Safari Binoculars: Are They Different from Any Others?

Bushnell 8x42 Legend M Series
Bushnell 8×42 Legend M Series

It’s confession time. I must admit that I’ve never been on a safari, and I probably never will be. I’m just not the adventurous type like you. However, I can still give you some quality recommendations for safari binoculars, because I know what they can do, and I know what you’re likely to encounter on your trip.

One of the nice things about looking for a pair of binoculars for a safari is that I’m not restricted to one brand as I would be in a review of something like The Best Nikon Binoculars or Which Binoculars Does Pentax Make?

So let’s take a look at which binoculars you should consider purchasing before going on your African safari (or the equivalent thereof).

The four models I’ll cover here are these.

If you already know you want one of those, click the link to go to Amazon for the latest price and any available discount.

If you see an item in the table below that especially interests you, you can click it to go directly to that section, or you can just keep reading below it.

What Should I Expect on My Safari?

We’ll assume that, when you say you’re going on a safari, you mean you’re going to observe wildlife in Africa. That’s generally what the term, which comes from Swahili, means. I suppose you technically could go on a safari elsewhere, but most people wouldn’t use this term for such an excursion.

There are two main things you’ll see on your trip – land animals and birds. Unless you’re already a bird watcher, you may at this point only be thinking about the animals on the ground. Even if you don’t normally really care for birds all that much, you’ll probably want to look at them anyway as long as you’re there. After all, most of them you can’t find anywhere else on earth.

You may see the wild animals both at a distance and up close. The birds, however, you’ll only likely see up high – either in the trees or the sky.

What this means is that you’ll want binoculars that are good for hunting and for birding – a pair that handles the far away and the closer by equally well.

There are various types of terrain and weather conditions in Africa. Depending on what you sign up for, your guides may take you across dusty plains or into dense forests. The weather may be very hot and dry or you could get caught in a downpour. The only condition you probably don’t need to plan for is cold and snow.

Your binoculars should be waterproof (which includes dust proof) and able to stand the heat. They should also work well in bright sunlight and under the shadowy canopy of the trees.

To get to your destination, you’ll likely travel in a truck or jeep of some kind. Roads and paths will not be as smooth as most American freeways. Your binoculars and other equipment will get jostled and bumped around. You’ll want binoculars that are rugged enough to take this mistreatment.

Many binoculars do come with a tough outer shell. You’ll also want one that has a decent protective case too.

If you’re bringing other gear along – perhaps a camera – you may want binoculars that either aren’t too heavy or too big or both.

In General, What Should I Look for in Safari Binoculars?

Given your probable needs above, here’s what would make an ideal pair of safari binoculars.

On the outside, they should have tough armor coating that can take a few bumps and bruises. The insides should also be well-made so that a moderate amount of shaking doesn’t make them useless.

Lenses should be recessed so that scratching is not a problem. Lens caps are a must and, if you can tether them to the binoculars, so much the better. In addition, a sturdy case for when they’re not in use would be very helpful.

Your binoculars should work well in low light. You might be out observing at dawn or at dusk or under dense foliage. This means you’ll probably want objective lenses of at least 33 and more likely 42mm.

I have seen others recommend binoculars with 8x, 10x, and 12x power. If you know ahead of time that you’re going to need more powerful lenses for long distances, then look for 12x but no higher. Most likely you’ll want to stay in the middle or at the low end and check out 10x and 8x glasses. The higher the power, the more stability problems you’ll encounter.

Keeping in mind that at least some of the time you’ll be looking at animals and birds far away, you’ll want your binoculars to have a good field of view (often shortened to FOV) so that it’s easier to find your target. An FOV of at least 330 feet will be preferable.

Even if you don’t wear eyeglasses, you may be sporting sunglasses much of the time. To be able to peer through your binoculars without removing your sunglasses, you’ll need a set with a long enough eye relief. An eye relief measurement of 15 to 20mm should suffice.

As mentioned earlier, your binoculars should be waterproof. If the manufacturer specifies that they are dust or dirt proof as well, that’s great.

Inside the binoculars are prisms that reflect the light in the directions needed to get pictures of the object to your eyes. The type of prisms best for your purposes here are called roof prisms. They are light weight, durable, and weather and dust resistant.

If you will also be toting a camera (around your neck), you have two options. One possibility is to go for a compact set of binoculars that you can quickly put away in a pocket or bag when you want to take a picture. The other is to bear with the extra weight and hassle and get a medium sized pair that will also hang from your neck. If you opt for the latter, make sure the strap is very comfortable.

Now let’s check out some specific models that meet most of these criteria. None of these happen to be compact models. They are all midrange in size and weight, have recessed lenses (some a little farther than others), have 8x magnification, and inside have roof prisms.

Minox BL 8×33 HD

This first of two Minox models reviewed here are made of a tough polycarbonate. Their design allows for an open bridge area so you can grip them quite easily. Most binoculars do not have this open space. They are covered with a nice layer of black rubber for added protection.

One of the nicest features of this set is that it comes with tethered objective lens caps. (Note: You can purchase such caps separately for binoculars that don’t have them.) Not only are you unlikely to lose them, but you don’t have to find a place to store them while using your binoculars. This is extremely handy!

The Minox BL 8×33 binoculars obviously don’t have 42mm objective lenses but they still should work well in low light conditions. Their field of view is one of the best in this group at 421 feet.

All of these binoculars recommended for your safari have eye cups that twist or turn in some fashion. This pair twists to one of four fixed positions giving you a maximum eye relief of 17.5mm. That’s plenty for eyeglass or sunglass wearers.

Most of these safari binoculars are nitrogen filled making them waterproof and fog proof. This also means that they are well sealed against dust and dirt. If the nitrogen can’t get out, no gunk is going to get in. This model is waterproof to a depth of 5 meters.

The Minox 8×33 are on the lighter side of those in this group. They weigh just 22 ounces.

The case that comes with them is soft and has an average amount of padding. The strap that’s included is thickly padded – a feature your neck is sure to appreciate several hours into your safari.

Minox 8×33 Binoculars

Check the pricing and availability of the Minox 8×33 binoculars at Amazon.

Minox BV II 8×42 BR

These Minox BV II 8×42 BR binoculars, like all those to follow, have 42mm objective lenses. They should all perform acceptably in the lower light conditions you may encounter on your safari.

This pair though sometimes has a problem with the opposite – too much bright light. They can on occasion experience chromatic aberration, color blurring, if too much light gets in. That could be a problem under a hot sun on the savannah.

The BV IIs have twist eye cups, but I couldn’t tell if they snap into fixed positions like those above. The eye relief is 15mm which is acceptable for those who wear glasses.

These have a black rubber (Is that what the “BR” stands for?) coating and are made of aircraft grade aluminum which is filled with nitrogen, making them waterproof to a depth of 3 meters.

It seems that these binoculars don’t come with lens caps, but at least they have a comfortable, neoprene strap. The padded case is decent but has no strap of its own. You’d have to carry them around like a box when not around your neck. That may be a problem, especially considering that these are the heaviest in the bunch, weighing 27.5 ounces.

The field of view is acceptable at 389 feet. You’ll easily be able to spot your animals and birds at a fair distance.

Minox 8×42 Binoculars

Check the pricing and availability of the Minox 8×42 binoculars at Amazon.

Bushnell 8×42 Legend M Series

The Bushnell 8×42 binoculars are available in three Legend series – E, L, and M. The M series is the best of the three. They have ED Prime glass and dielectric coating on the mirrors both of which give you a better view. They also have a locking diopter that lets you focus one lens slightly differently than the other to account for any differences in your eyes.

With a standard rubber shell, these Legend M series binoculars are nitrogen filled for protection from water and corrosion. There should be little fear of getting them wet, but note that it appears they do not come with lens caps, carrying case, or neck strap.

On the plus side, they should work well in low light, have the widest field of view in this collection (426 feet), and have a nice long eye relief measurement at 18mm.

Bushnell Legend 8×42 Binoculars

Check the pricing and availability of the Bushnell Legend 8×42 binoculars at Amazon.

Nikon 8×42 Monarch 3 ATB

Many users rave about the Monarch line from Nikon. We’ll look at the Monarch 3 series here, but you can also check out the Monarch 5 and the Monarch 7. Each comes in a variety of magnifications and sizes.

The Nikon 8×42 Monarch 3 ATB could be your best option for a safari. It is made of tough polycarbonate (like the first Minox mentioned above) and is rubber coated.

The Monarch 3 has tethered objective lens caps which is a definite plus as noted earlier.

The case has a foam insert for extra protection against the jarring it could get on safari. The case has a strap which is really a must on a trip like this.

The field of view is the minimum recommended at 330 feet. If you’re concerned about wearing glasses, this model should calm those fears because it has a whopping 24.1mm eye relief.

A diopter is included as are turn and slide eye cups with 3 click settings. You can adjust these binoculars to just about any combination of settings you would ever need. If you’re planning to share them with a fellow traveler, this is another big plus.

Like most of the other models here, these are filled with nitrogen too. You probably won’t have to worry about dropping them into water, but I couldn’t find a waterproof depth for the Monarchs.

These are a little on the hefty side, but not too bad, at 24.9 ounces. If they become too much for your neck, tuck them into that nice carrying case for a while.

Nikon Monarch 3 ATB 8×42 Binoculars

Check the pricing and availability of the Nikon Monarch 3 ATB 8×42 binoculars at Amazon.

Which Safari Binoculars Are the Best?

The safari binoculars that are best for you will depend on what kind of safari you have scheduled. Look again at the specifications for each of the sets reviewed above and see which work best in constant sunlight. See which work in shady areas.

If none of those mentioned here exactly fit your needs, check out the Steiner Safari models mentioned in this article. I can almost guarantee someone has made a pair that matches what you’re looking for. Enjoy your hunt and your safari!

Gary Sonnenberg

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