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Best Compact Binoculars

By: Lisa Maloney on June 07, 2017

The best compact binoculars

If you want a pair of binoculars for travel or that'll fit easily into your purse or shirt pocket, the Nikon ProStaff 8x25 (Est. $130) (also available in 10x25 and 12x25) offers a great range of features in this size and price range, including an impressive 330-ft field of view at 1,000 yards, multicoated optics, plus waterproof rubber armor and a nitrogen-purged interior that all do a great job of fighting fog, even in a full rain.

Users particularly love the Nikon ProStaff. They say it delivers crisp, clear images, and the 15.5 mm eye relief and twist-out eyepieces work well for eyeglass wearers. With that said, these aren't the most durable binoculars out there -- users say a slight jolt can knock them out of alignment -- and, although the 3.1mm exit pupil is more than adequate for day use, it can't provide truly bright images in low light conditions. The 12.5-ounce weight is easy to manage, although we found a few comments that these binoculars are a little too large to fit in some pockets.

That might sound like a whole lot of negatives, but the truth is that the Nikon ProStaff binoculars are an excellent value; you just have to be very careful with them. If you do treat them gently, you can get crystal-clear images worthy of much more expensive binoculars at a fraction of the price. As one user notes, "You can pay a lot more, but why?" The full-size versions of the Nikon ProStaff, available in a variety of magnifications including 8x42 and 10x42, are also quite popular with users.

Another excellent compact binocular that's worthy of your hard-earned dollars is the Vortex Diamondback 8x28 (Est. $140), a smaller version of our top pick for value binoculars. The Diamondback 8x28 earns a "Best Buy" designation after extensive hands-on testing from OutdoorGearLab.com, where the editors laud them for the clear, crisp visuals provided by fully multicoated optics and a dielectric-coated roof prism.

These compact binoculars have similar field of view to the Nikon ProStaff -- 332 feet at 1,000 yards -- with slightly better low-light performance and a greater eye relief of 18 mm, which eyeglass wearers may appreciate. The Diamondback 8x28 is also waterproof, with rubberized armor and an argon-purged interior to prevent fogging. However, like most compact binoculars, we find some user concerns about durability.

For dedicated birdwatchers, the Pentax U-Series Papilio II 8.5x21 (Est. $140) give the best of both worlds, offering plenty of magnification to watch far-off birds but also letting you focus to within 9.24 inches -- not feet, but inches -- without losing your field of view. It essentially acts as both binoculars and a long-range microscope, while still being small and light enough (about 10.5 ounces) to drop into your pocket and forget about it until an interesting bird or insect flies by. Papilio is Latin for "butterfly," and the most common reviewer comment of all is that these binoculars can focus narrowly enough to count the feathery scales on a butterfly's wings.

Users say the Papilio II's optics are exceptional for the price, with fully multicoated lenses, smooth focusing and aspherical lens elements that help ensure edge-to-edge sharpness. The well-designed, rubberized body feels good in your hand. That said, you give up a few points to get that amazing near- and far-focus ability: the exit pupil of just better than 2 mm is only at its best during daytime use, and the field of view -- 287.1 feet at 1,000 yards -- is adequate for a compact binocular but not great. Unless you wear eyeglasses very close to your eyes, the 9.5 mm eye relief might not be adequate for use with glasses. That doesn't mean you can't use the Papilio II, but you'll be losing some field of view. Still, the Pentax Papilio II is unmatched in its versatility for viewing subjects both far off and nearby.

The best binoculars for children

Although any of the models we just reviewed would be great for children, both the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology recommend the midsize Opticron Oregon 4 LE WP 8x32 (Est. $135) as the best choice for kids. They say it's an excellent value that's sized perfectly for smaller hands, with a wide focus wheel that's easy for youngsters to handle.

That said, the optics performance from these binoculars is fully grown up. Users say the images are stunningly clear, crisp and bright right out to the edge of the remarkably wide field of view (423 feet at 1,000 yards), and an exit pupil of 4 mm performs pretty well in low light conditions. The Opticron Oregon has enough heft (17.5 ounces) that they feel steady and stable in your hand, while still being light enough for a child to carry. Eye relief of 15 mm is more than enough to accommodate eyeglasses, and the twist-adjust eyepieces move in or out as needed.

Overall, these binoculars offer an exceptional value for the price, and they're waterproof and nitrogen-purged to resist fogging; the included rain guard, neck strap and rubber objective lens covers just increase its value. If you want similar optics for yourself, the Opticron Oregon 4 LE WP is also available in full-size 8x42, 10x42 and even 10x50 models; the 8x42 version draws praise from reviewers with the Audubon Society, who like its clarity and color rendition, sturdy feel and rubber armoring.

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Binoculars buying guide

What every best Binoculars has:

  • A magnification of 8x to 10x.
  • A wide field of view.
  • An exit pupil of at least 2 mm for day use, 5 mm or more for low light.

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