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Here's looking at the best binoculars on a budget

July 18, 2012 at 12:26 PM ET

Bushnell Permafocus 7x35 binoculars excel at keeping sports action in focus.

From pinstripes on a baseball uniform to feathers on a wood duck, the sights of summer come into precise relief through binoculars. This is a gadget that can help you get more out of expensive tickets and trips. While you won’t approach the clarity and durability of a $2,500 Swarovski model, you can find quality binoculars for less than $50.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable binoculars.

  • Bushnell Permafocus 7x35 binoculars (starting at $44) boast a wide field of view: 578 feet from 1,000 yards away. Reviewers particularly like the Permafocus feature, which zeroes in on anything more than 50 feet away without requiring any adjustment -- ideal for keeping an eye on sports action or an animal on the move. This model weighs a substantial 22.5 ounces, so it suits bird-watchers and hunters who use binoculars atop a tripod. (Where to buy)
  • Olympus Roamer 8x21 DPC I binoculars (starting at $30) appeal to backpackers with their 6-ounce weight and compact size. Consumers posting reviews online praise the clarity of the scenes they see through these binoculars. With built-in diopter adjustment, you can account for differences in your vision from one eye to the other. (Where to buy)
  • Bushnell Powerview 8x21 binoculars (starting at $14) are small and light, at 7 ounces, and less than half the price of our other picks, making them a good choice for kids who might be liable to lose or break them. At the same time, reviews vouch for the image clarity and durability of these binoculars. (Where to buy)

You’ll notice that manufacturers use two numbers to describe each model. The first is the magnification. The binoculars on this list make objects appear either seven or eight times closer than they would to your naked eye. If you spot a potential campsite about 300 yards away, for example, the Bushnell Permafocus 7x35 binoculars will make it appear just over 40 yards away, so you can scope it out before you hike any farther. The second number is the objective lens width, measured in millimeters. Larger lenses let in more light but make the binoculars heavier to carry around.

If you wear glasses, be sure to factor eye relief into your decision. This is how close you must hold the binoculars to your eyes to see the whole image in focus. Experts at REI advise choosing a model with eye relief of at least 11 mm, lest you feel like you’re looking through a tube. The Bushnell Permafocus and Olympus Roamer binoculars both meet this mark. The Bushnell Powerview model comes in at 10 mm but does have fold-down eyecups designed to help.

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