Binoculars: Ratings of Sources
Editors from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology employed more than 60 staff and local birdwatchers to evaluate more than 100 pairs of binoculars. They end up with 28 top picks in five price ranges. Each one receives comparative ratings for feel, clarity, eyeglass friendliness and overall quality, along with very brief comments about how they performed. The original review was published in Living Bird magazine.
Outdoor Gear Lab subjected a dozen binoculars to extensive hands-on field testing, rating them in categories including brightness, clarity, ease of adjustment and field of view. Each model receives a side-by-side comparison of those category ratings, an overall comparative score, and an in-depth review that covers how well it performed in the field.
It's not clear whether these short reviews are based on hands-on testing or not, but the clear evaluation of features and performance -- including an extensive buying guide that explains exactly what to look for in binoculars for different situations -- are invaluable. One or two picks are listed for each category, mainly dictated by price range and audience, for example, eyeglass wearers or children.
The Porters list nine different compact binoculars, giving each a thorough, balanced review of its features and performance, including a roundup of the relative performance of different magnification powers within the same line. Although no comparative ratings are given, the Porters clearly know what they're talking about and their hands-on evaluations are very helpful.
Pyne explains that the less-expensive porro prisms inside cheap binoculars can sometimes be the equivalent of the roof prisms you'll find in more expensive binoculars. He then subjects four popular pairs of binoculars, each of which typically retails for less than $100, to hands-on testing and assigns comparative scores for sharpness and clarity, low-light performance, ergonomics and durability.
Cabelas.com is an especially good source of feedback on how well binoculars perform for hunters, although we found some comments from birders here, too. They offer several hundred models of binoculars, although reviews are collected together for different magnifications within the same lines, and they also republish some reviews from some manufacturer websites. Still, the reviews -- with many models having at least a dozen and some having hundreds -- are useful for judging the binoculars' real-world performance under rough handling.
As always, Amazon.com offers a wealth of user reviews from customers with a wide variety of backgrounds. Like CabelaÕs they offer several hundred brands, models and magnifications of binoculars and some draw hundreds of user reviews. However, the same model can be listed multiple times from different sellers, with each listing receiving its own separate reviews; this can be confusing.
Eagle Optics focuses exclusively on binoculars, spotting scopes, and their accessories. Customer reviews posted here are especially helpful because the authors tend to be deeply involved in their hobby -- usually birding, occasionally hunting -- so they're well educated and fairly discriminating when it comes to evaluating the binoculars' real-world performance. Noteworthy models receive at least 20 reviews and an average rating of better than 4.5 stars.