How to choose binoculars for stargazing


how to choose binoculars for stargazing

The very beauty of stargazing is to be able to do it with a pair of binoculars and to see the wonders of the universe through both of your eyes. Stargazing for people is a passion around for millenniums and lately, in the last decades, stargazing became a founded passion for communities focusing on observing the best out of the night sky.

When you are focusing to observe the celestial objects, this simply come into three stages: unaided eye, with binoculars and telescopes. But this topic will focus on stargazing with binoculars and how to choose the right binoculars for stargazing?

A quick answer would be: Focus on choosing binoculars with a large aperture or objective lens diameter, low magnification for handheld observations or medium to high magnification for tripod mounting. Also, take into consideration the exit pupils to be above 5mm.

Furthermore, there are many factors to take into consideration when you are about to buy your binoculars for stargazing, therefore, I would recommend you to keep reading in order to know how to make the best purchase and take the right decisions.

Choosing the right binoculars for stargazing.

Underlining the subject of this topic, we will have to split it into two main categories in order to help you make a better and more secure decision: Using binoculars for stargazing, handheld observations and stargazing through binoculars mounted on a tripod

Using binoculars for stargazing, handheld observations.

The key point of choosing a binocular for stargazing in order to do handheld observation is to ensure that the binoculars are low magnification (8-10x maximum), they have a decent objective lens diameter and they are not heavy at all.

The binoculars up to 10x are usually smaller in size, more portable and the magnitude of your stargazing is directly related to the aperture of binoculars.

A magnification of 8 to 10x means you may have a larger field of view over the night sky and you are able to carry on handheld observations as the shake induced is within the normal range, and a tripod is not necessarily. Objects are magnified to a maximum of 8 times the size or 10 times the size in this case. The magnification doesn’t play the main role in having a good experience of stargazing through binoculars, rather than they need to have a small power overall.

What is the main role this play, is the large aperture required in order to capture as much light as possible? The aperture OR the objective lens diameter is the size of the front glass element. Bigger in size = more light captures = better stargazing.

As an instance, the binoculars relatively good for stargazing have an aperture of 42mm+. Any lower than that, it would be difficult to observe any deep sky objects due to the small aperture size. Even in general, a 42mm objective lens diameter binoculars is small in aperture and you may not be able to see much, but enough for some basic stargazing, moon observations, see the beauty of Pleiades or spot the Andromeda galaxy.

For more in detail handheld astronomical observations, I would recommend binoculars with the objective lens diameter of 50mm+

Imagine that here we have binoculars with a 70mm aperture and the magnification is 10x. This would be maybe on the limit to stargaze with the binoculars handheld but would be possible. A 70mm aperture is large for a pair of binoculars when carrying these observations handheld, and a 10x magnification is good and wide enough to offer a spectacular field of view.

Furthermore, in this case, we have an exit pupil of 7mm. This is absolutely crazy when we related on how small the exit pupils have some binoculars, even the dedicated ones for astronomy.

To make it simpler to understand, the exit pupils is the light beam going out through the ocular lenses and going into our pupils. Human’s eye pupils are open about 2-3mm during daylight conditions and up to 7mm during the night. Larger it is open, more light we can see in dark conditions. A 7mm binocular exit pupils means that you will have a very good amount of light going and distributing evenly into your eyes pupils. This would mean that you have a great and detailed field of view when stargazing.

The binoculars with a smaller exit pupils means that they perform worse in low-light conditions. In reality, it is difficult to find a pair of binoculars with the exit pupils of 7mm and some stargazer may say that this is not too important when stargazing with binoculars, but I say it is.

To be able to carry on handheld astronomical observations you need to keep in mind the weight and the size of the binoculars. True, bigger the aperture = more light, but at the same time, bigger the aperture = heavier the binoculars.

You may not be able to carry long-time night sky observations with binoculars weighting 1kg+, not even for a short while to be honest. In this scenario, a lightweight pair of binoculars must balance the aperture in order to provide the best experience in stargazing with binoculars handheld.

As an instance, you may not want to pick large aperture for stargazing if they are heavy and you intend to do handheld observations, but you may not want to pick small lightweight binoculars with apertures too low for night sky observations.

The below table of content is a short way to help you understand what binoculars to pick for stargazing handheld with a MAGNIFICATION FACTOR OF 10X

<42mm50mm70mm>
Deep sky obsevationsUnsuitableAverageRecommended
Moon observationsNo issuesNo issuesA bit bright, but OK.
WeightLightweightAverageA bit heavy
SizeSmallMediumLarger
Exit pupil4.2mm (OK)5mm (Good)7mm (Perfect)

Following the above table of content, this does not mean that you have to focus on buying binoculars with the magnification of exactly 10x. That is a maximum I would recommend for handheld observations as mentioned above, but a 7-8x would do better (and worse) in the same time, depending on the type of astronomic observations you may want to carry.

Let’s say as an instance, a 7x power binoculars have an aperture of 42mm. If we divide 42/7, we have an exit pupil of 6mm, where in the same time a 10×42 binoculars (as my Nikon Prostaff 7S 10×42 I have) have an exit pupil of 4.2mm. 6mm is definitely better than 4.2 in capturing details and a 7x power is better because you may have a larger field of view.

Most of the deep sky objects does not require a high magnification in order to do successful observations, but a larger aperture. Anyhow, you may have to pick between moon observations and deep-sky observations at the time of the month you are stargazing.

If the moon is up on the sky, you may not be able to perform deep-sky observations as the moonlight may be too strong to dimish the night sky, therefore, if you think about moon (or planetary observations), indeed, in this case, a higher magnification binoculars may perform better than to focus on the aperture.

As an instance, you may not even need a 42mm to be able to see the moon as it is bright enough to be seen through any binoculars, but a higher magnification as mentioned will reveal more details of the moon.

If you are going to pick a pair of binoculars for handheld stargazing, consider the following: The aperture, the magnification, exit pupils, weight & size.

Shortly mentioning again, the following table of content will underline the required binoculars settings you may need for your type of observations carried handheld.

MagnificationApertureExit Pupils
Deep sky7x to 10x42mm+, 70+ recommended5mm+, 7mm recommended
Moon10x or moreDoes not matterAnything above 3mm

Focusing on binoculars with an objective lens diameter of 70mm+, it may be too heavy for handheld observations, therefore, we move to the next section: stargazing through binoculars mounted on a tripod.

Stargazing through binoculars mounted on a tripod.

Most of the times, in special when the binoculars are heavy, high magnification or we just need better performance on stargazing, a tripod is definitely required. A tripod is not expensive but before deciding to buy the cheapest tripod, we have a few factors we want to cover in this post.

The possibilities are endless when we want to stargaze with big binoculars. The objective lens diameters of those binoculars can go up to 100mm+ with a magnification ratio of 25x or even more.

I have the Celestron Skymaster 25×100 binoculars and they are absolutely massive and heavy compared to my Nikon 10×42 binoculars. Here is a photo comparing both of them

binoculars for stargazing
On the left side is the Nikon 10×42 and on the right side is Celestron Skymaster 25×100.

Not only that those binoculars are absolutely massive but they weight around 5kg (11 pounds). It is impossible to do any kind of observations handheld with them, therefore, a tripod is definitely needed.

Some of those binoculars (in reality, it should be all of them) have a tripod mount adaptor to be able to attach them to a tripod. But what you can see and observe with those binoculars, for instance?

With 25×100 binoculars, you can see the moon and its craters, deep sky objects and nebulas, Andromeda and Pleiades as never seen before, Jupiter with 4 moons, you can spot the Saturn with the ring, clusters and much more deep-sky objects.

Here we are jumping to serious astronomical observations. So, if you do not mind to have a pair of heavy and bulky binoculars to carry and a tripod to mount rather than binoculars for handheld observations, I would strongly recommend you to focus on the “big daddies” of the binoculars with very large objective lens diameters and high magnification power.

There are just no words I can describe the beauty of the night sky seen with both of my eyes through those binoculars. But now, let’s focus a bit on the binocular roles, which one you should focus on and what matters on big binoculars.

Size and weight may matter. Some people would rather prefer to have modest-sized binoculars rather than the biggest one you can find on the market, while some others (as myself) when jumping to the “big ones”, size and weight really does not matter and it will always compensate with the quality of observations provided.

If you take into calculation the size and weight and still do not want to carry the bulkiest binoculars on the market, a 20×80 would do just perfect. With 20x you can still watch all the above mentioned deep-sky objects and perform lunar observations and see details. This would be more than enough for some of you, and I have seen on the majority of retail markets and binoculars local shops that they are focusing on 20×80 and none of them on the 25×100 models.

Anyway, if you would like you can fully read one of my other posts “20×80 vs 25×100 for astronomy

So, we pretty understood until now that those binoculars are bulky and heavy. What about the aperture and the magnification?

The apertures are massive. Not big, massive! The objective lens diameters of even 100mm can capture a lot of light in special under dark night skies without any light pollutions. They are absolutely fantastic, and this you should focus the most if your main aim with your big binoculars is to do the deep-sky observations.


But a magnification of 25x crosses a bit of the visual field. In terms of the moon and planetary observations, as mentioned above, this magnification would start revealing good and nice details, and because of the high aperture, you may see those details without any issues. One little point to mention on the moon observations is that the moon would be extremely bright on large apertures. I mean really, really bright. It will take you a minute or two for your eyes to adjust to the brightness.


how to choose binoculars for stargazing

The above photograph is taken with the mobile phone through my 25×100 binoculars. Not my best capture but is not an easy task to be able to capture good images through high magnification binoculars with a mobile phone on very windy conditions. You can check my other post “how to take photos through binoculars” for a full guide.

Mounting any binoculars with a high magnification on a tripod offers a great stability for carrying any types of observations not only stargazing but with the high magnification in astronomy comes two disadvantages:

  • First one is higher the magnification equals more shake is induced when you touch the binoculars ocular pieces or adjust them accordingly to the celestial object you are observing.
  • And the second one is that Earth is rotating, we all know that (I think…). More the magnification = less time for the celestial object to remain in the frame before you have to readjust the binoculars.

Of course that those points apply more to the observations done through telescopes with very high magnification of 75x, 100x+ etc. But I did had to mention that even with binoculars, those are noticeable.

What tripod should you buy for your binoculars?

In stargazing with binoculars, the tripod you have can have a major impact on your observations and it does matter in special when this is related to how easy can you adjust and lock your tripod, if it does have the common flaw due to the binoculars weight for the binoculars to tilt down and get out of frame or if in general, the tripod you have may support the binoculars weight.

The first point I want to mention is the tripod resistance and how much weight can hold. Some tripods may hold up to 5kg or less, those are not recommended while some other to 10kg+. As an instance, my Manfrotto Beefree advanced (affiliate amazon link) can hold up to 8kg and the binoculars I have weight about 5kg. Same product does have a quick lock and fine-lock-adjustment system where I can tight the quick lock to a point where I can freely adjust my binoculars without those to act and fall weirdly due to their weight.

But in general, you should go for some special tripods for heavy binoculars, the same ones recommended for the heavy telescopes. The reason I have the Manfrotto is that I am using them for DSLR photography also.

The second point to mention is the balancing of your binoculars on your tripod. You do not want that one side of the heavy binoculars to lean and put pressure to the tripod neck or ball head, as not only it may break but the binoculars can be damaged by falling also. Ugly truth point.

For this reason, either try to adjust and balance the binoculars on your tripod or use binoculars mount with counterweight by using an extra pole with weight to an end while on the other end you can attach your binoculars, moreover, you can adjust the height above the standard tripod point, very useful for you to do standing night sky observations without to bend too much.

The image is shared from Amazon using the Affiliate Associate Programme SiteStripe to comply with their policies and is not hosted by our server. Clicking the image will redirect you to the product on Amazon.

The above Amazon product is the binocular mount with counterweight (click on the image to check it), useful as mentioned above for astronomical observations. This would be an alternative for special mounts for binoculars with a counterweight which can cost even more than the binoculars themselves.

Please keep in mind that not every binoculars adaptor can support this, not every tripod can hold all that weight and not every binoculars, in general, would need it.


Furthermore, I want to share with you the top 5 binoculars I would recommend for stargazing, both to carry on handheld observations or tripod mounted, on an average price and low price.

Good for stargazing?Moon observationsDeep-sky observationsSpecial NotesWhere to Buy
Nikon 8×42YesYesNoNoneCheck on Amazon
Olympus 10×50YesYesYesNoneCheck on Amazon
Skymaster 12×60YesYesYesCan still be used handheldCheck on Amazon
Orion 20×80YesYesYesNeed a tripodCheck on Amazon
Skymaster 25×100YesYesYesNeed a tripod + possible counterweightCheck on Amazon
Disclosure: The above table of content may contain Amazon Affiliate Links, a way for us to earn our bread if someone makes a purchase through the above links, and we do not directly sell the product or assume any responsibilities for any possible issues with any of the products.

Conclusion

I am very bad at saying goodbyes and I hope you may find your answer within our post, therefore, I would say THANK YOU for sticking right to the end of it. Please feel free to share it or ask any questions in the comment section below.

Furthermore, if you want you can check to have an idea about our recommended gear page about what we suggest for any types of observations.

Gabriel Mihalcea

Passionate about binoculars, photography and blogging with years experience behind, I love to split my time and observe the beauty of this world with different eyes.

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