Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon
Binoculars are an essential tool for birders, but with so many models on the market, it can be daunting to find the perfect pair. So we turned to professional ornithologists and dedicated birders. In August, attendees at the North American Ornithological Conference and members of the Brooklyn Bird Club sacrificed leisurely breakfasts, lunch breaks, and cocktail hours to test more than 30 pairs of binoculars from 11 companies under a range of conditions.
Our small army of volunteers rated the models on a 1 to 5 scale for a variety of factors, including clarity, brightness, focus response, and eye relief. (For a fuller explanation of our methods, see the below story on how we made our rankings.) For the sake of consistency, we reviewed 8x32 (pronounced “eight by thirty-two”) or 8x42 optics. Most birders prefer 7- or 8-power binoculars because they’re bright and have a wide field of view, making it easier to find birds and to follow them in flight. Optics with objective lenses—the glass at the fat end of the tube—larger than 42 mm are heavier, and those smaller than 30 mm, while lightweight, aren’t bright enough to show detail in poor light.
One note about price: The amount listed is the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, but many of these models can be purchased for less in stores and from online retailers. While choosing a pair of binoculars ultimately comes down to personal preference, our top picks in each price category all deliver crisp, colorful images—allowing you to focus on the birds.