What kind of birding binoculars do you use? How do you chose a good model?
Obviously, the best way to pick out a pair of binoculars is to try them out, but in doing so, I strongly urge you to try at least a couple of pairs that are beyond your budget, and work your way down from there. Not knowing what an excellent pair of binoculars is like makes it difficult to judge among the lesser forms that you will ultimately have to pick from. Putting it another way, if all you know is the $50 special, and you use a pair of them for a season or two, then the first time you bring a nice pair up to your eyeballs you’ll realize that you had no clue what you were missing. By trying the higher quality binoculars you will understand the necessity of getting the best pair you can afford. Fortunately, the difference between the $50 binoculars and the $200 binoculars is probably much greater than subsequent increments of several hundred dollars. Truthfully, though, the binoculars you want and can actually afford if you save up, and if good binoculars are really important to you, are probably in the $300 – $500 range.
There are three brands that make, at their top end, birding binoculars that are generally regarded as the best: Zeiss, Leica and Swarovski. As long as you are spending thousands of dollars on the binoculars, you might as well go for the higher end within those brands and the 10x instead of some lesser magnification. For a little over 2,000 you can have: A Zeiss Victory such as the Carl Zeiss Optical Inc Victory RF Binoculars (10×45 T RF); The Swarovski Swarovision (comes in various sizes) such as the Swarovski Optik Swarovision 10X50 Binoculars; or my personal favorite if I owned one, The Leica Ultravid (comes in various sizes) such as the Leica 10×42 Ultravid HD
Since you can’t afford any of those binoculars, and the people who make binoculars know that, there is a series that will cost you probably less than $500 and serve you very well. These are probably as durable and flexible, but without the over-the-top super duper optics, but very close. When I have compared the upper end with this middle end (under in-the-store conditions, mostly) I usually can’t see that much of a difference, but I’m sure it shows up over longer use and under a wider range of settings. The Leica 8×20 BCR/Black Ultravid Compact Binocular is admittedly over $500 usually, but may be the best of the middle range. The Leupold Katmai 8X32Mm Compact Binocular Black 56420 or similar models from the same manufacturer are generally ranked very high. The Nikon 7519 Monarch 12 X 56 MM All-Terrain Binoculars are far from compact but excellent, rugged field binoculars. Also look at the Celestron Ultima binoculars.
At the lower end, all these brands as well as Eagle, Swift, Bushnell and others, make binoculars around $100 – $150. You will notice the difference. There is a good chance you’ll want to have one or two small binoculars to have handy by the back yard window or some other convenient location. For this, just go to your local camping supply store and see what they have on sale. If you go to REI, for instance, they’ll probably have their own brand $50 model which would be based on (or rebranded) Eagle Energy binoculars, or something similar.
We have one pair of fairly nice binoculars that we use all the time, plus three of the small el-cheapos, one in my car (hidden well out of sight lest someone think they are worthy breaking in to filch), and the others at the cabins. My mother in law won a pair of giant field binoculars with the most amazing zoom on them, which she keeps at the cabin, and they work great in certain ranges but otherwise give me a headache and are hard to hold. When there is a bird you want to look at, you’ll be fine with almost anything to bring it in closer. All these options work. But for regular use, you will be much, much happier with the better quality optics from the middle, or dare I say, upper end of the range.