With binoculars, you really do get what you pay for. More-expensive models have better glass and better coatings, both of which yield sharper, brighter images and truer color rendition. There's no reason to empty the bank account for a good pair, but being too cheap now will cost you in the long run.
So, what to buy? At the high end, you can't go wrong with something like Leica's BCA Series 8X20 binocs ($350 street price). Super-sharp lenses, great coatings, sturdy armored case. Sure, they're expensive, but you'll never regret buying them. Same for Steiner's 8X32 Predator glasses, which go for a whopping $500. They're waterproof and shockproof, so ideal for lugging around in a pack. Several models of Steiner binocs are available from Sierra Trading Post (www.sierratradingpost.com), which last time I checked had a particularly good buy on the 10X28 Rocky model$229, marked down from $400.
A notch down, price-wise, look for Nikon's Mountaineer II glasses, such as the 8X28 models for about $175. Sturdy glasses, waterproof and fogproof, with armored cases. Or, Fujinon's 10X25 SCF-FX glasses, for around $250. Pentax also makes nice glasses in the $150- to $250-range, such as its 10X24 UCF-WR glasses ($200).
Below $100 there are dozens of choices, but the quality definitely begins to fall off. Still, there are some decent optics in there - just set a half-dozen on the counter of the store where you're shopping and start comparing. You'll see pretty quickly which ones offer acceptable function for that price.
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