Using binoculars for astronomy is a great way to begin your stargazing adventure. Their wide field of view, low magnification and ease of use combine to make for a very easy start to observing the night sky.
The truth is: once you have a bought a quality pair of binoculars for stargazing, you’ll probably never stop using them – even if you later buy a telescope. They are such a wonderful tool in the astronomer’s toolbox, that they never stop being useful!
In the table below, find our five best binoculars for astronomy. Detailed reviews are at the bottom of the page. Before then, we’ve shared everything you need to know about buying and using astro binoculars.
|SkyMaster Giant||15 x 70||3 Stars|
|Orion MiniGiant||15 x 63||4.5 Stars|
|Orion Scenix||7 x 50||5 Stars|
|Gosky Compact HD||10 x 42||4 Stars|
|Image-Stabilized||18 x 50||2.5 Stars|
As tempting as it is to jump into astronomy with a telescope, there are many good reasons for considering binoculars as your first ‘telescope’ instead.
Yes, they have lower magnification and a wider field than a telescope, but this is the advantage of binocular astronomy. A decent pair of binoculars let you enjoy finding your way around the night sky before graduating to your first telescope.
You’ll be amazed how many people give up on astronomy because they go straight in for a large telescope but haven’t learned their way around the night sky. It’s not as easy as you think finding objects with a high magnification, small field of view scope!
Binoculars have the added advantage of being much cheaper than a telescope (although these models cut it close).
In fact, as you learn to enjoy stargazing and progress to a telescope, you’ll probably find that you – like many serious astronomers before you – keep your binoculars forever handy for you night sky viewing.
Advantages of using Binoculars for Astronomy
There are many advantages to beginning your stargazing adventures with a pair of binoculars instead of a beginner telescope, such as:
- You get to use both eyes at the same time. This makes astronomy much more natural and comfortable for your eyes that the single eyepiece of a telescope
- … and there’s good evidence that your brain forms a better image when it gets data from two eyes instead of one, making your tour of the stars more rewarding right from the start
- Binoculars have a wider field of view than a telescope, which means you can see more of the sky with them. Because the view through your bin’s looks similar to what your naked eye view, it’s much easier to find your way around the sky
- Telescopes can show upside-down and mirror-image views of the sky, making it really tricky to navigate. Binoculars have a corrected field of view though, so everything is the same way round as you see it with the naked eye
- The larger and corrected field of view makes learning the essential skill of star hopping so much easier to learn that with a scope.
- Unlike (most) telescopes, binoculars can be used in the daytime too, giving better value for money
- Talking of money: binoculars are generally a lot cheaper to buy than a telescope!
- A pair of binoculars is all the equipment you need for rewarding astronomy. Telescopes though… well, they need eyepieces, a mount, filters, weights, etc, etc,
- On that same theme, binoculars have a very shallow learning curve. They are much easier to use than a telescope and simple enough for young children to discover the joys of stargazing with little to no help from adults
There are some disadvantages to binocular astronomy, which is why you’ll probably want to progress to a telescope, eventually:
- To give that wide field of view, binoculars have relatively low magnification, so they don’t reveal as much detail as a telescope will
- Unless you get a tripod (see below) holding bigger binoculars for any length of time will tire your arms, leading to vibrations
Guide to Buying Astronomy Binoculars
If you already know what you’re looking for, click here to read our reviews at the bottom of this page. Otherwise, keep reading to discover how to choose the best astronomy binoculars for your needs.
The image below (source) is a handy reference to the parts of a binocular. Feel free to refer back to it as you work your way through this page.
Anatomy of a Binocular (source)
We’ll begin with the basics by looking at how different sets of binoculars are graded, i.e. what does 7×50 or 8×42 actually mean?
Next, with that knowledge, we’ll consider which are the best binocular sizes for astronomy, looking at the pros and cons of bigger versus smaller.
After that, we’ll spend some time looking at image stabilization, both using technology and with a tripod.
We’ll wrap this section up by considering the impact of anti-reflective coatings on your astronomy and answering the question of whether you can use binoculars to do astronomy if you wear glasses (spoiler: yes).
Note: you might find other articles talking about the ‘exit pupil’ size of binoculars. This is a complex calculation and, for us, almost totally irrelevant for choosing the right binoculars for your backyard astronomy, which is why we haven’t discussed it below.
What do the Numbers on Binoculars Mean?
Binoculars come with two numbers to describe them. You’ll see in the models we’ve reviewed below that they are either 7 x 50 (say ‘seven by fifty’), 15 x 70, etc.
Let’s use 7 x 50 as an example to understand what those numbers mean and why they are vital in helping you choose the right binoculars for your needs.
The first number is the amount of magnification the binoculars provide. So, our 7 x 50 bin’s provide 7x magnification, i.e. they make objects appear seven times larger than your naked eye does.
The second of the two numbers, i.e. the ’50’ in 7 x 50 is the diameter, in millimetres, of each objective lens, which is where light comes into the binoculars.
Contrary to what most beginners believe, light collection is much more important for good astronomy than magnification. The bigger your aperture (the opening you point towards the stars), the more light you will let in.
Two 50mm lenses on a pair of binoculars is a good light gathering area which is why this size is particularly popular for astronomy binoculars.
To think of a 50mm aperture in astronomy terms, this lets in significantly more light than your puny 6mm of pupil in each eye. In fact, the difference is so stark that under a dark sky your eyes will see stars as dim as magnitude 6. A pair of 7 x 50 binoculars will show stars to fainter than magnitude 9.
It doesn’t sound like a huge difference until you look at the number of stars visible at each magnitude. There are 4,800 visible to your naked eye, there are over 121,000 visible to our 7 x 50 binoculars!
That is a whole world of new stars to see, and it is perhaps the first and most amazing thing you’ll notice when you first look at the night sky through a pair of binoculars; dozens of stars appear that you couldn’t see before.
Excitingly, it’s not just the countless new stars you’ll discover. You’ll notice regular bright stars you see with the naked eye that actually have small, previously invisible companion stars at their side. When you look at the moon, you’ll see crater details that you never have before.
Deeper into space, your binoculars reveal more details still, showing you Jupiter’s Galilean moons, the brighter deep space objects, like Andromeda, and the Orion Nebula. They’ll also tease out for you the beauty of our brightest globular clusters.
What is a Binocular Field of View?
There is one final, important measurement which is not part of the 7 x 50 numbering, but which you should know: their field of view.
The field of view measures how much of the sky a pair of binoculars will show you when you look through them. Although the rule of thumb is higher magnification = smaller field of view, different optics mean that two different pairs of 7 x 50 binoculars can have two different fields of view.
The field-of-view measurement is given either as an angle in degrees or as a width in feet of the image at 1000 yards. To convert between the two, multiply the angle by 52.5 (or divide the width in feet by 52.5 to get the angle).
For astronomy binoculars, which spends most of their time pointed at objects many hundreds or thousands of light years away, a measure in degrees is most helpful. For example, a pair of binoculars with an 8.6° field of view tells you that the amount of sky you can see through the binoculars is a circle with a diameter of 8.6°.
The bigger the number in degrees, the more sky you can see. As a practical guide to what this measurement tells you, the full moon is about 0.5° wide, and your fist held at arm’s length is about 10° wide.
In each of the detailed astro-bin reviews at the bottom of the page, we’ve taken away the guesswork by including an image to show you exactly how much sky you can see through each binocular.
What are Good Binocular Sizes for Astronomy?
There are so many varieties of binocular that you may well be wondering what is the best size binocular to use for astronomy?
The most important quality to look out for is one that you might not expect: size.
Larger binoculars weigh more and tire your muscles quickly as you use them. As your muscles fatigue, they begin to shake and the stars will dance and vibrate before your eyes. This does not lead to rewarding astronomy!
The best size binoculars for your astronomy – those that strike a balance between performance and size – are 7 x 50, 8 x 42 and 10 x 50. Bigger than that and you’ll need some stabilisation. At the other end, if you go smaller than 8 x 42, you’ll find the amount of light coming in is too little for quality stargazing.
The video below is a great explainer for which sizes of binoculars are best for astronomy. It’s a little over 3minutes long and well worth a watch.
You’d be forgiven for wanting bigger binoculars. More light gathering means you can handle more magnification and see fainter objects. If that’s something that interests you, you’ll need to combat those vibrating views, which we’ll consider next.
However, if you are brand new to astronomy and want to try it out with minimal investment, opt for 8 x 42, 7 x 50 or 10 x 50. If you’ve got a decent budget for your binoculars, put it towards fully multi-coated optics (explained below) instead of a bigger magnification, it will enhance your star viewing much more.
What are Image-Stabilization Binoculars; Are They Worth the Cost?
There are a couple of ways to reduce the amount of vibration in your binoculars, especially if you want to invest in a larger pair that gathers more light and tolerate higher magnification.
The first of these is a binocular stand or mount, which we’ll look at next, but the more expensive and technologically advanced way is to buy a pair of binoculars with image-stabilization technology included.
These are significantly more expensive than a standard pair of binoculars (see the last pair of binoculars we’ve reviewed) but they will reduce the vibration from your arms considerably and make night sky observations more rewarding.
However, they do not reduce the weight of the binoculars and you may still find that your arms tire more quickly than smaller binoculars that don’t need stabilization.
A more comprehensive and cheaper solution to vibration and muscle fatigue is to use a tripod.
How to Put Stargazing Binoculars on a Tripod
If you want to use larger binoculars for your astronomy, you are best advised to mount them on a tripod.
Most binoculars come with an attachment and will screw fix to a standard camera tripod. The problem with this setup is that you can’t angle the binoculars to point higher than about 30° above the horizon.
The solution is a binocular tripod adapter or an integrated adapter which some larger models come equipped with, like this one on Amazon and pictured below – you can see the metal rod in-between the two lenses, this is the built-in tripod adapter.
Once your binoculars are attached to a tripod, the tripod itself will take the strain instead of your muscles. You’ll enjoy a steadier, clearer view of the sky and have much more time to enjoy it. You’ll be pleased with the new level of detail you can see in your view now that it’s not shaking about all over the place!
Your last consideration with regards to binocular specifications, especially as they relate to astronomy, is the anti-reflective coatings their lenses come with.
What are Anti-reflective Coatings?
When you look at a piece of regular, untreated glass, you see a reflection. Glass naturally reflects light, which means not all the light hitting the glass makes it through to the other side.
Inside a regular pair of binoculars, there are many glass surfaces from the objective lens to the eyepiece. If these are untreated, a small amount of light is lost at every glass surface. By the time light reaches your pupil, there is much less of it that started down at the objective lens, which dims the image you see and lowers the quality of your astronomy.
To improve that situation, binocular manufacturers apply anti-reflective coatings to some or all of the glass surfaces within the binocular. The higher quality and more layers of coating applied, the higher the cost of the binoculars and the brighter the image they produce at your eye.
You can clearly see the effect of the anti-reflective coating on these Orion Scenix binoculars – it gives the lenses their purple color – which won the highest score in our best astronomy binoculars review.
As explained in the longer video from Orion, below, look out for these terms explaining anti-reflective coatings on your binoculars. From highest to lowest quality, they are:
- Fully Multicoated – All lenses have multiple anti-reflective coatings
- Multicoated – Air facing lenses are multicoated, and
- Fully Coated – Each lens has a single anti-reflective coating
Once you get to 7 x 50, improving lens quality and light transmission is arguably a better use of your dollars than bigger apertures and higher magnification.
Can I use Binoculars for Astronomy if I Wear Glasses?
The short answer is Yes, absolutely!
Modern binoculars all come with an adjustable eyecups around both eyepieces. This is either a foldable rubber cup or one that adjusts in and out using screwing motion. The simple rule of thumb is that if you wear glasses make the eyecup as small as possible, i.e. you need to get your glasses as close to the glass eyepiece in your binocular as you can.
If you don’t wear glasses, adjust the eyecups to leave space between your eye on the glass of the eyepiece. See this video from around the 3:05 mark.
To make scientific sense of these broad directions, the specification to look for is called eye relief. This measurement in mm tells you of the ideal distance your pupil needs to be from the glass in the eyepieces to see the full binocular image.
For example, an eye relief of 15 mm means that your pupils should be 15mm away from the glass of the eyepiece for the perfect focus, full-view image.
If you wear glasses, you shouldn’t go for binoculars with an eye relief less than about 12mm, because the gap between your glasses and your eyes will physically prevent you getting close enough to enjoy the full view.
Use the eyecups around the eyepieces to adjust the distance between your pupil and the binocular’s eyepieces to be as close to the eye relief distance as possible.
How to Use Binoculars for Astronomy
You now know what to look for when you’re buying a pair of astro binoculars. Now we’re turning our attention to how you should use them when you’ve bought them.
If you’re ready to buy right now, click here to see our reviews of the best binoculars for astronomy, or keep reading to learn how to use them once you own a pair.
We’ll begin this section with setting-up your new binoculars. What are the steps you should follow when you first open the box to make sure you get great night sky views with them?
We talked a lot about image-stabilization earlier but, below, we’ll look at how to use your binoculars in a way that keeps images stable and your arms relaxed – without needing image-stabilization technology or a tripod.
Finally, for this section, we’ll consider how to take care of your binoculars by looking at how to keep them clean.
Setting Up Your Binoculars for Stargazing
When you first get your binoculars, there are some simple steps you should take before using them for your stargazing. Following these easy directions will make sure you get the best enjoyment from binocular astronomy right from the get-go.
- Be Outdoors – When you first use your new binoculars, make sure you are outdoors. outdoors when you first get them. Don’t use them to look through a window at things outside, as you won’t get a true view of what they’re capable of. Outside is also reflective of where you’ll do your astronomy, so it makes sense to set them up in the same place.
- Connect the Neck Strap – Your binocular will come with a neck strap. Binoculars are not cheap and are very sensitive to being bumped, so your best first step is to get that neck strap attached as quickly as possible. with that done, always make sure the binoculars are around your neck whenever you use them.
- Get Used to Feeling Them – The best way to use your binoculars when looking for objects in the night sky is to do so without looking at the binoculars themselves Instead, learn to bring them up to your eyes without looking away from the object you want to magnify, this pretty much guarantees you’ll see the object straight away and won’t have to sweep around the sky trying to find it again.
- Set the Eyepiece Width – The eyepieces on your binoculars need to be the same distance apart as your own eyes to get the best views through them. To do that, simply ‘bend’ the binoculars so that the centres of the two eyepieces are the same distance apart as your pupils.
- Adjust the Binoculars for Your Eyes – This final adjustment is the most important because it will deliver the sharpest image. Your eyes are different from each other, so each of your binoculars’ eyepieces can be focussed separately to be perfect for both of your eyes. They do this with a diopter setting. The eyepiece which can rotate independently of the binocular body is the one with the diopter setting. See how to do this in the section below.
How to Use the Diopter Setting on Binoculars
To set your binoculars up perfectly for your eyes, point them at an object in the middle distance (ideally, in the daytime) and put the lens cap over the lens with the diopter adjuster.
Now, with both eyes open, adjust the focus setting of your binoculars until you have perfect focus through the open lens of the binoculars.
With that done, swap the lens cap over to cover the lens you’ve already adjusted, leaving the diopter lens uncovered. Again, keep both eyes open and, without touching the main focus adjuster, rotate the diopter eyepiece until the view through this lens is in focus.
When you’ve done that, remove the lens cap altogether and check that you have high-quality focus in both eyepieces. If not, run through this process again until you’re happy with your bin’s focus.
You are now ready to use your binoculars for astronomy and shouldn’t need to adjust the diopter setting again unless you lend your binoculars to someone else. They will need to adjust the diopter settings for their eyes, so it’s a good idea to mark your own settings on the binoculars for faster adjustment next time.
How to Hold Binoculars Steady Enough for Astronomy
Earlier, we looked at image-stabilization and tripods for reducing vibrations. The truth is, you will always get better astronomical viewing if you can hold your binoculars steady when you use them.
If you don’t want to use a tripod and can’t justify the budget for image-stabilization technology, then follow these simple steps instead to enjoy looking at the planets with your binoculars.
- Lean Against Something – If you like to do your astronomy standing, then leaning against a wall, tree or fence will take some of the strain from your arms and give steadier images
- Sit in a Recliner – Lay the seat back as far as it will go (relative to the object you’re looking at) and rest your arms on your chest
- DIY – If those don’t work for you, and you don’t want to buy a tripod, try a DIY tripod, like this one on the Cloudy Nights forum.
How to Clean Your Binoculars
There’s a full article here which details how to clean the lenses on a telescope and the same principles apply to cleaning the lenses on your astronomy binoculars.
The most important piece of advice you should listen to is this: clean your lenses only sparingly! Even a gentle clean can damage the glass coating or the lenses themselves, so only do it if you really need to.
Stargazing with Binoculars
Once you’ve selected, purchased and set up your binoculars, it’s time to take them outside and find some interesting night sky objects.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to look at those, but here are some resources you can use to get inspiration:
- Sky & Telescope Magazine has a ‘Binocular World’ feature each month
- Binocular Sky Newsletter – Binocular Sky is a website dedicated to astronomy with binoculars. This link will take you to their detailed monthly newsletter
- Binocular Astronomy Books – This Amazon link lists a good selection of books to help find objects to hunt for with your new binoculars
Now you know everything you need to select, set-up and use binoculars for astronomy, let’s turn to our best astronomy binocular reviews, so you can pick the best one for you.
Individual Astronomy Binocular Reviews
Now it’s time to take a detailed look at the five pairs of binoculars in the table at the beginning of this article (repeated below). Each review explains key features and lists out the pros and cons of each binocular.
|SkyMaster Giant||15 x 70|
|Orion MiniGiant||15 x 63|
|Orion Scenix||7 x 50|
|Gosky Compact HD||10 x 42|
|Image-Stabilized||18 x 50|
These SkyMaster Giants from Celestron offer 15x magnification in the body of 70mm objective lenses and for an attractive price, which is why they are perhaps the most popular astronomy binoculars available today.
They have multi-coated lenses, although they are not ‘fully’ multi-coated, so some of the internal glasswork is uncoated – although this will not unduly diminish their light sensitivity.
They have an eye relief of 13mm, so they are (just) suitable for astronomers who wear glasses. These SkyMaster Giant bin’s also come with a tripod adapter, making it easier to attach them to a tripod like this one for steadier stellar observing.
When you look through them, you are presented with a 4.4° field of view, which is represented by the blue circle around Orion’s Belt in the picture below, which you can click to enlarge.
4.4° Field of View, courtesy SkySafari 6
The biggest criticism of these binoculars is that they are prone to coming out of collimation. In binoculars, collimation means that the two eyepieces show you (almost) the same view, which your brain interprets as a single picture.
Badly collimated binoculars show two views that are not quite the same, so you see double, which is not good at all for astronomy! Knocks and bumps can cause collimation to be lost but, fortunately, there are hidden adjuster screws on these SkyMaster binoculars so alignment can be remade. The video below shows you how to do this.
These binoculars are a low-budget option. In some respects, this makes them great for beginners, but… there’s a good chance beginner’s will be put off by the hit-and-miss quality of collimation.
You can collimate these quite easily yourself, but we’d recommend spending a little more on higher quality astro binoculars.
- Great price
- Can be used by glasses wearers
- Adapter for tripod
- Prone to lose collimation
- Not fully multi-coated glass
- Optical quality just ‘ok’
The MiniGiants from Orion Telescopes are the most expensive pair of astronomy binoculars without image stabilization on our list and, with their purple-hued objective lenses, the funkiest looking too!
They have 15x magnification and a wide 63mm of aperture in each of the two objective lenses.
There are reasons you won’t get much (or any) change from $250 for these astro-bins. The first is that all of the glass surfaces within the binoculars are multi-coated with anti-reflective chemicals. The result is binoculars with superb light transmission.
Secondly, the barrels themselves are anti-glare treated internally, which minimizes ghosting effects and improves levels of contrast across the field of view.
They have a huge 19mm of eye relief, making them ideal for glasses wearers. They deliver a 3.7° field of view, which just about takes in all of Orion’s Belt, as you can see in the picture below.
A 3.7° FoV around Orion’s Belt, courtesy SkySafari 6
These binoculars are a ‘keep forever’ pair. They have wonderful eye relief and optics that will expose more details than your bog standard astronomy binoculars.
There are no reported collimation issues (quite the opposite) and feedback from users across the web is positive.
These are not cheap, however, and you’ll still need to buy a tripod and adaptor once you own them to get the best outcomes. Expect to spend over $300 in total, for which price you might prefer a cheap telescope instead.
- Fully multi-coated lenses
- Long eye-relief
- Great contrast levels
- Smaller field of view
- Tripod adapter not included
The Scenix binoculars from Orion are a great mix of price and quality for astronomy.
With their large field of view – in excess of 7 degrees – these make a perfect binocular for astronomy beginners.
They have 7x magnification and 50mm of aperture which makes them just about small enough to use without a tripod too!
These are a metal bodied binocular and the objective lenses have been multi-coated for better light transmission, although the other glass surfaces are not treated.
One specification makes these ideal for the beginner astronomer: their field of view. It is a large 7.1° and, as you can see in the picture below, such a large area of sky under your gaze makes it very easy to learn your way around.
Orion Scenix 7.1° Field of View, courtesy Sky Safari 6
There are always payoffs with astronomy equipment and the price of a wide field of view is lower magnification. So, whilst these will help you spot brighter galaxies and nebulae, they won’t reveal loads of detail.
For lunar astronomy, you’ll find Orion’s Scenix binoculars will reveal a wealth of detail. If you’ve never seen a magnified moon before, you are in for a real treat.
Eye relief is 20mm, which is great with or without glasses. As we said at the start of this review, you may find at 28oz these Scenix are light enough not to need mounting on a tripod. But, if you prefer to, they will accept an adaptor to mount them for night sky observations.
- Great for astro beginners
- Multi-coated objectives
- Big field of view
- Lower magnification
- Not much else…
We wouldn’t recommend anything smaller than these Gosky 10 x 42 binoculars because the aperture gets too small to let in enough light for decent astronomy.
However, these are a well-liked, inexpensive and come with an included smartphone mount for taking pictures of your views.
For well under $100, these binoculars come with fully multi-coated lenses and shock absorbing rubber coatings. They weight only 23ozs, making them easy to use without a tripod mounting.
The eye relief is only 12mm on these, so, if you wear glasses, you may struggle to see a good picture with this model.
Gosky’s Compact HD binoculars have a field of view of 5.8°, which is decent and represented on the image below.
Gosky’s 5.8° field of view, courtesy Sky Safari 6
Like the Celestron’s, there are a number of users complaining about poor collimation and we couldn’t find anywhere that this is user-adjustable, so beware that this could be an issue.
However, there are many rave reviews for this product around the web, praising the lightweight binoculars and their quality and ease of use. The phone adapter comes in for much praise and, if you want to share your binocular astronomy with friends and loved ones, this is a great idea.
- Great value price
- Multi-coated objectives
- Smartphone adapter included
- Smaller objective = less light
- Some quality issues
- Not great for glasses wearers
Our final binoculars are image-stabilized and included in this review for completeness; we do not expect you to spend $1000+ on astronomy binoculars!
Although the price is huge, so is the magnification at 18x, the largest magnification on our review of the best binoculars for astronomy (but only just).
These include multi-coated objective lenses (we should think so, for the price) and require 2xAA batteries to operate the anti-vibration technology inside.
The eye relief is 15mm on these, which is fine for glasses wearers. However, although we said we wouldn’t mention exit pupil, we do just have to point out that these have a minuscule 2.8mm exit pupil, which gives a sub-optimal viewing experience.
These Canon’s also have a small 3.7° field of view, which is to be expected with such a high magnification, but you will need a better grasp on your way around the sky, as you can see from the picture below.
A 3.7° FoV around Orion’s Belt, courtesy SkySafari 6
The reality is that these are a well-reviewed (there is barely a complaint to be found) binocular. But we just can’t recommend them on a website aimed at helping you enjoy astronomy, for one simple reason:
As much as binoculars are a great introduction to astronomy, if you have $1000 to spend, take 20% for the binoculars and save the other $800 for a wonderful telescope once you’ve decided you enjoy stargazing!
- No need for a mount
- Big magnification
- High-quality image-stabilization
- Tiny exit pupil
- Crazy price
- Very crazy price
So there you have it.
Everything you need to know to help you choose a pair of binoculars to help you enjoy astronomy.
We’ve looked at how to choose them, set them up and care for them, and we’ve shared links with you to great resources for using your binoculars.
Finally, we reviewed five of the best on the market today. For us, the absolute best pair, which balances cost and capability, is the 7 x 50 Orion Scenix.
If you have a bit more money to spare and are happy to bolster your investment with a tripod for your new binoculars, then opt instead for the Orion MiniGiant 15 x 63. They gather more light, subject it to more magnification and all without a huge sacrifice on field of view.
Whichever pair you choose, welcome to astronomy! At Love the Night Sky, we’re here to help you every step of the way.