Birder’s Guide to the Best Binoculars for Bird Watching


Best Binoculars For Bird Watching

More and more people spend their time watching birds as a form of recreation. Most of them are the typical observers (called bird watchers), while others are serious bird pursuers (called birders). Experiencing the presence of birds in their natural habitat is what makes this a rewarding hobby. Are you a bird enthusiast, too?

At first, catching a flash of their hues may seem enough for you. Soon enough, as it becomes a regular hobby, you may want to see the birds in more detail, identify their species, study their behavior, monitor their migration, and spot them even from afar. If these are your immediate goals, then you will need the best binoculars for bird watching.

It’s probably the only aspect of this past time that can be a bit expensive, though it does not need to cost excessively. Choosing the best binoculars for bird watching does entail careful consideration. In this article, we will discuss the essential aspects of the equipment, not for other purposes or hobbies, but mainly for bird watching.

Our Top Pick Binocular for Bird Watching

Nikon 7294 Monarch ATB 8×42 Binocular

Nikon 7294 Monarch ATB 8x42 Binocular are the best binoculars for birding

Quality and Built to Lasttop pick binoculars for birding

Understanding the Numbers in Binoculars

Apart from the brand and model code in the product name of binoculars, you will also find a pair of numbers separated by the letter X. The manufacturers did not randomly pick these numbers. Instead, these numbers tell you two important binocular properties—power and aperture size.

To illustrate this, let’s take our top pick, Nikon 7294 Monarch ATB 8×42. In the paired number “8×42”, the first number (8) represents power or magnification, while the second number (42) represents the diameter of the aperture or objective lens.

binoculars for bird watching


When referring to binoculars, we use the terms “power” and “magnification” interchangeably. It is the number before “X”. It tells you how many times the object will appear nearer to the person using the binoculars than if it were viewed with the naked eye.

Thus, the Nikon 7294 Monarch ATB 8×42 binoculars will make an object appear 8 times closer than how it appears when viewed without binoculars. Understandably, you’d want the highest magnification to ensure that you get the best binoculars for bird watching, right? Wrong!

The object should appear bigger or closer, but up to a certain degree only. You don’t want it filling the lens, to the point that it affects the field of view or FOV. We will discuss FOV more deeply in the next few sections. Meantime, suffice it to say that magnification that’s too high will limit your FOV, which is not good for locating moving subjects, such as birds. Highly-powered binoculars also magnify slight movements, which makes observing birds all the more difficult.

The ideal magnification for bird-finders is within the range of 7-10. For distance birding, a magnification of 9 or 10 will be ideal, but expect the field of view to be narrower and the image to be darker than in 7-8. Magnifications higher than this range would only be more expensive and unnecessary for bird viewing. The 7-10 range can already amplify details adequately, without limiting field of view or jarring images with slight movements.


The number after “X” represents the diameter of the aperture or objective lens measured in millimeters. Hence, the number “42” in Nikon 7294 Monarch ATB 8×42 means that the objective lens or aperture of this model is 42mm. The larger an aperture, the more efficient is its light-gathering capacity. Binoculars with an aperture of 42mm or larger are considered “full size”, those between 32mm and 42mm are midsized, and those smaller than 32mm are called compact.

Full size and most midsized binoculars provide clear images even under low light conditions. Understandably, bigger lenses would mean bigger housing and heavier binoculars in general. If you plan on observing birds in locations that involve a lot of hiking and traveling, choose lenses close to the 32-42 range. You would want something that’s not too heavy to hold for long viewing periods, which is what bird watching typically entails.

Learning What the Specs Mean

Binocular Basics for Bird Watching

Aside from the numbers that you see up front in every model, you also need to read the binoculars’ specifications. You will find this information in the product description, label, or user manual.

Field of View

The Field of View or FOV is the span or width of what you see through the lens. The Nikon 7294 Monarch ATB 8×42 has an FOV of 330 feet at 1000 yards. It means that if you sight an object 1000 yards away, the view through the lens would have a span of approximately 330 feet from left to right.

So if you center the scope on the object that you’re interested in, you will have a good view of the bigger picture including the trees in the surroundings. In the example, if you center on the bird that would now look 8x bigger, you’d still get to see the forest backdrop spanning about 330 feet from one end to the other.

With higher magnification, say a 12, you would see a bigger bird but fewer trees. That’s fine, of course, until the bird flies to another tree. You would then have to take the binoculars away to see where it flew. An FOV of around 300 ft at 1000 yards would be great for a hobby that involves locating birds and following their flight.

Eye relief

Do you know what you need in a pair of bird watching binoculars?

The eye relief is the distance from the outermost surface of the binocular’s eyepiece to the observer’s eyes. It is measured in millimeters. Within this distance, the observer will have optimum field of view. Beyond it, the observer will experience shorter FOV.

For birders who wear eyeglasses, their eyes will be farther to the lens due to the eyeglasses taking up some width. Thus, the eye relief should be at least 15mm to accommodate eyeglasses. People who are farsighted or nearsighted may take off their glasses when looking through binoculars. For them, short eye relief should not be a big issue. People with astigmatism, though, would need to wear their glasses when using binoculars. They will need binoculars with long eye relief.

Most modern binoculars have substantial eye relief of 19.6mm, such as our top pick for the best binoculars for bird watching.

Exit pupil diameter

The diameter of the exit pupil determines the brightness of the view field. If the exit pupil is large, the images you get will be bright even in low-light conditions. Here’s an important thing to remember:

For two binoculars with the same magnification but different aperture, the one with the bigger aperture will have better light-gathering property.

Let’s illustrate what this statement means. The exit pupil of an 8×42 binoculars is 5.3mm. In comparison, a 10×42 has an exit pupil of only 4.2mm. Therefore, the 10×42 binocular has a lower light-gathering ability. The exit pupil is typically included in the specs or product description. If it’s not, you can simply divide the aperture diameter by the magnification. Thus:

  • Exit pupil of 8×42 binoculars: 42 divided by 8 = 5.3mm
  • Exit pupil of 10×42 binoculars: 42 divided by 10 = 4.2mm

An exit pupil diameter of 7mm or more will produce brighter images compared to those less than 7mm. The reason for this is that the human pupil increases in diameter to up to 7mm in dark surroundings. Thus, binoculars with exit pupil closer in diameter to the dilated human pupil will result to brighter images.

In birding, however, you will not need binoculars with very large exit pupil diameters because you will mostly observe birds during the day. An exit pupil of 4mm would work fine for birding purposes.

Prism type

One way to classify binoculars is by their prism type—either Porro prism or roof prism. Prisms are a part of the intricate optical system inside the binoculars that make it possible to increase the magnification without increasing the length of the binoculars. If you have shopped for binoculars before, you must have noticed two general designs:

  1. Porro prism – the eyepiece (that glass piece where you look into) is offset or placed at an angle from the objective lens (the glass piece that you point towards the object). The old binoculars with skewed tubes, like they flare from the eyepiece towards the front, are Porro types. They have the following characteristics:
  • Good image quality and low light loss
  • Best binoculars for the money
  • Generally cheaper than roof types of the same quality
  • Can be heavy and unwieldy due to the offsetting in its cylinders
  • Difficult to weatherproof
  • Sensitive to impact


  1. Roof (or Dach) prism – the eyepiece and the objective lens are aligned along two straight cylindrical tubes. Just to make a note, our top pick, Nikon 7294 Monarch ATB 8×42, is a roof-prism type. With aligned eyepiece and aperture, the resulting shape is sleeker and smaller than the Porro type. Most modern binoculars are of this type. The traditional type, though, has never left the market nor lost its demand. The characteristics of roof-prism types are:
  • Have more complex optics system that give better quality than Porro-prism type but more expensive
  • The budget-type models tend to have low-quality and dark pictures
  • Compact, lightweight, and easy to handle
  • Most models are weatherproofed
  • Tough, ideal for rugged environment

Close focus distance

top pick Bird Watching Binoculars

There’s no limit to how far you can focus your binoculars on. The limit lies on how near you can use it to focus on an object. That limit is called the close focus distance. Meaning, you will not be able to focus on an object that’s nearer than the close focus distance of your binoculars.

If you’ve used a cheap pair of binoculars before, you would know how tricky it is to focus on a bird 20 feet away. In short, to get the focus you like, you’d need to walk back a few feet. The best binoculars for bird watching must have a close focus distance of 10 feet or less. Our top pick has a close focus distance of 8.2 ft.


The best kind of birding involves observing birds in their natural habitat. That’s the reason why birding, nature, and wildlife go together. It’s also the reason why the best binoculars for bird watching should be tough, waterproof, and fog-proof.

The housing has to be solid and durable, not flimsy. It must be made of high-strength material to be able to protect the complex optical system inside from impact. One made of magnesium would be best but would also carry a hefty price. Cheaper options are aluminium alloy and polycarbonate.

Rain and water come within the territory of birding, so choose waterproof binoculars. Because they’re sealed, they do not only protect from moisture but also from dust and grit. Inspect for anti-fog features. Fogging occurs during changes from one extreme temperature to another. To prevent this, manufacturers use nitrogen or argon to eliminate water vapor formation.

Optical coating

No two binoculars, even with the same magnification and aperture, are created equal. Model A 8×42 will not necessarily produce the same image clarity as Model B 8×42. With all specs being equal, a difference in image quality or brightness would be attributable to the optical coating applied to each model.

Clarity depends so much on the light-gathering capacity of the lens in binoculars, but other factors can come in. As the objective lens gathers light and transmits it to the viewer’s eyes, the lens also reflects and loses some amount of light. By coating the lenses, manufacturers reduce reflective losses and improve light transmission.

Coating description for all binoculars

Lenses are often described in marketing terms as coated, multi-coated, and the like. This section will distinguish between the following coating descriptions. These terms are applicable for ALL binoculars.

  1. Coated – often designated by the symbol C, indicating that one or more air-to-glass surfaces are coated. Depending on its design, a pair of binoculars may have up to 16 surfaces where light can be reflected and lost.
  2. Fully-coated – designated as FC, indicating that all air-to-glass surfaces are coated.
  3. Multi-coated – designated as MC, indicating that one or more air-to-glass surfaces have multi-layer coatings.
  4. Fully multi-coated – designated as FMC, indicating that all air-to-glass surfaces have multi-layer coatings.

For a bird enthusiast like you, a binocular with fully multi-coated optics should be your choice. This type of coating results to optimum light transmission and clarity.

Coating description for roof-prism binoculars

Best Birding Binoculars

Now you know how to tell the marks apart. But there’s more to know about optics coating, especially the roof-prism type. Different coatings can be applied on the lenses to achieve special characteristics. The terms below are applicable only for roof-prism binoculars.

  1. Anti-phase shifting coating – also called phase-coating, phase-correction or P-coating; a layer that prevents the light from going out of phase, which is what typically happens to the light transmitted in roof-type prisms; improves brightness and contrast
  2. Mirror coating – this is the typical coating used to reduce the amount of light lost as it passes through the prism. There are three kinds of mirror coatings used. They are:
  • Aluminium coating – light transmission through the prism is 87-93% efficient
  • Silver coating – light transmission through the prism is 95-98% efficient
  • Dielectric coating – light transmission through the prism is at least 99% efficient

Choosing the Best Binoculars for Bird Watching

Bird Watching Binoculars Things To Consider

With the working knowledge that you have about the basic technical aspects of binoculars, you may now start narrowing down your choices. You have to come up with a shortlist and then decide from there. Ask the following questions to sift through the infinite number of products proffered to you by marketers.

How much are you willing to spend?

By finding your price range, you effectively filter hundreds of products. That way, you don’t waste time assessing products you can’t afford or reading reviews about them.

How seriously into bird watching are you?

This will help you decide on the price filter to set.

If you’re a beginning enthusiast, find a pair that’s easy to use. It should not be too bulky or too expensive. Its magnification can be 7 or 8 to help you appreciate colors and details. At the same time, it will still be easy for you to follow birds in flight.

If birding is your favorite past time, or you are seriously pursuing this hobby, then find a heavy-duty, mid- to high-end model. It’s a good idea to invest in a decent pair of binoculars if you see yourself becoming a birder in the future.

Which specs are more important to you?

This is where you can significantly narrow down your choices. Filter by your desired magnification, aperture size, Porro or roof, or the other specs. By now, you should have effectively thinned down your choices to less than 20 models from the hundreds when you first searched for the best binoculars for bird watching.

What are your personal preferences?

After all is said and done, the decision boils down to what you personally prefer.

  • Do you prefer a compact, lightweight pair for extended viewing or something with more heft?
  • Should it be the traditional type with classic closed-bridge look? Or should it be sleek and modern with double open-hinge joining the barrels?
  • Which is more important to you—aesthetics or ergonomics? If you’re buying from a brick-and-mortar shop, feel the product for ease and balance. Check for the eyecups. Are they comfortable around your eyes? Do you prefer the type that folds up and down or the type that wraps around?
  • Check out your preferred brands. Not that big brands are popular, but because they’ve been there perfecting their craft for a long time. They’re more likely to stand by their name and warranty than cheap unknown makers. Of course, this is not to say that upstart manufacturers cannot be relied upon—far from it. It’s just that you will need to scratch the surface deeper to find them. Check out our top list for some of the best optics makers out there.
  • Talking about warranty, what does the manufacturer offer? Once you’ve shortlisted your top 5 choices, compare their warranties side by side. A good warranty often clinches a hard decision. You can’t put a price on the peace of mind that comes with a warranty-secured piece.

Top 4 Best Binoculars for Bird Watching

Hope we helped you through the first difficult stages of trimming down your choices. In case you’re curious about the models that made to our top list, here they are:

  1. Nikon 7294 Monarch ATB 8×42 Binocular

    Nikon 7294 Monarch ATB 8x42 Binocular are the best binoculars for birding

    our top pick binoculars for birding

It’s easier to appreciate a pair of binoculars once you have all important aspects boxed in. That’s what we did for Nikon 7294 Monarch ATB 8×42 and rest of our shortlist. Don’t forget to account for the little extras that a particular model offers. Conversely, don’t fall for marketing hypes that don’t add real value but only to the cost.

Specs/Features of Nikon 7294 Monarch ATB 8×42

Power/Magnification 8
Aperture/Objective diameter, mm 42
FOV, feet @ 1000 yards 330
Exit pupil diameter, mm 5.3
Eye relief, mm 19.6
Prism type, Porro or Roof Roof
Close focus distance, ft 8.2
Weatherproofing, specified Waterproof, fog-proof
Lens coating, C/FC/MC/FMC FMC
Prism coating (roof-prism only), specified Phase-correction; dielectric
Warranty 10-year limited warranty
Weight, kg 0.61
Others Multi-setting eyecups


Nikon 7294 8×42 possesses the specs that will be useful in bird watching. We have earlier highlighted these specs in our illustrations and examples. The 8 by 42 specs provide the best balance that birding binoculars can possibly have. It produces crisp images without compromising brightness and field of view.

You may want magnification of more than 8x, but locating birds and keeping shakiness in check would not be as easy. Nikon 7294 is sleek and compact, and could take a beating. With water seals and anti-fog features, it’s safe for weather changes and rugged conditions. It has a 10-year warranty, to boot, which is not something to sneeze at.

  1. Olympus Tracker 10×25 Porro Prism Binocular

Olympus Tracker 10x25 Porro Prism Binocular for birding

strong bird watching binoculars The Olympus Tracker 10×25 is a Porro-prism type of binoculars. Porro types are characterized by their high-contrast resolution, which far exceeds the quality of roof types in the same price range. The BAK-4 prism used this model is a superior high-density glass material. It has anti-reflective coating that produces sharp and bright images. Beginning bird hobbyists can’t go wrong with this piece.

Specs/Features of Olympus Tracker 10×25

Power/Magnification 10
Aperture/Objective diameter, mm 25
FOV, feet @ 1000 yards 300
Exit pupil diameter, mm 2.5
Eye relief, mm 15
Prism type, Porro or Roof Porro
Close focus distance, ft 8.2
Weatherproofing, specified Water-resistant only
Lens coating, C/FC/MC/FMC MC
Prism coating (roof-prism only), specified Not applicable
Warranty Lifetime USA warranty
Weight, kg 0.28
Others BAK-4 prism; Twist up/down eyecups


It’s not at all impossible to find a respectable pair of binoculars, even if you’re on a shoestring budget. Starting out can be difficult if you don’t know what to do. Remember, however, that the traditional Porro binoculars are proven to be the best binocular for the money. They have better quality (in terms of brightness and contrast) than roof types of the same price range.

What makes the Olympus Tracker 10×25 stand out from the typical Porro types, though, is its contemporary build. It is compact, stylish, and lightweight. Its center focusing knob makes it very user-friendly. This piece is not waterproof or fog-proof. As we have mentioned, Porro binoculars can be quite difficult to weatherproof. The Olympus Tracker is water resistant, though, so it’s not all that sensitive to occasional mist.

This pair of binoculars is perfect for lugging around wherever you go. If you want a piece that’s light for prolonged focusing or one that magnifies more than 8x, then look no farther than the Olympus Tracker 10×25.

  1. Steiner 10×26 Predator Pro Binocular

Steiner 10x26 Predator Pro Binocular for bird watching

 The Steiner 10×26 Predator Pro may initially strike you as a piece with specs similar to the Olympus Tracker 10×25. Make no mistake, though, because the two models are more different than they are alike. Predator Pro uses roof prism and is more ruggedly built than its Olympus competitor. Let’s see how this pair of binoculars can be useful to a birder like you.

Specs/Features of Steiner 10×26 Predator Pro

Power/Magnification 10
Aperture/Objective diameter, mm 26
FOV, feet @ 1000 yards 289
Exit pupil diameter, mm 2.6
Eye relief, mm 10
Prism type, Porro or Roof Roof
Close focus distance, ft Not stated
Weatherproofing, specified Waterproof; shockproof
Lens coating, C/FC/MC/FMC FMC
Prism coating (roof-prism only), specified CAT (proprietary) coating
Warranty 10-year limited warranty
Weight, kg 0.29
Others Aluminum housing; rubber armor; comes with rain guard and carry case


Steiner’s Predator Pro is designed for adventurous bird watchers. They can use it for combined hobbies of observing birds, hunting, and other outdoor activities. With its rugged form, it’s ready to tangle with nature. It has an easy-reach focus wheel. Since adjustment is a breeze, you will have more time studying your subject.

This pair of binoculars is ideal for both professional and amateur users alike. One point of concern is its short eye relief. If you wear spectacles—and need to wear it behind the binoculars—this will not be the right pair for you. For others with no such issues, the Steiner 10×26 Predator Pro binoculars will be a perfect all-weather companion for locating and studying birds.

  1. Nikon 7576 Monarch 5 8×42 Binocular

Nikon 7576 MONARCH 5 8x42 Birding Binocular

Here’s another topnotch pair of binoculars from Nikon, and it comes from the Monarch 5 series. Nikon 7576 Monarch 5 has two options available—the 8×42 and 10×42 models. Both models and all Monarch 5 products are built with Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass. This type of glass reduces chromatic aberrations and produces super-contrasting images.

Specs/Features of Nikon 7576 Monarch 5 8×42

Power/Magnification 8
Aperture/Objective diameter, mm 42
FOV, feet @ 1000 yards 330
Exit pupil diameter, mm 5.3
Eye relief, mm 19.5
Prism type, Porro or Roof Roof
Close focus distance, ft 7.8
Weatherproofing, specified Waterproof, fog-proof
Lens coating, C/FC/MC/FMC FMC
Prism coating (roof-prism only), specified Phase-correction; dielectric
Warranty Lifetime repair/ replacement
Weight, kg 0.59
Others ED glass; Rubber armor; turn-and-slide eyecups


All Monarch 5 models feature enhanced resolutions and true-color images. Nikon 7576 is tougher than its predecessors because of its armored build. It is lighter than Nikon 7294 by an ounce. So if you plan to go on trips and step up on your exploits, this sturdy model is more like it.

Nikon 7576’s turn-and-slide eyecups make it easier to customize eye relief. Its rubber armor adds to the grip especially in wet conditions. Overall, this is a spectacular pick. All its optics and build upgrades are well worth the difference in price.