What the top performers here deliver optically rivals the bins in the $2,000-plus category—at least until you go to the extremes, such as identifying raptors that are a mere speck in the sky. All four products feature high-density glass and premium lens coatings that deliver clear images with enhanced color and contrast.
Besides being less of a hit to the wallet, multiple reviewers noted another benefit of the binoculars in this category compared to the top-of-the-line models: In many instances, they weigh less. While a few ounces might not sound like a lot, after a full day in the field birders with smaller hands or less arm strength will notice the difference.
Once you've studied these stars, check out the top picks for five other price categories in our complete Audubon Guide to Binoculars.
Vortex Razor HD 8x42
The Takeaway: The Razor HDs edged out the competition with excellent light-gathering ability and outstanding ease of focus, brightness, and color rendition (the ability to produce true hues). Light yet sturdy, and well balanced in the hand.
More specs: 24.2 oz; 388 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; unlimited lifetime warranty
Kowa Genesis XD 8.5x44
The Takeaway: Reviewers were wowed by the crystal-clear view of birds these binoculars provide, up close and from afar. Some considered the weight of these optics, the heaviest pair we tested, a downside: “Great views, but a brick,” one noted. Others didn’t mind the heft: “Clear favorite for me in this group,” said another.
More specs: 33.2 oz; 367 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; limited lifetime warranty
Leupold BX-5 Santiam HD 8x42
The Takeaway: Optically first-rate, with exceptional light-gathering ability and a fast and smooth focus response. Across the board, people commented on how easy these lightweight bins are to hold.
More specs: 23.6 oz; 377 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; unlimited lifetime warranty
Zeiss Conquest HD 8x42
The Takeaway: Feather light and fast handling, these binoculars provide super-sharp images and exceptional field of view. Testers who took these for a spin in early and late night were especially enamored with the Conquest’s brightness.
More specs: 22.2 oz; 420 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; limited lifetime warranty