You may not have considered the best monoculars as viable alternatives to binoculars, but they actually have a huge range of applications that can make them useful for all sorts of people, from photographers to birdwatchers.
As the name implies, monoculars provide only one lens, as opposed to a pair of binoculars, which contains two. This makes them substantially more lightweight and portable, meaning many hikers and walking photographers prefer to carry them. While they don't see as far as full-on telescopes, they are once again quite a bit lighter. As far as portability goes, monoculars are unrivalled!
Some monoculars even have image-capture abilities built in. Others come with mounts that allow you to attach a smartphone or camera, which really expands your shooting opportunities. Bringing sharp objects into near focus becomes simplicity itself!
Best monocular features to look for
• Smartphone mount: Not the first thing you'd expect to see on a monocular, but it makes sense – you get one with the Gosky 12x55 at the top of our list.
• Magnification: Higher magnifications are good for distant subjects but it's harder to keep the view steady and the angle of view is narrower. Bigger isn't always better – a lower magnification can be good for wider scenic views or fast-moving subjects.
• Objective lens size: A bigger lens will gather more light and give you a clearer image at dusk or dawn. But a monocular with a bigger lens is heavier, harder to hold for extended periods and may not fit in a jacket pocket.
• Waterproof: Handy if you are out in the rain or accidentally drop your monocular into water.
• Fogproof: Sometimes monocular optics are nitrogen filled to expel all moist air and prevent internal fogging in cold air.
• Tripod mount: Perfect for longer wildlife-watching sessions, with hands-free viewing and a steady image.
• Night vision: Electronic amplification for viewing in darkness, with infra-red illumination and video recording.
• Compact size: Some monoculars are small enough for a shirt pocket and almost like a mini-telescope, e.g. the Zeiss Conquest 10x25T.
To help you find the right monocular for you, we've put together this guide to the best products on the market right now. Bear in mind that stocks have fluctuated recently, particularly outside of the US, so it's worth checking back every so often if a particular monocular you've got your eye on is currently listed as out of stock.
Now, without further ado, read on to discover which are the best monoculars available right now…
The best monoculars in 2021
Considering the low price tag of this monocular, you might expect it to be a little cheap-feeling and flimsy, but it's an impressively rugged piece of kit. The fully sealed design is one hundred per cent waterproof and fog-proof, and while 12x magnification isn't as great as some of the other monoculars on this list, it's certainly nothing to sniff at.
Image quality is good, with a 55mm lens that provides plentiful light transmission for a bright view of your subject. What sets the Gosky 12x55 apart from the others on the list is that it comes with its own smartphone mount, allowing you to attach your iPhone or Android smartphone and take pictures of distant subjects.
This does require some care; the smartphone mount is not made with quite the same care and quality as the monocular, and it is both fiddly and a little easy to break. If you get it working though, you'll find yourself snapping shots you never could have dreamed of getting with the typical wide lens of a smartphone. This all goes to cement the status of the Gosky 12x55 as one of the best monoculars on this list, value-wise.
Looking for a great waterproof monocular? Our current top pick is the Hawke Endurance 8x42. With a multi-coated lens and rubber-coated exterior, this monocular offers a wide field of view and can be used in the wet as well as the wilds, as its Endurance name suggests. The 8x magnification gives you a great all-purpose view of what's in the bushes, or on the horizon – which is paired with a suitably bright image, thanks to the 42mm objective. The monocular is easily carried and held with one hand, with a big focusing knob that to help keep the image critically sharp. Comes supplied with a protective case and a lanyard, plus the all-important lens cover for protecting the optics.
An impressive monocular for the price, the Celestron Outland X 10x50 is built for high performance. Its large 50mm objective lens combines with anti-reflection coated optics to provide a crystal-clear view. It's comfortable to use for long periods thanks to its generous eye relief, and if you don't want to hold it, the Outland X 10x50 can be mounted to a tripod. It also comes with a smartphone digiscoping adapter. The O-ring is sealed against water, and nitrogen-filled to prevent fogging. It lacks some of the fancy digital features of other products on this list, but as a simple monocular, it's effective and capable.
Looking to do some night-time nature-spotting? Try the Bushnell Equinox Z2 6x50 Night Vision Monocular. It's water-resistant for outdoor use and comes with a magnification factor that, at 6x, is bigger than most of its night vision brethren, coupled with an effective light gathering tool in a 50mm lens. Built-in Wi-Fi enables users to live-stream footage straight to a mobile device and even control the zoom for video, image capture and IR brightness direct. An on-board IR illuminator allows long-range subjects to be comfortably viewed day or night – although this feature can quickly sap the monocular's battery (and batteries aren't included out of the box). Finally, video capture is full HD 1080p, which is respectable for its class. This appears to a comprehensively featured tool, albeit one that is a fair amount weightier than non-night vision equipped alternatives.
The Hawke Night-Eye 2000 5x40 is a more affordable option that most when it comes to night vision monoculars. Topping the spec list here are a 5x magnification and 40mm objective lens, providing a useful a 200-metre range. A welcome feature is the ability to not just view your subjects but ‘shoot’ them too, thanks to five megapixel stills and up to 10 minutes of VGA video at a time. The user's view is enhanced via a clever built-in infrared sensor with nine levels of brightness, and further peace of mind is provided via a two-year warranty. Conveniently for venturing into the outdoors, the unit is waterproofed, while, unusually, it comes supplied with a 8GB microSD card out of the box. Completing the tech on offer, its battery is rechargeable via USB. While it's readily available in the US, the Hawke Night-Eye 2000 is harder to obtain in other territories, including the UK, so international readers may want to consider other options.
If clarity and portability are key, the Opticron BGA WP 8x42 monocular is your best option. The pitch here is that, unlike smaller types of monocular, a ‘BGA’ monocular provides a viewing experience akin to a pair of average-sized roof prism binoculars, but in a pocket sized instrument. This monocular is suitable for outdoor use in a variety of conditions: it is nitrogen-filled to prevent fogging and waterproof to a claimed depth of three metres. We also get long eye relief eyepieces for additional comfort with or without spectacles. A 30-year guarantee provides plenty of peace of mind. If it’s a combination of lightweight build and excellent optical performance you’re after, this monocular is a ‘best in class’ example.
The mid-priced Hawke Endurance ED 8x25 monocular is an ideal general-purpose tool for travelling with, weighing just 150g, while still providing a wide-angle field of view and a decent 8x magnification (if you need more power there’s also a 10x option in the same manufacturer’s range). Good light transmission provides bright and clear images while the inclusion of ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass reduces colour fringing and helps preserve detail. A roughened rubber-coated surface offers a firmer grip, and focusing is a one-handed affair thanks to a focus ring just in front of the eyecup. All this adds up to a great all-round monocular that should be high on your list to investigate further.
When you buy a handcrafted Leica product you expect a build quality like no other, along with a splash of style and elegance – which is very much the case with its Monovid 8x20. This monocular’s strong yet portably lightweight aluminium housing (just 112g in weight) is nitrogen-filled to prevent internal fogging, whatever climate it’s being used in, while its waterproofed qualities allow it to be submerged to depths of almost 5 metres, which is much better than just being splash resistant. In the cylindrical carry case provided we also get a close-up lens offering 8x magnification at distances as close as 25cm. This Leica is comfortable in use too, thanks to a rugged surface, 15mm eye relief and handy central focusing knob.
You might be getting class-leading performance, but you'll be top dollar for it. This monocular is a lot more expensive than comparable factory-made units; so much so you might want to add it to your list of insured items.
If it's a mini-moncular you're after, our pick is the MiniQuick 5x10 from leading optical specialist Carl Zeiss. This monocular not much bigger than a fountain pen, making it a truly ‘take anywhere’ device, which comes with its own handy pocket clip to prevent it from getting lost. Despite its micro proportions, the performance isn’t what you’d call unduly compromised; we still get a useful 5x magnification and a 10mm objective lens, plus 16.5mm eye relief. What’s more, it claims to be sufficiently ‘weather sealed’ to withstand water spray – although you probably don’t want to go swimming with it tucked into your trunks. At just 4.5-inches long, if you’re truly looking for an ultra lightweight pocket sized monocular, this very much fits the bill. However, if a small size isn’t your top consideration you could get more bang for your buck elsewhere.
If you're after a monocular to take backpacking, try the Conquest 10x25T, which manufacturer Zeiss likens to a mini-telescope. Like others in this list, it’s designed to bring the faraway closer, while remaining fairly compact and easy to carry without weighing you down. The brand is known for its optical excellence, and here it delivers the expected multi-coated optics for a high-quality performance. A leather pouch and carrying strap are included, while a 15mm eye relief ensures comfortable viewing. This monocular is sealed against water spray and can ably function in temperatures that vary between -4 and 104 degrees, meaning it should stand up in a range of situations and climates.
What should I look for in a monocular?
If you've ever shopped for a pair of binoculars, you're probably aware that the key measurements you need to look out for are the size of the objective lens and the magnification. If a monocular's manufacturer gives you a specification of 8 x 42, this signifies that the monocular incorporates a 42mm objective lens size with an 8x magnification. Higher magnification obviously allows you to see further, with the caveat of a narrower angle of view, while a wider objective lens size provides a brighter overall image. This makes monoculars with wider objective lenses particularly useful for use in low-light situations. As you might have guessed, however, monoculars with wider lenses and greater magnifying capabilities will typically be bigger and heavier, with a a higher price tag to match.
On the other side of the scale, you've got more modest monoculars with small objective lenses and modest zoom ranges. While they won't be as useful for distant subjects or in low light, they will likely be both lighter and cheaper.
Even the best objective lens will only take you so far in low light of course, and if you're trying to literally see in the dark and do some night spotting, you should look for an infrared-equipped night vision monocular. We’ve included our pick of those in this guide too, to add a bit of variety – be aware that they also tend to be significantly more expensive.
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