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Best Binoculars for Nature Viewing

This guide is for anyone considering buying a pair of binoculars, monocular or spotting scope to enjoy nature. You’ll not only discover the best binoculars for nature viewing, including bird watching, wildlife scoping and more, but we also have a video review of the ZEISS Conquest HD 8x42 Binocular. Our best buy binoculars table will help you choose from what can feel like a minefield of choices and find the perfect optics to suit any budget. Read more for options from the world’s best known brands ZEISS, Swarovski, Nikon, Leica, Olympus, Canon, Steiner and Pentax.

Best Binoculars for Nature Viewing

Table of contents

Binoculars and spotting scope in nature

Why use binoculars for nature viewing?

Many of us enjoy outdoor pursuits, from country walks and hikes to wildlife and landscape photography and simply to enjoy some downtime away from our daily routine. A pair of binoculars or a spotting scope adds a new level of enjoyment to outdoor activities, enabling us to ‘zoom in on real life’ and observe animals in their natural habitat, with far more detail than we can with the naked eye.

Binocular technology offers a range of features to enhance the viewing experience, with lightweight and comfortable designs, which are ergonomically made for easy carrying and prolonged use. We can see much further into the distance with a suitable magnification to discover shy wildlife, watch birds and other animals go about their business, as well as view crystal clear details of subjects with clarity from afar.

Photographers often pack a pair of lightweight binoculars to scope subjects and compositions, being far easier and lighter than using an unwieldy super telephoto lens. We can also discover distant routes across the landscape, find places to set-up a wildlife hide and discover which direction to go to capture the action.

You can also use a pair of binoculars with a close minimum focus distance to enlarge details on nearer subjects, viewing natural details in a similar way to a macro lens. Digiscoping is also becoming increasingly popular with accessories designed to mount a camera or smartphone to your optics. These enable you to photograph images and record video of distant nature, the night sky including the moon and planets, through a scope or monocular at impressive magnifications. A monocular provides the ultimate low weight solution for distant viewing, favoured by ultralight hikers and outdoorsman.

Wildlife observation in wetlands using Binoculars

When is the best time of year for nature viewing?

If you’re in the UK every season offers unique highlights for viewing and experiencing nature in its element. Naturally we’ll be most comfortable during the warmest months from April through to September, which coincides with much of the natural world being at its most active, but colder seasons also provide plenty to observe.

Spring

During March, April and May nature leaps into action and we’ll hear the dawn chorus as birds are nesting, swifts and bats return to our shores and mammals are born as food sources rejuvenate for the year ahead. Spring is a wonderful time to get closer to nature, as there’s so much to experience and enjoy. It’s a particularly busy time for nature photographers who capture wildlife and landscapes, with insects, foliage and colours returning to a previously monotone landscape. Daffodils, anemones and bluebells mark spring’s progress with deer, rabbits and squirrels seen throughout forest locations. Spring is also a favoured time of year for stargazing with binoculars or a scope. A higher magnification pair of binoculars with a larger aperture such as 10x50 or greater is perfect for viewing celestial objects and the Milky Way, which can be observed through to July.

Summer

The summer months provide a time of plenty which sees juvenile birds and mammals growing and discovering their role in nature. Dragonflies, butterflies and wildflowers are abundant as days get warmer and longer, which provides us with plenty of opportunity for viewing nature. Remember to bring some shade, sunscreen and a Walkstool Comfort seat to while away the hours comfortably. Look out for lizards, frogs, hawk-moths and other creatures in the undergrowth during this fabulous time of year.

Autumn

As the days cool and grow shorter, wildlife remains active with incredible spectacles to enjoy. You can view the deer rut from a safer distance, and other mammals become increasingly active during their quest for mating and food. It’s a great time of year to keep an eye out for hedgehogs, squirrels and foxes during a time of increased activity. Mushrooms start appearing as migrations begin, with moths and warblers amongst those leaving the UK, all against a spectacular backdrop of autumn colour. It’s worth noting that an optic with a larger aperture gathers more light, which is recommended for twilight observation of these kinds of creatures.

Winter

Despite the cold, dark and shorter days, winter provides plenty of opportunities for us to enjoy quiet nature viewing. Some of the most incredible starling murmurations can be seen between December and March, along with mountain hares, owls, woodpecker, squirrels and of course Robin red breast to name just a few. If you can bear to get out during these cold and wet months you’ll be rewarded by plenty of natural scenes to witness with fewer people around to disturb the natural environment.

Binoculars glossary diagram

Tips for how to choose binoculars for beginners

Binoculars have particularly technical features and naming conventions, with lots of brands to choose from, which can be overwhelming if you’re a beginner to using binoculars. These tips will help you to understand what the names mean and which features could suit your style of viewing when buying a pair. In some regards choosing binoculars follows a similar process as buying cameras lenses, with many manufactures designing both optics and lenses due to their similarities.

  1. The first and most important decision to make is what you want to view with binoculars, whether that’s near or distant subjects, during the daytime, in low light or nighttime. For general nature viewing and daytime observation on hikes and walks entry-level binoculars are perfect. On the other hand if you observe subjects in low light, or want them to appear close-up with high clarity and detail, a more advanced pair of binoculars will perform better.
  2. This leads to magnification, which forms part of the name in all binoculars. For example, an 8x42 binocular has an 8x magnification of the naked eye, (while 42 is the diameter of the objective lenses). Typically binocular magnification ranges from 6x or 7x through to 12x or 15x magnification. Although higher magnification gets you closer to a subject, it’s also harder to hold steady. This is why some models include built-in optical stabilisation, and some viewers attach their optic to a monopod or tripod with a suitable tripod adapter, which can be found in our binocular accessories. For closer and larger subjects choose a lower magnification, and a higher magnification for more distant subjects, including astro, the moon and Milky Way. Another consideration is that a higher magnification will reduce your field of view, which means you’ll need to move them around more when spotting subjects on the periphery of your vision. A wider field of view gives a more general view of the landscape without having to move as much.
  3. The size of the objectives (front lens aperture) makes a difference to the size and weight of binoculars, as well as how much light they will gather. Choosing the size of the objective diameter can be informed by whether you will be viewing subjects in low light during sunrise or sunset for example, as well as how lightweight you want the binocular to be. Larger objectives provide clearer, more detailed viewing, but will be heavier.
  4. Image quality is also dictated by special lens elements and coatings included in the optical design. Manufacturers use ED glass (Extra-Low Dispersion Glass), or Fluoride glass and others in premium optics. These reduce colour fringing and other image errors, often referred to as aberrations or Chromatic Aberration. As with camera lenses you may notice a drop in quality, or Spherical Aberration towards the edges of the image with lower spec models. Lens coatings are employed to reduce internal reflections, which in turn increases light transmission. Ideally we want the most light to pass through the binocular to ensure we have the brightest and clearest image possible.
  5. For the clearest viewing choose binoculars with inert gas filling, such as Nitrogen or Argon. This helps with outdoor use as glass becomes opaque with changes in pressure and moisture in the air. Gas filling will therefore give you the best fog-free viewing in most situations.
  6. Knowing the exit pupil helps to inform you about the relative brightness you can achieve with any pair of binocular. The diameter of the exit pupil is the size of the hole the light passes through, which then hits your eye pupil. The wider the better during low light, whereas daytime viewing can be narrower, as our pupils narrow in brighter light. Anywhere from 2-3mm for daytime viewing and around 7mm for low light is a good solution.
  7. Ergonomics and overall design plays a part in the comfort, useability and length of time you can comfortably view with binoculars before they become uncomfortable. If possible, choose a versatile model which allows for a degree of adjustment, both through adjustable eye cups, focusing and the width of spacing using a centre hinge. The materials used to create the outer casing play a considerable role in the overall quality you’ll enjoy, with optics using magnesium, aluminium and polycarbonates. Typically the highest quality models are made with all-metal components and feel great when being used.

Bird watching binoculars with ZEISS

Which binoculars are best for bird watching?

If you enjoy bird watching a good binocular enhances the experience by allowing more detailed observations from much greater distances. Viewing from further away means you are less likely to disturb birds and can watch for longer while observing their natural behaviour. Bird photographers will use binoculars to locate their subjects and help get nearer without having to wield long lenses, gimbals, tripods and other equipment they carry.

As described with beginner binocular tips, choosing binoculars for bird watching primarily comes down to the most appropriate magnification and objective diameter for your subject and budget. Bird watching binoculars benefit from the inclusion of special elements which enhance the image, as we often observe small birds from a distance.

After choosing the magnification and objective size other deciding factors include whether you intend to watch birds at a location where your equipment may get wet such as a reservoir, water-based nature reserve or during inclement weather. Waterproof binoculars, rugged construction and fog-free lenses are great features to look for in any of these situations. Try and stay as lightweight as possible for easy movement or if you walk further. It’s also essential to choose binoculars which include a diopter to adjust fine focus on your bird subjects.

Hiking mountains with binoculars

Best buy binoculars

We’ve rounded-up 12 of the most popular and versatile binoculars (including a spotting scope and monocular kit) in this best buy binoculars for nature viewing. All of these provide a great viewing experience with different models suited to a range of applications and for all budgets. It’s clear from these products that the larger spotting scope and single monocular offer substantially varied weight savings or gains verses binoculars.

Model

Price

Key features

Weight

ZEISS Conquest HD 8x42 Binocular

£999

Water resistant / HD lenses / LotuTec® and ZEISS T* coating / Perfect for multiple uses

795g

Nikon Aculon A211 12x50 Binoculars

£99

Rubber-armoured coating / multi-coated lenses / Great value for money

910g

Nikon Prostaff 7S 8x42 Binoculars

£199

Waterproof and fogproof / Rubber armouring

650g

ZEISS Terra ED 8x42 Binocular Green/Black

£419

Robust design / Waterproof and nitrogen-filled / SCHOTT ED glass / Great ergonomics

 

725g

Leica ULTRAVID 8x42 HD-Plus Binocular

£1,649

SCHOTT HT glass / Magnesium body / AuqaDura and HDC coating / highest rated water/fog proof performance

790g

Olympus 8x42 PRO Binoculars

£399

Minimum focusing distance 1.5m / ED lenses / Phase-correction coating / Waterproof, anti-fogging

665g

Steiner Safari Ultrasharp 10x26 Compact Binoculars

£129

Waterproof / Fogproof / NBR Long Life rubber armouring / UV Coatings

297g

Pentax SP 16x50 Compact Rugged Binoculars

£169

Fully multi-coated optics / Aluminium die cast body / Rubber armoured / Waterproof and nitrogen-filled

900g

Canon IS AW 15x50 Image Stabilised Binoculars

£1,219

Optical Image Stabiliser / Ultra-low Dispersion (UD) lens / Porro II prism optics / Super Spectra coating

1180g

Swarovski EL 10x42 W B Binocular Green

£1,625

HD optics / optimised lens and prism coating / Field flattener lenses / Excellent ergonomics

800g

ZEISS Victory Harpia 95 Angled Spotting Scope

£3,150

FL glass / LotuTec® and ZEISS T* coating / 95mm lens diameter / Nitrogen filled

2,078g

Pentax VM 6x21 WP Monocular Complete Kit

£249

Digiscoping monocular kit / includes Macro Stand and Smartphone Adapter / waterproof

150g

Using the latest binocular on the beach for observation

New binoculars

We’ve added the following new binoculars to our catalogue which include the latest viewing technology across various budgets for nature observation.

ZEISS Conquest HD 8x42 Binocular and SFL Binocular Video Review

Watch the video where Gareth gives a hands-on review of the rugged, twilight-capable ZEISS Conquest HD 8x42 Binocular, SFL 10x40 and the SFL 8x40

Using ZEISS optics for nature viewing

Tips for using binoculars in the field

If you’re new to using binoculars out in the field observing nature these tips will help you set-up and get started for brilliant results.

  1. Attach the binocular’s neck strap to avoid hand-stress when not in use. Regardless of weight carrying a pair off binoculars for longer periods places strain on your hands which can be reduced by hanging them round your neck. You can also buy binocular cases and harnesses or straps to lighten the load and improve your carrying experience. The ZEISS Binocular Harness is a great example as it prevents neck strain and distributes weight across your shoulders.
  2. Time your time to achieve comfort and accurate focus. Adjust the overall width between the two barrels to suit your face width using the width adjustment dial in the centre. Once comfortable, use the focus wheel to get a subject in the distance sharp. You can then use a combination of focus wheel and diopter adjustment to get pin sharp details.
  3. To locate a bird or particular wildlife it’s good practice to remain stationary for a while. Once you’re settled, use your hearing to locate subjects. You’re far more likely to hear rustling or bird song before seeing anything. Look exactly in the direction of any noise, then bring your binoculars up to align with your eyes. You should begin to see the subject after some practice and patience. Try and note a landmark or object near where you’re looking so you can come back to it after looking elsewhere.
  4. We recommend regularly maintaining any optic with cleaning equipment such as the ZEISS Lens Cleaning Kit. This will keep the lenses clear and provide the best viewing experience without dirt, smudges and debris building up.

Legendary Leica optics

Nature and Wildlife Blog Posts

Park Cameras are fortunate to have wonderful customers and photography ambassadors contribute to our blog. We’ve published numerous wildlife and bird articles over the years which can inspire and teach us how to photograph wildlife and get the most out of viewing nature. These posts are sure to inspire you to get out into nature, so why not grab a cup of tea and take a moment to read some of these posts.

Adjusting eyepiece

Wildlife observation resources

We’ve collated a list of external Wildlife observation resources to discover the best time to view wildlife, how you can get involved as well as inspiration to get us outside and enjoy the natural world.

  1. Nature's Calendar provides seasonal guides for viewing birds and is hosted by the RSPB
  2. The Woodland Trust hosts a national Calendar inviting participation for everyone to note observations and track climate change in the UK
  3. NatGeo Kids is a brilliant resource packed with activities and information for children to get involved with the natural world
  4. Where to see is a resource provided by Country File magazine with lots of information for where to observe and photograph nature throughout the UK
  5. Following the birdwatchers' code enables us all to enjoy seeing birds with a little common sense and good practice

The natural world around us provides unlimited benefits for our health and wellbeing as well as many hours of enjoyment simply observing. Whether you enjoy walks, hikes, sports or simply general outdoor activities, browse our range of binoculars from the most popular brands to find your perfect optic for nature viewing.

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By Nick Dautlich on 27/04/2022

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