Looking to upgrade your binoculars? Nice! In this post, you'll learn about the best binoculars under 500 bucks. You'll learn the 6 factors to consider, see our two top picks and see the seven other runners-up.
More reading: Must Have Bird Watching Gear
9 Best Binoculars Under $500: Guide to Premium Birding Binoculars
It is the golden days of birders when it comes to buying binoculars. Technology has made such amazing advances that you can easily pick up a great pair of binoculars (aka bins) that won’t cost an arm and a leg.
We’ll even teach you some birders slang to make it fun so if you’re a beginner, when you head out you will sound like a pro with all the right vocabulary and all the right gear.
In this guide, we’ll provide a ‘Binoculars for Dummies’ style section so you can have a quick read of all the major aspects of great binoculars to make an informed decision and some reviews to help you along your way.
This post will have 3 sections:
- Top Picks: Best Overall and Best Compact Binoculars
- Buyers Guide to the Best Binoculars Under $500
- 7 Best Binoculars Under $500: Runner-up Reviews
So, without further ado, let’s get started with our Top Picks.
Nikon 7576 Monarch 5 – is the perfect package. Cutting edge lens technology and lightweight, these are extremely popular among birders the world over.
Their extra-low dispersion glass lenses correct all aberrations across the entire light spectrum which provides you clearer, brighter images no matter what the contrast or light strength.
Nearly a pound lighter than before, it helps sooth neck pain while the easy to use turn-and-slide rubber eye-cups for easy adjustment ensure comfortable viewing for every person, whether you wear glasses or not.
It’s sturdy rubber armored body is suitable for all weather conditions, can handle a few knocks and drops while the non-slip grip is handy in even the wettest of conditions, for example if you accidentally drop them in a stream or puddle.
Completely waterproof and fog proof, it goes a step beyond other binoculars its nitrogen filled, O-ring sealed body completely keeps out dust, grit and any moisture which will last a lifetime.
Occer 12×25 Compact Binoculars – with nearly twice the field of view of other smaller compact binoculars at 1,000 yards, you can really enjoy your birding experience and be able to see every feather.
Shockproof, waterproof, fog proof, these are versatile enough to accompany you anywhere and durable enough to last for many years to come.
BAK4 prism system allows 99% maximum light transmittance that reduces eyestrain and delivers crisp, clear images all in one lightweight package weighing in at a tiny 0.65lb.
Small enough to fit into your pocket or any sized hand, they are great for the entire family and kids as well so you can all get out there together and enjoy nature.
More reading: How to choose the best hummingbird feeder
Buyers Guide to Premium Binoculars: 6 Factors
This is a quick guide to provide some information so you can choose the right binoculars for you. Because like everyone, unless you’re a binocular expert it’s easy to get confused with all the numbers and dials and lingo.
All 6 major components will be covered: Magnification, Field of View (FOV), Stability, Aperture, Eye Relief and Weight so let’s go!
As a birder this is a biggy. You want to know that you will be able to see the birds clearly to accurately identify them, right? Especially if it is some rare beauty on your lifer list (a list of birds a birder hopes to see in their lifetime).
First thing you need to know is that the magnification has nothing to do with the size of the bin’s, it is the how close it will zoom in.
An 8x or 10x magnification is perfect for birding and any higher than that, you start to get unclear images due to ‘shake’ as it magnifies any slight movement your upper body makes… yes this includes trembles of excitement when you see a lifer.
Basically, 8x means that the object appears eight times closer than you would see it with the naked eye. 10x is ten times closer and so on. These are easily represented on the central focus dial of your binoculars. For example: 8×42, 10x 50 etc.
2. Field of View (FOV)
This is crucial when searching at longer distances. As you zoom in, the FOV is decreased and you lose sight of things around it.
As birders, you want a wider FOV so when zoomed in you stand a chance of seeing the bird you are wanting to identify.
A narrower FOV means you are having to search for the bird and may never find it because as well know… birds fly and some are quite speedy which means you could be standing there looking when it has already flown away and your narrowed FOV didn’t allow you to notice.
The stability of an image comes into effect the more you are zoomed in on an image.
The higher the magnification, the more unstable it becomes while body makes slight natural movements like breathing, adjusting your footing, shifting weight or even bracing against wind. All of these things you do naturally so it’s very hard to realize but it will transfer through into a shake in your image.
Any magnification over 15x it is wise to mount them on a tripod to hold them still, remove the chances of shake or blur and obtain a clearer image.
Alright, now you see the big lens at the front of your binoculars? This is the objective lens. It is the other number on the central focus dial with the magnification. So, 8×42 means 8x magnification, 42 is the diameter of the objective lens.
The larger the number = brighter the image. This is because the lens gathers more light. It also means that as a general rule, the larger and heavier your binoculars will be.
5. Eye Relief
The other lens on your binoculars (the smaller one at the back that you look through) is called the ocular lens. This is the one that does all the magnification. Eye Relief is the distance your eye is from that lens when viewing something.
For comfortable viewing, you want your eye to have a clear, crisp image perfectly untainted by blurry edges, seeing your own eyelids or shadowing.
To achieve this, think of Goldilocks. It has to be ‘just right’, not too close, not too far, but just right for the best image.
This is achieved by the eye piece which can be twisted to extend out giving your eye more room. If you wear glasses then you do not need to extend the eye piece.
If it is too close you will be able to see your bottom eyelid forming a crescent moon shape, and if it is too far away you will see blurring around the outer edge with it increasing the further it is away from your eye.
Bear in mind that after a few hours of bird watching, especially if you are hiking, binoculars can be a real pain in the neck… literally.
If you choose a larger style of binocular, then purchasing a binocular harness will shift the weight and take the pressure off your neck and move it to your back and shoulders so your trip is a lot more comfortable.
1.Vortex Optics Viper HD Roof Prism Binoculars – sporting an advanced optical system and lens coating that provide stunning image quality through top tier light transmission.
O-ring sealed to withstand the toughest weather conditions they are waterproof and fog proof no matter what situation you find yourself in.
Rubber-armed construction plus an Armortek protective coating means they are durable and will handle anything you could experience during a day out bird-watching.
Even if you drop them after seeing a crippler (a mega tick off your life list that is so overwhelming it leaves you emotionally crippled with joy).
Accessories included: Rainguard eyepiece cover, lens caps, neck strap and deluxe carry case.
Exceptionally durable, waterproof, multi-layer prism coating that reflects 99% of light to your eyes affords you a brighter and clearer image.
Available in a variety of sizes, the argon purging makes it waterproof and adds thermal stability so you can use them year-round no matter what the weather conditions are.
Better color contrast and higher resolution are provided via phase corrected prisms that produce better contrast.
Accessories included: carry case, neck strap, user manual and lens cap covers.
Lightweight magnesium chassis provides 10x magnification for ultimate viewing.
Ultra-wide field of view and a long eye relief means you are sure to never miss a sighting and always make for a good birding trip.
Waterproof, fog proof, and durable, they also have quality ED Prime glass with Ultra-Wide Band coatings covering all color spectrums which means ultimate viewings. Also includes a lifetime warranty.
These great little binoculars are perfect for a day out birding as they include close focus combined with a wide field of view and good magnification.
Well managed light transmission is provided through multi-coated lenses.
These are even adapted for a tripod to ensure an exceptionally clear focused image.
Accessories included: carry case, lens caps, eyepiece rain guard, neck strap, cleaning cloth and instruction manual.
Strong 10x magnification combined with a wide field of view, these binoculars were built with birding in mind.
Quality optics, lenses for great crystal clear images and a durable rubber armor frame means you don’t have to worry, they can withstand anything nature can throw at you. They’re even shock proof.
Accessories included: carry case, eye piece and lens protective covers, cleaning cloth and neck strap.
And here are two premium compact binoculars:
These come with night vision – yes you read that right, there’s a little night vision in there so you can capture those end-of-day birds as they make an appearance around dusk to feed with excellent clarity.
Packing a whopping 10x magnification, they easily fit into the palm of your hand so who said good things didn’t come in small packages.
Waterproof packages at that with top of the line optics and field of view to ensure you never miss anything.
This is one little powerhouse binocular with high quality lenses, extra wide field of view, stunning HD clarity, anti-slip armoring, water-resistance and fog proof.
Great for kids, as a backup pair in your pocket or everyday use, no matter what you need they’re good enough to rise to the challenge.
Accessories include: carry pouch, cleaning cloth and user manual.
Keep reading: How to identify birds by “seeing” their songs
And there you have it: 9 premium binoculars under $500. Now that you know all about binoculars, all sizes, strengths and structures, you can go forth and pick a great pair of bins for your next birding trip.
Whether it be your first pair, a backup pair or just upgrading, they will be your buddies in the field so get those lists out and start ticking off those lifers.
What features are you looking for in your next pair? Have a tip or question about choosing binoculars? Join me in the comments!
Drew Haines is an animal enthusiast and travel writer. She loves to share her passion through her writing. She graduated high school at sixteen and started her own business, Everywhere Wild Media. And she runs Everywhere Wild and JustBirding. She also guest blogs on Storyteller.Travel
She lived in Ecuador for 6 years and explored the Galapagos Islands. Currently based in N.S., Canada.