Mat Manning tests a selection of compact binoculars for Shooting Times that will give you a better view of the action without weighing you down
How many times have we wished we had a pair of binoculars to hand to get a better look at events that are unfolding in the distance? As shooters, we use our eyes all the time, not only when we’re out with the gun but also out on reconnaissance or simply when enjoying the countryside. A pair of binoculars gets you closer to the action without having to get so close as to risk disturbing the behaviour of the wildlife you are trying to observe.
Finding the best compact binoculars for shooting
The best compact binoculars for shooting are a great choice for hunters who want a better view, but don’t want to be burdened with heavy, bulky glass. The choice is bewilderingly large, with all manner of designs, sizes and price ranges. So what should you be looking for when selecting a pair of compact binos?
Apart from optical quality, cost is an important consideration. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get something decent. Size is a significant factor when choosing a pair of go-anywhere binoculars and even very small optics can deliver considerable magnification without having to compromise too much on image quality.
Once you’ve owned a pair of the best compact binoculars for shooting, it’s difficult to imagine how you ever got by without them. Whether stashed in a backpack, the pocket of a shooting jacket or in the glovebox of the car ready to scan the stubbles when you spot the distant flicker of flighting pigeons, they are a vital accessory for the serious shooter. (You might like to look at our list of the best trail cams for wildlife monitoring too.)
Here are four of the best compact binoculars for shooting to consider if you’re thinking about adding to your kit. (Read here for our list of the best airgun pellets)
Best optical quality for the price
-Not the smallest
Bushnell is a big player in the optics market with a reputation for turning out decent products at sensible prices. If you want some glass that you can chuck about without worrying about the expense of replacing a top-end product, these should be on your list.
At 132mm in length and weighing in at 650g, these are not the tiniest of compact binoculars, but the larger objective lenses help to pull in the light at dawn and dusk, while they are still small and light enough to carry in the field without feeling overburdened.
The rubberised armour shell feels like it will stand up to the inevitable knocks and bumps, and Bushnell’s O-ring-sealed IPX7 waterproof construction can survive 30 minutes of immersion in 3ft of water. The multi-coated lenses have been treated with EXO Barrier Protection, which repels water, oil and dust and protects against scratches. Twist-up eyecups ensure optimum eye relief. The focusing wheel smoothly brings the subject into sharp relief. Anti-reflective lens coatings, decent glass and BAK-4 prisms mean the image remains sharp and bright in a range of light conditions. They come with a case, padded neck strap and lens caps, and are covered by a 20-year warranty.
Summary: These tough and affordable binoculars are built for unsympathetic field use and boast admirable optical quality for their price point. Ranking 7.5/10.
Best for small size
+ Highly portable
Named after a small American songbird, the Vireo is indeed an extremely small set of binoculars. Their length is a meagre 95mm. Fold down the dual-hinge body and they’re only 66mm wide, and they tip the scales at 220g. Stash these in a rucksack and you won’t even know they’re there. They’ll fit in a trouser pocket and are ideal for impromptu reconnaissance.
Though diminutive, the Vireos still feel very tough and there is no play in the hinge. These little binoculars are waterproof and nitrogen-purged, so they won’t fog up in damp conditions, and they come with a 30-year guarantee.
Two-stage twist-up eyecups and a right-hand dioptre focus means you can set up the Vireos for your eye and optical performance far exceeds the modest proportions. Lenses have phase-corrective coatings and their roof prism construction produces a very clear image. Low-light performance is impressive, especially when you consider that these 8x binoculars only have 24mm objective lenses. Light transmission is a very healthy 79% and they can even focus down to 2.9m for close-up observation. Made in Japan and inspected in Kite’s headquarters in Belgium, these compact binoculars come with a lined webbing case, padded neck strap and lens caps.
Summary: The smallest, lightest set of compact binoculars on test, the Vireos are a big performer when it comes to delivering a bright, sharp image. Ranking 8/10
Best for reviewer
+ Lifetime warranty
The Endurance ED Compact are the most affordable binoculars in this round-up, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by picking them up and looking through them.
Made in China, and styled with clean, elegant lines, these little binoculars are very compact, measuring 106mm by 69mm when folded and weighing only 310g. That makes them truly pocket-sized and easy to carry, and you certainly wouldn’t notice any extra burden if you kept them with your decoying gear ready for reconnaissance. They also feel very sturdy and their rubberised coating features crisp stippling that really sticks to the hand, even when wearing gloves.
The Endurance range features Hawke’s System H5 optics with multi-coated ED (extra-low dispersion) glass, to reduce colour fringing, and high-resolution phase-corrected BAK-4 roof prisms. The result is a crisp, clear image that is surprisingly bright in poor light conditions — remarkable performance for sub-£140 binoculars with comparatively small 25mm objective lenses.
Twist-up eyecups have three positions and the slick central dial ensures fast, precise focusing right down to 2m. And you don’t need to worry about taking these little binoculars out in the elements as they are waterproof and nitrogen-purged to prevent moisture ingress from compromising viewing in wet conditions.
Covered by Hawke’s no-fault lifetime warranty, they are supplied with a padded case, cushioned neck strap, stay-on lens covers and lens cloth.
Summary: Compact, affordable, stylish and no slouch in the optical stakes, these little binoculars from Hawke are great all-rounders. Rating 8.5/10
Best for quality
+ Excellent image
– Least compact
These Czech-made binoculars from Meopta are by far the most expensive in this test and the leap in quality is apparent in touch, feel and performance.
Tipping the scales at 620g and measuring 122mm by 102mm when folded, the MeoStar B1s just about qualify as compact binoculars. They are probably a bit big to slip into a coat pocket, but they wouldn’t add excessive weight to a backpack and their optical quality should cover everything from pigeon shooting reconnaissance to the long-range observations required by stalkers.
They are housed in a tough but lightweight aluminium chassis encased in a soft, grippy rubber shell. Waterproofing is sufficient to withstand complete immersion and the sealed body is filled with nitrogen to keep condensation at bay. The folding mechanism on the MeoStars is extremely positive — it is smooth but with sufficient torque to prevent any creep. The large central focusing dial is very easy to operate and is integrated with a diametric focusing wheel that pulls up for single-eye adjustment and snaps back down to lock in position. It even features a clearly marked witness window, so you can reset it to your chosen value if someone else adjusts it for their eyes.
Remarkable optical quality is the real standout feature on these binoculars. Meopta uses HD fluoride glass that has been treated with MeoBright anti-reflective coating to optimise light transmission, MeoShield silicon coating to prevent scratching and abrasion, and MeoDrop hydrophobic coating to repel water, dust and grease. The result is exceptional light transmission and these binoculars produce an incredibly bright image with sharp relief, impressive depth of field, fantastic edge-to-edge clarity and no hint of halo.
Supplied with a lined case, padded neck strap, lens covers and lens cloth, the MeoStar B1 Plus binoculars are covered by a Meopta’s 30-year warranty.
Summary: The most expensive contender in this test, the exceptional image and build quality more than justifies the asking price by ensuring crystal-clear viewing. Rating 8.5/10
Conclusion – best compact binoculars for shooting
All the units tested here will meet the demands of shooters who want a simple pair of binoculars for reconnaissance. The final choice will hinge on budget, size and optical quality.
The Bushnell Primes are a great choice for shooters looking for a go-anywhere pair of binoculars that don’t have to be wrapped in cotton wool, while the Meopta MeoStars will appeal to those who demand optimum viewing quality when it comes to brightness and clarity.
The Kite Vireos provide a brilliant combination of compact proportions, good optical quality and sensible pricing, but I have to say that, for my money, the Hawke Endurance ED Compacts are the overall winner when it comes to cramming great features into a small package for a remarkably good sub- £140 price tag.