Looking for the best Hunting Binoculars for this season? Our field experts did extensive research for you and reviewed the best models from cheap to high end.
Face it. Terms such as “chromatic aberration,” “interpupillary distance,” “diopter” and “exit pupil” seem as alien to hunters as the fictitious jackalope or Sasquatch. However, once you start depending on binoculars for cleaner kills, better species identification, entry wounds and the like, you best bone up on what accounts for a good pair of hunting binocs.
If you don’t research your purchase, you can end up wasting $70 on useless binoculars or $500 just on a brand name. For example, if you think that “auto-focus” means you will be in focus no matter the distance of your target, you will be no better prepared to buy a set of binoculars than Bigfoot.
Follow the advice from our field experts on hunting binoculars in order to pay the right price for the set that proves just right for your type of hunting. Refer to the Buyer’s Guide below.
- Best High-End Hunting Binoculars
- Best Binoculars Under $1,000
- Best Under $500
- Best Value Binocular for Hunting
- Best Budget Binocs – Under $200
- Best for Deer Hunting
- Best Compact Binoculars
- Best Rangefinder Binoculars
- Best for Low-Light Conditions
- Buyer’s Guide: What to look for when selecting the right pair of binocs for hunting
- Hunting Binoculars FAQs
- Conclusion: It’s all about what your eyes are like
Best High-End Hunting Binoculars
Editor’s Pick: Leica Ultravid HD Plus 10×42
- Excellent clarity, at dawn or dusk, due to latest advances in optics
- Relatively light
- Easy grip
- Durable & Weather resistant
- Internal focusing via central focusing device
- Mount for tripod
- The price, but you won’t have to buy another
- Not a wrap-around barrel for the hand
Leica rates among the most trusted and well-crafted of all binoculars with its rich history in lens glass—which is where today’s biggest leaps in image quality occurs, thanks to commensurate leaps in optics technology.
The Leica Ultravid HD Plus 10×42 is not for the light of pocketbook as a result of its new-generation engineering and improved Schott glass. Only hunters of the most passionate ilk will justify a price tag rivaling a new transmission for their car.
However, these hunters buy best-of image quality due to advances in glass composites and coatings, all adding up to brighter, sharper images because of improved light transmission. Sometimes binocs compromise their design and handiness for better and brighter images.
Leica perseveres with better imaging and sturdy, weather-resistant, shock-absorbent construction while maintaining a set of binoculars that are easy to grasp and not excessively heavy, thanks to the incorporation of magnesium in the body and a titanium center pin.
Its 42 mm objective (the large end) optimizes the new glass optics without becoming a binoc too heavy to hold steady in the hand. In all, the newest version of Leica Ultravid HD Plus exceeds its predecessor’s performance (you can tell them apart by the red “HD” on the newest version’s left barrel).
It achieves brilliant, accurate colors, clarity, brightness, excellent contrast and dynamic field of view (FOV) in a bullet-proof body—as binoculars go—all while retaining a roof prism design for slender, easy handling by the hunter, whether trying to spot tom turkeys, black bear or the rack of a rangy mule deer.
Swarovski EL 10X42 Swarovision
- Extremely sharp, flat field of view with great color fidelity and no hint of chromatic aberration
- Fast focusing
- One-hand control with wrap-around barrels
- Well appointed adjustment knobs and thumb guides just noticeable enough to not interfere with adjustment reach
- Very expensive, but a set to last a lifetime
Count the price of these pair of Swarovskis as a tranny for your rig that needs special bearings—i.e., a little spendier than our editor’s pick.
The Swarovski EL Swarovision, 10×42, differs from our editor’s pick, however, with an open-bridge design allowing easy wrap-around for the hand and slimmer barrels than its earlier versions. It also differs by allowing greater eye relief than our editor’s choice—resulting in easier use for those wearing eyeglasses.
The Swarovision technology refers to a fluoride composite in the high-density Swarovski lens, which amounts to an extraordinarily flat field of view (i.e., extremely sharp image from edge to edge of your view). Like Leica, this top-of-line binoc incorporates its own brand of lens coating—Swaroclean™—to easily clean dust or dirt and prevent abrasions.
Known for its lifetime warranty when purchased from authorized dealers, the Swarovski EL ranks highest in its class in closeness of focus. This binoc also sports a little faster focusing speed than our editor’s pick. Like the latter, Swarovski uses light, durable magnesium in its body construction.
Yes, you receive extra frills for all the dollars spent: Every EL comes with a Snap Shot adapter allowing the hunter to attach one barrel of the binocular to a point-and-shoot camera. This can come in handy when hunting with a partner needing a view, all without having to reset adjustments on your binocs. Like the Leica, the eye cups twist out for bare eyes and in for those wearing glasses.
As for length, because of the barrel design, the Swarovski measures roughly 1-1/2 inches longer than the Leica Ultravid HD. Like most in its class, the Swarovski optics prove impervious to water and similar invaders because they are inert-gas purged and then sealed. If hunting in wet conditions on a deer stand, in a half-submerged duck blind or chasing wild boars in humid climates, you need not fear fogging with these viewers.
Best Binoculars Under $1,000
Vortex Optics Viper HD Roof Prism
- Great performance-for-price ratio
- Very portable
- Clear, accurate view and coloration
- High light transmission
- Comes with carry case, a high-quality neck strap, lens covers and a cleaning cloth
- Lifetime warranty
- Hard to find any, except for weakly constructed carrying case
One of its three most popular Vortex models, the 2018 Viper 10×42 Roof Prism binocs boast a wider field of view and larger eye relief for bespectacled hunters.
In all, it packs a lot of optic quality inside a body conducive to walking lots of rugged, cluttered trails without fear of damage. For their size, these binoculars transmit a lot of light, enough to still site small big game at pre-dawn and post-dusk, greatly due to its Dielectric Prism Coating and anti-reflection optics.
Meanwhile, the hunter gains a wide field of view, high contrast, superb definition, accurate color conveyance and sharp resolution. Internal interference from outside particles and moisture is deterred by O-rings securely fitted around the lenses.
Argon gas treatment augments water and fog resistance, ensuring a clear image through the glass, regardless of the weather. You can therefore trust these binocs on a boat to a duck blind or across a river or lake in search of big game. For the money, this Vortex finds little competition.
Zeiss Conquest HD 10×42 T*
- Sharp definition
- Good contrast and light transmission
- Fits well in hand
- Easy to clean exterior
- Slight color misrepresentation
- Body shell is a bit slick to the hand
- Small exit pupils
If you hunt with a rifle scope, you might already be familiar with Zeiss’ groundbreaking innovations in hunting optics. The Carl Zeiss name stands as high or higher than any of the finest optical glass makers in the world—Swarovski and Leica included—with more than 170 years of tradition behind its glass and lens making.
The Zeiss Conquest 10×42 HD binos, a lower-priced iteration of its high-end models, holds true to the German company’s legacy. Central to all fine-quality binoculars, the glass composition and treatment makes the difference and it is no different with Zeiss, using coatings and composites to eliminate reflections and maximize entry of light.
Outside of composition, the ample, rubberized eye cups—made in Germany—keep any torrid rains, wind and external light distractions from entering around the binos’ exit pupils (the tiny light canal into the prism of lenses). Because this set of binos represents Zeiss’ effort to keep the price under $1,000, the only noticeable rub in its quality of field lies in the attrition of red and blue through its prism schematic. Therefore, images appear with a slight greenish hue.
Otherwise, clarity and sharpness stand out. Due to smaller-than-average pupil exits, brightness suffers slightly. However, the Zeiss Conquest amounts to another good buy per dollar spent.
Best Under $500
Vortex Optics Diamondback 10×42 Roof Prism
- Made to be on the move
- Wide IPD
- Quick focus
- Sharp image
- Good color portrayal
- VIP warranty
- Affordable and good value on the dollar
- Slight image aberration at edges of FOV
Another very portable yet affordable pair of roof-prism binocs that pack Vortex quality optics into a compact shell (6 in. long by 5-1/2 in. wide).
These will travel well inside some pockets or an auxiliary binocular harness while maintaining an extra-large IPD (interpupillary distance) for users whose distance between eyes is greater than average. Eye relief proves more than ample for those wearing glasses. If you are a Nikon devotee, look at the Vortex Diamondback as a competitor to the former’s Monarch model with a bit better value on the dollar, given Vortex’s clearness and sharpness.
An ample rubber coating keeps all fitting inside well intact while fending off impacts and muffling any giveaway slaps against other equipment while stalking deer or elk on inclines and down slopes. These glasses focus quickly compared to others in its class. Everything feels sturdy inside the Diamondback body, from focus wheel, to hinges, to a steadfast diopter (right-eye vision adjustment) unlikely to slip out of your desired setting.
The field of view is extraordinarily wide for the Diamondback’s size: 345 feet per 1,000 yards. However, a trained eye can detect lessened focus and chromatic aberrations on the outer edges of the FOV should a deer, antelope or elk dart away from your center of view without your ability to instantly adjust the focus.
Meanwhile, Vortex remains spot on with natural color representation and clarity otherwise. The Wisconsin-based U.S. company offers a VIP (very important promise) warranty on all of its ocular hunting products (binos, field scopes, rifle scopes, monoculars) without filling anything out or asking any questions should something go wrong.
Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10×42
- Fits in hand well as double-bridge leaves center open for fingers
- Good value
- Good FOV for size
- Rugged shell
- Objectives (front lenses) deeply recessed for protection
- Good warranty
- Some chromatic aberration and unnatural color at very edges of FOV
- Focus knob sticky at first
Color the Vanguard Endeavor ED II very comfy in all aspects of performance. First, its focus range is conveniently wide for spotting something in front of your original target animal. The Endeavor boasts a close focus range of 6.5 feet to allow easy transition should something nearby catch your attention.
Its weight and size prove easy to handle, given its textured rubber coating on the wrap-around barrels of this double-bridged set. That said, it is not as compact and portable as some other picks when chasing your prey or retrieving it. A magnesium alloy housing ensures sturdiness when bouncing around on a deer trail or rocky river breaks for chukar and mulies.
Further, its eye relief is ample and comfortable: good for wearing glasses and not having to press or strain your eyes. As for lens quality, Vanguard uses BaK4 prisms and fully multi-coated lenses to minimize scattered light and keep the view bright. Additionally, its ED glass combines with correcting coating in the prism to produce sharp and clear imaging, but not quite to the very edge of the FOV where a yellow hue can be detected in white objects.
A little chromatic aberration at the edge is sometimes detected as well. For its price, the Endeavor ED II contends with any other pair of binocs in its class, especially since it costs a little less than many of its competitors.
Carson 3D Series HD 10×42 Waterproof
- Clear, fine 3D definition and contrast
- Fairly rugged and waterproof
- Comes with a well designed and supportive carrier strap
- Slight tinge of yellow in color representation
- Finger guides could be more precise
- Narrower field of view than some binocs in its genre
For a pair of binocs well under $500, the Carson 3D Series High Definition, 10×42, meets many expectations for a hunter on the move or stationary.
However, like other sets in its price range, it uses some alternate tactics to achieve light transmission, waterproof qualities, lens clarity and sharpness of image.
First, it seals the junctures where moisture might occur with O-rings, much like the higher-priced Vortex Viper HD. Then, potentially moist air caught between the joints is purged and displaced by nitrogen gas to prevent any fogging that may cause a hunter to mistake a young spike for a doe.
As for honing in on your game, the focus wheel turns relatively fast at about 1-1/4 revolutions to infinity. However, its location is not exactly conducive to where the finger and thumb guides lead your hands (a minor detail). Eye relief seems fair at 16 mm; some hunters with glasses may require more.
The twist-style eyecups pose an easy grip and hold their desired position well. A beveled end proves comfortable when pressed around the eye sockets. The 3D lens construction amounts to Carson’s attempt to emulate a Porro prism (offset lens glass inside an articulated barrel, such as an old set of Bushnells).
It works to a large extent in contrast and clarity, but manages to leave a just a tittle of unnatural yellow which can cause some error for identifying details of prey when it comes to coats (ungulates) or plumage (birds). For its price range, brightness (i.e., light transmission) proves decent at post-dusk and pre-dawn.
The chassis and body consist of a bicarbonate and firm but not slippery rubber, respectively. In all, this set of binocs achieves a lot for the price.
Best Value Binocular for Hunting
Maven C1 10×42
- Good value on an economic pair of binos
- Sharp, naturally colored image through ED lenses
- Removable eyecups for easier eyepiece cleaning
- Cloth carry bag, lens caps, a Maven hat and neck strap come with purchase
- Some inconsistency in diopter tightness
- Not the most streamlined binos
- Some movement in diopter when pressed to hard against the eye
Slightly smaller than the Vortex Viper and about the same weight, the Maven C1 adequately covers all the essential needs in hunter optics. However, compared to the rest in its price range, it exceeds the bar for image sharpness.
It conveys natural colors accurately and minimizes chromatic aberration to the point of being unnoticeable. Indeed, it looks like Maven, a relative newcomer to the binocular field, pays more attention to interior and performance than its exterior.
If you Baby Boomers remember Mr. Magoo, Maven comes as close as any binoc can get to impersonating the overly bespectacled cartoon character with its budding objectives and barrels. It is not designed to look necessarily suave, but just functional and then some.
Its dedication to performance over style results in a good set of hunter’s eyes that beats the price of most other binocs in its class. You are not mistaken to take its spartan appearance with spartan toughness. A polymer chassis is wrapped in a finely textured rubber coating for a solid grip,, aided by well-placed thumb guides (indentations).
The focus turns rather quickly to infinity but users report some inconsistency with the diopter adjustment—from too much play to too tight. The IPD is just enough for most glass-wearing hunters and the eyecups twist in and out with clicks at each stop junction. You can carry the binoculars at a maximal extension to further protect the eyepieces from airborne debris to abrasive impacts such as branches and thorny surfaces.
Because these binos are not a Swarovski, Zeiss, Steiner, Meopta or Leica, they are going to produce a softer image than the heavyweights. You get what you pay for in this Maven, but not less, because their ED glass lends a sharp, bright and naturally colored image with a minimum of chromatic aberration.
Best Budget Binocs – Under $200
Nikon Prostaff 7S 10×42
- Good value on some multi-purpose binoculars
- Sharp, naturally colored image through specially treated lens glass
- Compact and relatively light
- Sleek with good grip
- IPD (the spread between eyepieces) lower than many binos
- Eye relief could be better for bespectacled hunters
- Aberrations can appear when viewing toward undeterred sunlight
First, it’s too easy to dismiss Nikon as an urban maven’s set of glasses that just happen to work for particular outdoor endeavors. Nikon, supported particularly by its history in cameras, knows the ins and outs of lens composition and design. The latter best represented by its undying dedication—opposite the Maven C1—to exterior appeal and comfy grip.
Nikon still pays close attention to waterproofing, witnessed by its purging of moisture-collecting cavities with nitrogen gas. It pays equal attention to shock absorption with ample rubber coating and portability at less than 1-1/2 lbs. for its Prostaff 7S. Second, don’t mistake this model for many other picks that preen their dynamics specifically for the outdoor buff: hunters, birdwatchers, Sunday biologists and so on.
But, for a couple smackers or a little less, you receive a sharp focus, good contrast and decent lighting in the Prostaff 7S, not to mention an easy handling focus wheel and light weight for a 10×42. It is a little long—7 inches—as binocs of this ilk go, but still quite portable. Getting back to Nikon’s acuity in lenses, the Prostaff incorporates multiple layers of coating to ensure brightness and phase-correction coated prisms for high resolution. Brightness is boosted by mirror-coated prisms.
Nikon touts eco-friendly composites in this regard—free of lead and arsenic. As with most Nikons, the focus wheel sits in a very natural and conducive position to the design’s suggested grip. The waterfowl hunter is not going to easily see the dark line between the bill and eye of a Ross’s goose as opposed to the all-white expanse of a snow goose, especially at dusk or dawn (more expensive Nikons certainly can).
However, under normal conditions and with virtually all types of game, the hunter can rest assured these Nikons will acutely identify their intended and legal target.
Vortex Crossfire 10×42 Roof Prism
- Very affordable
- Sharp image
- Comes with rainguard, neck strap and carrying case
- Lifetime warranty
- Not a lot of IPD or eye relief for hunters with eyeglasses
- Less-than-average FOV
You can call these entry level hunting binocs and their price suggests such when compared to our other picks, but the Vortex Crossfire packs as much performance and precision into its frame as it can per buck saved.
Multiple lens coats maximize depth of field and brightness through a roof prism, while all junctures and cavities are purged of moist-gathering air via nitrogen gas to prevent fogginess in sultry or frigid weather. Sealed O-rings also help keep water out.
These prove a bit stingy on IPD and eye relief in regard to eyepieces, but the large, ridged focus knob allows easy fingering (even with gloves) for adjustments. The symmetry of the durable Rubber Armor coating offers ease of handling afield.
Rubber eyecups adjust by twisting. A rainguard, tethered lens covers, neck strap and soft carrying case come with purchase..
Best for Deer Hunting
If you only hunt for deer, your needs in a binocular are much more narrowed than many of the models already mentioned. You need sharp identification for spikes, does, antler points in the case of trophy hunting and even the bullet entry on a wounded animal.
More than likely, you hunt in one or more of a few scenarios: from a deer stand, in wooded terrain (high or low) or along rocky river breaks. A deer stand allows you to use a more extravagant setup, such as a high-powered binoc on a tripod.
Alternately, hunting on foot in a forest can at times allow packing of a tripod and a heavy binocular with exceptional range. If it involves a lot of climbing or traversing slopes, you are not wont to carry the extra gear or accessories. Dexterity and a light load are demanded. You need a powerful, precise, yet light and portable binocular.
Combining all these prerequisites, our team of deer hunters chose the following binoculars.
Nikon 7576 Monarch 8×42
- Sharp, high-resolution image
- Good in low-light conditions
- Hardy construction
- Relatively light for long-distance hiking
- Great eye relief for those wearing glasses
- Objective lens caps and eyepiece caps often pop off
Whether from a tree stand or plodding beneath a thick canopy of old growth, the Nikon 7576 Monarch 8×42 proficiently covers the required ground for the deer hunter.
It is perfect for the deer hunter who switches up from one of these vantage points to another throughout the season. A souped-up version of Nikon’s Monarch 5, the 7576 Monarch devotes added attention to the dark surroundings of closed-canopy hunting with better low-light image reception.
If your forested trekking takes you to high terrain, you will appreciate its lightness and Armor Rubber exterior to protect it from impacts. Meanwhile, it refuses to compromise lens quality to achieve its light weight. It equips its Monarch 5 hybrid with ED (extra-low dispersion) lenses to better convey details in dark environments.
Like most of our picks, it includes a tripod mount and an optional adaptor. For the high-country buck season’s morning chill, its oversized, well-knurled focus wheel is easy to turn with gloves, but oversized hands might feel lost given the compact size of the Nikon 7576. Regardless, this pair of binocs deftly blends value, performance and versatility for the deer hunter whose tactics vary.
Best Compact Binoculars
When your type of hunting just can’t tolerate the heft and size of standard binoculars, compact binoculars are your next best bet. You just can’t expect a pair of smaller binocs to accomplish the same visual quality—or dim-light capability—of bigger binoculars with bigger prisms and objectives.
Magnifications of 7 or 8 and objectives of 25-32 mm can suffice for hunters who can quietly stalk prey. You simply need to compare prospective compact binocs for sharpness and optimal light transmision.
Some makers are better able to squeeze sharpness and brightness into a small package than others. By doing your homework (such as reading our buyer’s guide) you can find a pair of viable compacts for $100-$250. Like all other binocs, you get the glass you pay for.
Nikon 8218 Trailblazer 10×25
- Light, small and very portable
- Weather resistant and tough
- For its size, an exceptional range of view and pretty sharp imaging
- Performs poorly in low-light conditions
- Eyepiece covers fit awkwardly
- Diopter setting can change in use because of no locking junctions
- IPD and eye relief suffer a bit from the size of these binocs
If you want to identify a teel from a widgeon across 150 yards of pond or the spikes of a buck from the same distance, these budget binoculars of less than $100 will do the job, with some Nikon-style sleekness, resilience and portability infused.
For handiness, this 8218 Trailblazer is tough to beat with its thrifty 25 mm of objectives and a frame of just over 4 inches long and 5 inches wide. A Bak4 roof prism, multi-coated lenses, a smooth, quick center focus wheel, a 1,000 ft. range—coupled with a 342 ft. FOV—makes a hunter wonder how Nikon packed such dynamics into such a small package.
Nikon uses the same methods other binocs use on their economic models: nitrogen-filled nooks and cavities with well-sealed O-rings at junctions. It all adds up to fog and moisture prevention for a clear view afield, no matter the weather.
As the old axiom goes, you get what you pay for: The 8218 Trailblazer fails to account for pre-dawn, post-dusk or deep canopy viewing. Its light transmission is much reduced from the mid-range and upper-range models cited here. Even heavy cloud cover leaves a noticeable absence of brightness and subsequent detail.
This is basically the result of being compact, including the smaller objectves: Not enough glass surface area to do the job. However, the Trailblazer’s price, lightness, nifty size, field of range and view, relative toughness and suitability for less-than-challenging hunting environments fits the right hunter perfectly well.
Best Rangefinder Binoculars
Sometimes you need more than what one of our binocular picks offer. You need exact distance to your target to make sure your kill is a clean one. You need to sight and identify that antelope or elk from 800 yards or more to avoid the mistake of crunching a branch beneath your boot or inadvertently kicking a rock to give your prey the warning to run.
You desire all the logistics—including exact distances up and down slopes—to conduct an ethical, successful hunt. Such is the work of a laser-assisted rangefinder. Fortunately, today’s technology offers rangefinders in a binocular format so that you are not carrying the traditional heavy rangefinder along with your binocs. When traversing miles of priarie or high country, your feet and legs will be appreciative of this two-in-one sighting device.
Our experts selected the following two as the best for your dollar, which is important because a rangefinder binocular, on average, will noticeably extend your hunting budget.
Swarovski EL Rangefinder 10×42
- The finest in sharp, bright, accurate imaging
- Well appointed settings and aim readings
- Light and relatively compact for its genre
- Because its built-in distance readout system is based on meters, the yard option—enabled by auxiliary software equipped in the unit—does not read certain measurements down to the yard when distance falls between 10-yard increments (best learn your metrics and stay with the meter option)
- The laser activation button location proves a bit awkward for those who must carry their rifle or bow in the left hand for shooting purposes
When talking about precision, angles, sight distance and field of view in general, it is no surprise that Swarovskis rise above the pool of most other brands as one of our preferred rangefinder binos.
However, the price for these beauties is not for the light-hearted hunter. For many, the purchase of a Swarovski EL Rangefinder can equate to a month’s salary. What you receive is an extra-bright, crystal-clear image in a durable, relatively light and long-distance game tracker that weighs a thrifty 32 oz. and measures 4×6 inches.
Its impressive brightness, color conveyance and resolution is born from the Swarobright prism coating, supported by a Sworatop lens coating. A respectable 331-yd. FOV complements a measuring range of 33 to 1,500 yards and measuring accuracy within a yard. One of the advantages of a rangefinder binocular is its ability to display data throught two separate eyepieces. Swarovski takes advantage of this amenity by displaying the red LED aiming circle in the right barrel and the distance readout in the left barrel.
Therefore, a diopter adjustment is located on each ocular to finely focus both the distance data and your aim. A single touch of the set’s top button engages both the aiming assist and distance laser. A setup menu scroller, located on the inside of the left barrel and just below the focus wheel, allows you to choose from five different brightness levels. Sounds daunting, but in extremely sunny terrain full of neutral and light-colored flora—think savanna, steppe land or desert—reading LED displays through your lens barrels can be difficult at best.
As a shortcut and simplifier, you can set your preference to automatic brightness, allowing the unit’s computer to provide otpimal brightness. True to a rangefinder’s purpose, the Swarovski EL hosts the ability to compensate for angle (whether immediately up, down or over a long distance) so that you know the exact shooting distance immediately.
You are paying for near perfection in rangefinding while enjoying the amenities of binoculars when opening your pocketbook wide for the Swarovski EL Rangefiner binoculars.
Nikon Laser Force 10×42 Rangefinder
- Nikon no-fault warranty and replacement policy
- Great portability
- Sharp, detailed imaging
- Energy efficient
- Waterproof to core
- Eye relief could be better for a rangefinder and the bespectacled
New in the Nikon production line, the Laser Force 10×42 Rangefinder uses ED glass in its lenses with multiple coatings (including reflective) throughout its prism to relay a sharp image with minimal color fringing.
These beat our Swarovski pick in weight and compactness, but only by a little. Same goes with the price. Its field of distance, 1,900 yards max (a tick over a mile), and 10x magnfication should please the varmint hunter on the endless arid range or big-game chaser whose terrain is wrought with noisemaking rocks along ravines and twigs in the brambles.
Like the Swarovski, its laser rangefinder compensates for hills when calculating distance and aim. Did we say the calculations and adjustments were quick? These are powered by a single CR2 battery, whose charge status is displayed in the right eyepiece. To save battery juice, Nikon installed an automatic shutoff of the heads-up display after eight seconds.
Multi-stop, turn-and-slide rubber eyecups combine with a fairly long eye relief to provide ease of viewing for both glass wearers and the bare-eyed. Like other makes, a nitrogen-purged body and other sealing techniques make these waterproof and fog proof. A metal die-cast body beneath a rubber, turtle-skin like surface ensures durability and a sure grip.
Nikon prepared the Laser Force’s precision for the rough and tumble. Overall, these might be the lightest, handiest rangefinder binoculars on the market. Include this distinction if it helps you to justify the price of such quality.
Best for Low-Light Conditions
Steiner 8×56 Shadow Quest
- Great FOV
- Great brightness in dark environments
- Deceptively light for their size
- Floating mounting system helps absorb shock form impact
- Needs only one individual focus adjustment
- Fast tracking of targets without refocusing
- Auto-focus setting at 66 ft. to infinity does not allow fine-tuning for only semi-dark environments or direct, extreme light
Aptly named, our lone Porro prism pick excels in low light precisely because of its offset lens structure, combined with a night lens coating. To allow for optimal lighting, the Steiner 8×56 Shadow Quest’s auto-focus system depends greatly upon your own eyes’ natural ability to focus in darker-than-usual environments.
The reduced magnification (8x) and larger objectives (56 mm) give aegis to a large 7 mm exit pupil to strenghten the transmission of light. Once fully dilated in the dark, the exit pupil fully covers the pupils of hunters seeking pre-dawn or post-dusk game.
These binocs are focused greatly on providing bright images and high contrast in low-light conditions, much to the pleasure of hunters scanning a dense canopy for antlered deer prior to dawn.
When dawn arrives, the Shadow Quest’s winged eyecups conform comfortably and completely around the eye sockets to block any peripheral rays from the rising sun. A wide angle of view minimizes disorientation inherent to the movement of scanning across dark confines. Like many Steiner binocs, these come sans a tripod mount.
Buyer’s Guide: What to look for when selecting the right pair of binocs for hunting
If you are like most hunters, the first pair of binoculars you took hunting were very likely an understated, inexpensive set or the ones you took to rock concerts or sporting events. Then, the light—or low light—hit you: A better, sharper, longer-range binoc is in order, especially if hunting anything that scurries or flies outside of a 60-yard range.
If you just cast your casual binocs aside in favor of capitulating your pocketbook to a real pair of hunting glasses, first know where the value of good binocs lies. Your eyes cannot help, because the essential quality lies beneath the surface of the binoculars and in the glass. The masters of glass and lenses—e.g. Swarovski, Leica, Meopta, Zeiss—produce binos at a premium price because of their glass-crafting legacies.
If you are still scratching your head about the key elements and terminologies surrounding binoculars, you may need some further orientation to make sure you choose the right pair.
This is not advanced math or geometry class. Don’t be intimidated by numbers associated with binoculars, such as those alluding to magnification power. Most numbers can be rather easy to explain or decipher through very basic math.
Each binocular flaunts a magnification range represented in the following ways: 10×42 (generally best for hunting), 8×42 (okay for hunting as well), 7×20 and so on. The first number refers to how many times an object is magnified (i.e., 10 times, 8 times or 7 times closer than with the naked eye). These are probably of much greater magnification than the ones you brought to the football games or Sting concert.
The second number refers to the diameter of the objectives or lenses at the end of the barrels. The larger the magnifications and objectives, the likelier the need for a tripod and steadiness when viewing.
The larger the objective, the larger the capacity for light transmission, critical for brighter, sharper and clearer images. They also, however, add weight with each gain in diameter. Therefore, know where you are most likely to hunt and how you are hunting to make sure the binocs are not too unwieldy.
A small note about zoom binoculars: These are usually sporting 10-30×60 numbers. Though they offer great versatility, it is of value for endeavors other than hunting because of their inherent degradation in brightness, sharpness and other qualities in image. Detecting a spike from a doe while deer hunting at dawn or dusk is not within the purvey of such binocs.
Field and angle of view
In specifications for binoculars, you will often see the abbreviation, FOV. It stands for field of view. You will also see angle of view. One complements the other.
The FOV represents width of your view in actual feet at each 1,000 yards of distance while holding the binocs still.
The angle of view refers to the FOV in a different way. Think of the angle of view (AOV) in terms of a Frisbee’s 360 degrees. A 6.5-degree AOV translates into cutting out a pie-shaped piece of that Frisbee that amounts to 6.5 degrees of the full circle—360 degrees minus 6.5. This is the amount of the full circle you are viewing.
The larger the AOV, the larger your FOV. The larger the binoculars’ objectives, the larger the FOV and AOV.
To mathematically reconcile AOV to FOV, each degree equals 52.5 feet of FOV at 1,000 yards. For example, a 6.3 degree AOV equates to a 330.75 FOV.
Exit pupil and relative brightness index (RBI)
These terms allude to passages or transmission of light through a prism of glass or lenses in the binoculars.
The amount of light emitted from the prism to your eye when focusing equates to the exit pupil. You can actually see this portal for light transmission by holding the binocs several inches from your face to see the small dot in the center of each eyepiece. These are the binocs’ pupils. The diameter of the exit pupil should always be wider than our eye’s pupil, which usually ranges from1.5 mm to 8mm, depending on amount of light or darkness.
Your vision tends to attrition as you age and as it does, so does its dilation range. If you are a seasoned hunter, you then have reason to pay closer attention to the exit pupil diameter.
Again, just some basic math: The binoculars’ exit pupil diameter can be calculated by dividing the objective (end lenses) by the magnification. For example, the common 10×42 binocular houses at 4.2 mm exit pupil diameter; a 7×20 hosts a 2.85 mm exit pupil. Therefore, the latter offers little in comparative brightness.
The RBI or relative brightness index tells you how much light is accessible via the exit pupils to your eyes during the day and during low light hours.
This stands for interpupillary distance—the amount of space between the eyepieces. Distance between eyes varies from person to person. This is why most binocular barrels will pull out to allow anywhere from 66 to 80 mm of space between each eye. Correct IPD proves essential for maximizing the hunter’s view.
You may see this term from time to time but it basically refers to the binoculars’ ability to keep rays of light in their natural, parallel order. When they don’t, you will see the term chromatic aberration associated with that pair of binocs. This is when colors flare unnaturally somewhere within the frame of your view.
Eyecups serve two purposes: 1) to keep peripheral light and fragments of dust or moisture molecules from entering the distance between your pupil and the binos’ exit pupil; and 2) to allow for the ideal distance (or eye relief) your eyes need for their natural focus to prevail through the eyepieces.
The amount of space an eyecup cedes between glass and human pupil proves critical to someone who wears glasses to see. There must be enough space to prevent the hunter’s eyeglass lenses from bumping the binocs’ eyepiece lens.
Types of eyecups vary in terms of projecting and withdrawing. Most are made of plastic or other non-abrasive material that feels comfy to the eye.
The fold style of eyecups simply fold out or in, depending on whether you wear eyeglasses or not. Consumers are seeing fewer and fewer binoculars using this style of eyecup in favor of the twist style, which depends on rotation with your fingers to set the distance you wish the eyecup to protrude. You twist the opposite way to collapse the eyecups.
The horn, wrap-around or winged style feature a set contour that hugs your eye sockets and greatly protects your eyes from peripheral light, precipitation or debris. However, these are useless for those wearing glasses who need a specific distance between the eyepiece glass and the seeing glasses. In this vein, the bespectacled hunter should look for a minimum of 16 mm of eye relief—the distance between eyeglass lens and eyepiece lens.
Roof prism and Porro prism
These terms relate to the shape of the binocular body in a most general sense. The roof prism consists of two straight or sometimes flaring barrels under a hood or bridge (sometimes two bridges) between the barrels.
The roof prism predominates the binocular market. All glass inside the barrels are aligned with each other. This straightness proves essential to keeping a binoculars’ dimensions tight—small enough to easily store in a pocket or pouch and easy to command in one hand.
Porro prisms consist of offset glass and lenses from eyepiece to objective (the barrel). You will find their shapes articulated instead of straight. Your grandpa’s old Bushnells, for example, sported a Porro prism.
Though a bit clunkier and heavier than roof prism binos, the Porro variety allows for greater depth of field and wider FOV than a roof prism in most cases.
Binoculars will either feature a center focus or individual focus adjustment. The center focus knob is typically located in the center of the binocular, somewhere between the two barrels and easy to use with either the left or right index finger. For easy adjusting, many manufacturers incorporate finger-friendly knurls on the dial.
The individual focus refers to the diopter or right eyepiece. Often, binocular makers incorporate stop points along the rotation of the diopter dial. These keep your focus point in place and prevent incidental slippage that requires the hunter to re-focus the diopter.
Optical coatings are applied to lens glass in order to ensure image quality. Some eliminate reflection while others facilitate reflection in order to ensure image clarity, to improve light transmission and help keep glass clear of residue or fogging. The quality of image in a binocular is highly dependent on the types of coatings applied on the glass. Some high-end makers use their own patented coatings, such as Zeiss’ T* coating.
This refers to the ability of a binocular to feed enough light through its prism to keep images sharp and bright under low-light conditions. The hunter might be walking beneath a thick canopy of trees that shuts out daylight or hunting during pre-dawn and twilight hours. Glass construction, coating and exit pupil, not to mention the objective size, all combine to maximize light transmission and ensure a bright image.
Most waterproof binoculars are constructed of chassis and surfaces that repel water. They also purge any air that may attract moisture inside the prism with a gas, most commonly nitrogen. Any moisture entering the prism can severely reduce image quality.
Critical factors to your purchase
Before heading out to look at your first serious hunting binocular, you should be aware of the price ranges, best brands and countries of origin. Germany, Italy, Hungary and a couple other European countries tout some of the highest quality of glass lenses in the world. Zeiss, Leica, Swarovski, Steiner and Meopta are among a handful of brands known for their lens making and glass treatments. They are also known for their weighty prices.
If on a budget, the hunter can find competing binoculars of several hundred dollars less than the aforementioned brands. Glass endurance may be compromised, but because of coatings and new technologies, the image can be nearly as pristine as the paragons of glass making in Europe.
When purchasing binoculars, check the fit of eyepiece and objective caps. Do they easily fall off? Are they hard to attach?
Make sure the body is made of material that is easy to grip and not too slippery. Also be sure that all adjustments respond smoothly and lend themselves to turning with gloves for cold-weather hunting.
Also consider what comes with a set of binoculars when choosing one. Some include very durable carry cases or carriages and holders as well as comfortably designed and sturdy straps or harnesses. Some makers cut corners on such accessories.
Also inquire about warranties. Some of the big-name brands automatically come with a no-fee lifetime warranty with no questions asked about the cause of the damage or disrepair.
Know your eyes before making a purchase. The strength of each eye and their differential will play a key role in focusing your new binoculars to the optimal vision settings. Also account for the spread between your eyes (the interpupillary distance or IPD). Make sure the barrels spread far enough apart or close enough together to account for the particular distance between your eyes. If too narrow for your IPD or too wide, you can encounter aberrations in the image you see through the lenses.
Keep in mind that binoculars aren’t too different than a pair of eyeglasses. They both provide sharper vision, greater clarity and distance than your natural vision. Moreover, they both require a break-in period for your eyes to adjust correctly to their settings.
Hunting Binoculars FAQs
What are the best binocular brands?
Some of the European makers top the list, but it is hard to rate them in order. Zeiss, Leica, Swarovski, Steiner, Meopta and Vortex are all hard to beat. Nikon makes a wide price range of models suitable to particular hunter needs, as does Maven and Carson.
What makes for the best hunting binoculars?
Because hunters need sharp, detailed imagery at a distance in order to conduct a clean kill and identify legal game, lens glass proves the most vital element to a good pair of binoculars. Inquire about who makes the glass and its composition as well as coatings—all critical to durability, sharpness and moisture resistance. Also consider the toughness of their body and their waterproofing; hunting often entails some very wet, rough trails and rugged terrain in general.
Which magnification is best for hunting?
Hunters will most often rely on 10x magnification, making the object appear 10 times closer with the naked eye. This level of magnification serves nearly all types of hunting and terrains. However, hunters sometimes opt for 8x magnification when the prey is not so rangy and they wish to minimize weight or size of their binoculars.
Should I get a compact or a full-size binocular?
This depends on how you hunt. If a deer hunter likes to mostly hunt from tree stands, a solid binocular with wide objectives and long barrels that also accommodates a tripod can work brilliantly. Same goes for a turkey hunter. They are made for more stationary hunting. If you are a puddle-jumping cottontail rabbit hunter, a more compact model—say from Nikon—proves very portable and easy to tuck away or grab from a pocket with one hand. Deer, elk or sheep hunters in arid steppe land or on rocky ridges also benefit from a lighter, more portable model.
Should I buy a roof prism or Porro prism set?
If you want ultimate image conveyance, the Porro variety most often works best. Its offset glass angles best minimize interference in image. This can be crucial for those serious about sighting game before the actual hunting day or those whose pursuit requires a lot of stalking in stealth, especially when it comes to making noise.
Do I need a tripod mount on my binoculars?
Again, the answer depends on the type of hunting you prefer. Although most models come with a tripod mount, a mobile hunter who doesn’t need to sight and identify game ahead of time can go without the use of a tripod. Depending on the quality of the binoculars’ imaging and its steadiness in hand, a tripod can be moot to its performance. Some rangefinder binoculars are very steady and precise at the same time, thus eliminating the need for a tripod.
Conclusion: It’s all about what your eyes are like
The best pair of hunting binoculars or binocular rangefinders actually becomes a very personal pursuit. No cookie cutter exists to identify the best all-around pair for hunting in general. This is mostly because everyone’s eyes possess different levels of power, different IPDs and different rates of natural focus. In this way, it is like getting eyeglasses. You must know the strengths and weaknesses of your eyes to gain the right prescription or the right pair of binocs.
Image credits: Title image by Bureau of Land Management/flickr (CC-BY 2.0 license); all product images courtesy of the respective manufacturers