Mat Manning tests a series of binoculars that deliver great optical quality without breaking the bank — a perfect combination for the field
There is no denying that you get what you pay for when it comes to optical performance, but very expensive optics can have their downfalls. Most of us know how it feels to own a piece of kit that almost seems too good to expose to the rough and tumble of field use, and it is certainly something that I have experienced with high-end binoculars. (Take a look at our list of best compact binoculars.)
Best budget binoculars
Going for a more affordable option doesn’t have to mean choosing poor quality. The best budget binoculars have come a long way over recent years, and those from reputable brands offer a good blend of performance and value.
Provided that you choose affordable binoculars with reasonably good glass, they can score over the more expensive options simply because you don’t have to feel afraid to use them.
I keep a cheap pair of binoculars inside my car door and they are invaluable for investigating pigeon flightlines that I happen to spot when I’m out and about. The same can be said of a set of binoculars kept stashed in a backpack or in a bucket seat. And, if you haven’t spent too much on them, it is no great disaster if they have to be replaced after a few years of being bashed around.
So I thought I’d look at some of the best budget binoculars around and report back.
Hawke has a remarkable ability to produce good optics at competitive prices. It is hard to see where the cost savings have been made with these binoculars — they look good, they feel good and they do their job well.
After taking the Vantage 8x42s out on my rabbit and squirrel control rounds, I can confirm that their optical quality is on a par with some costing twice the price. They feature Hawke’s H2 glass with BAK-4 roof prisms and multicoated lenses, and the result is very clear viewing — I could see bunnies’ twitching whiskers through them at around 80m.
The Vantage 8x42s weigh 555g and measure about 145mm from top to bottom and 108mm across their widest point when closed. A case and padded neck strap are supplied, but these binoculars were compact enough for me to stuff into a jacket pocket. They feel great in the hand and have a shockproof rubberised shell. Nitrogen-purged, fogproof and waterproof, Vantage binoculars come with Hawke’s no-fault lifetime warranty.
The twist-up eyecups have four stops to ensure correct eye relief and single-eye focusing can quickly be tweaked to suit your needs. The large focusing knob turns smoothly, keeping the image sharp down to just 2.5m. Field of view is 122m at 1,000m. I found the 8x magnification adequate for my needs, although the 10x version costs only £10 more.
This was my first experience of Konus binoculars, and I was pleasantly surprised. The Emperor model has BAK-4 prisms and multicoated optics with phase correction, and the result is clear, bright viewing right to the edges with good contrast and no noticeable distortion. Build quality also exceeds the very reasonable asking price.
These binos are kind on the eye as well as the wallet and their matt-green rubberised armour shell feels extremely robust. This casing features deep ridges along its entire surface, which makes the Emperors easy to grip and the extra purchase came in handy when I was caught in the rain while using them to scan pigeon and crow activity over spring drillings. Their waterproofing also stood up to the downpour test and lenses remained free from the dreaded misty condensation. The Emperors are also shockproof and covered by a two-year warranty.
These binoculars weigh 596g and measure 125mm from top to bottom and 108mm across their widest point when closed, making them easy to stow in a bag or jacket pocket — creeping around hedgerows with them stashed in my gamebag during evening rabbiting forays, I couldn’t tell they were there. Features include twist-up eyecups with 10 stops to refine eye relief, single-eye focus and smooth focusing down to about 2.5m. Field of view is 98m at 1,000m, which is not bad for relatively small 10x binoculars.
The most affordable option in this round-up of best budget binoculars, the Offshore 10×42 comes with a neck strap, neoprene case, lens cloth and lens covers. It’s an impressive package for the money and optical quality doesn’t disappoint either. Viewing is clear and bright with good contrast and I was able to easily distinguish woodpigeons from ferals when scanning a recently drilled pea crop from about half a mile away. There is some minor blurring around the edges, but the optics are still better than I would expect at this price. Field of view is a generous 114m at 1,000m, although depth of field is a little shallow.
Covered by a one-year warranty, these binoculars feel sturdily constructed and the rubberised armour casing features some raised diamond-shaped texturing, which does a good job of enhancing grip. O-ring seals provide effective waterproofing and the Offshores are nitrogen-purged to stop the lenses fogging up. A large focusing wheel with a grooved soft-touch outer keeps viewing sharp down to 8m. The twist-up eyecups don’t have defined stops but provide plenty of adjustment to ensure correct eye relief. Other features include BAK-4 Porro prisms, single-eye focus and multicoated lenses.
Weighing 895g and measuring 150mm in length and 175mm across the widest point when closed, the Offshores are the biggest and heaviest binos in this round-up. Although not exactly massive, they are comparatively bulky and I found them quite a weight to have clunking around on my chest when out stalking rabbits. Their size was less of a concern when stashed in the glovebox of my car and they proved handy for pigeon reconnaissance. If you do want a smaller option, there is an 8×25 model available.
If you’re the sort of person who likes to try before you buy, you can find Tasco binoculars stocked by Edgar Brothers, who supplied the pair for this test.
All three of the best budget binoculars in this round-up are fit for purpose and all of them boast optical quality beyond what I would expect for their price point. The two higher-scoring pairs won through on build quality and the fact that their features and performance are packed into a smaller, lighter frame.
Hawke’s talent for balancing price with overall quality takes the Vantage binoculars a notch higher than their peers. Clean design, good optics, solid construction and an impressive warranty make them a great buy at an amazing price.
The Konus Emperors exceeded expectations. They cost a little more, but their price is justified by their optical performance, build quality and compact proportions. The Tasco Offshores might have been slightly outperformed, but that is no disgrace in this line-up. You will struggle to find a better pair of 10×42 binoculars for the same price.