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.
Outdoor Gear Lab researched almost 100 binocular models, then subjected a dozen of them 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.
The author, a professional ornithologist, spends more than 100 hours field-testing 17 pairs of binoculars against his own $2,500 Leica Ultravids, easily considered the gold standard for high-end binoculars. The testing includes a research trip to the rainforests of southern Mexico. The extensive, in-depth analysis of the test results includes picks for best overall, a runner-up, and budget and upgrade picks.
Testers with OutdoorLife.com subject 17 full- and mid-size binoculars to hands on testing, looking for the best combination of good optics at a reasonable cost. The models evaluated range from $300 to $1,000, and many are sold direct to the consumer over the Internet instead of through retailers. Each model receives a comparative score out of 100, along with a couple paragraphs describing their performance.
In this recent article, the author consults with hardcore whitetail deer hunter and University of Rochester professor of optics, James Zavislan. Together, they put 10 full-size binoculars, all priced under $1,000, through rigorous testing. Each model gets a comparative score out of 100, a short list of specs, and a comprehensive paragraph that details the pros and cons of its features and performance. Elsewhere on the site, another author tests four pairs of binoculars, each less than $100, and reports back on their performance.
In this reprinted article from the July 2016 issue of Bird Watcher's Digest, the authors compared thirteen different 8x42 binoculars that cost $200 to $300, searching for the best performance in this affordable price range. Each of the models considered has desirable features including roof prisms, rubberized armoring, twist-out eyecups, weatherproof and fog-proofing. Each model receives a comparative score out of 10 and comments on how it was received by the testers.
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 and is still relevant, although we can't rank it any higher because of its age.
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. Several picks are listed for each pricing category, ranging from great buys in the sub-$200 range to pro-level binoculars that cost well over $2,000.
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 almost two 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 Cabela's 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.