The competitors in this category are all drool-worthy, with exceptional performance in low light and large fields of view, and constructed with top-notch materials. Among these elites, Swarovski’s EL slightly nudged out the competition to take first place—just as they did three years ago, in our first in-depth binoculars review.
Speaking of scores, they were incredibly close for all four binoculars in this category. Your best bet for finding the right match for you is to get your hands on the optics and try them out, but you really can’t go wrong with any of these models.
Once you've perused these beauties, check out the top picks for five other price categories in our complete Audubon Guide to Binoculars.
Swarovski EL 8.5x42
The takeaway: The ELs pulled ahead with near-perfect scores for clarity and brightness, as well as balance in hand, a key factor for comfortable use. The only gripes were that the unique lugs make it difficult to use a non-Swarovski neck strap; on the upside, our editors found it a snap to swap between the company’s neck strap and harness.
More specs: 29.5 oz; 399 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; 10-year warranty
Vortex Razor UHD 8x42
The Takeaway: Optically excellent with exceptional brightness. While the bins’ heft was noted by some testers, they marveled at the details they could see on monarch butterflies a few feet away, American Robins foraging for worms in the understory, and a Cooper’s Hawk gliding overhead.
More specs: 32.2 oz; 420 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; unlimited lifetime warranty
Zeiss Victory SF 8x42
The Takeaway: The lightest contender in this category slips effortlessly into the hand, and multiple testers lauded their comfortable grip. In addition to fast handling and tremendous field of view, these binoculars deliver beautiful color and a crystal-clear view of birds across the landscape from dawn to dusk.
More specs: 27.5 oz; 444 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; limited lifetime warranty
Leica Noctivid 8x42
The Takeaway: Birds pop in all their gorgeous and subtle hues when viewed through these remarkably bright binoculars with outstanding field of view.
More specs: 30.3 oz; 443 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; limited lifetime warranty