Sometimes a spotting scope is just too much, binoculars are too heavy and cumbersome, and you don’t need the cost and technology of a rangefinder. In that niche in between those products lies the best monocular. A versatile tool for those times you want something small, light, and easy to carry.
Table of Contents
- Why Choose a Monocular?
- What Are Monoculars Used For?
- Best Monocular Brands
- How to Choose A Monocular?
- Best Monocular on the Market Review
- Final Verdict
Why Choose a Monocular?
There are a large variety of optical tools available that can cover almost every need, so why choose a monocular? The primary reason is to have a tool that is lighter and more compact than a set of binoculars is for portability. As long as you don’t lose optical quality and overall power in the process.
This is where a monocular shines. With a single barrel, it will weigh less than half as much as a comparable set of binoculars and be about half the size or less. At the same time, it will have the same if not a slightly higher power than binoculars with similar length and diameter.
Essentially, a monocular is a small spotting scope but does not have the power of most actual scopes. When they do have a similar power, a spotting scope will have a much better picture. However, no one carries a spotting scope around for casual viewing, it is a very specialized tool. The monocular, with its limited power, is much less sensitive and much easier to carry.
Most every reason you would want a monocular comes down to portability, but not portability alone. It still has to possess all of the traits of a quality optic or what’s the point? Let's explore some of those traits and see what modern monoculars offer.
What Are Monoculars Used For?
Any time you need to see something at a distance, a monocular is a perfectly viable tool. They are sued in a variety of outdoor activities and are common in a few different professions. The most common uses are in wildlife and bird watching as well as hunting, backpacking, shooting, and at sporting events.
Professionally, monoculars are used in logging operations and maritime trades. Sometimes you may see wildland firefighters use a monocular to read smoke patterns. This is in addition to any other profession that may need a magnifying optic in general.
With modern monoculars getting more powerful, they are even seeing use in areas normally reserved for larger, stronger optics. In astronomy, some people use a monocular as a sighting device for their telescope. Plane spotting is another rare hobby where the size and maneuverability of a monocular work very well.
In any of the pursuits, a monocular is a great tool that works well, weighs little, and has good magnification.
Best Monocular Brands
Most brands that make rifle scopes also make monoculars so it's not surprising to see options from companies like Vortex, Bushnell, Nikon, Leupold, and Barska in the monocular market. Most of these monoculars are geared toward hunters and shooters but can work very well for any hobby. Quality of a monocular made by a scope provider is generally in line with their rifle scopes.
Some high-end camera manufacturers like Leica and Cannon make monoculars. These are often a premium quality product and carry a premium price tag. While their optical quality is beyond amazing, they may not have any durability enhancing features. If you plan on using your optic in the wild, having some protection is nice.
A few monoculars are made by specialty companies like Celestron, Zeiss, and Orion. These are companies that know how to make lenses or build telescopes. They bring more potential knowledge to the monocular market than other brands but are not always a better choice. You will get what you pay for but at the high end, Zeiss makes about the best monocular on the planet if you are willing to pay the price.
How to Choose A Monocular?
While power is often the most interesting quality of a monocular and the one often used to pick a product, you are probably better off looking at optical quality first. No matter how powerful a monocular is, without good lenses, you will not get a good picture.
There are monoculars topping 20 power that can be had for less than 50 bucks but the quality on them is dim, cloudy, and almost useless. Instead, look for companies that use good quality lenses and have experience in producing good optics.
In addition to the glass, you also want a quality prism. The current best seems to be a Bak-4 prism. Some use a Bak-7 which is substandard and not worth the money.
You can probably find a monocular in about any power you would be interested in. They run the gamut of magnification from a low 3x to well into the 30x range. Of course, as you get more powerful you will get more expensive, heavier, and larger.
For most people something between 8x and 12x is fine. If you need more, you can find it but most people start with more than they need. Spend your money on quality first before worrying too much about overall power.
If you are using a monocular for something with much longer distance, you will need more than 12x. However, you should limit your monocular to no more than a 24x. As you move close to and beyond 30x, it gets much more difficult to keep the picture quality intact.
Other than the glass itself, if there were one trait that added to lens quality more than any other, it would be a coating. Every company seems to have their own recipe but most aim to filter light, reduce glare, or provide fog protection. It may be a single purpose or all three.
Lens coatings with a single coating on a single lens are referred to as ‘coated’ while a single chemical on all lenses is called ‘fully coated.’ As you move into using a blend or layers of different chemicals, you end up with ‘multi-coated’ or ‘fully multi-coated.’ As you step your way up from coated to fully multi-coated, the price can increase greatly but the quality is often worth the money.
A final coating process offers scratch reduction. This is less common but no less useful to have if the option presents itself. Lenses make the optic and protecting them should be the first priority.
Though it is less talked about in monoculars than other optics, the prism can affect performance almost as much. As light passes through lenses, it gets flipped and would make the image appear upside down if not for the prism. While all monoculars have prisms, not all are created equal.
There are two orientations of prisms, roof, and Porro. In monoculars, a roof prism is much more common as it allows a monocular to be more streamlined. If it has a straight tube, it is a roof prism. If the tube has a stair-step, it is a Porro prism.
While Porro prisms are easier to produce and more cost-effective, the increase in size makes them less alluring. A roof prism of the same quality will actually cost more but will make for a smaller monocular. Both perform well as long as the prism is good quality.
So, what about prism quality? The majority of optics use a Bak-4 prism which is by far the best quality. Occasionally you will see a Bak-7 but the higher number doesn’t improve the quality. These are inferior and produce a less appealing monocular overall.
All monoculars should have some form of focus adjustment. This is necessary to get the best image at a variety of ranges. The orientation of these focus knobs may be different and the effects can be drastic.
The cheapest focus uses a sliding eye-piece. While effective, it can make getting a good image very difficult. The upgrade to this is a screw type eye-piece that makes adjustment and fine-tuning easier. In either case, these make for the weakest monocular.
Mechanical focus uses a knob located away from the body of the monocular. This is a common and much-preferred focus method. It is more durable, easier to use, and much more precise. You will see this on more monoculars than all other types combined.
A very few, very high-end monoculars use in-line focus adjustment. This is an offshoot of a screw type adjustment but one that is much stronger. These are expensive to produce but work very well. In all honesty, they are probably little, if any, better than a mechanical focus.
Fixed vs Zoom
The last major deciding factor in choosing a monocular is between a fixed power or one that has a zoom level of magnification. While it may seem that zoom offers the best of all worlds, this is hardly the case. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses.
Fixed power is simpler to use and overall more robust. With a lack of moving parts, breaking is much less of an issue. You also never need to worry about setting or adjusting zoom and focus to get a clear picture. Fixed will often cost much less than zoom.
That said, zoom if far more versatile. A good zoom monocular can be used for more tasks and perform them very well. You will pay a little more for zoom but it can often be worthwhile. There is always something to be said about a simple fixed power but in value for a buck, you are probably better off with the zoom.
Best Monocular on the Market Review
1 Leica Monovid
If you have any experience with professional photography, you have probably heard of Leica. They are known worldwide for their amazing cameras and other optical hardware. This monocular is no different. If there was such a thing as the perfect quality you would likely find it here if you are willing to pay the price that the best quality costs.
The first thing you are likely to notice about this fixed 8x monocular is the compact, ultralight design. At only 4 inches long, it packs both impeccably milled lenses and great power into a tiny package. There is no doubt that Leica is about the best optical quality you are likely to get. If perfection is what you are after, no other monocular on the market comes this close.
If you are into any outdoor activity, this high end monocular will perform better than you could ever expect. The picture is vivid, vibrant, and crystal clear no matter the distance or conditions. Sized to fit in a pocket with an included carry case, take it everywhere for any occasion you may want a closer view.
That said, if the Leica Monovid had a downside, it would be in durability. While it is great for the outdoors, it may not be the best choice for EDC. However, when it comes to all around quality this is about as good as you can get. It may not be the toughest or most powerful but for sheer quality, Leica has nailed it.
2 Bushnell Legend Ultra
Anyone involved in an outdoor pursuit has heard of Bushnell. While not all of their optics are the absolute top of the line, on a budget they are one of the best brands. When it comes to that perfect balance of quality for the money, Bushell can be hard to beat. For this particular monocular it is a part of their best rated Legend lineup.
So, what makes this 10x monocular such a great buy? Mostly that comes down to sheer power and optical quality. You may get both in another optic but not for under $200 for sure. The glass on a Bushnell is premium quality with multi-coated ED glass and an absolutely clear picture. Not bad for a portable, lightweight monocular.
The attention to detail in the Legend Ultra monocular is what truly makes the difference. Even the prism has been coated for the best light and color transmission. As far as handheld monoculars go, this is a perfect compromise for hunting, hiking, birdwatching, and most any other outdoor venture.
From the ground up, all Bushnell optics are designed to be used hard. With a rubberized armor, fully sealed tube, along with water and fog proofing, it can go anywhere you can. If you are looking for a monocular for deer hunting, for hog hunting, even to take along for safari, you can be sure the Legend Ultra will perform.
3 Vortex Optics Solo
Vortex has become a leading optical industry over the last few years with their tactical styling and military grade performance. Any of their optics are perfect for those interested in hard wearing, professional gear. Many of their optics have even found their way into the market for police gear and other high-demand jobs.
While this may not be the most powerful optic at only a fixed 8x magnification but you may be surprised by what it can do. At the ranges you would normally want a monocular for, this will do an exceptional job. Power isn’t the only consideration and when matched up with the amazing lineup of features you get on the Vortex, 8x is going to blow you away.
The Solo monocular is one of the few that contains a reticle which helps to determine the distance and size of objects making it great for any wildlife viewing but also a good model for backpacking. To pull off the toughness needed to be outdoors, Vortex has made this thing like a tank. With rubberized armor, sealed and purged interior, and full shock, water, and fog proofing it can handle any environment you want.
You will also find supreme glass with one of the best lens coating technologies on the market. The images are clear, clean and so bright you can use this optic in low light if you need to. It even has quite a large eye relief for glasses. Great for any shooter, and a perfect match for coyote and varmint hunters, this scope is a personal favorite.
4 Orion 10-25x42 Zoom
For those who came here looking for only one thing out of a monocular, extreme power, this is the monocular you are looking for. It was designed and produced by a company known for their telescope production and shares many features with those larger optics. However, it is quite compact and easily portable at a mere 7 inches long.
When I say power, this monocular is capable or a range of magnifications from 10x all the way to 24x. To give you some perspective, most monoculars top out at 12x and the Orion blows that out of the water! While it may not have been designed for astronomy, it certainly is a great scope for stargazing.
Of course, with all that power aren’t limited at looking at the sky. It can make a great scope for plane spotting but also works amazingly well for sailing, hiking, golf, and sporting events. Anywhere you may want a close-up view of the action, this monocular provides in spades.
This level of magnification is only possible with the astoundingly clear optics the Orion provides. Any imperfection would be multiplied so quality is of the utmost importance. The lenses in this scope were perfected for the power it can achieve and it shows.
5 GoSky Titan
The main selling point of the majority of GoSky optics is their use in telescopic photography, usually by using a cell phone. When you build an optic around this use, you need to ensure you have the absolute best quality glass or it will show. You simply can not get a great digital photo with inferior lenses.
The Titian is one of GoSky’s leading sellers and flagship products that is purpose designed for photography. Maxing out at 12x power, you can get great vista shots, close-ups, and action shots at extreme distances. Great for wildlife photography and just about any time you want to preserve a memory.
Playing into this, the lenses on the Titan are very clear and combined with a fully multicoat on every lens, the image is bright, sharp, and vibrant. Just what you would want for your pictures. It even uses a true BAK-4 prism that is aligned perfectly so your camera aligns perfectly every time for every shot.
Included with every Titan is a holder that will fit most smartphones including iPhones, Samsung, and many other brands. On top of that, it has a fully rubberized armor and is both waterproof and fog resistant with a purged and sealed interior. Even the lens caps are included to ensure a long life of perfect photography.
6 Wingspan Optics Explorer
Originally catering to the birdwatching community, Wingspan had produced a wide selection of optics, all of which are quite affordable and of good quality. While they may not be as prolific as some brands, they are gaining some renown outside of the birdwatching community. If you are looking for a good mid-range monocular, the overall construction and attention to detail of Wingspan make them a great option.
The Explorer is one of Wingspans more powerful monoculars at an amazing 12x magnification. This is well above most similarly priced monoculars and more affordable than most in this power range. You may find a few others that would qualify but they would lack on the quality offered by Wingspan.
All of the glass, prism included, on the Explorer are well made of premium quality materials. The overall effect is one of sheer clarity, color, and brightness that is only augmented by the massive 50mm objective lens. When properly focused, you get a stunning view that is unmarred by cheap or inefficient materials.
While birdwatching may not be the most demanding of outdoor pursuits, any time you have your equipment outdoors it can get damage. To prevent that, the entire Explorer body is coated in a rubberized armor and sealed against the elements. No fog, dust, or water will ever be an issue. For the budget conscious, this stands as a great option for a powerful monocular.
7 Wingspan Optics ProSpotter
If you are willing to go with a little less power but still plenty for most users, you can get a great deal on the slightly more affordable Wingspan ProSpotter. For a monocular under $50, this is a very hard deal to beat. Built from the ground up for overall quality, durability, and clarity, Wingspan has proven their ability to produce quality on a budget.
There are both 8 and 10 power versions of the ProSpotter available. Honestly, the price difference is so small that the 10 power version is easily the best choice. Both are fixed power and in a perfect range to provide you the best performance for an affordable optic but why settle for less when the difference in cost is so small?
Wingspan does not offer a multi-coat technology on the ProSpotter as a cost savings measure. Still the 42mm objective lens and premium Bak-4 prism transfer plenty of light to keep things clear and bright. Unless you are used to the highest-end optics, you will never see a difference between wingspan and those monoculars costing twice the price.
Like all wingspan optics, the durability starts with the rubberized coating. Combined with a sealed tube, you will get full waterproofing, fog resistance, and the ability to handle reasonable drops. While this is quite a durable optic, should anything ever happen to it, Wingspan does offer a lifetime guarantee under normal use.
8 Roxant Grip Scope
Roxant is an interesting company that produces a variety of gear using borrowed process but new innovation. This has led them to make a very good, slim, and light monocular that is of surprising quality for the price. It may lack some of the refinements of the most expensive brands but overall, it has most of the quality you could want.
In what would be a near-perfect option for the sports fan, this is a fixed 6x monocular. That lacks in power to some of the above models but at closer ranges, the field of view on this monocular is very good! Take in more of the action but with less overall magnification which works out perfectly for moving targets.
Where Roxant is borrowing processes, that means they often borrow components as well. Though they do not advertise their glass supplier, you can tell it comes from a company used to making lenses for higher end brands. Occasionally, you may get a mote or small imperfection but hardly enough to be noticeable at the more modest level of magnification.
The most notable thing about the Roxant Grip is, in fact, the grippy, rubberized surface. When combined with a very tidy and sleek profile, this is among the easiest scopes to use. It has plenty of eye relief and easy focus. All in all, this is one of the most pleasurable low-power monoculars to use and blows most budget brands out of the water.
9 Barska Blackhawk
Barska is known for producing optics but generally not optics that would be considered the best at anything. Their Blackhawk is an exception to that normal lack of quality by a large margin. For an astoundingly low price, this is an amazing little scope. Probably the best dollar for dollar value on the market right now.
The Blackhawk comes in two different options. Both are 10x but have different sized objective lenses. Tough the slimmer smaller scope costs much less unless you are just using for spotting while casually walking trails, go with the 40mm objective. The smaller scope has some brightness issues and doesn’t perform as well. For most people, the 40mm will be plenty small enough anyway.
What is so surprising about this optic is that you get a monocular with fully multi-coated lenses and a sealed and nitrogen purged tube. The overall effect is very good optical quality that is crystal clear, quite bright, and very vivid. All the while, no moisture, fog or dust is ever likely to penetrate the scope to cause issues.
One thing Barska has always done right provides you with everything you need as a kit. This is no exception and comes with lens covers, a carry case, wrist strap, and lens cleaning cloth. These are all value-added items. Believe me, for the price this would be an amazing deal if it came with nothing.
10 Occer Monocular
There are dozens of less known or no-name companies producing monoculars, most of which aren’t worth even the cheapest of prices. Out of those many, a few do manage to stand out as overall decent choices if money is very tight. While you would be better off overall going with a better choice, if nothing else fits, Occer makes one of the better models on a budget.
As a 10x monocular the Occer is quite powerful, more so than most other competing brands in this price range. On top of that, the overall quality is actually pleasing if you aren’t looking for a premium optic. The brightness is fair and colors are well preserved and crisp. The glass is bright enough for normal use but will suffer in deeper shadows or low-light.
The eye relief on this monocular is quite exceptional and easily works with glasses. This plays well with the roof mounted Bak-4 prism that can get by with a more generous alignment. It also features a very good field of view but enough power to get close in if needed.
This may not be the best overall monocular but it is among the best in durability. It has the usual rubberized armor and is fully waterproof. Fog is a minimal issue even if the monocular isn’t sealed. Made small and compact for easy use, this would be a great choice as an entry-level optic or one for a young person. Sometimes the best isn’t the absolute best but the best for a price and for under $30, this ones seems excellent.
While there are many optical devices on the market that are very good a specific tasks, the monocular is a hard to beat when you need a general tool for getting up close. It may lack the power of some but has portability and a very convenient size to its favor. For the hiker, hunter, sports fan, or anyone else who doesn’t want to be saddled with a big piece of gear, this is absolutely the best choice.
When it comes to the best monoculars, there are a lot of brands to choose from but none that are more affordable, reliable, or just plain good as those above. There should be something for everyone in every price range no matter the hobby or pursuit you follow. For the money, this is easily one of the best purchases you could make.