The best monoculars can offer twice as much versatility for half the weight and bulk of binoculars. Lightweight and pocket-friendly, we're more likely to slip a monocular into our jacket or rucksack for everyday use than these alternatives, thus opening up a whole world of observational possibilities, whether we're bird watching, heading out for a nature walk, or are at the local football match.
The main advantage of monoculars over the best binoculars, and especially the best telescopes, is their compact form factor and portability, but many more features might make them more suitable for the type of outdoor activity you prefer. Read on for advice on what to look for, followed by our pick of some of the best monoculars on the market.
The best monocular you can buy right now
Why you can trust T3 Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
Celestron is one of the most recognizable and reliable brands in today's best telescopes, so it makes sense it also have monocular offerings. The Outland X, as it sounds, is a nitrogen filled and O-ring sealed waterproof model suitable for wildlife observation in the great outdoors or even observing the Moon at night. For a budget friendly asking price, we get a mini tripod and smartphone adapter for the taking of photos and videos; a process termed 'digiscoping'.
The ‘X' range is available with various magnifications and objective lens sizes, but we're looking at the 20x50mm model here, where the first number is the generous magnification on offer – which is more than twice as much as we'd normally expect of a monocular – and the second the size of its objective lens, being all the better for clarity thanks to allowing more light in. Fortunately the lens cap is tethered to the device in this instance, so we're unlikely to mislay it. On top of this, a construction comprising multi-coated optics and BaK-4 prisms further improves contrast and resolution.
With a large, slip-resistant focus knob keeping operation simple, this is an option that won't break the bank for first time monocular users, while offering a generous level of specification and the ability to pair it with your smartphone to take snaps of faraway subjects. What more could you ask for of a monocular in 2021?
Hawke is another recognised brand when it comes to well-reviewed optics suitable for bird watching and this high-powered, high performance monocular with robust waterproofed and fog-proofed construction doesn't drop the ball. A generous 42mm objective lens is coupled with a useful 10x magnification and the versatility to pull subjects as close as 6.6ft with two turns of its large and obvious focus knob. Once again we get multi-coated optics to improve light transmission, class leading Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass typically a key component of higher-end devices, plus BAK-4 roof prisms to deliver bright colours and excellent contrast. Slip-on lens and eyepiece caps, plus a wrist strap, are provided in the box while a lifetime worldwide warranty is also a given.
A roughened surface to the outer housing of the magnesium alloy device ensures a firm grip in the wet while allowing for single-handed operation. If you don't need this high a level or spec of want to get similar for less, then a more slimline 8x25 model is also available in the same series, but the 10x magnification is the sweet spot for us.
Sometimes we don't need a bunch of extras to do the job and a compact monocular with a standard spec will do the job handsomely. Enter Celestron's nature series. With a ridged, rubber-coated exterior so it won't slip from our grip when using single-handed in the rain, this waterproof and fog-proof monocular offers a fairly standard 10x25 specification, a large ridged focus ring for precise adjustment using the naked eye even if wearing gloves, plus comfortable rubber eyepiece.
Lenses are further multi coated to improved light transmission and clarity of image, even if it's tipping it down, while the compact size and weight despite its robustness makes this monocular option as suitable for traveling or hiking with, as it is for occasional bird watching. Further peace of mind for this very affordable monocular comes via a limited lifetime warranty, hinting at years of possible use for a pocket money price. A belt case, lanyard and cleaning cloth are all provided in the box.
Although it has, on paper, a relatively modest 8x magnification wed to an equally so-so 20mm objective lens, Leica optics and build quality are renowned as one of the best – possibly the best – in the world. So it’s little surprise that, depending on where you shop, these roof prism type Leica Monovid 8x20 monoculars can cost up to four or five times that of similarly specified options from alternative brands.
If that makes you worried about inadvertently doing it any damage in the heat of your observations, rest easy in Leica’s claim that the ‘Monovid’ can be submerged to depths of 16 feet with apparently no adverse effects. Its aluminium housing is also nitrogen-filled to prevent internal fogging in any climate, while twist up eyecups can accommodate spectacle wearers. What’s more, it can be readily pocketed thanks to a very manageable weight of just 113g, and is as useful for observing a theatrical performance as it is birdwatching.
A central focusing knob provides easy adjustment on the fly. As icing on the cake, this elegantly fashioned Leica comes supplied with a leather case with a silent magnetic fastener, as well a limited lifetime warranty.
This premium-looking, sleek construction monocular from optical experts Opticron resembles a telescope in miniature and is essentially just that, while being nitrogen-filled and waterproof for use in the field – or, more unusually, submerged up to five metres deep – with multi-coated optics for improved light transmission. The pitch here is that the best-in-its-class viewing quality from this monocular is similar to using a full sized pair of roof prism binoculars, but without the attendant size and bulk, obviously, which is arguably the very reason we're considering a monocular as an alternative observational tool.
That does set aside some of our concerns over paying this much for what, on paper at least, seems a fair modest 8x magnification; even if it is coupled with a larger than average 42mm objective lens diameter. Featuring a wide, ridged focus wheel and twist-type retractable eyecup, also included with purchase are a strap, leather bag, carry strap and cleaning cloth, plus a generous 30-year warranty. A classy option for the monocular buyer.
While its core 6x21 specification may appear nothing to write home about on paper, Pentax is to be commended for bring its optical expertise to bear and re-imaging the design of the monocular into what looks closer to a mini camcorder. Unsurprisingly, a compatible smartphone adapter, plus more unusually a macro stand with LED light for using it in a manner akin to a portable 18x microscope, are available in a kit that's an optional extra, although this almost doubles the price of the standalone monocular.
Suggested uses include the viewing of sports, the watching of theatre, hiking and travel, plus, less expectedly, examining small displays in a museum setting. Fully coated lenses for delivering more intense colours are provided out of the box, while the rubberised body also usefully features a tripod screw mount – not always a given in this market. A wrist strap and carry holster, which can be attached to the strap of a backpack, are handy included extras that extend this monocular's versatility. We also get the waterproofed build we'd expect at this price, here claiming to withstand being dunked up to a metre's depth. In conclusion, this Pentax option is an interesting mix of a monocular and a more expansive gadget.
A small 5-inch long tube that will fit in the palm of your hand, or readily slip into an available pocket; if you're choosing a monocular instead of a more conventional binocular, compactness and portability is surely what you want. And, at a price, that’s what the manual focus Maven CM1 delivers. Not heard of the brand before? That’s because they sell direct to consumer rather than via traditional retailers – even though the biggest online retailer in the world does stock and sell this one, which claims to be assembled in the Philippines using Japanese and Chinese components.
Still, quality costs and here that comes in the form of a durable yet lightweight polymer frame and extra low dispersion ‘ED’ glass. When combined with a multi-coated lens, this helps ensure clear and bright viewing with, in theory, plenty of contrast. A larger than its size might suggest 32mm objective lens is the icing on the cake – here it’s coupled with 8x magnification to give it its 8x32 specification – while peace of mind is delivered via the fact that the Maven is waterproof, fog-proof and scratch and oil resistant. And despite the simplicity of the design, it still somehow manages to look immeasurably cool for something grey and tubular, topped off with an elegant orange focus ring that if we’ve a gripe is a little stiff to the touch.
Factor in a lifetime guarantee and add that its compact proportions make this an ideal ‘carry anywhere’ optical accessory, however, and if you can’t quite stretch the budget to a comparable offering from Leica, this Maven could be all the monocular you need.
Similar to the Maven option here for looks, but with a smaller objective lens, which happily translates to a less expensive price tag, the Hawke Endurance ED 10x25 monocular suggests a decent starter option. The spec here from the reliable British brand indicates a decent 10x magnification married to a respectable 25mm objective lens, with the benefit of extra low dispersion ‘ED’ glass and fully multi coated optics ensuring long-distance observation with optimum clarity and detail. You guessed it; this makes it particularly suited to birdwatching. With a five metre closest focusing distance achievable via two turns of the focus knob, it’s also useful for identifying our feathered friends in the garden while you stay snugly indoors.
A magnesium alloy construction ensures this Hawke monocular is sturdy yet lightweight, with a roughened grip providing a steady and firm hold, even one handed, while twist up eyecups can be adjusted for viewing comfort. Further peace of mind is delivered via the fact that high quality BAK4 roof prisms are at the core of the Hawke Endurance ED 10x25 monocular’s construction. With a lifetime guarantee, fog proof, shock proof and waterproof build and a very fair, value added price tag, we feel you can’t go far wrong with this rugged yet quality monocular. Supplied extras include a wrist strap, protective lens and eyepiece caps, plus carry pouch.
How to choose the best monocular for you
As ever, when it comes to choosing the best monocular for you, you must first decide on your budget and what you want it for. And whether, in fact, a pair of binoculars might be a better option. The chief advantage of the monocular is that it is essentially less cumbersome and won't overly burden us. Plus, with a lens at the front, an eyepiece at the back and typically a large and obvious focus knob in the middle, monoculars can be conveniently used with just one hand as well as one eye.
As we've noted, a monocular is more of a specialist tool than a pair of binoculars, so their availability and range of options tend to be slightly less. That said, we'll be looking for similar specifications when choosing them – for example, the magnification offered plus the size of the objective lens, given as, for example, 10x25. Generally speaking, on a monocular, the magnification is more modest, and the field of view is narrower; therefore, what we're really looking for to decide which one to buy is the best combination of power, performance and portability.
While the majority of monoculars are designed for use in the daytime, there are a handful of infrared-enabled monoculars additionally available for those who want to continue their observations at night – check out our guide to the best night vision binoculars and goggles for more info and options there.