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10 best monoculars you can buy in 2019: how to keep one eye on your subjects!

Best monocular
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best monoculars are a lot more useful than they first appear. Do you like getting up close with nature in the great outdoors? Compared with a pair of binoculars, a monocular may at first appear a niche item – but they are popular portable choice for hikers and birdwartchs. They’re not just there for anyone who wants to dress up as a pirate! In this guide, we'll run through what we think are the best monoculars on sale right now.

A monocular is essentially a small telescope. Just like binoculars, the main purpose here is to bring faraway subjects closer so you can view them better; but as the name suggests, you use a monocular with one eye instead of two. 

Monoculars are typically more compact, lightweight, pocket friendly and, yes, convenient. They're great for people who can't quite adapt to regular 'binocular' vision. As well as watching wildlife from afar, the compact size also means monoculars are useful to pack when going walking, backpacking or traveling. 

What should I look for in a monocular?

Just like when buying a pair of binoculars, the measurements you need to look out for are the size of the objective lens and the magnification. For example, a specification given as 8 x 42 signifies that the monocular incorporates a 42mm objective lens size with an 8x magnification. Obviously a higher magnification will allow the user to see further, but with a narrower angle of view. The wider the objective lens size, the brighter the view - particularly useful for lowlight use. Unsurprisingly, monoculars offering higher specification will typically be bigger and come with a higher price tag too. 

At the same time, we don’t expect too much in the way of performance from a monocular with a small objective lens and only modest zoom. The upshot is that these models tend to be more conveniently portable still.

Of course if you’re looking for a monocular to use at night rather than day, you should look for an infrared equipped night vision monocular. We’ve included our pick of those here too, to add a bit of variety; or take a look at our guide to the best night vision goggles, binoculars and monoculars for more options. 

Without further ado, let’s look at 10 recommendations for the best monocular you can buy right now…

Celestron Oceana 8x42 monocular

(Image credit: Celestron)

Celestron Oceana 8x42 monocular

The best waterproof monocular for use on land or at sea

Objective lens size: 42mm | Magnification: 8x | Field of view: 114.6m | Eye relief: 18mm | Closest focusing: 13m | Waterproof: Yes | Fog-proof: Yes | Weight: 340g | Dimensions: 140 x 65 x 56mm

Waterproof and fog-proof
Built-in compass for navigation
Extra features mean higher price
No tripod thread 

Looking for a great waterproof monocular? Our top pick is the Celestron Oceana 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 Oceana name suggests. For both seafaring types and landlubbers, the device even features a built-in illuminated compass, while an integrated ‘reticle’ – a series of fine lines in the eyepiece, used as a measuring scale – pairs with the compass to enable users to determine distance. 

While the monocular can obviously be held with one hand, focusing is a single-handed process too, while a folding eyecup ensures comfort in use. A convenient carry case that can be strapped to a belt is included out of the box, along with a lens cloth and quick-detach lanyard, for if you want to transport it about your neck.

Celestron Nature 10x25 monocular

(Image credit: Celestron)

Celestron Nature 10x25 monocular

This affordable, rugged option is our pick for the best budget monocular

Objective lens size: 25mm | Magnification: 10x | Field of view: 92.6m | Eye relief: 14mm | Closest focusing: 5.48m | Waterproof: Yes | Fog-proof: Yes | Weight: 170g | Dimensions: 112 x 50 x 35mm

Affordable
Waterproof and fog-proof
No compass
Can't attach to a tripod

The Celestron Nature 10x25 monocular is an affordable option that comes with a rugged build and limited lifetime warranty. Like the Oceana (above), this monocular is waterproof and has a rubberised exterior with multi-coated lens and fog-proofing as standard. It is suited to outdoor use and can be used as a multi-purpose viewing tool. Thanks to a dioptre focus dial, the Nature monocular can be held securely in the palm while focus is adjusted using the same hand. The design is nicely ergonomic, and, weighing only 6 ounces, can easily be popped into any pocket. A cleaning cloth and case that attaches to a belt are included out of the box to complete the convenient package.

Bushnell Equinox Z2 6x50 Night Vision Monocular

(Image credit: Bushnell)

Bushnell Equinox Z2 6x50 Night Vision Monocular

Then this night vision equipped monocular should make light work of the dark

Objective lens size: 50mm | Magnification: 6x | Field of view: 10m | Eye relief: 15mm | Range: 152 metres | Waterproof: Yes | Fog-proof: Not stated | Weight: 765g | Dimensions: 191 x 98 x 64mm

Night-vision equipped
Built-in IR illuminator
IR light can sap battery
Comfort in handling not the best

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. A 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 of the Full HD 1080P variety, 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.

Hawke Night-Eye 2000 5x40 Night Vision Monocular

(Image credit: Hawke)

Hawke Night-Eye 2000 5x40 Night Vision Monocular

The best night-vision monocular on a budget

Objective lens size: 40mm | Magnification: 5x | Field of view: 8.7m | Eye relief: 15mm | Range: 200m | Waterproof: Yes | Fog-proof: Yes | Weight: 320g | Dimensions: 77 x 160 x 71mm

Integral IR illuminator 
Lightweight
8GB microSD provided
Video is ‘just’ VGA resolution
Stills a modest 5 megapixels 

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.

Opticron BGA WP 8x42 monocular

(Image credit: Opticron)

Opticron BGA WP 8x42 monocular

Best monocular overall, with a viewing experience comparable to standard roof prism binoculars

Objective lens size: 42mm | Magnification: 8x | Field of view: 110m | Eye relief: 16mm | Closest focusing: 2m | Waterproof: Yes | Fog-proof: Yes | Weight: 285g | Dimensions: 136 x 43mm

Excellent optical performance
Waterproof to 3 metres
Expensive
Relatively large

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.

Hawke Endurance ED 8x25 monocular

(Image credit: Hawke)

Hawke Endurance ED 8x25 monocular

This multi-purpose monocular offers decent specs at a fair price

Objective lens size: 42mm | Magnification: 8x | Field of view: 119m | Eye relief: 13mm | Closest focusing: 5 metres | Waterproof: Yes | Fog-proof: Yes | Weight: 150g | Dimensions: 105mm (height)

Fairly priced
Good general-purpose tool
No compass
No built-in night vision option

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.

Leica Monovid 8x20 monocular

(Image credit: Leica)

Leica Monovid 8x20 monocular

The best monocular for birding… but it this top-quality model doesn't come cheap

Objective lens size: 20mm | Magnification: 8x | Field of view: 110m | Eye relief: 15mm | Closest focusing: 25cm | Waterproof: Yes | Fog-proof: Yes | Weight: 112g | Dimensions: 97.9 x 105 x 35.5mm

Unbeatable build quality
Watertight to 4.8m
Very expensive

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.

Zeiss MiniQuick 5x10 monocular

(Image credit: Zeiss)

Zeiss MiniQuick 5x10 monocular

A monocular the size of a fountain pen? Call James Bond!

Objective lens size: 10mm | Magnification: 5x | Field of view: 91m | Eye relief: 16.5mm | Closest focusing: 4m | Waterproof: Yes | Fog-proof: No | Weight: 22.7g | Dimensions: 114 x 20mm

Small and compact
Exceptionally well built 
You're paying for the size 
Magnification a modest 5x

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.

Zeiss Conquest 10x25T monocular

(Image credit: Zeiss)

Zeiss Conquest 10x25T monocular

Optical excellence and compact dimensions make this monocular ideal for backpacking

Objective lens size: 25mm | Magnification: 10x | Field of view: 88m | Eye relief: 15mm | Closest focusing: 4.5m | Waterproof: Yes | Fog-proof: No | Weight: 77g | Dimensions: 109 x 32mm

Great optical performance
Top build quality 
Quality costs 
Not completely waterproof

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.

Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x42 monocular

(Image credit: Bushnell)

Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x42 monocular

Ideal for star-gazing, this rugged monocular packs plenty of power

Objective lens size: 25mm | Magnification: 10x | Field of view: 113m | Eye relief: 15.2mm | Closest focusing: 1.9m | Waterproof: Yes | Fog-proof: Yes | Weight: 374g | Dimensions: 13.7cm (length)

Serious image quality
Tripod-compatible
Dearer than most

Reach for the skies with the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x42 monocular.  Impressive clarity and contrast, even in low light conditions, makes this a possible option for wannabe star-gazers and astrology fans. Bushnell claims this monocular is 100 per cent waterproof and fog-proof: the rubber-armoured body is nitrogen purged to prevent fogging, while the magnesium housing is o-ring sealed to ensure water-proofing, enabling users to admire heavenly bodies when standing in a damp, open field. There are also fully multi-coated-water repelling optics and ED prime glass to ensure sharp, richly detailed images, and an ample 10x magnification and 42mm objective element. 

Read more:
• 
The binoculars in 2019

 The best spotting scopes

• The best night vision goggles and binoculars 

 The best telescopes for astrophotography

The best portable hides for wildlife photography