Thursday, November 14, 2019

12 Best birding binoculars under $200: Birder selected!

You want to purchase binoculars for bird watching but you don't know who to trust!

This post was written and researched by a real birder--me! I've been birding over 45 years, sometimes with poor optics, so I know what birders need in binoculars. Here is my About Me page.

When you are doing your research for buying budget birding binoculars under $200 you may be led to reviews and recommendations made by people who are not birders. The reviewers tend to copy one another's lists--even for binoculars that are less than ideal for bird watching.

There was a time, not long ago, when getting decent bird watching binoculars for under $200 was not possible. Things have improved. But there are still a lot of cheap models out there that say they are for birders, but they aren't very good. The ones listed here should work well for you and yet stay in your budget.

Here are my 12 choices for best bird watching binoculars under $200 for real birders--you! I'll tell you why below. [Plus 2 bonus binoculars under $230 to consider.] First, the list.

The best binoculars for bird watchers under $200 are these:
  • Bushnell Legend L Ultra 8x42
  • Wingspan CrystalView 8x42
  • Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42
  • Nikon ProStaff 3S 8x42
  • Vortex Crossfire 8x42
  • Wingspan NaturePro HD 8x42
  • Carson VP 8x42
  • Bushnell Legend Ultra 10x42
  • Vanguard Spirit XF 10x42
  • Vortex Diamondback 8x28
  • Vortex Diamondback HD 8x32
  • Celestron Trailseeker 8x32
  • Opticron Discovery WP PC 8x32 (<$230)
  • Carson 3D 8x32 (<$230)



What makes a good birding binocular?


The 8x42 style is the best all-round full-sized birding binocular. That is 8-power magnification and an objective lens size of 42 millimeters. Dividing 8 into 42 gives 5.25mm of exit pupil (anything of 5 or over gives excellent brightness even in dim conditions, such as twilight or overcast winter days or in the deep dark woods! I've selected 7 of the best in this price range for you.

There are also a couple of 10x binoculars I picked out. They are not quite as bright in dim conditions (exit pupil 4.2mm), but magnify another 25% more than 8x binoculars. Sounds great (and it is), but that also means 25% more hand-shakiness magnification and a bit heavier, too. So be warned, more magnification isn't necessarily better for long days in the field. They also have narrower field of view, making it harder to find that movement in the canopy, or get on that lone swift flying far overhead. 10x binoculars, in general, have shorter eye relief--there are very few models suitable for eyeglass wearers. A final problem more magnification brings is that these binoculars will likely not have very good close focus. Butterflies at your feet or a bird in a nearby hedge may be too close to focus. If most of your birding is in open country, then these are a good choice.

There is one compact binocular I selected, an 8x28 model. These can be very dull in low light conditions (exit pupil 3.5mm). But they are good as a hiking binocular or something small to have as a binocular you always carry in your car's glove compartment. Or a pair for feeder watching out the window.

Finally, I've selected 4 mid-sized binoculars in the 8x32 range. Their exit pupil is 4.0mm. So in low-light conditions, comparing side-by-side with a good 8x42, they won't give quite as bright and colorful display. Most of the time you won't notice the difference. They use the same prisms and ocular lenses as their corresponding 8x42 brothers. So they generally are much better quality than the compact binoculars, while still having a smaller form factor and less weight--perfect for smaller hands.

In summary, a good birding binocular is 8x42 with wide field of view (>390 feet @ 1000 yards), close focus (<8 feet), and longer eye relief for eyeglass wearers (15.5-19 mm). Good exceptions include 10x42, 8x32, and a compact 8x28 with the above specs, depending upon use.

Which binoculars are best for birding at all prices? I compare over 80 models of birding binoculars and discuss all these specifications in more detail in this buying guide article.

A quick note: All binoculars here are for adults. Children less than 14 years old may have their eyes too close together to see with both binocular lenses at the same time. But see the Opricron Discovery WP PC 8x32. [See buying guide above under "Interpupilary Distance" and "Kids Binoculars."]



Bushnell Legend L Ultra 8x42


Uses the best ED Prime (extra low-dispersion) glass for crisp edges with as little color-fringing as possible. All air-to-glass surfaces are fully multicoated with anti-reflection coatings for bright images. Uses the very best BaK-4 prisms and phase coatings. Lenses have a Rainguard coating. Waterproof/fogproof; nitrogen sealed. Magnesium chassis. Limited lifetime warranty.

Field of view: 426 ft @1000 yards (very good for spotting birds while scanning)
Close focus: 6.5 feet (good for butterflies)
Exit pupil: 5.25 (excellent brightness in dim light)
Eye relief: 19 mm (excellent for eyeglass wearers)
Weight: 23.5 oz. (good--light weight for full-sized binoculars)

Greg's comments: Full-sized 8x42 $150-200 range. Excellent optics and the specs are excellent. Wide field of view. Best eye relief for eyeglass wearers. Everything is excellent about the design of this binocular. Best full-sized 8x42 birding binocular in the $150-200 range.





Wingspan CrystalView 8x42


ED glass fully multicoated. BaK-4 prisms with phase corrected coatings. Waterproof/fog-proof. Nitrogen sealed. Limited lifetime warranty.

Field of view: 425 ft @1000 yards (very good)
Close focus: 6.6 ft (good)
Exit pupil: 5.25 mm (excellent)
Eye relief: 17.8 mm (very good)
Weight: 27 oz (okay)

Greg's comments: Full-sized 8x42 $150-200 range. Excellent optics. The specs are all good but this is getting a bit on the heavier side. Compares favorably with the Bushnell Legend L Ultra. Runner-up for the best full sized 8x42 birding binocular in the $150-200 range.





Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42


ED glass. Fully multi-coated. Phase coated BaK-4 prisms. Rubber armored, polycarbonate body. Waterproof. Nitrogen-sealed. Limited lifetime warranty.

Field of view: 393 ft @1000 yards (good)
Close focus: 6.5 ft (good)
Exit pupil: 5.25 (excellent)
Eye relief: 17.8 mm (very good)
Weight: 24.9 oz (good)

Greg's comments: Full-sized 8x42 $100-150 range. The ED glass makes this the Runner up for best full sized 8x42 birding binocular in the $100-150 range.





Nikon ProStaff 3S 8x42


Eco-Glass (lead-free, arsenic-free). Multi-layer coatings. Silver mirror coatings on prisms. Waterproof/fog-proof; nitrogen sealed. Polycarbonate body. Limited lifetime warranty.

Field of view: 378 ft @1000 yards (okay)
Close focus: 9.8 ft (okay)
Exit pupil: 5.25 mm (excellent)
Eye relief: 20.2 (excellent)
Weight: 19.9 oz (excellent)

Greg's comments: Full-sized $100-150 range. Optics properties aren't as good as others here. Excellent eye relief for eyeglass wearers. Field of view and close focus specs not as good as others in its class. Not bad. Just not quite as good.





Vortex Crossfire HD 8x42


HD glass. Fully multicoated. Waterproof/fog-proof; nitrogen-sealed. Unlimited and transferable lifetime warranty.

Field of view: 393 ft @1000 yards (good)
Close focus: 6 feet (very good)
Exit pupil: 5.25 mm (excellent)
Eye relief: 17 mm (good)
Weight: 23.8 oz (good)

Greg's comments: Full-sized 8x42 $100-150 range. Good value. It's a fine binocular.





Wingspan NaturePro HD 8x42


Fully multicoated lenses. Phase corrected BaK-4 prism coatings. Waterproof/fog-proof; nitrogen sealed. Limited lifetime warranty.

Field of view: 430 ft @1000 yards (excellent)
Close focus: 6.6 ft (good)
Exit pupil: 5.25 mm (excellent)
Eye relief: 17.2 mm (good)
Weight: 22 oz (very good)

Greg's comments: Full-sized 8x42 $100-150 range. Excellent optics and specs. Widest field of view and lightest in this range. Best full-sized 8x42 birding binocular in the $100-150 range. Best value!





Carson VP 8x42


Fully multicoated. BaK-4 prisms. Phase coated. Waterproof/fog-proof; nitrogen sealed. No fault warranty.

Field of view: 393 ft @1000 yards (good)
Close focus: 6.6 ft (good)
Exit pupil: 5.25 mm (excellent)
Eye relief: 17 mm (good)
Weight: 24.6 oz (good)

Greg's comments: Full-sized 8x42 $100-150 range. Good optics. Great value. It's a fine binocular.





Bushnell Legend Ultra 10x42


ED Prime glass. Fully multicoated optics. BaK-4 prisms. Waterproof. Limited lifetime warranty.

Field of view: 340 ft @1000 yards (okay)
Close focus: 8 ft (okay)
Exit pupil: 4.2 mm (good)
Eye relief: 18 mm (very good)
Weight: 23.5 oz (good)

Greg's comments: Full-sized 10x42 range. 8x binoculars have better specs. But this has good eye relief for eyeglass wearers and is light weight for 10x binocular. Best 10x binocular under $200.





Vanguard Spirit XF 10x42

Fully multicoated lenses. BaK-4 prisms. Phase coated. Waterproof/fog-proof. Textured rubber armor. Premium lifetime warranty.

Field of view: 332 ft @1000 yards (okay)
Close focus: 6.9 ft (good)
Exit pupil: 4.2 mm (good)
Eye relief: 16mm (okay)
Weight: 23.5 oz (good)

Greg's comments: Full-sized 10x42 range. Good close focus. The eye relief is a bit short for eyeglass wearers. Narrow field of view as expected for 10x binoculars.





Vortex Diamondback 8x28


HD glass. Fully multicoated. Dielectric prism coatings. Waterproof/fog-proof; argon sealed. Rubber armor. Lifetime warranty.

Field of view: 332 ft @1000 yards (okay)
Close focus: 6 ft (very good)
Exit pupil: 3.5 mm (okay)
Eye relief: 18 mm (very good)
Weight: 14 oz (excellent)

Greg's comments: Compact 8x28. Narrow field of view is typical for compact binoculars. Good for eyeglass wearers. The only compact binocular under $200 that I can recommend for birding.





Vortex Diamondback HD 8x32


HD glass. Fully multicoated. Dielectric prism coatings. Waterproof/fog-proof; argon sealed. Rubber armor. Lifetime warranty.

Field of view: 426 ft @1000 yards (very good)
Close focus: 5 ft (excellent)
Exit pupil: 4.0 mm (good)
Eye relief: 16 mm (okay)
Weight: 15.9 oz (excellent)

Greg's comments: Mid-sized 8x32 range. Excellent wide field of view and close focus. Eye relief is a bit short but should work for many eyeglass wearers. Best mid-sized 8x32 birding binocular under $200 if you DON'T wear eyeglasses.





Celestron Trailseeker 8x32


Fully multicoated. BaK-4 prisms with phase correcting and dielectric coatings. Magnesium alloy body. Limited lifetime warranty.

Field of view: 409 ft @1000 yards (very good)
Close focus: 6.5 ft (good)
Exit pupil: 4.0 mm (good)
Eye relief: 15.6 mm (okay)
Weight: 16 oz (excellent)

Greg's comments: Mid-sized 8x32 under $200 range. Eye relief is short; may not be suitable for some eyeglass wearers. It's a fine binocular.





Opticron Discovery WP PC 8x32


Fully multicoated optics. Phase corrected prisms. Waterproof. Nitrogen sealed. ABS plastic body. Limited lifetime warranty.

Field of view: 393 ft @1000 yards (good)
Close focus: 3.9 ft (excellent)
Exit pupil: 4.0 (good)
Eye relief: 17 mm (good)
Weight: 13.8 oz (excellent)
Interpupilary distance: 52 mm minimum (suitable for ages 7 to adult)

Greg's comments: Mid-sized 8x32 range. Amazing close focus. Very light weight. Best mid-sized 8x32 birding binocular under $230 for butterflies. Only kid-friendly binoculars in this group.





Carson 3D 8x32


HD glass. Fully multicoated. Phase coated BaK-4 prisms. Waterproof/fog-proof; nitrogen sealed. Rubberized armor coating. No fault warranty.

Field of view: 392 ft @1000 yards (good)
Close focus: 6.6 ft (good)
Exit pupil: 4.0 mm (good)
Eye relief: 19.5 (excellent)
Weight: 19.2 oz (excellent)

Greg's comments: Mid-sized 8x32 $180-230 range. Excellent eye relief. Best mid-sized 8x32 birding binoculars under $230 for eyeglass wearers.





Conclusion


Today there are a plethora of binoculars under $200 claiming to be "bird watching binoculars." Most will not satisfy.

Above I list 14 models that are suitable for birding. Of those, I found 8 to recommend. The others aren't bad, they just don't stand out.

I recommend Bushnell Legend L Ultra 8x42 and the Wingspan CrystalView 8x42 as the best birding binoculars under $200.

If you want to get nearer $100, then look at the Wingspan NaturePro HD 8x42. It's the only one under $150 that stands out.

For those who want the higher 10-power binoculars then I can only recommend the Bushnell Legend Ultra 10x42.

For a compact binocular to keep in the glove compartment or for hiking, there is only one binocular in this price range that is suitable, the Vortex Diamondback 8x28.

The mid-sized 8x32 binoculars can be nice. But every one of those under $230 has some tradeoffs. The Vortex Diamondback HD 8x32 is good if you don't wear eyeglasses. The Opticron Discovery WP PC 8x32 is excellent as a bird and butterfly watching binocular, and if is good for kids' narrower-set eyes. And the best mid-sized binocular for those who do wear eyeglasses is the Carson 3D 8x32.

Please note that I didn't find any binoculars under $100 that are well-suited as birding binoculars. For the most part, you have to give up waterproofing, wide field of view, close focus, wearing eyeglasses, or forgo decent optical glass once you go under $150.

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