Recommended Bird-worthy Binoculars
OK, maybe you don’t like reading binocular reviews. I hear some of you saying, “cut to the chase and tell me what to buy.” Sorry. I cannot tell you what to buy. I can only tell you what I like based on my personal experience. The following list includes binoculars which I have tested and used for birding. I have passed each of them around to a number of other birders (experts and novices) and asked for their reactions. Although this list is not exhaustive, I can assure you that all the binoculars mentioned here are bird-worthy, pleasing to use, and worth your hard-earned cash. As I test new models, I will add some to the list and delete others which may no longer stack up. So, check this blog from time-to-time for updates.
• Leupold Wind River Yosemite 6x30: This is an ideal first binocular – particularly for children. This is my number one pick for children. They have a very wide filed of view. They weigh almost nothing. They produce a surprisingly good image. Also great for ball games, etc.. Oh yes, they also work for adults. I have handed them out to children as young as 7 who had no trouble using them.
• Nikon Action 7x35: These offer a brighter, sharper image than you have a right to expect in this price range. The best feature is the very wide 489’ field of view, which makes it easy to find a bird and keep it in your binoculars. They are a bit clunky feeling but a great buy and a great first binocular.
• Audubon Raptor 8x42. A terrific poro binocular for about $120. Very bright. A wide field of view and a great buy. Several colleagues and I recently purchased and shipped a dozen pairs of these to Belize Audubon for use by their conservation and education program.
$600 - $120
• Audubon Equinox HP 8x42: ($250) A great value in a roof prism. Very good resolution. Very bright. Very light weight. Nicely designed. They feel great in your hands. These bins are an incredible bargain. Many of my colleagues at Audubon have bought these and love them.
• Swift HHS Audubon 8.5x44 (Roof Prism): Truly outstanding resolution and brightness for under $360. Very light weight and comfortable to hold. Great with eyeglasses. They aren’t quite as bright as some of the newer models listed here, but the resolution, flatness of the field, and lack of distortion keep them in strong contention in this price range.
• Vortex 6.5x32 or 8x42 Fury: I love these! They feel great in your hand. They are incredibly bright and offer a panoramic field of view. The great depth of focus means fewer adjustments to the focus wheel. At $300 for the 6.5x32 and $360 for the 8x42, these are my personal top picks in this category.
• Leupold Katmai 6x32: What can I say about these other than that I love them? They are so compact that you may feel somewhat apologetic about carrying them – like maybe you aren’t serious enough. But these are great! They are light weight. Compact. The image is brilliant and the field of view is panoramic. This is the perfect “never-leave-home- without-them” binocular. They sell for about $300.
• Zeiss Conquest: For less about $900 you get a binocular which is close to the alpha class binoculars listed below. Very sharp. Very bright. Outstanding focusing. Very comfortable. This is my top pick in this category.
Leaders Of The Pack – Cost no object:
There are really only two choices at this exalted level. I love them both and urge you to audition both before making a decision.
• Leica Ultravid HD 7x42 or 8x42:.
• Zeiss Victory FL 7x42 or 8x42:
These models represent the current state of the art -- a state that was unimaginable a short time ago. They are as good as it gets. You will live happily ever after with either one. Which should you buy? It depends. The images are slightly different. To my eyes, the Leica has a more natural color rendition and a slightly more pleasing image. The Zeiss seems slightly biased toward the cool end of the spectrum so blues really pop.
Comfort is a very important factor so make sure that whichever model you choose feels good to you. I prefer the feel of the Leicas, but many people tell me that they find the thumb rest annoying.
I much prefer the focus on the Zeiss. It is faster and more precise than the Leicas. The image seems to “snap” into focus with fewer movements of the focus wheel. The focus knob of the Leica is poorly designed -- having an untextured section in the middle where the knob separates for the diopter adjustment. The untextured portion is right where my index finger falls on the knob. The Zeiss focuses down to 6 feet (versus 10.8 feet for the Leicas) which makes Zeiss the default choice if you enjoy butterflies and dragonflies.
NOTE: I have spent about an hour comparing the newer Leica Ultravid HD with the older Leica Ultravid. I cannot detect a difference, so I will take Leica at their word that the HD has better low light performance and that it has better resolution than the non-HD version.
If you decide that you prefer the Leicas, I suggest that you try to get the non-HD version since many dealers are now offering them at an attractive discount.