Reviews

Best Compact Binoculars in 2020 – Reviewed

Unless a person needs some impressive magnification power, there’s no reason for them to buy a full-size pair of binoculars. Compact models are more than suitable for most people, and because of their very design, they’re easy to use and are highly transportable. Unfortunately, there are a lot of sub-par binoculars that try to pass themselves off as inexpensive compact ones, so the consumer needs to be cautious about what they buy. That’s why we’ve decided to list not only the best compact binoculars available but also include a handy guide on what to look for when shopping for a pair of them.

Quick Summary of Compact Binoculars

 Best Overall 

Pentax 8.5×21 U-Series Papilio II  (review)

 Best Value 

Bushnell H2O Waterproof Binoculars  (review)

 Best Affordable 

SGODDE 8×25 Waterproof Binoculars  (review)

Reviews

Pentax 8.5×21 U-Series Papilio II

 Best Overall 

Anyone searching for one of the best compact binoculars currently available is going to want to consider looking at the Pentax U-Series Papilio II. It’s a pair of binoculars that’s engineered to be durable and to have the features that the consumer needs. It’s a pair of binoculars that can be used for viewing sporting events, looking at fine details on art objects, or for viewing a favorite opera.

It’s also an exceptional pair of binoculars for bird and/or nature watching. These binoculars are capable of doing all of these things and are the best overall binoculars available because the manufacturer used only quality components when they manufactured it.

To understand why these compact binoculars are superior to other models, the consumer first has to look at its optics. Unlike other types of binoculars that use inferior roof prisms, these use BAK4 Porro prisms that deliver not only rounder images, but also images that are sharper and brighter.

They have a 51-degree apparent angle of view, a 21mm objective, and an 8.5x magnification level. This allows the consumer to easily pick up and track their target, so it’s great for watching a game, birds or sporting events. And because it has a minimum focus of 20-inches, even small details can be viewed up close. Details that can include things like the patterns on butterfly wings, animal tracks or even small details on art pieces.

It’s clarity and brightness isn’t the only thing worth mentioning about these binoculars, however. It has several other features that are worth mentioning and will demonstrate to our readers that these are the best compact binoculars available. One of these features is its ability to be used with a separately sold and option tripod mount for watching things from a fixed point of view.

It also features fully-coated optics that maximize light transmission, a uni-body design that’s durable and can be taken anywhere, and a 15mm eye relief that makes it easy for people wearing spectacles to use.

PROS:

  • They use high-quality lenses.
  • They are sharp and bright.
CONS:

  • These binoculars aren’t cheap.

Bushnell H2O Waterproof Binoculars

 Best Value 

To be clear, let’s start off by saying that these aren’t the best small-sized binoculars available. Sure, they do have a small size and are easy to carry from one location to the next, but they’re optics aren’t as good as premium binoculars. Now, don’t get us wrong, if these binoculars were terrible, then they certainly wouldn’t have a place on this list.

We feel that they’re the best budget compact binoculars, not the best ones overall. That’s probably because they were made with roof prism optics instead of Porro lenses. However, just because they’re not at the very top of the line doesn’t mean that they’re not a good pair of binoculars for watching wildlife or sporting events.

These binoculars have an 8x magnification level and have an objective lens size of 25mm. They use quality BaK 4 prisms that allow for crisp, clear and bright views, but since these prisms are arranged in a roof configuration, they lack some of the complete sharpness that many of the high-end binoculars feature.

These lenses are coated, however, so they do provide for excellent light transmission and reduce glare. And since they are both waterproof and O-ring sealed, they won’t be ruined by adverse weather conditions or fog up when the consumer needs them the most.

The one thing that we liked about these binoculars was how easy they are to use and how durable they are. They’re made with a non-slip rubber armor that gives the user an excellent grip, in all different types of weather conditions and helps to protect them against incidental shocks or drops.

These binoculars also have a 15-foot close focus distance, so consumers can use it for looking at close-up details. And finally, it has a 12mm eye relief that makes it easy for just about anyone to use, even if they’re wearing spectacles or sunglasses. All things considered, these are good budget binoculars that have a nice compact size and should work well for most people.

PROS:

  • They’re easy to grip and use.
  • They’re reasonably priced binoculars.
CONS:

  • The lenses could’ve been a bit better.

SGODDE 8×25 Waterproof Binoculars

 Best Affordable 

Although we try to avoid binoculars in the $30 or under budget-range, because they tend to be a little more useful than toy binoculars, when we saw these binoculars we couldn’t resist the temptation to review it. We wanted to find out if the binoculars worked as good as they looked and if it were possible that manufacturers could make a “cheap” pair of binoculars that weren’t completely useless.

And what we discovered, is that it is possible to have the best of both worlds. These binoculars were not only extremely affordable, but they were also easy-to-use and provided decent clarity.

Now, we’re not saying that these binoculars are equipped with the best optics available because clearly, they aren’t. What we are saying is that they are good for a pair of binoculars in this price range. They have a nice 8x magnification level and a 25mm objective lens that allows the user to get a 362-foot wide view at a range of 1,000-yards.

Their fully-coated optics are also made from BAK-4 prisms that have been specially coated with a multi-layer green film that helps to deliver a clear image and transmit up to 99% of available light for higher contrast levels than other binoculars.

Something else that tickled our fancy about these binoculars was their design. They had a very compact design that was only 5.12×5.12-inches in size and weighed approximately 8.8-ounces. That’s large enough for it to be effective but small enough that it can easily be thrown into a hunting pack, a backpack, a bug out bag, or a duffle bag.

It’s also equipped with a rubber texture that protects it against drops or incidental shocks and gives the consumer a great grip. Probably the best thing about these budget compact binoculars is that they work extremely well in lower light conditions. They allow consumers to see better at dawn or dusk, so they never miss a thing.

PROS:

  • They’re inexpensive.
  • They work well in low-light conditions.
CONS:

  • Optics aren’t top-notch quality.

A Basic Guide To Choosing Compact Binoculars

It doesn’t matter what the consumer uses their compact binoculars for, they are going to want to choose the best ones possible. It doesn’t matter if they’re using them to watch football or baseball, whether they’re using them for watching wildlife or birds, or if they need them to see if their mail has been delivered to their curbside box, they’re are going to want to choose a model that holds up well and provides them with the image clarity they need. To help our readers find the models that do exactly that, we’ve decided to not only list the best compact binoculars above but also list some guidelines that will enable them to separate the good models from the bad ones—no matter where they discover them. 

Step One: Choose A Magnification Level

One of the first things that consumers are going to want to consider when buying a new pair of compact binoculars is their magnification level. The magnification level of the binoculars is expressed by a number followed by an “x”. For example, a pair of binoculars that have a magnification level of 5-times will be listed as 5x binoculars. And when it comes to the magnification level, the consumer has plenty of choices, which can make it difficult for the consumer to decide which one suits them best. In our experience, compact binoculars that have a magnification level of 7-10x are generally best for general day-to-day use. If the consumer needs something a little more powerful, then they are going to have to go up a little bit to achieve the best results. Hunting binoculars are usually in the 10x or higher range. 

The second thing that consumers might want to consider is the objective size of the lens. The higher the objective size, the wider the field-of-view and the more clarity the resulting image the user sees through the lens. This measurement is usually expressed as the second number behind the magnification level of a pair of binoculars. For example, if the binoculars have a 10x magnification level and a 50mm objective lens size, then the listing will state that fact as 10×50 or 10x50mm. As far as compact lenses are concerned, however, consumers won’t be able to buy ones with lenses that large. The objective size of compact binoculars is usually in the 10mm to 25mm range. 

Step Two: Think About Lens Coatings

Another important consideration is the coatings that are used on the lenses. Manufacturers use a variety of different coatings to improve image quality, to reduce glare or for other purposes. Generally, the consumer is going to want to get a pair of compact binoculars that use either an FC coating, an MC coating, or an FMC coating. FC coating means that multiples glass lens surfaces have been treated; MC means that only a portion of the surfaces have been coated with multiple treatments, and FMC means that all lenses have been coated with multiple coatings. Consumers should avoid binoculars that only have a C-coating because that means that only some of the lens surfaces have been coated with a single layer and that makes it the lowest quality lens coating available. 

Step Three: Give Serious Thought To The Eyepieces

It’s also a good idea for the consumer to think about the eyepieces to make sure they’re going to work for them. If the eyepieces don’t sit a comfortable distance from the eyes, then the binoculars can be difficult to use. How the eyepieces sit in relation to the eye is called eye relief. As a general rule, most compact binoculars have an eye relief of anywhere from 6mm to 20mm. For most people anywhere from 6mm to 12mm is more than adequate. However, for people who wear spectacles, or need to wear sunglasses with the binoculars, then they are going to need at least a 14mm eye relief, if not greater. It’s also a good idea for people wearing glasses to choose models that have eyepieces that flip out of the way or can be retracted. Those features make the binoculars easier to use. 

Some Final Compact Binocular Features To Think About

As come to the end of our article on compact binoculars, we wanted to finish up by listing some of the other features the consumer might want to consider before they purchase a new pair. The following either make the binoculars easier to use or extend their usefulness, so it’s up to the consumer which ones they need and which ones they don’t. 

Things To Think About:

  • Glass lenses versus plastic lenses.
  • Whether the binoculars are water-resistant
  • Whether the binoculars are shock-resistant or fog-proof.
  • Are the binoculars easy to grip?

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