Best compact binoculars: Get big views from smaller binos
Carried in a pocket or small bag, a pair of the best compact binoculars can be a must-have in any traveling stargazer’s kit list.
While tripod-mounted telescopes and other larger binoculars may be more suitable for serious astronomy, the best compact binoculars offer better portability and will still give you great night sky views, even though they may come with some small compromises. Carried in a pocket or small bag, a pair of the best compact binoculars can be a must-have in any traveling stargazer’s kit list. We’ve got a handy guide to the top compact models right here.
The best compact binoculars are a valuable tool for any astronomer as they are easy to carry and can be neatly stored away until required. These low-powered instruments will offer you much better views than you’d ever achieve with the naked eye and come in at relatively low prices. The main disadvantage of smaller binoculars is that their objective lenses are smaller, thus, the light-gathering power isn’t as strong as a larger and inherently more expensive pair.
When it’s time to upgrade to something with a bit more power, be sure to check out our best telescopes and best binoculars guides. We even offer an in-depth look at the best binoculars for kids so your budding astronomer can enjoy the night sky with binoculars that aren’t going to be too hard to lift and hold still.
If you’re specifically looking for a pair of the best compact binoculars, then read on.
Best viewing experience
(Image credit: Olympus)
Olympus has long been a leading manufacturer of optics, and these binoculars are available in either a stylish purple or green, however, they provide far more than just good looks. At 25mm, their objective lenses are large for compact binoculars, which, when coupled with a modest 8x magnification, results in high relative brightness, meaning you’ll see more twinkling stars. Faint objects will appear brighter in these than in comparable 8×21 or 10×25 binoculars. This clarity is enhanced by full multi-coating on the lenses and BAK-4 prisms with phase coatings – they tick all the boxes for optical quality.
These are also a hardy pair of binoculars, being both fully waterproof and nitrogen-filled to eliminate internal fogging when you whip them out of a warm pocket on a cold night. They measure just 4.48 x 4.52 x 1.77-inches and, at 9.17 oz, are pretty lightweight. All this does mean a higher price point than others on this list, although true quality is never cheap.
Best for portability
(Image credit: Nikon)
These Nikon binoculars are extremely compact, at just 3.4 x 4.1-inches, and lightweight at only 6.9 oz. Their portability is a little hampered by their limited ability to fold at the single central hinge, unlike many compact binoculars, which use two hinges. The single hinge still allows adjustment between the eyes from 56 to 72 mm, meaning adults and children alike should be able to use them comfortably.
The Aculon T02 looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. They are available in several colors (which may differ depending on which country you are buying in). We particularly applaud the inclusion of white, making these binoculars easy to find if laid in the dark while stargazing. They are costed at the lower end of Nikon’s extensive binocular range, but this still makes them more expensive than many other brands. Still, they are an appealing design with impressive optics so they are worthy of consideration.
Best build quality
(Image credit: Minox)
For this best compact binoculars list, select the X-Lite 8×26 pair. They are more affordable than the company’s alternative X-Active range but still boast high performance. Warning: Minox products are rarely ever cheap.
They are on the heavier side at 289g, which is relative to the robust build quality. They are still nicely compact at 4.61 x 4.53 x 1.57 in. The open bridge design is unusual for a compact pair and includes a tripod mount (adapter required, as with all but the largest binoculars). They have a wide field of view for an 8x compact, at 6.8-degrees, and the K9 glass roof prisms with a phase correction coating. The binoculars are waterproof to IPX7 standards and nitrogen filled to eliminate fogging.
Best value overall
(Image credit: Celestron)
Celestron is a brand known and loved for its quality and range of telescopes and binoculars. The UpClose G2 binoculars offer desirable characteristics for a reasonable price, which is why we’ve included it on this list of the best compact binoculars.
We’d opt 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 gives better low-light results.
They are rubber coated, with water resistance, and have fold-up rubber eyecups for spectacle wearers. They are pocketable at 7.5 x 5.5 x 11cm.
The Celestron UpClose G2 aren’t the highest specification binoculars, with partially multi-coated lenses and BK-7 glass roof prisms (as opposed to the more desirable BAK-4 glass), but they are well priced and come with the reassurance of a limited lifetime guarantee.
(Image credit: Opticron)
The Opticron Aspheric 3 are not the most compact of compact binoculars at 10.9 x 10.6 x 3.3 cm, and they are slightly weighty at just under 300gm. The larger size and excellent ergonomics will be desirable for users with big hands.
The aspheric lenses in these binoculars provide sharper images and less distortion across the field of view, which at 5 degrees is a little below par for 10x magnification.
We rate these as one of the best compact binoculars because we love the excellent eye relief of 16 mm that makes them friendly for glasses wearers, and the twist-in rubber eyecups will make them comfortable for all users.
Best waterproof option
(Image credit: Bushnell)
These H2O binoculars have impressive specifications for a very reasonable price, including multi-coating and BAK-4 roof prisms. We are particularly fond of the large and tactile center-focus knob, which means that you should be able to make adjustments without removing your gloves on cold nights. Bushnell claims that the optics are 100% waterproof and fog-proof. The 6.9-degree field of view is very respectable too.
The eye relief isn’t particularly generous at 12mm so probably best avoided if you’re a spectacle wearer. They are easy to grip and are fairly lightweight whilst featuring a rubberized finish to protect them from knocks. At 12.7 x 10.16 x 6.95cm, they are not quite small enough to fit into a pocket, but you can easily throw them in your backpack for an outdoor camping trip.
Best fashion choice
(Image credit: Pentax)
If you can’t decide between the easier-to-hold 8x magnification or 10x magnification for closer views (especially noticeable on the moon and planets) then here’s a compromise: 9x magnification, offering most of the benefits of both. These binoculars measure just 13 x 11.6 x 5.5cm, and are light at 194 grams. Despite this, they still boast high-quality, fully multi-coated optics.
Watch out for the 10×21 version of the Pentax UD, as this is not fully multi-coated, has less eye relief, and has an even smaller exit pupil at 2.1 mm compared to 2.3mm here. This 9×21 is a much better choice.
These are the lightest binoculars in the Pentax range, helped no doubt by using plastic instead of a metal chassis. The large focus wheel makes handling surprisingly good and the 6-degree field of view is adequate, although not as good as some of the UD’s serious rivals. There’s a tripod mount (which requires an adaptor), and finally, we love that they’re available in a choice of five colors, including hot pink and zingy lime green.
Best budget Porro prisms
(Image credit: Apexel)
A Chinese brand best known for its smartphone lens accessories brings us these inexpensive reverse Porro compact binoculars. They are very lightweight at only 178 grams, due to their ABS plastic body but they still boast fully multi-coated lenses and quality BAK-4 roof Porro prisms. The objectives have a slightly green hue typical of lower-quality coatings. The eyepiece lenses, curiously, have a blue coating.
These binoculars are great value for money. With nearly 15 mm of eye relief and a wide field of view of 6.5-degrees, they can be used comfortably by spectacle wearers. You certainly get a lot of bang for your buck as these are impressive specifications for bargain binoculars, especially considering they are waterproof.
Best high power
(Image credit: Sunagor)
Sunagor is a specialist manufacturer of high-power binoculars and claims these are the smallest and lightest 18x magnification binos you can get. Less than 200g, these binoculars are undoubtedly portable and pocketable, although being a single-hinge design, they don’t fold up especially small.
There’s only partial multi-coating on the lenses and no particular claims for quality glass inside the barrels, but they offer an ambitious 18x magnification.
The downside is that such high magnification means they will be challenging to hand-hold, and there is no tripod socket provided, so you’ll need to be able to hold your binoculars steady without external support. With objective lenses of just 21 mm, these binos are of limited use for astronomy duties. Still, we include them here because they will deliver the ‘wow’ moment when turned on that old favorite of binocular astronomy, the moon.
Best for versatility
(Image credit: Pentax)
When is a pair of binoculars not a pair of binoculars? When it’s a pair of monoculars. Pentax’s slightly gimmicky binos can disassemble to provide two 4x monoculars and then screw together to create a 16x telescope.
While this undoubtedly makes for a versatile optical instrument, a series of compromises comes with it. 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 a vast field of view.
If the magnification makes you feel underwhelmed, 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 is questionable. We would expect it to give a worthwhile idea 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’d probably be better off buying two decent pairs of binoculars instead. Despite these binoculars not being highly recommended, we have included them for their cleverness and novelty.
What to look out for when buying compact binocularsMagnification
The main things to consider when shopping for compact binoculars are the magnification — usually 8x or 10x — and the diameter of the objective (front) lenses. Because compact binoculars are small and light, it’s easier to hold them still and so you don’t need to worry about higher magnification causing unusable wobble. Remember though, lower power binoculars will give a brighter image, making faint objects such as nebulae more visible.
It is best to go for the largest lens diameter you can get. Bigger lenses mean more light-gathering power and thus 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 don’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. It’s rare to find conventional Porro prism compact binoculars, but some use the reverse-Porro arrangement, resulting in objective lenses closer together than the eyepieces. Check what type of glass the prisms are made from — the best you can get is BAK-4, while budget binoculars often use BK-7 or K9 (these two are more or less equivalent).
You should consider the type of lens coating that is used. Lenses will be described as coated, multi-coated, or fully multi-coated. The best will be fully multi-coated with phase coating on the prisms. The best will also be nitrogen filled to eliminate the risk of internal fogging. Some compacts are waterproof or water-resistant, which is always a good idea to prevent accidents.
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 described accurately, particularly when sold by traders on third-party websites, and we advise treating claims with suspicion. Ask yourself if you believe these very cheap binoculars have all the features they claim or whether some of the claims might be lost in translation. Sometimes the comfort of a trusted brand that offers a warranty is worth paying that little bit extra for.
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