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What’s like a binocular but has only one lens? A monocular!
Okay, so it’s the worst riddle of all time, I get it but at least I tried. What I’m way better at is helping you find the best monoculars for you.
Whether you want to get out birding, golfing, or hunting a monocular might be solution you’ve been looking for.
These optic devices have come a long way in affordability and quality recently. They’re light and small enough to stash in a pocket yet powerful enough to see the distinct markings on the birds you’re sighting.
Quick Answer: The 7 Best Rated Monoculars For 2021
- Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Monocular
- Leica Monovid 8x20 Monocular
- Vortex Optics Solo Monocular 8x36
- Wingspan Optics Explorer Monocular
- Celestron Nature Monocular
- Gosky Titan High Power Prism Monocular
- AUCEE 12X50 High Power Monocular
- 10x42 monocular
- FOV (ft@1000 yds): 340
- Fully multi-coated
- 100% waterproof and fogproof
Bushnell is legendary in the hunting world and known for their outdoor optics. While they might not be the most elite monocular makers, their gear strikes a balance of quality and affordability that favors buyers in my opinion.
Let’s just start with the basics. This monocular has a 10 power zoom with a 42mm objective. That’s a pretty decent size objective lens that should let in plenty of light for a good image at 10x without a problem.
Thanks to the fully multi-coated lenses and coated prism inside that image quality should remain quite high by the time it hits your eye on the other side.
That’s assuming that the waterproofing and fog proofing stand up to the test of time, but users rave about the quality of these monoculars and with Bushnell’s great reputation I can’t foresee a problem.
One feature that’s a little more rare and we didn’t talk about in the buyer’s guide is the Picatinny rail. These optics mounting rails are ideal for attaching to firearms, tripods, or other mounts and it’s no surprise Bushnell added them.
The Bushnell Legend is the best monocular for hunting and will play well with Picatinny devices.
- 8x20 monocular
- FOV (ft@1000 yds): 330
- Nitrogen filled
- Compatible with glasses
Remember some of those high end features we talked about like inert gas filling? Leica is well known for bringing those qualities to bear on their optics and you’re going to get a first hand look at a great monocular here!
This little monocular is a great compact pocket size with all the qualities we’re looking for. It’s going to be at home for birders or plant enthusiasts.
Why plant enthusiasts? It comes with a close range lens that allows you to get 8x zoom on objects as close as 10” away! That’s highly unusual for a monocular.
That aside, the coated lenses and nitrogen filled tube mean a seriously crisp image. Plus, for the price you pay they also include a leather carrying case that holds and protects both the monocular and the accessory lens for macro viewing.
I have to note here that there’s an adapter eyepiece for those who wear glasses which isn’t something we normally see on cheaper monoculars. Leica rates this monocular waterproof to 16 feet of submersion.
If you want the best monocular for bird watching with ultra high quality optics in a small pocket format, the Monovid is your best bet.
- 4 models available (different zooms)
- Fully multi-coated optics
- Nitrogen filled
- Adjustable eyecup for glasses
The first monocular on our list that comes in different sizes and zooms, yay! That means more customizability for you so you can pick out the monocular that’s best for you and that’s a good thing in my book.
Let me start by saying that there are a lot of high end features at an affordable price here. That said, it may not be as perfect as a $500 model but I think most of us prefer a blend of price and value anyways.
Among other things the fully rubberized exterior provides a little more drop and scratch protection. That means you can more readily carry it with the provided belt clip without worrying about it getting bumped around.
Video: Overview of the Vortex Solo Monocular
There’s a 25mm and 36mm objective lens version of both the 8 and 10 power zoom versions. If you want a pocket size monocular go with the 25mm 8 power. For a higher zoom try the 10x36.
If you want the best monocular for backpacking that’s rugged and durable, you should consider the Vortex Solo!
- Fully multi-coated optics
- Extra wide field of view 246 ft @ 1,000 yards
- “Bounce protection”
If you didn’t catch it in the name, these monoculars are aimed right at the birders in the group. Fortunately, they’re available in a couple sizes so you can make sure you end up with the one that is best for you.
Alright let’s be upfront – it’s not totally clear what bounce protection entails. However, the non-slip grip, waterproof housing, and durable construction seem to be aimed at those who might bump their gear around a bit.
While the manufacturer claims waterproof and dustproof, I couldn’t find an IP rating anywhere but that’s not uncommon, really. Fortunately it comes with a nylon carrying case and two lens covers to keep the monocular safe.
I will say that this is not a pocket size monocular. The 50mm objective lens is quite large which means better image visibility and higher performance at dawn and dusk, however it’s large to carry around.
Ideal for late nights and early mornings for users who want a large field of view and probably the best monocular for wildlife viewing on our list.
- 10x25 monocular
- FOV (ft@1000 yds): 304
- Multi-coated lenses
- Waterproof and fog proof
I will say that until we reviewed this monocular I thought these little tools were stuck looking like 1990 never ended. Take a nice modern design and sleek rubber coated protection and add it to a monocular and that’s what we get here!
On the outside, this monocular features deep textured wave-like grooves that protect the monocular and help with secure grip. I’m a huge fan of the ergonomic design.
Since the objective lens is 25mm it makes a good happy medium between size and power. It’s still just small enough to make a reasonable pocket size monocular for those who want ease of transport for birding, hiking, or other mobile activities.
While it may not be anything to write home about, the wrist strap, nylon case, and lens cleaning cloths are a nice tough to finish off this affordable mid-zoom monocular.
I would rate the Celestron Nature as a the best pocket monocular, especially for those with arthritis or otherwise struggle to hold a small monocular.
- 12x50 monocular
- FOV (ft@1000 yds): 289
- Phone mount capable
- Adjustable eye cup
In the age of cell phones it’s a bit surprising it took this long to get a monocular that can fit right on to the phone camera.
This is essentially a high zoom lens adapter for the cell phone. Don’t worry, though, it can still work as a standalone monocular too!
Now, I’m not going to say this monocular is top of the line, but it isn’t bad either. Multi-coated lenses help with image clarity and an adjustable eye cup makes sure it fits you.
Part of me wonders, however, if the phone mount capabilities detract from the overall usefulness.
In order to get decent photos with it you’ll need to use the included tripod which is short and small. However, since it uses a standard tripod thread, you could easily upgrade later if you find it inadequate.
That said the phone mount seems a little cumbersome and will take some manual adjusting to get it setup right. Your photos will also look like they were shot with a monocular adapter.
For the photography enthusiast, perhaps saving up for a high quality DSLR camera might be a better long term investment.
Best for those who want the most powerful monocular for their phone cameras and need a way to get those long range shots to work.
- 12x50 monocular
- FOV (ft@1000 yds): 330
- Phone mount capable
- Fully-multi coated lenses
In search of that perfect monocular that can help us capture a great Snapchat story photo brings us to another option.
This time a slightly more compact phone adaptable monocular that might just be the refinement you need. Compared to the last phone compatible monocular I will say that the multi-coated optics are missed.
When you’re trying to take a picture through a lens, any drop in image clarity will be very apparent and the fully multi-coated lenses help offset this.
Overall I think the design and execution here are a little better than some other phone monoculars I’ve seen.
However they really didn’t put a lot of effort into the tripod and I wish they would have upgraded it a bit as I feel it holds the monocular back.
The phone mount is slim and sleek, ready to get the job done. It slips over the eye cup so you can add the phone when you’re not using the monocular with your eyes.
That said it’s a friction fit and not screw-on mount which makes me worried the phone might slide off and drop. The VIVREAL is the best budget monocular that is smart phone compatible with a lightweight, slim design.
Monocular Comparison Table
|Monocular||Optics||Prism||Lens Coating||FOV (ft@1000 yds)||Rating|
|Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Monocular||10 x 42||BaK-4 prisms||Fully multi-coated||340||4.6 / 5.0|
|Leica Monovid Monocular||8 x 20||Phase-Corrected Roof Prism||AquaDura lens coating||330||4.5 / 5.0|
|Vortex Optics Solo Monocular||8x25 |
|Phase-Corrected Roof Prism||Fully multi-coated||315||4.3 / 5.0|
|Wingspan Optics Explorer Monocular||12X50||BaK-4 prisms||Fully multi-coated||246||4.6 / 5.0|
|Celestron Nature Monocular||10x25||BaK-4 prisms||Fully multi-coated||304||4.2 / 5.0|
|Gosky Titan Prism Monocular||12X50||BaK-4 prisms||Fully multi-coated||289||4.0 / 5.0|
|VIVREAL Monocular Telescope||12X50||BaK-4 prisms||Fully multi-coated||330||4.4 / 5.0|
How to Choose the Best Monocular – Buyers Guide
- How are Monoculars Sized?
- Objective Lens Size
- Monocular Magnification Power
- Field of View (FOV)
- Monocular Prisms (internals)
- Lens Coatings
- Inert Gas Filled Monoculars
- Waterproof Rating
- Eye Relief
- Focus Adjustment
- FAQs For Monoculars
Today we’re going to take a look at the good, bad, and ugly of monoculars and make sure you get the ones that are going to be the most helpful to you.
By the end of this guide you should know what to look for and what to avoid. We’ve also suggested a handful of the top monoculars on the market today so you can spend more time in the field and less time shopping!
How are Monoculars Sized?
When you read about monoculars, most people will focus on the magnification power of the optic. While that’s important, it’s not all there is to know. Monoculars are measured in two numbers such as 4x28.
Objective Lens Size
Objective lens size in monoculars affects one primary outcome. The larger the lens, the more light it can gather. This means clearer images at high zoom levels as light input is restricted. It also means better visibility in the dawn and dusk.
For this reason you might think that you should go with the biggest possible objective lens diameter you can find, right?
That’s not totally untrue, just remember that bigger lenses mean larger and heavier monoculars. As monoculars get bigger and heavier they eventually become a hindrance to carry and operate, particularly for those who want to take their monoculars hiking and backpacking.
Monocular Magnification Power
This is the real reason we all want a monocular, right? We want to see things from far away as if they’re right in front of us with all the clarity as if it were.
Of course, there’s more to it than raw power of magnification, but we’ll make sure you’re brushed up on all that a little further down.
Monocular magnification is generally going to range from 4 – 25+ power. This will be represented as a number such as 6x or 20x.
As magnification increases, field of view decreases. Remember that this can be slightly offset with a wider objective lens, but high zoom lenses will always have narrow field of view. That means you’ll be able to see a smaller “window” of view down range when sighting with a high zoom lens.
When it comes time to buy a monocular, just remember that higher power means higher price. If you do manage to find a high power monocular that seems “cheap” compared to others, it’s because it probably is!
Many manufacturers sacrifice in other areas of quality in order to give users a high zoom power monocular at a cheap price. Be sure to confirm that the monocular you’re looking at also features the appropriate other characteristics that you need.
Field of View (FOV)
Field of view refers to the diameter of image you can see downrange at any given magnification power. Generally this will be something like 20ft at 20x power. In this case you would be looking at a 20ft diameter of view at 20 power.
Field of view decreases as magnification power increases. However, prism type, objective lens size, and construction of the monocular can have an impact on this. Expensive, high zoom lenses will have a better field of view at high zoom than cheaper lenses.
Monocular Prisms (internals)
So what is inside a monocular that makes it work? Thanks to the magic of optical sciences we’ve got some fancy image enhancing hardware at work inside these monoculars. There are essentially three main types you can find.
Exactly how and why they work is more of a subject for a physics course, so we’ll keep it simple here.
Roof prisms work great at long ranges are an excellent choice for high power monoculars.
Porro prisms are very slightly different from roof prisms but work a little better at mid and close range.
Todays optics almost all come with some type of lens coatings. You’re going to see a lot of information about lens coatings when you start shopping so let’s make sure you know what you’re in for.
Good lens coatings shed water, increase image visibility, and can even prevent fogging.
Coated lenses use a simple and cheap coating to improve the image over what it would be without any coating whatsoever. They are the “cheapest” of all coatings.
Fully coated lenses are one step above in image quality and price compared to coated lenses.
Multi-coated lenses use more than one type of lens coating to achieve a superior image quality. These lenses will begin to increase in price rapidly compared to “budget” models.
Fully Multi-coated lenses are the top of the line. These lenses often use several different coatings which help absorb light to enhance image visibility, crispness, and quality. All things equal they will be the most expensive of the lenses.
To be totally frank with you, I have yet to see a manufacturer clearly specify what the differences are between their various lens coating types. I’d like to see a lot more transparency (as it were) from the industry about the various coatings and the exact technology behind them.
Inert Gas Filled Monoculars
Some high end optics are actually completely sealed and filled with inert gasses. Sealing the lens means you can’t get any water or dust inside unless, of course, it malfunctions at some point down the road.
Filling the tube with inert gasses, especially the rare and more expensive ones, means a better image.
Inert gasses inside a sealed monocular means that light won’t be split, reflected, or refracted by the gasses. Atmospheric gasses have an inherent amount of distortion to light passing through which can affect the quality of a monocular that is not sealed and filled with inert gasses.
Waterproofing is important on any monocular. If or when water manages to make it inside your lens tube, you might as well throw it away. This will cause fog, poor image, and complete failure of your monocular.
Luckily, there’s an easy way to know how waterproof your monocular is. Look for a monocular with a clear IP waterproof rating.
IP ratings are a standard rating for measuring the resistance to water of a container. They function as follows
These waterproof ratings start with the letters, “IP”. After that you’ll see two numbers as IPxx such as IP76.
The the first digit refers to the intrusion protection of the object at hand such as resistance to dust or debris. This digit can range from 1-7 with 7 being the most protective.
As you might suspect, the second digit refer to the water resistance of the object in question. This number can range from 1-9 with 9 being the most protective.
A good IP rating for monoculars would be anything IP56 or above.
See the list of IP ratings here.
This number gets overlooked too often as it directly impacts functionality for many users. What it means is the distance from the rear lens that your eye needs to sit in order to see the perfect image.
Usually, this number is measured in millimeters and can range quite a bit. For users without glasses an eye relief of 10-20mm is pretty normal and is adapted for by the eyecup of the monocular.
If you use glasses or hate having a lens right up on your eye, look for a monocular with longer eye relief. Just remember that these can sometimes be finicky to get “just right” as you try to sight them in.
Depending on how near or far an object is when viewed through a monocular, you’ll have to do some adjusting. It’s rare to have perfect focus on an object on your first try. Instead you need an adjustable focus ring.
Practically every monocular has an adjustable focus of some sort. If the monocular you’re looking at can’t be adjusted for focus, you should probably skip it.
To get the most out of your monocular, think about how you like to use your optics. Some are designed for one hand operation, others must be adjusted using two hands. Some adjustment knobs are located above or below the main lens tube, others are inline.
Honestly I don’t think there’s much difference for the everyday user. Unless one or the other style makes a big difference to you, don’t lose sleep over it.
Cell Phone Monocular
If you’re like me, you’re probably glued to your phone these days. Most of us are. With the rise in popularity of image based social apps such as Snapchat and Instagram more people are looking for ways to get cool phone photos.
One way to pull that off is using a monocular adapter to mount your phone behind a monocular. That allows you to carefully adjust the phone and monocular so you can get a good image through both.
Of course this comes with the drawback that photos taken this way are rectangular on a phone and circular in a monocular. Unless you get the monocular-phone fitment perfect the resulting image will fuzzy or black space around parts of the image.
There’s no real way to fix this. So, until we get cell phones with perfect telephoto lenses, photographers seeking perfect zoomed photos should probably stick with dedicated cameras. Social media junkies looking for a cool new way to take fun pics may be interested, however!
FAQs For Monoculars
Q: Can I use a monocular as a scope?
A: Some monoculars at high zooms are called spotting scopes. They resemble scopes used on weapons and can achieve blisteringly good images at zooms of 40x or more. Wouldn’t it be great if you could mount that up to your favorite hunting rifle?
Well, you can’t. Monoculars, unlike scopes, are not designed to handle the shock wave produced by a high powered firearm. You’ll likely ruin the monocular.
Not to mention monoculars don’t feature adjustable reticles that would be needed to operate as a firearm scope.
Q: Can I buy a night vision or thermal monocular?
A: Yep, you can! However, we didn’t cover them here because they’re sort of a different animal altogether. These types of monoculars use highly sophisticated technology to do their jobs and we don’t have time to explain it all here.
Suffice it to say, however, that if you go looking for these types of monoculars, be prepared to spend $1,000 or well more. Any of the “inexpensive” ones are usually quite junky.
Q: What’s a good pocket size monocular?
A: For those who want to carry around your monocular without it bulging out or weighing you down, you’ll need to find a pocket size version. Usually these monoculars are easy to find and they live in the 15-25mm objective lens size.
Anything larger tends to be a bit too bulky for a pocket monocular. Zoom for a monocular like this probably shouldn’t exceed about 10x otherwise you may suffer poor image quality with the small objective size.
What kind of monocular you decide on is totally up to you. After reading the buyers guide section you should know everything you need in order to make up your mind.
For those interested in understand more, you’ll want to really dive deep into the science and physics of light and lenses. There are plenty of guides, YouTube videos, and books at the library to keep you busy studying for a while!
At the end of the day you’ll be the most happy if you stay true to what you need. Don’t get sucked into the idea of spending a ton of cash for the best quality or going for the biggest zoom. Instead, start by thinking about how you’ll use your monocular, what you’ll be looking at, and how much your budget can support.
You’ll make a great purchase that will keep you happy for years of service this way!
How We Researched
To come up with the top monoculars we researched a variety of sources for reviews such as REI, Dicks Sporting Goods and Bass Pro Shops along with our own personal experience.
We also consulted online magazines for product research and reviews to get as much unbiased information as we could. To help weed out fake reviews we used Fakespot.com to make sure we only looked at genuine reviews.
With so much quality gear available, we had to narrow it down based on what we felt were the best options for the price. The staff authors are avid photographers and birders.
To help narrow down the selection our authors used their personal experience along with recommendations from fellow hikers, photographers and birders.
After extensive research, we came up with our list to help you choose the right one for you.
I hope this guide was helpful for finding a good monocular to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a monocular I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.