How Much Do Binoculars Cost?

When buying binoculars, it’s the rare shopper for whom money is no object. Fortunately, good binoculars can be found at almost all price points. The cliché is true: You do get what you pay for.

True binoculars (as opposed to nonprismatic opera or sports glasses) can be obtained for $75, $50 or even less. You can get a quite serviceable pair of Audubon compact binoculars for about $100. Once you get into the $200-plus range, quality is greatly improved. The mid-price category for binoculars is generally $200 to $500. High-end glasses cost $500 to $1,200 or more. Swarovski, considered by most to be the Cadillac of binoculars, has binoculars selling for $1,800 and up (in addition to its lower-priced lines). For $4,000 you can outfit yourself with a top-of-the-line Zeiss complete with anti-jog mechanism.

With binoculars, as in life, there are a number of tradeoffs. Some people are perfectly happy with a pair of $44.98 Wal-Mart binoculars. Or even 3X or 4X opera glasses, which can be had for under $20.

You might choose to buy lower-power binoculars but from a higher-end manufacturer. That way, you would be virtually certain to get the most bang for your buck, as long as you’re happy sacrificing magnification in favor of overall quality. For example, you’ll get a better quality 7x binocular than if you spent the same amount on a 10x model. (For more about magnification, read our page on Binoculars Power, Magnification and Aperture)

While there’s a huge leap in quality between low-end binoculars and mid-priced ones, from the mid-range up, the increase in quality may be discernable to only the most experienced users. It’s up to you to decide if the perhaps-subtle improvements are worth the added cost.

Typically, Porro prism models cost less, mainly because they’re not as complexly structured as roof prism models (for more on this see How Binoculars Work). The most noteworthy drawback of roof prism binoculars is that they are usually heavier and larger, but binoculars users continue to debate whether it’s better to buy a lesser-quality roof prism model over similarly priced Porro prisms. Additionally, Porro prism binoculars are the model of choice for astronomers, as they tend to transmit more light.

You will also want to be sure that you buy binoculars that are “coated,” as all reasonable quality, modern lenses are. Read more about coatings on our Coated Binoculars page.

Generally, plastic lenses are lighter, but more expensive. It may be worth it to you, depending on where you plan on taking your binoculars.

If you’re using binoculars that have been in your family for a couple of decades, now might be a good time to upgrade. In its last comprehensive review of binoculars in winter 2005, the well-reputed Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which publishes The Living Bird periodical, pronounced: “Today’s mid-priced binoculars in many cases seem better than the top-of-the-line models of a decade ago.” Furthermore, stated the article, written by Kenneth V. Rosenburg, “many features that were rarely offered only five years ago have now become standard.”

For the best price on binoculars, our advice is simple: Do your research, comparison shop, choose a reputable dealer and make sure you understand all of the terms of purchase. (For example, is everything you’d expect to be included in the purchase price really include, or is the dealer going to try to charge you extra for the strap, lens caps and other things that should come with it automatically? This is, unfortunately, a running scam with a handful of online camera dealers.) Also, a binoculars manufacturer or dealer may offer a warranty; be sure to find out all the details.

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