Aside from a good waterproof jacket and sturdy hiking boots, the one accessory that will drastically improve your sightseeing visit to Scotland is a quality pair of binoculars. Scotland’s landscapes are stunning and I guarantee you will notice something on every visit that you wish you could view up close.
A case in point is Scotland’s wildlife, but iconic animals like red deer and sea eagles are renowned for being shy and very difficult to approach. A pair of binoculars brings the action to you and a small investment will repay you many times over with wonderful sights you’d otherwise miss.
In this guide, you will find a selection of 5 top-rated binoculars that cover all the bases when it comes to wildlife watching in Scotland, plus a few hints and tips to help you make the most of using them in the great outdoors.
The best binoculars to use in Scotland
As someone that travels extensively around Scotland I know from first-hand experience how useful it is to carry a good pair of binoculars with you when you explore the country.
There’s always something to see when you go for a walk but there’s nothing more frustrating than knowing there’s wildlife in the area but all you can see is a fuzzy blob flitting about in the distance.
It’s at times like that you’ll wish you had binoculars with you.
However, it’s not quite as simple as clicking over to Amazon and adding the cheapest ones you find to your basket as there are a number of factors to consider, from the size and weight to the magnification and design, plus the importance of durability and lens quality.
Choosing the right pair of binoculars is far easier once you understand the main features, so at the end of the following list of recommendations you’ll find an overview of the features to look for and the different types of binoculars you can buy.
The list below details binoculars that excel in one area or another and they’re all backed by lots of positive online reviews so you won’t be let down by flimsy plastics and terrible optics.
They’re all available on Amazon so if you purchase a pair and decide they’re not right for you, you’ll be able to take advantage of Amazon’s superb returns policy (I also recommend getting an Amazon Prime membership to make full use of their class-leading delivery service).
In a hurry? If you don’t have time to read the reviews, follow the link below to purchase my #1 recommended binoculars on Amazon.
Recommended binoculars for bird watching in Scotland: Canon 10×20 Image Stabilized.
★ Buy on Amazon ★
Top 5 recommended binoculars
#1. Canon Image Stabilized 10×30 – Recommended binoculars
Let’s address the elephant in the room with these binoculars. They’re £500 quid, which is no small chunk of change in anyone’s book.
Even so, they sit firmly at the #1 position in this list for a number of reasons and I’m recommending them as they’re the model that I eventually picked after months of boring my other half with countless tests in shops and multiple Amazon returns – thank you again, Amazon Prime membership.
10×30 seems to be the sweet spot for magnification and brightness as birds in flight are nicely magnified and the field of view is wide enough that you get a great overview of the landscape.
In addition to the reassurance and guarantee that comes with a big brand like Canon, these binoculars have superb image quality, they’re very well-built, they feature ultra-tough plastics, the lenses are distortion-free, and they come with a quality strap, case and lens covers.
The killer feature, of course, is the optical image stabilization which is activated by simply pressing a button near the focusing wheel. As soon as you do the image stops shaking about and everything becomes crystal clear, even if you’re looking out of a moving car (passenger side…) or sitting in a boat.
For anyone worried about battery life, I’ll just mention that I only change the battery once a year, although bear in mind that’s my experience and the official battery life is rated at just 9 hours.
My only negative is that there’s a wee bit of chromatic aberration* when viewing certain subjects but it’s barely noticeable.
In summary, the 10x magnification coupled with a 6° field of view and shake-free images more than make up for the price. Just consider them an investment that will last for years and will repay you many times over with amazing wildlife-watching opportunities.
*Chromatic Aberration is a purple fringing effect seen along edges with strong changes in contrast (a tree branch set against a bright sky for instance). Almost all binoculars suffer from this to varying degrees.
#2. Celestron Skymaster 25×70 – Best for stargazing and wildlife
Before I begin with the positives I feel I should first mention the negatives with these binoculars as they’re a bit of a niche product. You’ll notice that they’re very high-powered and have a very bright objective lens, but it’s the magnification that’s both a positive and a negative feature.
Celestron primarily makes optics for stargazing so their magnification level is phenomenal and if you’re hoping to view faraway objects these are some of the best bins you can get.
The downside is they’re heavy and bulky and really only suitable for use with a tripod, but thankfully a tripod mount is included in the box along with handy accessories like lens caps, a rain guard, a neck strap and a carry case.
The high magnification also means the field of view is narrow at just 2.7° so I wouldn’t purchase the Skymaster’s for landscapes, but if you set up a stable tripod and fix them on a static distant object (a birds nest for example) you’ll get ultra-clear undistorted images.
They also double up for moon and star gazing thanks to their extremely bright objective lenses, and having tested a pair I can confirm you’ll have no worries about using them outside as they’re built like a tank.
Perhaps even more important than the magnification factor is the quality of the lenses and this model from Celestron blew me away with how sharp they resolve images, especially at the price which is a complete bargain in my book.
#3. Apeman Compact 12×25 – Best budget binoculars
The Apeman Compact 12×25 are binoculars I purchased off Amazon when I didn’t really know what I wanted, but I was so impressed I kept them and they now sit permanently at the bottom of my backpack.
There are so many positives with these wee things I don’t know where to begin. They’re small and light enough for children to use (just 280 grams), the quality of the lenses is pretty good, they feel well-made, they’re semi-waterproof, they have an impact-resistant rubber coating, and they come with lots of accessories.
And have you seen that price? Less than 25 quid is an amazing deal for what you get and I guarantee you’ll use these in many situations even when you’ve got a premium pair of binoculars with you.
An example of this was a boat trip I took on the Isle of Skye where I was terrified of dropping my £500 Canon’s into the sea but was more than happy to throw these Apeman 12×25’s around. As a backup or a pair for your kids and other half to use, they really can’t be beaten.
The 12x magnification factor is reasonable but you have to bear in mind these are cheap optics so they won’t be anywhere as good as anything from Canon, Olympus, Nikon etc, but they’re good enough to get by if you randomly catch sight of wildlife while hiking around Scotland.
They’re good for landscape viewing thanks to their 6.5° field of view and they have a foldable hinge in the body so you can pop them into a jacket pocket with ease. They even have adjustable eyepieces to use with spectacles which is a feature rarely found at this price point, plus the lenses have a very effective anti-glare coating.
Negatives? At this price I would have to say none, and in fact since starting this review I’ve gone back on Amazon and ordered another pair to keep in the car.
#4. Zexrow 10×22 – Best binoculars for kids
These Zexrow 10×22 binoculars were originally bought for a 5-year-old to play with during country walks but there’s been more than one occasion where I’ve nabbed them for myself.
As a child’s first pair of binoculars you really can’t go wrong because at less than £15 it doesn’t matter too much if they drop them – which they will – or lose them.
They’re a typical roof prism design which means they can be folded away and I can confirm they’re absolutely tiny when folded. Easily small enough to fit in a child’s jacket and also small enough to fit in an adult’s trouser pocket.
The colour shown here is a pastel(ish) blue that’s obviously been designed with children in mind but they also come in red, orange and even camouflage, plus there’s a plain black version that’s more than suitable for an adult to use.
The lens quality is nothing more than average and it’s obvious corners have been cut in the manufacture of the optics in order to keep the price down, but kids under 10 won’t notice any difference between these and the ten times as expensive binoculars their mums and dads are using.
The 22 mm objective lens diameter is actually quite bright and along with a 7° field of view they’re perfect for quickly scanning the horizon to look for wildlife in the near distance. They’re also splash-proof, made of tough impact-resistant polycarbonate and have soft rubber eyepieces.
The main negative I have is the hinge mechanism feels a bit cheap (although they are cheap so that’s to be expected I guess) and I’m not sure how long they’ll last.
What I can say, however, is that our pair have been chucked in a backpack countless times and they’re still going strong a year later, which speaks volumes I think. For the price, I suggest you just order them and keep them as a backup even if you don’t have kids around.
#5. Praktica Pioneer 8×42 – Best waterproof binoculars
Praktica are a well-known brand that has been producing quality optics for years, from cameras to telescopes and binoculars. One thing I love about Praktica is their build quality which is almost up there with Nikon but comes in at a much cheaper price, and these Pioneer 8×42 bins are no exception.
In the hand they feel weighty but not overly heavy and the folding mechanism on the hinge has a reassuringly solid feel to it. In fact, I suspect you could drop these multiple times and you’d see no damage to the optics whatsoever.
The 8×42 size offers good magnification coupled with a high level of brightness and at a mere 550 grams you will be able to hold them for a long time without experiencing much shakiness.
The killer feature though is their outdoor capabilities, and for long excursions into the wilds of Scotland they’re second to none thanks to their nitrogen purged lenses that prevent water ingress even if it’s pouring with rain.
A side effect of being nitrogen purged is a resistance to fogging which is important if you experience rapid temperature changes such as being indoors and then going outdoors.
Other binoculars will often develop a fine mist across the surface of the internal optics which makes them virtually useless until they completely dry out, but nitrogen-filled lenses can be used in all weather conditions with a guaranteed clear lens.
Other positives include the fact they’re easily pocketable when folded, the image is nice and bright thanks to that 42 mm objective lens and they have a very effective anti-reflective lens coating.
Everything about these binoculars screams quality and that includes the accessories, so it’s surprising they’re so affordable.
These things will last you years and years so if you’re after a pair of general-purpose waterproof binoculars that won’t break the bank you’ll struggle to find anything better in my opinion.
Features to look for in binoculars
- The most important feature to look for when buying binoculars is their magnification level and their objective lens diameter. This is detailed on every pair with a number that looks like 8×20, 10×50 or something similar. Some binoculars also have B and G/RA designations where B means they have push-down eyecups for use with spectacles and GA or RA meaning the body is rubberized and protected against knocks.
- The first number explains the magnification of the binoculars so a pair that is 8×20 has a magnification factor of 8 times, i.e. when looking through them an object will appear 8 times closer than looking at it with your naked eye. Before you rush out and look for the highest magnification number consider that it also affects your field of view, so the higher the number the less landscape you will see without having to pan around. A good magnification for wildlife and landscapes is 8x or 10x.
- The second number relates to the objective lens diameter which is the size of the lens that lets in light. This determines how bright the image will appear when you look through the eyepiece with higher numbers equalling a brighter image. The downside is that binoculars with large objective lens diameters are big, heavy and more expensive. As a rule, a 30 mm diameter (e.g. 8×30) is considered standard and easy to handhold. Anything smaller is usually compact enough to be pocketable, and anything larger usually requires a tripod for extended use.
- Speaking of extended use, if you want binoculars with a high magnification factor and a high objective lens diameter you should look for a pair that has a tripod mount. These are labelled as tripod adaptable and they will either have a metal 1/4″ or 3/8″ metal thread built-in, or a manufacturer-specific mount that clips onto the body. A tripod (or monopod) enables you to steady heavy binoculars so you don’t get a shaky image and they’re invaluable for preventing neck and backache. The main negative with using a tripod is that it’s difficult to tilt the binoculars up and down. An easy-to-use lightweight solution that I can personally recommend is a compact collapsible monopod (Amazon link) that fits in a backpack.
- If you want to go a step above tripods and monopods you’ll find a much more compact solution in binoculars that have image stabilization built-in. These binoculars use an internal battery-powered gyroscope to even out hand-held shakiness so the image remains (almost) perfectly still. IS binoculars are a real game-changer and once you’ve tried them you’ll find non-stabilized bins severely lacking, although they come with the downside that they obviously need a battery to use them, they’re not as robust due to the sensitive electronics inside, and they’re much more expensive. My advice? Spend the extra and be careful with them. They’ll genuinely transform your wildlife-watching experience.
- Other features to look for include robust construction and waterproofing. The former is almost always covered by purchasing bins from a well-known brand such as Nikon, Canon, Olympus etc, while the latter is dependent on the model, but unless you like sitting in the rain I wouldn’t say waterproofing is a necessity. What is a necessity, however, are useful additions in the box including a neck strap, a protective case and lens covers. Bonus features include anti-glare and anti-fog coatings on the lenses, nitrogen purged lens bodies and mirror-coated prisms.
Types of binoculars and how to use them
There are two main designs of binoculars for consumer use: roof prism and porro prism. They both produce images that are identical but the way they work is slightly different and they each have their own pros and cons.
Roof prisms work by projecting light in a straight line from the objective lens (the part that receives light) to the prism and out to the eyepiece and they’re instantly recognizable by their ‘H’ shape. Each lens arrangement is fitted inside a single straight tube connected by a bridge that can usually be folded in half, making them easily pocketable.
Roof prism binoculars are the more modern design and are increasing in popularity as they’re preferable for travel, but their optics still aren’t up to the quality of porro prisms.
This design is recognizable by its ‘M’ shape where the objective lens and eyepiece are not in line. Most porro prism bins cannot be folded in half and they’re also heavier than roof prisms meaning they’re more awkward to walk around with. On the positive side they’re often cheaper and have higher quality optics.
Whichever design you buy you will have to focus them properly to get the best image and this is where the central focusing wheel and the eyepiece dioptre come into play.
The focus wheel is self-explanatory as it simply makes the image sharper depending on the distance of the subject, but the dioptre is an often misunderstood feature.
The dioptre is important as it compensates for the differences between the strength of your eyes which can have a big impact on how sharp the image appears in your vision. It’s basically a ‘set it and forget it’ feature so follow these easy steps as soon as you get your new bins home and never worry about it again:
- Look through the binoculars at a plain, bright scene and observe the two separate circles. There will be a central hinge in the body that can be adjusted, so fine-tune it until the two circles become a single circle.
- The dioptre will be on one of the eyepieces and is identifiable as a rotating part with numbers around it. While looking through the binoculars, cover the lens with the dioptre and turn the central focussing wheel on the body until the image becomes sharp.
- Keeping the image in the field of view, cover the other lens and turn the dioptre ring until the image becomes sharp. Take a note of the number so that you can quickly readjust it if required.
- That’s it! If anyone else uses your binoculars they might have to repeat the process to get the optimum clarity for their vision.
Why do you need binoculars in Scotland?
A good pair of binoculars is almost a necessity for everyone that enjoys sightseeing in Scotland, whether it’s wildlife or general landscapes.
Binoculars let you see so many more details than you would ever be able to see with your naked eyes and they’re invaluable for birdwatching in places that are difficult to access such as Highland mountains and coastal cliff faces.
But owning a pair of binoculars is pointless if they’re so heavy and cumbersome that you always leave them at home, and having a compact pair often means you sacrifice image quality and magnification.
Perhaps the biggest problem with using binoculars is the unavoidable shake that will make the viewed image blurry no matter how expensive the optics are, which is why I recommend image-stabilized bins by Canon.
They’re light enough to easily carry around your neck, small enough to throw in any size backpack, made from tough plastics and have excellent optical quality.
There are other manufacturers that make image stabilized models (Fujinon for example), but Canon really have perfected the design and their price is reasonable for what you get.
I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending the Canon IS 10×30 Image Stabilized binoculars for birdwatching and sightseeing in Scotland.
If you’re looking for quality gear to use on your visit to Scotland I have other pages like this one recommending my favourite hiking boots, waterproof clothing, camera accessories, camping equipment and much more. Check out the product review archives of this website for details.
Note that all product reviews on this page are the opinion of Out About Scotland and your experience with these products may differ.