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Published Aug 31, 2022 9:38 AM

If you’re looking for a pair of binoculars for under $200, we can make a few assumptions. You probably aren’t calling for fire or hunting big game out West. You want good binoculars, but don’t have a desire to chase down the world’s most premium lenses from the likes of Swarovski and Zeiss. No, you’re probably setting up a go-bag, stashing a pair in your truck, or, if you’re in the military, using your own money to make life in the field a little easier. Those are all good things, and you’re in luck because you have options.

Just because you don’t want to spend a lot doesn’t mean you have to settle for substandard gear. To that end, we did some digging and found several high-quality binoculars within your budget. You can save money and still get features like coated lenses, rubberized tubes, diopter eyepieces, and big-time magnification. With occasional sales, the best binoculars under $200 are even better deals than usual.

The Vortex Diamondback HD 10×28 binoculars sneak under the $200 cap for this list with materials and components that would normally be out of reach. This current generation of optics, designated by the “HD,” offers improved image quality over previous Diamondback binos. For that, you can thank glass elements chosen for better resolution, sharpness, and light transmission with decreased chromatic aberration. The glass itself is fully multi-coated, and exterior surfaces are treated to resist scratches.

All of this is wrapped in a rugged, rubberized exterior and protected by O-rings and argon gas that prevent water and fog from entering the tubes. The body itself is made from magnesium, which makes these binoculars lighter and stronger than the competition. A threaded mounting point can accept a tripod or window mount if you want to keep your hands free or improve stability. They’re tough enough to survive hard use in the field, light enough to carry anywhere, and affordable enough to keep your personal finances on track.

Product Specs
  • Magnification: 10-power
  • Objective lens diameter: 28 millimeters
  • Prism type: Roof prism
  • Close focus: Six feet
  • Weight: 14 ounces
Why It Made The Cut
  • The most affordable pair of binoculars in the popular Vortex Diamondback HD line barely makes our $200 budget and offers next-level glass, image, and build quality.
PROS

Compact and lightweight enough to carry all day

Built to withstand impacts, water, and fogging

Can be mounted on a tripod or window

CONS

Larger objective lenses will be better in low light

Any other magnification and size will break the $200 budget

Can you get good binoculars for less than $200? Absolutely. How about less than $100? That’s a tall order, but it can be done — by Vortex, no less.

The Vanquish 10×26 manages to keep costs surprisingly low while providing quality features like fully multi-coated lenses, O-ring seals, nitrogen-purged tubes, aluminum construction, and a rubber exterior coating. The result is a set of binoculars that’s waterproof, compact, and frankly better than you should expect for this price. They’re certainly not going to blow anyone away with image quality, but the use of Porro prisms instead of roof prisms means the gap is less than you might think. The flip side of that decision is the comparative strength disadvantage compared to roof prisms.

As with many binoculars in this size and price range, low-light performance is a relative weak point. Getting 10-power magnification through 26-millimeter lenses (the smallest on this list) requires a lot of light, so dusky situations are going to be a challenge. Know what you’re getting and use these binoculars for their intended purpose, and you should be in good shape.

Product Specs
  • Magnification: 10-power
  • Objective lens diameter: 26 millimeters
  • Prism type: Porro prism
  • Close focus: 7.6 feet
  • Weight: 12.7 ounces
Why It Made The Cut
  • Clear Porro prisms, an armored exterior, and build quality that defies the price tag make the budget-friendly Vanquish one of the best binoculars for beginners.
PROS

Surprisingly good clarity for the price

Grippy rubber protects the aluminum body

Light and compact, especially for Porro prism binoculars

CONS

Little objective lenses are best for midday hours

Not quite as rugged as our other picks

Best for Hunting

Finding good hunting gear can be tricky, and too many gear reviewers see camouflage and call it a day, regardless of what’s underneath. In this case, the Realtree Xtra camouflage is just the beginning of a legitimately solid set of binoculars. A lot of hunting is done during the early morning hours when big, 42-millimeter objective lenses are key to soaking up lots of light to create a usable image. Since the weather doesn’t have to cooperate, durability is key. Bushnell opted for O-rings to seal out water, nitrogen purging to prevent internal fogging, and thick rubber armor to insulate delicate internals from bumps and scrapes.

It’s genuinely difficult to find any flaws in these binoculars, especially considering the price. You might even find these on sale and save a few extra bucks. They are fairly heavy at 25 ounces, but not so much that a basic binocular harness can’t fix that problem. As with anything in this price range, image quality isn’t going to be exceptional, but it will certainly get the job done — and you shouldn’t have to do without just because you have a $200 budget.

Product Specs
  • Magnification: 10-power
  • Objective lens diameter: 42 millimeters
  • Prism type: Roof prism
  • Close focus: 10 feet
  • Weight: 25 ounces
Why It Made The Cut
  • The confidence-inspiring build quality and performance of these Bushnell Trophy binoculars go beyond the cool-guy factor provided by the Realtree camouflage exterior to create a real asset in the field.
PROS

Genuinely good Realtree camouflage

O-ring sealed to keep out water and fog

Anti-reflective-coated glass maintains a clear, bright image

CONS

Double the weight of comparable binoculars

Solid low-light performance, but some hunters might push its limits

If your primary concern right now is space, the compact Bushnell Prime 10×28 binoculars have you covered. Short, narrow tubes and a collapsible bridge allow these to be tucked away in a small bag or glove compartment so you always have them at arm’s reach. Unlike most binoculars this small, these Bushnells carry an IPX7 waterproof rating, fully multi-coated lenses, aluminum tubes, and a layer of protective rubber, so they can take pretty much anything that daily life throws at them. Ten-power magnification is also nice to have in something this small.

As you’ve probably guessed, low-light performance isn’t going to be great anytime you have 28-millimeter objective lenses, but that’s par for the course with compact binoculars. These aren’t made for spotting indirect fire, scanning the horizon for enemy ships, or locating game animals. They’re better suited to watching the kids’ soccer game and monitoring the birdfeeder from inside the house. That’s fine, because sometimes that’s all you need and — at just under $100, the price is right.

Product Specs
  • Magnification: 10-power
  • Objective lens diameter: 28 millimeters
  • Prism type: Roof prism
  • Close focus: 10 feet
  • Weight: 14 ounces
Why It Made The Cut
  • These compact binoculars are portable enough to throw in your go-bag or bring to the kids’ sporting events, and the magnification is impressive at this size and price.
PROS

Oversized, easy-to-use focus and diopter rings

Rated at IPX7 waterproof

Fully multi-coated lenses improve clarity

CONS

Best used around town or as a backup pair

Limited visibility in low light

Best Waterproof

All of the binoculars on this list offer some degree of waterproofing, but Bushnell went the extra mile to make sure the H2O series is built to handle wet conditions better than most. These binoculars get the usual O-ring seals and are purged with nitrogen to keep water out and prevent the inside from fogging up. The exterior has a thick coat of rubber armor to protect against drops, and heavily textured grip areas prevent these from getting slippery in the rain and mud. Since dark skies and wet environments go hand-in-hand, the 42-millimeter objective lenses are great for maximizing the amount of light you have.

Image quality is par for the course for a set of budget binoculars, but weight is on the heavier side of things at 25 ounces. Chalk it up to larger lenses and thicker exterior rubber. If you place a premium on waterproof binoculars that can be used primarily in wet environments, these are a great choice. If waterproofing is just one of several priorities, any of the binoculars here will probably work well for you.

Product Specs
  • Magnification: 10-power
  • Objective lens diameter: 42 millimeters
  • Prism type: Roof prism
  • Close focus: 12 feet
  • Weight: 25 ounces
Why It Made The Cut
  • Bushnell went overboard to make its H2O binoculars waterproof in case you send them, you know, overboard. If water protection is your priority, these strong binoculars are for you.
PROS

Sealed with O-rings and purged with nitrogen for IPX7 waterproofing

Thick, soft rubberized exterior

Oversized controls are easy to use with gloves

CONS

Fairly heavy for this size

Image quality could be better

Best for Long Distance

So, you want to spend less than $200 but need binoculars that can push the outer limits of freehand optics. That might sound like an impossible task, but Nikon’s Aculon range of binoculars is all about making high-quality binoculars available at an affordable price.

These 10-22×50 binoculars don’t just check all the right boxes, but straight-up outperform many of the more expensive binoculars on the market. Zoom from 10- to 22-power magnification to extend your effective viewing range. Get a bright, clear image the whole time thanks to oversized, 50-millimeter objective lenses and crisp Porro prisms. And do it all for a fraction of the cost of comparable binoculars.

As great as the 10-22×50 Aculons are, they’re not quite as rugged as some of the other binoculars on our list. Rubber texture is present for grip, but it’s not much protection against anything more than superficial scuffs and scrapes. The large Porro prisms create a nice image, but they can’t take the same kind of abuse as roof prisms. Naturally, these are also far larger and heavier than anything else on this list. In the right situations, though, the benefits greatly outweigh the drawbacks.

Product Specs
  • Magnification: 10-22-power
  • Objective lens diameter: 50 millimeters
  • Prism type: Porro prism
  • Close focus: 49 feet
  • Weight: 34 ounces
Why It Made The Cut
  • These are the most powerful binoculars on this list and the zoom capability makes them a versatile tool in wide-open terrain. Reach for them whenever a spotting scope is excessive
PROS

Powerful and versatile zoom magnification

Big, bright, 50-millimeter objective lenses

Fantastic value for binoculars under $200

CONS

Minimum focus of 49 feet limits close-range utility

Much larger and heavier than our other picks

Things to consider before buying binoculars under $200

Before you get carried away, there are a few binocular basics you should familiarize yourself with. These are the nuts and bolts of how binoculars work, and they’ll guide you to a pair that will work for you.

Magnification

First and foremost, ask yourself what you’ll be looking for in the field and how far away you expect it to be. Small and distant targets call for big-time magnification, while large and close targets will be easier to spot with low magnification and a wide field of view. More power isn’t necessarily better because it constrains your field of view and can be difficult to use freehand. Everything on this list uses 22-power magnification or less, so you won’t need a tripod (although something to brace against might be beneficial at times).

Objective lens diameter

The objective lenses on a set of binoculars are the glass furthest from your eyes. This is where light enters the tube, so (assuming lens quality is constant) larger lenses will create a brighter and more usable image. This becomes increasingly important as you add magnification or reduce available light. If all your glassing is done midday, a compact set of binoculars with skinny, little 25-millimeter objective lenses might be just fine. If you’re looking for game animals or enemy activity around sunrise or sunset, bigger lenses are your friend.

Prism type

This is a gross generalization, but there are really only two kinds of prisms you need to know about to choose a pair of binoculars: Porro prisms and roof prisms. Porro prisms are the OG of modern binoculars and you can spot them by the offset orientation of the objective lens and eyepiece. They’re great at creating a high-quality image in terms of depth perception, clarity, and field of view, but are inherently bulky and somewhat fragile. Roof prisms tend to be more expensive and sacrifice a little bit of image quality in the name of durability, lightness, and magnification power. Most of the best compact binoculars use roof prisms.

A lot of bird watchers prefer Porro prisms for optimal detail and realistic colors but, if waterproofing and portability are important to you, roof prisms are a safer bet.

FAQs about binoculars under $200

Q: What do the numbers mean in binoculars, for example, 10×50?

A: The first number indicates magnification; in this case, 10-power. If there are two numbers separated by a dash, the binoculars have zoom capability and you’re seeing the minimum and maximum settings. The number after the “X” is the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters.

Q: What is eye relief?

A: Basically, eye relief is how far your pupils should be from the eyepiece lens for an optimal picture.

Q: Do I want a rubber coating on binoculars?

A: A rubberized exterior isn’t necessary, but it does add some protection against impacts, so it’s certainly nice to have. Many of the best binoculars for hunting and military field exercises feature rubberized exteriors. 

Q: What are the additional accessories for binoculars?

A: At a minimum, you’ll want a good strap — maybe one with quick-release attachments. If you use your binoculars often when you’re in the field, a chest-mounted binocular pack will pay itself off in a hurry.

Q: Are Swarovski binoculars good?

A: Yes, they’re excellent, but Swarovski binoculars typically have a comma in the price, and that’s a no-go as far as today’s buying guide is concerned.

Final thoughts

Any of these picks are good binoculars that can keep some money in your pocket, but the Vortex Diamondback HD 10×28 has enough of an edge to earn the top spot. These binoculars are the most affordable option in a line of products that are otherwise beyond the $200 budget. That means you can take a step up in terms of materials and build quality without spending more than you’re comfortable with.

Methodology 

Spending a lot of money makes things easier in some ways. If you have $1,000 to burn on a set of high-end binoculars, it’s pretty hard to come home with something bad. Anytime you set a hard budget for yourself at the lower end of the price range, you’ll have to be extra discerning because there are plenty of shady manufacturers who are more than happy to sell you disposable garbage dusted in the allure of saving money. 

For this buying guide, I started by narrowing my search to a few brands I know to produce quality products at an accessible price: Bushnell, Celestron, Nikon, and Vortex. Some of these companies also produce premium optics, as well. 

Next, I considered how you’ll likely be using your binoculars. They probably aren’t going to sit on the windowsill waiting for a rare sparrow to appear; no, they’re going to get dragged through the mud and snow on field exercises or hunting trips. Durability is key, so I looked for binoculars that have some degree of waterproofing and impact protection.

Finally, I chose a mix of binoculars in terms of magnification and size. The result is a short list of products that offer something for everyone. Can you get a good set of binoculars under $200? Absolutely.