The best monoculars may sound like a bit of a specialist item, but they're actually really useful for a range of applications. More portable and lightweight than binoculars or heavy-duty telescopes, they make for a great addition to the pockets of any birdwatcher or hikers. What's more, some have the capacity to capture images and video, or mounts to rig up a smartphone or camera, allowing you to keep a record of everything you see.
Without a doubt, there's more to the world of monoculars than letting you feel a bit like a pirate (although let's not kid ourselves, that's definitely an option). We've put together this guide to run you through what we feel are the best monoculars on the market right now.
A monocular is a simple device: as the name implies, it's like a pair of binoculars, but for one eye instead of two. It's basically a small telescope, designed to bring faraway subjects into sharp near focus.
Why get a monocular? The obvious reasons have already been touched upon – they're smaller than binoculars, easier to carry around when travelling and fit inside a small pocket. If you find it hard to adapt to regular 'binocular' vision, they're a sensible solution.
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 god 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.
Without further ado, let’s look at 10 recommendations for the best monocular you can buy right now…
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.
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.
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-value monoculars on this list.
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.
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.
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.
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