Monoculars are a fantastic bit of kit that make all the difference to a range of hobbies, such as birdwatching, plane spotting, astronomy, and hunting… just to name a few!
Although less commonly used than their larger counterparts, binoculars, monoculars are experiencing a recent surge in their popularity – but why? Well, the main reason is that they’re so much lighter and easy to transport than their counterparts. After all, they are essentially half of a binocular. They also have the added bonus of being more affordable (although sadly not half the price) and lots of people find them easier to use.
If you’re new to the world of monoculars (and binoculars) be warned – there’s a lot of technical language out there. But fear not, once you get to grips with some key terms, hunting for your first monocular will be a lot easier. Having said that, there are also a lot of monocular options currently on the market, and choosing the right one can be tricky whether your a first-timer or a seasoned veteran.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of the best monoculars around as well as breaking down some of those technical terms for you – happy scoping!
Best for stargazing
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Best for backpacking
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Best for birdwatching
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Best for hunting
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First on our hit list is the Gosky 12×55 HD Monocular, a fantastic bit of gear with a surprisingly low price tag. First and foremost, the large lens enables crips, bright images even in low light conditions, making these a good option for any amateur stargazers. However, it’s not so high that these aren’t useful for other purposes – the 12x magnification is great for animal watching and surveillance too.
Another thing that really makes this monocular stand out is that it comes with a smartphone mount that allows you to photograph whatever you’re homing in on with your phone – pretty neat, huh? It is a little fiddly to set up (it’s not the sturdiest mount) but, once you get the hang of it, you’re going to love this feature. If you’re struggling to avoid wobbles that affect your image when using the mount, we recommend trying a tripod.
Unlike the mount, the monocular itself is super sturdy – the sealed rubber design makes it fully waterproof, dustproof, fogproof, AND shockproof, which is great if you want something you can shove in your bag and forget about. And, if you wear glasses or hate having the lens close to your eye, you’ll be pleased to know that this monocular super long eye relief, yay.
Overall, we really can’t get enough of this monocular and are astounded that it doesn’t cost more!
Weighing in at just 5.6 oz, you’ll hardly realize the Vortex Optics Solo Monocular is in your bag, making it a great option for backpacking, hiking, and camping trips.
It’s also coated in a rubber ‘armor’, which not only makes it resistant to impact but also makes you less likely to drop it thanks to its great grip. It comes with a case too for added protection, but it’s definitely not the sturdiest we’ve seen. On top of that, it features a nitrogen gas-filled barrel and is sealed with high-quality O-rings, making it waterproof and fogproof.
At 25mm, the objective lens provides images that are nice and bright, and we love that this monocular features fully multi-coated lenses to reduce light reflections. The focal dial is intuitive but is sometimes a little stiff but, overall, this is a great option for anyone on a budget backpacking mission thanks to its good overall performance, low price tag, and super light weight.
Bushnell is a big name in the world of outdoor optics and, looking at the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Monocular, it’s easy to see why.
Using high-end materials (such as fully multi-coated optics, including BAK-4 and PC-3 phase-coated prisms, and ED prime glass), Bushnell has designed a monocular that optimizes light transmission while reducing the chances of any disruptive light reflections. Obviously, this elevates the price slightly, but if image quality is your top concern, then it’s a price worth paying.
The 10x magnification is fantastic for a range of activities, while the 42mm lens ensures bright images under low lighting. It’s also fogproof and waterproof and super easy to using single-handedly.
It comes with a waist belt included, but watch out lefties – the clip can’t be moved over to the other side. Another small gripe is the eye cap, which falls off from time to time and could benefit from some extra grip.
Complaints aside, this monocular provides great image quality thanks to its high-end materials and is versatile enough to be used for hunting, stargazing, hiking, animal watching, and more!
Is it a monocular or is it a marker pen? Oh wait… it’s the Zeiss MiniQuick 5×10 Monocular. This teenie little gadget is so small you can pop it in a pocket (using the included pocket clip) or handbag and forget all about it – perfect for when you want a monocular ‘just in case’.
But has this minute size affected the quality? Apparently not. The eye relief is pretty good, the lenses are coated, and it’s water-resistant too (although it’s so small it’s pretty easy to keep out of harm’s way). With a magnification of 5x, it doesn’t have the most powerful zoom, but it is available with greater magnification if you want (at a higher price). The lens diameter is nothing special either, but it’s fine for casual use.
Overall, this certainly isn’t a bad monocular, but you’re definitely paying a premium for the minute size – so it’s up to you if you want to fork out for that.
And now for another Bushnell product… the Bushnell Night Vision Z2 Monocular, the perfect monocular for any tech-savvy night owls out there.
As the name tells us, this impressive bit of kit lets you home in on targets at night thanks to its integrated infra-red illuminator. Although the magnification is just 6x, this is actually pretty good for a night-time monocular, and the 50mm lens aids image brightness under poor light conditions.
Another impressive feature is the in-built WiFi system that lets you view footage in real-time on your smartphone. You can even operate the zoom from your phone and take photos and record videos up to 1080p (which is reasonable for this price range). Just watch out though, the infra-red and WiFi features will take a toll on the monocular’s battery life.
All these extras have contributed to a significant weight increase compared to other models (a whopping 30 oz, partly due to the four AA batteries required), so this isn’t a casual ‘just in case’ monocular. It’s not the most durable item we’ve seen either – you’ll want to keep it out of torrential rain and fog (although you’re probably unlikely to be out at night in those conditions anyway).
Overall, it’s a great bit of gear from a reputable brand for anyone hoping to get some cool night-time footage.
The Opticron BGA WP 8×42 Monocular is a great all-round bit of equipment.
We love that it focuses as close as 2m (because who knows how close an animal might be when it decides to surprise you on safari?), and the eye relief will please all bespectacled users. It’s fully waterproof up to almost 10m and fogproof too and, although it’s not particularly shockproof, it does come with a case to keep it safe from scratches and moderate impact.
The lens is 42 mm and fully coated to optimize light transmission and reduce reflections, and a magnification of 8x is fine for most non-specialist purposes. It’s pretty lightweight too, making it a great backpacking option.
Reasonably priced and with a 30-year warranty, this monocular is definitely worth the investment.
The Leica 8×20 Monovid is a fantastic bit of gear for daylight activities such as birdwatching.
The 8x magnification can be held steady and provides a wider field of view, which is great if you’re scanning the horizon for that much-awaited bird. Plus, if you’re viewing in daylight hours, you don’t need a super large objective lens – the 20mm one used here has helped to make this monocular extremely lightweight. Plus, the lenses have been coated in AquaDura and HDC, so you know you’re images will be of high quality even when the sun is shining.
It also features an impressive close focus of just 25cm, so you know you’ll be ready if your favorite species comes and perches right by you! And don’t let the rain put you off your birding – this monocular is waterproof and fogproof.
But what’s the catch? Sadly, the price – this monocular definitely won’t be within everyone’s budget. However, if you know you’ll be using it regularly, it’s a solid investment that you’ll get hours of enjoyment out of.
Last but by no means least on our list of the best monoculars is the Vortex Recon 15×50 Tactical Monocular – you’re going to love this if you work in law enforcement or take you’re hunting super seriously.
The objective lens is an impressive 50mm which, although it adds to the weight, means you can get your spy on even when the lighting is bad. Plus, the lenses have anti-reflective coatings so you won’t be troubled by lots of light either. On top of that, the eyecup is shaped to block unwanted sunlight and it can even be folded down if you’re wearing glasses. The magnification of 15x is good for spotting but be warned that it does reduce the field of view quite a lot.
The rubber armor provides fantastic grip as well as providing shock protection, and the lenses are also coated to stop them from getting scratched or greasy. Plus, the monocular is fully waterproof and fogproof. We also love that the included strap is ambidextrous, provides great grip, and can be attached to pockets or bags for ease of access.
But what makes this the best monocular for law enforcement? It’s the R/T reticle. This feature uses subtension lines for holdover and wind corrections. Plus, you can calculate the ranges of far-off objects – pretty clever!
Sadly, this monocular is the most expensive on our list so won’t be an option for everyone. But if you’re job depends on it, or you really enjoy hunting, then you’ll love having this bit o gear in your arsenal.
You might have noticed a few terms in the mini-reviews that you’ve heard of before but you’re not fully familiar with, such as magnification, objective lens size, and field of view. Although there are even more technical aspects to monoculars (the rabbit hole gets very, very deep), these are the ones we’ll focus on today so you can be sure you understand the basics.
Magnification, the more the better, right? Wrong! Although the main purpose of a monocular is to magnify what you’re seeing, as the magnification increases, you have to start making compromises.
The main issues with increased magnification are a reduced field of view (described below) and the fact that it can make obtaining steady images difficult. How important this is will depend on your intended use – for instance, if you’re into astronomy then go for a strong magnification and you can simply use a tripod to steady your image.
The field of view refers to how wide the picture is that you can see through your monocular. Most often, you’ll see it referred to as a number of feet, which is how many feet you can see from left to right via your equipment, from 1000 yards away.
A wide field of view can be super handy for some activities, such as looking for birds, whales, or other targets – but remember, it comes at the cost of reduced magnification.
Objective lens size, also referred to as objective diameter, is simply the size of the lens. But what implications does this have? Well, larger lenses allow more light to enter, so the images will be brighter even if the lighting is poor. But remember that the larger the lens, the heavier the monocular, so smaller lenses are better for backpacking.
Still not sure which monocular is right for you? Here are our best monoculars for various activities to help you decide!
What’s our best monocular for hunting? You might have guessed it… it’s the Vortex Recon 15×50 Tactical Monocular. You’ll be able to tell just how far away your target is thanks to the R/T reticle. Plus, you can switch to your monocular from your weapon in no time by using the handy included clip.
On top of that, the images will be high quality even with bad light, so you can get your hunt on from dusk ‘til dawn.
Our favorite monocular for stargazing is the Gosky 12×55 HD Monocular thanks to its large lens and high magnification. We just can’t get enough of the smartphone mount that lets you snap away at the moon and beyond.
Plus, while it’s great for looking at the stars, it’s versatile enough that you can use it for other activities too, winning.
Our best monocular for backpacking has to be the Opticron BGA WP 8×42 Monocular. Although there are some lighter options out there, they tend not to be as robust. This monocular strikes the perfect balance between cost, portability, and weather resistance – everything you want in a backpacking monocular!
And, finally, if you’re a serious birdwatcher, we have to recommend the Leica 8×20 Monovid. The magnification and lens are perfect for steady images even in the sunniest of conditions. Plus, the fantastic close focus means you’ll get a great view if you’re lucky enough to have any birds come and say hello!