Anyone taking their first steps into the world of astronomy may not realise that a great pair of binoculars can be just as good, if not more practical that splashing out on an expensive telescope. The great thing about binoculars is they are extremely portal and are ready to go right away. Telescopes on the other hand, need time to adjust snd set up and for someone just starting out on their stargazing journey, this may not be the ideal introduction. So, if you want to be able to glare up at the surface of the moon, observe the constellations or even deep sky objects, they’re ideal.
A good pair of binoculars suitable for the novice stargazer can be purchased for a little as £50 to £75. For hand held use, we’d would recommend apertures of 50 to 70mm and magnifications of 7x to 12x, maybe even 15x if you have a steady hand or are going to rest them on a suitable support.
What can I see with binoculars?
The first thing you will notice compared to the naked eye, is a big increase in the number of stars that are visible! Stars will not get any bigger as they are too distant however, the number of dimly lit stars you can see will increase very noticeably, especially when viewing densely populated parts of the sky like the milky way.
Many other objects are visible too. It’s very possible to spot planets in the solar system but the view will not be like a telescope. For example, with good eyesight you should be able to locate the position of the moons around Jupiter. Closer to home, our moon will reveal lots of detail on nights where it is not too bright (full moons), making it a great target to observe.
Binoculars really come into their own when searching for DSO’s (Deep Sky Objects) found outside of our solar system. The Pleiades nebula, also known as Seven Sisters (Messier 45) in Taurus and many other famous objects in the Messier catalog can be found in good clear skies with a decent pair of binoculars.
For those who want to take binocular observations more seriously there are many other types and sizes to consider.
Low-Range Budget (£100 & Under)
It is unlikely that you will find a telescope of reasonable quality around this price point that is sufficiently well made to be able to show you planets or the moon in good detail. But a good pair of binoculars will show you many more stars than can be seen with the naked eye and you will be able to find many fascinating objects such as galaxies, nebulae star clusters and learn to navigate the skies. Some good examples:
Celestron Cometron 12×70 – From £75.00
Providing a magnification of 12X and having a lens diameter of 70mm, these binoculars will allow you to see a wealth of detail in the night sky. The amount of stars visible will be many times that of the naked eye and will also allow you to locate most of the messier catalog items for example.
Although physically larger and heavier than 40-50mm binoculars, they can still be hand held especially when seated. Whilst many other binoculars of this size have 15x or even 20X magnifications, this is unhelpful in the night sky, as it reduces brightness and makes the binocular much more sensitive to vibration, making use on a tripod essential.
Visually there is almost no difference in appearance of night sky objects at 12X v 15X magnification but the image will be brighter and steadier allowing you to use them handheld.
- Beginners on a Budget
- General Astronomy
- Finding the bright deep sky objects light nebulae galaxies and clusters
- A great compliment to a telescope
- A little bulking for an evening stroll
- Tripod or mono pod useful to reduce fatigue during long observing sessions
Helios Fieldmaster 10×50 – From £54.99
Ease of use makes these 10 x 50 size binoculars very popular for astronomy.
They can be used hand-held to provide sharp clear views of the heavens without problem and are compact enough to be carried around your neck whilst taking an evening stroll.
For those starting out and looking for binoculars to help learn to navigate, this size is ideal providing a wider field of view than the 12 X 70 size. Also an excellent choice as a compliment to a telescope, they can be used for casual observations to check the night sky quality before setting up your telescope.
- Beginners on a Budget
- General Astronomical use
- Easy to carry around and get sharp hand held views
- Less light gathering compared to 70mm binoculars
- Less detail in deep sky objects
Mid-Range Budget (£100-200)
If you have a little more to splash out on binoculars, a slightly more expensive pair will offer clearer images, better field of view and more robust designs. Here’s some of our picks to look out for:
Opticron Adventurer WP Roof Prism Binoculars 10×50 – From £99.00
These offer a compact high quality optic at a sensible price. They are nitrogen purged to avoid internal condensation and offer a good field of view at a magnification which most can hand-hold with ease.
- Superior optics compared to entry level models making DSO observation easier
- Nitrogen purged – condensation cannot get inside the optics
Opticron Discovery WP PC Roof Prism Binoculars 8×50 – From £179.00
These are one of our favourites. A slightly less common size but perfect for astronomy! With 50mm objective lenses for good light gathering at 8X magnification, they offer a brighter image that helps find more difficult targets, provides a wider field of view and are easier to hold steady than the more common 10X50 sizes.
- Easy to hold steady
- Brighter view than higher magnification versions making it easier to find faint objects
- High contrast optics
- Nitrogen purged
- More expensive than other entry level models
Upper-Range Budget (£250+)
For those wanting to go even further with binoculars, you’ll need to consider larger apertures – typically up to 100mm
Because these instruments are large, they have to be tripod mounted. It’s simply not possible to use these as hand held binoculars. Many also feature interchangeable eyepieces fitted at 45 or 90 degrees to the main body to allow easy observation when observing objects high in the sky. Interchangeable eyepieces also allow you to change magnification, so these larger binoculars are effectively two telescopes mounted side by side!
Altair 100mm 90° Giant Observation Binoculars with 1.25″ Eyepiece Holders – From £1299.00
For large binoculars, the Altair 100mm are excellent! The large apertures on offer are ideal for those who enjoy searching out the fainter DSO’s (Deep Sky Objects). Optically excellent and with 90 degree prisms are ideally suited to observing objects high in the sky comfortably. They are not supplied with any mounting so a heavy duty tripod will be required – a good example being the FOTOMATE VT-990-222R Super Heavy-Duty Professional 2-Way Tripod.
- Superb performance on DSO’s due to large aperture
- Angled eyepieces for comfort
- High contrast optics
- No dedicated tripod
Vixen BT81S-A Astronomical Binoculars with HF2 Mount and Tripod Package – From £1599.00
Optically these binoculars are excellent. They come with a specially designed mount and tripod making them easy and enjoyable to use. A superb choice for the serious binocular user and for some observers these can take the place of a telescope.
- Superb optical quality
- Large aperture makes many more DSO’s visible
- Excellent dedicated tripod and mounting
- Angled eyepieces greatly improve observation comfort
- Not as portable as hand held binoculars