The Best Binoculars for Spotting Wildlife on Safari

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Safari binoculars
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There seems to be a running joke that the number one cause of divorce among travelers in Africa is only bringing one pair of binoculars on safari. Rather than coming to blows over who gets to watch the elephants bathing in that far-off pool or zoom in on that pack of sunning lions, pick up a pair or two of binoculars to make sure you can see the wildlife in all its detail, down to the feathers of the birds on the water buffalo's back.

Binoculars are most often identified by both their model name and a set of two numbers. The first number represents the magnification. For safaris and other wildlife viewing, most sources recommend an 8x or a 10x, so animals will look eight or ten times closer to you than they actually are. If you go too much higher, the image may get blurry if you're holding the binoculars without extra stabilization — something you won't really have in a jeep.

The second number is the size of the objective lens (the front one) in millimeters, which tells you how much light the lenses let in. A larger number means more light gets in; and 42 seems to be the sweet spot for maximum clarity without adding too much weight. Given that wildlife is most active around dawn and dusk, it's important to make sure your binoculars can handle low lighting. Many binoculars with designations like "compact" or "travel" top out around 28; this keeps them smaller, potentially even foldable, but they won't perform as well in darker conditions. If you want to go deeper down the binocular tech specs rabbit hole, B&H Photo offers a comprehensive guide to lenses, while REI will help you sort them out using slightly shorter sentences.

Related: The Top 10 Safari Outfitters

In addition to the correct magnification and lens size, you want to look for a rugged housing (probably rubber) and waterproof design. You are taking these into the bush, after all. A carrying strap is a nice bonus for bringing them along on game drives or walks, and be mindful of weight, since you will be carrying them both on your expeditions and in your luggage.

There are binoculars with built-in cameras and binocular apps on the market, as well, but we don't recommend them. You're getting the worst of both worlds with camera binoculars, and apps are still inherently limited by your phone camera's abilities. If photos are what you're after, you're better off investing in a camera with a good zoom lens.

There's not much consensus in the online review sphere about which specific binocular models are the very best, but the same brands pop up over and over again, so feel free to comfortably explore their catalogs if the particular model we mention here isn't quite to your liking.

01 of 12

Athlon Optics Midas 8x42 ED

best binoculars for safari
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This Athlon pair topped the Wirecutter's list and was one of the Strategist's expert's recommendations. They're noted for their exceptional durability and easy focusing, a definite bonus when you're trying to follow animals along their path.

To buy: amazon.com, $230

02 of 12

Celestron Trailseeker

best binoculars for safari
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Wirecutter's second-favorite was only dinged for its slightly blurrier edge of field, but does come with a lower price tag than their top pick from Athlons.

To buy: amazon.com, $190

03 of 12

Nikon ProStaff 7

best binoculars for safari
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The 7 is the most recent addition to Nikon's very good entry-level ProStaff line. The 3 and 5 are also solid options and sometimes you can find them even cheaper.

To buy: amazon.com, $177

04 of 12

Nikon Monarch 5

best binoculars for safari
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Available in 8x or 10x42, the Monarch 5 makes consistent appearances on best-of lists in this price range. For about double the price, you'll get similar features but a larger field of view with the Monarch 7 (8x and 10x).

To buy: amazon.com, $247

05 of 12

Celestron Nature DX

Safari binoculars
Courtesy of Amazon

The Celestron Nature, meanwhile, is an Outdoor Gear Lab best buy. Both the Nature and TrailSeeker appear on Audobon Society's best budget binoculars list, and birders know their binoculars.

To buy: amazon.com, $113

06 of 12

Bushnell Legend L Series

best binoculars for safari
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Bushnell is another classic binocular brand, and this midpoint of their Legend series has solid qualifications for a reasonable price.

To buy: (8x42) amazon.com, $160; (10x42) amazon.com, $146

07 of 12

Vortex Viper HD 8x42

Safari binoculars
Courtesy of Amazon

Outdoor Gear Lab's editor's choice binoculars won their praise for finding the balance between price and performance, earning the designation of the best binoculars you can get before you hit a four-digit price tag.

To buy: amazon.com, $432

08 of 12

Olympus 10x42 PRO

Safari binoculars
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These are Digital Camera World's 2019 pick for best safari binoculars for their excellent light transmittance plus anti-fog and waterproof capabilities.

To buy: amazon.com, $519

09 of 12

Leica Trinovid

best binoculars for safari
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Leica also brings the quality of their camera lenses into their high-end binoculars. Digital Camera World likes the Trinovid for the combination of superior picture and rugged build.

To buy: amazon.com, $984

10 of 12

Swarovski EL 8.5x42

best binoculars for safari
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Think you're going to convert to a lifetime of birdwatching? Swarovski's lens quality is consistently top of the line, but you'll pay top of the line prices for it. If money is no object for you, try out this Outdoor Gear Lab top pick.

To buy: amazon.com, $2,659

11 of 12

Zeiss Victory SF

Safari binoculars
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If you really want to invest in your binoculars, Zeiss makes some of the best. Choose between 8x42 or 10x42 depending on your preference and steadiness of your hands. If you're just buying a pair for one safari, you don't really need to spend this much, but who are we to stop you if you absolutely must have them.

To buy: amazon.com, $2,750

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Leica Noctivid

best binoculars for safari
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Step even further up with Leica's Noctivid, a Strategist and Field & Stream pick for their maximized ergonomics, build quality, and crystal clear images.

To buy: amazon.com, $2,799

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