The best binoculars (2022): Nikon, Celestron, Swarovski, Zeiss
For this reason, we suggest newcomers stick to 6x or 8x for the first issue. Binoculars in this range have enough power for you to see things clearly, but not so powerful that you have trouble finding what you want to see (although all binoculars do take some practice). We suggest something in the 26-50 range for the second number. Our top pick sits roughly in the middle at 8×42, generally considered the sweet spot for most people.
Nikon’s Monarch 5 binoculars were my first “real” binoculars. Years later, their upgraded M5 is my first choice for most people just starting out. These offer excellent value for money and the 8×42 magnification is the most versatile. It’s not just me either. These are some of the most common binoculars I see when I’m birdwatching.
The Monarch M5s strike an excellent balance between optical power, quality and price. The glass in these offers nice bright views with very little chromatic aberration (the distortions or fringing you sometimes see around objects in direct sunlight).
The Monarch M5s are also light enough to hang around your neck all day without bothering you too much, and they come with the most comfortable stock strap of any binocular I’ve tested.
The nomenclature of the Monarch series is a bit confusing. I recommend the Monarch M5 here, which is new for 2022, but the Monarch 5 binoculars I own are technically still available. The new M5 designation features a slightly wider field of view and better optical coatings. There is also the more expensive Monarch M7 series, which comes in 8×42. I haven’t tested the latter, which offers an even wider field of view but is significantly more expensive.
Other great 8×42 binoculars:
- Budget choice: Celestron Nature DX ED 8×42 ($169). These are a solid buy for under $200 (they often go on sale for around $160). They’re not as bright as the Nikon Monarchs, and I noticed more chromatic aberrations, especially purple fringing. But for the price, it’s a good entry-level option.
- ★ Nice upgrade: Pentax 8×43 ZD ED Binoculars ($799). The Pentax/Ricoh 8x43s are just a bit sharper, clearer and brighter than the Monarchs. It’s a bit of a personal preference, but I like the slightly cooler colors on these, compared to the Monarch M5s.
- ★ Really nice, but incredibly expensive: The Leica Noctivid 8×42 binoculars are everything you expect from the Leica name, including pricey. These are by far the brightest and sharpest lenses I have ever put on my eyes. Unfortunately, they are out of stock everywhere. 10x42s are available for $2,850. Other options in this category are the Swarovski EL 8.5×42 ($2,169) and the Zeiss Victory HT ($2,700).
The difference between 8x and 10x may not seem large, but in practice it is significant. Objects are larger, but the field of view is narrower. This means it’s harder to track things, especially something like a small bird in thick shrubbery. It also means that any handshake can cause you to lose your subject. That said, it’s my favorite resolution for birds, as long as I’m not wearing them all day, as 10x42s are considerably heavier.
Our top pick at this size is the Vortex Viper HD binoculars. These offer excellent clarity, crisp, clear views and good color accuracy. Colors are slightly less saturated to my eye, but I only noticed this when doing side-by-side comparisons with the Nikons above. The focus wheel is smooth, although I would have liked it to be slightly faster. There’s a bit of blur around the periphery (the edges of your field of vision through the lenses), but that’s to be expected at this price.