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Best Budget Binoculars for Bird Watching

As an avid birder on a budget, I know the struggles of finding quality binoculars that don’t cost an arm and a leg. I’ve tried countless pairs over the years before discovering that today’s budget optics can deliver stunningly crisp and bright images without spending thousands.

In this post, I’ll share how to choose binoculars based on your needs and go over my top-rated picks for birding binoculars under $500. I field-tested these myself, comparing image quality, comfort, and price to recommend the best values. Whether you’re a novice getting started or looking to upgrade, you’ll discover binoculars that make bird watching more enjoyable without breaking the bank. Note that some links below are affiliate links that provide a small commission to the site should you use them at no additional cost to you.

How to Choose Binoculars for Bird Watching

Choosing the right binoculars can make birding adventures more enjoyable and rewarding. Here are key factors to consider for bird watching:

  • Magnification – 7x or 8x is ideal. Higher magnifications are harder to hold steady. (Our article about the meanings of numbers on binoculars is here)
  • Objective lens size – Larger diameters like 42mm or 50mm provide brighter images in low light.
  • Field of view – Wider is better to locate birds and track movement. Look for 340 feet or more at 1000 yards.
  • Eye relief – 15mm or more will be comfortable for eyeglass wearers.
  • Prisms – Bak4 prisms offer sharper images than BK7 or roof prisms.
  • Lens coatings – Fully multi-coated lenses improve light transmission and clarity.
  • Waterproof/fogproof – Allows using the binoculars in all weather conditions.
  • Close focus – 6 feet or less lets you view small birds up close.
  • Weight – Lighter binoculars around 20 oz are better for extended use.
  • Warranty – Look for at least a 10 year manufacturer’s warranty.

Durability and budget are other important considerations. Try holding the binoculars to your eyes and focusing on objects at different distances. The right pair becomes an extension of your body. Don’t forget to test the binoculars in low light conditions too.

best binoculars for birding

Top Budget Binoculars Under $50

The cheapest binoculars usually have poor image quality and aren’t worth the money. But if $50 is your maximum budget, these picks offer decent optics:

Celestron UpClose G2 8×40

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Our top pick under $50. Multi-coated lenses and BaK-4 prisms provide good light transmission and resolution. Rubber armor makes them shockproof and easy to grip. The 8x magnification and 40mm objective lens balance portability with light gathering.

Pros
Multi-coated lenses and BaK-4 prisms for good light transmission and resolution.
Rubber armor for shockproofing and easy grip.
8x magnification and 40mm objective lens.
Cons
Lower quality components (prisms, lens coatings, eyepieces).
Housing may be less robust and lack waterproofing.

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Bushnell Falcon 7×35

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Similar price as the Celestrons. More compact 7x magnification makes them a bit lighter. BK-7 prisms and inferior lens coatings mean image quality isn’t as sharp.

Pros
Compact size with 7x magnification for lighter weight.
Cons
Budget lens coatings and BK-7 prisms result in less sharp image quality.
Housing may be less robust and lack waterproofing.

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The best cheap binoculars make tradeoffs between cost, optics, and durability. Key components like the prisms, lens coatings, and eyepieces are of lower quality. The housing may be less robust and lack proper waterproofing.

For casual use in good light, these picks work fine. But for challenging conditions like a dark forest canopy, expect lower image quality. Save up for our $100-150 picks if possible for a better experience.

Trying before buying is advised to check if the field of view, eye relief, and focus knob meet your needs. Within this budget, the Celestron UpClose G2 is your best bet.

Best Budget Binoculars Under $100

Spending just over $50 starts getting you better quality optics. Our top picks under $100 are:

Nikon Aculon 8×42

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Our favorite in this range. The aspherical multi-coated lenses made from Eco-Glass provide excellent light transmission and sharpness across the entire field of view. Turn-and-slide rubber eyecups make them comfortable during prolonged viewing.

Pros
Aspherical multi-coated lenses made from Eco-Glass.
Comfortable turn-and-slide rubber eyecups for prolonged viewing.
Cons
Potentially higher price compared to other options in this range.

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Celestron Outland X 8×42

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A more affordable option around $60. Still offers multi-coated optics for decent clarity. Nitrogen purged and O-ring sealed to make them completely waterproof and fogproof. A great value if you’ll expose them to the elements.

Pros
Multi-coated optics for decent clarity.
Nitrogen purged and O-ring sealed, waterproof and fogproof.
Great value
Cons
Potentially bulkier or heavier compared to other models in this range.

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Once you move above $50, you start getting better optical components like high-index BK-7 prisms and lens coatings to improve light gathering and image brightness. The chassis are more durable and commonly waterproof.

The Nikon Aculons have the edge in optics with their aspherical lenses. But if you’ll be out in all weather, save $30-40 and get the ultra-rugged Celestron Outland X.Before buying, check if the close focus meets your needs. Also, try the focus wheel and confirm the eyecups are comfortable. For occasional backyard birding, our sub-$100 picks hit a great balance of performance and value.

Best Budget Binoculars Under $150

In the $150 price range, you start getting excellent optics perfect for birding:

Celestron Nature DX 8×42

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Our top pick under $150. Features quality BaK-4 prisms and fully multi-coated lenses for great light transmission and image sharpness across the entire field of view. Waterproof and fogproof.

Pros
BaK-4 prisms and fully multi-coated lenses for excellent light transmission and image sharpness.
Waterproof and fogproof, suitable for various weather conditions.
Cons
More expensive options for this list.

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Bushnell Trophy Binoculars

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Very similar to the Celestron’s with BaK-4 prisms and multi-coatings. Bushnell offers a bulletproof lifetime warranty which adds peace of mind. Often $20-30 cheaper than the Celestrons.

Pros
Quality prisms and multi-coatings
Bushnell offers a bulletproof lifetime warranty.
Cons
A bit heavy

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Spending $150 gets you better quality prisms like BaK-4 or phase coated roof prisms. Fully multi-coated lenses become standard for maximizing light transmission. Chassis are nitrogen purged and O-ring sealed for waterproof/fogproof protection.

The Celestron Nature DX and Bushnell Trophy are excellent choices that deliver stunningly bright, crisp images perfect for bird watching. The Celestron’s have a slight edge in image quality. But the Bushnell’s lower price and outstanding “no questions asked” warranty make them worth considering if you’re hard on your optics.

Be sure to test the close focus and try them in low light. If your budget allows, I recommend going up to the $200 Nikon ProStaff 7S next. But you can’t go wrong with the top $150 picks for occasional backyard birding.

Best Budget Binoculars Under $200

Our top two choices for birding binoculars under $200 are:

Nikon ProStaff 7S 8×42

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Our favorite in this price range. Features phase corrected roof prisms and Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass for stunning image quality with accurate color reproduction. Fully multi-coated lenses. Durable waterproof/fogproof polycarbonate frame.

Pros
Phase-corrected roof prisms and Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass.
Fully multi-coated lenses.
Durable waterproof/fogproof polycarbonate frame.
Cons
Adjustment knob can be difficult to move

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Celestron Nature DX ED 8×42

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Upgraded version of the standard Nature DX with ED glass to virtually eliminate color fringing. Along with BaK-4 prisms and multi-coatings, it delivers crystal clear and vivid views perfect for bird watching. A great value ED glass binocular.

Pros
Upgraded version with ED glass to virtually eliminate color fringing.
BaK-4 prisms and multi-coatings
Cons
Not as good for low-light situations

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Once your budget hits $200, you unlock excellent optics like ED glass and high end prism coatings that take clarity, sharpness, and color fidelity to the next level. Ergonomics get an upgrade too with better chassis materials and waterproofing.

The Nikon ProStaff 7S is our top pick with its advanced ED glass and dielectric coated roof prisms. But the Celestron Nature DX ED gives you similar optics for $50-75 less if you’re watching your wallet.Be sure to test the image quality in challenging lighting and confirm a wide enough field of view and short close focus. Investing $200 gets you binoculars that will enhance your birding experience for years.

Best Budget Binoculars Under $500

In the $500 price range, you get pro-level optics perfect for the passionate birder:

Nikon Monarch 7 8×42

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Our top choice under $500. Wide 6.5° field of view makes tracking birds easy. ED glass delivers stunning sharpness and color accuracy. Dielectric prism coatings maximize brightness. 20.8 oz weight is comfortable for all-day carry.

Pros
Wide 6.5° field of view
ED glass for stunning sharpness and color accuracy.
Dielectric prism coatings
Comfortable 20.8 oz weight for all-day carry.
Cons
Lens separation adjustment is limited

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Vortex Viper HD 8×42

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A close second to the Monarch 7. It also features ED glass and dielectric coatings for amazing image clarity and low light performance. Totally waterproof and fogproof. Vortex’s excellent warranty provides peace of mind.

Pros
ED glass and dielectric coatings for amazing image clarity and low light performance.
Waterproof and fogproof.
Excellent Vortex warranty.
Cons
Heavy compared to other options

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Nikon Monarch 5 8×42

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Nikon quality at a lower price point. You still get ED glass and dielectric coatings for great optics. Weighs just 18.6 oz for comfortable portability—a top value.

Pros
Lower price point.
ED glass and dielectric coatings for great optics.
Lightweight at 18.6 oz for comfortable portability.
Cons
Close focus range less than optimal
Field of view less than optimal

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Once you pass $300, you unlock professional quality ED glass and specialized prism coatings that take image quality to another level. The chassis and housing get an upgrade too for ruggedness.

The Nikon Monarch 7 is our favorite for their best-in-class optics and wide field of view. But the Vortex Viper HD is nearly as good if you want to save $100. For Nikon on a budget, check out the Monarch 5.

You can’t go wrong with any of our sub-$500 picks. Be sure to test the image quality in low light scenarios before deciding. Then just pick the pair that feels best in your hands.

Final Thoughts

As an avid birder and optics enthusiast, I’ve tested my fair share of binoculars over the years. I used to think you needed $1,000 models to get decent performance for bird watching. But today’s budget options prove you can get excellent optics and durability without breaking the bank.

In this guide, I shared my top picks for budget birding binoculars based on hands-on testing and comparison. Excellent light transmission from quality lens coatings and BaK-4 prisms is now common even at lower price points. Most models also offer waterproof/fogproof protection for all-weather use.

While I recommend splurging on pro-level ED glass if you can, the Nikon Monarch 7 and Celestron Nature DX impressed me with their sharpness and low light performance – all for under $500. Their bright, crisp views make bird watching more enjoyable.

Don’t be afraid to shop around and try before buying. Finding the perfect balance of optical performance and ergonomics matched to your eyes and budget is key. I hope my real-world recommendations help you experience the thrill of spotting feathered friends in the field, without emptying your wallet.Let me know which budget birding binoculars you end up choosing! I’m always eager to hear about new optics enabling more people to join this fun and rewarding hobby.

Key Takeaways:

  • Quality bird watching binoculars are now available at budget prices
  • Look for key features like lens coating, waterproofing, and wide field of view
  • We tested and ranked 11 great budget binoculars across price ranges
  • Our top picks provide excellent optics and durability without breaking the bank
  • Try before you buy to find the perfect fit for your eyes and budget
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