How to choose the best binoculars

Lynn Wright / 24 May 2016

Buy the best binoculars for you with our guide to balancing binocular features, weight, cost and purpose – from sports binoculars to wildlife binoculars.

If you plan lots of outdoor activities – from sailing to hiking to watching sports – then a set of binoculars is a must. But, choosing the right binoculars can be tricky. Think carefully about when, where and how you plan to use the binoculars in order to select the perfect combination of features, and avoid paying extra for binocular features you don’t need.

Ideally, always try binoculars before you buy, making sure their weight, size and how comfortable they are to use is right for you.

For a full list of the most important binoculars features to consider, see Best binoculars features explained.

Binocular types and price

There are two types of binoculars: roof prism and porro prism designs.

Roof prism binoculars create a modern ‘H’ shape binocular, resulting in a more compact, lightweight binocular, although these tend to be more expensive.

Porro prism binoculars are the traditional ‘W’ shape, with the lenses and eyepieces offset. They result in a wider field of view and tend to be less expensive.

Binocular brands

There are lots of binocular brands, and it’s a good idea to avoid little-known binocular brands or non-optical specialist brands.

Brands such as Nikon, Zeiss, Pentax and Leica are good brands to choose from, and check out our five best binoculars to buy for some initial recommendations.

Binocular use

Different types of binoculars suit different types of activities, so deciding how you’ll mainly use your binoculars can help you choose the right set for you.

  • Casual use binoculars Ideal for watching sports, carrying on hikes or general outdoor use, a general set of binoculars should be compact, easy to carry and store in a jacket pocket and have a wide field of view so you can keep track of the action. Avoid massive magnification – a 10x magnification should be plenty – and look for extras such as a neck strap.
  • Wildlife binoculars If you’re a bird watcher or want to get closer to nature, binoculars are essential. Look for at least an 8x magnification with a large objective of 42mm (8x42 binoculars). As you step up magnification, you’ll need to increase the objective measurement as well. A 12x50mm is a good choice – anything larger will demand a tripod.
  • Theatre and show binoculars While somewhat out of fashion, if you’re a long way from the stage a discreet set of binoculars are useful. Look for roof prism binoculars with the ‘H’ shape and that are small enough to stow in an evening bag. You won’t need more tha`n 5x zoom and a 30mm objective (5x30 binoculars).
  • Watersports binoculars If you’re planning on sailing or boating, avoid higher magnifications and ensure double coating and rubber casing. Binoculars should be waterproof. Opt for a large objective lens of at least 42mm, with magnification limited to 7x (7x42 binoculars).
  • Travel binoculars For binoculars that you’ll mainly use on holiday or while touring, choose a lightweight pair that are easy to carry and with rugged rubber armour. Choose a set with around a 8x magnification and as large an objective lens as possible while still being portable. As a bonus, look for an included pouch or carry case, ideally with belt loop.

Ready to choose the perfect pair of binoculars for you, read our guide to the Five best binoculars.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.