People use binoculars for many different things, and the best binoculars for one activity may not be the best for another. For this reason, we’ve included a variety of binoculars that are each suited to a specific task.
To keep things simple, we do have a Best Overall pick, so if you’re not sure what you need, you can use that as a safe bet to get you the functionality you’ll most likely want. If you’re still new to using binoculars, we’ve included a buying guide at the bottom of the article to walk you through some of the basic things to consider while you shop.
For those who are ready to hop in, here we go!
Also Read: The Ultimate List of the Best Binoculars for Hunting
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Best for Long Range
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Best for Image Quality
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Best for Kids
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Best for Birding
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1. Adorrgon 12×42 HD Binoculars
The Adorrgon 12×42 binoculars strike the best balance between price and feature set. They’re remarkably affordable, given the quality of the product. 12x magnification is decent and should give you excellent visibility between 100-300 yards and good images much further than that.
The large 42mm objective lenses let in plenty of light, and the internal optics of the binoculars do well to capitalize on all that light; there is very little loss of light compared to the naked eye. Adorrgon uses BAK4 prisms inside, which are the same type of prisms in many more high-end pairs.
Beyond the quality imagery, the Adorrgon also includes a mounting tripod and a phone adapter so you can easily take photos of what you see through the binoculars. It’s difficult to overstate the value of having a little tripod to hold binoculars when you’re looking through them. The natural shake of your hand can make it difficult to see clearly without any support.
The phone adapter works well and allows you to sit back a little more and enjoy the view without being up close.
- Good images
- Competitive price
- Phone adapter
- Tripod for stable viewing
- Not compact
- Image quality lags behind premium binoculars
Adorrgon 12×42 HD Binoculars
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2. UncleHu 20×50 High Power Binoculars
When you need to see things that are very far away, you may want to opt for the UncleHu 20x50mm binoculars. To emphasize just how much magnification 20x is, it will make a subject that is 1,000 yards away appear roughly the same size as it would be at 50 yards with no magnification.
The drawback to this is that a subject that is only 100 yards away will appear the same size as if it were only 5 yards away with no magnification. That might sound great, but it becomes very difficult to keep a moving subject in frame or get a clear shot of it consistently. At 20x magnification, even the slightest hand movement will obscure your view.
The view you get is sharp and clear with brilliant colors, and as long as you can hold the binoculars still, they really are a pleasure to look through.
The UncleHu binoculars do their job well, but you’ll want to pick up a tripod or some other stabilization method if you want to truly maximize their potential. Unfortunately, you’ll also need an adapter because these aren’t threaded on the bottom for tripod mounting.
This may make the UncleHu’s sound like they shouldn’t be on this list, but 20x magnification at this price point is unheard of, and if you need to prioritize seeing at a long distance over everything else, for under $100 you may need to settle for anchoring your elbows against something for stabilization.
- Huge magnification
- Good image sharpness
- Decent low-light performance
- No tripod or easy way to mount to a tripod
- Not usable closer than about 100 yards
UncleHu 20×50 High Power Binoculars
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3. Leupold BX-1 Rogue 8x25mm
Leupold, as a brand, is known for two things. These are incredible image quality and tough optics with a lifetime warranty. The BX-1 Rogue binoculars are no exception. If you don’t need to see out all that far, but you want the prettiest picture possible, the Rogue is the pair on this list to choose.
8x magnification will comfortably get you out to 200 yards, and depending on what you’re looking at, you could go further, but it’s going to be noticeably inferior to 12x and even 10x.
In exchange, though, you get “absolute” waterproofing and fog proofing, beautiful images, and a lifetime warranty in case anything ever happens to them. They have diopter focus, which means you can adjust each eye individually to get as sharp of an image as possible, and these have 15mm eye relief, meaning you can keep your head a comfortable distance away.
In terms of accessories, about the best you’ll get are a shoulder strap, case, and lens covers. No tripod here, and there are no threads to mount them easily on one either.
- Unmatched image quality
- Toughest pair of binoculars on the list
- Great for up to 200 yards
- Only 8x magnification means you can’t see out as far
- Not easy to mount to a tripod
- Tripod not included
Leupold BX-1 Rogue 8x25mm
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4. POLDR 12×25 Small Pocket Binoculars
Let’s not mince words: this pair of binoculars from POLDR is cheap. Even on this list of cheap scopes, the POLDR is the cheapest, and it’s not even close. Keep that in mind as we talk about the good and bad things about these binoculars.
First, the 12x magnification is legitimate. They do what they say they are going to do, and they function properly. Do they have the clearest images? No. Are they the best in low light? Absolutely not. But do they offer real functionality at the price of a toy? Yes, they do.
They are well calibrated for use by a child who wants to get into bird watching. They are reasonably durable, and it’s not a big deal when they are eventually broken by rough treatment.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re good for other applications, too, especially if you have a work-related need where vibrant colors and high-definition sharpness are much less important than simply being able to see what is happening. No warranty is available on these, which makes sense given the intended use and price point.
- Great for kids
- Really do work and provide 12x magnification
- Price is insanely low
- Low light performance is not great
- Construction is not durable
- Does not come with accessories
POLDR 12×25 Small Pocket Binoculars
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5. Vortex Vanguish 10x26mm Porro Prism
Vortex is a brand with a similar reputation to Leupold, but slightly less so. Vortex typically prices its optics a little lower, provides a few more features, and have slightly less image quality and durability than Leupold. The Vanguish pair of binoculars is no different. A lot of thought has been put into these binoculars for birding.
First, they use a reverse Porro Prism design to get an even sharper image than what you’d normally expect. Second, they have a diamond pattern grip so that even if your hands are wet or muddy, you can keep a firm grasp of the binoculars.
The 10x magnification is great for most birding since it gives you a wide enough field of view to quickly find your subject and plenty of magnification to see your subject clearly. They’re also, of course, waterproof and fog proof. These binoculars come with a case, a carrying strap, and lens caps, but not much else.
The Vortex warranty is fantastic – right up there with Leupold.
- Reverse Porro Prism design
- Diamond-pattern rubber grip
- Great warranty
- No threads for tripod
- Not many accessories
Vortex Vanguish 10x26mm Porro Prism
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6. Occer 12×25 Compact Binoculars
These Occer binoculars are a great alternative if you want to strike a balance between the POLDR and the Adorrgon. They’re a little pricier than the POLDR and a little more affordable than the Adorrgon. Likewise, they’re a little tougher than the former and not as tough as the latter.
In just about every aspect, they fall right between those two sets of binoculars. They’re small enough that you can comfortably operate them with one hand, so if you are an opera-goer, these could be a great option for you.
While effort has been put in to waterproof these, I would not test their limits except in the name of science.
Jokes aside, these binoculars are genuinely decent quality, and they’ll definitely give you the magnification you should expect from 12x binoculars, and you’ll be able to see fairly well. These binoculars are a great alternative if you like either the POLDR or the Adorrgon but want something slightly different.
- Affordable price
- Decent image quality
- Rubber outer shell
- ABS plastic on the inside
- Poor low light performance
Occer 12×25 Compact Binoculars
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7. TQYUIT 15×25 Waterproof Binoculars
These are a great option for anyone who wants a little more than 12x but doesn’t need to make the sacrifices to get out as far as 20x. The field of view with 15x will be close to 12x but everything will be just a little bigger.
It’s difficult to say exactly what distance these are best for, so I would just say that if you are currently using or have used a 12x and find that you wish your subjects were just a little bit bigger, then going up to 15x may be the exact right move.
As you’ve hopefully come to expect from this list, they’re waterproof, fog proof, and have good image quality, though they probably won’t perform as well in low light as most of the other pairs of binoculars on this list. TQYUIT claims that the multi-coatings provide 99.58% light transmission, but I have my doubts.
There’s no tripod mount on the bottom, so you’ll have to jump through similar hoops to most of these if you want to add some stabilization.
- 15x magnification allows slightly larger imagery than 12x
- Still very reasonable field of view
- Compact, easy to carry around
- Image quality not as high
- No tripod mounting
TQYUIT 15×25 Waterproof Binoculars
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When buying binoculars, there’s a tendency to assume that more magnification is better, but this isn’t always the case. It depends a great deal on what you’re trying to look at and how far away it is. If you’re trying to watch fast-moving subjects, like birds, you may actually want to keep your magnification down so that you can track them through the binoculars more easily.
If you’re trying to spot other wildlife that is further out and perhaps don’t move quite so unpredictably, getting more magnification might make sense. There are so many possible scenarios that it’s difficult to say exactly what magnification is best. Sometimes what you need to do is just buy a pair that seems like it might be right and test it out.
After seeing how that pair does, you can buy another pair if needed.
Also Read: How to Focus Binoculars
The second number in the descriptor of each pair of binoculars is a reference to how large the objective lens is. More specifically, it refers to the diameter of that lens. The objective lens is the one the light enters into (on the other end from your eye). The larger the objective lens, the more light gets let in and eventually reaches your eye, at least in theory.
This is one reason why the TQYUIT binoculars are at the bottom of the list: their objective diameter is so small in relation to the magnification that the low-light performance simply cannot be as good as it will be with other pairs.
Generally speaking, when it comes to objective diameter, the larger, the better. That said, the larger they are, the heavier and bulkier your pair of binoculars will be, so you may have to weigh priorities here.
Also Read: What Do Scope Numbers Mean?
I mostly use binoculars on the shooting range, so for me having some form of stabilization matters a great deal. I would much rather be able to lock my binoculars down on a tripod and point them at the target than have the flexibility to whirl around and follow my subject everywhere.
Therefore, a tripod being included with my binoculars is a wonderful thing. For your use, however, a tripod may be less important than, say, an adjustable shoulder strap instead of a non-adjustable one.
Pretty much all binoculars come with a shoulder strap of some kind, a carrying case, and lens covers, but it’s worth considering what other accessories would make a big difference for you and see if there’s a pair of binoculars that has them included.
When you’re paying less than $100 for a pair of binoculars, most of your options are not going to have fantastic warranties, and that may be a sacrifice you’re willing to make in order to get the functionality you want at a price point that makes sense to you.
If it’s not, though, you do have a few options. Brands like Leupold and Vortex carry lifetime warranties on all their products and have great image quality to boot. Choosing these brands usually means going without any of those fancy accessories we were just talking about, though. All in all, it’s just a question of deciding what’s most important to you.
If you take good care of your binoculars and baby them, chances are you’ll never need to cash in on the warranty anyway.
I’m a big fan of optics that don’t break. I know that’s a radical position to take, but it’s a hill I’m willing to die on. For me, it seems like no matter how hard I try to follow my own advice and take good care of my binoculars, I always end up dropping them on the ground at some point. A warranty is important in those situations, but ideally, you wouldn’t need to worry about the warranty at all.
If the binoculars have a metal housing and a thick rubber coating surrounding it then they’ll hopefully survive normal bumps just fine.
Durability isn’t just about surviving drops and bumps, though. Just as likely (if not more) is the possibility of getting caught in the rain, heat, or below-freezing temperatures. In these situations, it becomes very important that your binoculars are both waterproof and fog proof.
Good binoculars are purged with either Nitrogen or Argon gas on the inside to prevent any fogging on the interior. They can still fog on the outside, but that’s fine because you can address that fairly easily. It’s when there is fogging on the inside that you have a real problem. You’ll want to check the pair of binoculars you buy to make sure they are fog proofed and waterproofed.
I hate to say “it depends,” but in this case, it really does. The further out you want to see, the more magnification you’ll need.
Consider what you will be trying to see (birds, big game, etc.), and how close you’d have to be to see it clearly with your naked eye. If it’s a good-sized bird, then let’s just say you’d want to be no more than 10 yards away to see it clearly.
Now, how far away do you need to be in order not to disrupt your subject’s activities? For our example, let’s say you may need to be 100 yards away to be safe. So you want the subject to look like it’s only 10 yards away, but you want to view it from 100 yards. In this case, you would want a 10x pair of binoculars.
A 10x42mm pair of binoculars will be good for seeing subjects clearly out to 200 yards in daylight and dusk or dawn situations. You’ll start to notice a difference in available light through the binoculars as the sun gets lower in the sky, but it will perform fairly well.
If you’re looking at larger subjects, 10x could be enough to get you out much further than 200 yards. The 42mm objective diameter is what enables these binoculars to have such good low light performance.
A pair of 10x binoculars will allow you to see approximately ten times as far as your naked eye. This may sound like a lot but consider how small things appear when they’re 200 yards away, or 300 yards, or 400 yards. If a subject appears only a tenth of an inch in size with your naked eye, magnifying it by 10 times will only make it appear the size of a single inch.
Generally speaking, I would recommend 10x binoculars for out to 200 yards, and perhaps only 100 if you are looking at smaller subjects like birds.
This depends on whether you’re talking about the size of magnification or the size of the objective diameter. Both are important, but each does something different.
To figure out how much magnification you need, consider the subject’s average size and ask yourself how close you need to stand to see it clearly. Then consider how far away you need to stand to view the subject. Once you have those two numbers, divide the bigger number by the small number. The result will be the magnification you need from your binoculars.
If you want to figure out what size of objective diameter you need, you first need to know the magnification. The objective diameter controls how much light is let into the binoculars and is one of the biggest factors in how much of the available light makes it all the way to your eye.
The more magnification you have, the larger your objective diameter needs to be to maintain the same brightness level. For maximal light transmission, you want to get a number higher than 5 when you divide the size of the objective diameter by the magnification.
Also Read: The Best Night Vision Monoculars for Scouting After Dark
My pick for the best binoculars under $100 is the Adorrgon 12x42mm HD Binoculars. They come with a large objective, clear imagery, and important accessories like a tripod and a phone adapter. The price is great, and the dollar value is hard to beat. If you’re ready to pick up the Adorrgon binoculars right now, you can do so at this Amazon link.
Did I miss a great pair of binoculars? Let me know in the comments.