Telescope vs Binoculars (Everything You Need To Know)

Binoculars and telescopes have a common history. Since the invention of glass to the invention of the first telescope, it has always been in man’s interest to see beyond what his naked eyes allow him to. Right after Galileo Galilei came up with his telescope, inventors devised a way to make it accessible to the public and in a more comfortable format. Hence, the binoculars were devised as a small version of two telescopes joined by a hub.

Are you interested in either a good pair of binoculars or a telescope? The choice might not be as easy as it might seem.

You probably already have made up your mind. But let us scramble those thoughts a little bit in order to better elaborate a rationale about what is the best choice for you. We will make a thorough examination of the differences between these two gadgets for different activities. Hang on tight then for this ride.

Binoculars vs telescope


The following are some characteristics of binoculars and some characteristics of a telescope. Go through them and notice the similarities but mostly, the differences. This is the important part that we want to tap into here.

Characteristics of binoculars

  • Binoculars mean that they are made of two eyepieces.
  • Used to watch far-away objects.
  • They are relatively small portable devices.
  • Their zoom ranges from 4x 36x; even more in specialized devices.
  • These devices are mostly used for terrestrial objects but they are also used for astronomical purposes.
  • Since they use two lenses, binoculars project a clear 3-D image.
  • Since some of them are small in size, they do not operate well in conditions of low light.

Characteristics of telescopes

  • Telescopes are monocular, meaning that they are made of one eyepiece only.
  • Use to watch far-away objects, especially celestial bodies and mountains.
  • They are bulky and they are mounted on tripods.
  • Their zoom can range from 12x or 15x to 45x or 60x.
  • The telescope may refer not only to the typical lenses and prisms device. Any kind of device used in astronomy can actually be considered a telescope.
  • The image is in one plane and inverted. When watching celestial bodies, up-righting an inverted image is not really transcendental.
  • Due to their large aperture, they work fine in conditions of poor light.

It seems easy to tell now which is the one suited for you. It boils down to if either you want to stargaze and make astronomy watching or you just want to go on a safari. Or maybe you want to do both. The choice is actually clear for the most of it: if you want to go out to the woods and watch distant objects, you would take a good pair of binoculars. It makes no sense for you to carry a cumbersome telescope with you and add to the weight of your hiking backpack.

If you want to watch the moon, Jupiter, or a set of stars in a constellation, a pair of large binoculars can prove to be more effective than a telescope.

Telescope vs binoculars for stargazing

Picking a good telescope for stargazing is usually a no-brainer since these devices are usually designed specifically for that. Now, when it comes to binoculars, you’d better make sure that the ones you are getting are specially designed for astronomy purposes.

Telescopes are big, even the smaller ones. So they need to sit on tripods or rocker boxes to stabilize them. When it comes to angling such a large tube towards the sky, the problem is even worse. Your extended arm holding the objective wiggles, making it pretty unstable. Binoculars can sit tightly against your eye sockets and your hands are closer to your face to provide more stability.

The main job of a telescope is to gather light. Now, interestingly, the more a telescope magnifies an object, the dimmer it will look. This becomes an issue if you want to observe comets, galaxies, and diffuse star clusters, all of which are deep-sky targets. Now, since these are the kind of objects you will mostly be watching, the moon and some close planets are the only bodies that will actually appear too bright.

Binoculars put both your eyes to work, providing a better image of very far-away objects. Besides this, binoculars offer a wide field of view. Telescopes have a short field of view. Binoculars here offer a more fulfilling experience as they allow you to “connect dots” and identify patterns in the cosmos.

As we explained before, telescopes usually do not offer a correction to an inverted image. So, you are looking at the sky upside down, or in a mirror image. Binoculars use technology that helps them correct the inverted images caused by the combination of lenses and prisms. Binoculars offer you the world in the correct perspective.

Differences between telescopes and binoculars

We gave you a chance to effectively spot the main differences between telescopes and binoculars. The most obvious difference perhaps is their size. Binoculars are compact, telescopes are large. But you can also get very large binoculars like the ones described above used for stargazing.

Let us place the differences between telescopes and binoculars in a clearer and more objective way.

  • Telescopes are made of one large tube resting on a tripod, binoculars are usually handheld.  However, large binoculars designed for astronomy must sit on a tripod for stability as well.
  • Binoculars are relatively lighter than telescopes. Even the smallest telescope is usually bigger and heavier than your average binoculars.
  • Telescopes are mainly used for stargazing and binoculars are specially designed for bird watching, surveillance, spying, etc.
  • Binoculars are also easier to carry around and are less bulky than telescopes. In fact, telescopes are set up in a spot for a long time since they are not easy to dismantle and carry.
  • The lens in a telescope is usually large, long-distance ones while those in binoculars are short, smaller lenses.
  • Binoculars are dual view and telescopes are a single view. To avoid eye irritation, some recommend keeping both eyes open while watching through a telescope, however, the experience might prove unpleasant.
  • The focus in a telescope is further, often 15 to 20 feet. The focus in binoculars is closer, depending on the type it can be 4 feet, 5 feet, or more, in distance.
  • One important difference, as we have pointed above, is the field of view: it is narrow and specific in the case of a telescope and wide in the case of binoculars
  • The depth of field in a telescope is flat since they are single view.
  •  The double view in binoculars allows for a clear 3D image.
  • Depending on the model, telescopes are usually pricier than binoculars.


Binoculars vs telescope for moon viewing


When you think telescope, the first thing you probably think of is ‘yeah, I’ll be able to watch the moon closer now!‘ Binoculars can be good at looking at the moon as well.

But which one will do best? Let’s take a look at the facts.

Remember that telescopes offer a flat depth of field whereas binoculars offer a three-dimensional depth. Now, considering that we are restricting our view to the moon, the depth of field would not really make that much of a difference.

Telescopes will give you an inverted image, but binoculars will provide a corrected image. Once again, we might consider this uneventful if this is the moon we are watching.

Also, keep in mind that, the greater the magnification, the dimmer the image. This means that when it comes to watching the moon, the aperture is more important than magnification. In this case, you can get yourself a good telescope, which usually carries a larger objective lens to get a clearer image of the moon. For example, a rather small telescope provides a 130 mm aperture.

Nevertheless, you can also get a good pair of binoculars to do the job. For instance, a good pair of binoculars with an 80mm aperture will also give you a good view. The difference mostly lies in the price, of course.

Binoculars vs telescope to record stars

Unlike the moon, when it comes to watching stars, you probably want to have a rather broad image of star clusters or galaxies. So, the most important thing here is the field of view. A nice pair of binoculars for astronomy is a better option precisely because these offer a wider field of view. When it comes to stars, you want to check out groups of galaxies or star clusters. There is no magnification that will give you star details, of course.

One more thing. If you want to record stars, you can easily use your cell phone to take photos of your star-gazing. The only issue here is to place the phone correctly on the eyepiece. But if you persevere, you will get stunning photos of the stars. This is the most difficult part but if you move your phone at every angle, you will eventually get a good image. If you are not able to find it, probably your field of view has moved.

Do not worry if your image is inverted, as it will happen with a refracting telescope; Instagram has the necessary tools to put your picture upright.

If you really want to have the best option for a steady image, you can easily achieve this with an adaptor designed especially for your phone. You can get one at prices that range from $15 to $60. You can find mounts for your binoculars or telescope that will help you get a reliable image, with no blur nor shaky.

Cheap telescope vs binoculars

Is buying a cheap telescope the same as buying average binoculars?

We have already mentioned that, in average, a telescope is pricier than binoculars. Let’s make a short comparison of certain cheap telescopes and compare them to binoculars.

Depending on the manufacturer, a good pair of binoculars 14x70mm will cost around $140. Not bad for astronomy binoculars. Of course, the best options will cost more than that.

How much does an equally powered telescope cost?

A telescope with the same power and aperture will actually cost less. We are talking about a price tag of around $80.

Now, the fact that a telescope with the same specifications of power and aperture of a pair of binoculars cost less comes as no surprise, really. We are comparing a one-lens device with a dual-lens one after all.

But the real question here is, which one should you get for your astronomy survey.

The first thing you will notice between a cheap telescope and binoculars is that the field of view is larger for the binoculars. In other words, if the telescope allows you to watch three stars in a cluster, the binoculars will allow you to see four. So, this is a check going on for the binoculars.

If you want to increase magnification and reduce fuzziness, then you should go for a less cheap telescope. For a wider field of view, your best option is the pair of binoculars. A quality telescope also means a better option for faint stars thanks to the fewer glass surfaces.

Binoculars vs telescope for nosebleeds

When going to the stadium, depending on the cost of your ticket, you will either see players almost face to face or small individuals moving far away. This last one is what you will get if you are sitting at the nosebleed section. Depending on if you are ok with simply watching small figures move about a ball or you want to see as much detail as possible, the type of binoculars or telescope you want.

At a first glance, the most obvious option here seems to be binoculars. They are less bulky, lighter, and easier to handle.

The choice here then comes to a lot easier. A telescope simply has too much magnification for viewing players in a stadium and the large aperture will make it hard to handle. Sticking to binoculars, though, still requires some education.

A fast-paced sport such as football requires a wide enough field of view to ensure that you can follow the action without having to move your binoculars too much. Keep in mind that a telescope does not offer a much larger field of view. You need a large field of view if you are sitting very close to the action. So, a low-powered and ample field of view such as a 6×30 is perfect.

Sitting up on the nosebleeds requires a more powerful set of binoculars. A good pair of 10×42 will do just great if you are farther away from the action.

100mm telescope vs 20×80 binoculars

We will get more specific now and compare a 100 mm telescope and 20×80 binoculars.

Obviously, we still have to note the size comparison since this talks about how easily can each one be handled. However, a set of binoculars with an aperture of 80mm are usually designed for astronomy and will require a tripod, just like the 100mm telescope.

When it comes to power and aperture, these two gadgets can be paired to be equal. We must say though, that the binoculars offer all the astronomy benefits that we have mentioned before. It all then comes down to the type of astronomical activity you will be performing.

When it comes to cost, a decent pair of 20×80 binoculars will cost you around $120 and a telescope with a 100mm lens will have a price tag of around $100. It will all depend on the quality and manufacturer, of course

Terrestrial viewing telescope vs binoculars

Do you want a device that allows you to view terrestrial objects and scan the skies too?

There are so many factors to take into consideration so we will bring it down to these simple facts:

  • Binoculars are more manageable than telescopes.
  • In general, telescopes offer a greater magnification than binoculars.
  • Thanks to their greater aperture, a telescope might give better performance in low light conditions.
  • Binoculars offer a 3D depth of field, whereas a telescope is flat.
  • With binoculars, you stimulate both eyes, unlike a telescope which needs only one.

 Now, when choosing your preferred gadget, you must factor in the following conditions:

  • Will you be needing your scopes during the day or during the night? In general, telescopes become a better choice here strictly takin the amount of available light into consideration. Now, of course, you can even get night-vision goggles if you really want to gaze buildings or spy on people in the middle of the night.
  • Are you going to be gazing from one only point or will you be moving around? In the former case, you can get yourself a microscope on a tripod or a pair of binoculars. Remember that in conditions of low light, binoculars with a larger objective lens diameter allow more light to offer a clearer image. If you will be moving around the safari, jungle, or city, you definitively should go for the binoculars.
  • Consider how much detail you want to get from what you are looking at. For example, if the object is too far away, the greater magnification of the telescope will help. However, if you are on the move and the object is closing in to you, maybe you still want to go for the comfort of a set of binoculars.
  • We will step in and recommend binoculars for a better depth of field. Besides this, binoculars can correct inverted images whereas telescope. With a telescope, as explained before”, you will get a flat image and with no depth.

In conclusion, use a telescope if you are considering gazing far-away objects from a fixed vantage point. For pictures on the go, the best option will be the practicality of a good set of binoculars. When it comes to stargazing, you can find a good pair of binoculars that offer the same power as telescopes, but with a clearer 3D resolution.

High powered binoculars vs telescope

You probably feel to this point that you have to somehow upgrade your binoculars to make them match the telescope in power and clarity.

But then, as you have seen, binoculars can prove to be more convenient and easily meet your needs for the most demanding tasks. You have also noted that with greater power comes greater responsibility into handling and taking care of binoculars. Reasons for this include bulkier, more difficult to handle and price.

High-powered binoculars, as you recall, will offer you the same magnification as a telescope but will also offer a better 3D image and a wider field of view. This sounds very convenient but this is not it all when it comes to scopes.

It all boils back to what is more convenient depending on the activity you are going to be engaging in. Maybe you love to check on distant objects such as mountains while hiking, the city while standing on top of a skyscraper, or you like gazing through the stars and other celestial bodies.

Spyglass telescope vs binoculars

A spyglass is like a shorter portable telescope that you can put inside your bag and is more comfortable to carry than a pair of binoculars.

If you are on the fence trying to decide between a spyglass or binoculars, you want to consider your optics in such a way that you get the best view, contrast, more detail, and a brighter view.

Studies have shown that when we use both eyes to look at an object through magnifiers, we get up to 40% more low-light sensitivity, better brightness and contrast, finer details, and a clearer three-dimensional effect. So, this is a score up for binoculars.

Now, a 7×18 monocular, which you can easily hold in your hand and practically go unnoticed, can help you check the open hours of a store across the street and not having to cross a busy road only to find out it is closed. Similar binoculars will not be as easy to handle, let alone conceal but for most of the purposes, you have such small binoculars for, it will work only as fine.

Convenience only being considered, you can get yourself a good 10×25 spyglass that even though they will not give you the field of view of an 8×30 binoculars, they are still excellent instruments.

In order to have a better opinion on optics, please check our articles describing the specs of binoculars and telescopes.

Refractor telescope vs binoculars

When we are comparing refractor telescopes with binoculars, we usually want to know which ones are better at viewing DSOs (distant sky objects). Remember that porro binoculars are two refractor telescopes mounted together. As such, they offer a better view of DSOs, especially wide objects such as open clusters.

On the other hand, refractor telescopes have a larger aperture, allowing them to better see dimmer DSOs. Always remember, though, that using both eyes instead of one, will get you a better image, especially in low-light conditions.

If you are lucky enough to own both a refractor telescope and a good pair of binoculars, there will be circumstances in which you will prefer to watch the same cluster in different seasons with one of the gadgets. For instance, the Pleiades can be seen low in the east during the fall with your binos. But when they are more overheard and towards the west, you might prefer a low-power wide-field view of a telescope.

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