In this article we are going to review what are the best binoculars for astronomy under the $500 price point. When first getting into the hobby you’ll be tempted to jump right in and buy that shiny new telescope…I know…I’ve been there! I’m here to tell you that this may not be the best first step, particularly if you’re on a budget.
Instead, start learning your way around the skies and enjoying some great celestial targets with a fairly inexpensive, but good pair of binoculars. In fact, even the most seasoned amateur astronomers will almost always have their binoculars close at hand. This means, even when you’re ready to take the leap and purchase your telescope, your binocular purchase will not be a waste of money.
Before you decide on a pair of binoculars, be sure to check out our article on Best Binoculars For Astronomy Beginners.
Best Binoculars For Astronomy – Binocular Types
Before we jump right into what we think are the best binoculars on the market right now. Let’s review the two basic categories of prism binoculars:
Best Binoculars For Astronomy – Roof Prism
Roof prism binoculars have straight tubes and are generally smaller and more expensive than their porro prism counterparts when comparing their optical sizes. They generally are more compact under 50mm in diameter, however, this is negated as they get larger in size.
Best Binoculars For Astronomy – Porro Prism
Porro prism binoculars are the most common you will see used by amateur astronomers and will comprise our list of the best binoculars for amateur astronomy. They boast the humped-shaped N light pattern and are available in an almost infinite number of sizes.
Having tried both Roof Prism and Porro Prism varieties, I’ve found that the Porro Prism type offer the best compromise of image quality and cost.
Best Binoculars For Astronomy – Binocular Sizes
Binoculars have two numbers etched on the body, such as, 7×50, 10×50 etc. The first number is the magnification (the “x” indicates magnification). The second number is the diameter of the front lenses in millimeters. Therefore, a 7×50 has 7 times magnification and a 50mm diameter objectives (main lenses).
There are many different combinations, which will cater to all different uses and portability. From very small 6×16 binoculars to huge 25×150 binoculars. What you need to keep in mind when purchasing binoculars for stargazing is the weight to magnification ratio.
For this reason, I always recommend going with a pair of binos in the range of 10×50 for your first pair. They seem to be the best compromise between weight, magnification and cost. They are ideally suited for stargazing and will yield great views in the eyepiece without putting a tremendous strain on your arms. Especially for those longer stargazing sessions without a tripod.
The other reason I like the 10×50 range is they are a good all-around pair of binos. Meaning, they are portable enough to use for terrestrial type viewing as well. This mean they are great for, bird-watching, your favorite sports game, or just to bring out on a nature walk.
Best Binoculars For Astronomy – Binocular Pricing
Decent quality binoculars can be purchased for $100, however, I recommend looking in the price range of $200-$500. In this price range the optical quality will be excellent and you will have yourself a set of binoculars that will give you years of enjoyment.
That said, you can spend a great deal more on top-end binoculars that have built in features such as image stabilization. This variety will almost always boast roof prism designs with superior optics and wide-angle eyepieces.
Without a doubt the best of the best are the Canon line of image-stabilized binoculars. While they make a variety of sizes and models, amateur astronomers will almost always gravitate to the Canon 15×50 Image Stabilization All Weather Binoculars. If you have some money to spend and invest in a pair binoculars that will blow the rest of the competition clear away, then these guys are the ones to get.
What makes this line of binoculars so amazing, optics aside, is the ability for the binoculars themselves to adjust for your arm shake. Admittedly, I was skeptical that these would actually do what they advertised. However, I was completely blown away when I looked through the eyepiece for the first time.
By simply pressing the button on the top, as you see in the image above, the binoculars use motion sensors to interpret you arm movement to continuously control the shape of the prisms in the light path. This yields an incredibly still image in your eye…it’s simply astounding!
I know, we are here to discuss the best binoculars for astronomy for under $500, so let’s not get too excited! That said, if you have the budget for it, you can stop reading now and get yourself a pair of these…I never go stargazing without them!
Best Binoculars For Astronomy – Binocular Tests
Before we unveil what are the best binoculars for astronomy, I want to quickly review the criteria used in the selection process. There are 7 key factors I look at when examining the quality of any pair of binoculars I review.
- Weight. How heavy are the binoculars. This is key measure particularly when not using a tripod.
- Prisms. How round and evenly illuminated is the optical path through the lenses.
- Craftsmanship. How do the binoculars feel in your hands and how do the moving parts feel as you rotate them.
- Optics. How does the image focus over the entire field of view, particularly, near the edges.
- Coatings. Poor coating quality on the lenses and prisms will increase flare and ghosting. Multi-coating is always desired. This manufacturer will usually indicate whether the glasses are single coated or multi-coated.
- Collimation. Whether or not after a few minutes of using the binoculars do I feel eye-strain. This usually indicates that the binoculars are out of collimation, meaning, the optical systems are out of alignment.
- Astronomical Testing. How well do they perform under dark skies. The reason you are here reading this article today.
Now that you know the criteria used. Let’s take a look at what made the list for the best binoculars for amateur astronomy under $500.
Best Binoculars For Astronomy Under $500
So without further ado, here is what we think are the best binoculars for amateur astronomy under $500. Of course if you have more to spend than this, all bets are off. You’d be well advised to go with the Canon image stabilized binos suggested above.
However, if you’re not looking to break the bank, these binoculars will provide an excellent compromise between quality and cost.
The Celestron 12×50 Granite Binoculars will provide great celestial views at a great price point. Boasting full multi-coating for superior optics, the BaK-4 prisms will provide stunning images under the most stringent conditions. The all-weather design provides for an extremely comfortable grip in the harshest weather extremes. These binoculars will provide years of both celestial and terrestrial viewing. Our top pick for a set of binos at around the $400 price point.
The extra 12x magnification will give way to some great 10th magnitude galaxies such as NGC3077 and NGC2978. Note only do these binoculars have the largest magnification of all in the list, they are also one of the lightest. At 1.73 lbs these binoculars exhibit everything we are looking for in a set of binoculars ideally suited for amateur astronomy.
Built on Nikon’s legendary ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass lenses, which correct chromatic aberrations across the furthest limits of the visible light range and effectively compensate for color fringing. These Nikon binos will not disappoint! With large 56mm objective lenses these binos will gather light in the darkest of conditions with pin-point accuracy. An absolute must for dark sky seekers.
The trade-off for the large objective lenses is weight. At 2.51 pounds they will tire your arms in shorter order than the smaller binos you will find. That said, the image quality when compared to the others in our list is second to none. These binos will yield exquisite moon and star viewing.
Like its bigger brother the Celestron 12×50’s, these 10×50’s are a great all-around set of binoculars. They are of the same design and prism quality with multi-coating and BaK-4 prisms. At 10x magnification you will have no problem zooming into our closest celestial neighbors.
The one drawback is the significant weight increase with these binos. Surprisingly they weigh more than their big brother the 12×50’s at an increase to 3 lbs. I’m not sure what to attribute the increased weight to, however, if you’re in the market for a good all-around pair of binoculars be sure to give these a look.
I’m a big fan of the Zeiss Terra 10×42 binoculars. They have exception image quality with superior lenses and coatings. The streamlined design makes them some of the more comfortable binos to hold for extended periods of time. At 1.5 lbs they are also the lightest binos in our list which earns them the #4 spot.
Perfectly sized for both celestial and terrestrial viewing, check these binos out if you want an all-around superior quality set of lenses.
I’ve always been a fan of Pentax’s optics. They are among the best in the world when it comes to superior image quality at a price the beats the rest. For both price and quality the Pentax SP 10×50’s make the list in the #5 spot.
At under $200 you’re not likely to find a better pair of binoculars in terms of optics, craftsmanship and durability. At 2.34 lbs you will notice these binos are a little heavy for extended use, however, tripod mounting is an option.
Well there you have it! This is what we think are the best binoculars for astronomy under the $500 price point. While all the binos listed will provide superior quality it is always prudent to do your research. To get you started consider these key factors when selecting your next pair of binoculars.
- Larger main lenses mean brighter images, however, for most people 50mm are the practical weight limit for handheld use.
- Higher magnification means better resolution of detail, however, it also means the optics need to be of superior quality the higher you go.
- Higher magnification will amplify your “shakiness”. This key factor alone limits how high you can go for handheld binocular use.
- Putting this together, you should be looking at binoculars in the 7×50, 10×50, 8×56 or 12×50 ranges. As I mentioned earlier the 10×50 range seems to be the “sweet spot” when it comes to handheld binocular use.
I certainly hope you’ve found this article useful. Please be sure to check out our other articles for more great products and information for everything amateur astronomy!
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