5 Best High Powered Binoculars 2020 (Reviewed!)
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If more is better, then high powered binoculars are among the best when you want to see further detail from farther away. Often the choice for surveillance because they let you see what the naked eye would otherwise miss, high magnification binoculars are what you want for the long view, whether viewing here on earth or out into the cosmos. I cover the features to watch for and some excellent examples of the five best high-powered binoculars for 2020.
Table of Contents
- The Low Down on High-Power Binoculars
- How to Choose High Powered Binoculars
- The Advantages and Benefits of High-Power Binoculars
- What are the Controversies Regarding High-Powered Binoculars?
- Brands to Consider
- Review of the 5 Best High-Powered Binoculars in 2020
- Bushnell PowerView Super High-Powered 20x 50mm Surveillance Binoculars
- Celestron 71008 SkyMaster 25x 70mm Binoculars
- Nikon 7573 PROSTAFF 5 12X 50mm High-Power Binocular
- Nikon 7245 Action 10x 50mm EX Extreme All-Terrain High-Powered Binocular
- Celestron SkyMaster 20x 80mm Giant High-Powered Binoculars
The Low Down on High-Power Binoculars
There is one bit of advice I can give about selecting binoculars that holds true regardless of power, and that is you need to choose the right binocular for what you plan to see. Larger magnification is not necessarily better than lesser power binoculars if they are not specific to your needs. When viewing subjects across land, over the sea or out into space stretching miles instead of feet, long distance viewing is your best choice.
What are Considered High-Power Binoculars?
High powered binoculars encompass size as well as power, which is why they are often easy to recognize just by looking at them. The barrels tend to be longer and flare out at the ends where the objective lenses are installed. I often think astronomy gazing when I see them as they are reminiscent of a couple of booster rockets when standing upright. Considering the range of magnification for binoculars is generally between 8x and 20x, you should look for power that goes from 10x through 20x for a high power binocular.
As high-powered binoculars increase in both magnification and lens size, the barrels also get bigger, and the weight of the binoculars increase. These heavier glasses almost always need to be supported, typically using a tripod, in order to stabilize the image you are viewing. As the binoculars get bigger, the tripod should also be sturdier to support the weight safely and steadily. Without a way to hold these binoculars steady, anything you view through them will be unsteady from as small a vibration as your own heartbeat. This video provides more information on how magnification affects stability.
Consider the Exit Pupil When Deciding on Higher Magnification
When viewing through binoculars, only the light rays that pass through the virtual aperture can reach your eyes. As magnification increases, light tends to decrease. This is precisely why the objective lens is larger on high power binoculars. A larger optic allows more light to flood your eyes so the image you are viewing is not too dark to appreciate the dynamic details. This characteristic is referred to as the exit pupil, and it can be easily calculated on any pair of binoculars.
There are typically two numbers that identify binoculars. The first number, which I have previously referred to here, identifies the power of the magnification. The second number is the diameter of the objective lens. High powered binoculars range from 10x 20mm on up to the giant 125x 80mm and super-giant 25x 100mm. If you want to know the diameter of the exit pupil on any pair of binoculars, you simply divide the size of the lens by the magnification number. For example, on the 10x 20mm binoculars, the exit pupil is 2mm (20mm divided by 10).
The human eye will dilate to a maximum diameter of 7mm in lower light conditions. As we age, that dilation goes down to about 5mm. In bright light, the human eye will limit the light naturally to about 2mm. The aperture on a binocular will serve you well in daylight if it has at least a 2mm diameter exit pupil. This is not enough light to see things well at dusk or dawn when the light intensity is too low. This tends to leave people thinking that the bigger the exit pupil, the better, but anything that exceeds the natural dilation of the human eye is negligible, anyway. An exit pupil that exceeds 7mm is only delivering light that the eye cannot accept.
Higher Magnification Affects the Field of View
The field of view through your binoculars comprises the width you can capture through the lens when looking at a given area. It can be described as either the angular field of view or the linear field of view. The true angle you see through the optics is called the angular FOV and is measured by degrees. The linear FOV is the reference most commonly provided as the width in feet at a distance of 1,000 yards. As magnification increases, the FOV narrows.
You can calculate your linear FOV by multiplying the degree of the angular FOV by 52.5. So, if you know your angular field for a certain binocular is 8 degrees, then you would know the linear FOV at 1,000 yards is 420 ft., arrived at by multiplying 52.5 by 8. A wider FOV is useful when your subject is on the move, such as when birding, at sea, watching wildlife or sports. However, there are situations, such as astronomical viewing, where a wider FOV is also advantageous like when you want to study nebulae or star clusters.
In addition to the objective lenses, another method of increasing the light-gathering capabilities of binoculars is in the various lens coatings. You can refer to the coating and anti-reflection definitions here for an in-depth explanation. The purpose is to reduce light reflection while keeping the light-gathering ability as high as it can be. There are several options when it comes to types of coatings, such as:
Single layer coating – where at least one air-to-glass surface is coated with a colored layer
- Fully-coated – involves a single layer of colored coating applied to all air-to-glass surfaces with the objective coated with several colored layers, where prisms and eyepieces are coated with 2 to 6 magnesium fluoride coatings
- Multi-coated – with one or more lenses and prisms coated with multiple layers including prisms and eyepieces coated with 4 to 8 magnesium fluoride coatings
- Fully Multi-coated – multiple layers of several colors coating all air-to-glass surfaces and the prisms and eyepieces having from 4 to 16 magnesium fluoride coatings
The prism system inside a binocular reduces the size required to give focal length and turns the image the right way up. Without it, you would be seeing everything upside down and backwards. The types of prisms used are either roof prisms or porro prisms. The roof prisms overlap and align the eyepieces with the objectives in a straight line for slimmer construction. Porro prisms are offset where the eyepieces are not in alignment with the barrels of the objective lenses. Porro prisms offer greater depth perception and FOV while roof prisms can be optically better than porro prisms with quality phase-corrected and mirror coatings.
Roof prisms use advanced technology and tend to be more expensive than porro prism binoculars. They need more internal reflections, which may also risk light loss whereas porro prisms have no light loss because all the internal surfaces are reflective. The porro prism only needs four reflections versus the six that roof prisms require. While the basic optical quality of a porro prism is superior to roof prisms, they are cheaper to manufacture.
On either porro or roof prism systems, you can have either BK-7 or BaK4 prism glass. The BK-7 glass is found on either system and helps to keep costs down. It has a high refractive index rate and is the crown glass most commonly used on binoculars. BaK4 glass has a higher refractive index rate and produces brighter edges of the field of view. BaK4 tends to increase the price of the binocular. Generally, you are not going to experience any distinctive difference between these two unless you are using a wide FOV with small exit pupils, in which case you are better off with BaK4 prisms.
How to Choose High Powered Binoculars
There are so many models of high power binoculars from which to choose. It can seem challenging to narrow down the selection. I hope these guidelines will be of some help as you are deciding:
It is easy to raise expectations but try to keep them within reason. While your desire may be one of seeing the fine details of a person’s face, when the distance stretches to a mile or more, even the most expensive equipment is not capable of giving such detail, no matter the quality of magnification.
Daytime viewing has its own limits due to this little thing called the atmosphere. Between the elements in the atmosphere in constant motion and the distance through which you are viewing, what you can see may be somewhat clouded or obscured from the turbid conditions. Rarely will you find much success with binoculars that exceed 60x to 80x magnification, and the greater opacity means the lower the magnification should be to circumvent atmospheric conditions.
Consider how you might want to be able to move your binoculars around to help you make the appropriate choice. If astronomy is your thing, then there should be no problem settling on high powered binoculars that call for the stability of a tripod. You want a higher magnification for stargazing, but these glasses won’t serve you as well in the daylight. Large observation glasses are heavy, unwieldy and test the limits of portability.
The “bi” in binocular offers the viewing comfort of a widescreen effect when viewed with both eyes. This is also what reduces eye fatigue. However, a zoom lens in a high powered binocular does not provide the optical quality nor the durability you can expect from fixed-power models.
For your own calculations, determine how you are planning to use your high powered binoculars, the typical light level you can expect in that setting, the average long-view distance you plan to reach in viewing, and you will have a good idea where to start in selecting an appropriate pair of high-power binoculars.
The Advantages and Benefits of High-Power Binoculars
At most, a pair of high powered binoculars has only two adjustments that can be accomplished quickly. While binoculars are collimated, they do not need to be polar-aligned. You simply point them to the sky and observe. Stars are sharp and clear, and the color and contrast are good. Whether viewing the wildlife in the back 40, on a hunting outing, out on safari, bird watching, studying ships at sea or anticipating a fly-by of the International Space Station, you can achieve greater views with high powered binoculars. Your need depends completely on what your preferred hobby is, but if you have been wanting to see more from a farther distance, it is probably time to consider moving up to a pair of high powered binoculars.
What are the Controversies Regarding High-Powered Binoculars?
Overall, the biggest issue with higher magnification is their weight. They are simply heavier and, of course, bulkier than other binocular types you may have grown accustomed to using. Weights can range quite a bit from 1.5 pounds up to 4 or more pounds. This all depends on their power and size of the lens. Your choice of magnification and lens size should be targeted for your specific use.
As already mentioned, the super-giant binoculars that are best dedicated to astronomical viewing are not going to serve you as well to view targets in the daytime. Not only are they cumbersome, but they will not yield the best view. However, when you make the right selection for your purposes, you will be astonished at the field of view, the clarity and brightness and your ability to spot objects you never dreamed of seeing in a single image.
Brands to Consider
There is quite a selection of high-powered binoculars from which to choose with each brand providing a variety of models within their lines. These may anticipate everyone from the novice first starting out to the professional who is looking for something serious to accomplish the task. Reputable brands offering superior optics to consider include Avalon, Bushnell, Fujinon, Nikon, Vortex and Zeiss. You can expect to see a wide range of prices, many of which are excellent deals for the quality you are getting.
Review of the 5 Best High-Powered Binoculars in 2020
For the traveler, concert enthusiast and nature lover, the PowerView series of Bushnell binoculars offers a large line of quality glasses at affordable prices. Whatever your purpose, you can find a variety of styles and sizes, magnifications and a choice of optics coatings that give you bright and vivid images. They maintain a contemporary style while delivering the high power I am looking for in a rugged armor that is a sure grip. I like Bushnell binoculars for their high quality and variety of binoculars on offer. They are a reliable company that’s been around for over 50 years.
These 20x 50mm high magnification glasses feature a porro prism system with multi-coated optics that reduce glare and ensure optimal light transmission for brightness and better contrast. For high power, they are easy to grip and hold and easy to focus with a tilted lever in the center. They have proved to be an asset out in the field. I am anxious to see how they perform indoors at a concert. They would make an excellent choice for entry-level, high-power binoculars for under $100. The kit includes a soft case, cleaning cloth, neck strap, lens covers and instruction manual. Compare these binoculars with Celestron 71008 SkyMaster 25x 70mm Binocular or the Nikon 8252 ACULON A211 10-22x 50mm Zoom Binocular.
In staying with the under $100 price range, these ultra-high magnification 25x 70mm binoculars pack a punch with these big objective lenses for both astronomical viewing and long-range viewing, especially over long distances. The 70mm objective lenses have the light-gathering power of a 100mm telescope. It does weigh in at 6-pounds. I have made the adjustment to a larger tripod to stabilize them.
I was impressed when I used them to follow airplanes that are cruising at 35,000 feet. I was even able to read the markings on the planes. The kit includes a carrying case, rain guard, tripod adapter, lens cloth, lens caps, neck strap and instruction manual. Compare these binoculars with Nikon 8252 Aculon A21 10-22x 50mm Zoom Binocular or the BetaOptics 144X Military Zoom Binoculars.
I have stepped up a bit with these Nikon 12x 50mm 7573 PROSTAFF 5 binoculars pricing at $215, but I find them to be well worth the price. First, they feature fully multi-coating on all air-to-glass surfaces, which makes the colors I am seeing so vibrant and true to life. Second, the clarity of the images I see through these glasses is crisp and sharp.
I prefer my outdoor adventures whether backpacking or hiking, and these fit the bill for me weighing less than 2-pounds. They are constructed of a fiberglass-reinforced polycarbonate resin so not only are they lightweight, but I know they are durable for my activities outside. Plus, they have been sealed with an O-ring and filled with nitrogen gas making them both waterproof and fog proof.
The diopter operates smoothly, and I just like the way they feel in my hands. The kit includes a carrying case, LensPen cleaning system, LensPen anti-fog cleaning cloth, microfiber cleaning cloth, neck strap, lens covers and instructions. Compare with Nikon 7245 Action 10x 50mm EX Extreme All-Terrain Binocular or Nikon 8252 ACULON A211 10-22x 50mm Zoom Binocular.
I wanted to try the Nikon ATB 10x 50mm binocular after noticing it was frequently recommended in forums. At $152, I am not disappointed. These are lightweight, durable glasses that feature some of the best optics I have encountered in a binocular. They have a 5mm exit pupil and are both water and fog proof making it possible to use them from dawn to dusk without any issues.
The clarity of view is sharp, it is almost 3D. They are BaK4 high index prisms, which are better than BK-7 and these lenses are bright. The FOV is 341-feet at 1000 yards, better than all three previous entries. The central focus knob is smooth and quick, and I really do not find these binoculars to be too heavy to handle as I am out hiking.
They are 9.5 x 8.4 x 4.6 inches in dimensions so I am able to fit them in my pack or wear them with the neck strap, but I can also mount them on the tripod if I want to use them for extended viewing. If you are wanting to try an all-around binocular that meets the demand of a variety of purposes, it might be hard to beat these ATBs. Compare them with Nikon 7238 Action Ex Extreme 8x 40mm All Terrain Binoculars, Nikon 7239 Action 7x 50mm EX Extreme All-Terain Binocular or Nikon 16004 PROSTAFF 7S 10x 42mm Inches All-Terrain Binocular.
I wanted to round out our best-of selection with a pair of giant SkyMaster 20x 80mm high-powered binoculars. I was pleasantly surprised to find them at the $150 price point. They are purely for the extended viewing of astronomy or terrestrial use over long distances; that’s what they were made for. Weighing in at almost 6-pounds, you will need a stabilizing tripod with these glasses, although I have used them handheld, as long as I support myself somehow.
These are high-performance glasses with an ultra-sharp focus. Their multi-coated optics improve contrast and deliver superior resolution. The amateur astronomer could benefit from the views these glasses make available. Although stargazing takes some practice to map out the constellations and to be able to identify the particular nebulae and star clusters, there is great excitement and immediate satisfaction that I gain from pointing these binoculars to the sky. It is an excellent entrée in to the world of giant optics. Compare these to Orion 51464 20x 80mm Astronomy Binoculars or Celestron 71008 SkyMaster 25x 70mm Binoculars.
In conclusion, I have to give my top vote to the Nikon 7245 Action 10x 50mm EX Extreme All-Terrain High-Powered Binocular. These ATBs are going to be going with me everywhere I can think of that I might want to test their versatility as a high-power binocular. The clarity and sharpness of the images, the vivid colors and the versatility make it hard to believe these are high magnification glasses.
Although the Celestron SkyMaster giant binoculars are heavy, I am curious to try them out in some terrestrial venues. With an adapter to attach to the tripod, there is a chance to capture some remarkable photos with my smartphone while I am giving this a try. Overall, it is tough to land on a favorite pair of binoculars as no single pair is going to be just right for all occasions. That is why I enjoy exploring the different makes and models and reporting the results here with you.