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Best compact binoculars: Get big views from smaller binos

Best compact binoculars: Image shows woman holding binoculars looking out to sea
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Carried in a pocket or small bag, a pair of the best compact binoculars can be a must-have in any traveling stargazer's kit list. 

While tripod-mounted telescopes and other larger binoculars may be more suitable for serious astronomy, the best compact binoculars offer better portability and will still give you great night sky views, even though they may come with some small compromises. Carried in a pocket or small bag, a pair of the best compact binoculars can be a must-have in any traveling stargazer's kit list. We've got a handy guide to the top compact models right here.

The best compact binoculars are a valuable tool for any astronomer as they are easy to carry and can be neatly stored away until required. These low-powered instruments will offer you much better views than you'd ever achieve with the naked eye and come in at relatively low prices. The main disadvantage of smaller binoculars is that their objective lenses are smaller, thus, the light-gathering power isn't as strong as a larger and inherently more expensive pair.

When it's time to upgrade to something with a bit more viewing power, check out our best telescopes and best binoculars guides. We even offer an in-depth look at the best binoculars for kids so your budding astronomer can enjoy the night sky with binos that aren't too hard to lift and hold still.

If you're specifically looking for a pair of the best compact binoculars, then read on. 

Best viewing experience

Olympus WP II 8 x 25 stock image on white background

(Image credit: Olympus)

Olympus WP II 8x25

Big objectives and quality build features make these very appealing

Specifications

Magnification: 8x
Objective lens diameter: 25 mm
Angular field of view: 6.2
Optical design: Roof prism
Glass: FMC + phase coating, BAK4
Eye relief: 11.5 mm
Weight: 9.17 oz

Reasons to buy

+
Waterproof, fogproof, dirtproof
+
Nitrogen filled
+
Close focus 1.5 m
+
Large 25 mm objectives

Reasons to avoid

-
Premium price
-
Focusing could be smoother

Olympus has long been a leading manufacturer of optics, and these binoculars are available in either a stylish purple or green, however, they provide far more than just good looks. At 25mm, their objective lenses are large for compact binoculars, which, when coupled with a modest 8x magnification, results in high relative brightness, meaning you'll see more twinkling stars. Faint objects will appear brighter in these than in comparable 8x21 or 10x25 binoculars. This clarity is enhanced by full multi-coating on the lenses and BAK-4 prisms with phase coatings – they tick all the boxes for optical quality.

These are also a hardy pair of binoculars, being both fully waterproof and nitrogen-filled to eliminate internal fogging when you whip them out of a warm pocket on a cold night. They measure just 4.48 x 4.52 x 1.77-inches and, at 9.17 oz, are pretty lightweight. All this does mean a higher price point than others on this list, although true quality is never cheap.

Best for portability

Nikon Aculon T02 8x21 stock image on a white background

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon Aculon T02 8x21

These small and stylish binoculars bring a prestige brand into the affordable range

Specifications

Magnification: 8x
Objective lens diameter: 21 mm
Angular field of view: 6.3
Optical design: Roof prism
Glass: Multi-coated
Eye relief: 10.3 mm
Weight: 6.9 oz

Reasons to buy

+
They look great with funky styling
+
Lightweight means they're easy to hold
+
Tiny size, slips right in a pocket

Reasons to avoid

-
Not waterproof, bad for heavy downpours
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Limited folding to make it easier to transport

These Nikon binoculars are extremely compact, at just 3.4 x 4.1 in, and lightweight at only 6.9 oz. Their portability is a little hampered by their limited ability to fold at the single central hinge, unlike many compact binoculars, which use two hinges. The single hinge still allows adjustment between the eyes from 56 to 72 mm, meaning adults and children alike should be able to use them comfortably.

The Aculon T02 looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. They are available in several colors (which may differ depending on which country you are buying in). We particularly applaud the inclusion of white, making these binoculars easy to find if laid in the dark while stargazing. They are costed at the lower end of Nikon's extensive binocular range, but this still makes them more expensive than many other brands. Still, they are an appealing design with impressive optics so they are worthy of consideration.

Best build quality

Minox X-Lite 8x26 stock image on a white background

(Image credit: Minox)

Minox X-Lite 8x26

A little pricey, but built to last, we rate the Minox X-Lite binoculars for their durability

Specifications

Magnification: 8x
Objective lens diameter: 26 mm
Angular field of view: 6.8
Optical design: Roof prism
Glass: Phase-corrected K9 glass
Eye relief: 16 mm
Weight: 10.2 oz

Reasons to buy

+
Waterproof (IPX7)
+
Nitrogen filled
+
Wide field of view
+
Premium build quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Premium price
-
Quite heavy in the hand

For this best compact binoculars list, select the X-Lite 8x26 pair. They are more affordable than the company's alternative X-Active range but still boast high performance. Warning: Minox products are rarely ever cheap. 

They are on the heavier side at 289g, which is relative to the robust build quality. They are still nicely compact at 4.61 x 4.53 x 1.57 inches. The open bridge design is unusual for a compact pair and includes a tripod mount (adapter required, as with all but the largest binoculars). They have a wide field of view for an 8x compact, at 6.8-degrees, and the K9 glass roof prisms with a phase correction coating. The binoculars are waterproof to IPX7 standards and nitrogen filled to eliminate fogging.

Best value overall

Celestron UpClose G2 10x25 stock image on a white background

(Image credit: Celestron)
These 10x binoculars perform better than their 8x counterpart

Specifications

Magnification: 10x
Objective lens diameter: 25 mm
Angular field of view: 5.7
Optical design: Roof prism
Glass: Multi-coated, BK-7
Eye relief: 11 mm
Weight: 11 oz
Guarantee: Limited lifetime

Reasons to buy

+
25 mm objectives
+
Water resistant
+
Great value

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavier than some
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Economy glass

Celestron is a brand known and loved for its quality and range of telescopes and binoculars. The UpClose G2 binoculars offer desirable characteristics for a reasonable price, which is why we've included them on this list of the best compact binoculars.

We'd opt for the 10x25s (opens in new tab) over the similar 8x21s (opens in new tab) due to their better twilight factor, at 15.8 instead of 13.0, which means the higher powered (and larger objective) pair gives better low-light results. 

They are rubber coated, with water resistance, and have fold-up rubber eyecups for spectacle wearers. They are pocketable at 7.5 x 5.5 x 11cm. 

The Celestron UpClose G2 aren't the highest specification binoculars, with partially multi-coated lenses and BK-7 glass roof prisms (as opposed to the more desirable BK-4 glass). Still, they are well priced and come with the reassurance of a limited lifetime guarantee.

Best handling

Opticron Aspheric 3 10x25 stock image on a white background

(Image credit: Opticron)

Opticron Aspheric 3 10x25

The feel of a full-size binocular in a pocket sized package

Specifications

Magnification: 10x
Objective lens diameter: 25 mm
Angular field of view: 5.0
Optical design: Roof prism
Glass: Fully multi-coated, phase corrected prisms
Eye relief: 16 mm
Weight: 10.4 oz
Guarantee: 10 years

Reasons to buy

+
Waterproof 
+
Nitrogen filled
+
Nice handling

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited field of view
-
A bit pricey

The Opticron Aspheric 3 (opens in new tab) are not the most compact of compact binoculars at 10.9 x 10.6 x 3.3 cm, and they are slightly weighty at just under 300g although the larger size and excellent ergonomics will be desirable for users with bigger hands.

The aspheric lenses in these binoculars provide sharper images and less distortion across the field of view, which at 5 degrees is a little below par for 10x magnification.

We rate these as one of the best compact binoculars because we love the excellent eye relief of 16 mm that makes them friendly for glasses wearers, and the twist-in rubber eyecups will make them comfortable for all users. They are also waterproof and are nitrogen gas-filled to eliminate fogging and are protected with a generous 10-year guarantee. 

Best waterproof option

Bushnell H20 8x25 stock image on a white background

(Image credit: Bushnell)

Bushnell H20 8x25

Lots of quality features and good waterproofing at an impressively low price

Specifications

Magnification: 8x
Objective lens diameter: 25 mm
Angular field of view: 6.9°
Optical design: Roof prism
Glass: BAK4
Eye relief: 12 mm
Weight: 10.23 oz
Guarantee: Return to manufacturer

Reasons to buy

+
Hardy and waterproof
+
Multi-coated and BAK4 glass
+
Great value

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavier than others
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Short eye relief

These Bushnell H2O binoculars have impressive specifications for a very reasonable price, including multi-coating (although not fully multi-coated) and BAK-4 roof prisms. We are particularly fond of the large and tactile center-focus knob, which allows you to make adjustments without removing your gloves on cold nights. Bushnell claims that the optics are 100% waterproof and fog-proof. The 6.9-degree field of view is very respectable too.

The eye relief isn't particularly generous and so the Bushnell H20 8x25 are probably best avoided if you're a spectacle wearer. They are easy to grip and are fairly lightweight whilst featuring a rubberized finish to protect them from knocks and give you a better grip.

At 12.7 x 10.16 x 6.95cm, they are not quite small enough to easily fit into a pocket, but you can throw them in your backpack for an outdoor camping trip and hardly notice they're there.

Best fashion choice

Pentax UD 9x21 stock image on a white background

(Image credit: Pentax)

Pentax UD 9x21

We love the styling, colors, and light weight of these binoculars

Specifications

Magnification: 9x
Objective lens diameter: 21 mm
Angular field of view: 6.0
Optical design: Roof prism
Glass: Fully multi-coated
Eye relief: 9.9 mm
Weight: 6.87 oz

Reasons to buy

+
Fully multi-coated
+
Tiny size
+
Choice of color
+
Tripod mount

Reasons to avoid

-
Plastic chassis 
-
Small exit pupil

If you can't decide between the easier-to-hold 8x magnification or 10x magnification for closer views (especially noticeable on the moon and planets) then here's a compromise: 9x magnification, offering most of the benefits of both. These binoculars measure just 13 x 11.6 x 5.5cm, and are exceptionally light at 194 grams. Despite this, they still boast high-quality, fully multi-coated optics.

Watch out for the 10x21 version of the Pentax UD, as this is not fully multi-coated, has less eye relief, and has an even smaller exit pupil at 2.1 mm compared to 2.3mm here. This 9x21 is a much better buy.

These are the lightest binoculars in the Pentax range, helped no doubt by using plastic instead of a metal chassis, and there is no rubber protective armor. Instead, there are two small thumb rests that help improve your grip.

The large focus wheel is of excellent quality and makes handling surprisingly good, with just two rotations to go through the whole focus range. The 6-degree field of view is adequate, although not as good as some of the UD's serious rivals. There's a tripod mount (which requires an adaptor), and a lug on the right-hand barrel to attach the carry strap to. Finally, we love that they're available in a choice of five colors, including hot pink and a zingy lime green.

Best budget Porro prisms

Apexel PB 10x25 stock image on a white background

(Image credit: Apexel)

Apexel PB 10x25

Cheap and light, yet packed with desirable features

Specifications

Magnification: 10x
Objective lens diameter: 25 mm
Angular field of view: 6.5
Optical design: Reverse Porro
Glass: Fully multi-coated BAK4
Eye relief: 14.8 mm
Weight: 6.35 oz

Reasons to buy

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Featherweight 
+
Fully multi-coated and BAK4 prisms
+
Waterproof
+
Affordable

Reasons to avoid

-
Budget price, budget feel
-
Plastic chassis

Apexel is a Chinese brand known for its smartphone lens accessories brings these inexpensive reverse Porro compact binoculars. They are very lightweight at 178 grams due to the ABS plastic body but still boast fully multi-coated lenses and quality BAK-4 roof Porro prisms. The objectives have a slightly green hue.

They are easy to use and a child with small hands would find them comfortable to use, and with nearly 15 mm of eye relief and a wide field of view of 6.5-degrees, they can be used comfortably by spectacle wearers. They are also pretty rugged and waterproof for extra peace of mind. Check out our buying guide for the best kids binoculars if that is what you are in the market for.

These binoculars won't win any awards, but they are great value for money. You certainly get a lot of bang for your buck as these are impressive specifications for inexpensive binoculars and you're covered with a 12 month guarantee.

Best high power

Sunagor Mini Pocket 18x21_Best compact binoculars

(Image credit: Sunagor)

Sunagor Mini Pocket 18x21

An ambitious 18x magnification in a pocket binocular

Specifications

Magnification: 18x
Objective lens diameter: 21 mm
Angular field of view: 3.9
Optical design: Reverse Porro
Glass: Multi-coated
Eye relief: No
Weight: 6.4 oz

Reasons to buy

+
High magnification
+
Lightweight
+
Inexpensive

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited use
-
Only partial multi-coating

Sunagor is a specialist manufacturer of high-power binoculars and claims these are the smallest and lightest 18x magnification binos you can get. Less than 200g, these binoculars are undoubtedly portable and pocketable, although being a single-hinge design, they don't fold up especially small.

There's only partial multi-coating on the lenses and no particular claims for quality glass inside the barrels, but they offer an ambitious 18x magnification and the clarity of the image is acceptable for general-purpose viewing.

The downside is that such high magnification means they are challenging to hand-hold, and there is no tripod socket provided, so you'll need to be able to hold your binoculars steady without external support. We wouldn't recommend kids using them as the inevitable wobble will quickly become frustrating.

With objective lenses of just 21 mm, these binos are of limited use for astronomy duties. Still, we include them here because they will deliver the 'wow' moment when turned looked at the moon for the first time with 18x magnification.

Best for versatility

Pentax VD 4x20 stock image on a white background

(Image credit: Pentax)

Pentax VD 4x20

Is it a binocular, a pair of monoculars, or a tiny telescope?

Specifications

Magnification: 4x
Objective lens diameter: 20 mm
Angular field of view: 10
Optical design: Roof prism
Glass: Full multi-coating plus phase coating
Eye relief: 19 mm
Weight: 12.17 oz

Reasons to buy

+
Novelty value
+
Quality optics
+
Waterproof

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
Low power
-
Fiddly focus

When is a pair of binoculars not a pair of binoculars? When it's a pair of monoculars. Pentax's slightly gimmicky binos can disassemble to provide two 4x monoculars and then screw together to create a 16x spotting scope. You'd be hard-pressed to find something more compact. They weigh 12.9oz (345g) so aren't the lightest pair available, but that weight does make them feel less toyish and more robust than some lighter.

While this is undoubtedly a versatile optical instrument, a series of compromises come with it. For a start, each tube has to be focused independently, which soon becomes tedious. In binocular mode, they offer only 4x magnification, but this does come with a vast field of view.

If the magnification makes you feel underwhelmed, you can simply convert to telescope mode for 16x magnification. Bear in mind that this results in a very narrow field of view of just 2.6 degrees, so the usefulness of this telescope is questionable. We would expect it to give a worthwhile view of the moon, but not much else in the night sky.

When separated into monoculars, two users can benefit from the additional light-gathering power over the human eye, making it easier to spot more stars and celestial objects. However, this is an expensive option for buying low-power instruments. You'd be better off buying two decent pairs of binoculars instead. Despite these binoculars not being highly recommended, we have included them for their cleverness and novelty. 


How we test the best compact binoculars

In order to guarantee you’re getting honest, up-to-date recommendations on the best binoculars to buy here at Space.com we make sure to put every binocular through a rigorous review to fully test each instrument. Each telescope is reviewed based on a multitude of aspects, from its construction and design, to how well it functions as an optical instrument and its performance in the field.

Each pair of binoculars is carefully tested by either our expert staff or knowledgeable freelance contributors who know their subject areas in depth. This ensures fair reviewing is backed by personal, hands-on experience with each binocular and is judged based on its price point, class and destined use. For example, comparing a pair of 25x100 mammoth binoculars to a compact pair of 8x25s wouldn’t be appropriate though each binocular might be the best pick in their own class.

We look at how easy they are to operate, whether eye relief can be adjusted for spectacles wearer, if a binocular comes with appropriate accessories or carry bags and also make suggestions if a particular set of binos would benefit from any additional kit to give you the best viewing experience possible.

With complete editorial independence Space.com are here to ensure you get the best buying advice on binoculars, whether you should purchase an instrument or not, making our buying guides and reviews reliable and transparent.

What to look out for when buying compact binoculars

Magnification

The main things to consider when shopping for compact binoculars are the magnification – usually 8x or 10x – and the diameter of the objective (front) lenses. Because compact binoculars are small and light, it's easier to hold them still and so you don't need to worry about higher magnification causing unusable wobble. Remember though, lower power binoculars will give a brighter image, making faint objects such as nebulae more visible. 

Lens diameter

It is best to go for the largest lens diameter you can get. Bigger lenses mean more light-gathering power and thus better views for you. Compact binoculars tend to have objectives in the 20-25 mm range. However, it is worth noting that even the largest of these will collect only a quarter as much light as a pair of conventional 50 mm binoculars. We don't recommend compact binoculars with a zoom feature, as this is simply asking too much of the smaller objective lenses on this type of instrument. 

Prism type

Compact binoculars are usually roof prism types, as this arrangement provides straight tubes and lends itself to foldability. It is rare to find conventional Porro prism compact binoculars, but some use the reverse-Porro arrangement, resulting in objective lenses closer together than the eyepieces. Check what type of glass the prisms are made from, the best you can get is BAK-4, while budget binoculars often use BK-7 or K9 (these two are more or less equivalent). 

Lens coating

You should consider the type of lens coating that is used. Lenses will be described as coated, multi-coated, or fully multi-coated. The best will be fully multi-coated with phase coating on the prisms. The best will also be nitrogen filled to eliminate the risk of internal fogging. Some compacts are waterproof or water-resistant, which is always a good idea for use in all weathers and extra peace of mind.

Trusted names

When shopping online, you may come across lots of lesser-known brands offering what seem to be unmissable bargains but, as ever, buyer beware. Products are not always described accurately, particularly when sold by traders on third-party websites, and we advise treating claims with suspicion. Ask yourself if you believe these very cheap binoculars have all the features they claim or whether some of the claims might be lost in translation. Sometimes the comfort of a trusted, known brand that offers a warranty is worth paying that little bit extra for. 

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Russ Swan is a UK-based freelance science writer and author with a love of all things related to space and aviation. He built his own 100mm refractor telescope from some bits found in a military surplus store, and once had lunch with Neil Armstrong. His popular science book The Physics Behind… explains not just how the universe works, but why. He tweets (occasionally)!

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