A great pair of binoculars expands your horizons, bringing far-away birds, plants, and landscapes into view.
To find the best binoculars, we had a professional ornithologist spend nearly 200 hours field-testing 25 pairs against his own $2,500 Leica Ultravids.
After using our test pairs in the mountains and hills of Southern California, and then on research trips to the rainforests of southern Mexico and Costa Rica, he found that the Athlon Optics Midas ED 8×42 pair was the best of the group.
The Midas pair offered performance comparable to his Leica binoculars, for a fraction of the price, and had the widest field of view of all the binoculars tested. This means you’ll see more, and it will look better.
Relatively affordable with great optics, these binoculars have comparable performance to many models that cost thousands more. They’re easy to use and durable as well.
The Athlon Optics Midas ED 8×42—along with nearly all of the other binoculars we tested—are the beneficiaries of a revolution in optical quality caused by the falling costs of precision manufacturing and optical treatments.
For less than $300 you can get a pair of binoculars that matches—that’s matches, not comes close to—products that cost hundreds, or even thousands, more.
The Athlon Midas ED pair’s optics aren’t its only strong suit: These are exceptionally durable binoculars that easily withstood the humid, dusty, and hostile environment of the Mexican rain forest and harsh sun of the Californian desert. And their focus dial adjusts reliably and smoothly across a wide range of depths, making it easy to focus on what you’re trying to see, no matter where it is.
These binoculars are a close second to the Athlons, with just-as-clear optics, solid construction, and easy-to-use focusing. They have a slightly smaller grip than the sturdier Athlons, and they cost more.
If you prefer a slightly smaller grip or the Athlon Optics Midas ED pair is out of stock, the very similar Celestron TrailSeeker ED 8×42 Binoculars are a sharp, easy-to-use choice. After the Athlons, these were the binoculars I most often grabbed when trying to see a new bird. Like the Athlon set, the Celestron TrailSeeker binoculars feature crystal-clear optics (even around the edges of the field of view), comfortable ergonomics, and predictable focusing, all in a slightly smaller package. However, they usually cost between $30 and $80 more.
Compact binocs aren’t the best for birding, but these combine pocket-size convenience with enough magnification to actually identify things.
The low-cost Pentax AD 8×25 WP are ideal for day hikes or airplane travel, where you want good-quality optics in a small package. Everything worked—the eyecups felt solid and comfortable, the hinges weren’t too loose, and focusing was quick and surprisingly accurate at any distance. Of course, this is not the pair for serious birding, stargazing, or anything requiring exceptional detail. But if you want inexpensive, very compact binoculars, this is the pair for you.