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Best bets for image quality

Five digital camera binoculars take top ranking in reviews, though none gets very enthusiastic owner reviews. The most satisfactory model depends on which features you value most. For example, the latest version of the Bushnell 8 x 30 Compact Instant Replay (*Est. $165) provides the best video capability, with an Instant Replay feature so you only save the bits you like. The Barska Point N View 8 x 32 (*Est. $240) and the Celestron VistaPix 8 x 32 (*Est. $145) have binoculars that gather more light for a brighter image in dim lighting conditions. The Meade CaptureView CV-6 (*Est. $200) is waterproof, and the MagPix SX3 (*est. $150) has the most powerful binoculars and is designed especially for bird-watchers.

If you want to take TV-quality 620-by-480 VGA movie clips, the best camera binoculars are the Bushnell Compact Instant Replay 8 x 30 (*Est. $165), which provides 5-megapixel resolution and has a color LCD screen. Based on comparison tests of four models, The New York Times review ranks an earlier 3-megapixel version of this camera binocular at the top. The 14.9-ounce Instant Replay 8 x 30 binoculars focus as close as 14 feet, but the camera can only focus as close as about 30 feet -- probably the main source of confusion, blurry pictures and negative reviews from some owners.

The Bushnell Compact Instant Replay 8x30 camera binoculars can take smaller 320-by-240 video clips as well as the 620-by-480 size, and you can adjust the frame rate 15 or 30 for either size. This is the only camera binocular model we found that offers this much flexibility in video -- shooting in 30 frames per second (fps) results in much smoother video. (You'll need an SD card to record more than 30-second clips, and you should turn off the LCD screen to save battery life after you've adjusted the camera settings.) Reasonably good eye relief (for eyeglass wearers) plus a remote shutter cable are other advantages of this model.

For instant-replay video capacity under wet conditions, reviews recommend the waterproof Meade CaptureView 8x30 CV-6 camera binoculars (*Est. $200), which have a 3.2-megapixel sensor especially designed to enhance photos in low-light situations. (The tradeoff for the waterproof design is that the LCD screen doesn't flip up.) The 320-by-240 videos can be up to 90 seconds long, with instant replay set at any of four settings, from five to 20 seconds. The camera can focus as close as 30 feet, and it has two focus settings instead of the single fixed focus most camera binoculars provide. We also found some complaints about poor battery life. However, the binoculars use BAK-4 prism glass for better light transmission and a sharper image -- better than the BAK-7 used on most camera binoculars.

The 3.1-megapixel Celestron VistaPix 8x32 (*Est. $145) has more light-gathering power than the other models discussed here, for brighter views at dawn and dusk (the times of day best for bird watching). Specifications for the binoculars vary according to the retailer, however, so it's not clear whether its optics are also superior. At one time it had BAK-4 prism glass with multicoated lenses, but some retailers now specify BAK-7 prisms with only fully coated lenses, and the Celestron site specifies BAK-4, multicoated. The camera can take 320-by-240 video at 15 fps for up to three minutes. The flip-up LCD screen lets you play back images and magnify them up to 32x to check their focus, but there's no instant-replay feature.

The 5-megapixel Barska Point N View 8x32 (*Est. $240) also gathers light better than most camera binoculars. This model gets reasonably good ratings from most owners reviewing it at Amazon.com, Binoculars.com and OpticsPlanet.com. In addition to the 8x optical magnification on the camera, you can use 4x digital zoom for a total magnification of 32x, and an SD card slot lets you take continuous video. Using digital zoom will degrade image quality, though.

The 3.1-megapixel MagPix 10x25 SX3 (*est. $150) is especially light at 9.6 ounces, and it was the 2005 Editor's Choice at American Photo magazine. The MagPix SX3 also gets good reviews at MacHome, Laptop magazine and Popular Science. When it was listed at Amazon.com, it got good reviews from owners there, too. MagPix worked with birding-binocular experts to develop a camera binocular that could catch birds in flight. The maximum shutter speed of 1/8,000 of a second is much faster than the maximum of 1/1,000 a second on the Bushnell Instant Replay camera binoculars, and the 10x magnification makes it easier to see distant birds. You can keep the camera on indefinitely while you're waiting for the right shot, important when looking for birds or wildlife. (The Bushnell turns off after five minutes of non-use, then takes a while to start again, which can result in missing a shot.)

None of these five camera binoculars is perfect by any means, and all have received their share of negative reviews from frustrated owners. However, they're currently the best options on the market, and each has a particular advantage. The Bushnell 8x30 Compact Instant Replay is a well-balanced, midpriced camera binocular with the best video capabilities. The MagPix SX3 is a lightweight bargain for action shots outdoors, while the Meade CV-6 is weatherproof. The Celstron VistaPix 8x32 has a flip-up LCD with excellent magnification for replay, plus binoculars with brighter images.

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Meade Captureview 8x30 3.2 Megapixel Waterproof Digital Camera Binocular
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $87.99
Average Customer Review:  
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Bushnell Instant Replay 8x30 Roof Prism Binocular with 5MP Digital Still Camera
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $311.95   
Average Customer Review:  
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Celestron VistaPix 8x32 3.1 Megapixel Binocular/Digital Camera w/LCD (Champagne Gold)
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $271.95   
Average Customer Review:  
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BARSKA Point 'N View 5.0MP 8x32mm Binocular
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $500.00   
Average Customer Review:  

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