The best compact binoculars will combine a durable, yet lightweight casing with quality lenses. Some compact binoculars will also come with certain features that will make them easier and more convenient to use including fog-proofing, waterproofing, adjustable eyecups, and a wider field of view. They can also come with a few types of handy accessories that will make them more comfortable to use such as a neck strap or carry case.
Finding the right compact binoculars can take some serious research. There are so many different models on the market currently that finding exactly what you’re looking for can be a little overwhelming.
Fortunately, we’ve done all the hard work for you by researching the top-selling models, taking consumer feedback into consideration and learning about the features and power each pair of binoculars has to offer.
The list we’ve compiled includes some very versatile, easy to use, and highly adjustable models that will be an asset whether you’re hiking in the backcountry, birding, or scouting.
Each of these models has something unique to offer in terms of value, adjustability or ease of use. We’re confident that you’ll find the binoculars you’ve been searching for in our top five list of the best compact binoculars on the market.
If you’ve never owned binoculars before, then you’ll find our extensive compact binoculars buying guide very useful. It details the different magnification powers available while delving a little deeper into the type of features you should pay close attention to including eye relief, the field of view, lens coating, lens type, and much more.
We hope that our guide and these reviews will lead to you finding the type of binoculars that can totally change your birding, hiking, or hunting experience.
When you’re searching online for binoculars you’ll come across a wide variety of price ranges. Again, we feel that the guide will help you to determine the differences in price, whether one pair comes with higher magnification power, more features, or high-end prisms and multilayer lens coating.
But don’t let the price fool you. Pay close attention to what each model is designed for based on application. Some models perform better at night, while others will truly shine in brighter light conditions, making them a better choice for birding or scouting.
Ultimately, the price will be an important factor and can reflect the overall quality you can expect, but that doesn’t mean it should be the determining factor.
Nikon Compact Zoom Binoculars:
These zoom binoculars are equipped with multi-coated porro prism lenses, an ergonomic design with a rubber armor coating for improved grip, and zooming capabilities that allow you to capture every detail. These binoculars are perfect for birding, hiking, or hunting, but the fact that they’re not waterproof or fog-proof make them a poor choice in cold weather conditions.
Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Compact Folding Roof Prism Binoculars:
These binoculars feature a lightweight, compact design, roof prism lenses and multi-layer lens coating that provides a crystal-clear viewing experience. While they aren’t recommended for night viewing purposes, they do blow most compact binoculars out of the water when it comes to daylight viewing, image clarity, and sharpness.
Upland Optics Perception HD Compact Hunting Binoculars:
These are the ultimate binoculars for hunting or any other type of outdoor adventure. Packed with features and impeccable optic quality, these binoculars are a must-have for the hunter or birder.
Leica Compact Binoculars:
While a little on the pricey side, if adjustability and comfort are at the top of your list, then these binoculars are for you. Offering a sharp and crystal-clear viewing experience, these compact binoculars are perfect for day use, however, the fact that they’re not fog-proof or waterproof can be limiting for some users.
Zeiss Terra ED Compact Binocular:
Check out our top rated compact binoculars to find out why they scored so well with consumers and the pros. These versatile, powerful, lightweight binoculars are perfect for pretty much any type of outdoor activity, and their powerful magnification and innovative focus wheel design will quickly make them your go-to binoculars that you’ll take with you wherever you go.
The Terra ED compact binoculars by Zeiss feature a glass-reinforced polyamide chassis that works to keep the model’s weight down without compromising durability.
If you’ve ever used Zeiss binoculars before then you’re probably expecting these binoculars to be well-balanced and not prone to wobbling when used for an extended period of time. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll enjoy the ability to use these binoculars for protracted viewing without experiencing excessive fatigue in your forearms or hands.
With 8×25 magnification, these binoculars clearly outperform any compact binoculars in this price range.
They have also been hermetically sealed using nitrogen gas. While this is common with most models of roof prism binoculars on the market, it’s good to know that the manufacturer isn’t cutting any corners. These binoculars are both waterproof and fog-proof. They’re also protected against mold and fungal growth.
The lenses are protected with a hydrophobic coating which allows water to easily roll off the lenses.
The eyecups have solid, stiff turning action. Their rotation stiffness features a couple of intermediate level detents. Occasionally, it can be difficult to locate the detents if you need to adjust them on the fly. Additionally, the stiffness of the rotation allows you to get close enough for comfort. When extended, the eyecups will remain securely in place.
The eye relief is perfect for eyeglass wearers at eighteen millimeters. Allowing glasses wearers to see the full field of view.
The manufacturer has placed the diopter adjustment ring on the right barrel and right ahead of the eyecup. Although it doesn’t lock in place it’s stiff enough to hold the desired diopter setting.
The focus wheel is described as buttery smooth, without any slack or looseness when you’re changing the focus direction. While there isn’t a significant amount of wheel resistance, you won’t have any problem with the binoculars slipping out of focus.
You’ll also love the gearing ratio that moves from close focus to infinity in just a single revolution of the focus wheel. It provides a higher degree of focus that will allow you to catch every detail, and all without requiring excessive turning of the focus wheel in order to shift the focus between images.
These binoculars also use the Schmidt Pechan prism. This prism design is often used in higher-end roof prism binoculars. They also feature multiple layers of dielectric coating on the prisms, which enhances brightness and low light viewing.
It’s hard to find any drawbacks with the Terra compact binoculars. They handle above average in most light conditions, although we did feel that their ability to handle glare was a little below average.
When it comes to the Zeiss Terra compact binoculars, there were a number of features we felt scored higher than any other pair of compact binoculars at or above their price range. Overall, these binoculars are incredibly versatile, making them a good choice for day and night viewing, birding, scouting, hiking, and camping. These binoculars are truly solid performers and are without a doubt the best compact binoculars on the market.
The Leica roof prism 10×25 compact binoculars are as powerful as they are small. Weighing in at less than nine ounces, and featuring powerful 10x magnification, the rugged metal housing equipped with rubberized armor make this pair the best choice for any type of outdoor adventure.
The innovative double hinge design allows you to totally collapse the binoculars for a more compact package that will easily fit in your pocket.
The twenty-five-millimeter diameter roof prism objective lenses are combined with the 10x magnification with an exit pupil of 2.5 millimeters. This means that the binoculars will perform the best in good light conditions. With that said, the high-quality optics also feature the patented multi-layer HDC lens coatings on the six lens elements found in each barrel. The lenses offer excellent light transmission and ensure that the max amount of light is able to enter for ultimate viewing during the day. While we wouldn’t recommend them for nighttime use, they’re still considered a top performer even at dawn or dusk.
The focus wheel allows for quick and smooth adjustments. The eye relief is adequate at 14.6 millimeters, while the eyepieces and the adjustable cups work well even if you wear glasses. To adjust, simply push down the cups to achieve a better field of view.
The binoculars offer fast, smooth adjustments, and really stand out due to their brightness and clarity.
The lightweight yet durable double hinge design makes these compact binoculars very versatile and super portable.
The multicoating on the lenses improves both color fidelity and contrast.
These binoculars are highly adjustable, allowing you to quickly focus or make adjustments to the eyecups for a more comfortable viewing experience.
These binoculars are not fog-proof or waterproof, however, the manufacturer states they’re water spray resistant, which means they can handle a light rain.
The Leica compact binoculars are lightweight, comfortable to use, and a good deal for the price. They aren’t packed with features and are considered solid performers during the day. One of the biggest selling points for these binoculars is the fact that they are incredibly easy to adjust and comfortable to use.
The fact that they can only handle light rain conditions is somewhat limiting in terms of where you can use them, but for basic activities such as scouting, these binoculars are a great choice. They also received plenty of positive feedback from consumers who were looking for a reliable, durable pair of compact binoculars that were reasonably priced.
The Perception HD compact binoculars by Upland Optics features fully multi-coated forty-two-millimeter lenses, a single hinge body design, and extra-low dispersion glass.
These binoculars are equipped with roof prism lenses. The large single hinge design provides plenty of support to the barrels, minimizing the chance of misalignment, while also offering improved durability.
The body is covered with a rubber coating that wraps around most of the exterior surface. Located on the sides of each barrel you’ll also notice a dimpled design and a couple of thumb indents, which adds a fine texture to the surface to help improve the user’s grip.
The binoculars are also fog-proof and waterproof. Nitrogen has been pumped into the interior for fog protection. The addition of this dry gas replaces the air inside the chambers, preventing the glass surfaces from fogging up.
As far as the interpupillary range on these binoculars goes, the closest the user can place the eyecups is around five and a half centimeters to a maximum of seven and a half centimeters. This is pretty standard for this size of roof prism binoculars.
The binoculars are also tripod adaptable. The small cap located on the front face of the hinge can be removed, allowing you to screw on a tripod adapter. This is definitely a feature the hunter can appreciate.
These binoculars also use twist-up eyecups instead of the folding rubber ones, which is a big plus for most users. The main eyepiece housing and the cups are made from metal, which is essential considering this is the part of binoculars that take most of the wear and tear.
These 10x magnification binoculars have a 17.2-millimeter eye relief which should be more than enough to accommodate most eyeglass wearers.
The central hinge has a solid feel and offers just the right amount of stiffness so you can maintain the desired interpupillary distance setting.
The twisting mechanism found on the eyecups features the perfect amount of resistance, enabling the user to position them perfectly to suit their needs. There’s one fixed stop located halfway between the extremes of retracted and fully extended.
The diopter allows you to adjust the left side of the binoculars independently of the right, so you can calibrate the binoculars to allow for any difference in vision.
The large focus wheel is centrally located and offers a good level of grip.
The anti-reflection coating is designed to improve clarity in a wide range of lighting conditions. The lenses also feature mirror coatings which offer the best level of reflectivity. The phase correcting coating eliminates the phase shift issue that roof prisms are known for.
The focal mechanism requires more turning to go from one extreme to another, which can be more time-consuming. The forty-two-millimeter objective lenses are not placed deep enough from the ends of the barrel. The fact that these binoculars have such a short body means they offer less lens protection.
These Upland Optics feature image clarity that you’d normally only find on high-end traditional sized binoculars. Needless to say, we were impressed with their performance and highly recommend them for scouting, birding, hiking, or any other type of outdoor event. While they’re a little on the pricey side, they’re a great investment if you’re looking for a pair of reliable binoculars that can handle a wider range of light and weather conditions.
These Bushnell compact binoculars offer 10x magnification, ED prime glass, BAK4 prisms and fully multi-coated optics that deliver the ultimate high-definition viewing experience. It also features a double hinge design that provides an even smaller profile. The binoculars are also treated with Rain Guard water repellent and they’re fully waterproof.
The impressive HD clarity and high-quality optics make these binoculars a great choice for a wide range of applications including birding, hunting, camping, hiking, and sporting events.
These binoculars also come with a microfiber lens cloth, neck strap, carry case, and binocular harness.
The anti-reflective coating ensures you enjoy the best quality images even in low light conditions.
Designed using a lightweight magnesium chassis with soft touch grips, these binoculars are easy to use even when wearing gloves.
The extra-low dispersion lenses have been multicoated for improved performance for any type of light conditions. They feature enhanced revolution and impressive color rendition, outstanding contrast, and minimal color fringing.
The manufacturer has applied anti-reflective coating to improve contrast and brightness, and ultra-wide band coating to improve light transmission. The Rain Guard coating minimizes light dispersion caused by rain, mist, and fog.
The eyecups are comfortable and the focusing is smooth.
Because the binoculars are both fog-proof and waterproof they offer much-needed versatility that’s perfect for the avid outdoorsman.
While these binoculars aren’t able to perform as well in low light conditions as traditional binoculars they do perform above and beyond during the day.
We felt that the double hinge design was a little too stiff. Additionally, the included neck strap is totally useless. It’s bulky and made from imitation leather and has a cheap look a feel that will definitely make you want to upgrade. The carry case is also nothing to write home about, but considering most users will simply slide the binoculars in their pocket this wasn’t a big issue.
Because the binoculars are 10×25, you’ll find that the exit pupil is only 2.5 millimeters. These binoculars should only be used during the day and aren’t considered a good choice for star gazing.
The interpupillary distance is incredibly sensitive at first and can be difficult to get right, so you’ll need to slowly and carefully fold the barrels down to your eyes until the field of view appears crisp, otherwise, you’ll have issues with chromatic aberration.
For the price and size, the Bushnell Legend compact binoculars are a great choice. They’re very light, sharp, and perfect for someone who enjoys hiking and scouting. They can be adjusted very easily and offer a crisp view even from hundreds of yards out. We were definitely impressed with their performance and would recommend them to anyone who’s on a tight budget and in search of a reliable lightweight pair of binoculars that work well in any type of weather.
Offering 8x magnification, the Nikon compact zoom binoculars are able to scan a wider area using a lower magnification and a wider field of view. Once you spot your target you can zoom in to observe every detail.
The body of the binoculars is coated in a thin rubber armoring that’s designed to protect the optics from damage and also helps to improve the user’s grip.
The twist-up eyecups are made from a tough plastic encased in a thin rubber coating. The lenses feature a diameter of eleven millimeters with an external diameter of thirty-seven millimeters, which is much smaller than what you’ll find on a standard pair of binoculars.
For eye relief, the binoculars offer thirteen millimeters, which can be a drawback for eyeglass wearers.
The small focusing wheel is nicely grooved and partially hidden within the body. However, in colder weather, the wheel can be tricky to adjust if you’re wearing thick gloves.
The zoom adjustment dial is easy to use, simply push it forward and backward to zoom out or in. We felt it was well positioned and the zoom level adjustments can be made without having to take the binoculars away from your eyes.
The binoculars also come with a well-made neck strap, carry case, lens covers, and a lens cleaning cloth to make cleaning easier.
The Porro prisms offer total internal reflection and don’t require the same type of coatings that roof prisms do in order to achieve image clarity. This is why you’ll enjoy a better performance from affordably priced Porro prism binoculars compared to roof prism binoculars in the same price range. In order to minimize reflection, anti-reflective coatings have been applied. This works to reduce the amount of light that passes through the lenses. These lenses feature multiple layers of coating to increase light transmission for better low-light performance.
At 8x magnification, you’ll be impressed by the minimal softening of the image. Overall, the image quality is excellent.
Unfortunately, the binoculars are not waterproof or fog-proof.
The minimal eye relief size makes these binoculars a poor choice for glasses wearers. You also won’t find any fixed intermediate stops on the twist up mechanism, making it tricky to keep your binoculars in the desired position.
Overall, we felt that the binoculars offered better than average image quality. Like most pairs of compact binoculars, these are perfect for hiking, camping, or hunting, but the fact that they’re neither waterproof or fog-proof is a drawback for some consumers. The 8-24x zoom works surprisingly well, allowing you to catch even the smallest details making these binoculars a great choice for the avid birder. For the price, you’ll get a decent pair of binoculars that perform well in the right type of weather conditions. Additionally, the fact that they come equipped with high-quality Porro prisms definitely makes them worth a second look.
Compact Binoculars Buying Guide
The best compact binoculars should be small enough that they can easily fit in your pocket. What makes them so compact compared to larger traditional binoculars is the use of smaller front lenses. The second binocular number describes the size of these smaller lenses. Basically, any model with a second number lower than twenty-six is considered a compact pair of binoculars. There are some models of compact binoculars that have a second number that’s higher than twenty-six, usually the twenty-eights, however, this size really pushes the limits as far as describing them as compact.
A true pair of compact binoculars can fold up into a small bundle and will allow you to just slip them in your pocket or bag, hit the road and go. They’re perfect for hiking, inner tubing downriver, skiing, kayaking, or camping. Really, there are plenty of outdoor situations where these binoculars would be the perfect fit. They’re designed with convenience in mind and they’re truly handy to have around. However, this style of binoculars does have its disadvantages, which we’ll discuss later on.
This extensive buying guide is designed to help you to not only learn more about your options and the best features, but it can also give you a better idea of the style and qualities to look for when you’re ready to begin your search for the right pair of compact binoculars for you.
It’s all About Style
Roof prism: This style of binoculars features straight barrels where the front lenses and eyepieces are designed in a straight line. The style allows for a slimmer profile. Keep in mind that you must check out the specs to determine if a pair of roof prism binoculars feature phase corrected roof prisms. This type of roof prism offers the best visuals, however, with this type of quality you can expect a higher price tag.
Basic roof prism binoculars can be found for as little as twenty dollars, but to get a decent pair with phase correction prisms, you can expect to pay a couple hundred dollars.
Porro prism: Binoculars, where the lenses and eyepieces are not designed in a straight line, are called Porro prism models. With traditional sized Porro prism binoculars, the lenses tend to sit out further than the eyepieces. But with compact binoculars, reverse Porro prisms are used. Compact Porro prism binoculars are equipped with eyepieces that stick out further than the lenses, resulting in a very distinctive shape. Reverse Porro prism binoculars will also have a chunkier feel and aren’t as sleek as roof prism models. This means handling them can feel a little awkward, but they do come with their own unique advantages. For one, they’re considered more efficient than roof prism binoculars and many pros claim that you’ll get a higher standard of quality.
Advantages and Drawbacks of Compact Binocular
What these smaller binoculars lack in size they make up in optical correction, especially the higher priced models. The smaller lenses are less expensive and easier to produce to a higher standard, compared to larger lenses. This results in a set of premium binoculars that offer better optics than their larger counterparts, in terms of freedom from flaring and barrel distortion, in addition to improved sharpness.
Now, for some of the drawbacks.
To start, these binoculars don’t offer the resolution traditional binoculars do because the smaller front lenses are unable to offer the same type of performance or resolution that larger lenses can. This simply involves the law of optics in regards to the ability to separate fine detail and lens size. Basically, compared to traditional binoculars, compact models will not appear quite as crisp or sharp.
However, lens quality can be just as important as lens size when it comes to clarity and sharpness. In fact, higher priced compact binoculars that come equipped with high-grade lenses can easily outperform a cheap pair of full-sized binoculars.
Eye fatigue is another shortcoming of compact binoculars, regardless of the quality. Smaller lenses produce smaller exit pupils, or beams of light that exit the eyepiece and enter the eye. Because of this, the user must be more precise when they center the eyepieces over their eyes. With some models, if the user places the binoculars just a little off center, it can result in significant eye strain. For this reason, it’s crucial that the user sets the interpupillary adjustment carefully. If the binoculars are not opened wide enough or they’re opened too wide, it can produce the same effects that can be experienced if the eyepieces have not been carefully centered.
Image brightness is a common complaint from compact binocular users. While it’s true that the smaller lenses don’t take in as much light, image brightness can be overemphasized. However, more experienced binocular users claim that compact binoculars can offer the same, and in some cases better, image brightness. The only exception is low light conditions, in which case, traditional binoculars are recommended.
Folding Designs: During your search for the right pair of compact binoculars, you’ll also come across different folding design options. The double hinge design is probably the most popular. This style allows the user to fold the binoculars inward against the center and third section of the body. This can save plenty of space when folded together, which allows the binoculars to fit into even your smallest pocket. However, this design can be slow and awkward to open because you must align the barrels. This folding style is also more likely to get bumped out of position if you prefer to wear your binoculars around your neck.
The traditional single style fold that’s often found on large binoculars doesn’t allow you to fold the set together as compactly, but they can be opened more easily and faster. They’re also less prone to being bumped out of alignment.
Eye relief: If you wear glasses, you’ll want to check out the eye relief in the binocular specs. Eye relief refers to the distance the eyes can be from the eyepieces and still be able to enjoy a full field of view. This is a very important spec for those consumers who wear glasses because glasses don’t typically allow users to get their eyes very close to the eyepieces, compared to users who don’t wear glasses. It’s often more difficult to find a pair of compact binoculars that offer adequate eye relief than it is to find a full-size pair. This is because compact binoculars feature a smaller body and eyepiece housing. Longer eye relief designs are more often found on full-size binoculars that offer larger housing. Typically, you’ll need around fourteen millimeters of eye relief to see enough of the field of view. Keep in mind the actual amount tends to vary from person to person.
Field of view: Despite what most people initially think regarding the field of view, the size of the front lens will not affect the width of the landscape. Essentially, the field of view is a matter of eyepiece design and magnification, not front lens size. Compact models can offer the same field of view as traditional binoculars with larger front lenses. However, it’s also true that it’s rare to find a wide angle pair of compact binoculars. Yet you can still enjoy an excellent field of view with compact models. If you’re in doubt, check the specs before you buy.
Waterproof binoculars: If you plan on using your binoculars in wet or cold weather, or any other type of extreme weather condition, make sure the model you choose is waterproof. Waterproofing will not only protect the binoculars against moisture, but it will also protect them against changes in temperature, dirt, debris, and dust. Again, make sure the binoculars are waterproof, not just weatherproof. Binoculars that are waterproof will always list this feature in the product description. The good news is, most models priced over a hundred dollars will offer this feature.
Focusing: A good pair of binoculars will allow you to easily focus using just one finger. If you plan on using binoculars in extreme weather conditions then you’ll need a pair that comes with an easy to turn focusing knob. Binoculars equipped with a tiny focusing knob aren’t exactly suitable for use in extreme weather conditions.
Armoring: This feature makes binoculars quieter, should you drop them or in the event, they get banged against an object, and it also protects the binoculars against minor damage. Armoring will also make them more comfortable to hold, allowing you to get a better grip on them. However, this feature does not make binoculars water or weatherproof. That’s more a matter of internal seals opposed to exterior covering.
This is probably the one aspect that will slightly suffer from a smaller design. A user can find themselves limited to using a much lower magnification than they’re used to. If you’re looking for high magnification binoculars that offer a narrow field of view, then you may need to opt for a full-size pair of binoculars.
Less than eight times magnification: Models with a low magnification between four and eight times that have a wide field of view are considered the best option for compact models. The lower zoom means that it’s very easy to keep the binoculars steady and maintain excellent focus.
Ten times magnification: Binoculars with a magnification of ten and up should be the max level to consider. In general, the higher the magnification, the more susceptible the image is to even the smallest movement.
Are Compact Binoculars Right for You?
These binoculars can offer something that full-sized models cannot and that’s portability. Their lightweight, smaller design means they can be easily packed into a backpack, purse, or your pocket. Many avid binocular users own a pair of compact binoculars and keep them in their car or with their gear at all times, which is something you can’t do with a pair of heavy, bulky full-size binoculars.
Because each type of prism offers both pros and cons, it’s important to note that there are certain situations in which one will do a better job than the other. From stargazing and hiking to birding or hunting, there’s a specific prism style that will provide better viewing quality.
Birdwatching is a hobby that’s pretty much entirely centralized around binoculars and without a good pair, it’s not nearly as enjoyable. A passionate birder will rely on a high-quality pair of binoculars for this hobby, which is why most will opt for roof prism binoculars. The increased contrast and sharpness produces better image quality. However, if you’re an amateur birder, you can definitely make do with a pair of mid-range Porro prism binoculars.
Fishing and Hunting with Compact Binoculars
When you’re fishing or hunting, binoculars can be a useful tool to have on hand. In these situations, roof prism binoculars are the best choice. Their high quality is always a plus, but for these outdoor activities, their design is what makes them more useful. This style of binocular is more rugged and not as susceptible to damage like a pair of Porro prism binoculars would be. Roof prism models are also easier to pack up and transport, which is definitely an advantage when you’re hunting, hiking, or fishing.
Stargazing and General Night use
Binoculars can be just as useful as a telescope when it comes to gazing at the stars at night. Of course, they can’t see quite as far as a telescope, but they’re still able to produce clear images of planets and stars. For this hobby, we recommend Porro prism binoculars. Porro prism lenses will lose little to no light during the passage of light through the prism. The images it produces are usually very bright, which is crucial when you’re looking at the night sky.
Final Thoughts on Compact Binoculars
Compact binoculars can come in handy for a number of applications, if you know what you’re looking for. And even if you prefer using full-size binoculars, compact models can be used as your backup pair because they’re small enough to stash in your bag, glove compartment, or backpack.
They’re affordably priced and offer many of the same qualities and features that their larger counterparts do. While in terms of magnification you may have to make some sacrifices, their lightweight, highly portable design, and versatility can offer plenty of advantages to your outdoor adventure.
Whether you’re birding or scouting, hiking, or just taking in the scenery, there’s a model out there that can offer the type of power and durability you’ve been looking for in a pair of lightweight binoculars that you can take with you wherever you go.
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