Carried in a pocket or small bag, a pair of the best compact binoculars can be a crucial part of any traveling stargazer’s kit list. While tripod-mounted telescopes and other larger binoculars may be better for astronomy, the best compact binoculars offer better portability and still offer great views of the night sky, even though small compromises may be made along the way. We’ve got a handy guide to the top compact models right here.
A pair of the best compact binoculars is a worthwhile tool for any astronomer simply because they aren’t obtrusive to carry and can be neatly packed away until needed. These low-powered instruments will offer you much better views than you’d ever achieve with the naked eye, and they come in at relatively low prices too. The only drawback is that smaller binoculars have smaller objective lenses, so their light-gathering power won’t be as strong as a larger and inherently more expensive pair.
You’ll likely want to upgrade to something with a bit more viewing power, so be sure to check out our best telescopes and best binoculars guides. We even offer an in-depth look at the best binoculars for kids so your budding astronomer can enjoy the night sky with binos that aren’t going to be too hard to lift and hold still.
If you’re specifically looking for a pair of the best compact binoculars, then read on.
Best viewing experience
(Image credit: Olympus)
These binoculars from long-established optics manufacturer Olympus come in either purple or green for those who want to match them to their hat, but they offer far more than just good looks. At 25mm, their objective lenses are large for compact binoculars, which when coupled with a modest 8x magnification results in high relative brightness, meaning you’ll see more twinkling stars. Faint objects will appear brighter in these than in comparable 8×21 or 10×25 binoculars. This is enhanced by full multi-coating on the lenses, and BAK4 prisms with phase coatings — they tick all the boxes for optical quality.
These are also rugged binoculars, being both fully waterproof and nitrogen-filled to eliminate internal fogging when you whip them out of a warm pocket on a cold night. They measure just 4.48 x 4.52 x 1.77 inches, and at 9.17 oz are fairly lightweight. All this does come at a higher price point than some on this list, although true quality is never cheap.
Best for portability
(Image credit: Nikon)
These Nikon binoculars are extremely compact, at just 3.4 x 4.1 in, and lightweight at only 6.9 oz Their portability is slightly hampered by their limited ability to fold at the single central hinge, unlike many types of compact binoculars which make use of two hinges. The Nikon’s single hinge however does allow adjustment between the eyes from 56 to 72 mm. This should enable adults and children alike to use them comfortably.
The Aculon T02 is styled like something out of your favorite sci-fi, looking rather like twin engine pods, and they are available in a variety of colors (which may depend on which country you are buying in). We particularly applaud the inclusion of white, which will make these binoculars easy to find if laid in the dark whilst stargazing. They are priced at the lower end of Nikon’s extensive binocular range, which still makes them more expensive than many other brands, but they are an appealing design and are worthy of consideration.
Best build quality
(Image credit: Minox)
Once a maker of miniature spy cameras, Minox is now known for being a premium optical brand. We’d select this X-Lite 8×26 pair for the best compact binoculars as they are more affordable than the company’s alternative X-Active range but still boast high performance. One word of warning though: Minox products are rarely ever cheap.
They are quite heavy at 289g, but this reflects the robust build quality. They are nicely compact at 11 x 11.5 x 4 cm. The open bridge design is unusual in a compact pair, as is the inclusion of a tripod mount (adapter required, as with all but the largest binoculars). They have a nice wide field of view for an 8x compact, at 6.8 degrees, and the K9 glass roof prisms are treated with a phase correction coating. The binoculars are waterproof to IPX7 standards and nitrogen-filled to eliminate any risk of fogging.
Best value overall
(Image credit: Celestron)
A brand name that is known and loved for its quality and range of telescopes and binoculars. Celestron’s UpClose G2 binoculars offer lots of features at a reasonable price, which is why it is on this list of the best compact binoculars.
We’d opt for the 10x25s over the similar 8x21s due to their better twilight factor, at 15.8 instead of 13.0. This means the higher powered (and larger objective) pair gives better low-light results.
They are rubber coated, with water resistance, and have fold-up rubber eyecups for spectacle wearers. They are pocketable at 7.5 x 5.5 x 11cm. The Celestron UpClose G2 aren’t the highest specification binoculars, with partially multi-coated lenses and BK-7 glass roof prisms, but they are well priced and come with the reassurance of a limited lifetime guarantee.
(Image credit: Opticron)
The Opticron Aspheric 3 are not the most compact of compact binoculars at 10.9 x 10.6 x 3.3 cm, and they are slightly weighty at just under 300gm. The larger size and excellent ergonomics will be welcomed by users with big hands.
The aspheric lenses in these binoculars provide sharper images and less distortion across the field of view – which at 5 degrees is a bit below par for 10x magnification.
We rate these as one of the best compact binoculars because we love the excellent eye relief of 16 mm that makes them friendly for glasses wearers, and the twist-in rubber eyecups will make them comfortable for all users.
Best waterproof option
(Image credit: Bushnell)
These H2O binoculars have impressive specifications for a very affordable price, with multi-coating and BAK4 roof prisms. We particularly like the large and tactile centre-focus knob, which should mean that you can make adjustments without removing your gloves on cold nights. Bushnell claims that the optics are 100% waterproof and fog-proof. The 6.9 degree field of view is very respectable too.
The eye relief isn’t particularly generous at 12mm so not ideal for glasses wearers. They are fairly lightweight but still rugged and hardy with a rubberized finish to protect them from knocks and a solid design makes them easy to grip. At 12.7 x 10.16 x 6.95cm, they are not quite small enough to fit into a pocket, but you can easily throw them in your backpack for an outdoor camping trip.
Best fashion choice
(Image credit: Pentax)
If you can’t decide between the easier to hold 8x magnification or 10x magnification for closer views (especially noticeable on the moon and planets) then here’s a compromise: 9x magnification, offering most of the benefits of both. These binoculars measure just 13 x 11.6 x 5.5cm, and are very light 194 grams yet boast high quality fully multi-coated optics.
Watch out for the 10×21 version of the Pentax UD, as this is not fully multi-coated, has less eye relief, and an even smaller exit pupil at 2.1 mm compared to 2.3mm here. The 9×21 is a much better choice.
These are the lightest binoculars in the Pentax range, helped no doubt by using a plastic instead of metal chassis, and the large focus wheel makes handling surprisingly good. The 6 degree field of view is adequate but not as good as some of the UD’s serious rivals. There’s a tripod mount, which of course requires an adapter, and we love that they’re available in a choice of five colors, including hot pink and a rather zingy lime green.
Best budget Porro prisms
(Image credit: Apexel)
A Chinese brand best known for its smartphone lens accessories, these inexpensive reverse Porro compact binoculars are very lightweight at only 178 grams, due to their ABS plastic body. They boast fully multi-coated lenses and quality BAK4 roof Porro prisms, although the objectives have a green hue that’s typical of lower-quality coatings. The eyepiece lenses, curiously, have a blue coating.
You certainly get a lot of bang for your buck, however, as these are impressive specifications for bargain binoculars, especially when you add the fact that they’re waterproof. With nearly 15 mm of eye relief they can be used comfortably by spectacle wearers and they have a wide field of view at 6.5 degrees, these binoculars are great value for money.
Best high power
(Image credit: Sunagor)
Sunagor brands itself as a specialist manufacturer of high-power binoculars, and reckons these are the smallest and lightest 18x magnification binos you can get. Less than 200g, these binoculars are certainly pocketable, although being a single-hinge design they don’t fold up particularly small.
There’s only partial multi-coating on the lenses, and no particular claims for quality glass inside the barrels, but they redeem themselves through that ambitious 18x power.
The downside is that such high magnification means they will be difficult to hand-hold, and there is no tripod socket provided, so you’ll need to be able to hold your binoculars steady without external support. With objective lenses of just 21 mm, these binos are of limited use for astronomy duties, but we’re including them here because they will deliver the ‘wow’ moment when turned on that old favorite of binocular astronomy, the moon.
Best for versatility
(Image credit: Pentax)
When is a pair of binoculars not a pair of binoculars? When it’s a pair of monoculars. Pentax’s slightly gimmicky binos can be disassembled to provide two 4x monoculars, and then screwed together to create a 16x telescope.
While this undoubtedly makes for a versatile optical instrument, this brings a series of compromises. For a start, each tube has to be focused independently, which soon becomes tedious. In binocular mode, they offer only 4x magnification, but this does come with a very wide field of view.
If the magnification makes you feel a little underwhelmed, you can quickly convert to telescope mode for 16x magnification. Bear in mind that this results in a very narrow field of view of just 2.6 degrees, so the usefulness of this telescope will be limited. We would expect it to give a worthwhile view of the moon, but not much else in the night sky.
With a pair of monoculars, two users will benefit from the additional light-gathering power over the human eye, making it easier to spot more stars and celestial objects. However, this is an expensive option for buying low-power instruments. You might be better off buying two decent pairs of binoculars whether compact or standard. Despite these binoculars not being highly recommended, we have included them for their cleverness and novelty.
What to look out for when buying compact binoculars
The main things to consider when shopping for compact binoculars are the magnification – usually 8x or 10x – and the diameter of the objective (front) lenses. Because compact binoculars are small and light, it’s easier to hold them still and so higher magnification might be a good choice. Remember though, lower power binoculars will give a brighter image, making faint objects such as nebulae more visible.
It’s best to go for the largest lens diameter you can get. Bigger lenses mean more light-gathering power and better views for you. Compact binoculars tend to have objectives in the 20-25 mm range. However, it is worth noting that even the largest of these will collect only a quarter as much light as a pair of conventional 50 mm binoculars. We don’t recommend compact binoculars with a zoom feature, as this is simply asking too much of the smaller objective lenses on this type of instrument.
Compact binoculars are usually roof prism types, as this arrangement provides straight tubes and lends itself to foldability. It’s rare to find conventional Porro prism compact binoculars, but some use the reverse-Porro arrangement. This results in objective lenses closer together than the eyepieces. Check what type of glass the prisms are made from – the best is BAK4, while budget binoculars often use BK-7 or K9 (these two are more or less equivalent).
You should also consider what type of lens coating is used. Lenses will be described as being coated, multi-coated, or fully multi-coated. The best of all will be fully multi-coated with phase coating on the prisms. Some compacts are waterproof or at least water-resistant, which is always a good idea for peace of mind. The best will also be nitrogen-filled to eliminate any risk of internal fogging, especially handy when taking out of a warm pocket on a cold night.
When shopping online, you may come across lots of lesser-known brands offering what seem to be unmissable bargains but, as ever, buyer beware. Products are not always advertised accurately, especially when being sold by traders on third-party websites, and we advise treating claims with a degree of suspicion. Ask yourself if you really believe that these very cheap binoculars have all the features they claim, or whether some of the claims might be lost in translation. Sometimes the comfort of a trusted brand is worth paying a small premium for.
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