No matter whether you’re on the lookout for the Big Five on holiday in the Serengeti, or simply flicking through your field guide down at the local nature reserve, you want to be as freed up as possible while you’re doing your thing. Heavy binoculars in-hand or hanging round your neck can be a bit of a burden, unwieldy, or at worst uncomfortable, so it’s worth taking a look at our pick of the best compact binoculars before you set out.
- Not too fussed on size after all? Check out our list of the best binoculars for everything from bird-watching to stargazing.
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Also known as pocket binoculars, they’re intended (funnily enough) to slip into a jacket pocket for easy, low-key carry without the need for a bag or strap. So if they’re small, they tick the box, right? Well, not necessarily. This is a round-up of the binocs that don’t sacrifice quality for compactness, and there are some standout examples to be found. If you’re looking for the very best of the best, that’s the Swarovski El 50.
1. Swarovski El 50
Simply the best, these Swarovski binoculars are a sure bet for bright images and comfortable use
Best for: Quality | Magnification: 10x | Weight: 999g | Waterproof?: Yes up to 40m
While not to be confused with the dainty crystal bracelets of the same name, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d found yourself on the wrong site when you set eyes on the almost £2,000 price tag of these Swarovski Swarovision binoculars. Even so, they’re truly the best of the best according to reviewers, some of whom have tried every pair under the sun. With a wide field of view, comfortable hold, light weight, and amazing optics pulling through sharp, bright and true images, by all accounts, they’re unbeatable, so if you want some truly top of the line binoculars, you’ve found them.
2. Celestron Nature DX 8x32
Budget by nature, but no less capable for it, these are great beginner binoculars
Best for: Beginners | Magnification: 8x | Weight: 510g | Waterproof?: Yes, to 100mbar
Ah, that’s more like it. Because not all of us have a cool 2k to drop on a pair of binocs, entry-level options are always welcome, and these from the Celestron Nature DX Series are a shining example. Budget-friendly yet feature-packed, they allow for clear close focus to 6.5’ as well as a wide field of view. The polycarbonate body is strong and durable, yet keeps weight to a minimum, and their rugged waterproof design make them ideal for use out in the field where they’re likely to be dropped in water, or worse...
3. Zeiss Terra ED Pocket 8x25
Pocket-sized and precise, these lightweight lenses are our best travel binoculars
Best for: Travel | Magnification: 8x | Weight: 310g | Waterproof?: Yes 100mbar
A winning combination of feather-light and rugged, these Zeiss binoculars are our best for travel. Despite their small stature, they’re said to deliver excellent, precise optics and natural tones, giving a true impression of what you want to look at, and the hydrophobic coating means that you can keep an eye out, without distracting streams running all over the lenses, even in adverse weather conditions. The large focusing wheel is nice inclusion too, making these diminutive bins easy to handle, and quick to focus, even in larger hands.
4. Steiner Safari UltraSharp 10x26
Whether close-up or over yonder, these Steiner binoculars offer a sharp image, sharpish
Best for: Quick focus | Magnification: 10x | Weight: 297g | Waterproof?: Yes
These 10x magnifying binoculars offer the performance of a much larger pair in a pocket-friendly package, with what Steiner say are high-contrast optics, natural colours and top-notch clarity, plus quick focusing even at close range. Reviewers were inclined to agree, saying that they loved the lightweight compact design, great balance, wide scope, and how easy it was to achieve a sharp focus at short notice. For the utmost clarity even at full zoom, and a very impressive zoom at that, these look to be a solid choice.
5. Olympus Urban 10x25 PC I
Urban adventurers can spot more with these high-contrast binoculars
Best for: Urban scenery | Magnification: 10x | Weight: 280g | Waterproof?: No
You might expect to be busting out the binoculars in the country or on the coast more often than not, but urban twitchers and wildlife watchers needn’t miss out, as these made-for-the-city binoculars show. The multi-coated lenses are designed to give a clear, bright and high-contrast view of urban landscapes, which can be confusing to the eye with a lower-quality lens, and the compact design means they can be easily tucked into a trouser or jacket pocket, so you won’t look out of place in cargos or a hiking bag.
6. Bushnell 138005 H2O 8x25
These budget-friendly binocs do a lot more than you might suspect
Best for: Budget | Magnification: 8x | Weight: 340g | Waterproof?: Yes
The combination of BaK-4 roof prisms and multi-coated optics in these budget binoculars make for a fine viewing experience indeed, one characterised by a bright, clear and crisp picture and excellent light transmission – so it’s even more of a celebration when you see the purse-friendly price. They have a deceptively high-end build, too, with non-slip rubber armour that absorbs shocks and bangs, twist-up eye cups for an adjustable experience that keeps you comfortable for longer, and full waterproofing.
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