You can spend a small fortune on the world’s finest binoculars, but you don’t have to break the bank in order to purchase a pair of optics that are great for birding. All of these bins deliver bright images and good—in some instances great—fields of view at a modest price. To make the most of your investment, always clean bins with a micro-fiber lens cloth. A tissue or T-shirt will scratch the lens coatings crucial to optical performance.
One note about cost: A couple of the contenders in this category have a manufacturer’s suggested retail price that is just north of $200. We have included them in this group because they are often on sale for less than $200; each is denoted by an asterisk next to the price.
Once you’ve perused these budget-friendly bins, check out the top picks for four other price categories in our complete Audubon Guide to Binoculars.
Nikon Prostaff 3S 8×42
The Takeaway: It isn’t surprising when testers like a pair of binoculars so much that they go back for a second or third look through them—but we were surprised to see that happen time and again with these bins in our budget category. Weighing in at just over a pound, the lightweight Prostaff 3S blew reviewers away; they earned the best scores in their class for clarity, brightness, and color rendition.
More specs: 19.9 ounces; 126 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; limited lifetime warranty
Bushnell Prime 8×42
The Takeaway: When it came to color rendition, these optics earned the same admirable score—an 8—as the top-place Nikon Prostaffs and the Celestron Nature DXs (below). The feel of the Primes secured their second-place spot: They’re well-balanced, easy to focus, and just plain comfortable in the hand.
More specs: 23.3 oz; 350 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; 20-year warranty
Celestron Nature DX 8×42
The Takeaway: As with the Bushnell Primes, these binoculars have great color saturation. While they didn’t receive the highest points for ergonomics, their overall optical performance was second only to the Nikon Prostaffs. Their bright, sharp images impressed.
More specs: 22.2 oz; 388 ft/1,000 ft FOV; waterproof/fogproof; limited lifetime warranty
Athlon Neos 8×42
The Takeaway: Reviewers with larger hands especially liked the feel of these bins. They trailed behind other models in this category when it came to fast handling and close-focus capacity, but deliver bright, clear, color-true views.
More specs: 24.8 oz; 367 ft/1,000 yd FOV; waterproof/fogproof; unlimited lifetime warranty
Tasco Essentials 8×42
The Takeaway: The Essentials are so slight that you might forget you’re holding them. While they don’t boast a fast focus, they produce a remarkably bright, color-true image for such a small package, and bespectacled birders will appreciate the solid eye relief.
More specs: 10.2 oz; 185 ft/1,000 ft FOV; limited lifetime warranty