The Best Binoculars Under $500

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The Best Binoculars Under $500
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Most hunters agree that binoculars are an important piece of gear. Whether you hunt whitetails in the timber or muleys in steep, open country, you’re better off with a pair strapped to your chest. They can tell you if that buck across the drainage deserves an entire afternoon of stalking. Or they might confirm that you need to move your treestand another 100 yards before your next sit.

However, not everyone needs to count the tines on a distant buck after sunset. Of course, not everyone can afford the type of glass that allows you to do so. For most hunters, an affordable binocular with good controls and decent glass checks all the boxes. And, no, that’s not a lot to ask from a budget optic.

Luckily, the current market offers plenty of options that fit a variety of budgets for hunters or nature observers. Whether you’re spending $250 or $2500, it’s important to understand what you’re getting from your investment. For this review, I tested some of the best binoculars under $500 to see how each performed and what they offer at their respective prices.

Testing the Best Binoculars Under $500

To test the best binoculars under $500, I evaluated eight current options, each from a different manufacturer. I chose binoculars that you can purchase for less than $500 from various retailers, and these prices do not necessarily reflect MSRP.

While all of these options are under $500, some are on the higher end of this range, while others are near the lower end. The head-to-head comparisons and scores help provide an overview of what each option offers under this umbrella and at its respective price.

To evaluate each binocular's low-light capabilities, I observed a white, steel target with a black dot in the center at 300 yards. I then scored each binocular based on their ability to distinguish the black dot in low-light conditions and how long they were actually usable in these conditions. All of these options look similar or "great" during daylight hours, but their true performance becomes evident when the sun sets.

I then tested each binocular's resolution by observing the small lettering on a campaign sign at 100 yards. Each optic received a score based on its ability to parse the letters at this distance, especially in low light.

Scoring System

In order to provide a score for each binocular, I separated the test into three components (optical performance, controls, and value) on a five-point scale, with five being the highest. I then correlated each numerical score to a grade.

Optical Performance

Both the lowlight and resolution testing contributed to each binocular’s optical performance. I also considered coatings, color distortion, or any other image defects.


While there’s a certain level of subjectivity in this category, I evaluated each binocular on the controls such as how the focus knob, eyecups, barrel design, and diopter adjustment enhances or detracts from the user’s experience, especially as it pertains to hunting. The spongier or grittier the controls, the lower a particular optic scored.


This category considers the previous two as they relate to the price and includes accessories and the manufacturer’s warranty.

Scoring System:

  • Excellent: 5
  • Great: 4
  • Good: 3
  • Fair: 2
  • Poor: 1

The best binoculars under $500 we recommend

Field notes from the MeatEater Crew

How to Choose the Best Binoculars Under $500

Depending on your needs and how often you’ll actually use your binoculars, you might find that an option such as Leupold’s BX-2 Alpine HD suits you just fine. On the other hand, if you’re trying to get the most out of your money and remain under budget, it’s probably worth investing in Vortex’s Viper HD or Maven’s C.1. Both of these options provide great glass and controls for the money, especially considering that they both offer lifetime warranties.

Speaking of warranties, this should also factor into your decision. Most of the premium brands offer great lifetime warranties, but you should still do your homework to understand what “lifetime” entails with each manufacturer. If a brand doesn’t offer a lifetime warranty, it’s worth considering before you pull the trigger.

Final Thoughts

While this isn’t a comprehensive list, it does include several of the best binoculars under $500 currently available. This should help you narrow down your search for a budget optic, but it’s always best to try one in hand. Some brands, like Maven, offer a demo period where you can test a binocular before buying or returning it. You can also visit your local sporting goods store to sample some. Just make sure you do this outside and in lowlight conditions so that you get a true idea of what to expect.

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