Birdwatching binoculars

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 Tonto 25 May 2020

I am wanting to buy a pair of binoculars for wildlife & birdwatching & having done a fair bit of research on the internet I am not very much the wiser & would be grateful if those on UKC with experience could provide me with a bit of a steer. I think I need something like:-



Fog resistant

Eye relief (I wear specs with a fairly heavy prescription)

Nitrogen filled?

Inexpensive-I know of the super brands which are undoubtedly magnificently engineered but way beyond my budget & justification for an entry level into my initial exploration into how they may be able to enhance my walks. I would certainly consider second hand options on the premium brands.

Any other criteria I should be looking out for? 

The size or weight is not that important as I carry a little pack & they will be used in the valleys & fells near my home, though small & compact would obviously be a bonus. Any advice would be very welcome as I feel I am floundering in all the specs & reviews as I have come to the conclusion that I have conflicting or incomplete information to make a good decision without some erudite guidance.


 The Lemming 25 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

My non expert advice is that anything sub £300 is generic from a generic factory that then brands the optics for different retailers.

Once you go over the rough pricing of £300 then you start to get better designs and glass. However there is the law of diminishing returns with paying north of a thousand pounds for a little more viewing pleasure than when you spend around £300-£400.

As for me, I bought a pair of shop-soiled display binoculars from a company called Viking. They were 10x40 around the £300 mark. I got them at discount because of the sun weathering while sat on a shop shelf. This weathering soon became unnoticeable after time outside playing.

Is there a difference between a £100 pair, £300 pair and £1,000?

Yes most definitely, but between the £300 and £1,000 then not as much as you may think.

T think Viking and RSPB are practically the same company when you put their products side by side.

 petemeads 25 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

The RSPB shops let you try before you buy, or they did before Covid. Trouble is, I preferred the most expensive Swarovski 8.5 x 42 and would not stump up the readys...

Some online stores sell second-hand on a trial basis, I believe.

 cb294 25 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

For birding, I would definitely recommend 10x, the extra magnification does help! If you want light binoculars, maybe compromise on the lens diameter. I bought a used Zeiss Victory 10x32 for my wife's birthday, and under normal it is definitely bright enough. The difference to my admittedly old Leica 10x50 (way too heavy for your purposes) is only really noticeable for a few minutes around dusk and dawn. The Zeiss weighs less than half, so we typically Ieave the Leica brick at home while I save for a used Swarowski....

Anyway, second hand Zeiss, Leica, or Swarowski are all excellent if your budget allows it.

If you go downmarket a bit, Eschenbach and Meopta would be my first choice. Eschenbach in particular have excellent adjustable eye pieces for use with glasses, but may be a bit harder to get used in the UK than here in Germany.

For new binos*, nothing beats the Zeiss Terras (the first Asia made series by Zeiss), the 10x32s in particular are not that expensive. Unfortunately they are not yet common second hand, you are more likely to get the 10x42 version. My daughters both have this model, and they were absolutely happy with these glasses on their trip to Patagonia earlier this year.

The optics are not noticeably worse than the mid range German made Zeiss glasses (however, both are a bit darker than the top of the range models). The only drawback I can think of is that the dioptrie adjustment is behind one of the oculars, not centrally at the focus knob as with the more expensive models. However, that is rather irrelevant if you will be using them with glasses anyway.


*edit: in a lower price range. Don't make the mistake I made and look through the current top of the range Swarowskis, you will consider all other glasses useless junk and start scrabbling around for the two grand minimum you will have to invest....

Post edited at 16:49
 cb294 25 May 2020
In reply to The Lemming:

The curve is S-shaped!

£1,000 will not be twice as good as £500, the difference between a Zeiss Terra and Conquest is mainly build quality, not so much optics.

Now, look through a £2,500 Swarovski 10x42EL....


 Wilderbeest 25 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

We got into birdwatching via in Majorca for climbing that coincided with the migration season.

Bought the lightweight RSPB Ramblers to start with to carry alongside our gear.

Used them a lot and like upgraded to RSPB BG.PC

They do the job for us...

Post edited at 17:14
 Marek 25 May 2020
In reply to cb294:

> For birding, I would definitely recommend 10x, the extra magnification does help! ...

As ever, it's a compromise. We found that the increased visual 'shake' (outdoors, breezy) with 10x pretty much negated the extra 'reach'. We have also found that the extra field of view with 8x is really useful if you are trying to track a fast flying bird. Also, I would recommend you make sure you get ED glass (whatever the make) which should be possible from £200-300. We got some Hawke 8x42 ED and are happy with them (good eye relief, too). The only negative aspect is that the objective lens caps tend to comes off a bit too easily.

 toad 25 May 2020
In reply to Marek:

Ah. I've got the Hawke ED 10x42s. Absolutely love them, and really value the extra reach, but I'm more of a generalist than a birdwatcher

Post edited at 20:30
 J101 25 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

I have a pair of Bressler Pirsch ED 8x42 and they're excellent. I'd go for 8x42 over 10x42 if you're trying to watch moving wildlife, much easier to actually find what you're looking for.

I got my father a pair of Avalon last year which were about half the price of mine, to be honest the difference was bigger than I was expecting, both in optics and build quality / robustness. He's very happy with them though and I'd say they were a good purchase.

As others have already said got to try before you buy but quite hard at the moment!

Edit: I use mine mainly for birds of prey and marine wildlife (otters, Minke whale etc) on the Scottish west coast islands but have used them successfully closer to home for close up butterfly watching.

Post edited at 20:18
 Tom Valentine 25 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

I don't know your financial circumstances but it strikes me that some UKC users have a different idea of what inexpensive means.

Opticron are inexpensive binoculars to people who are binocular buffs ( but not necessarily to the man in the street). 

You will find a pair of Opticrons to suit your needs for £100-£150.

The best solution would be to travel to a good shop where you can match the Opticrons and compare three brands of the same spec:

A pair of Opticrons at about £150:

A pair of £500 , any brand:

A pair of £1500 Svarovskis

I've done this and have come away thinking that you have to have either exceptional eyesight capable of very fine distinctions to be able to justify buying anything other than the cheapest brand. Obviously people who have  already lashed out four figure sums for a pair are pretty much duty bound not to agree with me......

Ten second google gives Opticron T4 Trailfinder 8x42. .....might be a bit heavy  though.

Post edited at 21:00
 Mal Grey 25 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

I was in a similar situation a couple of summers back, but with a max budget of well under £200. 

After research and trying a few pairs out, I ended up with a pair of Nikon Prostaff 3S 8 x 42s. I love them, and for the price the performance has been excellent. They have helped me go from someone who just used to get the odd glimpse of wildlife, to someone who has had some fantastic experiences watching wildlife, and most of it is indeed birds. 

I canoe a lot, and walk around nature reserves with my camera. They are always with me, and have proven tough too, as they get pretty much chucked about.

I've found 8 x 42  a great balance of magnification and field of view.

I agree that there are some amazing bits of glass about for more money, and if you can afford them you will get rewards, but these are still a quality tool and most amateurs who look through them are pretty impressed by the clarity.

 Tringa 26 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

I think it is essential you try binoculars before you buy them, which as noted elsewhere is unlikely to be possible for a while.

A 10x magnification will give you a bit more range, but how useful it will be depends on how steady your hands are. Years ago I had a pair of 12x50s and I could manage easily. Now I find 10x magnification is my limit.

While eye relief is published in the data for binoculars actually trying a pair is the only way see how they work in real life.

As said many RSPB reserves have permanent binocular displays where you can try them. I have bought from one of the InFocus shops ( ) which also let you try different pairs, but neither are likely to be open now.


In reply to Tom Valentine:

My wife and I dabble in bird watching. We're far too unsteady for x10 to be generally useful, It would be OK for waders etc.

A few years back I borrowed a friend's binoculars to view waders at dusk from the IoW ferry. I think they were Swarovski. I was completely gobsmacked by how good they were in the low light.      He's an avid birdwatcher, He said he'd chosen a pair at about £750. He asked to see the top of the range too. The shopkeeper advised him not too as he would never be satisfied with anything else. He tried them and ended up paying £1500!

 Sans-Plan 26 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

I asked this a while back and after some recommendations for Opticron got a second hand pair of Opticron 10x42 Trailfinders off eBay for £40, i can't fault them.

 cb294 26 May 2020
In reply to Marek:

I agree that to an extent it is a question of taste, but holding higher mag binoculars steady and pointing them correctly so that moving birds will immediately be in the field of view when you raise the binoculars to the eyes is a skill you can practise. In contrast, you can never make up for lower magnification.

As the OP asked for binos to take on walks I would stick with my 10x recommendation. If they were using them mainly on boats/canoes, 8x might indeed be better.

ED glass is good advice. It is amazing how much better binoculars have become over the last decades, even though one may think that this is a piece of technology that should have achieved maturity long ago. The better lens designs and glass compositions are now "trickling down" towards mass market products.

I have not tried Hawke binoculars (not a common brand over here in Germany), but at the first shop that popped up in a quick google the Frontier 10x42 EDs were exactly the same price as the corresponding Zeiss Terras.


 ring ouzel 26 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

As someone who goes birding for a living I would echo the advice mentioned elsewhere about trying top end bins - dont!

Three of my friends have looked through my bins (Leica) and 'scope (Swarovski), sworn at me and gone off to buy more expensive optics. I did warn them. You dont need them if you are not relying on them for your income.

Get ones that you are most happy with, that feels good in the hand and gives a nice bright image and ignore what everyone else has as there will be as many opinions as there are binoculars.

Let us know what you get and, even better, what you've seen with them.

 McHeath 26 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

I just upgraded a couple of weeks ago from a 100€ Steiner 8x22 pair to a Zeiss Terra ED 8x42 for 330€ (was actually 380€, but Zeiss are currently giving you a 50€ instant refund if you register your purchase with them; don't know if this is available in the UK). I chose the model because it came top in its price category in this test (worth looking at):

The difference in clarity and quality is mind blowing; as my (non-bird watching) partner said: even looking at stones through them is interesting; she claimed to be able to count the hairs on a squirrel's ear tufts at 20m, but then her eyesight is better than mine... it's definitely worth investing the extra money.

I prefer 8x magnification to 10x, as most of the birds I'm seeking are fluttering/hopping about in bushes and trees, so the larger field of view is a great help in keeping them in view. If I was usually looking at distant waders or raptors the 10x would probably be better.

Edit: link added

Post edited at 15:32
 Tonto 26 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

I thank you all for taking the time to offer considered responses to my query. This has certainly refined my purchasing parameters though I must admit I would prefer to go economy to test the viewing water but I am not averse to paying higher prices if I know the product is right, which might be the second time around when normality returns & I am able to trial prior to upgrading. I need a decent pair of binoculars to get me on the watching ladder. Last on my purchasing list will be Swarowski as I associate the name with diamonds & celebs..  ..which I am confirmed in my completely unknowledgeable opinion will not deliver best value. Even though the quality may be mighty the law of diminishing returns has already been called.

Good on you cb294 to get away with buying yourself a set of new bino's for your wife's birthday.



 Myfyr Tomos 26 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

I have had a pair of Olympus 10X42 EXWP1 for many years and they have given great service in all conditions and are excellent performers. Being waterproof, they have taken it all in their stride and they are still made - an 8X42 model is also available. I bought them at Cambrian Photography, Colwyn Bay and looked at everything from good, basic binos to exotic, eye-wateringly expensive things. I am happy with my choice. Wait till the shops open and spend an afternoon at a good photographic emporium with a wide range. 

In reply to Tonto:

A timely thread for me; I am about to anyway start a separate one but I will ask a similar question here. It's a"dumb" technical question:

Is the numerical magnification we PERCEIVE or EXPERIENCE through binoculars (and telescopes, spotting scopes and monoculars) somehow different to what we see through the viewfinder of a camera?

Technically a 200mm lens on my APS-C sensor Canon EOS600D should be expected to give an effective magnification of around 6x. This has been useful in photography. But I just went out for a walk along the canal, to gauge how it looks just using it as a scope, and it was remarkably un-thrilling. 

 toad 26 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

I cant remember if it's been mentioned already, but better quality optics will really prove their worth in low light conditions- dusk/dawn. I borrowed a friends swarovskis and was blown away by the difference between them and my not-so bad bins once the sun had gone down.

In reply to toad:

> I cant remember if it's been mentioned already, but better quality optics will really prove their worth in low light conditions- dusk/dawn. I borrowed a friends swarovskis and was blown away by the difference between them and my not-so bad bins once the sun had gone down.

I suspect they'll be better in 'glare' conditions with the sun just out of view too.

 Marek 26 May 2020
In reply to oldie:

> ..., He said he'd chosen a pair at about £750. He asked to see the top of the range too. The shopkeeper advised him not too as he would never be satisfied with anything else. He tried them and ended up paying £1500!

I just about escaped a similar situation: Tried some £300 bins, asked "how good are the £1000 ones?" and was told by the salesman "They really are better - I have some - but I wouldn't recommend you try them unless you really are prepared to spend that sort of money". I took him at his word and walked out of the shop happy with my £300 bins.

In reply to Tonto:

If you really get into birding you'll end up with a telescope anyway. So good 8x binos are fine, as long as they give a wide enough field of view. Good field of view and decent lens quality are more important than magnification. Probably more so for birding than other kinds of nature watching - picking up mobile birds is much easier if you can see plenty of sky...

Agree with some comments above, Opticron definitely good in the 'sub-premium' market with quite a range. Also agree that, with optics more than any other market I know, you really do get what you pay for. What all those people have said about the quality of vision (especially in low light) with the HD glass that Leica, Swarovski etc. use is totally true. Looking through a top spec scope / binos side by side with 'normal' makes you wonder how they engineer it - at twilight it can seem like there's an extra spotlight shining wherever you're looking!

 cb294 27 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

> Good on you cb294 to get away with buying yourself a set of new bino's for your wife's birthday.

Ha, rumbled, but unfortunately that cunning plan was bound to fail from the start... 

My wife was into serious birding already before we met at uni (her father was a professor of zoology), I dabbled a bit but pretty much took the hobby up from her. So if we carry two binos I get our old Leica, the hierarchy is clear.

More typically, though, she carries the Zeiss and I lug the tripod and spotting scope around.


In reply to Tonto:

If you, or anyone else, wants binoculars that are decent but a LOT less than some mentioned here then Olympus DPSI 8 x 40 is what I have and have been very happy with. I had seen them discussed on various review sites as the cheapest "proper" binoculars available, then I bought some a year ago on the recommendation of another UKCer and have been really impressed. They are currently 60 quid on Amazon, although I think I paid 50 last summer. 

They aren't fully waterproof, but I used to take my old binoculars which also were only splash resistant, with me sea kayaking when I lived in Finland. I found a plastic bag that made a surprisingly effective cover for them and I could keep them round my neck at the ready - for example to watch an Osprey take a fish not that far in front of my boat. That was pretty special. If I had spent a grand on some binoculars I might be scared to take them everywhere like that!

p.s. for all the experts out there - any recommendations for a strap for my binoculars that is comfy when I'm hiking with them round my neck? The one they came with is OK, but rubs if I walk longer distance with them as they swing about unless I put an arm through too.

Post edited at 10:17
 ScraggyGoat 27 May 2020

Top end optics are awesome. I once borrowed a friends top of the range scope to look to see if a bunch of gear I left on a mountain cliff (another story) was still there. The clarity, definition and brightness was amazing, making out karabiners from nearly 1km away. The price of the kit eye watering, and weighed on my mind the whole drive there, walk up, walk down and drive back. So much so I only ever took it out of the case twice, once at home over a duvet to learn the eye-piece & tripod set-up, and once on the hill. It was very generous of him to lend me the kit, I was very relieved when I handed it back.

 Tom Valentine 27 May 2020
In reply to TobyA:

Sounds like a good choice and 8.2 degrees is a very good FOV for an 8X pair.

That's the sort of price I mean by "inexpensive".

 nufkin 27 May 2020
In reply to TobyA:

>  If I had spent a grand on some binoculars I might be scared to take them everywhere like that!

Deffo a sensible approach - but equally it's occurred to me, when privately staggered that my brother-in-law would dare just carry his Swarowski binoculars day-to-day, that he actually gets very good value for them in terms of £s-per-view. He'll stop to take a look at the slightest flutter, so I suppose for him it's fully worthwhile

 cb294 27 May 2020
In reply to TobyA:

> p.s. for all the experts out there - any recommendations for a strap for my binoculars that is comfy when I'm hiking with them round my neck?

If you wear a backpack, clip them to the D loops most packs have on the straps.


 mike123 27 May 2020
In reply to Tonto: look at the quality camera brands , I ve had both Olympus and Nikon binos   Both were excellent value for the quality , both have long since gone , but I think the the nikons were from ebay and were one of those rare lucky bargains . My brother has a pair of swarkskis ( i can't spell that ) which I think were something north of £2000 , if I had the spare cash I'd certainly have a pair as to my untrained eyes the difference between them and a pair "normal " of  good binos was huge . Not that he would give a jot about justifying it but He does live on mull and so regularly sees all sorts of "exotic" wildlife . 

In reply to Tonto:

It might work out cheaper than some of these suggestions to buy an actual eagle which you could observe at close distance. 

 Tom Valentine 27 May 2020
In reply to mike123:

I suppose it depends on your income and family circumstances but to pay £2000 instead of £200 for a pair of binoculars is the sort of thing I'd only think about after a massive windfall.

The £1800 difference for benefits that weren't apparent to me in a daylight testing would be unjustifiable. To explain it away by saying to my wife,  "Ah, but wait till it's dusk, THEN you'll see why I forked out the extra" just wouldn't wash. 

I suppose it just goes to show that UKC is a broad cross-section of society with a wide range of circumstances. I suspected as much when i first joined and found people talking about paying more for a chainset than I'd ever pay for an entire Bike.

 cb294 27 May 2020
In reply to Tom Valentine:

I think it is less about total income, but whether you decide to spend a chunk of it in one go. My Leica glasses cost 2500 DM / 1200 Euros 25 years ago, and have been heavily used. Yes it was an investment at the time, more than two months of my PhD student's pay, but they are still excellent quality and are typically on offer used for about half that price. Split that over the years of use, though, and it is a cheap way to have fun! I fully expect to use them for a few more years (until I can afford my dream Svarovskis...) and then hand them down to my son who can have more years of enjoyment. Good optics ages much less than cheap glass.

 David Bennett 27 May 2020
In reply to Tonto: I ended up getting the Opticron Discovery wp 8 by 42 for my wife for use in the garden and she is delighted with them.I am sure she would have been a little bit more delighted with a top model but really in reasonable light they are great for the money 

 Tom Valentine 27 May 2020
In reply to cb294:

>  Good optics ages much less than cheap glass.

Never heard that before. Now you've aroused my interest (entirely academic at my age)

 cb294 28 May 2020
In reply to Tom Valentine:

Mainly the much better coating on the front lenses and oculars. Also, I could easily have the lenses replaced should they get scratched.


 Tom Valentine 28 May 2020
In reply to cb294:

It seems the old adage about glass always being in a liquid state is a myth. If I'd paid four figures for a pair of bins I'd be pleased about that.

 toad 28 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

If you want to have really comprehensive test, drive up to Castle Barnard. Apparently the atmospherics there are particularly good for testing optics

 cb294 28 May 2020
In reply to Tom Valentine:

Glass is indeed just a slow liquid. Look at centuries old church windows that are twice as thick at the bottom than the top, as they have just flowed down under their own weight. Won't matter for bin lenses over the lifetime of the bins.


 Doug 28 May 2020

Not relevant to the OP but for several years I had a very good (but a bit heavy) pair of Zeiss bins from work. When I moved to another post I had to give them back and found my old, cheap Jessop pair were appalling. Ended up buying a pair from Leica for around €400 (20 years ago) which aren't as good as the old Zeiss but adequate for what I need.

Slightly different topic but I also miss access to good microscopes.

 Sans-Plan 28 May 2020
 cb294 28 May 2020
In reply to Sans-Plan:

Ripples and bubbles yes, but not the increased thickness at the bottom seen in several hundred years old glass panes (shown to me by the guy responsible for restoring the windows in that cathedral...). Of course glass flows under its weight, just you normally cannot see it.


 Sans-Plan 28 May 2020
In reply to cb294:

I presume you are joking ? It's a myth.

Not sure how many sources you want me to post debunking the myth, but here is another one

Post edited at 10:40
 toad 28 May 2020
In reply to cb294:

I've been mixing with some experimental archaeologists in the last couple of years. This came up in conversation and the reply was along the lines of.. you try rolling an even thickness of glass using medieval technology... and you put the heavy end of the glass you make at the bottom of the pane 

 artif 28 May 2020
In reply to Tonto:

Back to the OP I managed to pick up a second hand pair of Steiner Commander bins for a stupidly low price (£25) . They look a bit battered on the outside but the optics are perfect. but the best feature is the focus, as its a one time deal, no need to adjust while tracking something. Compared to my Nikon bins it is literally night and day

 If you can wait, second hand shops often have decent quality optics for low prices.

 Tonto 28 May 2020
In reply to Thugitty Jugitty:

Thanks TJ

An F15 is beyond my budget.. considerable orders of magnitude.. well as altitude.

As for getting close you are clearly a better man than I.


PS-Thanks for the laugh-anything to lighten the hour-keep it up

 Tonto 28 May 2020
In reply to Tringa:

Can you tell us a binocular joke please Dave? The last thread was hilarious


 cb294 28 May 2020
In reply to Sans-Plan:

I thought it was a real effect, but seems I (and the archeologist/ glass expert who told me) may have been wrong.


In reply to Tonto:

I replaced my old (late 1970s) cheap Eastern Bloc binoculars in 2018. I brought RSPB WPG 8.5x42 for £165 at their reserve at Arne. I found all the cheaper ones had poorer image quality than my old ones with regard to colour dispersion giving a rainbow effect on edges - especially away from the image center. Highly recommend try before buy.

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