The best budget binoculars

The best budget binoculars

October 9, 2020
  • Many binoculars are expensive, but a great pair of binoculars doesn't have to cost a fortune. In fact, there are many good picks under $120, with many priced far below that.
  • The Nikon 8248 ACULON A211 10×50 Binocular is our top budget pick because it's versatile, lightweight, and doesn't skimp on image quality.

Finding the right pair of binoculars starts with a purpose.

You might be looking for the best binoculars for birding, in which case, you'll want something lightweight and compact to hold for an extended period of time. Something for astronomy will be heavier, as you'll want higher magnification to see farther into the night sky. Or, maybe you're looking to pick up an affordable pair for kids. 

Of course, the price also comes into play. While having a budget in mind is definitely helpful, many options are less expensive than you think, and a low price doesn't mean binoculars will be strictly barebones. Some come with neck straps and carrying pouches, others let you attach a smartphone to shoot photos or videos. 

And, many top picks are around $100 or less. We researched some of the best binoculars on a budget and compiled the following list to help meet your needs. Of course, these are not professional-level binoculars, but they will suit hobbyists and casual users just fine. 

Here are the best budget binoculars:

  • Best overall: Nikon Aculon A211 10 x 50 Binoculars
  • Best value: ZoomX X-007 Binoculars with Smartphone Adapter
  • Best under $40: Bushnell Falcon 133410 Binoculars
  • Best for kids: Kidwinz Shock Proof 8×21 Kids Binoculars
  • Best for astronomy: Celestron 71008 SkyMaster 25×70 Binoculars

Updated on 10/9/2020 to edit prices, links, formatting, and titles.

The best overall

The Nikon Aculon A211 10 x 50 binoculars suit a wide range of purposes, from birding to travel and sporting events, and are lightweight enough to bring along for the day.

The Nikon Aculon A211 10×50 binoculars can't be beaten for its blend of quality and affordability for the price.

These binoculars are lightweight and ergonomic, which means you can carry it around easily all day. A smooth-turning focus knob lets you quickly and accurately find a clear view of your subject. The rubberized coating provides a strong grip.

These binoculars are 10 x 50, which means 10x magnification with a 50mm objective diameter. They also have a 5mm exit pupil. In short, these binoculars work just as well for birding and outdoor activities as they do for viewing the night sky. That's because 10 x 50 binoculars have a wider aperture, which is better for seeing distant objects, even at night.

In terms of the exit pupil, binoculars with at least 4mm are suitable for most conditions, even low light. 

Weight is another big factor. These binoculars weigh 31.7 ounces or approximately 2 pounds. While they're not the most lightweight binoculars out there, they'll be easy to carry around, unless you're carrying other equipment, of course.

The lenses deliver clarity and brightness, helped by a special coating that is applied. Like Nikon's cameras lenses, which Insider Picks Guides Editor Les Shu has experience with, these are high-quality optics (Nikon is renowned for its glass and build quality). The rubber eyecups keep peepers positioned at the correct point and makes the binoculars more comfortable to use over an extended period.

Unfortunately, the binoculars are not weatherproof, so you'd need to take care when using them in certain environments. But it's a tradeoff we are willing to make for a quality product at such a low price.

Pros: Ideal for general use, ergonomic, many user-friendly features

Cons: Long-distance images may appear wavy, not weatherproof, protective lens caps fall off easily

The best value

The ZoomX X-007 Binoculars with Smartphone Adapter is waterproof and works with a smartphone to capture images and videos digitally.

Instead of excelling in a single area, the X-007 10 x 42 binoculars from ZoomX are suitable for a wide range of outdoor activities, whether it is birdwatching or a game at the stadium They also use BAK-4 prisms, which tend to be denser and transmit more light. Combined with fully multi-coated lenses, the result is optimal contrast and clear images, even when the weather is less than ideal.

Speaking of foul weather, these binoculars have an IPX 7 rating, which means they are waterproof and can be temporarily immersed in water up to approximately 5 feet. Nitrogen filling also helps reduce fogging.

Weight is also important. At 1.24 pounds, these binoculars are lighter than our overall pick and will fit into most backpacks or carrying cases. A rubberized body prevents the binoculars from slipping out of your hand. 

The X-007 has another feature I find really handy. Say, you have an amazing up-close look at an exotic bird, unique animal, or a memorable moment in a sporting event. Wouldn't it be great if you could capture it and share with others? With a smartphone attachment, the X-007 lets you do just that.

Essentially, the mount places your phone's camera over one of the eyecups. With the 10x-magnified image on your phone's screen, you can take photos or shoot videos of what you see. The images are then stored in your camera roll, which you can share to social media. (Note: You can find similar accessories to use with other binoculars.)

Pros: Water resistant, nitrogen filling prevents fogging, smartphone adapter

Cons: Some find the smartphone adapter a bit awkward, neck strap isn't the best

The best under $40

Despite the name, these economical Bushnell Falcon 133410 binoculars come in handy for more than just bird watching.

Bushnell is one of the bigger names when it comes to outdoor goods, including binoculars. This 7 x 35 model is a solid choice if you're looking for a budget pair with a decent image picture. The 1.3-pound Bushnell Falcon 133410 has a 20-foot close-focusing distance, 12mm eye relief, and a 5mm exit pupil. According to Strathspey, a Scottish binoculars retailer, most generally have an eye relief of 8-13mm. For best results, you'll want an optimal balance between the field of view and magnification.

Image quality doesn't have to be compromised when shopping on a budget. Aside from certain specifications, various features can enhance your viewing experience. For example, these binoculars use a Porro prism along with coated lenses to ensure sharp image viewing. Fold-down eye cups accommodate sunglasses and eyeglasses while protecting against scratching. An instant-focus lever allows you to easily fine-tune magnification for precise feedback.

Pros: Users can fine-tune magnification, eyecups protect lenses, comes with storage case and straps

Cons: Not water resistant, case and straps aren't the highest quality, lens caps fall off easily

The best for kids

The Kidwinz Shock Proof 8 x 21 Kids Binoculars are durable and rugged, yet come with optics so crisp and clear, even some adults are surprised.

Kids like to explore. However, they're also a bit more accident-prone. If you're going to buy a pair of binoculars for kids, you want one that's durable and sturdy enough to withstand outdoor adventures. This pair from Kidwinz has a rubber coating that absorbs impact. The eyepieces are surrounded by a rubber coating, as well, to help protect the lenses. 

These binoculars stand out for more than just their rugged design, although that's certainly a big draw for kids who love the outdoors. BAK-4 (a type of Porro) prisms produce sharp images. 

These 8 x 21 binoculars magnify objects up to eight times, which is plenty for kids who want to explore. They're also designed for fast and even focusing, even when used by children. For the best viewing, the binoculars can be folded to match the eye distance of the child. 

Pros: Rugged, sharp images, extra rubber coating adds durability

Cons: Strap doesn't break away for safety, focus can be hard to adjust

The best for astronomy

These Celestron binoculars are well suited for watching the night sky, with their Porro prism optics, large objective lenses, and easy-to-focus knob.

Even the best astronomy binoculars can't match the optics of a telescope, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy clear views of celestial objects such as planets and stars.

These 25 x 70 binoculars have enhanced magnification and larger objective lenses. According to Skytech Lasers, the larger the objective lens, the brighter the image. That's because larger lenses can draw in more light.

Magnification is also key for proper viewing. While some binoculars start at 10x, images appear even larger with 25x magnification, naturally. When it comes to specifications, some astronomers want to know all the details. These binoculars have a linear field of view of 141 feet (47 meters) and a 2.8mm exit pupil. There's also 13mm eye relief and a 75-foot close focus.

An article by Gary Seronik, an astronomy expert, explores the advantages of smaller exit pupils in more powerful binoculars such as these. Smaller exit pupils, such as the 2.8mm in these binoculars, results in a darker sky background and enhanced contrast among stars.

While these binoculars are designed to be versatile, you're probably going to spend the majority of your time looking up at the sky. That's one reason why many astronomers are willing to put up with the relatively hefty 3.25-pound weight. Such an intense magnification also essentially requires a tripod to ensure images are as still as possible.

Additionally, adjusting these binoculars may not be the most intuitive or fastest process.

Pros: Ideal for sky and land viewing, long eye-relief ideal for those who wear glasses, powerful magnification

Cons: Needs a tripod for stable images, heavy, focusing can be tedious

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