Binoculars are often the best piece of equipment for astronomy beginners or those who enjoy a spot of stargazing, offering great views of the Moon and stars among other celestial objects.

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All you have to do is step out into your garden on a clear night, grab a pair of good quality binoculars and enjoy the view.

But binoculars are by no means just a gateway instrument into astronomy before you buy your first telescope.

Many amateur astronomers prefer binocular observing over any other form of exploring the night sky, and a good, powerful model will enable you to examine the Moon, planets, stars and deep-sky objects for decades to come.

A pair of binoculars may be all you need to get started in astronomy. Credit: VW Pics / Contributor / Getty Images
A pair of binoculars may be all you need to get started in astronomy. Credit: VW Pics / Contributor / Getty Images

What night-sky objects can you see with binoculars?

If your passion is planetary detail, close double stars, globular clusters or planetary nebulae, then consider buying a telescope.

But for the rest of the visible Universe, binoculars are the better option.

Setting up handheld binoculars takes a few seconds, and even mounted ones can be set up in a few minutes, so you’ll be observing long before your Go-To telescope-using buddies are ready to start.

Kemble's Cascade by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: QHY8L cooled ccd OSC camera, SW150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, SW80ST, MS lifecam.
Kemble's Cascade by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: QHY8L cooled ccd OSC camera, SW150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, SW80ST, MS lifecam.

Many objects are ideally framed in the wider field of handheld binoculars: asterisms like Kemble’s Cascade or the Leaping Minnow overflow most telescope fields, as do large open clusters such as the Pleiades and the Beehive Cluster.

Even large faint objects like the Triangulum Galaxy and the North America Nebula can be easier to see in budget 10x50 binoculars than in amateur telescopes of several times the price.

Beehive Cluster by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro RC 250TT, Astrophysics reducer, QHY9S MONO CCD, Ioptron CEM60 mount, Chroma Technology filters
Beehive Cluster by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro RC 250TT, Astrophysics reducer, QHY9S MONO CCD, Ioptron CEM60 mount, Chroma Technology filters

What to look for when buying binoculars

Binoculars are classified by two numbers that refer to their magnification and aperture.

A 10x50 pair of binoculars has a magnification of 10x, and each of the objective lenses has an aperture of 50mm.

These numbers also enable you to calculate the size of the circle of light – or ‘exit pupil’ – that emerges from the eyepieces: all you have to do is divide the aperture by the magnification.

This means a 10x50 pair of binoculars has an exit pupil of 5mm.

numbers on binoculars

The exit pupil should be no larger than the dark-dilated pupils of your eyes: a pupil of anywhere between 4-6mm is fine for your first pair of binoculars.

Larger apertures potentially show you more, but may need mounting if you want steady views over prolonged periods.

Common sizes of binoculars are:

  • 8x40: which almost anyone over the age of 10 can hold steadily
  • 10x50: which most adults can hold steadily (this size is a popular compromise between size and weight)
  • 15x70: which really needs to be mounted, although they can be briefly handheld
Orion Monster Parallelogram mount, GiantView 25x100 binoculars
Orion Monster Parallelogram mount, GiantView 25x100 binoculars

You should also check that the distance between the eyepieces, or ‘interpupillary distance’ will adjust to your eyes.

If you wear glasses, ensure that the binoculars have enough distance (‘eye relief’) from the eyepiece to your ideal eye position; 18mm or more should be fine.

There are two basic types of binoculars: Porro-prism and roof-prism.

In any price range, roof-prisms are lighter, but Porro-prisms tend to have better optical quality.

Once you’ve decided on size and type, get the best quality you can for your budget and start exploring the night sky.

Can you use any old binoculars?

Even toy binoculars can give you a decent view of the night sky Credit: iStock
Even toy binoculars can give you a decent view of the night sky. Credit: iStock

In principle, yes: even plastic-lensed 4x20 toy binoculars can show you astronomical objects that you otherwise couldn’t see, such as the moons of Jupiter.

If you already have a pair of small binoculars, for example a 6x30 or 8x32 pair, try them out under the stars: you’ll be amazed at how much more you can see.

The optical quality will also make a difference and you may find that there are things you can see with good-quality small binoculars like 8x42s that are beyond the capability of an entry-level 15x70.

Opticron Imagic IS 12x30 binoculars review

More binocular advice

If you're getting started in binocular astronomy, read our beginner's guide to binocular astronomy, or browse our binocular reviews. If you're on a budget, discover our pick of the best budget binoculars.

Or if easy transportation is what you're after, there are also many telescopes that might fit the bill. Read our guide to the best travel telescopes.

Here, in no particular order, is our pick of the best binoculars for astronomy, including budget models for beginners and more pricey models for those who are looking to upgrade their current pair.

21 of the best binoculars for astronomy

1

Canon 12x36 IS III binoculars

Canon 12x36 IS III binoculars review

The Canon 12x36 IS III come in a padded case with a neckstrap and individual eyepiece caps.

Holding the binoculars up to the light, we could see that the exit pupils are beautifully round with no cut-offs or grey sections. This tells us the prisms are full sized and the glass has an appropriate refractive index.

We turned the binoculars to the Moon and Jupiter and found no ghost images. Similarly, control of stray light is excellent.

The feature we were really keen to try out was the image stabilisation ability, which we engaged with the turn of a button.

The image became completely still and fainter stars became visible.

This is a very impressive pair of binoculars, great for observing objects in the night sky.

Read our full Canon 12x36 IS III binoculars review.

2

Bresser 10x50 Corvette binoculars

Bresser 10x50 Corvette binoculars scale

The Bresser 10x50 Corvette binoculars come with an array of welcome extras such as a nylon case, 25cm-wide neck strap, tethered lens caps for the objective lenses, tethered rain guard for the eyepieces, a microfibre cleaning cloth and an instruction booklet.

The binoculars boast a precise focusing system that makes them ideal for astronomy. Indeed, we found that stars in the middle of the field of view snapped into best focus.

The Bresser 10x50 Corvette are a great option for those who want a moderately-priced general-purpose pair of binoculars of decent quality, and which are also perfectly suited for astronomy.

Read our full Bresser 10x50 Corvette binoculars review.

3

Opticron Oregon WA 10x50 binoculars

Opticron Oregon WA 10x50 binoculars

The Opticron Oregon WA 10x50s are sturdy and well-performing. They're well-balanced and light enough for easy transport or using over extended periods. Testing them out, we felt it was like someone had been noting down what binocular reviews have been asking for in an entry-level pair of 10x50s for years. If you're after an inexpensive pair, these are definitely worth a look.

More like this

Read our full Opticron Oregon WA 10x50 binoculars review.

4

Helios Stellar II 10x50 binoculars

Helios Stellar II 10x50 binoculars

The Helios Stellar II binoculars have individual eyepiece focusing. This is the preferred option for astronomy, meaning you can set the focus and then leave it alone. They are also quite heavy, which means that they are likely to tire your arms, although we did find that their mass also helps to reduce shake.

We were impressed with the brightness and excellent colour rendition of the image, which is sharp over the central 80 per cent of the 6.5° field of view. This makes them ideal for scanning the sky.

They have several useful features, including tethered lens caps for the objective lenses and the eyepieces. By having these caps attached to the binoculars, they won’t get lost and you’re probably more likely to use them, too. They are covered in a substantial, ribbed rubber armour that offers protection against everyday knocks, and gives a secure grip even when the binoculars are damp from dew

5

Opticron Imagic TGA WP

The Opticron TGA binoculars are more than 100g lighter than any of the other Porro prism binoculars in this test group, but this doesn’t come at the expense of ruggedness. Not only are they covered in a substantial rubber armour, but they come with a semi-rigid case that offers excellent protection against the rigours of regular, varied use.

Their field of view is on the narrow side at 5.3°, but this is compensated for by extremely good colour correction and colour rendition. Star colours were vibrant in the eyepieces. Images were bright and stars were tack-sharp across the middle 75 per cent of the field of view.

We thoroughly enjoyed scanning colourful star-fields with these. They are very well-balanced, which makes them feel even lighter than they actually are. This means you can use them for long periods before aches and strains set in. The ribbing on the prism housing gives a very secure grip, even if they are damp with dew.

6

Nikon Action EX

Nikon Action EX

From the moment you take these binoculars out of their lightly padded case, they ooze quality. They have a robust feel in the hand and everything – hinge, focusing, twist-up eye-cups – works smoothly with just the right amount of stiffness to prevent accidental readjustment.

The eyepiece rain-guard is tethered, and the objective caps can be secured to the binoculars’ strap to prevent you mislaying them. They are just as impressive under the stars, which snap to focus anywhere in the central 85 per cent of its 6.5° field of view, giving a bright, crisp, high-contrast image.

Colour rendition and control of false colour are both very good. There is just enough eye relief for spectacle-wearers to be able to see the entire field of view.

They are well-balanced and hence relatively easy to hold steady, and the chunky lugs on the right eyepiece dioptre make adjustments easy, even when you’re wearing thick gloves. The rubber armour stops them from becoming slippery when wet with dew.

7

Vortex Crossfire

Vortex Crossfire

The Vortex Crossfire is a good example of how modern manufacturing processes have narrowed the gap in optical quality between Porro and roof prism binoculars of similar prices. The 6.1° field of view is on a par with the Porros and flat enough that we could keep Albireo split into two components over the central 90 per cent.

Colour rendition was excellent; not only do the deeply coloured stars seem vibrant, but the subtle differences between similarly coloured ones are easily visible as well. The focus is smooth and precise and the short-hinge design leaves more room for your fingers, making these binoculars very comfortable to hold.

There is enough eye-relief to allow you to observe while wearing spectacles. The objective lens caps are tethered to the screw in the adaptor bush in the hinge, so they become untethered if you mount the binoculars.

Apart from that, the only other niggle is the high minimum interpupillary distance (IPD: 60.5mm), which is an inevitable feature of the roof prism design used for 50mm aperture.

8

Celestron Outland X

Celestron Outland X

Weighing just shy of 800g, we found these binos to be very comfortable to handle and enjoyed the sharp on-axis views they gave. Colour correction was quite good, as was the colour rendition – it was easy to distinguish the orange of Herschel’s Garnet Star (Mu (μ) Cephei) from the brilliant white of Alderamin (Alpha (α) Cephei) and the yellow of Zeta (ζ) Cephei.

The eye relief is a very short 10mm, and some of this is taken up by the recess of the eye lens. Consequently, we were unable to see the entire field of view when we tried observing while wearing spectacles.

They are specified as being ‘multi-coated’ and, although the anti-reflective coatings on the lenses were effective, the image was noticeably dimmer than with the other binoculars in this test, all of which were specified as ‘fully multi-coated’.

In common with most 50mm roof prism binoculars, the minimum interpupillary distance is limited by the design and is relatively large at 61mm.

9

Pentax SP WP

Pentax SP WP binoculars

The Pentax SP series of Porro prism binoculars is characterised by an unusual focusing mechanism. Gone is the familiar eyepiece bridge, because all the workings are internal, aiding with waterproofing. It also allows them to incorporate an enormously useful feature: focus locking. This is achieved by sliding the centre-focus band along its spindle.

Another helpful design feature is the inclusion of large lugs on the right eyepiece dioptre, which make it easy to adjust even with thick gloves.

The first thing you notice about the image these binoculars produce is how much of it is very sharp: the two components of Albireo only merged in the outside 10 per cent of the field of view. However, this field of view is only 5°, the narrowest of all the binoculars we tested.

Colour rendition is faithful, and on-axis chromatic aberration is very well controlled; false colour only appeared on the lunar limb towards the edge of the field. The minimum interpupillary distance of 52mm makes these binoculars suitable for people with small faces or close-set eyes.

10

Opticron Adventurer 10x50 Binoculars (£79)

Opticron Adventurer II WP 10x42 binoculars review

Binoculars that are light, compact and waterproof are ideal for the outdoor pursuit that is astronomy. These provide bright crisps of the Moon and stars, and have better light-gathering ability than other 10x50 models. They come in a soft padded case with belt loop, detachable shoulder strap and a microfibre cleaning cloth. They feel light, robust and are also waterproofed with a dry nitrogen filling to help them last for many years to come.

Read our full Opticron Adventurer 10x50s review.

11

Celestron Upclose G2 10×50 binoculars

Celestron Upclose G2 10x50 binoculars. Credit: BBC Sky at Night Magazine

An inexpensive pair of 10×50 binoculars can serve as an ideal entry-level instrument, being the maximum aperture and magnification that you can easily hold by hand. Celestron’s UpClose G2 is a lightweight candidate for this position. The binoculars are supplied with a soft, lightly padded case, caps for all lenses, a neck-strap and a microfibre cleaning cloth.

Read our full Celestron Upclose 10x50 binoculars review here.

12

Opticron Oregon Observation 20×80 binoculars

Opticron Oregon Observation 20x80 binoculars

If you fancy trying a larger-than-standard pair of binoculars without breaking the bank, the Opticron Oregon Observation 20x80s should certainly be on your shortlist, particularly if you’re new to binocular astronomy. These binoculars are pleasant to use, have no glaring faults and also come with a five-year UK guarantee to provide significant peace of mind.

Read our full Opticron Oregon Observation 20x80 review here.

13

Visionary HD 7x50 binoculars

Visionary HD 7x50 binoculars review

The Visionary HD 7×50 comes in a soft carry case emblazoned with the brand name. They’re well presented in a two-tone rubberised covering, which is ergonomically shaped for the thumb to give a firm and reassuring grip. We got some great views of Orion’s Belt and Sword together, plus sharp panoramas of larger open clusters like the Beehive Cluster and Melotte 111.

Read our full Visionary HD 7x50 binoculars review here.

14

Bresser Spezial Astro SF 15x70 binoculars

Bresser Spezial Astro SF 15x70 binoculars

The Spezial Astro SF 15x70s are a good option for observers who've been using budget binos for a while now and who'd like to take the next step. The prisms are secured in cages and the insides of the objective tubes are ribbed to reduce stray light and combat spurious reflections. Optical aberrations are well controlled, and this pair display with sharply-focused stars and very little false colour. Shining a torch into the lenses, we found evidence that the glass-air surfaces all meet the “fully multi-coated” specification. This is a reassuringly bright pair of binoculars.

Read our full Bresser Spezial Astro SF 15x70 review

15

Orion Monster Parallelogram mount, GiantView 25x100 binoculars

Orion Monster Parallelogram mount, GiantView 25x100 binoculars

With a price tag that's certainly not to be sniffed at, the Orion Monster Parallelogram mount, GiantView 25x100 binoculars are for those observers who are serious about cranking their bino viewing up to 11. They come in an aluminium case and boast a Porro-prism individual-eyepiece focusing design covered with a thin rubber armour. You can instantly adjust your mount for people of different heights, and can work your way around the tripod, moving between different celestial targets to make the most of these big objective lenses.

Read our full Orion Monster Parallelogram mount, GiantView 25x100 review

16

Opticron Marine-3 7x50 binoculars

Opticron Marine-3 7x50 binoculars review. Credit: BBC Sky at Night Magazine

The Marine-3 7x50s are rubber-armoured, waterproof and come in a soft case with a strap included. These binos feel nice and rugged and weigh 1.1kg, which most people will find just right for prolonged use. What's more, the Marine-3s can be attached to a tripod for extra stability, which we found particularly useful when trying to split double star Albireo (we could just about manage it, but only with a tripod). Colour contrast is good too: the orange and red Garnet star was gorgeous under a moderately good but light summer night.

Read our full Opticron Marine-3 7x50 review

17

Canon 14x32 IS binoculars

Canon 14x32 IS binoculars

Canon’s range of image-stabiliser (IS) binoculars incorporates the lens-shift system that the company uses in its EF camera lenses. These binos come in a Cordura case and a 30mm-wide neck strap. It has two stabilisation modes: ‘Stabiliser’ and ‘Powered IS’. If panning, use the Stabiliser mode, which eliminates shake. Once you've located your target, switch to Powered IS mode, which compensates for both kinds of motion. A combination of an internal field-flattener lens group and the company's 'Super-Spectra coatings' mean sharp images across the field of view.

Read our full Canon 14x32 IS review

18

Celestron SkyMaster Pro 20x80 binoculars and 10Micron BM100 Leonardo mount

Celestron SkyMaster Pro 20x80 binoculars and 10Micron BM100 Leonardo mount

This is a serious pair of binoculars with a serious price tag, but offering good optics held rock steady by a sturdy tripod. Contrast between the background sky and light from stars, planets and deep-sky objects is apparent across the field of view. Anti-reflective coatings and well-designed light baffles combine with an exceptionally rigid tripod that leaves your observing free of wobbles. A relatively short counterweight bar all but eliminates the longitudinal oscillation that can sometimes plague long-arm parallelograms.

Read our full Celestron SkyMaster Pro 20x80 and 10Micron BM100 Leonardo mount review

19

Vixen Atera H12x30 stabilised binoculars

Vixen Atera H12x30 binoculars review

The Vixen Atera H12x30 comes with a hard-shell case, a 25mm-wide neoprene neck strap and individual eyepiece caps. But the real selling point of this model is the The ‘Vibration Canceller’, which is an image-stabilisation system.

This feature compensates for natural shakiness that gets I the way of your ability to resolve fine detail on objects. It's a good system and the binoculars are lightweight, meaning you can hold them with one hand and use the other for taking notes.

20

Helios Stellar-II 7x50 binoculars

Helios Stellar-II 7x50 binoculars. Credit: BBC Sky at Night Magazine

The Helios Stellar-II binoculars are stylish and have a good grip, while the front lens cap is a snug fit and directly attached to the underside of the objective barrels, meaning they won't drop onto your face!

Actual field of view is 7.2°, so quite wide. We were able to fit the ‘box’ part of Lyra comfortably and enjoyed scanning the Milky Way's star fields.

Both eyepieces can be focused independently and the interpupillary distance can be adjusted between 56–74mm.

The Andromeda Galaxy covered a good proportion of our view, and we could see both components of the Double Cluster easily.

The Cygnus Rift was nicely traced and continued down into Scutum where we had a good view of the Scutum Star Cloud.

And putting the binoculars on a tripod, we were able to observe four of Jupiter’s moons and a definite oval shape to Saturn.

Read our full Helios Stellar-II 7x50 binoculars review,

21

Celestron Echelon 16x70 binoculars

Celestron Binoculars Echelon 16x70

The Celestron Echelon 16x70 binoculars are supplied in a plastic case with padded neck strap, lens caps, an eyepiece cover, cleaning cloth and an instruction leaflet.

We liked how the hinge moves very smoothly, with just enough resistance to enable easy adjustment, but without sagging once the binoculars are mounted.

Indeed, we mounted the Echelon 16x70s on a parallelogram mount under a good suburban sky and found it snapped to focus.

The images from each side merged, showing good collimation.

Coma Berenices was well placed so we used Melotte 111 to determine limiting magnitude. The faintest star with direct vision was mag. +10.1.

Observing the Mon we found lovely detail on the terminator, indicating good control of stray light.

Read our full Celestron Echelon 16x70 binoculars review

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Have we missed any models you think should be included on our list? What's your favourite pair of binoculars for astronomy? Let us know by contacting us at contactus@skyatnightmagazine.com.