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Top Midsize and Fullsize Hunting Binoculars Put to the Test

The winning binos, clockwise: Meopta Optika HD 10x42, Nikon Monarch HG 8x30, Maven B5 15x56.
The winning binos, clockwise: Meopta Optika HD 10x42, Nikon Monarch HG 8x30, Maven B5 15x56. (Bill Buckley/)

It's unfair to test a tiny portable binocular against a massive optic meant to be used with a tripod. So in our test, we divided binoculars between those portable units intended to be carried on a hunt and those intended to be mounted on tripods and used for extended stationary glassing sessions. Then we tested the glass, low-light performance, and ergonomics. But our main standard for rating a binocular is how comfortable it is to use. If that sounds overly subjective, consider your own experience. If a binocular makes you squint, or doesn’t fit your hands or your face, or the focus wheel feels spongy, you simply won’t use it as much as you might if it had better glass, more comfortable contours, and precise controls.

The three award-winners in our two binocular categories—medium- and large-frame—all are a joy to glass with. That’s the real measure of a binocular; the more comfortable it is to use, the more you’ll use it, and the more game you’ll see.

Midsize Binoculars

Editor's Choice: Nikon Monarch HG

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Nikon Monarch HG 8x30 • $950 (Bill Buckley/)

Nikon's Monarch HG is a hard-wearing classic. Its pebbled finish is grippy and handsome, it balances beautifully, and its extra-low-dispersion glass is vivid and bright. The Nikon was runner-up in our low-light test and posted excellent resolution and image-­quality scores. The oversize focus wheel is buttery-smooth but tight and precise, and the open barrels are well-suited for one-handed operation. The three-position eyecups comfortably fit nearly any facial dimension.

It’s a bit overpriced for a midsize bino, but its attributes make it a perfect fit for hunting, travel, or even back-porch bird watching.

Great Buy: Meopta Optika HD

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Meopta Optika HD 10x42 • $300 (Bill Buckley/)

At the lower end of the price spectrum, the Meopta Optika HD is simply a great bargain. For $300, you get a very bright and durable hunting tool whose performance is enhanced by Meopta's good glass and coatings.

The single-hinge, closed-bridge design is simple and durable, and testers liked the balance of the binocular, which is easy to use with one hand. That’s an important consideration for archers, whose other hand is almost always occupied with holding a bow. We recommend a few stylistic upgrades in logos and finish, but the team gave this bino perfect value scores, our benchmark for the Great Buy award.

Hawke Frontier ED X

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Hawke Frontier ED X 8x32 • $429 (Bill Buckley/)

Tight and balanced, this is a priced-right, versatile binocular that has the good looks to accompany a traveler. But it also has enough durability to handle most of a hunter's field duty.

Athlon Midas

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Athlon Midas 10x25 • $170 (Bill Buckley/)

The Midas was the double-hinge runt of the binocular test. It would be right at home in a turkey vest, a treestand, or a shirt pocket. The glass is pretty good, but the controls, as you might expect, are tiny.

Vanguard Vesta

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Vanguard Vesta 8x42 • $130 (Bill Buckley/)

Positioned as an entry-level binocular, the Vesta feels plasticky and is crudely finished. But the relatively low price, decent glass, and the lifetime warranty earned it high value scores.

Steiner Predator AF

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Steiner Predator AF 8x30 • $350 (Bill Buckley/)

The auto-focus capability and porro-prism design are both a little dated, but the Steiner's lightweight polymer chassis and good glass and coatings give it enough field cred to live up to its name.

Steiner BluHorizons

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Steiner BluHorizons 8x22 • $225 (Bill Buckley/)

Less a hunting optic than a compact travel binocular, Steiner has positioned the BluHorizons to appeal to beach-goers and adventure tourists. The best indication that this isn't designed for hunters is the "Autobright" coating that purports to optimize light transmission in glaring conditions. In other words, the full sun of the beach, not the low light of the hunting woods. The extensive use of rubber armor and the metal chassis combine to give the Steiner high durability scores, but both add excessively to its overall weight. We like the fully transferrable warranty, but there's just too much bling here for us to take it seriously as a hunting optic.

Still, as long as you can dull the bright finish, and don’t rely on it too much in low-light conditions, the Steiner should provide years of hard-wearing service, whether in the field or a traveler’s suitcase.

Read Next: How We Test Hunting Optics

Fullsize Binoculars

Editor's Choice: Maven B5

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Maven B5 15x56 • $1,500 (Bill Buckley/)

We didn't award a Great Buy in the Full-Size Binoculars category, but Maven's B5 easily won Editor's Choice for its excellent glass, wonderful balance, and responsive controls. The 15x56 (also available in an 18x56) is big and heavy, but the metal-alloy chassis is durable, the Abbe-Koenig prism gives the exterior dimensions a hand-gripping curve, and the diopter and focus are tack-sharp. The eyecups, an attribute that has a huge bearing on user comfort, are pleasingly positive. Big 15x56 binos are hard to balance, but the Maven settles on a tripod nicely. Yes, it's pricey, but the B5 is an investment that should survive years of hard use.

Bushnell Forge

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Bushnell Forge 15x56 • $800 (Bill Buckley/)

We expected a better image given its ED prime glass, and one tester described the armor as a "no-slip bathmat." Still, it's a well-balanced, grippy, and durable beast that will shine when mounted on a tripod.

Tract Toric UHD

Tract Toric UHD 12.5x50 • $794
Tract Toric UHD 12.5x50 • $794 (Bill Buckley/)

This bright, sharp bino splits the difference between the category of big 15x56s and the 10x42 class. It’s a decent option for a walk-around Western hunter, but it would excel as a deck or truck bino.

GPO Passion

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GPO Passion 10x56 • $833 (Bill Buckley/)

Thanks to its configuration, this big unit simply devours light, making it one of the best dawn and twilight binos on the market. The glass disappointed, however, and for the frame size, we recommend 12X or 15X magnification.

Athlon Cronus

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Athlon Cronus 15x56 • $700 (Bill Buckley/)

The balance of this big, unwieldy optic is too far forward for comfortable holding. We recommend mounting it on a tripod to get the best performance from the good glass and sharp focus capabilities.

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