Best Compact Binoculars for 2021: Review and Buying Guide
Updated on June 2, 2021.
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Full sized binoculars can offer a lot of power. The problem is they’re not built for your life, right? The best compact binoculars have to go where you go. You need crystal clear images for bird watching, sailing, and more. That means limited weight and nothing bulky. Check out our picks for the best of the best in terms of compact binoculars.
Best Budget Choice
1. Brigenius Compact Binoculars
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The best budget compact binoculars are right here. Some people want to spend hundreds of dollars on the best of the best. But what if you just need a compact binocular for fun? Something you can safely give to the kids on a camping trip? Brigenius has you covered. These are the best compact binoculars for the job. At just a fraction of the price of other binoculars, there’s no need to worry if something happens to these.
Don’t worry about performance, though. While these aren’t going to let you see super well in low light, they still work great. If all you want to be able to do is get a look at things at a distance, what more do you need?
These little binoculars pack a decent punch for the prince. A large field of view of 369 feet at 1000 yards. They have an 8X magnification. Focus is managed with a large, easy to use center knob.
In terms of optics, this isn’t NASA-level stuff here. But it’s actually better than you’d expect for the price tag. They use a BK7 roof prism. The lenses are green, multicoated to improve image. You’re not going to be looking at things in the super far distance though. The image does get pretty spotty the further away something is. But near distance viewing works out pretty well. We recommend these are a great, affordable option for bird watching. Any kind of hiking or nature viewing could benefit from these. And again, at this price point, you can feel comfortable letting the kids use them.
Best Overall Choice
2. Zeiss Terra ED Compact Binoculars
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There’s a reason the Zeiss name is synonymous with quality optics. These are hands down the best compact binoculars you’ll find. The images are crisp and clean with no blurring. The multi coated lenses give you unparalleled clarity and optical quality.
These fast-focusing objective lenses are multi-coated to ensure clarity. They’re designed to be very simple and intuitive. Your finger will rest on the focus naturally, so it’s easy to get everything in view right away. They’re both waterproof and fog resistant as well. That means they can handle hikes or days at the beach. The fact they can handle -4F up to 145F means you can use them nearly all year.
Even in low light you’ll have an amazing field of view that extends to about 390 feet. We found these to be the best compact binoculars to use in low light. If you’re looking to bird watch at sunset, these are amazing. They adapt to twilight very well. These are also incredibly lightweight and easy to hold.
The frames are tough and reliable. Zeiss claims they’re nearly indestructible, in fact. Combine all of these factors together and you have the best compact binoculars on the market.
Best Premium Choice
3. Leica Trinovid Compact Binoculars
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Leica is a name that commands respect. It’s also one that makes you pay for quality. If you want the best and money is no object try Leica’s Trinovid 10×25 compact binoculars. While you’ll be paying a lot more, the proof is in the viewing. Leica has perfect optical quality and image quality.
Compared to the Zeiss binoculars or a good pair of Nikons you may not notice a huge difference at first. You want to try these in low light conditions or for great distances though. That’s where the competition falters and Leica shines. The incredible clarity and color is unmatched. Thank the fully multi coated 25 mm objective lenses. They offer up a 10X magnification as well. No other pair of binoculars we’ve tried can give you as good an image in low light as these ones.
The anti-fog coating and waterproofing makes these ideal for forest bird watching. You can take in nature anywhere with these. They feel natural in your hand and are very light weight. If we have to give a criticism, it’s less about the binoculars themselves and more about accessories. These are advertised as coming with an adventure strap harness. That is no longer the case as Leica does not package them with the harness any longer. You’ll see it pictured on Amazon but don’t expect it in the box.
4. Bushnell H20 Compact Binoculars
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The Bushnell brand is known for high quality. With fully multi coated optics, you can count on truly sharp images. Sharper images than you’ll get from many similarly priced binoculars. The multi coated optics and Bak4 roof prism mean great light transmission. Edge to edge clarity is on par with many higher priced models. This is a great blend of optical performance and rugged outdoor, compact design.
The frame is durable and comfortable. It’s o-ring sealed and totally waterproof. That makes them a great choice when boating. One handed adjustment is pretty easy with these, as well. The rubber grip is really handy. The texture isn’t off putting like on some. But it gives you that added traction even when wet. On the downside, the weight is a little higher than some models. That could make them tiring to hold up all day if you’re doing some extensive viewing.
In terms of value and cost, these are mid-range. Not the cheapest model we’re recommending by any means. But also not nearly the priciest. We recommend these for someone who wants a quality, long lasting pair of binoculars. But at the same time, you’re not so serious you want to spend hundreds of dollars.
5. Occer Compact Binoculars
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Another great, low cost option for casual users are these Occer compact waterproof binoculars. They’re small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. They’re also so affordable you don’t need to worry about the kids using them. Plus, they’re tough enough that they’re not likely to break on a single drop.
With 12X magnification, you’ll be seeing a great distance with these binoculars. The optical quality at distance is not as good as some higher priced models. That said, if you want to enjoy the scenery on a hike or boating, these are perfect pocket binoculars.
There’s a 25mm objective lens and they feature a broadband coating. Glasses wearers will enjoy the adjustable eye cups. The large eyepiece makes for comfortable viewing no matter what. The BAK4 prisms provide quality clarity at this price tag.
The optical quality is really not too far off many binoculars that are 5 times the price. The body is ABS plastic but doesn’t feel flimsy. The weight is just over half a pound so they are light but not too light.
Be aware that they are advertised as having night vision ability. Maybe the company has a different idea of what that means, but it’s not the case. When the sun goes down, expect you won’t be seeing much. Also, the build quality case is not the best, either. It’s functional, but don’t expect it to take a ton of abuse. But don’t let that dissuade you. For the money, these are very good quality. And at 12 times magnification you’ll enjoy these as much as full size expensive binoculars.
The neck strap makes these convenient for the kids. Combined with the affordable price, this is one of the best compact binoculars out there.
6. Steiner Safari Compact Binoculars
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Steiner is a company that stands behind their products. The Safari compact binoculars come with Steiner’s impressive heritage warranty. If there’s a defect or optic damage the company will replace the binoculars no matter how old they are. Just be aware this is a defect or damage warranty, it doesn’t cover loss or theft.
These are some of the best compact binoculars for people with glasses. The comfortable eye cups fold up easily for use with glasses.
Image quality is top notched with the optics here. Close focus at around 6 feet to infinity. They offer 10 times magnification. Also a 42 mmm objective lens. Image quality even at top distance is solid.
The bigger selling point here is Steiner quality. You can put these binoculars through the ringer. If you’re the kind of person whose gear takes a beating, try Steiner. These are the best compact binoculars for taking abuse. The durable Markolon housing is a seriously tough plastic. The ads feature someone running a pair of these over with a car. We don’t recommend trying that yourself, but you get the idea. These are tough as nails. Combine that with the amazing warranty and your set. The best part of the warranty? No receipt ever needed. If it’s a pair of their binoculars, Steiner will make it right.
If you want pocket binoculars that will outlast you, this is your best choice.
7. Nikon Prostaff Compact Binoculars
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Nikon is a company that needs no introduction. They’ve been at the forefront of optics industry for decades. That same reliability they’re known for in cameras applies to their binoculars. Multi coated lenses and roof prisms ensure super clear images even at great distance. Color correction is top quality as well. You’ll be seeing true life images at 10x magnification.
The eye cups push aside for those who wear glasses. The grip is comfortable and overall these are lightweight and comfortable. You can handle and focus them with ease. The rubber armor adds a solid feel, even when they’re wet.
If you want to get up close and personal with nature from a distance, these are great. The colors are unmatched even at a serious magnification. Not every company can say that for their models. The price is steeper than some, but not nearly as expensive as many others. If you enjoy using binoculars and want a reliable, long lasting pair, try these.
8. Vortex Diamondback Roof Prism Compact Binoculars
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The Vortex Diamondback binoculars are a solid choice for outdoorsmen. You don’t need to be a hunter to use these, but they’re a great hunting option. The clarity and field of view makes them ideal for those long range targets. They’re also highly durable and well sealed to prevent moisture and fog.
These are larger than many of the other compact binoculars we’ve rated. They’re still compact, don’t get us wrong. But they’re really at the larger end of that scale. If you find many compact binoculars are too small for you, try Vortex. The bigger size is owing to the superior lens optics. That’s part of what makes them ideal for hunting. You need that power for better visual acuity at a distance.
The body is tough and durable. It can take some abuse out on the go if need be. They are comfortable in your hand and the grip feels sturdy. If you wear glasses, these should treat you well.
The downside to these is what we’ve already addressed. These are big compared to a lot of other compact binoculars. If the compact part is your goal, maybe skip these. But if power in a smaller package than normal binoculars is your goal, these are perfect.
9. Carson 3D Series Compact Binoculars
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Carson is often overlooked as a brand for binoculars. That’s a shame because they make some seriously great binoculars. They’re not the cheapest pair on the market, but that price reflects in the quality. Not only are you getting superb optics, but Carson makes sure you’re set up. You’re getting a neck strap, a shoulder harness, a carrying case, and a lens cloth. Also lens caps. That may not seem like a big deal, but compare them to some other manufacturers. Not everyone bothers including these little touches.
These work really well in lower light conditions. The objective lens lets in a good amount of light to keep things clear and colorful. As you’d expect you’re getting a fully multi coated lens here. The field of view at 1000 yards is an impressive 392 feet. That’s one of the best you’ll find for mini binoculars of this size.
The eye relief is extra long to help out if you have glasses. We’re a little worried about the amount of glare you can get in some conditions though. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it is a point against. On the other hand, these have an incredible warranty that surpasses most others. With that in mind, these binoculars have a lot of value and quality.
10. Celestron Trailseekers Compact Binoculars
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If image quality is your most important factor in choosing binoculars, no worries. We recommend you look to these top rated compact binoculars from Celestron. The quality of the optics here is pretty stunning. These are phase and dielectric coated. The rest of the optics are fully multi coated. Anti-reflective coatings round out everything. The end result is high quality optics that offer the best contrast, detail, and resolution. It’s actually pretty stunning to compare these to some cheaper binoculars. The field of view is an impressive 341 feet.
The frame is a magnesium alloy to offer strength and durability with less weight. The company has a limited lifetime warranty. The waterproof construction is also fog proof. There’s also a quality carrying case as well as neck strap and lens covers. Everything you’ll need to keep your binoculars looking and working well.
On the downside, there’s no actual grip on these things. Most compact binoculars opt for that rubber armor or something to give you texture. If you’re using these one handed in wet conditions, be cautious. The aluminum alloy can get a little slippery. We recommend keeping that neck strap on when out and about. It’ll prevent any falling and breaking. On the other hand, because they’re aluminum alloy, they’re also pretty tough. These are definitely one of the best compact models out there.
11. Vortex Vanquish Compact Binoculars
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These little guys are unique among our recommendations. Using a porro prism, they’re not designed the same as the others. They really are super compact and lightweight binoculars, however. Definitely a top notch choice for casual bird watchers. Or for those who enjoy hiking and getting a clear glimpse of nature.
The frames are aluminum. There’s also a full rubber armor coating. That means you’re double protected from falls and scrapes. When wet, you’ll still have a great and reliable grip.
The optics are waterproof and fog proof. They’re also fully multi coated so no worries about image clarity or maximum light transmission.
Porro prism binoculars are known for really sharp images. At these sizes you may not notice a huge difference between these and other compact binos. We didn’t. Which isn’t to say that the images aren’t clear, because they are. But they’re on par with top quality roof prisms at this size. Suffice it to say that you’ll be getting crisp detail with these.
The central focus is easy to adjust and makes viewing a breeze. The adjustable eye cups ensure even those with glasses can use these easily.
12. Pentax ADS Compact Binoculars
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At just over half a pound, this compact binocular from Pentax pack a punch. Super crisp images are colorful and clear thanks to the multi coated optics. The body is an ultra lightweight polycarbonate. It feels very light but can still handle some knocks. Compared to other models of similar power and performance, these are really compact. You can slip them into a backpack pocket with ease.
Because these are nitrogen purged they’re sealed against fog and water. That makes them great for boating or for hikes. On the downside, Pentax does not add in any accessories. If you want a case or a neck strap you’ll have to invest in some separately. The eye caps may also come loose and disappear on you as well, so watch out for that.
A longer eye relief makes these ideal for those wearing glasses. Combined with the reliability of the porro prisms and multi coatings, these are great compact binoculars.
Things to Look For in a Compact Binocular
The best compact binocular need to hit a few points. These aren’t meant to be as big or as powerful as full sized binoculars. How these a high quality pair perform is the real test. Look for these qualities when you shop. Not every compact pair will hit every mark, usually. Often it’s just a matter of finding what’s best for you depending on how serious you are with the hobby. All of our recommendations here from cheapest to most expensive are solid. They have pros and cons but we try to cover all the bases. Here’s the bulk of what we assess.
Multi Coated Lenses
You’ll notice all binoculars mention the lens coating. Fully multi coated objective lenses important to ensure superior image quality. The coating prevents light reflection which can reduce that image quality. But the kind of coating is important. Fully multi coated optics can cut back on all the kinds of light that reduce image quality. But some compact binos will only have single coatings. You may see a green coating or a blue coating. These can result in optics that have a cast to them. You may see yellow or green more sharply as a result. Ruby optics are something we don’t recommend for binoculars. They are supposed to remove red light to create image clarity. This kind of coating is highly reflective, however. If you’re a bird watcher, ruby optics can really reduce brightness and ruin your experience.
Stick to fully multi coated lenses whenever possible.
Because of the way light passes through a convex lens, images are flipped upside down. Just hold up a magnifying glass to look at something far away and see for yourself. The world in the distance is flipped. The way this is corrected in binoculars is with prisms. The image becomes flipped again in the prism so that when the light hits your eye, it’s right side up.
Binoculars have one of two kinds of prisms. There are porro prism binoculars and a roof prism design. You’re unlikely to find many compact porro prism designs. These work by having the image hit a prism, reflect at a 90-degree angle, and then hit another prism. That makes them bigger and bulkier. Older binoculars were often made this way. One way to tell if it’s this kind is to look at the lenses. If the ocular lens where you put your eye lines up with the objective lens, they’re not porro prisms.
Roof prism binoculars are more streamlined and compact. They let in a little less light. They also have a narrower field of view. But they can offer crystal clear images. And they do it in a small space.
Just because your compact binocular is small doesn’t mean you want to carry them all the time. Invest in a pair with a strap if possible. You’ll be thankful to have something to hold them steady, just in case. More than one bird watcher has faced a broken lens when their binoculars slipped from their hand. A rugged magnesium chassis or rubber armor only goes so far.
The reason a compact binocular is so appealing is because they’re so small. You want that compact size and lightweight. But be wary of the sweet spot here. Too heavy and they’re hard to use in one hand. Too light and they come across as low quality. Usually somewhere between about 10 and 20 oz is ideal. Any more and it may get too clunky. Less and it can feel unsteady and like a toy in your hand.
For a pocket binocular you can expect a limited range of magnification factors. The standard is around 8 times magnification. There are some that offer 10 and 12 times as well. It often depends on what your specific needs are for the binoculars. Remember, the higher the magnification the lower the image quality and field of view tends to be. A good compact binocular can balance this out.
The aperture is the objective lens size. It’s listed in millimeters. When you look at the description of binoculars it’s usually written as something like 10X30. That is the magnification and the aperture size. In this case the magnification is 10x. The aperture is 30 mm. Optic quality really depends on the objective lens size. A pair of small binoculars perform best with a mid-range size. They need to be big enough for optimal light gathering. They should be made of some extra low dispersion glass to offer clarity.
A wider aperture allows more light to enter the binoculars. The higher the numbers mean brighter images even in low light conditions. The trade off is that this means you need larger objective lenses. As those get bigger, the binoculars get bigger and heavier. In most of our recommendations, the aperture size is fairly small. It has to be for these to be small binoculars. Small binoculars have small lenses, right? Once it gets too big, then you’re into full size binoculars. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they are harder to handle and carry around.
Most binoculars for outdoor enthusiasts need a balance.
The best rated compact binoculars need to be durable. These are often used one-handed and are more prone to bumps and falls. You need ones that can stand up to that. Roof prisms are a good start for durability. They break less easily than porro prisms. But the body itself needs to be tough.
Look for ones with rubber armor. Something that can absorb jolts while protecting the lenses. Lens covers can be helpful here as well. The body itself should have a quality construction. Avoid cheap plastics. And try to find ones that are waterproof and fogproof. If you’re using these in nature, they need to withstand the elements.
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