A pair of the best compact binoculars can be a crucial part of any stargazer’s inventory, and we’ve got a handy guide to the top models below. While telescopes and some other binoculars may be better for astronomy, the best compact binoculars offer better portability and great views of the night sky.Â
A pair of the best compact binoculars is a worthwhile tool for any astronomer simply because they can fit in a pocket or a glovebox until they’re needed. These low-powered items will offer you better views than just with the naked eye, and they come in at relatively low prices. If you are looking for a pair of the best compact binoculars then you’ll be pleased to hear that a reasonable pair can be found for as little as $20, but higher-spec items will cost a little more.
If you want something with a bit more viewing power, or you want to do more research before buying some stargazing equipment, be sure to check out our best telescopes and best binoculars guides. We also offer an in-depth look at the best binoculars for kids, if you’re looking for a pair for the budding astronomer in your life.
However, if it’s one of the best compact binoculars on the market you’re after, then read on below.Â
Best viewing experience
you can choose to have these binoculars from long-established maker Olympus in either purple or green for those who are fashion conscious, but they offer far more than just good looks. The large (for compact binoculars) 25 mm objective lenses coupled with modest 8x magnification results in a binocular delivering a high relative brightness of 9.8. This means that faint objects will appear brighter in these than in comparable 8×21 or 10×25 binoculars. This is helped by full multi-coating to the lenses and BAK4 prisms with phase coating â€“ ticking all the boxes for optical quality.
These are also binoculars designed to cope with rough use, being both fully waterproof and nitrogen-filled to eliminate internal fogging. They measure just 4.48 x 4.52 x 1.77-in, and at 9.17 oz are fairly lightweight. All this does come at a bit of a premium price, although true quality is never cheap.
Best for portability
These Nikon binoculars are tiny, at just 3.4 x 4.1 in, and lightweight at only 6.9 oz, meaning they can be slipped into a pocket or bag with great ease and whipped out when wanted. Their portability is slightly hampered by their limited folding at the central hinge, unlike many types of compact binoculars with two hinges. The Nikonâ€™s single hinge accommodates adjustment of the interpupillary distance from 56 to 72 mm, which should enable adults and children alike to make use of them.
The Aculon T02 is styled like something out of your favorite space opera, like twin engine pods, and is available in a variety of colors (which may depend on which country you are buying in). We particularly applaud the inclusion of white, which will make these binoculars easy to find if laid down during a dark astronomical observing night, although weâ€™d probably choose the blue anyway. As far as the best compact binoculars go, they are priced at the lower end of Nikonâ€™s extensive binocular range, which still makes them more expensive than many other brands, but they are an appealing design and are worthy of consideration.
Best build quality
Once a brand of spy-cameras, Minox is now known for being a premium optical brand and are worthy of inclusion in this guide to best compact binoculars. Weâ€™d select these X-Lite 8×26 compact binoculars over the companyâ€™s alternative X-Active range, as they offer slightly better performance and are a bit more affordable. Our word of warning is that Minox products are rarely ever cheap.Â
They are a bit heavy at 10.2 oz, reflecting high build quality, but are nicely compact at 4.61 x 4.53 x 1.57 in. The open bridge design is unusual in a compact binocular, as is the inclusion of a tripod mount (adapter required, as with all but the largest binoculars). These Minox X-Lites have a nice wide field of view for an 8x compact, at 6.8 degrees. The K9 glass roof prisms are treated with phase correction coating, and the binoculars are waterproof to IPX7 and nitrogen filled to eliminate any risk of fogging.
Best value overall
Celestron are known and loved for their quality and range of telescopes and binoculars. Their models have allowed astronomers both seasoned and novice to see the night sky in all its glory for decades. Their UpClose G2 binocular model offer a lot of features for this at a reasonable, making it worthy of being on this list for best compact binoculars.
Rubber coated and with water resistance, they have fold-up rubber eye cups for spectacle wearers and are a pocketable 3.0 x 2.2 x 4.5 in. Weâ€™d plump for the 10x25s over the similar 8x21s due to their better twilight factor, at 15.8 instead of 13.0. This means the higher powered (and larger objective) pair actually give better low light capability. The twilight factor is calculated by multiplying the lens diameter by the optical magnification, and taking the square root of the result. The Celestron UpClose G2 arenâ€™t the highest specification binoculars, with partially multi-coated lenses and BK-7 glass roof prisms, but they are well priced and come from a respected astronomy brand with the reassurance of a limited lifetime guarantee.
As the name suggests, these binoculars sport aspheric lenses for sharper images and less distortion across the field of view â€“ which at 5 degrees is a bit below par for 10x magnification. These are not the most compact of compact binoculars at 4.3 x 4.2 x 1.3 in, and a slightly chunky 10.4 oz. With that being said, they do still fall within the compact market segment, and the slightly larger proportions will be welcomed by users with full size hands. Indeed, Opticron makes great play of the good ergonomics of these binoculars, which is always worth taking into consideration.
We rate these as one of the best compact binoculars because we love the excellent long eye relief of 16 mm which makes them friendly for spectacle wearers, and the twist-in rubber eyecups will be comfortable for all users. The optics are of high quality, with fully multi-coated lenses and PC phase corrected prisms, and being waterproof and nitrogen filled gives confidence that they will survive an eveningâ€™s viewing without fogging.
Best waterproof option
Bushnell is a known and established brand in the field of optics, and you’ll often find their prices aren’t as high as most of their competitors. These H2O binoculars have some impressive specifications for a low price, with multi-coating and BAK4 roof prisms. They also boast a large centre-focus knob, which should mean you can make adjustments without removing your gloves on cold nights, and Bushnell claims that the optics are 100% waterproof and fog-proof. The 6.9Â° field of view is very respectable too, and should be useful for those evenings spent combing the night sky.
That eye relief isn’t especially generous at 12mm, though, and there are some reviews online that highlight this as inefficient. They are also fairly lightweight, but by no means the lightest on this list. What they are is rugged and hardy, with a rubberized finish to protect them from knocks and a solid design that makes them easy to grip. At 5 x 4 x 2.75 inches, they are not quite pocket sized, but you can easily throw them in your backpack for an outdoor camping trip.
Best fashion choice
Canâ€™t decide between 8x magnification (easier to hold still) and 10x (closer views, especially noticeable on the moon and planets)? Hereâ€™s a compromise â€“ 9x magnification, offering most of the benefits of both. These binoculars measure just 5.12 x 4.57 x 2.2 in, and are very light at 6.87 oz, yet boast high quality fully multi-coated optics. Pentax also makes a 10×21 version of the UD, but this is not fully multi-coated, has less eye relief, and an even smaller exit pupil at 2.1 mm compared to 2.3mm here â€“ so the 9x is the better choice.
Pentax says these are the lightest binoculars in its range, helped no doubt by the plastic instead of metal chassis. Despite their size, the large focus wheel makes handling surprisingly good. The 6 degree field of view is adequate, but not as good as some of the UDâ€™s serious rivals. We do like the tripod mount, which of course requires an adapter, and the choice of five colors including rather zingy lime green and pink. Like other single-hinge binoculars, these donâ€™t really fold up any smaller, but, then again, they are tiny to begin with.
Best budget Porro prisms
Apexel is a Chinese brand best known for its smartphone lens accessories, and which has other optical products including a night vision scope and these inexpensive reverse Porro compact binoculars. They are very lightweight at only 6.35 oz, due to their light ABS plastic body. They boast fully multi-coated lenses and quality BAK4 roof Porro prisms, although the green hue to the objectives is typical of lower quality coatings. The eyepiece lenses, curiously, have a blue coating.
Despite this, you get a lot of bang for your buck as these are impressive specifications for a bargain binocular, especially when you take the fact that they’re waterproof into account. With nearly 15 mm of long eye relief for spectacle wearers and a wide field of view at 6.5 degrees, these binoculars are great value for money which is why weâ€™ve decided to include them on our best compact binoculars list.Â
Best high power
Sunagor brands itself as a specialist manufacturer of high-power binoculars, and reckons these are the smallest and lightest 18x magnification binos you can get. At just 3.9 x 3.2 x 1.2 in and 6.4 oz, that seems a valid claim. These binoculars are certainly pocketable, although being a single-hinge design they donâ€™t fold up.
The specifications are fairly basic, with only partial multi-coating and no particular claims for quality glass, but they redeem themselves by that ambitious 18x power. Bear in mind that such high magnification means they will be difficult to hand-hold, and there is no tripod socket provided, so youâ€™ll need to be able to hold your binoculars steady. With lenses of just 21 mm, these binos are of limited use for astronomy duties, but weâ€™re including them in this list of best compact binoculars because they will deliver the â€˜wowâ€™ moment when turned on that favorite of binocular astronomy, the moon.
Best for versatility
Hereâ€™s something a little different â€“ a pair of compact binoculars which can be disassembled to provide two monoculars, and then reassembled to create a telescope. While this undoubtedly makes for a versatile optical instrument, this slightly gimmicky approach brings a series of compromises. For a start, each tube has to be focused independently, which soon becomes tedious. In binocular mode they offer only 4x magnification, but this does come with the benefit of a very wide field of view.
If the magnification makes you feel a little under-powered, you can quickly convert to telescope mode for 16x magnification. Bear in mind that this results in a very narrow field of view of just 2.6 degrees, so the usefulness of this telescope will be limited. We would expect it to give a worthwhile view of the moon, but not much else in the night sky.
With a pair of monoculars, two users will benefit from the additional light gathering power over the human eye, making it easier to spot more stars and celestial objects. However, this is an expensive option for buying low power instruments. You might be better off buying two decent pairs of binoculars whether they’re compact or standard. Despite these bonoculars not being highly recommended, we have included them for their cleverness and novelty.Â
What to look out for when buying compact binoculars
The main things to consider when shopping for compact binoculars are the magnification â€“ usually 8x or 10x â€“ and the diameter of the objective (front) lenses. Because compact binoculars are small and light, itâ€™s easier to hold them still and so higher magnification might be a good choice. Remember though that lower power binoculars will give a brighter image, making faint objects such as nebulae more visible.
Other things being equal, it’s best to go for the largest lens diameter you can get. Bigger lenses mean more light-gathering power and better views for you. Compact binoculars tend to have objectives in the 20-25 mm range. However, it is worth noting that even the largest of these will collect only a quarter as much light as a pair of conventional 50 mm binoculars. We donâ€™t recommend compact binoculars with a zoom feature, as this is simply asking too much of the smaller objective lenses on this type of instrument.
Compact binoculars are usually roof prism types, as this arrangement provides straight tubes and lends itself to foldability. Itâ€™s rare to find conventional Porro prism compact binoculars, but some use the reverse-Porro arrangement. This results in objective lenses closer together than the eyepieces. Check what type of glass the prisms are made from â€“ the best is BAK4, while budget binoculars often use BK-7 or K9 (the two are more or less equivalent, and both perform well).
You should also consider what type of lens coating is used. Lenses will be described as coated, multi-coated, or fully multi-coated. The best of all will be fully multi-coated with phase coating on the prisms. Some compacts are waterproof, or at least water resistant, which is always a good idea. The best will also be nitrogen filled to eliminate any risk of internal fogging.
When shopping online, you may come across lots of lesser-known brands offering what seem to be unmissable bargains but, as ever, buyer beware. Products are not always advertised accurately, especially when being sold by traders on third party websites, and we advise treating claims with a degree of suspicion. Ask yourself if you really believe that these very cheap binoculars have all the features they claim, or whether some of the claims might be â€“ to put it kindly â€“ lost in translation. Sometimes the comfort of a trusted brand is worth paying a small premium for.