For general use, the Redfield Rebel 10x42 (*Est. $150) binoculars earn several recommendations. These roof-prism binoculars have multi-coated lenses, an aluminum body and adjustable eyecups to better accommodate users with glasses. The Rebel binoculars, which are waterproof and fogproof, have a field of view of 341 feet (see our What to Look For page for an explanation of what this means) and weigh just over 26 ounces. Other features include 4 mm exit pupil and 16.3 mm eye relief (more on those on our What to Look For page). In addition to a limited lifetime warranty, the Redfield binoculars come with a lens cover, soft carrying case and neoprene neck strap.
Outside magazine picks the Redfield Rebel 10x42 as one of the best binoculars of the year. High points include an ergonomic, easy-to-hold design and a value price tag. Editors test the binoculars in both steamy hot weather and frigid temperatures, and the Redfield Rebel binoculars resist fogging in both conditions. The sturdy case also impresses. "An armored aluminum body provided unmatched durability -- part of the reason they come with such a great limited lifetime warranty," the editors write. In its extensive test of binoculars, Outdoor Life magazine gives the 8x32 version of the Redfield Rebel (*Est. $120) a Great Buy rating. These binoculars have the same aluminum design but sport a smaller shape and a 389-foot field of view. Editors praise the value and say the Rebel has a "generous exit pupil and a good image for the price." On the downside, the binoculars are rather heavy (17.1 ounces for the 8x32 version) and they have few frills.
The Brunton Lite-Tech 10x32 (*Est. $140) has a slightly larger magnification than the Redfield Rebel 8x32, while still maintaining a 32 mm objective lens. In addition to a 305-foot field of view, the Brunton Lite-Tech binoculars have 15 mm eye relief and 3.2 mm exit pupil. The binoculars are waterproof and come with a one-year warranty.
Backpacker magazine picks the Brunton Lite-Tech binoculars as its favorite in the mid-size category. Unlike many mid-size binoculars, which come with a 25 mm objective lens, the Brunton Lite-Tech 10x32 has a larger lens that translates into brighter, crisper images. Low-light viewing is also good. "Bigger lenses also increase this scope's relative brightness (the amount of light the binocular can gather) to 10.25, which enhances viewing in dim and overcast conditions," the editors write.
If you can afford to spend a little more, the Pentax DCF CS 8x42 (*Est. $280) full-size binoculars offer a good combination of value and optical quality. High points include a waterproof and fogproof design (submersible up to 1 meter), multi-coated optics and adjustable eyecups. The Pentax DCF CS 8x42 has a 393-foot field of view, and the eye relief is a very generous 21 mm.
In Outdoor Life magazine's excellent comparative test of binoculars, the Pentax DCF CS 8x42 scores the Great Buy award. Testers are impressed with the binoculars' resolution -- the Pentax binoculars score a B grade for image quality -- and the large eyecups are comfortable. "This big, beefy binocular continues Pentax's long legacy of crisp optics in an affordable package," the editors write. Unfortunately, the Pentax DCF CS 8x42 falls short of more expensive binoculars in the magazine's low-light test.
Many people may not consider the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x42 (*Est. $300) a budget choice, but experts say these binoculars are a great value. The binoculars have a 340-foot field of view, 15.2 mm eye relief, 4.2 mm exit pupil, and a waterproof and fogproof design. Bushnell covers the Legend Ultra HD binoculars with a limited lifetime warranty, and they come with a carrying case, neck strap, lens cloth and a harness to keep the binoculars from bouncing against your chest. The binoculars come in black or a camouflage pattern.
Outside magazine says the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD binoculars are some of the best of the year, thanks to their durable and comfortable design. The field of view is generous compared to other binoculars with 10x magnification, and optical quality is also good. "The glasses are outfitted with Bushnell's ED Prime Glass, which offers impeccable light transmission and color resolution, allowing them to excel in low-light conditions," Ryan Krogh writes. The Bushnell Legend Ultra HD also score highly in Outdoor Life magazine's binocular test, where the binoculars earn a 3-star rating (out of 4). Editors say the design and clear optics make these binoculars seem more expensive than they are. "The redesigned binocular boasts wavelength-correcting fluorite glass, a premium on an optic at this price," they write. However, the eye relief isn't as long as it could be, especially for binoculars of this size.
The few user reviews are also positive. Nearly 10 reviewers give the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD binoculars a high rating at user-review site Buzzillions.com. There is a wide consensus that these binoculars are a great value. "These have a super wide field of view, crystal clear and bright even in very low light conditions. They compare to binoculars at two or three times the cost," one reviewer writes. We did see one complaint that the focus dial is too stiff.
If you want a small, lightweight pair of binoculars that won't break the bank, reviewers recommend the Nikon Travelite series. The newest model in this series is the Nikon Travelite VI 10x25 (*Est. $100) -- it was just released in 2010 and is identified by the model number 7278. These compact porro-prism binoculars weigh 9.5 ounces and have a 262-foot field of view. The carbon-fiber body is rubberized for better grip, and the diopter is adjustable via a click-type ring. Other features include 2.5 mm exit pupil and 11.1 mm eye relief. Most reviewers test the predecessor to the Nikon Travelite VI 10x25, the Nikon Travelite V 10x25 (*Est. $90). This model is still available at some online retailers, but it is being replaced by the VI series. The two binoculars are nearly identical, although there were a few changes made to the VI's exterior to make it more ergonomic and comfortable to hold, according to Nikon. The internal optics remain the same.
Outdoor Life magazine gives the Nikon Travelite V 10x25 a 3-star rating (out of 4). In their size category, the Nikon Travelite binoculars achieve the third-best score for optical quality -- beating out binoculars that cost hundreds more. Overall, Outdoor Life editors recommend the budget binoculars for vacationing and general use. Backpacker magazine agrees, giving the Nikon Travelite V 10x25 a Best Buy rating. Testers for the magazine are impressed with the bright images and lightweight design. "They didn't bounce against my chest like heavier models," one Backpacker tester writes. However, Outdoor Life notes that the short exit pupil contributes to eye fatigue. Backpacker magazine also cautions that those with large hands might find the binoculars too small to grip comfortably. The Nikon Travelite V 10x25 binoculars are not waterproof.
The REI XR 10x25 binoculars (*Est. $85) are another compact pair with a budget price tag. Sold exclusively at REI.com, the XR 10x25 roof-prism binoculars are waterproof and have a rubberized aluminum body. The binoculars weigh 14 ounces and have a 289-foot field of view. The 18 mm eye relief is slightly longer than most other budget compact binoculars, which helps to reduce eyestrain. The REI XR 10x25 binoculars come with a neck strap, cleaning cloth and carrying case.
Backpacker magazine recommends the REI XR 10x25 for users on a budget, calling them a real bargain. While they aren't the lightest and lack the sharp detail that comes with more expensive compact binoculars, the REI XR 10x25 have good optical quality for the price. "These value-priced glasses offer the same moisture-blocking safeguards and light-efficient prisms as more expensive models," the editors write. Only two users review the REI XR 10x25 at REI.com, and opinions are mixed. One user praises the compact design and light weight, but the other reviewer reports that the binoculars are poorly constructed -- after less than a week of use, the eyecup fell off.
Experts say you should spend at least $50 on binoculars; any less and you're likely to get subpar optical quality and questionable durability. If you only have $50 to spend, reviews point to the Olympus Outback 8x21 RC1 (*Est. $50). These compact binoculars have roof prisms and multi-coated lenses. Since they're so inexpensive, the exit pupil and eye relief are not as generous as pricier binoculars -- only 2.6 mm and 11 mm, respectively.
The Olympus Outback 8x21 RC1 binoculars score a recommendation from one independent testing organization, and they're one of the top-rated binoculars on Amazon.com. More than 70 reviewers give the Olympus binoculars a high overall rating of 4.5 stars (out of 5). Users rave about the binoculars' small design, which makes them lightweight and easy to carry or stow in a pocket or purse. The optical quality is good for the price, reviews say. "Optics are very clear, crisp (light capture is outstanding) and lack any noticeable peripheral distortion," one owner writes.
However, several reviewers note that the binoculars require constant adjustments to maintain focus, and they are not waterproof (so keep them out of the rain).
Users at Amazon.com like the cheap Bushnell PowerView 8x21 binoculars (*Est. $12) for their 10x magnification, the way they fold compactly and their 7-ounce weight. They focus only as close as 21 feet, but have a 378-foot field of view. The PowerView 8x21 binoculars don't have the best durability, optics or eyeglass friendliness, but they might be better than no binoculars at all. Nearly 85 reviewers at Amazon.com give them a 4.5-star rating, and even those who give them a lower rating say they're not bad for the price.
If you want a pair of budget binoculars specifically for bird-watching, see our section on the best birding binoculars.