Best Overall Binoculars
Vortex Viper HD 8x42
Our Editors' Choice Award goes to the Vortex Viper HD 8x42
. This pair scored top marks in all categories except for field of view, yet maintains a reasonable price for most shoppers. The Viper HD model line is composed of expertly made products that are still made in Japan, including features such as HD glass, multi-coated lenses, argon filled, and comes complete with a lifetime warranty. Ultimately, it was how the Viper felt in our hands, the clarity of image, and the smooth operation that won testers over. Close in performance to top-of-the-line models like the Swarovski, but costing around $2000 less, this pair is also a great deal. That is why the Vortex Viper HD 8x42 is our all-around favorite.
Best for Budget-Minded
Vortex Diamondback 8x28
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.
Top Pick Award for Birding and Wildlife Viewing
Swarovski EL 8.5x42
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.
Top Pick Award for Travel and Hiking
Leica 10x25 Ultravid BCR
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.