Updated in December 2017
To my great shame, I have not been looking at binoculars nearly as much as I would have liked, so I do not quite have the same coverage of what is out there as I really should.
That having been said, I have looked at a few here and there and I have a pretty good feel for what works with my eyes. In the “fancy schmancy” category, Leica fits me best.
The best general purpose binocular I have ever laid eyes on is Leica Noctivid 8×42.
If you are looking for something with a little more magnification and a built in LRF, Leica HD-B 10×42 gets my nod. Naturally, 8×42 version of the HD-B is just as good. While I generally prefer 8x over 10x, the unusual shape of the HD-B makes it easier to hold steadily, so the 10x works quite well for me.
Now, to be clear, the choice between Leica and Swarovski or Zeiss in this price range is mostly personal preference. I like Leica’s contrasty view and the image through the Noctivid is just incredibly relaxed to me. However, that is me and my eyes. If you are spending this much money, you should really look at all of these yourself.
In 7×42 configuration, I really though the Nikon EDG 7×42 was a very nice option. I am usually pretty critical of Nikon binoculars, but EDGs have a lot going for them.
With a 32mm objective, I really prefer moderate magnification and I think Leica Ultravid 8×32 HD Plus is just excellent.
For ultimate low light performance, it is worth your while to go big and step up to Zeiss Victory HT 8×54.
If you are looking for big eyes, Swarovski 15×56 SLC is still the best.
Updated in 2010
This segment is dominated by Zeiss, Leica and Swarovski. There are no bad binoculars in this price range and your choice largely depends on personal preference. Traditionally, Zeiss offers the highest resolution, Leica has the best contrast and Swarovski has the largest sweetspot.
Then there are the Nikon EDG binoculars that are absolutely superb, although I am not entirely sure they can quite hang the newest from the Euro makers. They are almost there and for some eyes might offer the best compromise of features and performance, but not for mine.
Here are the ones that I prefer ever so slightly:
7×42: Zeiss Victory FL. Lightweight and optically flawless.
8×32: Leica Ultravid HD. Superb contrast of these little binos partially makes up for the smallish exit pupil.
8×42: Zeiss Victory FL.
8×56: This is a tough call between Zeiss Victory FL and Swarovski SLCneu. Is the wider FOV of the Zeiss worth $600? That’s for you to decide.
8.5×42: Swarovski EL Swarovision. This is a somewhat controversial choice since the view through these is perfectly flat right to the edges when you are stationary, but has a distinct rolling ball effect when panning. Still, this bino has the largest sweespot I have ever seen.
10×56: Zeiss Victory FL 10×56. Try them. You’ll see what I mean.
12×50: This is not my favourite configuration, but if it up your alley, check out Leica Ultravid HD 12×50.
Special mention: Leica DUovid 8+12×42 offer impressive versatility. They are not quite as good as top end 8x or 12x binos at either of the settings, but they are close… and you get two magnificaitons in one bino.
Another special mention: laser rangefinding binoculars. Both Leica Geovid HD and Zeiss RF are very good. I like Zeiss RF 8×45 and 8×56 a little better.