A quality set of binoculars can serve numerous functions: hunting, wildlife observation, competitive shooting and tactical or law enforcement purposes. In fact, binoculars provide the necessary magnification for target identification, and by consequence, ethical shooting. In that sense, binoculars are a necessity, not just a recommendation. Binoculars have existed for nearly 200 years, and over the centuries, they have become more compact, powerful, and…expensive. For the strongest possible binoculars on the market today, you will spend northwards of $10k. In this article, we’ll review quality binoculars that cost less than $150.
A Brief Differentiation
Binoculars, as a category, have a few special cousins—monoculars, spotting scopes and telescopes. Superficially, all these categories are the same—special convex lenses inside a tube that artificially enhance the appearance of distant objects. From a practical standpoint, there are a few key differences:
Monoculars are identical to binoculars, except they are generally smaller, lighter and less durable. As the name implies, monoculars use a single viewing tube instead of the two binoculars use. Because of their smaller size, they tend to boast less magnification capability. Because monoculars utilize a single eyepiece instead of two, images are ‘flat’ instead of 3D.
Spotting scopes are larger, more expensive and generally feature stronger magnification than binoculars. Because of their weight, they often require a tripod or bipod for support. Therefore, spotting scopes are less portable and better suited to help verify long-range shots.
Telescopes are commonly associated with stargazing and astronomic disciplines. They are difficult to move and boast the highest magnification (up to 600x). For many nearby planets and stars, binoculars are more than adequate, but for the furthest, faintest objects, a telescope is required. Because telescopes utilize a single eyepiece instead of two, images are ‘flat’ instead of 3D. Interestingly, NASA scientists have blended the data from two famous, Earth-orbiting telescopes, the Hubble and Spitzer, to create 3d images.
In the most basic sense, binoculars are two telescopic sights mounted next to each other within a device. Experienced hunters know binoculars provide the depth perception and target identification to help any hunt’s success chances.
After magnification, the most important spec for binoculars is objective lens size. The diameter of an objective lens determines the amount of light the device takes in, and therefore, the image resolution (quality). Objective lenses are generally made of glass.
The field of view (FOV) for a pair of binoculars varies by the magnification setting. It is the ‘width’ of an area that you’re viewing through the binoculars, and generally decreases with greater magnification.
Another important spec is eye relief. For any binocular, there is a preferred distance that your eye should be from the eyepiece. This distance is called the eye relief. If your eye is farther away from the eyepiece than the eye relief distance, you lose the outer edge of the picture. The farther away your eye is, the smaller portion of the picture you see.
Here are the best binoculars for your hunting, shooting, tactical situation or wildlife outing, including products from popular brands such as Bushnell, Sightmark, Leupold and more.
Firefield makes excellent AR-15 and other outdoor lifestyle accessories. Their scopes, laser sights and night vision are considered some of the most affordable in the industry. As Firefield has grown, they’ve expanded into the binoculars business, and these 10×42 binoculars feature a Bak-4 prism system—the highest quality prism system on the market. The Firefield® 10×42 binocular delivers brilliant light, pure visuals and vivid landscapes. Nitrogen-filled and water resistant, this binocular is built for reliability; ensuring users get the most out of every use in the field. The exterior is coated with a rubberized armor for a solid grip and protection against minor impact.
Leupold manufactures binoculars, red dots, spotting scopes and more. Their products are used by the US Army, Secret Service, SEALs and other American military units. They are an Oregon-based, fifth-generation, family-owned company that designs and machines all their own products, and have an uncanny ability to deliver affordability and quality. Their BX®-1 Rogue® Compact binoculars are at home in the field, at the game, and everywhere people want to get close to the action, and their Porro prism design delivers clarity and brightness that never disappoints. These optics also come with Pro Gear Accessories—Go Afield Shoulder Strap, binocular case, lens covers, and a lens cloth.
Founded in 1948, Bushnell is a company that really needs no introduction. Their riflescopes, spotting scopes, game cameras and more have been a staple of American hunting life for generations. In recent years, they have veered into golf range-finding, magazine loaders and radar guns, but their binoculars are still considered top-notch and not too pricey. These H20 8×42 binoculars boast a large 42mm objective lens to ensure bright images and a wide field of view. Their blue Porro prism delivers less light loss and greater depth of field than comparable roof prism designs, and their non-slip rubber armor protects the binoculars from impact and provides sure grip in damp marine environments. Multi-Coated Optics (Multiple layers of coatings on all lens surfaces increase light transmission and image brightness) and waterproof construction ensure these binoculars can withstand the harshest of environmental conditions.
Sightmark is a growing company based out of Mansfield, Texas. Their diverse inventory includes riflescopes, binoculars, red dots and digital night vision scopes. Their best in-class performance and consumer-level pricing complement a lifetime warranty—to form an industry staple. Sightmark makes its mark in the hearts and minds of consumers by consistently delivering quality at a price that performs as well as its products, and their Solitude 8×32 binoculars are no exception. Featuring fully multi-coated lenses and the highest quality optical glass on the market, the Sightmark® Solitude 8×32 Binoculars produce crisp, clear images from dawn to dusk. Its Bak-4 roof prism system features a straight tube light system, achieving maximum light transmission and allowing for a more compact design. With a smaller objective lens, these lightweight binoculars are ideal for travel and quick, short-distance observation. Built to withstand the harsh conditions of the outdoors, Sightmark Solitude 8×32 Binoculars yield a durable rubber-armored, nitrogen-filled and O-ring sealed body, making them waterproof, fog-proof and dust proof. The twist-up, adjustable eye cups provide a comfortable custom fit, helping to correct eye relief at any viewing position.
Nikon is a Japan-based optics company that manufactures cameras, spotting scopes and more. In business since 1917, they have supplied the Japanese military for generations. After WW2, they moved beyond their borders and began to diversify their inventory. However, their binoculars are still considered elite and practical, and the ACULON A21110x50 binoculars feature 10-power multicoated lenses and 50mm objectives fabricated with Nikon’s exclusive lead and arsenic free Eco-Glass™. The BaK4 Porro prism systems within all ACULON A211 binoculars deliver a high-quality image under a multitude of lighting conditions, making these binoculars effective from dawn till dusk. All together the ACULON A211 10×50 binoculars are a quality, cost effective choice.
Your choice of binoculars should be determined by what you plan to do with them. Are you a law enforcement officer or a bird watcher? Are you hunting for food or shooting competitively? For every job, there is an accompanying set of correct binoculars. Firefield and Leupold products lean towards tactical activities, whereas Sightmark and Bushnell products are known for hunting applications and precision. Nikon began as a military supplier, but now they’re bent towards digital imaging technology. Whatever your mission, there is a proper set of binoculars, and odds are, it’s on the list above.
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