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Binocular or spotter scope recommendations

Could I ask the collective SOTA wisdom for recommendations for either binoculars or spotting scopes for use on summits? I’m thinking here about seeing to other summits and hills here in the Lake District rather than closer up work.
I have a budget up to around £150 and clearly weight is a big factor, but I’d like something 1/2 decent rather than noddy if possible.

Many thanks! Mark.

Zeiss or Leica. Everything else is not as good.

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Hi Mark

Have a look at these…don’t own but used quite few times.

This is a thorough review. Excellent optics have gotten a lot cheaper with precision computerized manufacturing. They have picks from $128 to $290.

A quote from the review: “I’ve peered through binoculars of different types and made by dozens of different brands over the years, and had settled on my current pair of $2,500 Leica Ultravids. After eight weeks of testing over 30 pairs of binoculars in the $150 to $350 price range (and a few that were cheaper or more expensive), I can honestly say that if my Leicas got lost tomorrow, I wouldn’t hesitate to replace them with one of our top picks.”


I have a pair of Leica 10*42 Trinovids, which I’ve had for 30 years and have used extensively for bird-watching. Fabulous optics, and would cost me €1000 to replace; however, due to that fact, and the weight factor, I always take another, much less costly, and lighter, binocular if I’m hiking in the hills.

Look for folding binoculars to save on space in the rucksack: after losing a pair a couple of years ago, I settled on a pair of Nikon Akulon A30 10*25’s by searching online. They’re pretty good for the price (GBP50 - 60), they’re rubber-armoured, have extending eye-caps for spectacle wearers, are at least rain-resistant, and they’re cheap enough to lose, or break, or give away, and at 270 grams not what I would call heavy, compared to the Trinovids at about 750 grams - dont buy anything TOO light, or they’ll end up being flimsy. Also don’t get anything too cheap or the optics will be poor, which might be OK in bright sunshine, but when it’s overcast or hazy, or the sun is low in the sky, the last thing you want to be battling on the hill is poor optics when you’re trying to find signs of a path in the distance.

You could of course go for a monocular if you really want to save on space and weight, and I used one many years ago, but they’re not so easy to find, field of view tends to be rather limited, they’re a bit fiddly, and somehow easier to drop!

EDIT - just read your post again, and I see you’re interested in viewing the other summits around you. Then, I’d definitiely go for 1025’s or 1020’s, the 10 being the magnification factor, and important when viewing more distant objects. 825’s or 820’s, with their more gentle magnification, would be more suited to closer-range viewing - say, viewing birds while walking in the forest - than for more distant objects.

HTH, Rob

Thank you for all the recommendations. In the end I ordered a pair of Bushnell Permafocus® 10x42mm Roof Prism Binocular for just under £70. They don’t focus close up but that’s not an issue and if the auto-focus works as expected they’ll make a good companion at around 1/2 kg.

I’ll update the post with info when I’ve had a play.


Well, you’ve opted for a binocular that is permanently focussed on distant objects only - there is no “autofocus” at all. Plus, there’s no adjustable eyepiece, so if there’s any appreciable difference in focussing between your left and right eyes, you may find that the binocular is not for you. Then again, they’re not water or fog proof, meaning they’re not inert-gas filled and sealed, meaning they’ll fog up nicely (internally) when it’s damp: just perfect for those Lake District hills. And you could have opted for a binocular that was a bit lighter…

But - who knows - maybe they’re just right for you: try them out, and have fun with them…

I used to carry a pair of small binoculars on activations with the intention of spotting hills just as Mark intends. They are no longer part of my kit as I never found time to use them. That is sad in some ways, but understandable as I am usually on a mission to get as much as I can out of a day in terms of activating This does not mean that I do not take time to appreciate the landscape - it is just that I do not have the mindset to use binoculars.

I wonder how many activators actually find the time to use binoculars when they are out on the hills.

73, Gerald G4OIG

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Hi Mark,

I see you’ve made your decision. However, for what it’s worth, I think buying binoculars is a bit like buying boots. You wouldn’t normally buy on-line, you’d want to try them out to make sure they fitted correctly. Likewise binoculars.

I use an opticians on Peebles, High Street, Scotland. Being a borders town and catering for gamekeepers and farmers, they have (a few years now since I bought my last pair) a comprehensive collection of both binocular and monocular s. They provide advice as to what you are trying to achieve along with the facility to stand outside the shop focusing on the surrounding hills and structures to give you a ‘feel’ for your potential purchase.



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Jack knows what he’s talking about - that’s the best way indeed to try out different binoculars, and to get expert advice. I live in a small Bavarian town, and the possibility to do as Jack suggests was limited at best: hence my decision - after having a look and feel of the various small binos on offer in the big shops in Munich - was to order online. But i was helped in my decision by my having a fair amount of experience with binos in general.

All points noted. The lack of waterproofing in what I’ve ordered may be an insurmountable oversight - I can easily return them however. I do appreciate the benefit of being able to try before you buy and expert knowledge, I buy all my outdoor gear in general from Stuart Sports here in Windermere as James has always been spot on with recommendations, but when I looked he didn’t have anything binocular wise in my price bracket.

There is a very small shop in Staveley which has some binoculars but I suspect not enough to get a feel for what would work.

When climbing hills/mountains here above the treeline, the paths often take lines weaving through, and up, rocky areas/slabs/walls/pinnacles where it’s often not obvious where the path goes when viewing from several hundred meters away.

So, using a small pair of binoculars in such situations can very often reveal the path-markings (most often a small dab of red paint here and there) on the rocks from afar, and hence the general line to take when approaching or traversing such rocky areas, since the maps can never show such fine details.

Then again there’s the wildlife: chamois, ibex, eagles, vultures, marmots, etc…


Ooo! I bet they’re good. I’ve used lots of binoculars over the years from cheap to less cheap. You used to be able pick up monoculars made from ex-WWII UK military binoculars. They were (stretches mind…) 6x30 or 8x30. Being a monocular there were many fewer problems than you would get with second-user bincoulars. You could see where the brass case had been sawn to seperate them from the other half. They’re a bit of a collector item now.

Then one day I got to try a pair of Zeiss 8x25 (I think) that were a post -1995 model. Maybe 8x22 but they were small. Holy Moly. The difference between a serious pair of binoculars and all the others was stunning. Like your Trinovids, not cheap. But it wasn’t just the optical quality that was amazing, it was the overall build quality, the feel, the ergnomics and the lightweight.

You do get spoilt when you can use the pukka items so it’s nice to know the Nikons are acceptable at that price.

The Trinovids feel the same now as when I bought them - fit the hand perfectly, the focussing control is just where you need and expect it; they’ve never been serviced, but 30 years later the focussing mechanism is just as smooth as when new. And did I mention the optics? Crystal clear and crisp to the edge of the field of view and beautiful colors - perfect for birding!

And yes, the little Nikons are perfectly adequate for the price, which is what one ought to expect from a major top-quality camera manufacturer, and I’m happy with them as binoculars for the hill.

Now, I’ve also had the chance on several occasions to try out some of the Zeiss binoculars (and their spotting scopes) in the field, and I have to say that the binos just take the edge over the Leicas - it’s not much, and of course I’ve made no measurements, but there’s definitely the feeling that they just pip the Leicas to the post. But I have my Trinovids, and I won’t be exchanging them for anything. The Zeiss spotting scopes are simply awesome; breathtakingly good, are streets ahead of my Kowa spotting scope (also 30 years old), but since my pension won’t stretch even half as far as a Zeiss scope, I’ll stick with the kowa.

OK, so lesson learnt, I changed my mind based on comments about waterproofing and whilst these would be good for the kids you were right about the lack of focus not being sensible for adults (at least not if you aren’t attempting to catch birds etc. quick and on the fly).

Still in the market…

Again, I recommend reading the review of binoculars at The Wirecutter. A professional ornithologist tested binoculars on a ten day trip to Mexico, spending a full day with each one. Their top recommendation is the Athlon Midas ED 8x42 ($290).

The Wirecutter does very good reviews, with plenty of discussion to back up their choices. They also usually provide both an upgrade choice and a budget choice.


Hi I will look again. The Celestrons look good as the Athlon Optics seem to be unattainable here in the UK

It’s all fine and dandy to find an online product review and point to the best they found as being the best for somebody else. But if we look closely at the review, we discover that the “professional ornithologist” hired by The Wirecutter to review binoculars made a personal choice right off the bat to review only 8x42 binoculars, since he states that “we found 10x binoculars to be too shaky” (a point of view which would be hotly contested by ornithologists worldwide, since it only takes a couple of hours to get used to them). The review even shows pictures of the reviewer using binoculars in forest environments, which are particularly suited to using 8x magnification. So we’re not exactly dealing with a thoroughly objective review of all binocular types, which makes the review less than useful to a person wishing to buy a first pair of binoculars.

As to the discussion as to whether 8x or 10x fits the bill, I knew an old fellow here who I would often meet at a local lake, who sported a pair of Zeiss 20*60’s - gigantic binoculars - which, despite having image stabilization, were definitely in the “shaky” category, since you would need lumberjack’s arms to hold them for any length of time. But great for making an identification of some bird a mile out on the lake.

Now, as Mark has stated, he has a specific budget and and a specific viewing objective (pun unintended): as I’ve pointed out above, an 8x magnification will generally not be sufficient for viewing distant objects like summits miles away. A magnification of 10x is more likely to fit the bill, IMHO. In addition, the price of $289 (~ GBP246) for the review’s “best product” is far more than the GBP150 that the poster is prepared to pay. So, it would appear that your recommendation falls short of the mark (again, pun unintended).

YMMV, as always.

The budget pick is £157.90 at Amazon, slightly outside his range. Obviously, I didn’t take the time to translate all of the picks from dollars to pounds. I’ll get better at that when we’re in London in September.

Good 10X binoculars in that price range will be a challenge. The porro prism Nikon Aculon 10x42 at £95 are probably decent, though I see some quality control complaints in the comments at Amazon in the US. They weigh about the same as the Carson VP 8x42, 760 g instead of 700 g.

I’m not a fan of 10X binoculars myself. I’ll stick with my old Leitz Compact 8x22 glass.


The Nikon Aculon A30 10X25 Binoculars are currently on Amazon UK for £49. The next logical step up in the Nikon range may be the Nikon Sportstar EX 10x25DCF at £90 - these are waterproof and sealed, whereas the A30s are not. Both pairs weigh around 300 grams, and I’d set my weight budget to be around 500 grams maximum.

Thanks for the continued information.