Most people have two eyes. Humans evolved to use them together (not all animals do). People create a continuous, stereoscopic panorama movie of the world within in their minds. With your two eyes tilted upward on a clear night, there's nothing standing between you and the universe. The easiest way to enhance your enjoyment of the night sky is to paint your brain with two channels of stronger starlight using a pair of binoculars. Even if you live in, or near, a large, light-polluted city, you may be surprised at how much astronomical detail you'll see through the right binoculars!
Space.com's sister site Top Ten Reviews has looked at the spectrum of current binocular offerings for gazing at sights in the cosmos and on Earth. Thanks to computer-aided design and manufacturing, there have never been more high-quality choices at reasonable prices. Sadly, there's also a bunch of junk out there masquerading as fine stargazing instrumentation. Top Ten Reviews and Space.com have selected a few binoculars that we think will work best for stargazers, bird-watchers and more.
When shopping for binoculars, there is a lot to consider: magnification versus mass, field of view, prism type, optical quality ("sharpness"), light transmission, age of the user (to match "exit pupil" size, which changes as we grow older), shock resistance, waterproofing and more. To choose the right binoculars for yourself, check out our Buyer's Guide: How to Choose Binoculars for Stargazing.
Here's a detailed look at Top Ten Reviews' selections for the best binoculars:
Best for Astronomy
Celestron SkyMaster Giant 15x70 (Cost: $75)
The SkyMaster Giant 15x70 binoculars by Celestron have one of the highest magnifications of all the binoculars that Top Ten Reviews checked out, making these ideal for looking at stars, planets, comets and other distant objects in the night sky. Images appear crisp and clear though these binoculars, but you may need a tripod to keep the view steady with such a high magnification (15x). The binoculars have large, 70-millimeter objective lenses that direct ample light to your eyes when used in a low-light setting. And if you wear glasses, you can rest assured that you don't need to take them off before looking through these binoculars.
Best for Earth and sky
Celestron Nature DX 12x56 (Cost: $220)
For outdoor activities like bird-watching, hunting or even viewing a sports game from a high-up stadium seat, these binoculars provide an excellent view. Top Ten Reviews lauds these binoculars for their durability and ease of use. "Add this to its unparalleled viewing experience, and you have the best binoculars we reviewed," Top Ten Reviews states. While these binoculars do provide an impressive view, with12x magnification, they're also heavier than average, weighing in at 36.2 ounces (1 kilogram). Eyeglass wearers won't have a problem using these binoculars; you can adjust the eye-relief distance to make these fit with or without glasses on. These binoculars are fog-proof, waterproof and super-durable, so you don't have to worry about damaging them with outdoor use. And according to Top Ten Reviews, these binoculars work great in low-light situations, so you can use them for nighttime skywatching as well as daytime sport.
Best for Beginners & General use
Nikon Action EX Extreme 7x35 (Cost: $120)
These binoculars provide the widest field of view of all the binoculars tested by Top Ten Reviews. This means that the Action EX Extremes "are ideal for situations in which you want to track fast-paced movement," like bird-watching or sporting events, Top Ten Reviews states. With a relatively low magnification of 7x, these binoculars won't allow you to see quite as far as Celestron's SkyMaster binoculars do. However, the lower power helps to eliminate the shaky images caused by small hand movements. But what these binoculars lack in magnification, they make up for with optical quality. "Nikon Action EX Extreme produced some of the best images out of all the binoculars we reviewed," Top Ten Reviews states. However, these are best used for daytime observations. The binoculars have 35-mm objective lenses, which is a relatively small setting and means that these binoculars won't catch as much light in low-light settings. The Action EX Extremes are also fog-proof, waterproof and durable enough that you can use them outdoors without worrying about damaging them.
Oberwerk Ultra 15x70 (Cost: $420)
A super-rugged set of binoculars, these 15x70s are optically outstanding. Looking through the Ultras' exquisitely multicoated glass, you may find yourself falling in love with the sky all over again. Oberwerk's method of suspending its BAK4 glass Porro prisms offers greater shock-resistance than most competitors' designs do. While costlier than some comparable binoculars, the Ultras deliver superior value. Our only complaint is their mass: At 5.5 lbs. (2.5 kg), these guys are heavy! You can hand-hold them for a short while, if you're lying down. But it is best to place them on a tripod, or on a counterweighted arm, unless you like shaky squiggles where your point-source stars are supposed to be. Like with most truly big binoculars, the eyepieces focus independently; there's no center focus wheel. These "binos" are for true astronomers.
Vanguard Spirit XF 10x42 (Cost: $150)
If you're looking for a super-crisp and clear image, the Vanguard Spirit XF binoculars are the way to go. Top Ten Reviews found that these binoculars produce the sharpest images of all the binoculars the publication reviewed. And the Spirit XFs are designed to be versatile, so you can use them during the day and at night. The 42-mm objective lens "helps create bright images, as more light can enter through the binoculars," Top Ten Reviews writes, adding that "you can use the binoculars in low-light settings and still get a fairly clear image." And with these binoculars' relatively wide field of view, you can easily track fast movement without readjusting your gaze too much. These are also exceptionally lightweight for high-quality binoculars, weighing in at 22.93 ounces (0.65 kg). You won't have to worry about tired arms when using these binoculars all day long, and you won't need a tripod to see a steady image. The binoculars provide 10x magnification and are built to last, with rubber armor that is both waterproof and fog-proof.
Best for Kids
Primary Science Big View Binoculars (Cost: $13)
Younger and smaller skywatchers need smaller binoculars to fit their hands and faces. These Big View binoculars by Learning Resources are perfect for the youngest stargazers and bird-watchers. Designed for kids age 3 to 12, these binoculars are safe and easy to use. The binoculars come in a durable, plastic frame with plastic lenses, so parents don't need to worry about the hazards of broken glass or other broken parts. Rubber eyepieces make these comfortable to use, and a breakaway lanyard ensures that kids won't get tangled or hurt. A plastic focus knob allows the user to manually focus the view. Compared to more-expensive binoculars for adults, these have a relatively low power of magnification (6x). However, for the price, these binoculars are an excellent choice for kids. [The Best Space Gifts for Kids 2017]
Enjoy Your Universe
If you are new to lens-assisted stargazing, you'll find excellent enhanced views among the binocular choices above. To get in deeper and to understand how we picked the binoculars we did, jump to our Buyer's Guide: How to Choose Binoculars for Astronomy and Skywatching.
You have just taken the first step to lighting up your brain with star fire. May the photons be with you. Always.