Updated May 2017
This 2017 update adds the Eagle Optics Ranger ED 8x42 to our testing, which delivered exceptional performance and earned it theour Editors' Choice award. These binoculars provide a near perfect balance of performance and value that will serve anyone well. If you want a lightweight pair we still recommend the Leica 10x25 Ultravid BCR, and the Vortex Diamondback 8x28 is still our top choice if you're on a budget.
Best Overall Binoculars
Eagle Optics Ranger ED 8x42
Very Clear and bright
Easy to Adjust
Somewhat narrow field of view
The Eagle Optics Ranger ED 8x42
is designed with bird watchers in mind, but you'll appreciate its superb clarity and impressive brightness whether you're admiring an evening grosbeak or trying to figure out if the trail continues over the next ridge. The clarity of these binos rivaled that of the incredibly expensive, crystal lensed Swarovski EL
s. Apart from the high quality glass that lends these optics their stunning visual quality, the Ranger ED
features a streamlined design with a rubber coating and comfortable grip, a sturdy and supple focus knob, and rugged, adjustable eyecups. Bottom line, these binos provide optical quality that rivals that of pairs that cost 4 figures at a price that is affordable to most.
Read full review: Eagle Optics Ranger ED 8x42
Best for Budget-Minded
Vortex Diamondback 8x28
Great construction quality
Don't work well in low light conditions
Our Best Buy award goes to the Vortex DiamondBack 8x28
. The Best Buy award is all about a price-to-feature ratio. With an MSRP of $124.99, Vortex has had to make compromises on the DiamondBack line. You won't find ED glass or a locking diopter. The hinges and adjustments are stiff out of the box. There is a "made in China" sticker compared to the molded "made in Japan" label on the Viper. All of these things make for a sub $200 pair in contrast to the $600 price for the Viper. That is not to say that Vortex as a manufacturer doesn't know how to design and make good optics, which is evident in the Diamondback. Earning good scores across the board, the clarity was good for non-ED glass and the brightness scored well for having a smaller objective lens and a lower cost coating. When we looked at all the scores in all the categories and compared them to the manufacturer's MSRP, you could really see the value in the Vortex Diamondback 8x28. We think this is the highest performance you can get for this price.
Read full review: Vortex DiamondBack 8x28
Top Pick Award for Birding and Wildlife Viewing
Swarovski EL 8.5x42
Incredible clarity and brightness
Awesome construction quality
Our Top Pick for birding and wildlife viewing is the Swarovski EL 8.5x42
. The Swarovski narrowly missed getting the Editors' Choice award primarily due to the large price tag, but it did earn our overall top score for performance. One tester made the comment "If I was going on a once in a lifetime trip to Africa or South America specifically to see something, I would spend the money on the Swarovski."
The Swarovski EL line has all the top features like multi-coated surfaces and ED glass along with quality construction. The Swarovski EL, with an open center bridge and rubber coated barrels, are comfortable to hold and use all day. The clarity and brightness of the image is unparalleled. That is why the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 earn our Top Pick Award for the best birding and wildlife viewing pair.
Read full review: Swarovski EL 8.5x42
Top Pick Award for Travel and Hiking
Leica 10x25 Ultravid BCR
Small and compact
Lightest binoculars we tested
Our Top Pick for travel and hiking goes to the Leica 10x25 Ultravid BCR
. Not only is the Leica the most compact pair in our test, the Leica also scored high for optical quality. At 4.4 x 2.4 inches and only 9.4 oz, it would be hard not to find space for this pair in your pack. Though Leica doesn't specify if the BCR uses ED glass, the optical quality is definitely top notch, scoring well in the clarity category. The Leica BCR does use multi-coated surfaces on all lenses, and even with a small 25mm objective lens it is one of the top scorers in the brightness category. Combine that with the good construction quality and you a have fine compact model. This is the pair you want with you when size and weight matters.
Read full review: Leica 10x25 Ultravid BCR
Vortex Viper HD 8x42
Very clear and bright
Easy to adjust
On the expensive side
Relatively narrow field of view
The Vortex Viper HD 8x42
was our Editors' Choice Award winner before the Eagle Optics Ranger ED
came along. This pair did score top marks in all categories except for field of view, but the Eagle Optics
did have slightly better clarity in our testing, and cost more than $100 less, making it a better choice in most situations. However, the Vortex Viper HD 8x42
is still a great pair of binoculars, and if you happen to find them on sale you should definitely snatch them up.
Read full review: Vortex Viper HD 8x42