Best Binoculars (2023): Nikon, Celestron, Swarovski, Zeiss

One caveat: Cabela’s frequently sells the pre-2018 model of these at a steep discount but doesn’t label it as such. I have not tested that model, and while the deal is pretty good, the optics are definitely different and potentially inferior.

More Great 10×42 Binoculars

  • Best luxury upgrade: Maven B1.2 42mm ED Binoculars ($1,000). These are in my top three all-time best list. If you can afford these, but not the Leicas, don’t feel bad. Images are clear, sharp, and crisp with no distortion or softness in the edges. I used them every day for two months and only noticed purple fringing once. They’re expensive but well worth the money.
  • Budget pick: Nikon Monarch M5 10×42 ($285). These are the stronger-magnification version of our top pick, and everything I say about those holds true for the 10×42 as well. For those on a budget, these are a great 10×42 option.
  • Another good budget pick: Celestron Regal ED 10×42 ($340). The Celestron Regal EDs are what I call a sleeper deal. That is to say, you’ll find very little information about these online, but they’re excellent binoculars, and the price is almost impossible to beat. You get great field of view (6.5 degrees), a sharp clear image, and very little chromatic aberration. I have not tested a better binocular that costs less.
  • Another upgrade: Nikon Monarch HG 10X42 ($957). Nikon’s Monarch HG offer a slightly wider field of view and are brighter and sharper than the Vortex or the Celestron. I like the Maven B1.2s better, but that might be a matter of taste. If you want to keep going price-wise, the Swarovski EL 10×42 ($2,399) are deservedly legendary.

Best Compromise Pick

What if you want 8x magnification, but not the size and weight of 8×42 binoculars? That’s where 8×32, 8×30, even 7×32 in some cases, come in. They offer the same magnification, but a narrower field of view. For hiking and traveling light, this size is a good compromise. Because the field of view on 8×32 isn’t as wide, it can be more difficult to track small objects like a warbler flitting through foliage, but with a little practice it’s not too hard to manage.

I am still in the process of testing more models in this size range, but here are my picks so far.

Nocs Field Issue 8×32 binoculars (8/10, WIRED Recommends) are compact and lightweight, but still provide a nice sharp image. As with Nocs’ other binoculars, the Field Issue are waterproof and fogproof, and they come in a variety of colors. They offer comfortable eye cups and a nice oversized focus wheel that you can’t miss. These manage to hit the sweet spot between magnification, price, and weight, making them a great choice for beginners or anyone looking to travel light.

Best Compact Pick

Compact binoculars often involve a significant compromise in image quality. Depending on your use case, the weight savings may be worth the trade-off, but in general, I suggest that birders and hunters stick with 32-mm or larger binoculars. Yes, you can bird with 8x25s, but it’s often frustrating. 

Maven’s C.2 series is the first compact binocular I’ve tested that didn’t leave me frustrated. Yes the 28-mm field of view is narrow when you’re used to 42 mm, but these are so small and light—just 4.5 inches and weighing only 12 ounces—that I barely even noticed them around my neck. If you want compact, lightweight optics that still deliver a bright, sharp image, these are the binoculars to get. They’re good for general-purpose use—wildlife, sports, travel, or any time you want binoculars but don’t want to know you have binoculars.

  • Another option: Zeiss Terra ED 8×25 ($380). I have not tested these extensively, but I’ve used them enough to know that they’re lightweight (10.9 ounces) and deliver a very good, sharp image. They have 8X magnification and come with a nice rugged, waterproof case. The folding design means they also easily fit into your pocket. The downside is that they’re more expensive than the Nikon Monarch 8×42 yet offer a much smaller field of view.
  • Best budget compact: Nocs Standard Issue 8×25 ($95). These are detailed below, but the short story is that these are wonderfully compact and light, and the price is right, but the image quality could be better. A great choice for the ballpark or general use, but not as good for birders and hunters.

Best for Kids

Before I dive into why the Nocs are great for kids, let me be clear: Nocs are not kids’ binoculars. They would fit well in the ultralight category above. They’re fine compact binoculars. I “borrow” them from my kids all the time. Nor would I suggest these as the best first pair of binoculars for young kids (in that case, see our budget pick below). But for anyone over the age of 8, these make a great, compact, first pair of binoculars.

You get good magnification, with a waterproof (IPX7 rating) and fog-proof design in a lightweight package (11.8 ounces). These also have two things that specifically make them great for kids: rugged construction and a nice, rubberized grip. I can’t tell you how many trees and rocks these have bashed into while around my son’s neck, and they’re still as good as new.

More Great Kids Binoculars

  • Budget pick for kids: Let’s Go Binoculars ($25). If you have little ones that are new to binoculars, the price tag of the Nocs might be too high. If you want to see if your kids actually use their binoculars before diving in, there are a multitude of options. I’ll be blunt: None of these are great, but they’re cheap and light and don’t cost a fortune. Another option is the Obuby Binoculars ($30).

Best Binoculars for Special Use Cases

Fujinon 14×40

Photograph: Fujinon

Image-stabilized binoculars: I am still testing, as this is a huge category, but so far my top pick are the Fujinon 14×40 Techno-Stabi Image-Stabilized Binoculars ($1,500). If you’re on a boat, these are the binoculars you want. They offer industry-leading stabilization of plus or minus 6 degrees, there’s hardly any image lag, they carry an IPX 7 waterproof rating, and as an added bonus, they float. I did most of my testing on an SUP, which is about the most unstable watercraft I could come up with, and these made it possible to bird-watch without going ashore. They’re not cheap, but they definitely deliver.