In addition to a great telescope, you may want to invest in a good set of binoculars for astronomy. There are many reasons why. I cover these, and in case you are wondering what are the best binoculars for stargazing, I go over the basics you need to know.
Why Use Astronomy Binoculars?
…not only can you use the binoculars for astronomy, but you can also use them as bird watching binoculars and for other terrestrial pursuits. This makes them cost-effective and a good option for kids or beginners keen on stargazing.
Another reason…they are portable. But then so are some telescopes.
They are also easy to set up.
Thus, recommending binoculars for astronomy beginners makes sense.
But here’s the deal…
Wide Field of View
It’s not simply a matter of binoculars vs telescope. You see, binoculars and telescopes work together. A set of good quality binoculars will provide you with a wider field of view than a telescope and so make a great accompaniment to that best telescope for stargazing.
Viewing the night sky with binoculars means you will see a larger portion of the sky than through a telescope.
Another reason… binoculars are useful for helping you find your celestial object. Moreover, they assist in getting you acquainted with the night sky, with the positioning of stars, planets, and constellations.
With a good set of astronomy binoculars, you can see larger objects like the double cluster in Perseus, star clusters of the Pleiades and Hyades, and even galaxies better than you can with a telescope because you see the object in context, with the black sky around it.
Astronomy Binoculars Buying Guide
Which binoculars for astronomy are the best? Looking through a long list of binoculars for sale can be overwhelming. This guide aims to give you some ideas of what to look for in binoculars for astronomy.
What are the Best Binoculars for Astronomy?
In choosing binoculars for astronomy there are a few main features to consider.
One…the size of the aperture matters. And, two the power (magnification) of the binoculars is important. But there’s more to consider if you want the best binoculars for the money to do stargazing.
A 50 mm diameter objective lens in binoculars for astronomy is a fairly popular choice for amateur stargazers.
A 50 mm diameter objective lens means a high light-gathering ability and this is ideal for astronomical use. This size objective lens is a good place to begin for comfort at least since a larger lens becomes weightier when handheld.
Still, more aperture is useful for astronomy. You’ll see fainter stars with a 10×80 mm, for example, than a 10×50 mm. But, the larger the aperture the likely bigger and bulkier will be the binoculars. You can use a tripod to help with this (I talk about this further down the page).
What is the best magnification for binoculars for astronomy?
In considering which binoculars to buy for astronomy, a power of 7× is okay and a good start. So, look for a magnification of at least 7 times and (no more than 10 times, if handheld).
Even with a 7× or 10×50 set of binoculars, astronomy wise, you may need to keep them steady. I talk about the tricks on how to do that further down.
Different Optical Prisms
The purpose of the prisms is to rotate the view the right way up.
The two types of prisms you need to know about are the roof prisms and Porro prisms.
Look for binoculars with Porro prisms, which give brighter images than roof prisms with the same objective size, magnification, and optical quality. Thus, a good set of roof-prism binoculars for astronomy can be more expensive.
The Porro-prism binoculars are wide because, in these, the objective lenses and the eyepieces are offset.
In contrast, the view through roof prism binoculars is straight through because the objective lenses and the eyepieces are in line rather than offset. These are the narrow types and make the best compact binoculars.
You should consider the quality of the glass in the prisms. The optimum type is BAK-4 rather than the more inferior, but satisfactory, BK-7, for example.
In modern binoculars, performance in low light conditions, such as twilight, can depends on the quality of the optical coatings.
Anti-reflective (AR) coatings work to reduce the amount of light being lost through reflection. In binoculars without AR coating, you can lose up to 5% of light transmitted in binoculars. So the AR coating helps improve light transmission through the binoculars.
Modern lenses are coated with complex multi-layers of anti-reflective material.
According to experienced users, look for anti-reflective coating. Pick them up and look at the light reflected in the lenses. A good AR coating would mean they are dark but with some reflected color. Avoid ones where the lenses appear white or ruby red. A white surface indicates no AR coating.
Complexity of AR Coatings
There are different types of AR coatings and manufacturers generally describe these as either ‘fully multi-coated’, ‘fully’, ‘multi’, or ‘coating’.
‘Fully multi-coated’ generally means multiple layers of coating on all lens surfaces and is found on high end optics.
‘Fully coated’ can mean a thin AR coating on both sides of both the objective lens and the ocular lens systems, as well as the length of the prism.
“Multi-coated” indicates there are some layers missing.
And ‘coating’ suggests a single coating only, usually of magnesium fluorite.
Zoom or Built In Camera
Binoculars that take pictures are also available. It’s recommend you avoid binoculars with built in camera or zoom for stargazing purposes.
Binocular Field of View
This is often given as how many degrees that can be viewed or a linear measure of width that can be seen at a thousand yards (e.g., feet @ 1000 yds).
The exit pupil is the objective diameter (mm) over the magnification (EP = D/M). So, for example, a set that is 7×50 (that is, objective diameter of 50 mm and a magnification of 7) will have an exit pupil of about 7 mm.
Look for a exit pupil value that is at least equal to the diameter of your dilated pupil at night. Interestingly, what to look for in this instance is age-related.
But, remember that the best exit pupil for you will depend on your age.
For those under 30, the average exit pupil is 7 mm. It reduces with age, so an exit pupil of between 5 to 6 mm might be more relevant for 50 years and older. If you are an older user, to avoid loss of light reaching your eyes (plus unneeded expense), a set of binoculars 7×35 or 7×42 would be better suited for you.
This is about comfort and seeing the entire field of view, and can make a difference with holding the binoculars steady.
Eye Relief for Eye-Glass Wearers
If you need to wear glasses look for a minimum of about 16 mm or more. Naturally, it will depend on you and your glasses.
Eye relief length is especially important if you wear glasses for astigmatism. You don’t need to wear glasses if you are near- or farsighted since you can adjust the focus of the binoculars to account for these sight issues.
Eye relief of binoculars is usually between a few millimeters and a few centimeters. When wearing glasses, the longer the eye relief, the better the fit for comfort and the better will be your ability to see the entire field of view.
There are at least three lenses in each binocular eyepiece. The field lens is farthest and the eye lens is closest to the eye.
Some astronomical binoculars have changeable eyepieces that change the magnification.
Reviews of Best Binoculars for Stargazing
For astronomy binoculars, Amazon has a great range to choose from including some best binocular brands. Among the brand names are Nikon, Orion, and Celestron astronomy binoculars.
Cometron 7×50 Celestron Binoculars Review
A set of beginner astronomy binoculars, 7×50, like these will give you a field of view of about 7 degrees in diameter. Compare this to a typical amateur telescope (even when using low power) with a field of view of only 1 degree. This translates to 40–50 times the area being visible with this pair of binoculars compared to the telescope.
This Celestron set is water resistant, which is what you need for outdoor use, especially at night when you are likely to experience dew or mist.
With a 50 mm objective lens, the field of view is 357 feet at 1000 yards. The lenses are multicoated with large exit pupil (7 mm). The distance between the centers of the pupils (IPD) is 56–72 mm and close focus distance, which is the closest point that the binocular can focus on, is 26.2 ft. Eye relief is 13 mm with a folding eyecup.
Housing is aluminum. Accessories include carrying case, objective and eyepiece covers, and lens cloth.
This is a Porro-prism binoculars set (objective lenses and eyepieces are offset). The prism material is BK-7.
This Celestron set comes at a price in the range seen for the best budget binoculars for astronomy.
Get the latest price of the Celestron 7×50 Binoculars at Amazon. See details.
Pros: One of the best binoculars for the price for beginners with features of a large pupil exit (best for under 30s), Porro-prisms, and AR coating.
Cons: Not optimum for those who need to wear glasses (i.e., those with astigmatism) given the eye relief of 13 mm and older users would be better with a pupil exit of 5–6 mm. Also, if you want a higher grade prism material, look further and consider paying more.
Celestron SkyMaster 12×60 Binoculars
This Celestron binoculars set is also water resistant. With a 60 mm objective lens, the field of view is 278 feet at 1000 yards or 5.3°.
The long eye relief (17 mm), and soft rubber folding eyecups make this ideal for wearers of glasses and with an exit pupil of 5 mm, one of the best binoculars under 100 dollars for older amateur astronomers.
Users have claimed that galaxies, like the Andromeda, are easy to spot with these binoculars, with one noting the view of face-on spiral galaxies was better than with a 10″ telescope.
The optics are multi-coated.
This is a Porro-prism binoculars set (objective lenses and eyepieces are offset). The glass material is high index BAK-4. Close focus distance is 47.2 feet.
It comes with many accessories, like lens covers, rain guard, carrying case, neck strap, and cleaning cloth. It does not come with a tripod but can be used with a tripod.See the Price of the Celestron SkyMaster 12×60 Binoculars on Amazon
Pros: Constructed with high-grade prism material, BAK-4, which is optimum, inferring better light transmission and edge-to-edge sharpness. Great for wearers of glasses given the long eye relief. Especially suited to older users with the pupil exit of 5 mm.
Cons: Doesn’t come with a tripod, though it is tripod adaptable. With an objective lens of 12, use of a tripod is recommended.
Nikon 8244 ACULON A211 7×35 Binoculars Review
An exit pupil of 5 mm makes this set ideal for older users.
The great features about this set include the BAK-4 prism glass and the Porro prism system. The lenses are also multicoated and eco-friendly since they are lead and arsenic free.
Eye relief is 11.8 mm and field of view 488 feet at 1000 yards.See the Price of the Nikon ACULON 7×35 on Amazon
Pros: Price. BAK-4 prism material and the Porro prism system. Is lightweight and compact, which are features users want in the best travel binoculars.
Cons: Short eye relief is not optimum for those needing to wear eyeglasses.
How to Choose Binoculars?
Here’s the deal…
For the best binoculars for astronomy, look for these features:
- A good anti-reflection coating
- A high-grade glass like BAK-4 in the prism system
- Precision of the lens shape – focus works to the edge of the field
The quality of these features is typically what separates the best binoculars under 50 from the more expensive.
But, what you buy will likely depend on how much you want to (or can afford to) spend. So, although not optimum, a ‘less than high’ quality of such features will still be acceptable (and possibly make the best binoculars for kids) for astronomy use.
Watch these features:
- The type of prism (Porro- or roof)
- Zoom or in built camera
More specifics of these are given above.
How to Buy Binoculars?
Where to buy binoculars for stargazing? You can buy binoculars online. Some of the best cheap binoculars for astronomy can be found on Amazon.Get these best buy binoculars for stargazing on Amazon
Or…Get a cheap 12 x 50 set of binoculars on Amazon
How to Use Binoculars for Astronomy
I think everyone would or should know the basics of using a pair of binoculars. There are three things that can cause you a little bit of frustration with those good astronomy binoculars. One is focussing, two is image stability, and three is finding the object.
Focusing the Binoculars
I go over the basics of focussing in How to Set Up Binoculars, further down.
Keeping Binoculars Steady
You need to keep the binoculars steady for a clear view. You can try to brace yourself by placing your elbows on a table, a railing, or the roof of your car.
One option is to buy a mount to hold the binoculars steady. If you have a camera tripod you can add a bracket that is designed to attach to it. This will be a cheaper option than buying a specific astronomy binocular tripod.
The SnapZoom Universal Binocular Tripod Mount is useful because it suits all. That is, you can use it with binoculars that don’t have that threaded tripod socket.
Binoculars with Image Stabilization
Image stabilized binoculars will avail a steady experience and stunning views without the shake. These binoculars have sensors that detect movements in high or low light conditions.
The downside of these is the battery usage. And, then the price.
Finding the Object in the Night Sky
People tend to look lower than the object they wish to focus on when using their binoculars or telescope for astronomy. Practice helps with this. Try tipping the binoculars up.
Sometimes it’s easier to first find an object that stands out and then star hop across to where you want to go. I find using a tree or some other landmark as a pointer to the object and then moving your binoculars up to the object also helps.
It’s a good idea to practice on bright objects first until you get the hang of it.
It’s also best to plan your timing as it is difficult to look directly up with binoculars especially with a tripod. You might want to get comfy and lay back in a reclined seat or on a rug on the ground while hand-holding the binoculars if you are wanting to study the center of the sky.
How Do Binoculars Work?
They are optical instruments based on binocular (two-eyes) vision. Think of a set of binoculars as two telescopes put together to focus on the same point. The following is a basic overview.
The binoculars have two lens elements, one in front of the other, in each scope. The lenses capture and bend the light to give you a magnified view of what you are looking at. The first lens is the ‘objective’ lens. It captures the light from the distant object and the second lens element that sits behind it, magnifies the focussed image produced behind the first lens. So that you see the image the right way up, the binoculars have a prism (a roof or a Porro prism) inside to rotate the image.
How to Set Up Binoculars
This can be done in less than 20 seconds.
To start, place a lens cover over the right lens (or close that eye) and focus the binoculars. Then, switch and cover the left lens or close that eye. This time, adjust the eyepiece ring until the image is sharp. Once you have removed the cap, you’re ready to go.
Information about Astronomy Binoculars for Beginners was gathered from owners of astronomy binoculars, as a source for the best binocular reviews and publications:
- The Editors of One-Minute Astronomer. 2009. Stargazing for Beginners. A Binocular Tour of the Night Sky (v1.5). Mintaka Publishing.
- English, Neil. 2014. Grab ‘n’ Go Astronomy. The Patrick Moore Practical Astronomy Series. Springer.
- What You Can Expect to See With a Home Telescope
- Important Features to Consider When Buying a Telescope
- 10 Best Places in the World to Stargaze