If cost is no concern, reviewers say the Swarovski EL 42 Swarovision 10x42 (*Est. $2,500) binoculars offer image quality that can't be matched. These high-priced binoculars have a magnesium housing, 336-foot field of view and a 4.2 mm exit pupil. The multi-coated lenses are flattened to provide better image contrast, and the diopter (focus) adjustment comes with a pull-out focusing wheel. The Swarovski binoculars are fogproof and watertight to 13 feet, and they have 20 mm eye relief -- a very generous amount considering experts recommend a minimum of 14 to 16 mm for eyeglass wearers.
In Outdoor Life magazine's test of 23 binoculars, the Swarovski EL 42 Swarovision 10x42 binoculars earn the top score and an Editor's Choice award. Testers for the magazine are floored with the "gem-bright image" and "stunning definition," and the Swarovski EL 42 binoculars post better image quality than any of the others tested. "The optic renders a world-class image stylishly and comfortably, and even small details -- such as the locking center diopter wheel, redesigned focusing system and twist-in eyecups -- are elegant and functional," editors write.
The binoculars perform well in low-light conditions. "I can see better in low light conditions with these optics than I could with just my own eyes," one reviewer writes at Cabelas.com, an online retailer. Patrick Dean writes a lengthy review of the binoculars at NeutralDay.com, a photography site, and he also comes away impressed. "Sharpness and clarity are excellent from edge to edge, color renditions are superb, and the contrast provided make birds and the natural world really pop," he writes.
However, the binoculars are on the heavy side at 29.6 ounces, and Patrick Dean notes that it can be hard to hold them stable for long periods of time. Unlike many binoculars, there's no tripod socket, so you'll have to buy a separate adapter if you wish to use a tripod. Of course, there's also the issue of the $2,500 price tag, which is just too much for some reviewers to swallow.
At a much friendlier price point, the Weaver Super Slam 10.5x45 (*Est. $700) is a good pick for those who need rugged binoculars for outdoor adventures. Features include a 325-foot field of view, 4.3 mm exit pupil and 15 mm eye relief. The rubberized magnesium body is said to provide a comfortable grip, and the focus can be locked to prevent accidental adjustments. The Weaver Super Slam binoculars are waterproof, fogproof and have extendable eyecups.
Outdoor Life magazine gives the Weaver Super Slam 10.5x45 a 3.5-star rating out of 4 in its test of 23 binoculars. The Weaver binoculars are second only to the Swarovski EL 42 Swarovision binoculars (which cost $2,500) in optical quality, and they perform very well in low-light conditions. "The binocular won our low-light test and was no slouch on the resolution range," editors write. However, testers aren't impressed with the locking hinge, although they don't specify why. The Weaver Super Slam binoculars haven't yet accumulated enough user reviews to back up or contradict this professional opinion.
There is no shortage of user reviews for Cabela's Euro 12x50 (*Est. $800), which are one of the top-rated binoculars at Buzzillions.com, a user-review site that compiles reviews from various online retailers. The waterproof and fogproof binoculars have a 273-foot field of view, 4.16 mm exit pupil and 15 mm eye relief. The eyecups can twist upwards for easy viewing and the lenses are fully multi-coated. The binoculars are covered by a limited lifetime warranty.
More than 150 users review the Cabela's Euro binoculars at Buzzillions.com, where they earn a very high rating of 4.8 stars out of 5. Images are bright and crisp, and the focus adjusts quickly and with minimal fuss. Low-light performance is very good. "They are great in low light as I was spotting deer at almost dark in the high Utah mountains. The clarity was amazing and I was able to glass for a much longer time," one owner writes. Not surprisingly, due to the 50 mm objective lens, the Euro binoculars are heavy and weigh in at 37.1 ounces. In addition, although they are advertised as fogproof, we saw a few complaints that they fog in hot, humid weather. We also saw one report that the images have a slight yellowish tint.
If weight is a concern, the Brunton Epoch Compact 8x21 (*Est. $500) binoculars are a good choice. Picked as one of the best binoculars of 2010 by Outside magazine, the Brunton Epoch Compact 8x21 binoculars weigh just 13 ounces and have a 393-foot field of view. The alloy frame is fogproof and waterproof. Other features include 2.6 mm exit pupil and 15 mm eye relief. The Brunton Epoch Compact is covered by a lifetime warranty.
According to Outside magazine, the Brunton binoculars are a good pick for travelers or those who want lightweight binoculars to have on hand. The binoculars will fit into a pocket or small purse, and image clarity is very good. "They were the best small binocs of the bunch, thanks to top-of-the-line SF prism glass and a light (13.5 oz) but substantial feel in-hand," the editors write. User reviews are scarce, but one user at OpticsPlanet.com (an online retailer) gives the Brunton Epoch Compact a 5-star rating. "They feel very solid and well built -- everything appears perfect and works smoothly," this owner writes.
Hunters can use the same binoculars as everyone else, but there are a few features in particular that these users will appreciate. Many hunting binoculars include a rangefinder, which determines the distance between the user and a target -- helpful information for aiming and timing. There are also a number of binoculars that include night vision for hunting after dark. Hunting binoculars should also have a large field of view to make it easier to spot and follow moving game.
If a rangefinder is something you want, the Bushnell Fusion 1600 ARC 10x42 (*Est. $850) deserves a look. The laser rangefinder provides distance (up to 1,600 feet) and bullet-drop for both bow and rifle weapons. In addition to fully multi-coated lenses with an anti-fog coating, the Bushnell Fusion binoculars include a 305-foot field of view, 18 mm eye relief and 4.2 mm exit pupil. The binoculars are waterproof, but also heavy at 31 ounces. The Bushnell Fusion 1600 ARC binoculars are covered by a two-year warranty.
Outdoor Canada magazine highlights the Bushnell Fusion 1600 ARC 10x42 as the best new binoculars for hunters, giving them a Best New Gear award for 2010. Editors like the generous field of view and appreciate having an integrated rangefinder. "The ARC bow and rifle modes deliver true horizontal distances, along with bullet-drop and holdover information," the editors write. Only five owners review the binoculars at Cabelas.com, where they earn a 3.5-star rating (out of 5). Users say the binoculars work well in low light and produce sharp images. The rangefinder is largely accurate, according to reviews, but the digital display can be hard to read in bright sunlight.
For night hunters, the night-vision-equipped Luna Optics LN-PB3 (*Est. $600) impresses reviewers. The all-aluminum binoculars don't have much magnification power -- only 3x -- but the 50 mm objective lens provides a large field of view. Other features include multi-coated lenses, 30 hours of continuous operating time and a one-year warranty.
Wired, a technology magazine and website, conducts a comparative test of four night-vision binoculars; only the Luna Optics LN-PB3 earn an Editors' Pick award. The Luna binoculars far outclass the other models on test, and reviewer Mathew Honan says they're a great choice for inclement weather. The binoculars are durable and rugged -- Honan dropped them on concrete without a scratch -- and he's impressed with the magnification power for long-distance viewing. The best part, according to Honan, is the night vision. "The bottom line was unmatched light-magnifying power -- we saw clearly outdoors, even on moonless midwinter nights," he writes. However, the Luna Optics LN-PB3 binoculars are heavy at 27 ounces, so you won't want to lug them around for long.
While very expensive, reviewers say the Minox APO HG 8x43 (*Est. $1,800) binoculars are a good choice for hunting enthusiasts. They don't have fancy features like a rangefinder or night vision, but the binoculars are solidly made and have excellent image quality, according to reviews. Features include a 379-foot field of view and very generous 19.3 mm eye relief. The binoculars are waterproof down to 16.4 feet. A 10x43 version (*Est. $1,800) is also available.
David Petzal, a columnist for Field & Stream magazine, picks the Minox APO HG as the best binoculars of 2010. He appreciates that they feel light and don't take up too much room, even though they are full size. "Their optical opulence is blindingly wonderful," he writes. Outside magazine also highlights the Minox APO HG in its buyer's guide, saying the binoculars are sturdy and durable; image quality is also good. "The powerful APOs deliver great edge-to-edge color quality in a tough but lightweight magnesium package," Hank Mundy writes. However, all reviewers acknowledge that these binoculars are a hefty investment.