The choices made when buying binoculars is a weighty decision for every hunter and outdoorsman. As we develop into more advanced hunters, we learn that high quality optics become more important. So, will we take the easy path with a pair of cheap hunting binoculars that may or may not even survive through the next season?
Or instead, do some basic research and choose something with more quality that will not only last, but will vastly outperform the cheap off the shelf binoculars. Buying high quality optics should be viewed as a long term investment. Today’s best binoculars for hunting re highly engineered to provide us with brighter and clearer vision while in the field. Making a wise investment in binoculars today will benefit you with more successful hunting trips for years to come.
Like most pieces of outdoors gear, there is a broad range of binoculars with varying features and quality. The best binoculars for hunting will have distinctive features compared to birding or stargazing binoculars. It’s your task now to understand these features and how you will be using the binoculars to get the best value for your money.
The primary features to compare between binoculars are prism design, magnification, field of view, lens coatings, exit pupil, total weight, and more. I won’t use too much space here covering these features; instead you can read this in-depth explanation of binoculars specifications.
Does the adage “you get what you pay for”, apply to hunting optics? Yes it does, to an extent. While I don’t ever recommend buying anything under $100, it is not required to spend $2,000 either. Some of the best binoculars for hunting that I have ever owned have cost less than $600. To get the best optics for your money, I would look to the mid to middle-upper range of binoculars for the best blend of performance and value.
In general, you want to pick binoculars within your budget that have the best magnification for you, the widest field of view, coated lenses, waterproof, fog proof, and light weight. That’s a lot to ask for but the rest of this article should help you narrow down your choices.
Hunting Binoculars Compared by Price
If you have a specific price range you’re shopping for, we have separate articles comparing the best hunting binoculars in several price ranges.
Anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors should invest in a good pair of binoculars; however, shopping for them can be a confusing experience to the uninformed. To understand how to buy binoculars for hunting, you need to understand the basics of how to read binocular specs.
Quality Components, Quality Build
Quality should come first when shopping for hunting binoculars. It’s extremely important when looking for a reliable pair of binoculars to find a pair that is top of the line both optically and mechanically.
If you cheap out, and spend just $100 on binoculars, you are bound to be disappointed. But you don’t have to take out a loan to get good binos either. There is a middle ground that you need to seek, where quality components merge with sane pricing. I would stick with the trusted brands like Nikon, Pentax, Steiner, Vortex, Leica, and Zeiss.
By understanding the different binoculars specs, you will make a sound decision and end up with a reliable and long lasting purchase.
Magnification, also called power, is the first number in a binocular model, and is one of the most important choices you’ll have when buying hunting binoculars. For example, 8×42 has a magnification of “8x”. 8x means the object you are viewing will appear 8 times larger or closer than with your unaided eye.
In this video, Ben and Diane of Eagle Optics, do a great job demonstrating the differences between magnifications. Watch the video below, and think about how you like to hunt, I think it will help make sense of which power to choose when buying your new binoculars.
8x Magnification – Wider field of view, collect more light for a brighter image, usually more compact and light weight.
10x Magnification – Much closer view of your target, but sacrifice field of view, some steadiness, and some brightness.
This is the second number in a binocular specification. When you a see a binocular marked as 10×42, this simply means that the objective lens is 42mm in diameter. The objective then focuses that light into the prisms, which flip the image right side up, and into the magnifying lens near your eyes.
The larger the objective diameter is, the more light that is gathered from the field of view. So a 10×50 binocular will produce a brighter image than a 10×42.
As you move up in objective power, you also move up in price and size. 42mm is by far the most common size objective, as consumers have found it to be an ideal size with good performance and maintaining a compact overall size.
Field of View
The FOV is determined by the binoculars’ optical design. This is the width of picture you can see with the binoculars at a specified distance (usually 1,000 feet). Pay attention to this number, as better binoculars will many times have a slightly larger field of view.
Prisms are extremely important in a pair of binoculars because they are what allow you to see the image right side up through the eye pieces. Look for binos with prisms made from BaK-4 glass. BaK-4 is an optically superior glass compared to the BK-7 that you will find in the cheapo units.
There are two types of prisms used in most binoculars today, porro prism, and roof prisms.
Roof prisms have become the industry norm, due to their compactness. Roof prisms allow for the objective lens to be aligned directly with the eyepiece, allowing for straight optical tubes that can fold up into a more compact size.
Porro prisms are arranged in a z-shape, meaning the objective lens and ocular lens do not line up, and requires an offset and boxy shape for the optical tubes. Porro prisms normally provide brighter images than roof prism, due to the fact roof prisms use silvered finished, and the result is an approximate 12% reduction in transmission of light.
So why do most binoculars use roof prisms if they tend to have inferior optics? Consumers demanded a more compact design, and the manufacturers have in turn spent most of their efforts on those designs. There are exceptions, like the Leica Geovid HD-B rangefinder binos, but those are an extremely premium piece of equipment.
Lens Coatings and Their Function
Lens coatings are a vital part of any pair of binoculars. They assist in the transmission of light, as well as cut down on glare, and other optical phenomena.
When you look at a pair of binoculars, you may notice colored reflections in the objective lenses. This is due to anti-reflection coatings. Anti-reflective coatings are used to reduce the amount of light lost at various optical surfaces by reflecting at each surface, and aid in a clear image being shown. You will most often see these four descriptions on binoculars:
Coated: A single layer of anti-reflection coating, usually only on the objective and magnification lenses.
Multi-Coated: Some lens surfaces will be coated multiple times.
Fully Coated: All lens surfaces touched by the air have a coating.
Full Multi-Coated: All lens surfaces will have multiple anti-reflection coatings.
You can probably already guess that you want either fully coated or fully multi-coated lenses on your binoculars.
Collimation is just a fancy word meaning optical alignment. A well collimated binocular will have the lenses optical axis aligned together with high precision. Lenses that are out of collimation will result in poor performance and a nice headache for the hunter.
The other factor is the pivot points between the two optical tubes. These pivot points form the bridge of the binoculars, and must also be aligned precisely for your eyes to see properly and effortlessly.
As you would expect, it takes costly instruments to achieve this, meaning the higher quality binoculars will have well collimated optics, and the cheap-o pairs will seldom meet that goal.
Exit pupil is determined by the magnification and the diameter of the objective lens. Diameter of the exit pupil will give the amount of light that reaches your eye. You calculate the exit pupil by dividing the objective (second number) by the magnification (first number).
Exit pupil matters for hunters because it controls the amount of ambient light that reaches your eyes. The human iris is around 7mm in diameter, so the closer to 7mm, the closer you are to seeing the image with maximum brightness. Therefore an 8×42 (exit pupil = 5.25) binocular produces a brighter image than a 10×42 (exit pupil = 4.2).
For hunters, they need to think about how and where they usually hunt. If you spend most of your time in low light conditions, then you will want to purchase either 8×42 or 10×50 binoculars for the best light transmission. Hunters in open spaces and daylight conditions can more easily get away with a smaller exit pupil on a 10×42 because there is simply a greater amount of light available for transmission.
Relative Brightness Index (RBI)
This is an index used to describe how bright an image is seen in a binocular. You simply multiply the exit pupil by itself to get the RBI. Looking at an 8×42 binocular, the exit pupil is 5.25, so 5.25 x 5.25 is 27.56. An RBI over 25 is considered to be suitable for low light conditions.
Twilight Factor is a subjective specification, and is somewhat useful to hunters, as it is supposed to be determined by how much you will be able to see in a dawn or dusk situation. The larger the twilight factor, the brighter that binocular is supposed to be at sunrise and sunset.
Best Binoculars for Deer Hunting: Vortex Diamondback 8×42
Deer hunting presents us with a bit a conundrum, due to the fact that some hunters prefer hunting in the big woods, while others like to setup across open fields. That leaves deer hunters with a decision; do you buy the binoculars with more magnification or with the brighter and larger field of view?
8×42 binoculars are a great all around choice for whitetail hunting. You get a high magnification with a solid field of view. woods hunting, and bow hunters in particular, do not need the magnification. They need a larger field of view, and a brighter picture for the lower light environment. In this case I strongly recommend a high quality set of 8×42 magnification binos. On the other hand, if you hunt fields or are an avid muzzleloader, then 10×42 would be a great choice.
Some bow hunters might scoff at the need for binoculars when they can only shoot an animal 25 yards away. I would argue that binoculars can help you pattern those animals movements, indicating you might need to make a stand move. You can also use them to track the animal after a shot. I’ve used my binoculars to in the past to follow the deer until I see them die, making for a much easier tracking of the animal.
We highly recommend the Vortex Diamondbacks as the best 8×42 hunting binoculars. They are bright, lightweight, high quality glasses that come highly rated by hunters.
All of the binoculars I’ve discussed thus far have been regular sized glasses. Compact binoculars are a popular choice among hunters as well. There are differences between compact and regular binoculars that you should know about.
To achieve the compact design, the lenses are smaller in diameter (25mm objective) to achieve the tubular shape. To achieve the same magnification as the larger models, these smaller lenses provide a substantially less bright image. To get a brighter view you’ll need to move down in magnification to 6x or lower. If you are an active hunter or you like to travel light, compact hunting binoculars can be a great option.
One of my favorite compacts is the Bushnell H2O. They come in 8×25, 10×25, and 12×25 sizes. The roof prisms are made from Bak-4 glass, and the lenses are fully coated. I really like the waterproof and rubberized housings. I’ve used these in all kinds of weather and I can say they have held up nicely.
Best 10×42 Binoculars for Hunting: Vortex Viper HD
The best 10×42 binoculars for your money, in my opinion, are the Vortex Viper HD. The Vipers have many of the features the high dollar glasses do, but at a fraction of the cost.
The lenses are made from high density, extra low dispersion glass, with phase correction and anti-reflective coatings. This design means you get bright, clean and crisp viewing with little to no glare that I always seem to get with cheaper binos.
I love that I can go from sun to shadow and still maintain a highly detailed image. I also never seem to develop a sore neck from using these for several days. They are very light weight and I don’t have to strain my eyes.
The housings are rugged and can take some abuse. They are covered with a rubberized coating that Vortex calls “ArmorTek”. The ArmorTek makes for no slip holding and absorbs the bumps and falls that inevitably happen in the field. Don’t worry about a little rain because they are also waterproof and fog proof.
One other feature I really like the locking diopter. The diopter lets you adjust the glasses to account for the slight differences between your two eyes. If the diopter didn’t lock, it would make for a long day of refocusing and tired eyes.
When you take all those great features and performance, then throw in the Vortex Lifetime Warranty, you have a great pair of hunting binoculars.
Like I said earlier, 10×42 are the most popular size binoculars for hunting, but they aren’t for everyone.
Do you have less than a surgeon’s steady hand? Do spend most of your time in heavily wooded areas? Maybe you tire of holding up the larger sized binoculars for hours and days on end. If any of these describe you, then you may be better suited with a set of 8x magnification binoculars.
With the 8×42 size, you get a lighter, more compact set of glasses, with a larger field of view. Lighter means you can hold them all day with less strain on your neck and wrists. With 8x magnification you are essentially trading a bit of magnification for a gain in the amount of light the lenses will gather. In low light dawn and dusk periods, this could be a critical factor in what you can spot.
With all that said, you can get the Nikon Prostaff 7S in the 8×42 size for under $200. This model are highly rated by users and are budget conscious.
Best Binoculars with a Rangefinder: Bushnell Fusion
Have you seen these marvelous creations on the TV hunting shows yet? These binoculars go the extra mile and have a built in laser range finder. Rangefinder binoculars use lasers to measure the distance to a target. They use sophisticated technology to measure the reflection return of the laser back to the binoculars, and then displaying a target range reading.
Leica was one of the first to come out with retail version, with their Leica Geovid HD-B rangefinder binoculars. They since come out with the second generation of Geovids, using their patented Advanced Ballistic Compensation (ABC®) and man are they cool.
Every time I see one of these Bushnell Fusion binoculars, I think how sweet it would be to own a pair. I hope over time that the technology catches up with the demand to lower the prices. I would really only recommend these to the professional and hard core hunters.
Which Magnification is best for Hunting, 8×42 or 10×42?
8×42 and 10×42 are the most popular sizes of binoculars for hunting. They have a good combination of power and light gathering capability, which is perfect for low light hunting conditions. Those 2 numbers are important and you need to think about how you hunt and your personal vision abilities to determine which is best for your hunting trips.
The first number is magnification, as in you will be seeing an object “8 times” or “10 times” closer than with an unaided eye. That’s sounds great and all, but higher magnification also means you will potentially experience a magnified unsteadiness in the eyepiece. Having a sweet pair of 10×42 lenses doesn’t do much good if have the coffee shakes out in the field!
If you hunt mostly in the woods where visibility is limited in the first place, then 8×42 binoculars will be a fine choice. My female hunter friends also like 8×42 binoculars for their lighter weights.
Alternately, 10×42 is better for hunting in open fields, and if you have excellent vision and steady hands. 10×42 binoculars are almost always heavier, and if you tend to scout with your optics for long stretches of time, your hands and arms may get tired. For those hunting in the western US, you could benefit from even higher magnifications, but you may need a mono-pod or binocular harness to steady your view.