We interviewed several amateur bird watchers over the past year in search of the best birding binoculars under $300.  And we found that the one model really stands out from the rest is the Nikon 8×42 Monarch 5 Binoculars.

From the Galapagos Islands to Costa Rica to Glacier National Park, and several places in between, the travelers we spoke with repeatedly named the Nikon Monarch 5 Binoculars 8×42 as their top choice in this price range, not only for birding but also for general use at home or to take along while traveling.


Attractive Features of the Nikon Monarch 5 8×42

nikon-monarch5-8x42With every measurement there is a tradeoff, not only in image quality and performance, but also in binocular size, weight, quality, and price.

The Nikon Monarch 5 8×42 hits that sweet spot just right to meet the needs of most casual birders and travelers.

In addition to the fact that the 8X42 measurements are ideal for providing excellent viewing from dusk to dawn, here are some of the features that make these binoculars come out on top:

  • Nikon’s superior extra-low dispersion (ED) glass for clearer viewing, correcting chromatic aberration across the visible light range
  • Waterproof (up to 1 meter for 10 minutes) and fog free
  • Weighs only 21 ounces, making it among the lightest full-sized binoculars
  • Ample 330 feet field of view at 1000 yards
  • Closest focus distance is 8.2 feet.
  • 5 mm eye relief, providing a full field of view even for those who wear eyeglasses
  • Boasts one of the smoothest and most precise focus knows
  • Excellent all around quality and performance for the price.


Let’s Backup to a Review of Binocular Basics

Just to back-up a bit… if you’re not yet familiar with binoculars, then the terminology and numbers can be confusing. Herd’s an overview of some of the basics:

  • Magnification (aka Power): Binoculars are described with two numbers, such as 8×42. The first number indicates the magnification, in terms of how many times larger the viewed object appears through the binoculars vs how it appears to the naked eye.For example, items will appear larger when using binoculars described as 8×42 than by a pair of 6×42. 10×42 will make the view appear even larger.
  • Objective Lens Diameter: The second number indicates the objective lens diameter, or size of the front lens, in millimeters (mm). The larger the second number, the brighter images will appear because more light is let in.For example, an 8×32 pair will give a brighter image than an 8×22 pair, but not as bright as a pair of 8×42. Larger lens diameters result in bigger and heavier binoculars.
  • Field of View: This is a measurement that describes the width of the area you can see through the binoculars. The wider the field of view, the more you can see without having to move the binoculars around. This is especially useful when watching something that is moving, such as birds, animals, or sports.Field of view is measured in either degrees or in feet. With most binoculars, it is between 6° and 7.5°. When measured in feet, is usually expressed based on 1000 yards, such as a 300 foot field of view at 1000 yards.
  • Exit Pupil Diameter: This is the size of the circle of light that is transmitted to your eye through the binoculars. Larger numbers provide greater image brightness and clarity. This number is derived by dividing objective lens diameter by magnification. The greater the magnification, the smaller the number and darker the image will be. Many consider the 8×42 to provide the ideal exit pupil diameter for most uses.

vortex diamondbackOther Contenders for Best Birding Binoculars in 2014

In addition to the Nikon Monarch 5 8×42, two other models that were frequently mentioned were the Vortex Diamondback 8×42 and the Nikon Monarch 5 10×42.  I won’t review those in detail in this article, but if you are looking for an alternative, you may want to check if one of these suits your specific needs a bit better.

We’re currently doing some research for a more general binoculars-related article.  So if you have any additional questions about binoculars that you’d like us to address, we’d really appreciate you letting us know in the comments below.


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