Bright images, accurate color, and good resolution are characteristics of all of the high scorers in this category.
This group was our largest, putting 13 pairs of binoculars head-to-head. It was also highly competitive. Three products missed inclusion in the top five by less than one-tenth of a point—such a narrow margin that we felt it fitting to mention them by name here: Athlon Talos 8x42 ($170); Meopta Optika HD 8x42 ($290); and Celestron TrailSeeker 8x42 ($260).
Once you've scanned these steals, check out the top picks for five other price categories in our complete Audubon Guide to Binoculars.
Celestron TrailSeeker ED 8x42
The Takeaway: Reviewers touted the TrailSeeker ED’s fantastic light-gathering capabilities, color accuracy, and sharpness. They also noted minimal aberration, or blurring of the image, and only at the very edge of the field of vision.
More specs: 23.5 oz; 426 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof, limited lifetime warranty
Nikon Monarch 5 8x42
The Takeaway: These binoculars uphold the Monarch family tradition with their all-around comfortable feel and notably sharp image. In fact, they earned the highest score for clarity among all of the contenders in this category. Testers awarded them fewer points when it came to close-focus capacity and eye relief.
More specs: 20.8 oz; 330 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; limited lifetime warranty
Vortex Diamondback HD 8x42
The Takeaway: The Diamondbacks and the Nikon Prostaff 7Ss earned the exact same score. They were neck-in-neck for clarity and brightness, but testers found the Diamondbacks to produce truer colors and be better when it came to focusing on objects very close by. They were split on the textured surface of the barrels: Some found it distracting, while others said it offered a firmer grip.
More specs: 21.8 oz; 393 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; unlimited lifetime warranty
Nikon Prostaff 7S 8x42
The Takeaway: While these binoculars rivaled the Vortex Diamdbacks in clarity and brightness, reviewers awarded the Prostaff 7Ss higher scores for eye relief and overall feel, especially in terms of balance and comfort in hands.
More specs: 22.9 oz; 357 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; limited lifetime warranty
Celestron Nature DX 8x42 ED
The Takeaway: These binoculars may be nearly half the price of the top-scoring products in this category, but they performed nearly as well as the leaders—especially optically, delivering sharp, bright images with nice color.
More specs: 24.9 oz; 393 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; limited lifetime warranty