Saturday, September 26, 2020

Best binoculars under $100 for backyard bird watching

My previous articles on choosing birding binoculars (under $500 here, and under $200 here and then best at any price here) were about outdoor use. 

They concerned themselves with brightness in the woods or early morning overcast. They worried about ruggedness and waterproofing. They demanded wide field of view for finding birds easily in the sky or tree canopy. And they needed the very best optics available for the best most color-accurate view.

Binoculars exclusively for backyard bird watching require only a sharp bright view in normal daylight. Many people also want easy close-focus ability to observe birds at window feeders or to see hummingbirds nearby at feeders on the porch or eaves. 

These binoculars will probably spend most of their time sitting on your window sill waiting for an interesting bird to appear at your feeder.


Photo of woman looking through binoculars Photo by 955165 from Pixabay


This is actually a little bit harder for me to write. I've always been concerned with finding birds in more challenging outdoor circumstances.


Spoiler alert!

If you don't want to read all the details and discussion below, I recommend these as the best binoculars under $100

They all focus very close for bird feeders just outside your window. They are all suitable for eyeglass wearers.

Best binocular under $100:
Bushnell NatureView 8x42  Purchase on Amazon

Best binocular for lowest price:
SkyGenius 8x42  Purchase on Amazon

Best compact binocular under $100:
Vortex Vanquish 8x26  Purchase on Amazon



Birds at feeders are generally fairly near. So you don't need extra-strong magnification.

Birds return all day, so binoculars don't have to be super bright at dawn and dusk. 

Many times the binoculars will be used from inside the house. And even if used outside, if it rains, bird watchers will take the binoculars indoors. Making binoculars waterproof is expensive. If a cheaper pair of binoculars say they are waterproof, then they might have skimped on the optics quality.

This also means that I will look at both porro prism and roof prism designs. Rugged roof prism designs are often better for more expensive binoculars where waterproofing is needed. These have more expensive glass and prisms. But the porro prism design is easier to manufacture. So at lower prices the quality of binocular is more similar between the two styles.

For this type of birding you don't need a rugged armored binocular with large light-gathering lenses. Something smaller and light weight is ample. Some of the compact binoculars, that I usually avoid recommending otherwise, might be good for this purpose. 

There are so very many of these inexpensive binoculars on the market for under $100. How do you get something that's not a toy?

Well, since I don't have this knowledge immediately at my fingertips, I am going to do what you would do. I'm going to Google binoculars under $100 and get a list of all the recommended ones from the websites that pop up.

Then I am also going to search binoculars on Amazon, sort by price, and research each one that is listed. For each pair, I will go to the manufacturer's website to get the exact specifications.

I know what makes a good bird watching binocular, so I'll tell you the advantages of the good ones. I'll tell you which ones you should probably avoid. But, just because I don't recommend them, it doesn't mean they might not be right for you.

These are binoculars for adults. I am going to avoid binoculars made only for children. However, if the binoculars fold so the eyepieces can be used closer together for children's closer set eyes, or farther apart for adults, I'll note that.

I'm going to recommend binoculars with close focus under 10 feet and with eye relief of 15 mm or more for eyeglass wearers. But I'll also be looking for good optical quality, water proofing, and light weight, even though these aren't as essential for backyard bird viewing, perhaps mostly through the window.

Regardless, binoculars under $100 are NOT really high quality binoculars. The lowest priced binocular for outdoor bird watching that I recommend is the Celestron Nature DX ED 8x42. It retails for about $175. If you can afford that, please purchase those instead. You won't be sorry. Really excellent quality binoculars sell for over $2000, for comparison.

Fortunately, for occasional use to watch birds at your feeder, or for a pair of binoculars for an outing, you can find decent binoculars for under 100 dollars.

Choosing binoculars by size


I'm going to ask you to stick with bird watching binoculars with a magnification of 7 to 10 power (7x to 10x). Frankly, 7x or 8x is ideal for bird watching binoculars.

Binoculars are often called by their magnification and the size of the large objective lens. These two numbers are referred to as the binocular's size.

A binocular of 7x35 (say, "7 by 35") magnifies 7 times. That means that an object through these binoculars 70 feet away, will look as it would if it was only 10 feet away without binoculars. It makes things look 7 times bigger or 7 times closer. A 10x42 binocular magnifies 10 times.

The 35 part is the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. 35 mm is about 1.4 inches across. 50 mm is almost 2 inches. That's the lens on the "big end" of the binoculars.

One useful comparison is that relative brightness can be determined by dividing the lens size by the magnification. This is called the exit pupil. Thus, 7x35 binoculars has an exit pupil of 5 mm. The beam of light that comes out of this binocular eyepiece is 5 mm in diameter. And something near 5 mm will give the brightest view, even in dim light.

A 10x25 binocular has an exit pupil of 2.5 mm. That means that at dusk the view through the binocular will be darker than what your eye sees without a binocular. A 10x50 binocular will have a bright 5 mm exit pupil. You will be able to see fairly well through them at dawn and dusk.

Full sized binoculars are made with this ideal exit pupil: 7x35, 8x40, 10x50, 8x42 (5.25 mm), 10x42 (4.2 mm).

Compact binoculars have smaller objective lenses. In daylight they are fine. In dim light they are even dimmer. 8x21 and 8x25 are typical sizes. This is an exit pupil of 2.6 mm and 3.125 mm.

Mid-sized binoculars have objective lenses of about 30 mm, so 8x30 has a 3.75 mm exit pupil.

Good backyard birding binoculars under $100 can be full sized or compact.

NOTE: I don't want to confuse. So in the following reviews I'm only going to provide a link to Amazon if I recommend the binocular. I want to list as many as possible that other websites recommend, so you know I have considered them.

Very high magnification binoculars


More magnification isn't necessarily better. Especially with low-priced binoculars.

There are several binoculars recommended on some websites of 15x, 20x, or even 25x magnification. You can't hold these still in your hand. The view shakes because of tiny movements in your hand muscles. They need to be used on a tripod.

Frankly, it is hard to make good lenses that magnify that large anyway. If they are under $100 they can't be very good binoculars.

If you have a beach house with binoculars mounted on a tripod to look out to sea, then a 15x binocular might be okay. But, then I'd recommend spending a couple hundred dollars and get something better.

For backyard bird watching binoculars, you may wish to avoid the following:

Bushnell Powerview Wide Angle 20x50
Celestron SkyMaster Giant 15x70
Celestron SkyMaster 25x70

These are huge astronomical binoculars for star viewing. They are not suitable for watching birds at your feeder.

12x binoculars


Normally, I would tell you to avoid these, too. They are just too much magnification.

Hand shake is a problem.

But also, the field of view is narrow so that they are like looking through a straw.

Also, large magnification binoculars are generally poor for eyeglass wearers. The spec is called eye relief. It tells you how far back your eyes should be from the binocular lenses. If you wear eyeglasses while looking through binoculars you want at least 15 millimeters of eye relief. More is better, up to 19 or 20 mm.

Why then do I bother showing these? 

There seem to be many low priced binoculars at this magnification. Rather, what I have found is that there is likely one Chinese manufacturer labeling a single binocular for other brands. 

They have smart phone adapters and their advertising says for adults and kids, and waterproof (they're not). It also says "low light night vision" or something similar. They tout their large 18 mm ocular lenses, which really are rather small. They also offer 10x and 8x binoculars.

Please note that there aren't any expensive birding binoculars at this high magnification. They are all 8x and 10x. That should tell you that 12x isn't desirable for bird watching binoculars.

But maybe they'll be a surprise in here...

Adasion 12x42
Adorrgon 12x42
These are the same binoculars made in China. No website. 

Roof prism binocular. BaK-4 prisms, which is good. Adapter for some phone cameras. They are not waterproof as advertised; not submersible. 

They advertise large ocular size, but 18 mm isn't really all that large. And that doesn't mean all that much anyway. 

There is no specification page. So I cannot tell if these are suitable for eyeglass wearers, how close they focus, or what the field of view is. Not recommended.

Gskyer 12x42
BaK-4 roof prisms. Fully multi-coated optics. Can resist water splashes, but is not waterproof; not submersible. The field of view is 374 feet @ 1000 yards, which must be considered good for 12x. It weighs 30 ounces, which is rather heavy. Phone camera adapter. No close focus or eye relief spec listed. 

Even though Gskyer is a well known telescope manufacturer, these binoculars look like the Chinese ones above. Not recommended. 

Occer 12x25
This compact binocular will have a very dim view. They are suitable for feeder birds only in bright sunlight. 

It will be hard to hold these steady because of the high magnification. Field of view is 273 feet @ 1000 yards, very narrow, like looking through a straw, which is not good. Close focus is only 16.4 feet, so poor for using to view hummingbird feeder on eaves or window bird feeder. 

Again, they say waterproof, but you cannot submerge them or wash them in running water in the sink. Not recommended.


Well, with what I've seen with these, I can safely say to stay away from 12x binoculars for backyard bird watching.

Big heavy 50 mm binoculars



These are probably better for hunting binoculars and spotting distant wildlife. They give bright view in dim pre-daylight conditions. The large objective lenses of 50 mm will make them heavy and cumbersome. 

It is hard for these binoculars to focus closely on window-mounted bird feeders, or hummingbird feeders hung on your eaves. Probably not the right binocular for backyard bird watching.

Bushnell PowerView 10x50
Aluminum chassis. Porro prism design. Less good, BaK-7 prisms. Multi-coated, not fully multi-coated lenses. Close focus of 25 feet is not suitable for viewing birds in your own backyard. Eye relief of 16 mm is just okay for eyeglass wearers. Not recommended.

Bushnell Falcon 10x50
Porro prism binocular. Eye relief of 9 mm is not suitable for bare eye use, much less eyeglass wearers. The field of view is a disappointing 300 feet @ 1000 yards, way too narrow. The close focus distance of 25 feet doesn't allow you to use them to view a hummingbird feeder hanging from the eaves or a window bird feeder. Not recommended.

Bushnell H2O 7x50
Best BaK-4 porro prisms. Waterproof. Twist up eye cups. No spec sheet on manufacturer's site. "Longer eye relief." Field of view unknown. Close focus distance unknown. Not recommended.

Bushnell Legacy WP 10x50
Best BaK-4 porro prism design. Waterproof. Fully multi-coated lenses. Close focus of 12 feet is not too bad for backyard use. Eye relief is good at 18 mm. Twist up eye cups. Field of view is 341 feet @ 1000 yards, about average for 10x binoculars. Weight is 30.5 ounces, which is heavy. 

Manufacturer says out of stock at this time. (Not the 10-22x zoom model.) These would be okay if you can find them. 

Olympus Trooper 10x50
Cheaper BaK-7 Porro prism. Field of view of 342 feet @ 1000 yards is average for 10x binoculars. Weight 30 ounces. Not recommended.

SkyGenius 10x50
Quite heavy at 28.8 ounces. Porro prism design. Field of view is 367 feet @ 1000 yards, good width for 10x. Rubber fold-down eyecups (say twist up on some ads). Minimum focal distance is 16.4 feet, so only use if bird feeder is way out in your yard. Not recommended.

Full-sized 7x35, 8x40, 8x42, 10x40, 10x42 binoculars


These are the best binocular sizes for generic bird watching. They have the proper magnification and brightness. Some are even waterproof!

Alatino 10x42
Roof prism design. BaK-4 prisms; fully multi-coated optics. Eye relief of 15 mm is a bit short, but usable for eyeglass wearers. The field of view is 362 feet @ 1000 yards. This is good for 10x binoculars. Very light 18.6 ounces. Water resistant; not waterproof or submersible. 

Sadly, I cannot find a close focus spec. View on Amazon.

Bushnell Falcon 7x35
Porro prism. Not waterproof. 20 foot close focus is poor for backyard use. Eye relief of 12 mm is not suitable for eyeglass wearers. Wide field of view of 420 feet @ 1000 yards is great. Light weight at 21 ounces. Rocker arm rather than focus wheel. Not recommended.

Bushnell H2O 8x42
Best BaK-4 roof prism design. A true waterproof binocular. Field of view is wide at 409 feet @ 1000 yards. Eye relief of 17 mm is good for eyeglass wearers. Weight of 25 ounces is not heavy, not light. The 18 feet close focus isn't very good. Recommended. View on Amazon

Bushnell NatureView 8x42
Best BaK-4 roof prisms. Fully multi-coated lenses. Waterproof. Fog proof. Close focus an amazing 5 feet! Wide field of view at 393 feet @ 1000 yards. Eye relief of 17.5 mm is good for eyeglass wearers. Light weight at 21.3 ounces. Highly recommended! View on Amazon

Celestron Outland X 10x42
BaK-4 roof prism design. Field of view is narrow, only 294 feet @ 1000 yards. Close focus is 15 feet, which is okay, but not great. Eye relief of 14 mm means these are not good for most eyeglass wearers. Fog proof. They say waterproof, but I'm not sure the level. They don't say submersible. Not recommended.

Celestron Outland X 8x42
BaK-4 roof prism design. Field of view 357 feet, which is average. Close focus 13 feet is good for backyard binoculars. Eye relief of 18 mm which is very good for eyeglass wearers. Weight is light at 22 ounces. Recommended. View on Amazon

Eyeskey Dreamer HD 8x42
BaK-4 roof prism phase corrected. Fully multi-coated lenses. Waterproof. Fog proof. Eye relief and close focus specs not listed. Field of view is narrow at 330 feet @ 1000 yards. Not recommended.

Eyeskey Grampus 8x42
BaK-4 roof prism phase corrected. Fully multi-coated lenses. Waterproof. Fog proof. 17.5 mm eye relief is suitable for eyeglass wearers. 388 feet @ 1000 yards is wide angle field of view. 22 ounces is fairly light weight. Close focus spec not listed. Recommended. View on Amazon

Eyeskey 10x42
BaK-4 prisms and fully multi-coated lenses. Narrow field of view at 283 feet @ 1000 yards. Close focus of 9 feet is good for hummingbird feeders out the window hanging from eaves. Not waterproof or fog proof. Not recommended.

Eyeskey Eaglet 10x42
BaK-4 prisms. Fully multi-coated. Waterproof. Fog proof. 18.4 mm of eye relief very good for eyeglass wearers. Field of view is 294 feet @ 1000 yards, which is a bit narrow. Close focus spec not listed. Recommended. View on Amazon

Gosky 10x42
Weight of 24.4 ounces is good for the aluminum/magnesium body. These roof prism binoculars have an eye relief of only 12 mm. That means that much of the field of view will be cut off from eyeglass wearers. 

What makes it worse is that the field of view is only 307 feet @ 1000 yards. This will really be like looking through a straw! 

The close focus is over 16 feet. That's too far for using to view a window bird feeder or hummingbird feeder on the eaves. 

The manufacturer's spec sheet says exit pupil of 5 mm, yet 42 mm divided by 10x is clearly an exit pupil of 4.2 mm. Not recommended.

Nikon Aculon A211 10x42
BaK-4 porro prism design. Close focus of 16.4 feet. Field of view only 314 feet @ 1000 yards, which is narrow. Eye relief of 11.6 mm is terrible; not usable with eyeglasses. Not recommended. 

Nikon Akulon A211 7x35
Porro prism design. Amazing field of view at 488 feet @ 1000 yards! Close focus of 16.4 feet which isn't very good for backyard use. Eye relief of 11.8 mm makes these unsuitable for eyeglass wearers. Not recommended.

Nikon Aculon 8x42
Porro prism design. Wide field of view at 420 feet @ 1000 yards. Close focus is 16.4 feet, poor for backyard birding where your feeder may be closer than that, and thus will be out of focus unless you back up. The 12 mm of eye relief is not suitable for eyeglass wearers. Weighs 26.8 ounces which is mid-weight. Not recommended.

Olympus Trooper 8x40
Porro prim design with lesser BaK-7 prisms. Eye relief is short at 12 mm, so not acceptable for eyeglass wearers. Close focus of 13.1 feet is okay. Field of view is wide at 429 feet, which is nice. Weight of 25 ounces is not light nor overly heavy. Okay if you don't wear eyeglasses. View on Amazon

Cycvis 10x42
Ruggedfix 10x42
Same binoculars
Made in China. No website. No specification page. Not recommended. 

SkyGenius 8x42
Roof prism design. BaK-4 prisms is good. Fully multi-coated optics is what you want, too. Good for eyeglass wearers with 18 mm eye relief. Field of view is 369 feet @ 1000 yards, which is adequate. 26.9 ounces is okay, but not light weight. Focuses as close as 6.6 feet, which is quite good for viewing close birds at a window feeder. 

The Amazon ad says for adults and children. The manufacturers page does not list interpupilary adjustment range. So I can't confirm that is will work for kids. Highly recommended! View on Amazon. 

Wingspan Optics (Polaris) EagleScout 10x42
Wingspan Optics Voyager 10x42
Best quality BaK-4 roof prisms. Waterproof. Lifetime warranty; replaced if ever damaged. 

Field of view is unfortunately narrow at 283 feet @ 1000 yards, but probably okay for backyard use. Close focus of less than 10 feet is good for backyard feeder watching at close range. The 14.8 mm eye relief is quite short, some of the field of view may be cut off for some eyeglass wearers. Fairly light weight at 24 ounces. Recommended. View on Amazon

Compact and mid-sized binoculars


These binoculars are great for viewing birds during daylight hours. They may be a bit dim at dawn and dusk, or under overcast skies. This is because they have a exit pupil of less than 5 mm. In fact, most of these have exit pupils of 2.5 to 4.

They are small and light-weight. So they are easy to hold to look at birds at your feeder. They are easy to slip into a pocket for a stroll, or keep in your car's glove compartment, or take on a bike ride. Of course, they'll look great on your window sill!

Some may fold down narrow enough for a child's close-set eyes. But I haven't considered this for most models.

I reviewed the Occer 12x25 above in the 12x binoculars.

AuroSports 10x25
Another generic binocular made by the unnamed company in China with no website or spec sheet. Says they are waterproof, but they definitely are not. Close focus of 10 feet is okay for backyard birding. Field of view is 362 feet @ 1000 yards which is fairly good for 10x. 

Will give a dark view at dawn and dusk, with an exit pupil of only 2.5 mm. Thus, the advertised "Low Light Night Vision" is meaningless. No specs for eye relief, so can't tell if they are suitable for eyeglass wearers or not. Not recommended.

Bushnell H2O 8x21
BaK-4 prisms. Waterproof. Field of view 360 feet @ 1000 yards is middle of the road. Close focus 15 feet is meh. Short eye relief of 12 mm means that these are not good for eyeglass wearers. Not recommended.

Celestron Outland X 8x25
BaK-4 prisms. Wide field of view at 430 feet @ 1000 yards. Close focus ability is 13.1 feet, which is okay, not great. The eye relief is terrible at 10 mm. That's too short for anyone to use with eyeglasses. Not recommended.

Eschenbach Arena F+ 8x25
BaK-4 prisms with silver rather than the better dielectric mirror coatings. Fully multi-coated. Waterproof. Fog proof. Wide field of view of 400 feet @ 1000 yards. Close focus of 9.8 feet is quite good for viewing hummingbirds and other birds at your window feeders or eaves. 

Eye relief is short at 14.1 mm which means the field of view might by reduced for some eyeglass wearers. Light weight at 19.4 ounces. These fold down to allow children to use them too. Recommended. View on Amazon

Eyeskey Shadowhunter 8x32
Roof prism. BaK-4 phse-corrected. Fully multi-coated lenses. Field of view 388 feet @ 1000 yards is good. Eye relief of 18.5 mm is excellent for eyeglass wearers. Waterproof and fog proof. 21 ounces is a lighter pair of binoculars. Close focus spec not listed. Recommended. View on Amazon

Leupold BX-1 Rogue 8x25
Inverted porro prism design that is very compact. Waterproof. Field of view is fairly narrow at 337 feet @ 1000 yards. Close focus of 14 feet is okay. Eye relief of 15 mm is okay for most eyeglass wearers.  Weight of 12.7 ounces is very light. Recommended. View on Amazon

Nikon Aculon A30 10x25
Roof prism design. Can't find any information on prisms and glass. Very poor narrow field of view of only 262 feet at 1000 yards. Close focus is very good at 8.2 feet. Eye relief of 10.6 mm is not suitable for eyeglass wearers. Fold down to small size and suitable for children. Very light weight at 9.7 ounces. Not recommended

Nikon Trailblazer 8x25
Roof prism design. No information on prism and glass materials. Waterproof. Fog proof. Very wide field of view at 429 feet @ 1000 yards. Good close focus of 8.2 feet. Very short eye relief of 10 mm. Very light weight at 9.9 ounces. Good if you don't wear eyeglasses. View on Amazon

Vortex Raptor 8.5x32
Mid-sized porro prism design. Fully multi-coated optics. Waterproof. Eye relief of 14 mm is a bit short, some eyeglass wearers may not be able to see the entire field of view. Speaking of which, the field of view is wide at 390 feet @ 1000 yards. 

Close focus of 15 feet isn't the best for window bird feeders. Also suitable for children's more narrow set eyes. Light weight at 17.3 ounces. Recommended. View on Amazon

Vortex Vanquish 8x26
Inverted porro prism design. Fully multi-coated. Field of view is average at 352 feet @ 1000 yards. Eye relief of 15 mm is suitable for eyeglass wearers. Close focus of 7.6 feet is excellent for viewing close birds at hummingbird feeders and window feeders. Very light weight at 12.7 ounces. Highly recommended. View on Amazon

Conclusion


There you have it, the results of my research. 

Now, if anybody asks, I will recommend the Bushnell NatureView 8x42 as the best binocular under $100 for backyard bird watching.

If someone wants the cheapest binocular that still is decent for looking out the window at the bird feeder, then the SkyGenius 8x42 is the one for them.

And, if someone wants a small, lightweight binocular for observing birds at the feeder, then the compact Vortex Vanquish 8x26 is the one they want.


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