binoculars means the difference between seeing a little gray bird and recognizing a chickadee, applauding a home run and seeing an epic catch, or realizing that a 10-point deer is actually a female standing in front of dead branches.
Whether you’re exploring the area, birdwatching in your backyard, or buying Fenway memberships, binoculars bring the world closer, making it crisp and clear far beyond what your eye can see. To find the right binoculars, you first need to figure out what you’re going to use them for. If you just want to birdwatch at the backyard feeder and maybe get past the limitations of cheap ballpark seats, you don’t have to spend a fortune. On the other hand, if you’re planning on catching birds in different locations, or planning a big hunt in unfamiliar territory, it’s often worth paying the extra money to get something more powerful.
Be sure to check out our other guides, including Best Gear to Make Your Yard More Fun, Best Hiking Gear, and How a Bird Feeder Can Give You Joy.
February 2023 Update: We’ve highlighted Nikon’s new Prostaff models, added links to Leica Noctivid binoculars, and updated models, pricing, and availability.
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What do model numbers mean?
Binoculars are usually listed with two numbers; for example, Nikon Monarch M5 are 8×42.
The number 8 means the magnification power.. Objects seen through these binoculars will be eight times larger than when viewed with the naked eye. Beginners should stick with 6x or 8x. They have enough power to let you see things clearly, but they don’t magnify so much that you have a hard time finding what you want to see or have trouble tracking fast moving objects (although all binoculars take some practice).
42 is the size of the front lens in millimeters.. The larger the lens, the more light reaches your eye. This means the image will be bigger, brighter and sharper. A pair of 8×42 binoculars is often significantly brighter and provides a better view than a pair of 8×32 binoculars, even if both provide the same magnification. But the bigger you get, the more glass they will use, so they will weigh more. The difference in weight between a pair of 8×32 and 10×42 binoculars is significant if you carry them all day. We suggest sticking to the 26-50 range. Our best bet is somewhere in the middle, at 8×42, which is generally considered optimal for most people.
The Nikon Monarch 5 binoculars were my first “real” binoculars. Years later, their upgraded M5 is my top choice for most people who are just starting out. They offer great bang for your buck and the 8×42 magnification is the most versatile. And not only me. These are some of the most common binoculars I see when I’m birdwatching.
The Monarch M5s strikes an excellent balance between optical power, quality and price. The glass in them provides a nice, bright look with very little chromatic aberration (the distortion or fringing you sometimes see around objects in bright sunlight).