get a closer look at the object you are viewing. 
  • Astronomical Binoculars– Astronomical binoculars are massive. With a high magnification and a very wide optical diameter to allow light to pass through, these binoculars are fairly specialized and not a great option for someone interested in backyard bird watching. 

Understanding Your Binoculars

When purchasing binoculars you’ll notice that there are certain numbers attached to the description. For example, these numbers may appear as 8×42, 10×25, or 10-22×50. 

To better understand what these numbers mean, we need to break down the description. 

  • The first number refers to the magnification. Fixed lens binoculars will only have one number here, but a zoom binocular will include a range.
  • The second number refers to the optical diameter. This is important because larger optical diameters allow more light to filter through the lens. More light will result in clearer, brighter images. 
  • Another important thing to look for when purchasing binoculars is field of view (FOV). FOV may appear as a measurement like: 350 feet at 1,000 yards. This refers to how wide a view you may have at a distance of 1,000 yard. The wider the FOV the more picture you will see. Smaller FOV can result in a shaky image and perhaps make it difficult to locate the object you are trying to focus on.

Well-balanced binoculars will have a decent magnification working in conjunction with the optical diameter and FOV to produce high-quality images. 

Zoom Binocular Pros and Cons

Zoom binoculars are an excellent choice for birders, however there are some downsides to owning zoom binoculars. Here are the pros and cons of zoom binoculars:

Pros:

  • Zoom binoculars feature a range of magnification allowing you to zoom in on an object with physically moving.
  • Zoom binoculars can offer excellent image quality at lower magnifications that rival fixed lens models.
  • An affordable option for spotting wildlife at long distances.

Cons:

  • Magnification may be too strong depending on how far away the subject is. (Backyard bird watchers with small backyards may want to shy away from zoom binoculars.)
  • Image quality may decrease at higher magnification. For this, consider a superzoom camera instead.
  • Images may appear shaky at higher magnifications, so it may be a good investment to purchase a tripod as well.

How to Choose Zoom Binoculars?

Now that you’ve learned about zoom binoculars, how do you determine which model is best? The answer to that question completely depends on the intended use. 

Before purchasing zoom binoculars, ask yourself: Am I planning on hiking with these binoculars? How much distance do I anticipate there being between me and the objects I’m viewing? Do I value magnification over image quality? Will I need a tripod? Etc.

When answering these questions think about what priorities you might have when using your binoculars. Your priorities may include:

 

  • Durability– If you plan on taking your zoom binoculars out for a hike or while travelling, you may want to invest in a pair that are well-built, weather resistant, and ergonomic. 
  • Size– Zoom binoculars are by nature large, but there are compact options on the market. If you go with a smaller pair, you may sacrifice some image quality and usability. 
  • Image Quality– If you are prioritizing image quality the big thing you’ll want to look for is a good balance between magnification, optical diameter, and field of view. These specifications directly impact the quality of the images you’ll be seeing. Magnification determines how closely you can view an object. High optical diameter corresponds to better low-light performance. Wide field of view allows for better ease-of-use.
  • Zoom– Exactly how much zoom do you need? A magnification between 10x-20x can get you exceptionally close to birds and other wildlife. Magnification that is 20x plus may be a bit more than you need. Viewing at higher magnifications may also require the use of a tripod to ensure image stability.

 

Best Zoom Binoculars

#1. Nikon 8252 ACULON A211 10-22x50 (Best All-Round Binocular)

This Nikon 8252 ACULON is a great option for anyone looking to purchase zoom binoculars. 

This set offers great magnification for birds and wildlife while also maintaining a reasonable optical diameter to balance the light and field of view. 

Although larger compared to other fixed lens models, these binoculars are durable and ergonomic, making them great for backyard bird watchers or any birders hoping to take them on a hike.

Nikon offers some of the greatest mid-range binoculars on the market. These zoom binoculars are no exception. 

For the price, users will be pleased with the clear images that these binoculars can produce in low light and at high magnification.

Check the price of Nikon 8252 ACULON A211 here

What we liked

  • Clear Images
  • Quality Low Light Performance
  • Durable, Ergonomic
  • Good Value for the Money

What we didn’t like

  • Not Waterproof
  • Large Size

Waterproof: No
Best for viewing: Wildlife, Bird Watching, and General Use
Optical diameter: 50mm
Magnification: 10x – 22x
Near focus: 49.2 feet
Field of View: 199 feet at 1,000 yards
Prism Type: BAK-4 Porro Prism
Focus style: Central Focus Knob
Weight: 2 lbs
Tripod Compatible: Yes, includes free tripod adapter.

#2. Nikon ACULON Compact Zoom Binocular (Best Compact Binocular)

If you’re looking for a compact zoom binocular, the Nikon ACULON Compact 8-24x25mm is a solid choice. 

These binoculars are perfect for someone who doesn’t want to deal with bulky binoculars, but still hoping to get high magnification. 

The Nikon ACULON Compact 8-24x25mm has exceptional zoom for its size. 

The handy zoom switch on the top makes changing the magnification simple. 

Anyone interested in purchasing these zoom binoculars should know that these binoculars may not be the best option for observing detailed images of birds. 

The small optical diameter does not allow sufficient light to enter the lens in low-light situations, making images appear dark and fuzzy. Users may also find it difficult to maintain a stable image when viewing objects at high magnification.

Check the price of Nikon ACULON Compact Zoom Binocular here

What we liked

  • Compact
  • Lightweight
  • Impressive Zoom
  • Easy-to-Use Magnification Switch

What we didn’t like

  • Poor Low Light Performance
  • Difficult to Maintain Stable Images at High Magnification 

Waterproof: No
Best for viewing: General Use
Optical diameter: 25mm
Magnification: 8x – 24x
Near focus: 13.1 feet
Field of View: 241 feet at 1,000 yards on 8x magnification
Prism Type: BaK-4 High Index Porro Prism
Focus style: Central Focus Knob & Zoom Magnification Switch
Weight: 0.7 lbs
Tripod Compatible: No

#3. Nightfox 100V Widescreen (Best for Nocturnal Viewing)

For the birders who are not afraid of the dark, the Nightfox 100V Widescreen offers a unique viewing experience ideal for locating wildlife at night. 

The Nightfox100V Widescreen zoom binocular captures night-time images and projects them onto a digital screen. 

These binoculars include a 3x fixed lens magnification and also a 2x digital zoom.

Users will find that these night vision binoculars are easy to use and provide quality imaging even in the dead of night. 

Savvy bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts, who may find themselves at the right place at the right time, may be able to capture glimpses of nocturnal wildlife such as foxes, raccoons, and owls.

Check the price of Nightfox 100V Widescreen here

What we liked

  • Night Vision Capable
  • Compact
  • Easy-to-Use
  • Good Value for the Money

What we didn’t like

  • Low Magnification
  • Narrow Field of View

Waterproof: No
Best for viewing: Nocturnal Wildlife
Optical diameter: 20mm
Magnification: 3x Fixed Zoom (Plus 2x Digital Zoom)
Near focus: Not Listed
Field of View: Not Listed
Prism Type: N/A
Focus style: Central Focus Wheel & Digital Zoom Button
Weight: 1.3 lbs (without batteries)
Tripod Compatible: Yes

#4. Celestron SkyMaster 15-35x70 Binocular (Best for Long Distance Viewing)

The Celestron SkyMaster 15-35×70 Binocular offers a range of high magnification settings. 

These binoculars are intended for astronomical viewing so casual birders may find these binoculars impractical. 

However, paired with a proper tripod the Celestron SkyMaster can transform into an affordable spotting scope setup, perfect for viewing waterfowl or other birds and wildlife in open spaces.

Celestron is a renowned company that specializes in sports optics. Their low-to-mid range wildlife binoculars offer bird watchers great quality at a low price. 

The Celestron SkyMaster 15-35×70, though large, is durable and also water resistant. Serious birders may find these binoculars a great option for viewing migratory waterfowl that flock to freshwater lakes and ponds.

Check the price of Celestron SkyMaster 15-35×70 Binocular here

What we liked

  • High Magnification
  • Reasonably Priced
  • Water Resistant
  • Low-Light Imaging 

What we didn’t like

  • Large
  • Narrow Field of View

Waterproof: Water Resistant
Best for viewing: Night Sky, Wildlife, and Waterfowl (at great distances)
Optical diameter: 70mm
Magnification: 15x-35x
Near focus: 73.8 feet
Field of View: 115 feet at 1,000 yards
Prism Type: BaK-4 High Index Porro Prism
Focus style: Central Focus Knob
Weight: 3.31 lbs
Tripod Compatible: Yes, tripod adapter included. 

#5. Barska 10-30x50 Zoom Gladiator Binocular (Best Budget Zoom Binocular)

If you are new to bird watching and hoping to get affordable binoculars, the Barska 10-30×50 Zoom Gladiator Binocular is a great option. 

It provides users the opportunity to use higher magnifications to view objects at a distant, but the lower settings also offer a great balance to ensure quality imaging. 

The easy-to-use magnification lever allows you to simply increase the magnification with a quick switch. 

Unfortunately, Barska binoculars do tend to be less durable then their competitors. One drop may easily result in a misalignment (low-price has its downfalls).

Check the price of Barska 10-30×50 Zoom Gladiator Binocular here

What we liked

  • Price, Anti-Reflection Coated Lenses
  • Zoom
  • Easy-to-Use Magnification Thumb Lever

What we didn’t like

  • More fragile than competitors

Waterproof: No
Best for viewing: Wildlife, Bird Watching, and General Use
Optical diameter: 50mm
Magnification: 10x-30x
Near focus: 26 feet
Field of View: 350 feet at 1,000 yards on 10x magnification
Prism Type: BK-7 Porro Prism
Focus style: Central Focus Knob & Thumb Lever for Magnification Changes
Weight: 2 lbs
Tripod Compatible: Yes

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