Binoculars Are Great For Nature, But Good Ones are Essential For Birdwatching.
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Our Recommended Best Binoculars For Bird Watching Is The Zeiss ” Terra” 8×42!
Birding is now a major hobby. Due to a greater awareness of conservation and wild life, more and more of us have an avid interest in our feathered friends, whether watching them feed in the back garden, or spotting that rare bird in the wilds or wetlands on a blustery rain soaked afternoon.
Ornithology has been subjected to scientific study and the conclusion is that it’s good for you! Apparently it improves cardio-vasculsr health as well as the equally important mental health.
There are two things that are needed for bird watching:
- A good pair of bird watching binoculars.
While patience can be developed with time, finding the best birding binoculars can be bewildering to say the least as there are so many types and makes of binoculars for sale. From the argos binoculars range to the high end “Zeiss Victory” binocular, there is quite literally something for everyone.
It’s generally recommended that the best combinations are anything from 8×40 to 10×50 when considering birding binoculars, as this gives the best magnifying power and lighting combinations for optimal results.
The five most popular birding binoculars have been selected and pitted against each other to find the best binoculars for bird watching.
Zeiss ” Terra” 8×42 Binocular.
The name “Zeiss” is synonymous with absolute quality when it comes to binoculars and optics. Their Flagship “Zeiss Victory ” range is probably their best known product, and are out of the price range of many bird watchers.
However, Zeiss also produce the “Terra” range which have almost all the same features of the “Zeiss Victory” range but are more practical in so many ways, including the price.
The Zeiss “Terra” 8×42 binocular is an extremely hardy beast. With the body made from a tough aluminium alloy that combines strength with lightness.
Zeiss claim them to be “almost indestructable”, which with the rugged thick rubber armour housing to protect against knocks and drops, Zeiss’ claim is probably not that far from the truth.
With such a strong body and armoured housing housing, the internal lenses and prisms are further protected by being surrounded by nitrogen gas and “O” ring sealed.
The nitrogen gas ensures that mold can not form on any surface, as well as preventing internal fogging.
Being sealed with “O” rings makes these Zeiss binoculars waterproof up to a depth of 1m, making them ideal for the “great outdoors”.
Really dedicated birders or “twitchers” will go out in all sorts of weather conditions just to be able to spot that one elusive bird, and Zeiss have made sure these 8×42 binoculars can go with them.
Designed and tested to work in temperatures from -15°C to +60°C the “Terra” 8×42 are equally at home in the arctic tundra as well as the heat of the Namib Desert.
Handling wise, the Zeiss “Terra” 8×42 binocular’ s rubber armour has a non slip feature, which combined with subtle stippling on each barrel makes these binoculars very comfortable to hold.
Internally, these 8×42 binoculars use the modern “Schmidt-Pechan” prism design, which is close to the Porro design but has the lightness of a roof prism.
Each prism element is silver alloy coated to improve internal reflection which increases transmission to 88%.
Apart from the radical design of the prisms, each optical element is made from Schott extra-low dispersion (ed) glass. Not only are the lenses fully multi-coated but they also have the Zeiss “T coating” (all rights reserved) to minimize chromatic aberration, flare and glare, but to improve image quality in low light levels, especially around twilight.
As such these Zeiss 8×42 binoculars have a very impressive twilight rating of 18.3.
The bottom line is that these Zeiss “Terra” 8×42 binoculars produce a clear, sharp, colour balanced and high quality image.
Not so very long ago, to have the equivelent light gathering capacity of these modern 42mm objective lenses of the Zeiss “Terra” or Zeiss “Victory” range , it would have meant using heavier and larger 50mm lenses.
Staying with the objective lens, these Zeiss “Terra” 8×42 binoculars, like their Zeiss “Victory” cousins, have Zeiss’ own “Lotu-Tec” hydrophobic coating. This specially developed coating literally repels not only water, but dust and snow off the surface of the lens leaving a clear and unspoilt view of the image.
Focusing, as with all binoculars is in two stages. With a centrally mounted focus wheel whose action has been dampened to a very comfortable level, and then a fine dioptre focus on the right hand eyepiece. The dioptre range is +/-3, accommodating different ocular focusing requirements.
With a twist up/ down action the eye cups can be retracted to accommodate an eye relief up to 18mm. While spectacle wearers can fully retract the eyecups to minimize the “curse” of vignetting, which is further minimized by these 8×42 binoculars having an exit pupil of 5.3mm
The Zeiss “Terra” 8×42 binocular has an extremely wide field of view of 56° which translates to 125m at 1000m. Enough magnification to certainly view the image but also not too much to lose the context.
Just as the “Terra” 8×42 has an excellent field of view at 1000m, these binoculars can produce a sharp and crisp image at a distance of just 1.6m away.
While Zeiss describes the “Terra” 8×42 as compact binoculars, generally speaking, one thing they are not, is compact. Their size and 725g weight would put these binoculars more appropriately in the medium size binocular category.
The Zeiss “Terra” 8×42 comes with a carry pouch, neck strap, microfibre cleaning cloth, rain guard for the eye pieces and captive lens caps for the objective lenses.
There are a couple accessories available for the Zeiss “Terra” 8×42. A tripod adapter which “straps” this pair of binoculars to a tripod, and an additional carry around strap that is more a harness than anything else and would be suitable to extended periods of bird watching.
Somewhat disappointingly the Zeiss warranty on the “Terra” 8×42 binocular is only 2 years, with the option to extend it free of charge if the binoculars are registered with Zeiss online within 28 days of purchase.
As already mentioned these binoculars are not exactly lighweight, and while “hand shake” may set in after a while, the 8x magnification will offset excessive shake.
These binoculars are by far and away the most expensive of all the birding binoculars in this review. While some may say they are out of their particular price range, there will be some very serious birders who will think of these 8×42 binoculars as more of an investment as opposed to an expensive purchase.
The Zeiss “Terra” 8×42 binocular offers an extremely high quality image , that is expected from such a world renowned binocular manufacturer.
Very possibly one of the best pair of binoculars for birding
- Extremely strong construct. Zeiss claim these binoculars are ” almost indestructable”.
- Waterproof to a depth of 1m.
- 8x magnification. Just the right magnification for birding.
- Excellent twilight light gathering capacity, due to radical prism design and specialist coating technology.
- Very high image quality in all weather conditions thanks to “Lotu-Tec ” lens coating.
- Very comfortable ergonomic design.
- Good field of view, ensuring image is in context.
- An eye relief of 18mm and full retraction of eyecups allows for minimal vignetting. A blessing for spectacle wearers.
- Ability to operate in all temperatures and weather conditions without loss of function.
- The price. These binoculars are not cheap and would be better thought of as an investment rather than as a purchase.
- The weight. At 725g the Zeiss “Terra” 8x42mm is one of the heaviest in this review.
- A comparatively short 2 year warranty, which can be extended.
The Retro Style Hutact 7×50 Military Binoculars.
Big, bulky and green, the Hutact 7×50 binocular is what would be termed vintage design. Looking like something out of a vietnam war movie The Hutact 7×50 have proven to be very popular amongst bird watchers.
So, why are these 7x50s considered by many to be one of the best pair of bird watching binoculars?
With a more traditional size objective lens of 50mm the light gathering capacity of these Hutact binoculars is extremely high, making them a good choice to use in lower light conditions.
While it has been the norm to develop upon the roof prism design, Hutact have stuck to the more traditional, bulkier and heavier Porro prism design.
However, using BaK4 grade optical glass in the prisms and lenses have added to the image brightness, and admittedly the view was bright and less grainy as was anticipated.
Further clarity of image is thanks to the fully multi coated lenses used throughout the optics of these 7×50 binoculars which gave a view free from any chromatic aberration, flare or glare.
Hutact claim that these 7×50 military style binoculars can give upto 99.5% light transmssion, which with all the will in the world is possibly a little too optimistic.
However, it must be said that the image quality as well as image brightness produced with the Hutact 7×50 were very high indeed.
As can be appreciated with a 7×50 binocular the field of view will larger than that of a pair of higher magnification binoculars, and this is the case with the Hutact 7×50.
With a wide field of view of 59° or 131m at 1000m these 7×50 allows for not only a high quality view but a good scanning view as well.
Focusing is as per any other pair of binoculars with a central focusing wheel and a fine +/- 3 dioptre adjustment on the right hand eyepiece.
The Hutact 7×50 “military” binocular does have an extremely wide eyepiece diameter of 24mm and an eye relief of 18mm. Add these two little features to the fact that the eyecups can be very simply peeled down for full retraction and vignetting is reduced to an absolute minimum, which many spectacle wearers have commented on in various other reviews.
What makes Hutact call their 7x50s “military binoculars” is their inclusion of a compass, rangefinder with reticule, altimeter, thermometer and barometer.
Except for the range finding reticule, all of the readings are by an LCD display viewed in the right hand eyepiece.
The range finder and display is on the left hand side barrel and eyepiece. The LCD part is powered by a 6V PX28A lithium battery which is included.
While useful for orienteering and navigation, there seems to be little benefit in having such features on a pair of birding binoculars, and as such could be considered as little more than a gimmick.
Included with these 7x50s is a carrying case, microfibre cleaning cloth captive front lens caps, rain guard and neck strap.
Hutact’s warranty on their 7×50 binoculars is for 1 year. In addition the company offers a 30 day money back guarantee.
While being rubber armoured to protect against outdoor knocks and drops, there is very little in the way of internal protection.
With no nitrogen gas purge the internal optical elements and prisms will be prone to both mold and fogging which will drastically affect the quality of view.
Hutact have stressed that these 7×50 binoculars are only water resistant and not eaterproof, and should not be used in heavy rain.
These Hutact 7×50 military binoculars are neither lightweight nor compact. Weighing 950g they are not ideal to carry around for any long period of time.
To use the Hutact 7x50s for any sort of extended period a tripod is strongly recommended and a bracket for these binoculars is available.
While these binoculars are heavy and a little cumbersome, their 7x magnification does stave off the dreaded “hand shake”, however it does not eliminate it.
While the clear, bright image and wide field of view does lend itself to the Hutact 7x50s being a birding binocular , their size, weight and the fact they are not waterproof do not make them the best choice for bird watching.
- Excellent light gathering capacity, making for a bright well lit image. Good for low light conditions.
- Very high light transmission due to genuine BaK4 grade optical glass used for the Porro prisms and internal elements.
- High quality phase correction coatings minimzing chromatic aberration, flare and glare.
- 7x magnification providing good magnification of image as well as wide field of view.
- Extra wide 24mm eyepiece diameter with 18mm exit pupil and “roll down” eyecups minimizes vignetting for spectacle wearers.
- Only water resistant and not waterproof.
- The weight. Very heavy and somewhat cumbersome to use.
- The overall size of the Hutact 7×50. Not very compact, due in part to the use of traditional Porro prisms. These are in no way compact binoculars!
- Inclusion of gimmicks such as the compass and altimeter etc.
- No nitrogen gas purge. The internal optical elements could be prone to mold and fog if taken into all weather conditions.
The Nordic Sounding Svbony SV202 10×42 Binocular.
Better known for their good quality refractive and newtonian telescopes, Svbony also make a small range of binoculars.
One particular model has received critical acclaim in birding circles over the past couple of years, and that is the Svbony SV202 10×42 binocular.
The 10x magnification Svbony SV202 is really at the upper end of the birding binocular range as far as magnification is concerned.
As would be expected from a pair of premium binoculars the Svbony SV202 10x42s have a body made of a strong and durable magnesium alloy, which is more durable than the usual polycarbonate that is used, providing more protection to the internal prisms and optical elements.
A thick non slip rubber armour housing gives further protection against knocks, while giving these Svbony binoculars a comfortable feel.
Internally, the roof prisms and lens elements are surrounded by nitrogen to prevent mold formation and fogging. While the “O” rings seals provide waterproofing to a depth of 1m.
These waterproof 10×42 binoculars were designed from first principles to be at home in the outside elements watching nature, and they are very much at home right there!
With the combination of extra-low dispersion (ed) glass in the lenses and BaK4 grade optical glass in their phase correction dielectrically coated roof prisms, Svbony have produced a binocular that can seriously compete with the best in terms of view and image quality.
Each of the lenses use Svbony’s trademark “advanced fully multi coated” technology to reduce glare, flare and chromatic aberration to a very impressive degree.
The image is clear crisp and colour saturated to the right amount, and just as bright as a typical 8×42 binocular.
Speaking in terms of field of view, these Svbony 10×42 binoculars did not disappoint here either. With a field of view of 6.2° which translates to 108m at 1000m, the SV202 is able to produce an image of superior quality with the added benefit of having a good scanning view.
The centrally located focus wheel was appropriately dampened to give a very smooth feel and accurate focus. While the fine +/-3 dioptre adjustment, located on the right hand eyepiece glided smoothly to give an excellent view.
With an eye relief of 15.1mm and a smooth twist eye cup adjustment and retraction the Svbony SV202 binocular had not forgotten the long suffering spectacle wearer either, with a generous eye relief and complete eye cup retraction, vignetting was almost eliminated, but not quite.
These Svbony SV202 10×42 binoculars come with a carry case, microfibre cleaning cloth and neck strap.
Very importantly though, these Svbony binoculars come with a lifetime warranty.
What was the biggest surprise was the price, well within the price range of many birders.
It’s now quite understandable why the Svbony is highly acclaimed as a birding binocular. However there were two blots on its copy book which did let these binoculars’ side down.
The weight of these SV202 10×42 binoculars is 693g, which is quite a weight to hold for more than a couple of minutes.
Add the fact that these “bird watching binoculars” have a 10x magnification into the mix, means that due to the magnification and the 693g weight, the image will develop “hand shake” more sooner than later.
The only way to have a stable “shake free” image while bird watching would be to mount these binoculars on a tripod.
There is a tripod attachment available for these binoculars and its purchase is strongly recommended.
It is easy to see why Svbony SV202 10×42 binoculars are widely praised as a one of the best birding binoculars but its wieght and magnification somewhat let it down. It is however, an impressive pair of binoculars.
- Extremely strong body construct from magnesium alloy. Real protection against knocks especially coupled with the rubber armour housing.
- Excellent light gathering capability to lens diameter and optical glass grade used throughout. Good performance in low light levels.
- Use of combination of BaK4 grade optical glass in roof prisms and extra-low dispersion (ed) glass in the internal lenses results in less loss of light, providing a high view and image quality.
- A wide field of view of 6.2°, translating to 108m at 1000m, giving a good detailed image in context.
- Svbony’s own trademark coating technology which markedly reduces chromatic abetration, flare and glare further adding to good colour saturation, and sharpness of the image.
- Waterproof to a depth of 1m.
- Generous eye relief and eye cup retraction allows vignetting to be reduced to an absolute minimum making these birding binoculars spectacle wearer friendly.
- The price. These 10×42 binoculars are exceptionally well priced.
- The Svbony SV202 has a life time warranty.
- 10 x magnification is really too high a power for bird watching binoculars. Higher magnification will cause exagerated “hand shake”.
- The weight of Svbony’s SV202 binoculars. While not excessively heavy at 693g, combined with the binoculars’ higher magnification “hand shake” will set in relatively quickly.
Usogood 12×50 Binoculars.
Made by the chinese company Man Long, these Usogood 12x50s are high magnification binoculars.
These binoculars are aimed more at the selfie and social media generation where the user’s image may be more important than the image produced by the binocular itself.
The Usogood 12×50 is promoted more as a telephoto lens for a smart phone, rather than a serious pair of binoculars for bird watching.
However, these 12×50 binoculars can be used as birding binoculars and should not be summarily dismissed out of hand, just because of the promotional literature.
Made from polycarbonate, the body houses BaK4 optical grade glass roof prisms and internal lenses. The rubber armour housing is actually quite thick, and gives further protection against knocks and drops.
That’s it as far as protecting the internal elements from external elements is concerned. There is no nitrogen purging or “O” ring sealing to make the Usogood 12×50 binoculars waterproof or to prevent mold from forming, or even fogging.
At best the Usogood 12×50 are just plain water resistant with the warning that they should nor be usef in heavy rain.
While 50mm diameter objective lenses may imply a good light gathering capability, it must be remembered that these Usogood binoculars have 12x magnification and that there will always be more light lost as the magnifying power increases.
Invariabley as more light is lost internally with image brightness will be less, and this was found to be the case with these 12×50 binoculars.
Although the lenses were all fully multi coated, reducing any chromatic aberration, the image was dark and could only be described as granular in appearance, very much like a very underexposed photo.
With so little image brightness, colour saturation and clarity were found to be wanting.
However, the Usogood 12×50’s field of view of 5.6° or 102m at 1000m was very respectable, providing a relatively wide scanning view, albeit a little on the dark side!
With total focusing being a two stage process with a well dampened central focus wheel and +/- 3 dioptre adjustment located on the right hand eyepiece for finer focusing, the process felt smooth and accurate.
Staying with the eyepieces, the eye relief is quite a generous 15.1mm. With, what now seems to be the industry standard twist up and down eyecup retraction system, the eyecups can be fully retracted to minimize the spectacle wearer’s curse, vignetting.
While being 12×50, these Usogood binoculars are surprisingly lightweight. Weighing in at 439g, they are not only lightweight, but comparatively compact to the other binoculars that have been reviewed so far.
By making these 12x50s so lightweight, Usogood have gone someway to reducing the image from suffering from “hand shake”.
The Usugood 12×50 binoculars also includes a small tripod, which is probably one of the best features of this binocular package. Although Usogood hails it as a fantastic feature for taking the dreaded selfie and to take photos in general, it does seem as if Usogood has missed a trick.
The thinking of all those in this review was a little different, in that the tripod was best used to stabilize the image given the 12x magnifying power of these binoculars, rather than being ideal for taking selfies.
In addition to the included tripod, Usogood have also included a smartphone adapter with this binocular package.
While being a little fiddley to attach and adjust, the smartphone can accommodate most of the leading smartphone brands and their various models.
For protection when not in use these binoculars are fitted with captive lenscaps
This Usogood 12×50 package also includes a microfibre cleaning cloth and neck strap and a carrying case which everything actually fits into.
The Usogood 12×50 Binocular comes with a 2 year warranty for extra peace of mind
These relatively compact binoculars and its included accessories are remarkable value for money.
The Usogood 12×50 are certainly not, by any stretch of the imagination, a pair of binoculars for bird watching, but they are a lot of fun to have, and would do very well in another category.
- A very respectable field of view of 5.6° or 102m at 1000m. Allowing good scanning potential.
- Very lightweight for a pair of 12×50 binoculars.
- Generous eye relief of 15.1mm and twist up and down eye cup retraction minimizes vignetting for spectacle wearers.
- Inclusion of a tripod primarily for taking photos, but one of these binoculars’ best features as it can be used to stabilize the image , by eliminating ” hand shake”
- 2 year warranty (binoculars only) for extra peace of mind.
- Very good value for money. Although clearly not a bird binoculars, the Usogood 12x50s represent extraordinary value.
- A carrying case that is large enough for everything to fit into.
- 12x magnifying power. This magnification is totally unsuitable for bird watching binoculars.
- Poor light gathering capacity, unsuited in poorlighting situations.
- Poor image quality. Due to light loss internally due to 12x magnification. The image is dark and grainy.
- Water resistant and not waterproof. Unsuitable for use in bad weather.
- Without its tripod the image is susceptable to “hand-shake”.
- Internal optical elements are not nitrogen purged or sealed from the external environment, making these binoculars liable to internal mold formation and fogging.
CMY 12×40 Binoculars.
These CMY 12x40mm are roof prism design binoculars. Although described as being ideal for bird watching, because of their 12x magnification this pair of binoculars are more at home viewing landscapes than watching our feathered friends.
The binocular body is made of polycarbonate surrounded by quite a thick rubber armour housing. Which does protect against knocks. However this is where the protection abruptly ends.
There is no internal nitrogen gas atmosphere to protect any of the internal elements or prisms from mold growth or fogging. There is no form of seal to protect from water or rain.
Although described as waterproof to IPX4 standards; it’s probably worth noting that the grade of IPX4 is the ability to withstand splashes from any direction.
This makes these 12×40 binoculars ” splash proof” rather than water resistant or waterproof, and therefore CMY’s 12x40s are not suitable to be used in heavy showers or rain.
These CMY binoculars have 40mm objective lenses to gather light for 12x magnification. This size of objective lens is not enough to have a passable image at 12x. The higher the magnifying power the more light is lost through the thicker optical elements.
The image from these CMY 12×40 binoculars was poor, due to the image having a dark and extremely “grainy” quality with poor contrast and clarity. Unfortunately colour saturation or rendering was also found to be very disappointing.
It must be said though, there was no observable chromatic aberration or flare in the image, due to the fully multi layered coating and the BaK4 optical grade glass used in making all the internal optical elements as well as the roof prisms.
This pair of CMY 12×40 binoculars has a very respectable angular field of view of 5.6° which translate to a linear field of view of 102m at 1000m, giving a good scanning view.
The CMY 12×40’s focusing is the usual 2 stage process with a centrally positioned focus wheel and the a fine tuning +/-3 dioptre adjustmentof the right hand eyepiece to bring the image into focus for both eyes.
Eye cup extension and retraction is by twist up and down action. The large eyepiece width of 24mm and eye relief of 15mm reduces vignetting when the eye cups are fully retracted, much to the pleasure of spectacle wearers.
The CMY 12×40 weighs in at 675g which, while not being particularly heavy, will cause the image to suffer “hand shake” within a relatively short time span given the 12x magnification of these binoculars.
Included with these 12×40 binoculars is the fast becoming ubiquitous smartphone adapter. While being relatively easy to set up, this binoculars’ smartphone adapter will only accept certain models from certain makes, so due diligence is recommended.
A carrying case, captive lenscaps, microfibre cleaning cloth , eye piece splash guard and neck strap come with these binoculars.
CMY have given their 12×40 binoculars a life time warranty to give peace of mind.
What is quite extraordinary is the absolute bargain price the CMY 12×40 binoculars sell for. Unfortunately they are not particularly good value for money, given there overall optical performance.
One of the minor disappointments but also one of the most annoying things about the CMY 12×40 binocular is that the front lenscaps are too large, and as a consequence do not fit properly.
While being exceptionaly cheap, and looking every part a modern pair of binoculars, the CMY 12×40 gave a disapponting performance in nearly all the areas of assessment. There really is no other way of putting this, but the CMY 12x40s are definitely not binoculars for birding.
- Life time warranty.
- Very respectable angular field of view of 5.6° or linear field of view of 102m at 1000m.
- A good eye relief of 15mm. Helps to reduce vignetting for spectacle wearers.
- 12x magnification is far too powerful for bird watching.
- Splash proof as opposed to water resistant, certainly not waterproof. Unsuitable for poor weather conditions.
- Poor daylight gathering ability due to inadequate objective lens diameter of just 40mm while not using extra low dispersion glass.
- Quality of image is very poor, appearing dark and “grainy” with poor colour saturation.
- No internal nitrogen gas atmosphere to prevent the growth of mold on the optical elements.
- Lack of sealing to prevent fog formation.
- Objective lenscaps are too large and do not fit properly.
- The combination of weighing 675g and 12x magnifying power will lead to “hand shake” relatively quickly.
- he included smartphone adapter is only compatable with certain brands and models.
Focusing In On The Best.
When a bird watcher is considering which particular pair of binoculars to take out into the elements, it’s not just magnifying power that’s important.
Such things as weight, how waterproof they are, and whether eye relief can be adjusted so that vignetting will not be a problem ( this is of real importance for anyone who wears glasses).
Being stuck in one place will also play a factor, in being able to scan a vista, so field of view is key to the whole process of getting the one image of that elusive bird.
Having spent probably hours patiently watching and waiting, with the sun going down and day giving way gently to twilight will the target be clearly seen? So the binoculars’ light transmission also plays a key role in selecting the best binoculars for bird watching.
This is what serious birdwatchers have to consider.
While there are so many factors that can be considered when making a serious and potentially a very expensive decision on investing in purchasing the best binoculars for bird watching, most, if not all all of the criteria covered in this revew have to be taken into consideration when a serious “birder” is going to invest.
This review has chosen the Zeiss ” Terra” 8×42 as the best binoculars for birdwatchers.