Binoculars vs Telescope [How To Decide What Is Best For You]

Binoculars and telescopes can both be fantastic pieces of equipment for Astronomers to observe the celestial objects in the sky.

If you’re new to astronomy, then its always a good idea to take a look at your options before you decide to part with your money. While telescopes may seem like the obvious choice, binoculars are increasingly more popular of late due to their ease of use. But what does this actually mean for you?

Are you interested in a good pair of binoculars or a telescope but are not quite sure which one to get and that will be best?

This article will help to explain the fundamental differences between the two and help you make an informed decision.

If you are looking for a quick overview of what are better Binoculars or a Telescope, here it is. Both binoculars and telescopes are a brilliant and useful tool to observe astronomical objects. Generally, Binoculars are easier to use, more portable and provide great broad views of the sky (great for Star Cluster Observation). As such, you’re not able to get the same level and clarity of viewing than you will be able to with a telescope (which is great for planetary detail). If you have the money available, getting a pair of good-quality astronomy binoculars and a high aperture telescope is most ideal. If not, its just down to your own preferences. 

Read my Best Astronomy Binoculars Buyers Guide  |  Read my Best Telescope Buyers Guide 

The truth is, what is better really does depend. What may best for some of you reading will be the complete opposite for others. This is why choosing one over the other is not a simple answer or as easy as you may have hoped to believe.

Nonetheless, some of you reading may have conducted some research already or may be close to making up your mind.

Let us take a closer look at both binoculars and telescopes in further detail. This way you can be more confident in your purchase.

So without further ado, let’s get started:

Binoculars vs Telescope

Id like to start out by demonstrating the major features of each piece if equipment.

I suggest you take note of the similarities but also the main differences.

Features of Binoculars
  • All Binoculars have two eyepieces
  • Typically used to observe distant objects
  • Generally small, lightweight and portable
  • Magnification ranges (4x-36x+ for astronomy models)
  • Some models can also be used for Terrestrial observations (on the ground – viewing distances here on earth)
  • Project 3D Images
  • Operate best in conditions of more light.
Features of Telescopes
  • All telescopes have one eyepiece (Monocular)
  • Typically used to observe furthest away objects, like distant celestial objects (stars, galaxies)
  • Larger and common types are mounted on Tripods
  • Magnification can range from 50x-250x that of the naked eye
  • Images will normally be inverted (unless you use image correcting eyepieces)
  • Work better in low light conditions – especially the higher spec models with the highest Aperture (light gathering ability).

While these are general common characteristics of both Binoculars and Telescopes, it may still not outline  which will actually be better for you. Sure you can make some assumptions but there is a lot more to consider.

Generally speaking, binoculars are more versatile, provide clear 3D views but are limited in terms of how much you can actually see. Alternatively, telescopes provide more power and greater visibility into celestial objects. But this comes at a cost in terms of portability.

So do you want to take your equipment with you on the go or do you want to fix it in position and have more power at your disposal?

Then there is the question of what do you actually want to observe?

Binoculars vs Telescope for Viewing Planets and Galaxies?

When it comes to choosing a telescope for Viewing Planets and Galaxies, there’s actually quite a few options available to you. That is the reason why I created my buyers guide as I wanted to conduct extensive research ahead of my own purchase. This guide will help you break down the specification and make sure you get the best you can for your budget and your individual needs and preferences.

If you decide instead to opt for a pair of binoculars you need to be as equally as diligent. For example, not all binoculars were designed with astronomical observation in mind and therefore will not be suitable nor effective.

While there are different types of Telescopes (including Reflectors and Refractors) telescopes are typically large apparatus and require either a tripod or a stable surface. Unless you opt for a telescope with a GoTo mount or star-finder, you’re also subject to instability if you rely on your hands and arms to move it and direct it into the sky.

Binoculars offer a smaller and suitable alternative because (for the smaller models that are not too heavy to require a tripod) you can hold them tightly against your face and eyes. Your hands will be closer to your face which means it is easier to steady them.

The central mechanism of a telescope is to collect light. This is why the Aperture (typically advertised in terms of inches) is so important. This is the ability of the telescope to collect light. However generally speaking the more you magnify an object the dimmer it becomes (this is particularly true of cheaper telescopes and one ot the reasons why you would invest in a more expensive model to counteract this issue).

Now this may or may not be an issue depending on the telescope and your preferences but it is something to consider if you are looking to observe galaxies and distant star clusters. If this is the case you will do best with opting for the highest aperture you can afford.

Contrastingly, binoculars have two lenses which mean both of your eyes will be forming an image opposed to one. This provides a better formed image. However, consider that binoculars are not as powerful nor provide as much magnification as a telescope. Moreover, binoculars provide you with a wider field of view (how much of the sky you can see at any one time) opposed to the short field of view of a telescope.

The ramifications of this are that telescopes are better suited for observing individual objects in the sky, whereas binoculars provide a more distant yet complete view of the sky at any one time. Binoculars are therefore easier to use and navigate  the sky with and help you to see the various associations between objects in the sky. But they do not enable you to see in as much depth or detail. Its a bit of a trade off and the reason why pretty much all astronomers have both.

One other thing to consider is that unless you are using a specific image correction eyepiece, telescopes will not usually correct am inverted image. They essentially show you objects upside down/ mirror image. Binoculars include prism technology which does enable the images to display the correct way up which is usually preferable. However most astronomers get used to the inverted images over time or opt for the correction eyepiece discussed.

Differences between Binoculars and Telescopes

So far I have outlined a few of the major distinctions between binoculars and telescopes. Without doubt the most obvious difference is their size. Binoculars tend to be a lot smaller and most models can be held for long periods of time. Telescopes on the other hand come with large frames, mounts and tripods and require more space to set up.

However bear in mind that the more powerful binocular models for astronomy are larger and usually require a tripod of their own.

Lets take a look at some of the other key differences of binoculars and telescopes side by side so you can compare them further.

Binoculars

Telescope

Binoculars are considerably smaller and lighter than telescopes. While some astronomy binoculars are handheld, even the Binoculars that will likely require a tripod (e.g. 20x80s) are much smaller than most telescopes. Telescopes are structured with a large tube. Certain types and models of telescopes require or come with a Tripod whereas others have a sturdy base.
Binoculars are ideal for transportation and are more portable. Telescopes require setup and will need to be dismantled prior to taking them with you. Telescopes are primarily used for intricate stargazing and deep sky observation. Binoculars are more ideal for wide and broad views of the sky.
Binoculars have two eyepieces and therefore provide a two-eyed view. Telescopes on the other hand only have one eyepiece. Telescope lenses are large, designed specifically for long-distances and obtaining the maximum amount of light. Binoculars utilize small lenses and their light gathering ability is considerably less.
Binoculars provide a wider field of view and therefore show you more of the night sky at one. Telescopes however are more specific. Telescopes can view and focus considerably further than what binoculars can.
Binoculars enable double view which means you can see images in 3D. Telescopes provide a flat depth of view (due to having one eyepiece)
Binoculars range in price but the more premium models have better optics, durability and performance. Telescopes can provide considerably more power but are typically more expensive than binoculars.


Binoculars vs Telescope for Observing the Moon

The short truth is, both can be effective and useful for observing the moon and its detail. But which is best for moon observations?

The first thing to consider is that telescopes provide a flatter depth of field compared to binoculars – however, for the purpose of moon observation only, this should not make much of a difference.

Secondly telescopes are going to provide an inverted image compared to what binoculars will. This may or may not be an issue or you can purchase the extra eyepiece to correct.

Finally, you will want to consider the specification of the telescope/binoculars you plan to use. Generally, the more you magnify and image the dimmer it becomes (most true in cheaper telescopes). So when it comes to watching the moon, or any other object in the sky for that matter, Aperture is the specification you should be concerned with. If you get a telescope with an Aperture if 4″ and above, your views of the moon are going to be excellent. The higher the Aperture, the more detail of the moon you will ultimately see.

However, binoculars also do a fantastic job of displaying the moon. A pair with 80mm Aperture (and objective lenses) are what you are looking for the best views of the moon.

Binoculars vs Telescope for Observing the Stars

Again this is going to come down to preference, but if you want to observe the stars, chances are you will want to observe clusters and galaxies in relation to one another and not in isolation. For this reason, the field of view of your apparatus will be most important.

Binoculars provide a wider field of view and are therefore more ideal for observing entire star clusters.

Sure, you can use a telescope and observe stars but it will be more difficult to navigate between them. You’ll also likely benefit from an eyepiece with a lower magnification.

Binoculars vs Cheap Telescope

Good telescopes tend to be a lot more expensive than a pair of binoculars so is it worth getting a cheap one or us it better to go for a higher powered pair of binoculars instead?

Now it all depends on the manufacturer and the model, but a good and reputable pair of handheld 15x70mm binoculars for astronomy will cost around the $150 mark. The prices will obviously increase as you opt for more powerful or premium models.

So how much does a telescope with the same specification (power and aperture) cost?

Surprisingly, it less. If you are looking for a telescope equivalent for a 15x70mm pair of binoculars, it will be about $85.

This is not actually that surprising when you consider this is comparing one lens to two.

However, this all means nothing unless you take into account what you actually want the equipment for and what you are looking to observe.

Astronomy binoculars will always have a larger field of view over any cheap telescope. So in the case of observing star clusters, binoculars will enable you to see more of them at any one time (with less detail and magnification mind you). This is when you should opt for them.

So if you are looking to increase your magnification, obtain clarity and see close detail of a star cluster, a cheap telescope will always be a better bet.

But my best advise is to invest in a good quality telescope.  You’ll benefit from observing the faintest of stars due to their superior optics. If you get a telescope with a Computerized Mount; then it can even automatically lock on and track a star for you.

If you are looking to get a telescope, check out my Planets and Galaxies Buying Guide where I take a look at the best, most affordable and premium options.

Or if you want a more premium Telescope – see what you can get for under $2000.

Alternatively, if you are looking to get an excellent pair of  Binoculars, check out my Best Handheld Binoculars Buyers Guide.

Or if you want more powerful Binoculars that require a tripod – see the Best 20x80mm pair.

20×80 Binoculars vs 4″ (100mm) Aperture Telescope

Lets now take a look at the most common and affordable specifications of Binoculars and Telescopes. You will routinely see 20×80 Binoculars and 4″ (100mm) Telescopes because they are a great compromise of performance, size and cost.

Regarding specific power and aperture, there is not much difference between the two. The difference is all down to preference and when and where you will be looking to use them.

As mentioned in the article already, they do differ in size and the binoculars are obviously small. However, binoculars at 20×80 are typically quite heavy and chances are you will need a tripod if you want to use them for an extended period of time.

Regarding price and cost, a good pair of 20×80 binoculars is around the $115-$125 mark. A telescope with a 4″ (100mm) lens roughly cost $100-$125. This all depends on the model, manufacturer and outlet you choose.

Typically, I find Amazon offers regular and extra discounts.

High-Spec Binoculars vs Telescope

By this point, you may be thinking that you should opt for the best-spec pair of binoculars from the from the outset or upgrade your current pair. This way you can have a more portable yet powerful device as that of a telescope. This is a always a recommended approach.

While it is true that binoculars tend to be more convenient portable, consider that the better the spec the heavier they will be.  This will mean you may need to purchase a tripod, or it may reduce their effectiveness for on the go handling and usage. Also consider that you will need to take extra care of them.

High-spec binoculars, can provide you with the same magnification that some of the cheaper telescopes will but they will provide a wider field of view – they’re best for observing from afar and seeing the sky in its entirety. Especially because they show it in 3D images.

Ultimately its all about preference and what you want from your equipment. Consider that you may also want to use your binoculars/telescope for terrestrial viewing. In this case, think about what would be better and where you will be positioned and located.

Final Words and Conclusion

So what is better, a pair of Binoculars or a Telescope?

By now you will have learnt that there is no outright winner or outright recommendation. What may be best for some may not be for others.

Always consider what you are looking to observe, when and how. Think about the extra accessories that you may need, your preferences and your budget.

There is a reason why astronomers tend to have a pair of high quality and high performance binoculars and a telescope. They serve different purposes and are useful at different times.

In many ways they can work really well together in unison on a stargazing expedition. First using the binoculars to observe the sky in its entirety and isolate objects, then simply swapping to a telescope to observe it in more detail.

If you’re new to astronomy then you will benefit from either and/or both. Depending on your budget you may or may not be able to purchase both upfront. Binoculars are typically easier to use, do not require set up and you do not have to learn how to use them like a telescope. For this reason they are a great entry-level start to Astronomy.

But then again, a premium telescope provides you with significant more power once you get past the learning curve. Computerized Mounts are there to bridge this gap.

In all honesty, the choice is truly yours! Over to you.

Read my Best Astronomy Binoculars Buyers Guide  |  Read my Best Telescope Buyers Guide 

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