You don’t need binoculars to enjoy birds, but they do make the watching experience more intimate. They’re also handy when you buy the cheap seats at the ballpark. “Bins,” as enthusiasts call them, range from dirt cheap to the price of a small car. To help you make sense of the often bewildering range of choices, here are three of our favorite binoculars, well suited to the beginning, intermediate, and advanced birder.
Be sure to check out our guide (and ode) to bird feeders , as well.
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For Fledgling BirdersPentax AD, Size 8x25 ($90)
These are the best budget binoculars I've tried, and they're a good starting point for fledgling birders. They're lightweight (10.6 ounces), with fog-proof optics that are well padded to protect against accidents. The field of view is wider than on more expensive models, but that's not a bad thing for newbies—you'll be able to find your subject quickly when you bring the binoculars to your eyes. The smooth focus knob makes it easy to dial in the view, and the image is clear, with little of the purple fringing at the edges that can be found in the lenses of cheaper models.
For Mature BirdersNikon Monarch 5, Size 10x42 ($330)These binoculars are the perfect upgrade from less expensive, compact models. Long one of the most popular pairs on the market, the Monarch 5 is still light enough (21.5 ounces) to carry easily on all-day hikes. The rubber coating ensures they don't slip and slide in your hands, but the real reason to buy them is the optical clarity—the image quality is a dramatic upgrade from the cheaper options you'll find out there. Details are crisp, focusing is fast and precise. Nothing else in this price range will make a bird's feathers look so fabulous.
For Eagle-Eyed BirdersLeica Ultravid HD-Plus, Size 10x42 ($2,199)The Bugatti of binoculars, Leica's Ultravids will make you the envy of your birding buddies. I know what you're thinking: Are they worth the price? Yep. The precision optics, made of fluoride glass, provide better clarity and sharpness than any other pair I tried—which is exactly what you'd expect from Leica, maker of iconic high-end cameras and hunting scopes. They also have a coating that repels water and dirt. If you can afford them, you won't regret the expense.
This article appears in the July/August issue. Subscribe now .Photograph: Getty Images; Science Source
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