When I started chasing whitetails countless years ago, I hunted without binoculars. After all, I thought my riflescope would give me the needed magnification to size-up a set of antlers or scan a ridge for a bedded buck. Quickly realizing that this method was awkward, ineffective and required too much movement, I broke down and bought a cheap binocular. And although it was bottom-of-the-line quality, I found a new indispensable tool for my arsenal. Suddenly I could glimpse critters that before had bedded, or slipped by, unnoticed. I could at last spy past the dark edges of a field, adjusting the focus to creep into the forest shadows, often discovering deer quietly waiting for darkness to come.
If you’re shopping for binoculars, you’ve no doubt read specs that can seem a little baffling—real angular field-of-view, apparent angular field-of-view, interpupillary distance, twilight factor, close-focus distance, relative brightness and so on. So we’ll skip most of the tech talk and cut to the chase. Here are some of the best binocular lines available, and a “meat-and-potatoes” description of their offerings to give you the winning edge.
According to Barska, the new Storm EX open bridge binoculars “crave to be held.” So if you’re the touchy-feely type, you’ll love getting up-close and personal with these new compacts. Not only are they comfortable in the hands, the locking twist-up eyepieces, diopter adjustment and large center-focus knob let you personalize the binoculars to your own viewing requirements. A rubber armor covering with unique styling and textured accents forms a firm grip that protects the optics and rugged chassis.
With and extreme close-focus distance and a wide field-of-view, the Storm EX binos feature high quality BaK4 fully multi-coated optics that deliver bright, crisp images with high color contrast and clarity. Available in 8X42mm and 10X42mm ($321.50) options, there’s one to fit virtually any hunting situation. The binos are 100 percent waterproof and fog-proof thanks to O-ring seals and nitrogen purged barrels, and they perform flawlessly in most any weather condition. The tripod-adaptable Storm EX includes a deluxe carrying case and neck strap. Like all Barska binoculars, both Storm EX models are covered and protected by Barska’s limited lifetime warranty.
According to Burris, you can spend up to four times as much for essentially the same optical performance you get from Signature Select binoculars ($431 8X36mm/$831 12X50mm). For one thing, the field-of-view through Signature Selects is exceptionally crisp, clear, and high-contrast. This is due to premium optical glass, ground and polished to very high tolerances. In addition, every lens surface is broadband multi-coated for a reflection-free image. Bak4 prisms are also precision-ground and polished to low-tolerance specifications, which virtually eliminates any color-phase issues. The application of premium phase-correction coating takes care of the rest. And, unlike most binoculars, the prisms are coated with silver rather than aluminum for ultimate light transmission.
Burris has improved focus calibration by placing the right-eye diopter adjustment on a lockable diopter focus ring directly behind the center focus wheel. Meanwhile, twist-up eyecups make life easier for eyeglass wearers and the eye pieces afford ample eye-relief. If you like to lighten your load, you’ll appreciate the under-30-ounce package. Signature Selects are waterproof, fog-proof, highly impact resistant and come with a “Forever” Warranty—that’s a long, long time.
Since their introduction in 2009, the Legend Ultra HD binoculars have been a favorite of serious outdoorsmen. The combination of high-quality optics, ED Prime Glass and Ultra Wide Band Custom Coating lens technology provides the ultimate in high-definition performance.
Two mid-size roof prism models were introduced for 2010—the Legend Ultra HD 8X36mm and 10X36mm ($249.99). With an anti-reflective Ultra Wide Custom Coating on the lenses, the Legends deliver the best available light possible, especially at dusk and dawn when optics matter most. Their premium ED (Extra Low Dispersion) glass delivers optimal color performance and edge-to-edge sharpness.
Compared to similarly priced optics, Legend Ultra HD binoculars deliver a wider field-of-view and are also more comfortable to use. Longer eye-relief means less eye strain, and as you probably know, a pair of pooped peepers can ruin your day. The Legend Ultra HD binoculars are built on a lightweight, durable magnesium chassis. A deluxe binocular harness with pre-attached neck strap lugs evenly distributes the weight of the glasses across your back.
The mid-size 20.6-ounce Legend Ultra HD binoculars provide all-weather performance with their 100 percent waterproof construction and RainGuard HD high-density permanent coating. RainGuard helps optimize performance by minimizing or eliminating moisture on the lens surface.
The 8X36mm version comes in RealTree AP camouflage and the 10X36mm model in black. Both come complete with a premium carrying case, neck strap and custom binocular harness.
The Ultravid series has always impressed hunters with its technical and optical performance standards. Now with the innovative Ultravid HD 12X50mm ($2,399.99), as well as a variety of other powers and lens diameters, Leica is once again setting performance benchmarks.
With the help of fluoride (FL) lens glass for instance, both the color fidelity and image contrast are improved. Unlike conventional optical lenses, the FLs create a very low level of light dispersion and reduce imaging aberrations. As a result, the entire viewing experience is enhanced.
The Leica AquaDura outside lens coating is “hydrophobic,” which, with its water and dirt repelling properties, ensures clear visibility even in poor weather conditions. At the same time, its increased abrasion resistance more effectively protects lenses for scratches and dings.
Other improvements in the HD Series include: increased light transmission thanks to prism improvements; reduction of stray or false light that can affect image quality; and a consistently smooth-focusing mechanism, regardless of temperatures.
Most binoculars provide a single magnification power. And in most instances one power is all you need. Yet there are times when a lower or higher setting would be extremely beneficial. But who wants to lug around two binos?
Leupold’s two-power-setting binoculars are an excellent solution. The Leupold Golden Ring 7-12X32mm binoculars ($1,189), with Switch/Power Technology, offer the kind of performance you expect from Golden Ring optics, plus unique features you won’t find in any other binocular. A Switch/Power selector switch instantly and fully changes the power setting from 7X to 12X with just a flick of the finger. As you change power, the object you’re viewing always stays in the center of the visual field.
Other features include multi-coated lenses for superb brightness, resolution, contrast and color fidelity, and phase-coated prisms that help eliminate diffraction and ensure peak clarity. The Gold Ring eyecups can be easily adjusted between vented, retractable contoured eyecups, or twist-up eyecups especially suited for eyeglass wearers. Another nice touch is the universal tripod mounting port. The Leupolds are rugged, waterproof and guaranteed for life. And despite the double-power capability, the glasses weigh-in at just 21.4 ounces.
According to Nikon, no other hunting binocular has such a loyal following as its Monarch ATB Series. Now, Nikon has raised the Monarch ATB bar even higher by including advanced prism coating technology, previously found exclusively in its much higher-priced offerings.
The new Monarch ATB 42mm ($279.95-$349.95) features “Dielectric High-Reflective Multilayer Prism Coating”—that’s a mouthful. It provides brighter, sharper colors, as well as crisp and drastically improved low-light performance. Not to mention, the body style provides strength and ruggedness, but is comfortable to carry all day.
Thanks to the nitrogen-filled and O-ring-sealed tube, Nikon guarantees every ATB to be 100 percent waterproof and fog-proof. There’s also a smooth central-focus knob for quick sight-in, multi-setting click-stop eyecups for a clear comfortable view, with or without eyeglasses, and rugged rubber armor for added durability. Each is backed by Nikon’s 25-Year Limited Warranty and No-Fault Repair/Replacement Policy.
The Monarch ATB 42mm is available in 8X, 10X and 12X42mm. It’s also available in Team REALTREE models with the REALTREE APG HD camouflage pattern. Nikon binocular travel case, adjustable binocular strap and lens covers are included.
If you’re on a budget—and who isn’t—Nitrex offers a good basic bino that will do the trick in a pinch. With a broad game-spotting field-of-view, plus the ability to zoom inside of 8 feet without distortion, Nitrex 8X42mm and 10X42mm binoculars ($293.99) offer some of the most aggressive viewing you’ll find anywhere. The glasses contain fully multi-coated lenses, a phase-coated roof-prism system, and a rugged rubber-armored, easy-grip finish. Along with excellent light transmission capabilities, the Nitrex 8X42mm and 10X42mm are shock-proof, waterproof and fog-proof.
If your pocket was picked on April 15th, but you remain determined to hit the woods this season with decent spyglasses, Redfield offers the Rebel 8X32mm ($129.99) and 10X42mm ($149.99). Weighing in at 17.1 ounces and 26.4 ounces respectively, each gives you plenty to hunt with, without all the bells and whistles of the higher-priced models.
You’ll enjoy brightness, resolution and edge clarity, thanks to the BAK4 prism system. These top-quality prisms help pick out small details from complex backgrounds—like a buck’s rack hidden in brush, or the brown hair of an elk tucked away in a spruce thicket.
Redfield’s fully multi-coated lenses guarantee a bright, sharp, true-color image while maximizing transmission of fading light for strong performance in twilight conditions. And the easy twist-up eyecups adapt for use with or without eyeglasses. Another feature that’s often taken for granted, until it’s colder than a well-digger’s posterior, is the easy-to-adjust focus knob. Even with gloves on, the deep grooves allow you to focus with a touch.
Finally, the aluminum body construction stays fog-free to keep you glassing in all conditions. Built tough, these binoculars can handle field, thicket and creek bed without worry. The Rebels include a soft case, comfortable neoprene neck strap and durable lens covers.
The popular Steiner Predator C5 line has expanded to include two models with larger objective lenses. The 8X56mm ($1,499) and 10X56mm ($1,549) promise to provide more light gathering capability in low light conditions, plus higher resolution and greater detail.
Like the 10X42mm and 12X42mm Predator C5s that precede them, the two 21.9-ounce models utilize the unique high-contrast lens coating that help you spot hidden game by blocking the colors of haze and foliage, and enhancing the visibility of browns, reds and other wildlife colors. With the larger 56mm objective on the 8X and 10X, viewing times will be extended and images will be brighter and clearer than ever.
The popular design of the Steiner Predator C5 uses a rigid polycarbonate chassis that is both durable and waterproof. Ergonomic styling makes this binocular easy to use and focus, even with heavy gloves.
The C5 is mil-spec nitrogen-purged and comes equipped with a padded travel case, rain guard for the eyepieces and attached objective lens caps.
A padded neck strap makes viewing and toting for extended periods a bit more comfortable. Other features of the Predator C5 include phase-coated roof-prisms; precise, fast close-focus; long eye-relief; adjustable eyecups; and a 30-year limited warranty. The 8X56mm weighs in at 40.2 ounces, while the 10X56mm tips the scale at 42.3 ounces.
The EL binoculars ($2,339.99-$2,479.99) from Swarovski represent the ultimate combination: functionality, innovation and design. The unique wrap-around grip ensures comfortable operation even with one hand, while low weight and excellent balance make the EL easy to use over long periods. Inside, the sophisticated top-class optical system delivers high-contrast, lifelike image quality.
The revolutionary Swarovision gives the EL 42 a previously unequalled image quality. The combination of field flattener lenses and HD optics ensures an impressive image resolution across the entire field-of-view. According to Swarovski, the image focus of the EL 42 has never been achieved in any binoculars. Even the smallest details are reproduced with razor-sharp clarity right up to the periphery—just imagine no edge distortion!
At the same time, fluoride-containing HD lenses minimize color fringing (chromatic aberration) for contrast-rich images with razor-sharp outlines. As a result, significant improvements in resolution and contrast are achieved in comparison to conventional grades of glass.
The enhanced proprietary coatings of the lenses and prisms (Swarodur, Swarotop and Swarobright) in the EL guarantee lifelike color reproduction and outstanding image brightness, even at dusk and dawn.
Vortex says, “Let there be light.” And with their whopping 56mm objective lenses, Vulture series binoculars ($499.99) deliver absolutely incredible light transmission and superior low-light performance—a critical attribute at dawn and dusk when game can be most active.
Premium, phase-corrected roof prisms, fully multi-coated optics and Vortex’s proprietary XR anti-reflection lens coatings deliver a super-bright image that’s sharp from edge to edge. On the outside, their proprietary ArmorTek coating on all exterior lenses resists scratches and smudges, while repelling oils and corrosive salts. To further keep them picture perfect, the optics are sealed with O-rings to prevent moisture, dust or debris from slipping in. Barrels are filled with argon gas to inhibit internal fogging.
Twist eyecups make the glasses comfortable for both the two-eyed and the four-eyed, while rubber armor gives the Vultures a non-slip grip.
The newest edition to the Grand Slam series will, according to Weaver, blow you away. These 8-16X42mm Zoom Binoculars ($381.49) have an added feature that allows power adjustment from 8X to 12X to 16X. Nitrogen-purged tubes keep the specs water- and rain-proof, while the rugged body armor on its sleek roof-prism design and extendable eyecups make for comfortable viewing. Add to that the high performance lenses that gather every bit of available light from dusk to dawn, and the Grand Slam is versatile enough for most any hunting situation.
Conquest binoculars combine the legendary optical performance of Carl Zeiss with rugged, ergonomic design in a tough, resilient package. Zeiss T* multi-coating on the lenses and P* phase coating on the prisms improve light transmission for bright, sharp images and enhanced twilight vision. With a variety of magnification levels and models, including pocket, compact, all-purpose and extended use, Conquest binoculars are designed to complement all hunting styles from stalking to long-range glassing.
The flagship of the Conquest line is the 10X56mm T* ($1,499.99), a low-light specialist with exceptionally wide field-of-view, bright, crisp images and tough, glass-fiber reinforced housings. The result is lightweight optics in a high-performance package. While 31.92 ounces might not sound like a featherweight, its still plenty light for 56mm objective lens binos. And at just a smidge over 7 inches by 5 inches around, the waterproof, fog-proof Conquest 10Xs provide a compact package for the long haul.
Lens Coatings: What To Look For
Every optics manufacturer has coated lenses to cut reflection and assist in light transmission. Knowing some subtle semantics will help you choose the best bino for your needs. "Coated" means there’s a single layer of anti-reflection coating on some lens elements. “Fully coated" means that all air-to-glass (exposed) surfaces are coated. "Multi-coated" means that at least some surfaces have multiple layers of anti-reflection coatings, while the rest likely have single-layer coatings. "Fully multi-coated" means that all air-to-glass surfaces have received multiple layers of anti-reflection coatings. Fully multi-coated is usually your best bet in binoculars.