The best binoculars 2024: for birdwatching and astronomy

We've all been there, that instance where we wished we had a pair of the best binoculars to hand. There are few moments more magical than an unexpected and spectacular encounter with wildlife. Whether it's a golden eagle diving into the void between mountain ridges or a scampering herd of deer, the ability to see such phenomena up close and into focus is priceless.

It's not all about brushes with wildlife though, Mother Nature has more to offer than that. The best binoculars that we feature here are also ideal for surveying the terrain on a backpacking adventure, watching climbers inch up a crag or enjoying paragliders soaring on the thermals, while some even boast enough magnification to cope with stargazing.

So, we think a quality pair are an essential item for any hiking backpack, or camping trip. Whether you're after a small pair to slip into your jacket pocket on a hike or a heftier pair for some serious birding, we've got you covered.

In this guide are eight of the best binoculars for birdwatching, lightweight missions and stargazing, as well as two of the finest monoculars. We've taken all of them to the backcountry, putting them to the test in a range of conditions and settings to find the ones you can rely on in the field. For us, the best binoculars of 2024 are the Kowa BD32-8XD, which deliver a crystal-clear image and exceptionally close focus. If you're on a budget, we recommend checking out the Nocs Standard Issue, which strike a great balance of image quality, weight, and value.

The quick list

The best binoculars we recommend in 2024

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The best binoculars overall

Kowa BD32-8XD binoculars in person's hand

Serious binoculars that deliver bright, crisp image and our best in test (Image credit: Matt Swaine)
Japanese optical excellence with unbeatable brightness and clarity

Specifications

Size: 122mm length; 118.5mm width 4.8in length; 4.6in width
Weight: 560g/19.75oz
Magnification: 8
Objective diameter: 32mm
Field of view at 1000m: 131m
Close focusing distance: 1.5m/4.9ft

Reasons to buy

+
Exceptionally close focus: ideal for butterflies
+
The brightest image on offer in this test

Reasons to avoid

-
Not ideal for general adventure use
-
Casual users may not notice a big difference in general conditions

There are two brands that sit at the upper price limit we have set for this test and they are both worth serious consideration, if your budget and wildlife aspirations allow. While Zeiss represents the best of German manufacturing, Kowa delivers Japanese optical excellence. On test, the smooth glide of the focus wheel let us know we had stepped up a price point, and the design put us in the aesthetic territory of more expensive brands. But far more important is the quality of image, and neither pair will disappoint.

Both models are a step up from others in this test that serious birder will value, but these just edged it in terms of clarity and brightness of image in a range of conditions, making them our top recommendation. We tested the 8x32 pair to give a direct comparison to the Zeiss Terra ED 8x32. You might prefer to opt for the larger objective lens of the Kowa BD8x42 or greater magnification of the BD10x42. All perform exceptionally well and represent our best in test.

Read our full Kowa BD32-8XD binoculars review

The best binoculars for value

Woman's hands holding Nocs Standard Issue Binoculars

Budget, user-friendly binoculars that provide above-average image quality (Image credit: Nocs Provisions)

2. Nocs Standard Issue

Striking the ideal balance of image quality, weight, and value

Specifications

Dimensions: 4.53” x 4.25” / 115mm x 108mm
Weight: 11.85 oz / 335g
Magnification: 8 x 25
Eye relief: 7mm/6mm-13mm / 0.027”-0.50”
Weather Resistance: IPx7

Reasons to buy

+
Outstanding image quality
+
Compact
+
Waterproof
+
Smartphone compatible

Reasons to avoid

-
Minimalist strap

The quirky looking Nocs Standard Issue Collection Binoculars are a great choice for buyers looking for a pair of adventure-ready, high-performing binoculars without breaking the bank. 

The Nocs binoculars use high-grade Bak4 prisms and fully multi-coated lenses that together provide a wide field of view and outstanding image quality in all light conditions. They’re also fully waterproof, have fog-proof lenses, feature a non-slip ergonomic grip and we found that they are as ruggedly built as any other model in this guide. 

The Nocs weigh in at a highly portable 11.85oz (336 g) and are small enough to fit inside a large pocket or the hood of a daypack. Their manufacturers also protect your purchase with a highly reassuring 'no matter what' lifetime warranty and throw in a smartphone adapter that lets you capture photos and video clips through the lenses. The binoculars come in a variety of wild and vibrant colors: marigold yellow, cobalt blue, poppy orange, granite gray, seafoam green, cypress, flat earth and squid ink.

The best binoculars for general wildlife

Hawke Endurance 8x42 binoculars on a rock

There's a high-end feel to the Hawke Endurance 8x42 binoculars, despite them being exceptional value for money (Image credit: Matt Swaine)
Well constructed and a joy to use, with natural colors

Specifications

Size: 148mm length; 127mm width/ 5.8in length; 5in width
Weight: 705g/24.86oz
Magnification: 8
Objective diameter: 42mm
Field of view at 1000m: 133m
Close focusing distance: 2m/6.6ft

Reasons to buy

+
Exceptional performance at this price point
+
High-end carry case and accessories

Reasons to avoid

-
Very slightly softening at edge of image
-
Heavier than some so might not be ideal for adventure use

Testing these binoculars was a joy. Our tester spent one morning watching a juvenile kestrel on his local patch. Wide-angle views made it easy to track the bird as it practiced hunting in the scree. When it came to rest in a tree opposite, he could pick out the subtle shift in faun and chestnut browns and its blue-gray head and tail feathers, thanks to its crisp image and the natural colors that these binoculars produce. 

If your aspirations tend towards serious bird and nature watching, then I would highly recommend you try these for yourself. They look and feel exceptionally good and the focus wheel, while a little firmer than others, adds to the feel of a well-constructed pair of binoculars that promise a lifetime of use.

Read our full Hawke Endurance 8x42 binoculars review

The best binoculars for serious birders

Zeiss Terra ED 8x32 binoculars in person's hand

Excellent performance designed to meet aspirations of serious nature enthusiasts (Image credit: Matt Swaine)
Exceptional image quality and easy focusing for following birds

Specifications

Size: 125mm length; 117mm width 4.9in length; 4.6in width
Weight: 510g/17.9oz
Magnification: 8
Objective diameter: 32mm
Field of view at 1000m: 135m
Close focusing distance: 1.6m/5.3ft

Reasons to buy

+
Exceptional image quality for serious birders
+
Superb design and easy to use and focus

Reasons to avoid

-
Image not quite as bright as expected at this price point
-
Objective lens protectors were easily lost

Of all the pairs in this test, these binoculars are mostly likely to get appreciative nods from other birders. They represent a significant step up in outlay, and casual users may not notice a great deal of difference from pairs like the Nikon or Hawke, but if your aspirations match this price point, then these (and the Kowa BDs) are where you should be looking. Small differences in performance will represent a good return on your investment over many years of use.

These felt really good to hold and the large focus wheel made it easy to adjust as we followed birds zipping across the sky. There’s very little sense of distortion at the edge of the image and you get bright, natural colors that allow you to really appreciate the action. We tested these in a range of conditions and while they are undoubtedly impressive, they did not quite deliver the brightness of image that we expected in lower light conditions.

Read our full Zeiss Terra ED 8x32 review

The best binoculars for stargazing

Celestron Skymaster 15x70 binoculars on grass

Affordable binoculars that promise to unlock the wonders of our solar system (Image credit: Matt Swaine)
Enhance your enjoyment of the night sky

Specifications

Size: 280mm length; 220mm width 11in length; 8.7in width
Weight: 1361g/48oz
Magnification: 15
Objective diameter: 70mm
Field of view at 1000m: 77m
Close focusing distance: 13m/43ft

Reasons to buy

+
A great way to explore and marvel at the universe
+
At this price every home should have a pair

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy and bulky, so not made for hiking trips
-
Not ideal for nature watching, but good for big views

These binoculars wouldn’t look out of place on the set of a WW2 naval epic, being used by a lookout scanning the ocean for U-boats. The whopping 70mm objective lens is designed to gather light, while the 15 times magnification promises impressive views of the lunar surface, Jupiter, cloud nebula and even a hint of the rings of Saturn. When we pointed them into a seemingly clear section of sky, stars started to appear that weren't visible with to naked eye.

At this price point a pair of binoculars are probably a better bet than a telescope. We found that they gathered more light and, because we were using both our peepers, we got a more 3D view. Hand-held, it's a struggle to prevent image wobble, so we had to either balance our elbows on a wall or use the tripod adaptor to get the stability required. But at this price, we think everyone should have a pair of these: they are guaranteed to enhance your enjoyment and understanding of the night sky.

Read our full Celestron Skymaster 15x70 binoculars review

The best binoculars for kids

Kowa YF binoculars on grass

The Kowa YF are superb entry-level binoculars that are ideal for young birders (Image credit: Mark Swaine)
Well designed for smaller hands, and a great introduction to birding

Specifications

Size: 160mm length; 114mm width/ 6.3in length; 4.5in width
Weight: 470g/16.6oz
Magnification: 6
Objective diameter: 30mm
Field of view at 1000m: 119m
Close focusing distance: 2m/6.6ft

Reasons to buy

+
Great value for money
+
Excellent image quality and performance

Reasons to avoid

-
Slightly narrower field of vision
-
Carry bag and extras don’t have high-end feel

These are porro prism binoculars (see ‘how to buy section’ below) and while they might look slightly old fashioned, there are some distinct advantages. Because light takes a simpler route from the objective lens to your eyeball, there is less technology required inside to deliver the same image quality. That means you potentially get the same performance as a pair that cost far more. 

We found that these Kowa YFs are really impressive. They deliver a bright, sharp image with good color and very little sense of fuzziness at the edge. The field of view is wide enough for them to work as a primary pair of bird-watching binoculars and they offer excellent close focus. They are great for smaller hands, and perfect for young birders who want their first pair of bins. If you’re buying on a budget, these are robust, light, easy to pack, sit neatly in a waterproof jacket pocket and are ready for action when you need them. So not just for kids and beginners, these are among the best binoculars for anyone at this price point. 

Read our full Kowa YF 8x30 binoculars review