Binoculars Buying Guide:

How to Choose the Best Binoculars in 2024

Whether you're scanning the racetrack for your horse or birdwatching from your garden, binoculars bring distant sights closer and enhance your view.

But with so many options and brands out there, finding the perfect pair can feel overwhelming.

At Jessops, we've simplified the process, guiding you through the key features, matching them to your needs, and recommending the best binoculars for 2024 with help from our Product Specialist, Lizzie James.


What are binoculars?

How to choose binoculars

Key features to consider

How to choose binoculars for birdwatching

How to choose binoculars for horse racing

How to choose binoculars for stargazing

Best for travel: Vanguard Veo XF 10x42 Binoculars

Best budget binoculars: Jessops 10x42 Full-Size Waterproof Binoculars

Best for beginners: Nikon Prostaff P3 8x30 Binoculars

Frequently asked questions

What are binoculars?

"Binoculars are versatile optical instruments designed to magnify distant objects, providing a closer and more detailed view," explains Lizzie. "They consist of two identical telescopes mounted side by side, allowing each eye to observe the scene simultaneously."

"Binoculars come in handy whenever you need a better look at something far away. They're perfect for birdwatching, getting close to the action at sports events, and even admiring the stars in the night sky."

How to choose binoculars

"First, determine your purpose. Knowing what you'll be using your binoculars for the most will help you narrow down the features you need."

"Once you've identified your purpose, knowing and understanding the key features and parts of binoculars can further guide your decision. From magnification and objective lens diameter to waterproof and compact designs, we'll explore these in more detail to help you make an informed choice."

"Don't underestimate the value of trying out different binoculars before making a purchase. It’s a good idea to handle various models, adjust settings, and see which ones feel most comfortable and intuitive."

You can visit one of your local Jessops stores. Or, if you prefer, you can contact us online for expert advice and personalised recommendations tailored to your needs and preferences.

Key features to consider

Magnification power

"You may have noticed numbers on the focusing wheel or central hinge of your binoculars,” says Lizzie. “These are key to choosing a brilliant pair.” But what do these numbers mean?

Let's say your binoculars are 10x42. The first number, 10, represents the magnification power. In simple terms, it means that when you look through these binoculars, objects appear ten times closer than they are to the naked eye. So, if you're watching a bird that's 100 feet away, it will appear as if it's only 10 feet away through the binoculars.

The second number, 42, is the diameter of the objective lenses in millimetres. These are the lenses at the end of the binoculars farthest from your eyes. The larger the objective lens, the more light the binoculars can gather, resulting in a brighter image, especially in low-light conditions.

"Here's the trick, though: bigger numbers aren't always better," explains Lizzie. "If you go for super high magnification, it can actually make things harder to see because the image might get shaky."

"So, think about what you'll use the binoculars for. For example, if you're observing fast-moving animals or sports, a magnification of up to 10x is usually good. However, for stationary activities like stargazing, 15x magnification would be a better choice to reveal those distant celestial details clearly."

Field of view

Field of view is the width of the area visible when you look through your binoculars – a critical factor to consider when selecting the right pair for your needs.

"Magnification power also has a direct effect on your field of view," explains Lizzie. "Simply put, the higher the magnification, the narrower your field of view becomes."

"A wider field of view allows you to take in more of the scene at once. This makes it easier to keep up with fast-moving subjects or survey a wide area without constantly adjusting your binoculars."

"On the other hand, if you're focusing on stationary subjects, like observing the details of a distant landscape, a narrower field of view might be acceptable. You're not tracking quick movements, so you can afford to sacrifice some width for increased magnification and image detail."

Information about the field of view when looking at binoculars will typically be stated as either: 

Objective lens diameter

"Objective lenses are at the front of the binoculars, the ones farthest from your eyes," says Lizzie, "Essentially, the larger the diameter of these lenses, the more light they can collect, resulting in a brighter and sharper image."

"In binocular specifications, you'll often find the objective lens diameter listed in millimetres (mm)."

"Choosing the right objective lens diameter again boils down to what you're using them for."

"If you plan on venturing out in darker conditions, a 50mm lens is excellent at gathering light, ensuring a clear view. But if you're mostly out in well-lit areas or during the day, a lower diameter, say 25mm, should do the trick."


Lizzie says: "When choosing your binoculars size, think about what you'll be using them for and how much light you'll need. The size of the objective lenses significantly impacts your binoculars' physical dimensions and performance."

It's all about balancing size, performance, and what works best for you.

Exit pupil (brightness)

The exit pupil is the width of light leaving the eyepiece. If you hold the binoculars at arm's length and look through the centre of the eyepieces, you'll see it as a small circle of light.

It directly influences how bright the image appears, particularly in low-light conditions. Put simply, the bigger the exit pupil, the brighter the image will be.

You'll often see the exit pupil size listed in millimetres in binocular specifications. It's calculated by dividing the diameter of the objective lens by the magnification number. For instance, if you have 10x42 binoculars, the exit pupil size would be 4.2mm (42mm divided by 10).

“If you anticipate using them in low-light situations, paying attention to the exit pupil size ensures you'll enjoy the best viewing experience possible.”

Eye relief

Eye relief refers to the distance between your eye and the eyepiece while still maintaining a full field of view.

"For those who wear glasses, a minimum of 11mm of eye relief is essential," explains Lizzie. "This ensures a comfortable distance from the eyepieces without pressing your glasses against them."

"Adjustable eyepieces are a common feature in many binoculars, allowing you to achieve the maximum eye relief specified in the product details. This adjustment is usually done by rolling down the rubber eyecups or twisting a collar to shorten the eyepieces."

Prism type

Prisms are crucial optical components in binoculars that help transfer light from the scene to your eyes. There are two main types of prisms used in binoculars:

"Choosing between porro prism and roof prism binoculars depends on your preferences and needs. While porro prism binoculars may offer better magnification and less light loss, roof prism binoculars are more compact and light."

"However, advanced models of roof prism binoculars can provide just as good a view as porro prism binoculars. So, it's all about what you're looking for in your binoculars!"

How to choose binoculars for birdwatching

When it comes to bird watching, there are a few key features to keep in mind:

  • Magnification – "A magnification of 8 is ideal because it provides a good balance between zooming in on birds and maintaining a wider field of view," explains Lizzie. "This wider view makes it easier to find and follow birds without the image becoming shaky or unstable."

  • Portable design – "Look for binoculars that are fairly compact and easy to carry, especially if you'll be hiking to different spots to observe birds."

  • Water resistance – "Since you'll be venturing outdoors, it might be a good idea to choose waterproof binoculars to ensure they can withstand any unexpected rain showers."

  • Fog resistance – "Select binoculars that won't fog up when transitioning from warmer indoor environments to cooler outdoor temperatures."

"The Nikon Prostaff P3 8x42 binoculars are some of the best on the market for birdwatching," says Lizzie.

"The extremely wide 53.4° apparent field of view, you'll have no trouble spotting and following fast-moving birds."

"The rubber armour provides a firm grip and protects the binoculars against the elements. So, whether you're on a woodland walk or climbing a hill to get a better view, these binoculars are built to last."

"And there's no need to worry about a little rain or dew ruining your birdwatching experience. The Nikon Prostaff binoculars are waterproof up to 1 meter for up to 10 minutes, and their fog-free design ensures clear views."

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How to choose binoculars for horse racing

“Whether you're heading to the Grand National or your local track, a good pair of binoculars is a must-have for horse racing, especially if you're seated far away,” says Lizzie. “Binoculars allow you to get closer to the action, providing a clearer view of the races and ensuring you don't miss any thrilling moments.”

Here are the top features to look out for when choosing binoculars for horse racing:

  • Magnification and image stability – “Opt for a lower magnification between 7x and 10x. This provides more control when following the fast-paced action of horse racing without your view becoming too shaky. Anything above 10x can interfere with the clarity of the image.”

"These Steiner BluHorizons 8x22 binoculars are perfect for horse racing," says Lizzie. "They're the world's first and only binoculars with phototropic lenses, which automatically adjust to different lighting conditions. So you'll always have optimum vision, whether under the bright sunshine or dealing with dazzling reflections."

"Specially designed for outdoor adventurers, these binoculars are compact enough to fit into almost any pocket – including your suit or smart jacket. Plus, they're rainproof, lightweight, and extremely rugged, making them ideal for any unpredictable weather."

"Plus, they come complete with a neoprene pouch case and neckstrap, ensuring you have everything you need for a fantastic day at the races."

"With 8x magnification, you can see your horse up close without encountering shakiness you may get with higher magnifications."

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How to choose binoculars for stargazing

Lizzie says: "Stargazing with binoculars offers a more accessible and user-friendly experience, especially for beginners who might find telescopes a bit daunting."

Here are some key features to consider when choosing binoculars for stargazing:

  • Magnification of x15 or higher –"Opt for a magnification of at least 15x to observe stars and planets in detail. However, keep in mind that higher magnification can amplify hand-held shake, so it's best to use a tripod for steadier viewing."

  • Larger objective lens diameter – "Look for binoculars with larger objective lenses, ideally around 42mm or 50mm. These larger lenses gather more light, making them suitable for stargazing in darker environments where you need to see faint celestial objects."

  • Lens coatings – "Opt for binoculars with multi-coated or fully multi-coated lenses. These coatings reduce glare and improve light transmission, resulting in brighter and clearer views."

"If you're passionate about astronomy, these Celestron SkyMaster binoculars are the ideal choice," says Lizzie. 

"With their impressive 20x magnification and giant 80mm objective lens, these binoculars offer unparalleled views of the night sky.” 

"The ultra-sharp focus mechanism provides crisp and clear views across the entire field of view. And thanks to their multi-coated optics, you'll enjoy sharp and bright images with high contrast."

"These binoculars also come with an integrated tripod adapter rod, so you can easily mount them on a tripod for ultra-stable viewing, minimising hand-held shake."

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"The Vanguard Veo XF 10x42 Binoculars are an excellent companion for travels, ensuring durability and reliability wherever your adventures take you," says Lizzie.

"Weighing just 640g, these binoculars are lightweight and portable, perfect for slipping into your backpack or travel bag without adding unnecessary bulk."

"100% waterproof and fogproof, the Veo XF binoculars are designed to withstand the elements, while the Mitsubishi rubber armour provides a secure grip and shock resistance, giving you peace of mind during your outdoor excursions."

"Featuring a unique open bridge body design, the VEO XF binoculars are not only lightweight but also comfortable to use over extended periods. Say goodbye to arm strain, whether you're birdwatching in the mountains or enjoying a safari in the savanna."

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"At just £49.99, these Jessops binoculars pack a punch in terms of value," says Lizzie. "Despite their budget-friendly price tag, they offer a host of impressive features."

"The 10x42 magnification provides clear and detailed viewing, while the Bak-4 optics and multi-green coated ocular lens enhance brightness and contrast, ensuring you don't miss any details."

"With their waterproof design, you can confidently take them outdoors in any weather condition."

"Comfort is also prioritised, with features like a generous eye relief of 15mm and twist-up eyepieces for extended viewing sessions."

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"The Nikon Prostaff P3 8x30 Binoculars are an excellent choice for beginners", explains Lizzie. "The lower price point provides an accessible entry into the world of binoculars, perfect for those just starting out and not yet ready to invest in more advanced models."

"What sets these binoculars apart is their extremely wide 62.6° apparent field of view, which offers beginners a panoramic perspective, making it easier to locate and track subjects with confidence."

"Plus, the multi-click turn-and-slide rubber eyecups ensure a comfortable viewing experience for all users, whether wearing glasses or not."

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Frequently asked questions

How do I use binoculars?

"Using binoculars may seem straightforward, but a few simple steps can greatly enhance your viewing experience," explains Lizzie.

  1. Adjust the eye cups – Before using your binoculars, adjust the eyecups to the appropriate position. If you wear glasses, twist the eye cups down to accommodate them. If not, twist them up for a comfortable fit against your eyes.

  2. Adjust the width – Hold the binoculars up to your eyes and move the barrels closer together or farther apart until you see a single, circular image instead of two overlapping circles. This ensures that both of your eyes are aligned with the binoculars.

  3. Set the focus – Look through the binoculars with just one eye and find a distant object to focus on. Use the central focusing wheel (usually located between the barrels) to adjust the focus until the image is sharp and clear. Then, close that eye and use the diopter adjustment (usually a small dial on one of the eyepieces) to fine-tune the focus for your other eye.

  4. Hold the binoculars steady – Keep them close to your eyes with both hands, and use your thumbs to support the barrels from underneath. This helps to maintain a stable view and reduces hand shake.

  5. Adjust the focus for different distances – If you're viewing objects at various distances, use the central focusing wheel to adjust the focus accordingly. For example, if you're birdwatching and you switch from looking at a bird in a tree to one on the ground, you may need to readjust the focus.

  6. Experiment with magnification – Binoculars often have a zoom feature that allows you to adjust the magnification level. Try different magnification settings to find the best view for your subject.

Lizzie says: "Just remember, if you've been viewing for an extended period, give your eyes a rest by looking away from the binoculars and focusing on distant objects with your naked eyes. This helps to reduce eye strain and fatigue."

How do I clean my binoculars?

Cleaning your binoculars is essential for maintaining clear and crisp images. Lizzie explains how to do it:

  1. "Remove dust – Start by using a soft brush or air blower to remove any dust or debris from the lenses and the body of the binoculars. This helps prevent scratching the lenses during the cleaning process.

  2. Wipe clean – Next, gently wipe the lenses with a microfibre cleaning cloth. Avoid using your shirt or other fabrics, as they may contain particles that could scratch the lens coatings. If there are stubborn smudges or fingerprints, lightly moisten the cloth with a few drops of lens cleaning solution or water. Avoid cleaning products designed for your glasses or windows, as this can damage the lens coating.

  3. Remove remaining dirt – Use a lens cleaning brush or a lens pen with a soft brush tip to remove any remaining dirt or smudges from the lenses. Be gentle and avoid applying too much pressure, as this could damage the delicate lens coating.

  4. Clean the body – For the eyepieces and the body of the binoculars, you can use a damp cloth or a mild soap solution to gently wipe away any dirt or grime. Be sure to dry them thoroughly afterwards - especially if your binoculars aren't waterproof to prevent damage.

  5. Put them back in your case – Finally, store your binoculars in a protective case when not in use to keep them clean and free from dust and debris."

Why are some binoculars with similar specifications more expensive than others?

"Binoculars with similar specs can vary in price due to differences in build quality, materials used, and brand reputation," explains Lizzie. "Higher-priced binoculars often use premium materials for the lenses and prisms, like high-quality glass and advanced coatings. This results in better image clarity, brightness, and durability."

"Renowned brands may also command higher prices due to their reputation for superior optics and customer service."

When were binoculars invented?

Binoculars have a fascinating history, dating back to the early 17th century. The exact origins are a bit unclear, but they are believed to have been developed independently by several people around the same time.

Hans Lippershey, a Dutch eyeglass maker, is often credited with inventing the first telescope in 1608, which laid the groundwork for binocular technology. However, the credit for the inaugural binocular telescope, designed to be used with both eyes simultaneously, typically goes to J. P. Lemiere, who crafted one in 1825.

Over the centuries, binoculars have undergone significant advancements, evolving into the versatile optical instruments we use today.

Shop binoculars at Jessops today

At Jessops, we have a wide range of binoculars from leading brands like Nikon, Penatax, Vanguard and Celestron.

If you're looking for more advice and inspiration, check out our blog. If you have any questions or you're unsure about which product is right for you, contact us today.

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