Binoculars Buying Guide

For a hunter, binoculars are the second most important piece of equipment after your weapon. 

A quality pair of binoculars is also a big investment.

This hunting binocular buying guide will make sure you know what specifications to look for in a great pair of hunting binoculars.

What Should You Consider When Buying Binoculars?

The types of binoculars that work best for hunting are very different from the types that work best for stargazing. 

As a hunter, you need to understand the specs and the optics that are most important for the unique conditions you will encounter in the field. 

Ideal binocular specs for hunting:

  • 8X or 10X Zoom – Higher zoom ratings are not as good for scanning or glassing.
  • 42mm Objective Lens Size – Allow more light in but still compact enough for packing.
  • Fog Proof Sealed Chambers – A must for cold or rainy days in the field.
  • High Quality Lens Material for Clarity – Get the best you can afford.

The type of game you hunt and the location you are hunting have an impact on the best binoculars for your situation. However, binoculars with the specs mentioned above will work for most situations.

Binocular Specs Explained: What Do the Numbers on Binoculars Mean?

When you search for binoculars, you will find a consistent number of specs regardless of the manufacturer. 

This includes: size, magnification, objective lens diameter, exit pupil, field of view, and eye relief. 

Binocular Components
Components of Binoculars

Size

Binoculars are typically categorized in three different sizes: compact, mid-size, and full-size.

  • Compact binoculars have an objective lens size of less than 30mm. These are the smallest and easiest to pack, but don’t work as well in low light.
  • Mid-size binoculars usually have an objective lens size of 30mm to 42mm. These binoculars are a good balance in portability and low light performance.
  • Full-size binoculars have an objective lens size of more than 42mm. These binoculars are the biggest and heaviest you’ll handle, but also perform the best in low light.

The size of the binoculars that you should buy depends on how you will use the binoculars. If you are hiking in the mountains, then you might want to focus on the lightest pair you can buy.

However, most hunters will want the mid-size binoculars for better low light performance. Let’s face it…we always see the most animal movement right at sunrise or sunset.

Magnification

Magnification is the first number you see on a pair of binoculars. For example, on a pair of 10×42 binoculars, the magnification is 10.

Binoculars Magnification and Objective Lens Diameter
Binocular Magnification and Objective Lens Diameter

The size of binoculars doesn’t always affect magnification. Even small binoculars can have a large range of magnifications to select from.

A good pair of hunting binoculars has seven to 16 times magnification. However, most hunters prefer a 10 times magnification for the most versatility. 

Remember that higher magnification isn’t always better for hunters. 

The higher the magnification, the harder it is to stabilize the image in the binoculars. For example, if you are in a swaying tree then it will be hard to keep the animal in your field of view with higher magnification binoculars. 

Image Stabilization

If you need binoculars with 12x or higher zoom, then you should consider binoculars with image stabilization.

One of the main problems you encounter with high-magnification binoculars is stabilization. The farther you zoom, the harder it is to maintain a stable image. 

You can do one of two things: Buy a tripod or buy a pair of binoculars with built-in image stabilization.

A tripod will save you some money, but it means you have more equipment to carry. A high-end pair of binoculars with image stabilization will cost you more, but it means less equipment to carry.

Objective Lens Diameter

Objective lens diameter is the second number you see on a pair of binoculars. For example, on a pair of 10×42 binoculars, the objective lens diameter is 42.

Binoculars Magnification and Objective Lens Diameter
Binocular Magnification and Objective Lens Diameter

The objective lens diameter determines how much light the binoculars are capable of letting in.

The larger the objective lens diameter the more light you will have for image brightness and clarity.

Example: Take a pair of binoculars that have the exact same specs except for the objective lens diameter. The pair with the larger diameter will have a sharper, brighter picture, even at full magnification.

Exit Pupil

What on earth is an “exit pupil?” 

If you’re unfamiliar with the specs for any optical device, that may well be the strangest term you’ll see. It’s simple, though: The exit pupil is the lens closest to your eye on which your pupils focus.

The number you see for the exit pupil is the objective lens diameter divided by the magnification. It determines how well the average human eye can see in any given light condition. For instance, an 8×32 pair of binoculars has a four-millimeter exit pupil. 

Your eyes see best between three and eight millimeters, and most pairs of binoculars fall into this range. 

However, what you want to buy depends on the light conditions in which you’ll most likely find yourself. If you’re likely to spend a lot of time in low-light conditions, you want a pair with a larger exit pupil so you can see better.

Field of View

Field of view (FOV) is the width of your view through the binoculars. 

Binocular Field of View - FOV
Binocular Field of View (FOV)

A larger FOV allows you to see more area at the same time. Having a larger FOV is great when you are scanning fields for activity.

The lower your magnification, the wider your field of view. As you zoom in on your target, your field of view will shrink, and you’ll see less from side to side. 

The field of view, magnification, and exit pupil are all linked.

Your field of view will narrow as you zoom in on an object. At the same time, the amount of light you need to see a clear, sharp image increases. It’s easy to think that higher magnification is better, but that’s not always true. 

Eye Relief

Eye relief refers to the distance the eyepiece is from your eye when you’re fully zoomed out. 

If you don’t wear glasses, an eye relief of less than 11 mm is okay. However, if you do wear glasses, look for something over 11 mm.

You should look for binoculars with adjustable eye relief. This is typically called a twist up eyecup. 

If you look at the specs on a set of binoculars with adjustable eye relief, the number you see is the maximum eye relief it has.

Also, consider personal comfort. Some people might need more eye relief than others simply because that’s how they’re more comfortable. 

Understanding the Optics in Binoculars

Binoculars’ specs are different from their optics. The optics are the actual pieces that make the binoculars work. 

Lens Materials

The first thing you probably think of when you think of binoculars is the lenses. Binoculars have glass lenses that bend incoming light in a way that brings images closer to you. 

Most lenses have protective, anti-fog, and anti-reflective coatings to enhance their function and your image. The best lenses function well in standard and low-light conditions. 

Additionally, many manufacturers use O-rings and fill their binoculars’ barrels with nitrogen or argon. This process seals the lenses for waterproofing and helps prevent the lenses from fogging up on the inside. 

Ask any long time hunter and they will tell you to invest in a pair of binoculars with a waterproof and fog proof lens.

Invest in a pair of binoculars with a waterproof and fog proof lens.

Prisms

The prisms inside binoculars direct or redirect light through the binoculars and into your eyes. 

Prisms come in two types: 

  1. Porro Prisms – Older style, larger binocular that is typically cheaper.
  2. Roof Prisms – Modern style and compact, but higher priced.

Porro Prisms

Manufacturers use porro prisms when the binoculars’ barrels aren’t in line with the eyepieces. Older binoculars and some brands of full-size binoculars use porro prisms, which is why you can see even though things aren’t aligned.

Unfortunately, binoculars that use porro prisms are larger, heavier, and clunkier. Binoculars with roof prisms have barrels that line up with the eyepieces, so the light goes straight through. 

Roof Prisms

Roof prism binoculars are the most popular style today. The performance is as good as porro prism binoculars and the binoculars are more compact and easier to handle. 

However, roof prism binoculars are typically more expensive than porro prism binoculars since they have a more complex light path.

For a hunter, the extra price of roof prism binoculars is worth it for the more compact form factor.

Binocular Focus Options

Most binoculars use a dial-like piece in the center that allows you to focus on your target. A pair of binoculars with an easy to use center dial is what you what. Just make sure the center focus ring is big enough to use with gloves

Binocular Components
Binocular Focus Options

As a hunter, a quick focus dial is a necessity and you should avoid fixed focus binoculars.  

Some binoculars also have independent focus mechanisms on the eyepieces called diopters. Diopters are great if your vision is slightly different in each eye.

The diopter will allow you to adjust a single lens so each eye is perfectly focused. Look for binoculars with a locking diopter so it doesn’t move once you set it.

Other Binocular Considerations for Hunters

Beyond traditional specifications, hunters should also consider the following when selecting their binoculars.

Chassis Material

Look for binoculars made with lightweight but durable materials (aluminum, magnesium, polycarbonate, etc).

Over time, you will drop them, bang them on a tree or run them over with a four wheeler (it happens).

It doesn’t matter how careful you are with your gear. Over time, you will drop them, bang them on a tree or run them over with a four wheeler (it happens). Make sure your binoculars will hold up to real life conditions.

Warranty

A good pair of binoculars can be a big investment. Make sure the binoculars you purchase carry a good warranty to protect that investment. 

Housing Coating

The best hunting binoculars will have some type of coating on the housing to improve grip and dampen sound. You don’t want to alert the entire woods if your grunt accidently bumps against your binoculars.

Testing Out Binoculars

It’s easy to look at binocular specs online and decide to buy a pair that way without ever touching them. Unfortunately, that’s not the best way to do it if you’re serious about buying a pair for hunting.

Do your research and narrow down your choices to what you think will work for you. Then go visit outdoor and sporting goods stores and test out binoculars with specs closest to what you want. 

Some places will have test charts that you can focus on when you test binoculars. If the store you’re at doesn’t have one, pick something you can see across the store and use it as your test piece. 

Once you’re satisfied, you can buy them right there, or you can go home and order them online. But it’s always best to be sure what you’re buying before you buy it. Hunting is a precision sport, and you can waste a lot of money on certain items if you don’t test them out first. 

Final Thoughts – Binoculars Buying Guide

If you’re a serious hunter or you want to get serious about hunting, you need a good great pair of binoculars to help you. 

The research is done!

Check out the lists below for the best hunting binoculars available today:

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