If you can afford to invest a more significant amount of money on binoculars, you will have the opportunity to get hunting optics with brighter, lighter, and sharper optical performance. This can make a significant difference when you think about having to hold and scan fields with them for long hours.
To get this increase in performance, the best hunting binoculars under 500 bucks will have higher quality glass, prisms, lens coatings, and frame materials. The better glass and coatings provide brighter viewing, especially in low light, as well as experiencing far less glare in high light situations.
Comparison Chart of Top Binoculars
|Leupold Mojave Pro Guide HD 8×42||(4.8 / 5)||5.6 in||23.4 oz||368 ft|
|Vortex Viper HD 8×42||(4.8 / 5)||5.8 in||24.2 oz||347 ft|
|Vortex Talon HD 8×42||(4.7 / 5)||6.7 in||27.4 oz||425 ft|
|Steiner Predator 10×42||(4.7 / 5)||6.9 in||26.5 oz||316 ft|
|Nikon Monarch 7 8×42||(4.6 / 5)||5.5 in||22.8 oz||419 ft|
In the table above, you can compare the important specs of each binocular model. All of these models are waterproof, fog-proof, have ED Glass lenses, and come in both 10×42 and 8×42 sizes. For ease of comparison, the chart and reviews only cover the specs for their respective 10×42 versions. Here are some other important specifications to know:
- Multiple Lens Coatings – The goal of specialized lens coatings is to maximize the amount of light transmitted to your eyes. At the Under $500 price range, you will be getting lenses with multiple coatings that greatly reduce glare and increase the image clarity.
- FOV – Field of View is typically measured at a distance of 1,000 yards. The larger the number, the wider an area is visible in the eyepiece. You will have a wider FOV with an 8×42 binocular, but see less than you would with a 10×42 model.
- Eye Relief – This is simply the distance from the eyepiece at which you will be able to still see the entire FOV. Binocular manufacturers make this easy for people with and without eyeglasses by using pop-up and twist-up rubber eyecups.
- Close Focus – This is the minimum distance to which the binoculars can focus. A close focus of 10 feet means that the model cannot focus on anything closer than 10 feet.
Best Under $600
Leupold Mojave Pro Guide HD 8×42
Leupold has been around for over 100 years and boasts a rich history of innovation and quality. The Mojave Pro Guide HD binoculars will not disappoint when compared to that standard. The Mojave’s are the 2nd lightest 8×42 model on my list, weighing just 23.4 ounces, and are a compact 5.6 inches tall.
The Mojave’s are constructed with an open bridge design that makes them light and comfortable to hold while maintaining a solid optical structure. Like other high-end binoculars, the focus wheel is silky smooth and has a locking diopter mechanism.
Optically, the Mojave is known to be bright and crisp all the way to the edges of the FOV, where lesser binoculars tend to falter. The lenses and BAK-4 prisms are treated with a proprietary “L-Coat” for clear image transmission.
Vortex Viper HD 8×42
I will admit the Vipers could cost you more than $500, but not by that much, and they are simply too good to leave off this list. In fact, many Viper owners say they hold their own against binoculars that cost 3-4 times as much.
Viper HD’s are built in Japan, and you can expect premium build quality as a result. The optics are very bright and clear, making them ideal for open range deer and elk hunting where long hours of glassing is a requirement.
While the optics and build quality are high, Vortex may have cut corners slightly in a few areas in order to hit the price point. The strap, case, and eyepiece covers are the most commonly cited downsides to the Viper HD’s. These can all be addressed by buying some good accessories.
Like other high-end Vortex binoculars, the housings are rugged and can withstand some abuse. One final feature that you won’t find in lower cost binocs, is the locking diopter focus that eliminates the need to constantly refocus as the day goes on.
Best Under $500
Steiner Predator 10×42
The Steiner-Optik company originated in Germany shortly after World War II, and quickly became a world leader in binoculars and rifle scope designs. In 2008 they were bought by the Berreta Group, and still maintain manufacturing in Germany.
Steiner customers are very loyal, and the Predator binoculars are no exception to all that history and reputation. While they are the tallest and heaviest binos on the list, they make up for it with ruggedness and durability. The housing is built with a special polycarbonate blend they call Makrolon™, is covered in a full NBR rubber armor coating, and can supposedly withstand shock impacts up to 11 G’s.
The Predators optic system is known to be an excellent performer. The tubes are nitrogen injected for clear, fog proof viewing. The optics are treated with a “CAT” coating (color adjusted transmission) that is designed to amplify the sensitivity of your vision to help you pick out animals from the landscape.
Nikon Monarch 7 8×42
Nikon is obviously a big player in the camera and optics markets, but it’s for good reason. Nikon has a solid and longstanding reputation for real optical quality as well as build quality. The “ATB” stands for All Terrain Binoculars, making all the Monarch models great choices for hunters, you just need to choose which series meets your needs and budget.
At 23.6 ounces, and 5.6 inches tall, the Monarch 7’s are one of the more compact and lightweight choices. While compact, the 7 series claims the widest field of view out of all the binoculars in this list. On the downside, Nikon is like other binocular manufactures, in that the optics are great but the straps, cases, and lens covers are an afterthought.
Optically, the Monarch 7 is nearly universally praised by their owners for high contrast imagery and accurate colors. This can be attributed to the prisms treated with multi-layer dielectric coatings that are highly reflective.
Vortex Talon HD 8×42
The Vortex Talon HD binoculars have nearly all of the same components as the higher priced Viper HD, with slightly less quality, meaning they have an excellent optical performance for a reasonable price tag.
There are a few key differences with the Talon HD. Physically, the Talons are not heavy at 26.5 oz, but do weigh about 2 ounces more than the Vipers, and are about 2” taller. You also have the precise diopter focus, but you won’t get the locking feature.
The Talon HD has a nice 348-foot field of view, compared to the 319 feet on the Viper. This is due to the taller design, and 0.5 degree wider angular FOV. The Talons have a 6.0 foot close focus, compared to the more precise 5.1 foot close focus on the pricier Viper HD. All things considered, the Talon HD compares very well to the Viper HD.
Summary & Resources
If you need more information, I will point you to this page about choosing binoculars to match your style of hunting. If you want to spend less, you can still get good performance at the $300 range, and under $200. Don’t go any cheaper than that though, or you will most likely be unhappy with your purchase. Remember that binoculars are an investment, and rather than wasting money on throwaways, save your money and get some of the best.