There are some sights you just have to see in sharp focus. From hiking in the mountains to watching your favorite sports team from the nosebleed seats, small binoculars can help you make the most out of your adventures. Compact binoculars are a particular favorite for travelers, event attendees, hunters and birdwatchers alike thanks to their ability to enhance an image without being unnecessarily burdensome in their size and weight.
Most people find that compact binoculars are the best option for general purpose use as well rather than a full-size set, even if they don’t have a specific hobby that might call for the regular use of binoculars.
No matter how you plan to use them, this guide gives you all the info you need to find the best compact binoculars for the money at a variety of different price points. Before you start exploring your options, take some time to learn more about what sets compact binoculars apart and how to identify the perfect pair for your needs.
Compact Binoculars: 2019 Buyer’s Guide
There are just a few things you should consider when looking for a great pair of binoculars in a compact or lightweight form. The obvious thing like size and weight are specs you should be aware of but you should also be able to understand the magnification and field-of-view specs. These Specs are viewed as MAGNIFICATION X OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER.
Give this guide a thorough look and keep in mind the types of activities you plan to do with your new compact binoculars. This is usually the best way to decide on which pair is going to have the features and specs that are right for you.
Portability and Features
Compact binoculars are the smallest class of binoculars, offering the most portability with respect to size and weight. They are designed to be easy and comfortable to wear around the neck and portable enough to pack into a backpack or suitcase.
Most compact binoculars usually weigh less than 2 pounds or 850 grams and, some designs even fold so you can tuck them into a jacket pocket when they’re not in use. You can find a range of different price points and features in this category, including compact binoculars with image stabilization to keep your viewing experience smooth and efficient.
This may come as a surprise, but binoculars actually aren’t inherently safe from damage when used in wet conditions. Though they don’t have electronic parts, the buildup of moisture can cause serious problems for delicate internal mechanisms and optical components. Whether you’re planning to go hunting in the rainy Pacific Northwest or you want to take your binoculars out on a boat trip in the Bahamas, you’ll want to err on the side of caution and opt for a pair of waterproof binoculars. The best compact waterproof binoculars tend to be on the spendier side, but the extra upfront cost is worth it for the extra protection you get.
Binocular magnification/power is measured by how many times larger the view is when seen through the lenses. For example, a pair of binoculars with 5x magnification will show you items in the distance at five times their size of what you see with your naked eye.
Some binoculars may offer some sort of zoom, rather than a fixed magnification, so magnification may be listed as a range such as 2-10x. Some binoculars show magnification ranges with a slash, such as 5/10x. This indicates that there are two different fixed-power magnification options that you can switch between. In either case, the magnification range is often listed before a different number. This number after the x indicates the size of the objective lens (the lenses at the very front through which light enters). For example, binoculars listed as 5-20×25 offer a zoom range of 5 through 20 times with objective lenses in a diameter of 25mm.
The zoom is appealing, but it’s not necessarily the best option. Some critics say that even the best compact zoom binoculars deliver unreliable performance, so if you really want a good pair that will stand the test of time, you may want to simply opt for a pair with a single fixed-power magnification option. As you’ll see, many of the highest-rated options in this category offer only a single fixed-power setting. Most users find this sufficient for general use and even specific activities like hunting. Whether you choose multiple magnification settings or not, most compact binoculars do not offer the strongest-possible magnification, typically topping out around 12x. If you know you need more power than that, you might need a larger binocular style.
Visibility and Field of View (FOV)
The amount of light that enters binocular lenses has a big impact on how clear your point of view will be while looking through the eyepieces. Many people assume that, because compact binoculars tend to have small objective lenses, they don’t provide as much brightness as binoculars with larger objective lenses. While lens size is important, it’s not the only factor in determining how bright your view will be.
The best rated compact binoculars tend to balance out a smaller lens size with better materials to deliver the best-possible view. The quality and clarity of the glass used for all the lenses and internal parts make a big difference, and cutting-edge lens coatings can further improve brightness regardless of lens size.
Field of View, or the amount of the magnified area you can see through the eyepieces, is another important visual element to consider. Binocular field of view is measured in feet based on the width of the space you can see from 1,000 yards away. Many binoculars let you adjust the field of view, but some of the less expensive models may not offer this feature. If you’re going to be doing something that requires a broad view, such as watching a concert in an arena, you’ll want to find the widest field of view possible.
A broad field of view is also useful for bird watching and hunting because you’ll be less likely to lose sight of a fast-moving animal. This means that the best compact binoculars for bird watching tend to be those that allow you to see a panoramic view of the landscape around you. The trade-off of a larger field of view is usually size and weight as the binoculars will need to be equipped with larger diameter objective lenses.
Price doesn’t necessarily determine quality when it comes to finding the best compact travel binoculars. Though some features, like waterproofing and high-quality optical glass, do tend to cost more, the overall quality of the binoculars, from the exterior housing to the lenses inside, doesn’t necessarily correlate directly to where that pair falls on the pricing spectrum. It’s more important to know the specific details that define quality for each individual pair of compact binoculars rather than price alone.
Believe it or not the quality of glass can have a huge impact on the image quality achieved by a set of binoculars. Carl Zeiss was a pioneer in the arena of optical glass and founded the company known as ZEISS which supplies many different manufacturers with lenses used in all sorts of devices ranging from cameras to binoculars. Great glass will certainly improve the image but it will also contribute to premium prices.
This high quality glass is engineered to provide distortion-free images. It is also manufactured with the highest quality standards to ensure there few to no imperfections in the class which can degrade the viewing quality.
Binoculars use prisms for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is image correction and achieving the magnification in such a small device. When light enters the objective lens the image is inverted so a prism is used to allow the viewer to see the scene correctly. These complex lens arrangements also serve to reduce the size of binoculars. There are a few configurations and prism types but the basics can be seen in the graphic below.
Lens coatings are used to achieve many different affects on the lens. These coatings and lens films serve to reduce glare and reflection, or even increase light transmission and increase color vibrancy. Lens coatings can absolutely improve the viewing experience through binoculars but keep in mind they can be costly. It is a price some are willing to pay to have the best small binoculars available!
- Coated: Thin anti-reflective coating on one or more lenses.
- Fully Coated: Thin anti-reflective coating on both sides of each lens and the long side of the Prism.
- Multi-Coated: Multiple coatings on one or more lenses
- Fully Multi-coated: Multiple coatings on all lens surfaces.
- Phase coating:: Common in most bird watching binoculars, this coating is used in Roof-Prisms to correct for light waves going out of phase which causes interference in the form of reduced sharpness and brightness.
The Best Compact Binoculars – Top 5 Reviews
These five options represent the cream of the crop in the world of compact binoculars. Remember that while the most expensive options tend to have more features, they aren’t necessarily the automatic best choice. This is especially true if you’re planning to use your binoculars in rugged conditions in which they might be at risk for damage.
Waterproof and fog-proof, these compact Bushnell binoculars are rugged and ready for just about anything. Their rubberized exterior coating absorbs shock, making them useful in rough terrain, and their optical components are multi-coated for superior light delivery and image quality. With a slight fold at the center hinge and twist-up eyecups for users with glasses, these binos are a great choice for most casual users. They’re even small and durable enough for kids to use with minimal supervision, and their intuitive, simple operation is generally user-friendly across different age groups.
Sure, they’re inexpensive, but that doesn’t mean that these binos aren’t a great choice. Bushnell is a trusted optics brand, and this model offers a compact 4-inch length and dependable performance at a reasonable price point. They don’t provide bells and whistles beyond the basic high-quality optics and easy-grip, shock-absorbing rubber coating, but if you aren’t looking for more than portable waterproof magnification, these may be the ideal choice for you. They may be a little difficult to open and close at the center hinge, but at a low price tag of less than $50, that might be a worthwhile trade-off if the visuals are what really matters to you.
These are a great choice for someone needing a waterproof option. If you need even better low light performance than the 25mm objective lens provides, check out the Bushnell H2O Series 10X42
Bushnell H2O Series Key Features
- FOV: 341ft. @ 1,000 yards
- Waterproof/Fog proof
- BaK-4 prisms
These all-terrain binoculars are a favorite of outdoor enthusiasts looking for a ruggedly reliable pair of binos from a world-renowned manufacturer. With waterproof and fog proof construction and antireflective lenses featuring multicoated clarifying power, Nikon’s Trailblazer ATB compact binoculars are a powerfully rugged choice for those seeking well-made and portable equipment for all their endeavors.
The 10x magnification and generous field of view make these binoculars a particularly good choice for use in heavily wooded areas, further demonstrating value for ornithologists. And while that magnification factor isn’t so powerful that it’s overwhelming in the brush, it’s strong enough for hikers and others to take in far-off scenery in greater detail. On top of all that, these binos feature a streamlined, efficient design with a rubberized grip that gives you just the right range of functions in a hard-to-drop package. The optics on these compact Nikon binoculars is so crisp and clear that you’ll actually avoid eye strain over long periods of use, adding yet more value to this powerful and appealing option.
Nikon Trailblazer ATB, 10×25 Key Features
- FOV: 342ft. @ 1,000 yards
- Waterproof/Fog proof
- Relative Brightness: 6.3
- Multi Coated Lenses
Outclassing most competitors in this field in terms of its field of view, these Pentax binos are an excellent choice if panoramic views are a high priority. The trade-off is that their uni-body design isn’t quite as compact as some competitors when the eyepieces fold in for storage, but with a length and width of fewer than 5 inches each, that may not be an issue for many users. Plus, they weigh in at just over a half a pound, making them one of the lightest options even among this generally petite binocular category.
Another feature that really sets the Pentax 8.5×21 U-Series Papilio II apart is the fact that they have a 20-inch minimum focus distance, which allows you to magnify objects that are up close and personal. You can inspect plants, flowers, sand and other details and then adjust your focus distance out into the horizon to get a closer look at a mountain or a ship out at sea. Overall, these binoculars offer a great range of functions, but they aren’t waterproof, which might be a deal breaker for some users.
Pentax U-Series Papilio II Key Features
- FOV: 315ft. @ 1,000 yards
- Fully Multi-Coated Optics
- Tripod Ready
If you want a compact pair of binoculars that spares nothing when it comes to quality, the Zeiss Terra 10×42 ED is among the best compact bird-watching binoculars on the market. Though these are on the larger end of the spectrum when it comes to compact form, the larger objective lens allows more light in allowing the Terra ED to shine in low light conditions. If size the size is an issue but you don’t want to compromise the quality, definitely check out the Zeiss Victory Compact Binoculars
This particular model of Zeiss binoculars is so affordable because they are not manufactured in Germany like the Victory model above. These are manufactured in China using all of the same technology available in other every other Zeiss binocular model. This allows them to offer up comparably affordable. That said, the build quality isn’t quite as great as other Zeiss models but you are getting the same great glass which is what is most important.
Zeiss proprietary hydrophobic multi-coated optics are excellent at resisting dust, dirt, and oils while improving light transmission, color rendition, sharpness, and contrast. The focus wheel is also very fast and easy to use making sure you get your targets to focus quicker not missing critical viewing moments. For anyone ready to take their binocular collection to the next level but reluctant about spending so much money, this is a great set to start with.
Zeiss Terra Key Features
- FOV: 330ft. @ 1,000 (8x zoom)
- Extra Low-Dispersion SCHOTT Glass
- 5.25ft Min Focal Distance
- Extremely Comfortable Eye-cups
- Zeiss Hydrophobic Multi-Coated Optics
If you’re ready to make a significant investment in compact binoculars, the Canon 10×42 IS II offers top-of-the-line function with a full complement of features that allow you to take on any situation. In spite of the large lens size, these binos weigh less than 2.5 pounds and are less than 7 inches long and 5.5 inches wide, settling them firmly in the compact category. Waterproof construction and state-of-the-art image stabilization technology mean you can use these compact binos rain or shine from any vehicle or terrain. With superior ability to smooth out and account for bumps and jolts, you could even use these binoculars to spy on wild animals from the back of an off-road expedition truck.
These compact binoculars are a first for Canon, combining the optics manufacturer’s famed image stabilizers with superior waterproofing. The image stabilizer is activated with a simple push of a button, and while it does require battery power, you can easily stash a spare set of 2 AA batteries in the padded carrying case that comes with each new Canon 10×30 IS II. This is truly a top-of-the-line option for those who want compact size without sacrificing any additional tech features.
Canon IS II Key Features
- FOV: 328ft. @ 1,000 yards
- Excellent Light Retention
- Superb Image Stabilization
- Porro II Prisms
“Best Compact Binoculars For Birdwatching”
Any serious birdwatcher knows that Nikon Monarch line of binoculars are a great choice for bird watchers looking to get serious when it comes to quality, durability, and overall ability when out in the field. The Monarchs provide exceptional image quality and are very durable all provided at an accessible price.
These compact binoculars from Nikon are all terrain, waterproof, fog-proof and have extra-low dispersion (ED) glass to enhance brightness and color accuracy. The Monarchs ergonomic ergonomics have proved to be incredibly comfortable and lightweight allowing users to use them over extended viewings without becoming burdensome.
The Monarch 7 8×42 provides an exceptionally wide field of view that makes it easy to find and focus in on your subject. Prism coatings provide accurate color reproduction and high-contrast images even in fair light conditions. The rubber coating and weather-proof housing make these compact binoculars resistant to harsh conditions as well providing long useful life. If you are looking for an upgrade to an intermediately priced binocular for bird watching these are one of the best options.
Nikon Monarch Key Features
- FOV: 420ft. @ 1,000 yards
- Excellent Light Retention
- Fully Coated
- Roof prisms with phase-correction
- Nitrogen-filled housing for fog/water-proofing
Choosing a pair of binoculars can be daunting but I hope that we’ve made it just a bit easier for you and you choose a pair perfect for whatever adventure you have in store. As always, leave a comment letting us know about your favorite pair!