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Best compact binoculars 2021: Making the most of pocket-sized binos

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

Even astronomers can benefit from having a pair of the best compact binoculars in their stargazing equipment. Yes, it’s true that bigger telescopes and binoculars are better for astronomy, but small instruments have something that big ones don’t: portability. 

A decent pair of compact binoculars is a worthwhile addition to any astronomy tool kit, for the simple reason that they can be slipped into a pocket or glovebox and practically forgotten about until they are wanted. You’ll see far more objects of interest in the heavens with these relatively low-powered tools then you ever will with no tools at all. Additionally, you don’t have to spend a great deal to put a pair of compact binoculars in your kit collection. Reasonable compact binoculars can be found for as little as $20, although, as ever, good quality models will cost more. 

If you’re after something with a bit more power, take a look through our articles on the best binoculars and best telescopes available in 2021. Or, if you’re shopping for younger stargazers – who might prefer smaller, lighter models – read through our round-up of the best binoculars for kids before you make a purchase. But, if it’s definitely compact binoculars you’re after, here’s a list of the best.

Best viewing experience

Olympus WP II 8 x 25_Best compact binoculars

(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

Available in purple or green for the fashion conscious, these binoculars from long-established optical and photography brand Olympus are about more than just appearances. The large (for compact binoculars) 25 mm objective lenses coupled with modest 8x magnification results in a binocular delivering a high relative brightness of 9.8. This means that faint objects will appear brighter in these than in comparable 8x21 or 10x25 binoculars. This is helped by full multi-coating to the lenses and BAK4 prisms with phase coating – ticking all the boxes for optical quality.

These are also binoculars designed to cope with rough use, being both fully waterproof and nitrogen filled to eliminate internal fogging. They measure just 4.48 x 4.52 x 1.77 ins, and at 9.17 oz are fairly lightweight. All this does come at a bit of a premium price, although true quality is never cheap.

Best for portability

Nikon Aculon T02 8x21_Best compact binoculars

(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
+Funky styling+Lightweight+Tiny size
Reasons to avoid
-Not waterproof-Limited folding

These Nikon binoculars are tiny, at just 3.4 x 4.1 in, and lightweight at only 6.9 oz, meaning they can be slipped into a pocket or bag with great ease and whipped out when wanted. Their portability is slightly hampered by their limited folding at the central hinge, unlike many types of compact binoculars with two hinges. The Nikon’s single hinge accommodates adjustment of the interpupillary distance from 56 to 72 mm, which should enable adults and children alike to make use of them.

The Aculon T02 is styled like something out of your favorite space opera, like twin engine pods, and is available in a variety of colors (which may depend on which country you are buying in). We particularly applaud the inclusion of white, which will make these binoculars easy to find if laid down during a dark astronomical observing night, although we’d probably choose the blue anyway. As far as the best compact binoculars go, they are priced at the lower end of Nikon’s extensive binocular range, which still makes them more expensive than many other brands, but they are an appealing design and are worthy of consideration.

Best build quality

Minox X-Lite 8x26_Best compact binoculars

(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

Minox is well-known as a premium German optical brand, once famous for its miniature spy cameras, hence their inclusion on our list of best compact binoculars. We’d select these X-Lite 8x26 compact binoculars over the company’s alternative X-Active range, as they offer slightly better performance and are a bit more affordable – although Minox products are never exactly cheap.

They are a bit heavy at 10.2 oz, reflecting high build quality, but are nicely compact at 4.61 x 4.53 x 1.57 in. The open bridge design is unusual in a compact binocular, as is the inclusion of a tripod mount (adapter required, as with all but the largest binoculars). These Minox X-Lites have a nice wide field of view for an 8x compact, at 6.8 degrees. The K9 glass roof prisms are treated with phase correction coating, and the binoculars are waterproof to IPX7 and nitrogen filled to eliminate any risk of fogging.

Best value overall

Celestron UpClose G2 10x25_Best compact binoculars

(Image credit: Celestron)

Celestron UpClose G2 10x25

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-Economy glass

Celestron offers a huge range of binoculars and telescopes aimed at astronomers, but makes no particular astronomy claims for any of its compact range (except the specialist sun-filtered Eclipsmart). Nevertheless, these UpClose G2 binoculars offer a lot of features at a reasonable price, making it a great contender on our list of best compact binoculars.

Rubber coated and with water resistance, they have fold-up rubber eye cups for spectacle wearers and are a pocketable 3.0 x 2.2 x 4.5 in. We’d plump for the 10x25s over the similar 8x21s due to their better twilight factor, at 15.8 instead of 13.0. This means the higher powered (and larger objective) pair actually give better low light capability. The twilight factor is calculated by multiplying the lens diameter by the optical magnification, and taking the square root of the result. The Celestron UpClose G2 aren’t the highest specification binoculars, with partially multi-coated lenses and BK-7 glass roof prisms, but they are well priced and come from a respected astronomy brand with the reassurance of a limited lifetime guarantee.

Best handling

Opticron Aspheric 3 10x25_Best compact binoculars

(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

As the name suggests, these binoculars sport aspheric lenses for sharper images and less distortion across the field of view – which at 5 degrees is a bit below par for 10x magnification. These are not the most compact of compact binoculars at 4.3 x 4.2 x 1.3 in, and a slightly chunky 10.4 oz. With that being said, they do still fall within the compact market segment, and the slightly larger proportions will be welcomed by users with full size hands. Indeed, Opticron makes great play of the good ergonomics of these binoculars, which is always worth taking into consideration.

We rate these as one of the best compact binoculars because we love the excellent long eye relief of 16 mm which makes them friendly for spectacle wearers, and the twist-in rubber eyecups will be comfortable for all users. The optics are of high quality, with fully multi-coated lenses and PC phase corrected prisms, and being waterproof and nitrogen filled gives confidence that they will survive an evening’s viewing without fogging.

Best waterproof option

Bushnell H20 8x25

(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

Bushnell is a well known name in the optics scene, although the company's prices aren't as high as most of its competitors. These H2O binoculars offer some impressive specifications at a low price point, with multi-coating and BAK4 roof prisms. They also boast a large centre-focus knob, which should mean you can make adjustments without removing your gloves on cold nights, and Bushnell claims that the optics are 100% waterproof and fog-proof. The 6.9° field of view is very respectable too, and should be useful for those evenings spent combing the night sky.

That eye relief isn't especially generous at 12mm, though, and there are some reviews online that highlight this as inefficient. They are also fairly lightweight, but by no means the lightest on this list. What they are is rugged and hardy, with a rubberized finish to protect them from knocks and a solid design that makes them easy to grip. At 5 x 4 x 2.75 inches, they are not quite pocket sized, but you can easily throw them in your backpack for an outdoor camping trip.

Best fashion choice

Pentax UD 9x21_Best compact binoculars

(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

Can’t decide between 8x magnification (easier to hold still) and 10x (closer views, especially noticeable on the moon and planets)? Here’s a compromise – 9x magnification, offering most of the benefits of both. These binoculars measure just 5.12 x 4.57 x 2.2 in, and are very light at 6.87 oz, yet boast high quality fully multi-coated optics. Pentax also makes a 10x21 version of the UD, but this is not fully multi-coated, has less eye relief, and an even smaller exit pupil at 2.1 mm compared to 2.3mm here – so the 9x is the better choice.

Pentax says these are the lightest binoculars in its range, helped no doubt by the plastic instead of metal chassis. Despite their size, the large focus wheel makes handling surprisingly good. The 6 degree field of view is adequate, but not as good as some of the UD’s serious rivals. We do like the tripod mount, which of course requires an adapter, and the choice of five colors including rather zingy lime green and pink. Like other single-hinge binoculars, these don’t really fold up any smaller, but, then again, they are tiny to begin with.

Best budget Porro prisms

Apexel PB 10x25_Best compact binoculars

(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
+Featherweight +Fully multi-coated and BAK4 prisms+Waterproof+Affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Budget price, budget feel

Apexel is a Chinese brand best known for its smartphone lens accessories, and which has other optical products including a night vision scope and these inexpensive reverse Porro compact binoculars. They are very lightweight at only 6.35 oz, due to their light ABS plastic body. They boast fully multi-coated lenses and quality BAK4 roof Porro prisms, although the green hue to the objectives is typical of lower quality coatings. The eyepiece lenses, curiously, have a blue coating.

Despite this, these are impressive specifications for a bargain binocular, and even more so when the fact that they are waterproof is taken into account. With nearly 15 mm of long eye relief for spectacle wearers and a wide field of view at 6.5 degrees, these binoculars offer great value for money which is why we’ve included them on our best compact binoculars list. 

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

Sunagor brands itself as a specialist manufacturer of high-power binoculars, and reckons these are the smallest and lightest 18x magnification binos you can get. At just 3.9 x 3.2 x 1.2 in and 6.4 oz, that seems a valid claim. These binoculars are certainly pocketable, although being a single-hinge design they don’t fold up.

The specifications are fairly basic, with only partial multi-coating and no particular claims for quality glass, but they redeem themselves by that ambitious 18x power. Bear in mind that such high magnification means they will be difficult to hand-hold, and there is no tripod socket provided, so you’ll need to be able to hold your binoculars steady. With lenses of just 21 mm, these binos are of limited use for astronomy duties, but we’re including them in this list of best compact binoculars because they will deliver the ‘wow’ moment when turned on that favorite of binocular astronomy, the moon.

Best for versatility

Pentax VD 4x20_Best compact binoculars

(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

Here’s something a little different – a pair of compact binoculars which can be disassembled to provide two monoculars, and then reassembled to create a telescope. While this undoubtedly makes for a versatile optical instrument, this slightly gimmicky approach brings a series of compromises. 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 the benefit of a very wide field of view.

If the magnification makes you feel a little under-powered, you can quickly 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 will be limited. We would expect it to give a worthwhile view of the moon, but not much else in the night sky.

As a pair of monoculars, two users can each gain some benefit and will appreciate the additional light gathering power over the human eye, bringing many more stars into view, but this is an expensive way to buy a couple of low power instruments. Better to put your money into two pairs of decent binos, whether compact or standard size. These binoculars are not especially recommended, but are included here for their cleverness and novelty.


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 higher magnification might be a good choice. Remember though that lower power binoculars will give a brighter image, making faint objects such as nebulae more visible.

Lens diameter

Other things being equal, it's best to go for the largest lens diameter you can get. Bigger lenses mean more light-gathering power and 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’s rare to find conventional Porro prism compact binoculars, but some use the reverse-Porro arrangement. This results in objective lenses closer together than the eyepieces. Check what type of glass the prisms are made from – the best is BAK4, while budget binoculars often use BK-7 or K9 (the two are more or less equivalent, and both perform well).

Lens coating

You should also consider what type of lens coating is used. Lenses will be described as coated, multi-coated, or fully multi-coated. The best of all will be fully multi-coated with phase coating on the prisms. Some compacts are waterproof, or at least water resistant, which is always a good idea. The best will also be nitrogen filled to eliminate any risk of internal fogging.

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 advertised accurately, especially when being sold by traders on third party websites, and we advise treating claims with a degree of suspicion. Ask yourself if you really believe that these very cheap binoculars have all the features they claim, or whether some of the claims might be – to put it kindly – lost in translation. Sometimes the comfort of a trusted brand is worth paying a small premium for.

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