5 Great Choices For Top Of The Line Binoculars For Birding
Top Of The Line Binoculars for Birding Comparison Table
Top Of The Line Binoculars For Birding
Winner: Our Pick Top of the Line Binoculars For Birding
The Swarovski EL 8.5×42 is probably the most popular set of binoculars in our top of the line category. It is not surprising given how long the brand has been around. As you would expect from any superior product, over time, the features and quality have just gotten better. These are first-rate.
We appreciate the open hinge body design, which makes it easy to hold. The set feels secure in your hands when carrying them. The body of the binoculars is a high-quality Magnesium alloy. Magnesium alloy is considerably more expensive than the typical aluminum or plastic frames. They are incredibly durable and highly resistant to corrosion. This choice of metal keeps the weight a meager 29.5 ounces, which is impressive given that they are 6.3in x 5.2in and made from metal instead of plastic. You can feel the quality of the binocular frame with its textured grip.
The eyecups are twist up and smooth to set. The design and slight angle make them comfortable on your face. The quality material extends to the eyecups as well, being they are made from metal instead of plastic. There is a rubberized section for contact with your face, but other than that, high-quality metal. One of the benefits from a top of the line pair like this is they eyecups are replaceable in the event they are damaged or worn. They work exceptionally well and are outstanding compared to the lower-priced categories. Because of the 20mm eye relief, they fit nicely for people wearing glasses, giving the correct distance from the ocular lens.
The focus wheel sits prominently just below the eyecups, and between the cylinders. The action is smooth and precise. Unlike most binoculars, the diopter adjustment is built directly into the focus wheel. I like this design because you pull the focusing wheel back and turn it the proper number of clicks until adjusted for your eyes. When finished, push the focus-wheel back in place, and you are ready to go. Very simple.
The optics are where the Swarovski EL 8.5×42 shine by using some of the highest-rated optical components, superior technology, and coatings process. The ocular has an impressively wide 23mm diameter.
The field flattener lenses are another benefit you get with cream of the crop binoculars. Often, with lower quality lenses, you will have the proper focus in the center of your view. But as you move toward the edge, things become slightly out of focus. This lack of focus on the sides gives you an adverse feeling of distortion. Field flattening lenses alleviate this issue. Distributing the focal-point across the entire field of view leaves you with the sharpest image. Very few binoculars do this.
The objective lenses of the Swarovski EL 8.5×42 are high definition. The extra-low dispersion or ED glass in the lens contains fluoride that reduces light dispersion. Light dispersion causes chromatic aberrations or color fringing, where the colors do not combine as they should due to improper refraction. These elite lenses give clarity and sharpness worthy of the price. The binoculars are fully coated with their patented coatings. The coating is a multilayered mixture designed to reduce wide-band reflection significantly. They have an outstanding prism, coated with phase coating which is highly reflective. They are completely waterproof and fog proof as they should be. When using the binoculars, the wide field of view is 399 feet at 1,000 yards. This is a nice sweet spot, along with a 4.9 ft minimum focal distance for up-close viewing.
- This item includes Swarovski optic EL 8 5x42 binocular - field bag - Eyepiece cover - Objective Lens cover - lift carrying strap - Swarovski optic Lifetime limited for optics - Swarovski optic 10 year for other parts
- Magnification 8 5x
- Effective objective lens diameter 42mm
- Exit pupil Diameter 4 9mm
- Exit pupil Distance (eye relief) 20mm
The second pair of binoculars we chose for our top of the line category is the Zeiss Victory SF 8×42. Let me start with the balance and weight distribution of these binos. They have a unique feel when you bring them up to your eyes for viewing. They created what they call an ErgoBalance concept. This concept is where the most substantial weight of the body is back towards your eyes, and the section of the body that is furthest from your eyes is lighter. It is one of the things that stands apart with the Zeiss brand, and people who are loyal fans love how they feel. The idea is that it keeps them perfectly balanced in your hands, which minimizes fatigue and enables a more extended, steady observation. Owners of the Zeiss Victory SF 8×42 are passionate, and with good reason.
The optics are outstanding and are what moves the binoculars into a premium category, valued well over $2,000. If you wanted the most fabulous birding experience possible, using a set of these high-quality binos will get you there. They have a wide field of view of 148m (486 ft) at 1,000m. The optics are brilliant coming from a company that has been producing them for over 125 years. They are true craftsmen in the field. The seven lens eyepiece leads to an incredibly sharp focus across the entire diameter.
Their Ultra-FL Concept is the secret sauce behind their SCHOTT fluoride glasses. They have an astonishing 92% light transmission, leading to fantastic color fidelity, brightness, and clarity. Even the most delicate details pop alive with these lenses. They finish the recipe for success, with a Zeiss T* coating to give high contrast images even in less than ideal light conditions, including twilight.
The Zeiss SmartFocus design is an intuitive, ergonomically aligned focus wheel, that is precise, yet easy to use. It just feels right in your hand, and your finger slides effortlessly from the grip to the focus wheel.
Let’s face it unless you live in San Diego; the weather is not always going to be perfect. Nature doesn’t stop because the sun goes into hiding. With a clear view from the LotuTec coating on the lenses, nothing is going to stop you from having a clear, unhindered view. No need to sing the Milli Vanilli song, “Blame it on the rain.”
Here are some final specs on the Zeiss Victory SF 8×42 binoculars. The close focusing distance comes in at 4.9 feet. The diopter adjustment, to compensate for any difference between your eyes, has a range from -4.0 to +4.0. The prism system is the distinguished Schmidt-Pechan. Nitrogen creates a fog proof and waterproof system. They are a little longer than the Swarovski EL binoculars, measuring in at 6.8″. They are pretty light, weighing in at 27.8 ounces. The Zeiss Victory SF is another excellent, top of the line pair of binoculars.
- 92% Light Transmission - The Ultra-FL Concept is containing several SCHOTT fluoride glasses for absolute color fidelity, brightness, clarity and the finest resolution of details, even in the harshest conditions and most challenging environment.
- Extremely wide field of view - The wide field of view of the ZEISS Victory SF binoculars increases the observable area of interest by up to 20% in comparison with other binoculars.
- True-to-life image quality - The ZEISS Victory SF family was developed to master the most demanding situations encountered in birdwatching. The optical performance was maximised with a UFL Concept.
- SmartFocus Concept - The outstanding SmartFocus concept allows you to respond as quickly and intuitively thanks to the improved focusing speed. The focusing wheel is positioned in the triple-link bridge to allow for a comfortable, natural hand position.
- A clear view, whatever the weather - LotuTec coating for the lenses of binoculars and spotting scopes that enables a clear and unhindered view in all weather conditions.
Next up in our review for the top of the line binoculars is the spectacular Leica Noctivid 8×42. There are a few things that all the elite binoculars have in common. One characteristic in common is the makers of these fine instruments have been around for a significant amount of time. What we know as the Leica company today, was previously named the Leitz Company before 1986. The name change was a result of the famous Leica band within the Leitz company. Everything started in 1849 with Carl Kellner starting the “Optisches Institut” (Optical Institute). There is an excellent timeline, and interesting history at the Leica website, which I highly recommend reading. According to the company timeline, 1907 is the year binocular production began. They have improved tremendously since then and now find themselves listed as some of the best in the world.
Let’s start with the name. As it implies, the Noctivid has an amazing low light optical system. They are bright and brilliant well into dusk with their 92% light transmission. They have the sharpest and most vibrant contrast as a result of the Schott HT glass used for the prisms. Leica uses a unique high-temperature plasma process when applying the coatings, preventing reflection. These improvements lead to the whole visible spectrum of light transmitting through the binoculars, which is incredible. The color is extraordinary and close to color neutrality (meaning no loss of color).
The field of view on these binoculars is 443 feet at 1,000 yards. The close focus is 6.2 feet. Both of these values are a little higher than most of the other binoculars in this category. The eye relief is 19mm.
Another characteristic of ultra high-quality binoculars is the edge to edge sharpness across the lenses. On lower-quality binos, you have focused sharpness in the center of the view, but as you move toward the sides, you have distorted quality. The Leica Noctivid 8×42 does not suffer from degradation of excellence and is on the same playing field as Zeiss and Swarovski.
The Leica Noctivid is slightly heavier than some of the other models in this category. It is only by an ounce or so, and I doubt you would notice the difference. The total length comes in at less than 6″ (5.9). The length makes them a little more compact than the others. The Leica Noctivid has an open hinge design.
- Package length: 15.748 cm
- Package width: 20.828 cm
- Package height: 26.67 cm
- Product Type: BINOCULAR
The Leica Ultravid HD 8×42 is the second pair of Leica binoculars in our top of line category. Let’s face it, they make some fantastic binos, and both sets (Noctivid and Ultravid) deserve their places in the top 5. They are not a set that most people would choose on a whim, but more so after much consideration. This category is like deciding between a Bugatti and a McLaren, after all.
What we see in the Ultravid HD 8×42 is an evolution of the original Leica Ultravid. Leica has continued to refine the quality and enhancements to make them even better. They added technology and changed some of the materials so that the optic would give increased brightness and clear images. The clarity extends across the entire field of view from edge to edge. You know when a pair of binoculars gives you enhanced contrast and near true color fidelity, with almost no distortion, you have something special. While not quite as impressive as the Noctivid in twilight conditions, they are still superior to most.
The Ultravid 8×42 feature SCHOTT HT glass with phase-corrected roof prisms. The phase-correction process utilized by Leica on the Roof Prism help the brightness of the image. When you invest this much in a superior product, you want it to last for a very long time. Leica uses a scratch and abrasion resistant HDC (high durable coating) on the lenses. They also use hydrophobic AquaDura coating on the outer lens for additional protection of the glass surface. It also causes water and natural oils to bead off the lenses, giving more exact images even in bad weather. For the roof prism coating, they use a proprietary P40 High Lux System. Using a high-temperature plasma lens coating gives them an exact optical coating placement. In turn, you end up with a much reduced chromatic aberration, so the color is not fringed.
The eyecups are twist-out click-and-stop to give you comfortable use and adjustment. The optics include a -4 to +4 right-eye dioptric correction to compensate for any difference in your eyes. When you dig into some of the other specs of these binoculars, the actual angle of view is 7.4 degrees. The field of view is 389 feet at 1,000 compared to well over 400 for the Noctivid model. The minimum distance focus of 9.84 feet is further on these than most of the other models. The eye relief of 15.5 is a bit shorter as well, but that is proportionally correct. Especially considering they are slightly shorter than some of the other models, making them a bit compact. The total dimensions of the body are 5.6 x 4.8 x 2.6.
The binoculars are fog proof and waterproof, using nitrogen to fill and seal them. They weigh in at 27.9 ounces, which is pretty light. The body is made from a die-cast magnesium alloy for incredible durability and strength. Unlike some of the other top of the line binoculars, this set does not have an open hinged design, which some people may prefer as they feel more solid as a unit in your hands. Overall the Leica Altravid HD Plus 8×42 is an excellent pair of binoculars. You should seriously consider them if you are looking for the cream of the crop.
- Field of View: 391.57' @ 1000yd
- Objective Diameter: 42mm
- Eye Relief: 13.3mm
- Exit Pupil: 5.25mm
- Weight: 27.87oz
We finish up our review of the best top of the line binoculars with the Swarovski EL 8×32. This set of binos is the only 8×32 pair of binos to make this category.
Lightweight and Compact
The Swarovski EL 8×32 is much smaller than the others in this category. If you are looking for the best compact binoculars on the market, this is the pair you want. They are incredibly light, weighing in at just 21 ounces. The body dimensions are 5.3in length x 5.0in width x 2.2in height. It makes them very easy to wrap your hands around and light to carry. If you have smaller hands, this is the pair for you. They have a wrap-around grip with an open hinge design, similar to their big brother, the Swarovski EL 8×42, which are the top pick in this category. The texture of the magnesium alloy body makes them feel secure in your hand.
The technology used in the Swarovski 8×32 along with their precision manufacturing process leads to a state of the art viewing. The result of these quality standards is a razor-sharp, high-contrast image. The color fidelity is one of the best on the market. Swarovski prides themselves on their quality control and quality management systems, including ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. These binos perform with complete reliability from -4 degrees f to +131 degrees f. As a side note, please don’t invite me along for your birding adventures if the temperatures will be that extreme.
They are proud of their Swarovision technology, and it’s unprecedented peripheral clarity. The effect of this is a flattened image with sustained definition across the entire lens, and not just the center. The fluoride infused high definition lenses minimizes any color fringing and maximized near true color fidelity. Fluoride-containing lenses reduce scatter, which is an advantage in eliminating color aberrations.
No need to worry if you wear glasses as they have considerable eye relief at 20mm, providing a full field of view.
To round out our review, here are a few specs. The field of view is 423 feet at 1000 yards with an 8x magnification, which makes for a nice steady viewing picture without a lot of jumping around. The shortest focusing distance is a respectable 6.2 feet for those up-close shots. They have diopter compensation that will adjust +/-4. The light transmission for the Swarovski EL 8×32 is 90%. While this is lower than the 92% of the EL 8×42 model, it is still top-performing. As we noted previously, if you are looking for the highest quality binoculars with a more compact design, this pair is a great choice.
- Swarovski Optik EL 8x32 Binocular - Field Bag - Eyepiece Cover - Objective Lens Cover - Lift Carrying Strap - Swarovski Optik Lifetime Limited for Optics - Swarovski Optik 10 Year for Other Parts
- Magnification: 8x
- Effective objective lens diameter: 32mm
- Exit pupil Diameter: 4mm
- Exit pupil Distance (eye relief): 20mm