Best Binoculars for Bird Watching from Economy to Best of the Best (2021)

Below are the top picks for the best binoculars for bird watching in 2021 by price range based on:

features of good birding binoculars
  • Image clarity
  • Weight
  • Field of view
  • Close focus
  • Overall quality
  • Price
  • And overall feel

We have summarized the best birding binoculars into price categories: Economy, Mid, Top-Affordable and Best of the Best. If you can afford a little extra, the mid-price range bird watching binoculars - the Nikon Monarch's - are your best bet considering performance, quality and price.

Jump to Best Binoculars in Each Category:

Economy (Under $200)

Mid-Priced ($200-$500)

Top-Affordable ($500-$1,000)

Best of the Best Over $1000

Best Binoculars for Bird Watching by Price Range:

Best Economy Binoculars (under $200)

For a low-priced or "cheap" pair of binoculars without compromising too much quality, you must go with the Nikon Action Extreme 7x35 ATB Binoculars

Nikon 7x35 Action Extreme Binoculars for Bird Watching

The 7x35 Nikon Action Extremes were the best quality binoculars in the economy group.

Features:

  • Exceptional Wide Field of View (FOV) - 429 feet!
  • BAK-4 Multilayer Coated Prisms
  • 100% Waterproof/Fogproof Nitrogen Filled, O-Ring Sealed
  • Aspherical lenses eliminate virtually all distortion
  • Rubber Armoring/Non-Slip Grip and Shockproof for those of us who occasionally bang or drop our bins when we get excited seeing a new bird!
  • Low-priced - Now under $150!

So why are these cheaper than the Nikon Monarch's below in the mid-priced range?  These are porro prism binoculars whereas the Monarchs are roof prism which makes them a little more expensive (Porro vs Roof Prism Binocular Design). The porro prism makes these binoculars a little more heavy, weighing 30.1 oz versus the Monarch's weight at 21.3 oz. You can see the shape difference by comparing the photos of each above.

So if you don't mind a little more weight and a slightly more bulky design, these are a great pair of cheap binoculars for bird watching.

Excellent Binoculars!

"I bought these binoculars because they were the top rated ones on the moderate priced list by a very influential ornithology organization.

You could spend a lot more to get the same quality binoculars in a smaller size, but you probably wouldn't get better quality binoculars.

I just returned from a trip to Costa Rica where I used them constantly. I was amazed at how easy it was to see birds with these binoculars even in dark rain forest conditions.." -A. Claymaker, New England

View All Nikon Action Extreme Binoculars

Can't beat this one for the price and quality. Well reviewed and a best seller at most binocular retail stores.

You can read more about the different sizes and reviews here at our Nikon Action Binoculars Reviews page.

Again, one downside is these are porro prism binoculars that do weigh more than roof prism binoculars and are a little bulkier. Check out the Monarchs below in the mid-price range if you want a more stream-lined set of birding binoculars with less weight.

Porro Prism vs Roof Prism Binoculars

Best Mid-Price Birding Binoculars

($200-$500)

For a mid-range priced of birding binoculars, you really cannot beat the Nikon Monarch 5 ATB 8x42 Binoculars

Nikon 8x42 Monarch 5 ATB Binoculars for birding

The 8x42 Nikon Monarchs actually came in second place to the Katmai 6x32 in the mid-price class, but Cornell advised that the Monarch's are actually better binoculars for bird watching, the Katmai better for butterfly watching.

Features:

  • New ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) High-Reflective Multilayer Prism Coating for Bright, Crisp Images
  • Phase-Correction/Fully Multi-Coated Lenses
  • 100% Waterproof/Fogproof/Shockproof
  • ightweight and ergonomic construction for comfortable use - weighs only 20.8 ounces
  • Eco-Glass - no lead or arsenic
  • ATB - All-Terrain-Binocular is Rubber Armored & Ulta-Rugged for Outdoor Use
  • Has features of other more expensive brand binoculars (Leupold, Bushnell, Steiner, etc.) priced over $500 - The Monarchs are under $300, best binoculars to for price if you don't want to spend over $1,000.

Excellent Value For The Money!

"Most popular binocs (Monarchs) under $1,000 in my birding groups. Now I see why.

Clear, light, bright, great close and far, waterproof.

Birds and bugs clear with every marking visible. You can even see the veins on leaves.

Don't need to look through my eyeglasses because the diopter is exceptional." - Judy, NYC

The Monarch's are lightweight, waterproof, and very comfortable. Many of the reviewers thought they were just as good as binoculars 2-3x more in price.

For all the above features which are usually found in more expensive binoculars, the Nikon Monarchs are one of the best birding binoculars around. 

More Nikon Monarch Binocular Reviews:
Comparison table and review of all Nikon Monarch Binoculars including Monarch 3, Monarch 5, Monarch 7 ATB models and the Nikon Monarch X.

Our Review:
Here's our personal Nikon Monarch 5 ATB Review. I've tried lots of binoculars in all price ranges, but really do love the Nikon Monarchs for my field work on bird counts as well as for any leisure birding outing.

Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Binoculars a Close Second for Mid-Price

bushnell 10x42 legend birding binoculars review

Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x42 Binoculars

As a close second choice in the mid-price category to the Monarch's, we think the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Binoculars are one of the best in this category for birding binoculars, especially if you prefer the 10x magnification model.

Here is our Bushnell Binoculars Review that includes a comparison table with the Nikon Monarch's.

Top Affordable Binoculars for Birding ($500-$1,000)

Vortex Viper HD Binoculars

By far the best choice in this category would be the Vortex Vipers.

vortex viper hd binoculars for birdwatching

Features:

  • HD (High-Density), ED (Extra-Low) Dispersion Glass for bright, sharp images
  • Fully multi-coated, phase correction lenses
  • ArmorTek lens coating for scratch-resistance
  • Excellent close-focus of 5 feet (8x42s)
  • Waterproof and Fogproof
  • Durable, metal-reinforced twist-up eyecups
  • Locking diopter adjustment
  • Vortex VIP Warranty (Unlimited lifetime warranty - you don't even have to fill out a warranty card or have a receipt!)

Better than others in this class and the next!

"For the money, you are going to have a tough time doing better.

No they aren't Swarovski's, but they don't cost $2,500 either....

The Vortex optics are far better than any other binocs I have tried in this price class and maybe better than those in the next grade up." - Lihla

The Vortex HD Vipers come in several sizes, from 8x32 to 15x50. We think either the 8x42 or the 10x50 models would be a great choice for bird watching. If you want a lighter pair, get the 8x, if you want more magnification, get the 10x.

Best of the Best: Most Expensive Binoculars (over $1,000)

Zeiss Victory 8x42 HT

Zeiss victory birding binoculars

The Zeiss Victory 8x42 Binoculars scored the highest in the "Top Gun," best of the best category.  It scored the highest for overall quality, producing clear, bright, crisp, near perfect images.

If you can afford it, you can't go wrong with the Zeiss Victory HTs.

"I have used binoculars for outdoor pursuits for over 50 years now. I currently own both Leica and Swarovski binoculars in 7 power and they are optically superb products.

Long story short, several of (Cornell's) perennial binocular favorites all earned "excellent" ratings, but the binocular that earned top rating, and was ostensibly considered the finest binocular they had ever tested, was the Zeiss 8X42.

When I had an opportunity to look through them outside of a local sporting goods store in the rural area where I live, I was immediately taken by their incredible clarity and image quality.

But what really drew me to them was the absolutely perfect eye relief distance. They simply got it right and I have never been able to say that about any other brand, regardless of price or prestige.

I bought them on the spot and "have never looked back!"

I consider them one of the finest investments I have ever made." -Dr. Keith Hunziker

Swarovski EL BinocularsSwarovski EL Binoculars 10x42

For top of the line, spare-no-expense, the Swarovski 10x42 EL SwaroVision Binoculars are a birder's dream come true. If you want to splurge on high quality binoculars, you won't be disappointed with these Swarovskis.

Features:

  • Best of the Best Award
  • SWAROTOP anti-reflective coatings, SWARODUR scratch-resistant coatings and SWAROBRIGHT mirror prism coatings for ultimate brightness, contrast and natural color, especially at dusk.
  • Fluoride containing HD glass allows for the truest possible color.
  • Redesigned, smooth and tolerance-free focus mechanism
  • Extremely durable and lightweight housing of magnesium alloy, an aerospace material.
  • Unique, wrap-around grip. Non-slip rubber armoring, which is comfortable to handle even in cold weather.

User Review of Swarovski EL 10x42 SwaroVision Binoculars:

"This is simply the best optics that money can buy for a pair of binoculars.

Image is bright and color is vivid. I cannot find any aberration.

I can see the brillant yellow spots on a pair of butterflies flying in twenty to thirty feet away from me.

The color just jumps out, it was amazing!" - Dan Ng Khan

Other Top Expensive Bird Watching Binoculars

In addition to the Zeiss Victory, other honorable mentions include the Swarovski EL (reviewed above) and SLC models, Leica Trinovid and Geovid HD, and Nikon EDG binoculars.  You may also want to take a look at our more detailed Swarovski SLC HD Binoculars Review.

Learn More About Choosing Binoculars for Bird Watching

Bird Watching Binoculars 101
Learn how to choose the best binoculars for bird watching. Learn more about binoculars and their features before making a purchase.

Birding Spotting Scopes 101
Learn about the different features of spotting scopes and which are best for birding.

For additional information about the ratings, go to Cornell's picks of the best binoculars for bird watching.

Binocular Magnification Explained

Which bincocular magnification is best? 7x or 8x or 10x or higher? You would assume a higher magnification would be best, but not always. Watch the video below.

More Reviews of Favorite Birding Binoculars

Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x42 Binoculars - Another good choice in the mid-price range, especially if you want the 10x magnification.

Nikon Monarch Binoculars - Comparison of All Monarch Models

Budget Nikon Action Binoculars - Comparison of Models

Best Birding Binoculars - Our picks in 3 price ranges.

Types of Binoculars: Image Stabilized, Jason, Mini, Kids, Zoom, Digital, Infrared, High Power

Best Image Stabilized Binoculars for Birding

Jason Binoculars - Auto Focusing Binoculars

Best Mini Binoculars

Best Zoom Binoculars

Digital Binoculars with Camera and Video Built-In

Infrared Binoculars

High Power Binoculars

Binoculars for Kids

Best Marine Binoculars

Best 7x50 Binoculars

Best Cheap Binoculars

No More Binocular-Neck... Get a Harness!

Binocular Harness

Binocular Tripod Adapter

Binocular Tripod Mount

Care & Repair

Binocular Care

Nikon Binoculars Repair

Spotting Scopes

Best Bird Watching Spotting Scopes

Choosing binoculars for bird watching

Bird Watching Binoculars FAQs

What is the best magnification for binoculars for bird watching?

That depends. You can choose either 7x, 8x or 10x magnification. Choose 10x if most of your bird watching is long distance, such as viewing shorebirds or raptors in open areas, or on an open-plain safari where there is more light. Choose 8x if doing more shorter distance birding such as in forests, or you will be taking binoculars on longer hikes - 8x will weigh less. For all around birding, I prefer 8x binoculars. The only 7x binocular I would recommend is the Nikon Action 7x35 Binoculars which have a porro prism design. 8x are easier for beginners to use when trying to locate birds since they typically have a wider field of view than a 10x binocular. Often people ask, are 10x42 binoculars better than 8x42? No, not necessarily.

What does 8x42 mean in binoculars?

8 is the magnification strength. 42 is the objective lens diameter (link) measured in millimeters. If the objective lens aperature is too small relative to the magnification, images will be less bright and more difficult to locate because of the narrow field of view.

What should I look for when buying binoculars?

Choose your magnification, match it with a large enough objective lens size for brightness and field of view, get at least multi-coated or fully multi-coated lenses with BaK4 prisms or better, note the eye relief especially if you wear glasses, a wider field of view makes it easier to locate birds, decide if you need waterproofing, and if weight matters when carrying on longer walks.

What are the best cheap binoculars?

You never want get too cheap binoculars or else you'd be better off without them. One of the best lower priced binoculars are the 7x35 Nikon Action Binocular line which come in an ATB model that is waterproof and has rubber armoring.

Also take a look at our Best Cheap Binoculars Reviews page

Should I get 8x or 10x Binoculars?

Which is better - 10x42 or 8x42 binoculars?

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