Birdwatching is a fascinating activity, and binoculars are the most important accessory to enjoy it. Even if you only have a small yard, you can likely observe the beauty of a few different species.
There are many types of binoculars and they come in a wide range of magnifications – and prices. We’ve put together a short guide for what you should look for and reviewed some of the best options, both for absolute beginners who aren’t ready to invest a lot of money and for more advanced birders.
Not all binoculars are created equal, and not all are ideal for birdwatching. So let’s have a look at the basic characteristics and how to interpret the numbers associated with this wonderful hobby!
Some Points To Consider When Choosing Binoculars
Binoculars come in a wide range of sizes, magnifications, and materials. If you are just starting, you may want to try a basic pair. You can usually find them for under $50 US. But a good pair will set you back $200 – $300.
A pair on the low end will do the basics – make distant things look bigger. But they won’t be the most durable. The body may be plastic rather than metal. They may also have plastic lenses instead of glass, and the lenses might not be coated to protect against glare.
A better pair will have a metal frame and coated glass lenses. This will help provide a clearer image and a more durable product. If you want to be serious about watching our feathered friends, the higher cost is worth it.
The Numbers To Know
The most important factor when choosing binoculars comes down to two numbers. These are nearly always expressed in the form “12×50”, “7×40”, and the like.
The first number refers to the magnification, and the second refers to the lens size. So 7×40 means an object viewed through your binoculars will appear seven times as large as with the naked eye. And the lens measures 40 mm in diameter.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking higher magnification is better. But that’s not so! You don’t want the bird – or whatever else you’re viewing – to appear too big. You won’t be able to enjoy the view. Between 7x and 12x is the best for birdwatching.
The importance of magnification is obvious; the lens size may not be, unless you’re into optics. A large lens takes in more light. That means you’ll get richer, truer colors. In this case, bigger is better.
The lens size plays the biggest role in determining how big your binoculars are and how much they weigh. So you want something large but still practical. For birdwatching, 30 – 50 is the best range of lens sizes; around 42mm is ideal.
You’ll also see a third number listed – FOV, or field of view. This is how wide an area you can see at a distance of 1000 yards.
A small field of view makes it hard to find the object you’re looking for. For birdwatching (or observing other wildlife or anything that moves) this is especially frustrating because it can be hard to keep your target in sight.
What Else To Look For
Glass lenses are less likely to scratch than plastic ones, although plastic is normally cheaper. However, there are some good pairs with glass lenses even at the low end of the price scale.
Mid-range and higher binoculars also have multi-coated lenses. This helps to protect them and to reduce glare, providing a brighter, clearer image.
If you’re only doing backyard birdwatching, you might not be too concerned about waterproof and fog-proof binoculars. But these are good features to have, anyway – and if you plan on going out into the woods or elsewhere, these features make a big difference.
We already mentioned the importance of metal construction for your binoculars. They’ll hold up better than plastic ones. However, you’ll probably prefer to have rubber covers over the eyepieces; they’re much more comfortable.
With all of this, though, you want to keep the weight of the binoculars in mind. Metal and large glass lenses mean they’ll way more. And it can become quickly tiring to hold the lenses up to your eyes. That’s one reason that we don’t recommend lenses large than 50mm; the weight of the glass accumulates fast!
You should also look at what’s included along with the binoculars themselves.
Most importantly, you’ll want a strap so they can hang easily around your neck when you’re not looking through them. This might not be essential if you’re only using them from the window, but once you get out and start moving around, even just in the yard, you’ll be glad to not have to hold them continuously.
A durable case is always good; it will help keep them safe as well as clean.
Lens caps are the most standard accessory and provide important protection for both the objective lenses and eyepieces.
It’s always nice when your kit includes a cleaning cloth. A user manual is handy, also, although most people dive right in.
Some binoculars also include a tripod, which can sometimes come in handy. Many newer ones even include a mount for your smartphone so you can take pictures through the lens!
The Top Binoculars For Backyard Birdwatching
Here are a few of our favorite binoculars. We’ve got a couple here that are great if you just want to give birdwatching a try, and others for more dedicated birders. All of these have multi-coated lenses, so we won’t repeat that for each set.
These compact binoculars offer some great features that you’ll love as a beginner. They’re also a good choice if you want to share them with younger children.
The 10x magnification falls in the ideal range, although the lenses are a little small. That means birds or other objects viewed through these may seem dark and a bit dull.
The field of view is 362 feet, which isn’t too bad. You’ll be able to observe a good bit, including moving objects, without having to readjust your position.
They are made of plastic and rubber to keep them lightweight. As the name says, they’re also very compact, measuring 4.33 x 3.94 x 1.97 inches and weighing just over half a pound.
Yes, they have their limits, but they come at a great price especially if you’re not sure you want to commit, or if you want them for a child. They’re manageable by kids even of early school age.
A carrying case, strap, cleaning cloth, and short instruction manual are included.
This is another low-priced, compact set of binoculars that comes through for basic use. And of course, it’s got a great price, too.
The 12x magnification is at the high end of the ideal range for birds, especially within your yard (unless you have acres upon acres!).
The field of view is 273 feet, a bit low. And the 25mm objective lens is on the small side, but considering that, you still get a clear, relatively bright image. Overall, though, they are a decent pair of binoculars – and for the price, they’re great!
They measure 3.93 x 4.3 x 1 inches and weigh about 14 ounces.
These Adasion binocs are a bit more expensive than the ones above, but still much more affordable than higher-end models. And they stand out not only for their affordability but for their quality as well.
The 12x magnification is on the high end for birdwatching, but still within range. The 42mm lenses are awesome! They’re just perfect to be able to capture the true beauty of any type of bird you may be gazing at.
The field of view is a nice 367 feet.
You also get a nice bonus with these: a handy tripod with a cell phone holder. It’s easy to get the phone in the perfect position to “look” through the eyepiece and catch a perfect picture. The tripod measures 2.2 inches and swivels in a full circle.
These are full-size binoculars, measuring 6 x 5 x 2.4 inches and weighing 1 ¼ pound.
The worst part of these is that the tripod comes separately – it’s included in the price, but you only get it after registering the product. But that’s a minor inconvenience and you’ll love the great view you get with these!
You’ll get a ton of enjoyment from these binoculars from Steiner! With 7x magnification and 50mm objective lenses, they’re awesome for birdwatching even though they’re marketed for use on the sea. So don’t forget to pack them if you’re going whale or dolphin watching, too!
Of course, since they’re designed for marine use, they’re also waterproof. So feel confident even if you want to use these poolside – or go out and about with them!
They offer a 356-feet field of view.
They have a metal casing with a rubber coating. The eyepieces have soft silicone protectors, too.
There’s even an autofocus system to help keep your target looking great even if it’s in flight! And if you’re the one moving, you can take comfort in knowing that the lenses sit in silicone padding for their protection.
They measure 5.5 x 8.1 x 3 inches. They weigh in at a hefty 2 pounds 5 ounces, which is one of the few drawbacks we see in these – it may not seem like much, but if you’re holding them up to enjoy the view, your arms may tire quickly.
We saw attached caps for the objective lens, and that’s what Steiner claims, too. But we’ve seen comments online that they aren’t attached. Perhaps they were older models – we’re glad they’re attached now so we don’t lose them!
A soft case is included as well. We’d prefer a hard case for the sake of maximum protection.
These Athlon binoculars are 8×42 – probably our favorite magnification and objective lens size for birding! And the image quality is astounding.
(If you prefer, you can also get these in 10×42 – just go to the same link and click the button in the description).
They offer an amazing 426 feet field of view, by far the best among the sets we’ve reviewed. This is great if you’re able to observe a large area and can watch birds in flight, even if they’re just going from tree to tree.
They’re also waterproof in case you’ll be watching in the rain, poolside, or anywhere else, including a hike along the lake. But the rubber grip over the metal shell makes them easy to grip, so you don’t have to worry much about them slipping out of your hand.
These are 8.82 x 6.5 x 3.5 inches and weigh 2.2 pounds. Athlon’s also respected for their customer support, although we don’t think you’ll find many reasons to contact them!
Birds are marvelous creatures and birdwatching is a great hobby that you can enjoy from your window or patio. A good pair of binoculars makes it so much more enjoyable! Be sure to look for a quality product and don’t assume that “bigger is better.” There are many great options available, no matter your experience or budget!