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  • Writer's pictureRubber Monkey

Best Binoculars for Bird Watching

We want to do our bit to support the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey. That’s why we have put together a guide to the best binoculars for bird watching in 2021. Our guide covers a range of fantastic binoculars suited to adults, kids, amateurs and pro birders. We also cover what features to look for in birding binoculars and what the common binocular terms mean.

Get out there and make a difference. Make our birds count!

How To Choose The Best Binoculars

Binoculars are as technically advanced as high-spec camera lenses. When choosing the best ones for bird watching, there’s a lot of technical jargon. Here are the terms you need to know and the features you need to have.

What Does 8×42 and 10×50 Mean?

Every model of binoculars will include numbers, for example, 8×42. The first number represents the strength of magnification of the model, so if it has 8x as the first number, this means your view will magnify 8x what you see with the naked eye. The higher the number, the closer objects will appear through the lens.

The second number, in this case, 42, is called the objective lens size or something more simple… the aperture. This refers to how much light the lenses are able to father. It’s the diameter of the primary front lens in millimetres so in this case, it’s 42mm. The larger the diameter of your binoculars, the more light will pass through them. 

What is the ‘Field of View’?

The magnification power determines the field of view. Binoculars with 8X magnification have a wider field of view than those with a 10x magnification. For birding, use 8x magnification binoculars to see more of the landscape to spot birds in. The 10x binoculars have a narrow field of view, meaning you see less of the landscape. The higher the number, the more difficult it becomes to maintain a steady image unless you have the binoculars supported on a solid object. 

Why Do Binoculars Have Prisms?

Binoculars use prisms to direct light from the front lens to your eye. Binoculars use Porro Prisms that bounce the light from the off-centre front lens to the eyepiece. Roof Prisms are found in binoculars where the light travels in a straight path to the eye. 

What is Eye Relief and Exit Pupil?

Eye Relief is the distance between your eye and the eyepiece or lens you look into while still having the view in focus. Most binoculars feature adjustable eye relief but we recommend that you choose one with an eye relief value of 11mm or more if you wear glasses. The Exit Pupil is the diameter of the shaft of light as it exits the eyepiece. 

What Are The Best Features To Look For?

If you want to get out and about to spot birds, you need a couple of critical features. 

  1. Ensure that your binoculars are weather resistant. 

  2. That they have a non-slip rubber coating, making sure they won’t slip out of cold, wet hands.

  3. Select ones with anti-fogging coatings on the lenses.

  4. Choose binoculars that are nitrogen-filled to prevent fogging and condensation inside. 

Below are our top recommendations of binoculars for bird watching!

The Best Budget-Friendly Binoculars For Birding

Olympus 8×40 S Porro Prism 

The Olympus 8×40 S Porro Prism Binoculars feature a lightweight and economical design, including an anti-slip elastic polymer coating. With 8x magnification and a 40mm objective lens, these deliver a bright and crisp 143m field of view at 1000m out. For optimal comfort, they feature 12mm eye relief and an adjustable diopter. The Olympus 8×40 S feature Porro Prism internal optics.

An alternative option is the Konus SUPREME-2 8×26 Binoculars which offers fully multicoated lenses for high transmission of light and reduced glare. They are waterproof and feature a green rubber covering, providing non-slip grip and protection, making them perfect for backyard birding. 

Birding Binoculars Ideal For Kids 

Nikon 8×21 Aculon T02 Compact 

The Nikon 8×21 Aculon T02 Compact is the ideal birding binoculars for kids and is available in six fun colours. These are truly compact and lightweight, perfect for small hands. But this is no toy! The Aculon T02 features roof prisms and an 8x magnification. They provide an optically bright and sharp field of view of 100m at a distance of 914m. Now you can get the kids involved in backyard birding too.

Enthusiast Birding Binoculars 

Nikon 8×42 Monarch 7 ATB 

For those wanting to make birding more than just a one-off adventure, it’s hard to go past the Nikon 8×42 Monarch 7 ATB Binoculars. With an 8x magnification and a 42mm objective lens, you’ll have crystal clear views. The Monarch 7 provide a wide 128m field of view at a distance of 914m. The chassis consists of fibreglass-reinforced polycarbonate and a non-slip rubber coating. Anti-fogging, multi-coated lenses and precision optics are all stand out features of the Monarch.  

If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to the Nikon Monarch, take a look at the Olympus 8-16×40 S Zoom Porro Prism Binoculars. Still features a wide-field-of-view which allows for accurate tracking of fast-moving subjects, like birds, and has a high optical performance which is perfect for nature observation, wildlife, birdwatching. 

Pro Birding Binoculars 

Vortex 8×42 Razor HD 

If you take birding seriously and want one of the best binoculars available, take a look at the Vortex 8×42 Razor HD Binoculars. What sets these apart is the impressive list of features and specs. The lightweight magnesium-alloy body, rubber armour and scratch-resistant ArmorTex lens coatings ensure these binoculars can endure harsh conditions. What’s more, using O-ring seals and argon to fill the body ensures they are waterproof and fog-resistant. The Razor HD Binoculars provide precision viewing thanks to the high-density extra low-dispersion glass and phase-correcting roof prism coatings. All of this combined to deliver an exceptional experience while birding with a 118 field of view at 914m.

Alternatively, take a look at the pro-grade Leica Ultravid HD-Plus 8×42 Binoculars. Leica is the industry leader in precision optics and binocular engineering.

Essential Accessories

Before you head out with your heart set on spotting birds, consider a couple of essential accessories. The Vortex Fog Free Lens Cleaning Field Kit is a must-carry item when outdoors. To keep your binoculars optically precise, the kit includes Anti-Fog Cleaning Solution, Ultra Brush, Vor-Tek Microfiber Cloth, Includes Optical Cleaning Tissue and a handy storage pouch. 

For comfort, security and protection, don’t forget a high-quality strap to carry your birding binoculars. The Vortex Archer’s Strap is made from padded neoprene and is long enough to carry your binoculars over your shoulder or around your neck. In addition, getting a BinoPack as well as a strap will help to safely store and transport your binoculars while on the go, helping to reduce fatigue. 

Final Thought On The Best Bird Watching Binoculars

The New Zealand Garden Bird Survey is the perfect opportunity to get out with your binoculars and enjoy nature. Plus, you’ll be doing your bit as a citizen scientist for the Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research. But birding is a fun activity no matter what the reason or the season, and having the right gear will make the experience even better. If you’re into bird photography, check out our companion article on ‘The Best Lenses For Bird Photography’.

About New Zealand Garden Bird Survey 

Since 2007, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research has led the country on a quest to make our birds count. The New Zealand Garden Bird Survey is set to take place this year between 26 June and 4 July. Healthy bird populations are a clear indicator that our environment is also healthy. We already understand more about our bushland native birds than we ever have before. But what about the bird populations that exist in every environment? What about the birds in your own backyard?

That’s why the folks at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research want as many citizen scientists as possible to get out there and spot birds. It’s as simple as that! The information you gather will significantly help researchers understand what’s happening with bird populations and how to further protect all species.


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