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Cheap Binoculars Buying Guide

In the Cheapism range, finding decent optics is possible if you know what to look for and how you plan to use the binoculars. If, for instance, you'll be carting them to sporting events, choose a pair with a wide field of view.

The Bushnell Permafocus 7x35 (starting at $44), one of our top choices among cheap binoculars, is optimal for this kind of activity. In addition to boasting a wide field of view, these cheap binoculars are focus-free, so keeping up with the action requires no action on your part. Good all-around cheap binoculars are exemplified by the Olympus Roamer 8x21 DPC I (starting at $30), an appropriate choice for activities such as backpacking because they're small, light, and useful for short-range viewing. Additionally, the dioptric correction suits people with different vision in each eye. Likewise compact enough to take on a hike or keep in the glove compartment is the entry-level Bushnell Powerview 8x21 (starting at $14), which is also fine for bird-watching in daylight. The Vivitar CV-1025V 10x25 Binocular Digital Camera (starting at $21) completely lives up -- or down, as the case may be -- to its price. It supports a camera that takes up to 160 images, but pictures don't come out clear enough to warrant saving.

Specialty models designed for activities like butterfly-gazing or for use in low light conditions like stargazing will cost you more but may not be entirely out of reach (think low triple digits). The features that make up a pair of binoculars are fairly standard throughout the product category. Models are distinguished more by their specifications (and price point) than by their features, which themselves are denoted by a precise technical vocabulary. Product overviews are littered with terms such as binocular magnification, field of view, focus adjustment, prisms, and eye relief that may be unfamiliar to first-time buyers but are important factors to understand and consider before making a choice, and each is discussed below.

You should also pay attention to the size and weight of the cheap binoculars (Will they fit in your pocket? Will they be comfortable to hold for long periods?); the presence of extra features (e.g., waterproof construction); and their performance in the field (How clear is the image? How user-friendly are the binoculars? How do they hold up to normal, and even excessive, wear and tear?). Again, these matters are discussed on the following pages. All this information can help you choose the cheap binoculars that are right for you.

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Big names in the binoculars market include Bushnell, Barska, Tasco, Olympus, Nikon, Eagle Optics, Penta, and Alpen Pro. Each of these producers makes binoculars at a variety of price points, but Bushnell, Barska, Tasco, and Olympus offer the largest selection of cheap binoculars.

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