In the 3.5-billion-year history of life, we are the first species to enhance our senses with technology. And we've only done so very recently. Someday, perhaps soon, we'll have built-in telescopic implants to zoom our vision. But for today, the best we can do is to lift a binocular device up to our eyes. Which instrument we choose depends upon what we need to see more clearly.
Here are our picks for the best binoculars for astronomy, travel, and watching events on Earth.
Compact, tough, comfortable to use, giving beautifully clear and colorful images in daylight and bright tack-sharp stars at night, the 8x42 Sport ED from Oberwerk is our pick for best all-around binocular. Extra-low dispersion "ED" glass will reward your eyes with higher contrast, more richly colored images. The 8.1-degree field of view is perfect for spotting interesting patches of night sky; then easily tuck them out of the way as you swing your telescope to the target.
The 10x42 version of Oberwerk's Sport ED binocular is no different in weight or size from the 8x42's. Merak and Dubhe, the two stars in the Big Dipper, which point to Polaris (the North Star), fit just within the 10x42's field. Either model is wide enough for meteor showers.
No matter how much — or how little — you have to spend, it makes sense to have one "grab-and-go" set of binoculars that you can trust to bring all the world's detail in closer; night or day, indoors or out. With their compact size, chunky-but-lightweight feel, superb clarity, lack of color distortion and precise focus, we believe that Oberwerks' 8x42 ED is the one binocular to have if you can have only one.
But what if you could have more than one? Here are Space.com's picks for best binoculars in specific situations.
The SkyMaster Giant 15x70 binoculars by Celestron have one of the highest magnifications of all the binoculars that we've checked out, making these ideal for looking at stars, planets, comets and other distant objects in the night sky. Images appear crisp and clear through 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.
I think of the Orion Astronomy 20x80 binocular as the perfect "gateway gear" to heavyweight stereoscopic skywatching. They offer a whole lot of binocular for the buck, with big aperture and big-league specs. Plus, they have the quickness of a center focus knob.
These 20x80s are a less-costly, lighter-weight and only slightly less-powerful alternative to our Editors' Choice Celestron 25x100. One way to think of it: The Orions give you at least 85 percent of the experience, at half the price of the Celestrons. And, in some ways, the Orions are nicer to handle. Read the full review.
Bigness is a virtue in telescopes … most of the time. The larger the light-bucket, the more photons ("raindrops" of light) it can collect. But big telescopic instruments are also heavier, more ungainly and can demand greater care and feeding. We've chosen the Celestron SkyMaster 25x100 binoculars as our Editors' Choice for inexpensive large astronomy binoculars. Read the full review.
Celestron's SkyMaster 8x56 is our Editors' Choice for the best medium-size binoculars for astronomy. Weighing only 38 ounces, you can carry these for hours during your busy outdoor day. At night, lie back in an outdoor recliner and you can hand-hold them for a good long while. The wide rubber bumpers on the oculars' lens-guards are comfortable enough to rest on your cheekbones and brow (eye "orbits"). Read the full review.
The Oberwerk Mariner 8x40s are good for travel, and they excel at astronomy. They're totally small enough to wear for a full afternoon of birding or soccer-match watching. And, as the Mariner name implies, they are waterproof and can absorb an occasional bump from sliding across a boat deck or cabin top, without going out of alignment. That's why we've picked the Oberwerk Mariner 8x40 binocular as our Editors' Choice for Best Small Astronomy Binoculars. Read the full review.
Frankly, I expected to laugh at this binocular. Instead, I ended up loving it for what it is. If you are looking for a very inexpensive entry to the joy of binocular skywatching, you can't do better than Celestron's Cometron 7x50. As a first binocular for young astronomers, they excel. As a grab 'n' go, "don't really care if they get trashed," second set of binoculars for adults, the Cometrons are without equal. Read the full review.
Levenhuk calls this line Sherman; as in "Sherman tank." They're tough! Rubberized for water and shock resistance outside, but well cast and nicely coated inside, these Levenhuk 8x32's are built to take all the punishment your outdoor explorations will dish out. The compact body weighs just 1.5 lbs. (0.7 kg). You get the same 8.1-degree field of view as our top-rated "do-everything" binocular from Oberwerk, but the Levenhuks can't focus on objects less than about 16 ft. (5 m) away. The eyecups twist-up to keep side-light out. 18mm of eye relief will let you keep your sand-goggles or glacier-glasses on. The optically clear BAK-4 glass delivers lots of illumination in the daylight; the porro prisms pass plenty of contrast at night.
If you can handle a little more mass and have a bit of extra room in your pack, the Sherman Pro 10x42's give you more magnification and a brighter image, in exchange for a narrower (6.5°) field of view. Both sizes are rugged and voyage-ready. A 10x binocular, weighing in a 2.3 lbs. (1.2 kg) is at the upper limit of what most of us can handhold on the night sky. But you can tripod them with an adapter (sold separately).
For outdoor activities like bird-watching, hunting or even viewing a sports game from a high-up stadium seat, Celestron's Nature DX 12x56 binoculars provide an excellent view. Space.com's sister site Top Ten Reviews lauded these binoculars for their durability and ease of use, writing: "Add this to its unparalleled viewing experience, and you have the best binoculars we reviewed."
These binoculars are fog-proof, waterproof and super-durable, so you don't have to worry about damaging them with outdoor use. And they work great in low-light situations, so you can use them for nighttime skywatching as well as daytime sport.
These Nikon Action EX Extreme 7x35 binoculars provide the widest field of view of all the binoculars we've tested. 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. 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.
What these binoculars lack in magnification, they make up for with optical quality. However, these are best used for daytime observations and won't work as well 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.
If you're looking for a super-crisp and clear image, the Vanguard Spirit XF binoculars are the way to go. These binoculars produce some of the sharpest images of all the binoculars we've reviewed. They 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, and you can use the binoculars in low-light settings and still get a fairly clear image.
The Vanguard Spirit XF is 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.
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.
- How to Choose Binoculars for Astronomy and Skywatching
- Stellar Deals on Celestron Telescopes & Binoculars
- Best Telescopes for the Money
- Best Telescopes for Kids
- Best Telescopes for Beginners