If you're expecting superior light transmission that allows you to use your binoculars in the dark or to see sharp, high-contrast images during daylight hours, you're bound to be disappointed with a cheap pair of binoculars. What you should be able to get in the budget price range, according to the binocular reviews we read, is a clear image, ease of handling and focusing, and enough adjustability in the focus to work with your particular eyesight.
Binoculars Ease of Use.
User friendliness, of one type or another, is a mark of our top picks. The fixed focus on Bushnell Permafocus 7x35 Binoculars (starting at $44), for example, makes them a cinch to use. On cold winter days when you're wearing gloves, you won't need to worry about fiddling with the focus mechanism. The fixed focus is a bottom-line requirement when attending a NASCAR race, notes a binoculars review at Amazon, because it enables you to clearly and continuously see all the action without constant adjustments.
When things aren't moving as fast as cars around a track, though, dioptric lenses that focus independently and adjust to the vision in each eye is a welcome bonus. Purchasers of the Olympus Roamer 8x21 DPC I (starting at $30) point out in binocular reviews at Amazon that focusing requires a few steps, but the process is easy enough and the effort pays off in sharp viewing with both eyes, even for people who wear glasses (several users suggest taking them off first). Users also like the light 5.9-ounce weight of this model, which makes them comfortable to hold and carry.
The combination of low price and small profile of the Bushnell Powerview 8x21 Binoculars (starting at $14) seals the deal for many buyers, but it's the compact size that really calls to them. Binocular reviews at sites such as Binoculars.com note that this model is a good choice for young users -- it's particularly easy for small hands to manage -- and the folding design proves convenient for travelers and opera-goers; one adult user with macular degeneration reports it provides a welcome assist on the golf course.
The one outlier among the models we researched is the Vivitar CV-1025V 10x25 Binocular Digital Camera (starting at $21). A binoculars review at B&H asserts that the instructions on the display screen are confusing and the two lenses don't come into focus together. At Amazon several reviews gripe that the camera function is a pain to use and the captured images are blurry.
Binoculars Image Clarity.Along this performance dimension, the models on our list score pretty high; that is, whatever you're viewing almost always looks sharp and clear.
The Permafocus feature on the Bushnell 7x35 is just what's called for when watching moving objects, binocular reviews assert. Fans of these binoculars say they're the bomb at football games where, as one reviewer comments at Optics Planet, you can sit in the end zone and see all the action clearly thanks to the always-in-focus lenses (the extra-wide view field certainly helps; more on that later). That said, several binocular reviews point out that the Bushnell Permafocus 7x35 doesn't work as well for objects that are less than 50 feet away, which is no surprise given that the fixed focus is meant for distant viewing.
Users who posted at B&H laud the Olympus Roamer 8x21 DPC I for its crystalline images, although a review at another site states that images can appear flat; that is, two dimensional rather than three. Others appreciate the well-defined detail that comes with the ability to focus as needed on objects/scenes that are relatively close in or at a far remove.
Binocular reviews for the Bushnell Powerview 8x21, also at B&H, note the surprisingly clear images, particularly at concerts and shows, given the very low price point. One binoculars review elsewhere cautions, however, that one cost of the model's cheap price is the loss of some brightness.
The consensus opinion in binocular reviews of the Vivitar CV-1025V 10x25 is that they're fine as binoculars but -- and this is a biggie -- it's the camera feature that drew people in, and it's impossible to get a clear shot. One purchaser recounts in a review on Amazon the difficulty of lining up a shot and the mediocre photo image that resulted.