Mat Manning tests a selection of the best compact binoculars, at a range of affordable prices, that will give you a better view of the action without weighing you down.
Bushnell Prime 10×42
Bushnell is a big player in the optics market with a reputation for turning out decent products at sensible prices. If you want some glass that you can chuck about without worrying about an expensive replacement, these should be on your list.
At 132mm in length and weighing in at 650g, these are not the tiniest of compact binoculars, but the larger objective lenses help to pull in the light at dawn and dusk, while they are still small and light enough to carry in the field without feeling overburdened.
The rubberised armour shell feels like it will stand up to the inevitable knocks and bumps, and Bushnell’s O-ring-sealed IPX7 waterproof construction can survive 30 minutes of immersion in 3ft of water. The multi-coated lenses have been treated with EXO Barrier Protection, which repels water, oil and dust and protects against scratches. Twist-up eyecups ensure optimum eye relief.
The focusing wheel smoothly brings the subject into sharp relief. Anti-reflective lens coatings, decent glass and BAK-4 prisms mean the image remains sharp and bright in a range of light conditions. The binos are supplied with a case, a padded neck strap and lens caps, and are covered by a 20-year warranty.
Summary: Tough and affordable binoculars built for unsympathetic field use and boast admirable optical quality for their price point.
Kite Vireo 8×24
Named after a small American songbird, the Vireo is indeed a very small set of binoculars. Their length is a meagre 95mm. Fold down the dual-hinge body and they’re only 66mm wide, and they tip the scales at 220g. Stashed away easily, they are ideal for impromptu reconnaissance.
Though diminutive, the Vireos feel very tough and there is no play in the hinge. These little binoculars are waterproof and nitrogen-purged, so they won’t fog up in damp conditions, and they come with a 30-year guarantee.
Two-stage twist-up eyecups and a right-hand dioptre focus means you can set up the Vireos for your eye, and optical performance far exceeds the modest proportions. Lenses have phase-corrective coatings and their roof prism construction produces a very clear image.
Low-light performance is impressive, especially when you consider that these 8x binoculars only have 24mm objective lenses. Light transmission is
a very healthy 79% and they can even focus down to 2.9m for close-up observation. Made in Japan and inspected in Kite’s headquarters in Belgium, these compact binoculars come with a lined webbing case, padded neck strap and lens caps.
Summary: The smallest, lightest set of compact binoculars on test, the Vireos are a big performer when it comes to delivering a bright, sharp image.
Hawke Endurance ED Compact 10×25
Hawke has an ability to produce optics which have a look and feel that far exceeds their asking price. The Endurance ED Compact are the most affordable binoculars here, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by picking them up and looking through them.
Made in China, and styled with clean, elegant lines, these little binoculars are very compact, measuring 106mm by 69mm when folded and weighing only 310g. That makes them truly pocket-sized and easy to carry. They also feel sturdy and the stippled rubberised coating really sticks to the hand, even when wearing gloves.
The Endurance range features Hawke’s System H5 optics with multi-coated ED (extra-low dispersion) glass, to reduce colour fringing, and high-resolution phase-corrected BAK-4 roof prisms. The result is a crisp, clear image that is surprisingly bright in poor light conditions.
Twist-up eyecups have three positions and the slick central dial ensures fast, precise focusing right down to 2m. And you don’t need to worry about taking these little binoculars out in the elements as they are waterproof and nitrogen-purged to prevent moisture ingress from compromising viewing in wet conditions.
Covered by Hawke’s no-fault lifetime warranty, the binoculars come with a padded case, a cushioned neck strap, stay-on lens covers and a lens cloth.
Summary: Compact, affordable, stylish and no slouch in the optical stakes.
Meopta MeoStar B1 Plus 8×32
These Czech-made binoculars from Meopta are the most expensive on test and the leap in quality is apparent. At 620g and measuring 122mm by 102mm when folded, the MeoStar B1s just about qualify as compact binoculars. Their optical quality should cover everything from pigeon shooting reconnaissance to long-range stalking.
They are housed in an aluminium chassis encased in a grippy rubber shell. Waterproofing withstands immersion and the sealed body is filled with nitrogen. The folding mechanism is smooth but with sufficient torque to prevent any creep. The large central focusing dial is easy to operate and is integrated with a diametric focusing wheel that pulls up for single-eye adjustment and snaps back down to lock in position.
Meopta uses HD fluoride glass treated with MeoBright anti-reflective coating to optimise light transmission, MeoShield silicon coating to prevent scratching, and MeoDrop hydrophobic coating to repel water, dust and grease. The result is exceptional light transmission producing an incredibly bright image with sharp relief, impressive depth of field, fantastic edge-to-edge clarity and no hint of halo.
Supplied with a lined case, a padded neck strap, lens covers and lens cloth, the MeoStar B1 Plus 8×32 binoculars are covered by Meopta’s 30-year warranty.
Summary: Pricey but great image and build quality.