For this reason, we suggest newcomers stick with 6x or 8x for the first number. Binoculars in this range have enough power that you’ll see things clearly, but not so much that you’ll struggle to find what you want to see (although all binoculars do take some practice). We suggest something in the 26-50 range for the second number. Our top pick is roughly in the middle, at 8×42, generally considered the sweet spot for most people.
Nikon’s Monarch 5 binoculars were my first “real” binoculars. Years later, their upgraded M5 is my top pick for most people just getting started. These offer great bang for your buck, and the 8×42 magnification is the most versatile. It isn’t just me, either. These are some of the most common binoculars I see when I’m out birding.
The Monarch M5s strike an excellent balance between optical power, quality, and price. The glass in these provides nice, bright views with very little chromatic aberration (the distortions or fringing that you sometimes see around objects in bright sunlight).
The Monarch M5s are also light enough that they can hang around your neck all day without bothering you too much, and they come with the most comfortable stock strap of any binocular I’ve tested.
The nomenclature for the Monarch series is a little confusing. I’m recommending the Monarch M5 here, which is new for 2022, but the Monarch 5 binoculars I own are technically still available. The new M5 designation features a slightly wider field of view and better optical coatings. There’s also the more expensive Monarch M7 series, which is available in 8×42. I have not tested the latter, which offers an even larger field of view but is significantly more expensive.
Other great 8×42 binoculars:
- Budget pick: Celestron Nature DX ED 8×42 ($169). These are a solid buy for under $200 (they’re often on sale for around $160). They aren’t quite as bright as the Nikon Monarchs, and I did notice more chromatic aberrations, particularly purple fringing. But for the price, these are a good entry-level option.
- ★ Nice Upgrade: Pentax 8×43 ZD ED Binoculars ($799). Pentax/Ricoh’s 8x43s are just a little bit sharper, clearer, and brighter than the Monarchs. This is a somewhat personal preference, but I like the slightly cooler colors of these, compared to the Monarch M5s.
- ★ Really nice, but insanely expensive: The Leica Noctivid 8×42 binoculars are everything you’d expect from the Leica name, including expensive. These are by far the brightest, sharpest lenses I’ve ever put to my eye. Unfortunately, they’re out of stock everywhere. The 10x42s are available for $2,850. The other options in this category are the Swarovski EL 8.5×42 ($2,169) and the Zeiss Victory HT ($2,700).
The difference between 8x and 10x doesn’t sound like much, but in practice, it’s significant. Objects are larger, but the field of view is narrower. That means it’s harder to follow things, especially something like a small bird in thick shrubs. It also means any hand shaking can cause you to lose your subject. That said, this is my favorite resolution for birds, as long as I am not carrying these all day, because 10x42s are considerably heavier.
Our top pick at this size is the Vortex Viper HD Binoculars. These offer excellent clarity, crisp, clear views, and good color accuracy. The colors are slightly less saturated to my eye, but I only noticed this in side-by-side comparisons with the Nikons above. The focus wheel is smooth, though I wish it were slightly faster. There is some blurring in the periphery (the edges of your field of vision through the lenses), but that’s to be expected at this price.