Best Bird Watching Binoculars for Most Birders: Top 8x42s for You

Nikon Monarch 5
Nikon Monarch 5

There are easily a dozen or more decent bird watching binoculars, that meet the technical criteria that most bird watchers want, in the market today. I’ve picked 5 of the top, most popular best bird watching binoculars models for you to look at in this article.

You might as well consider this a listing of the best high end binoculars for birders, since most of them are priced in that range.

They’re worth the price though.

If you’re in a hurry, click any of the links just below to check the latest prices and any available discounts at Amazon for these sets of binoculars.

What Do Most Birders Need in a Pair of Binoculars?

There are really only a handful of requirements that most bird watchers need to pay attention to when searching for a new pair of binoculars, whether it be your first or a replacement set.

The binoculars I am looking at here are all 8×42 pairs. (The links to the Vanguard model take you to a page showing both the 8×42 and the 10×42 versions.) One of the things that means is that they magnify objects, birds, 8 times (8x) their actual size. This is the amount of magnification that most experienced birders prefer. More than that makes it too hard to find and stay focused on a bird.

Some will argue with the above, stating that 10x birdwatching binoculars are just fine too. I won’t belabor that point here. There are good arguments on both sides. For now, let’s leave it at 8x being the best for beginning bird watchers.

The other part of the figure above, the 42, means that the large, objective lens is 42 millimeters in diameter. Such a lens is large enough to let in sufficient light to make your binoculars useful in most lighting conditions.

Having settled on 8×42 binoculars, the other features that most birders need are these. Birding binoculars should be…

  • Affordable
  • Clear
  • Bright
  • Responsive

…and have good eye relief.

An affordable, good pair of binoculars for bird watching will cost you between $200 and $500. If you go lower than that, you simply will not be satisfied with what you get. They may be poorly constructed. They may break too easily. They may not focus well, if at all. Colors may not be true. There may be other problems too.

If you got higher than $500, you probably won’t notice that much of a difference in quality for your purposes. Yes, more expensive binoculars are technically better in one or more aspects, but most birders (myself included) just can’t tell the difference. At the very least, you won’t feel you got the best value for your money.

Clarity and brightness are closely related. You need the glass to be high quality; that is, the best available or just a small step down from there. With good glass, the images you see will be clear when you focus in on them. They will also appear as bright (or even brighter) as they do without the binoculars in between your eyes and your target.

By responsive, I mean you need a pair where the focusing mechanism works easily and smoothly. Some are actually difficult to use. They can be stiff and prohibit you from staying centered on your bird. You obviously don’t want that.

Eye relief is especially important for those who want to wear their glasses while using binoculars. Many birders are 40 or older and have prescription eyewear (like me). Being able to keep your glasses on all the time can be a real blessing.

Eye relief refers to the distance your eyes can be away from the smaller, eyepiece lenses of the binoculars and still see through them properly. Most, but not all, binoculars do have decent eye relief, so just be sure that this feature is adequate if this situation applies to you.

Nikon Monarch 5 8×42 Binoculars

The Nikon Monarch 5 (see picture above) has become known as a classic in its field and class. It’s just a solid, good-all-around pairs of glasses.

One of the items you’re looking for is clarity. The Monarch 5 has ED, which stands for Extra-low Dispersion, glass. This gives you an even sharper and clearer view than normal Nikon glass. Fully multi-coated (the best coating there is) lenses just add to that clarity and to the brightness.

These binoculars weigh just 1 ⅓ pounds which means they won’t feel like a millstone hanging around your neck at the end of an afternoon hike. They are totally portable and comfortable to wear.

All Monarchs are known for their smooth focus mechanisms – another feature you really want.

If you have a birding field guide with accurate color pictures, you want binoculars that will reflect those colors so you can match bird to picture. These binoculars give you that color accuracy.

Accidents happen. When they happen to you and your Monarch binoculars, you have little to worry about because these are coated with rubber armor and are both waterproof and fogproof.

The video below is a little dated, so you’ll have to ignore the ad at the end. The rest of it is really good though.

What Do Owners Say About the Monarch 5 Binoculars?

As to portability, here’s what an owner says.

“These are pretty much just the right size, as they’re easily packable, but still large enough to feel good in the hand and have just enough weight to easily hold them steady.”

One complaint about the eyepiece covers is lodged here.

“My only problems with the Monarch 5 are that the eye caps are loose, and don’t stay on well.”

But look at this counterpoint.

“It is my opinion that the eyepiece lens caps were made slightly large on purpose, not by mistake. … When using the binoculars as they’re intended, that is wearing them around the neck, the lens caps stay in place quite well.”

If you still don’t think the model 5 is for you, check out the Monarch 3, which are also recommended for safaris here or the Monarch 7s (at Amazon), if you want even a little more from your glasses.

Nikon Monarch 5 8×42

Check the pricing and availability of the Nikon Monarch 5 8×42 binoculars at Amazon.

Nikon Monarch 5 8×42 Binoculars

Check the pricing and availability of the Nikon Monarch 5 8×42 binoculars at Ebay.

Need more information? Check this in-depth review of the Monarch 5 8×42 binoculars here.

Carl Zeiss Terra ED 8×42 Binoculars

The Zeiss Terra ED have precise focusing with a large focus wheel. This gives you easy access to the mechanism which you want so you can concentrate on finding and maintaining your target bird.

What Do Users Say About the Zeiss Terra Binoculars?

Comparing set A to set B, one owner says this.

“They compare very favorably when I do a side by side comparison with my high end bino’s costing much more.”

Someone found a tiny problem with the adjustable eye cups.

“A slight issue is the click stops for the two mid range eyecup positions – barely perceptible.”

Zeiss Terra ED 8×42

Check the pricing and availability of the Zeiss Terra ED 8×42 binoculars at Amazon.

Zeiss Terra ED 8×42 Binoculars

Check the pricing and availability of the Zeiss Terra ED 8×42 binoculars at Ebay.

For more on the Terra ED 8×42 binoculars, check this review.

Vortex Optics New 8×42 Diamondback Binoculars

Vortex Optics Diamondback 8×42

Vortex came out with a new edition of their Diamondback 8×42 binoculars in 2016.

These are also fully multi-coated for great clarity, brightness, and color accuracy.

Vortex does what they can to keep these binoculars light in weight by creating them with a magnesium chassis, so they still weigh only 21.8 ounces.

Like all good glasses, they are water and fog proof. Dust and other debris will have a really hard time getting inside too. So no matter where you take these, they should be safe from the elements.

For eyeglass wearers, the eye relief of 18 millimeters should be sufficient in case you want to keep your specs on while using them.

One reason you might want these binoculars above the others is the field of view (FOV). The Diamondback’s FOV is 393 feet wide at 1000 yards. This means it should be significantly easier to spot birds through the lenses with these binoculars than with the others. Not that the others are bad. These should just make that task even easier.

What Do Other Reviewers Have to Say About the Diamondbacks?

One fan says this.

“The 8x42s provide a larger exit pupil, which translates into superior low light image rendering, to that extent these perform as expected, which is well.”

A couple of knocks against the Diamondbacks follow.

“The case they’re sent with is too large, something about optics and bouncing/flopping randomly just doesn’t seem compatible to me….”

“They’re smaller than I expected, if you have large hands you will find it difficult to find comfortable hand placement, but, they’re compact, which is good.”

Vortex Diamondback 8×42

Check the pricing and availability of the Vortex Optics Diamondback 8×42 binoculars at Amazon.

Vortex Diamondback 8×42 Binoculars

Check the pricing and availability of the Vortex Diamondback 8×42 binoculars at Ebay.

These binoculars are really quite good. For some more proof, check out this more detailed review.

Eagle Optics Ranger ED 8×42 Binoculars

Update: Eagle Optics may no longer exist as a separate entity.

The Ranger ED 8×42 binoculars have the same ED glass as the Terras above. The benefits are thus similar as well.

This is another pair of fully multi-coated lenses, which you should be familiar with by now.

One owner specifically mentions using these for birding.

“These binoculars work quite well for birding. The case is barely large enough to fit the product however.”

Eagle Ranger 8×42

Check the pricing and availability of the Eagle Optics Ranger ED 8×42 binoculars at Amazon.

For more details, click here for my full review.

Vanguard Endeavor ED II 8×42 Binoculars

Vanguard Endeavor ED II 8×42

Vanguard’s Endeavor binoculars are yet another with ED glass. (Are you detecting a common thread amongst these binoculars?)

Do they also have fully multi-coated lenses? Yes, they do. No surprise there.

Waterproof and fogproof? Yes, again.

The Endeavor weighs more than the Nikons but less than the Diamondbacks. The eye relief is just a couple of millimeters longer than the Diamondbacks, which is a good thing.

Vanguard Endeavor 8×42

Check the pricing and availability of the Vanguard Endeavor ED II 8×42 binoculars at Amazon.

Vanguard Endeavor 8×42 Binoculars

Check the pricing and availability of the Vanguard Endeavor 8×42 binoculars at Ebay.

To get all the info on the Endeavor 8×42 binos, see this article.

How Do I Decide Which Pair of Binoculars to Get?

You have no doubt noticed many similarities from one set of binoculars mentioned here to another. There’s a good reason for that.

Binoculars manufacturers all know what makes a good pair of glasses for bird watchers. They also know what you want and need in a good pair of binoculars, so they try hard to give it to you.

So how do you decide among them?

You need to look for those small differences that matter to you.

Cost will always be a significant factor. If you simply don’t have the money for a certain pair, you can eliminate them from the competition. So if these were all too pricey for you, take a look at this lineup of the best 8×42 binoculars in every price range.

If you’ve narrowed your options down to just two pair and still can’t decide, perhaps it comes to something like the overall styling. Maybe you just like the looks of one model over the other. That’s a fair determiner too.

Personally, I would take the Nikon Monarch 5 set for the reasons cited, for its price, and for its styling. If you decide on a different pair, that’s great. Enjoy your purchase!

Gary Sonnenberg

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