Best monocular 2021: compact devices for long-distance viewing

Want to bring the faraway up close via a pocket-sized device? Here's our buyer's guide to the best monoculars out there

best monocular: Hawke Endurance ED 10x42 Monocular
(Image credit: Hawke)

Welcome to T3's guide to the best monoculars on the market. Half a binocular, or a telescope in miniature? Both can describe this specialist bit of kit. But an advantage the monocular has over both a pair of the best binoculars and especially today's best telescopes, it that it's more compact and portable than either. 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 footie match. Read on for some advice on what to look for, followed by our pick of some of the best monoculars on the market. 

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Black Friday binocular deals
The winter sales events are on the horizon, and we're hoping that this year's best Black Friday deals include some decent price drops on binoculars, monoculars and telescopes. We'll be keeping a close eye on prices and reporting on all the top bargains right here on T3. 

How to choose the best monocular for you

As ever, when it comes to choosing the best monocular you can buy to bring the far off front and centre, first decide on both 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, eyepiece at the back and typically a large and obvious focus knob in the middle, monoculars can be conveniently used with just the one hand, as well as the 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 tends to be slightly less. That said, we'll be looking for similar specification 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 and 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. Now, without further ado let's take a look at the best monoculars we can buy right now.

The best monocular you can buy right now

Celestron Outland X Monocular with accessories

(Image credit: Celestron)

1. Celestron Outland X Monocular with Smartphone Adapter & Tripod

Best value-for-money monocular package with a host of extras included

Specifications
Objective lens size: 50mm
Magnification: 20x
Field of view: 150ft at 1,000 yards
Eye relief: 11mm
Closest focusing: 8.2ft
Waterproof: yes
Fog proof: yes
Weight: 0.77kg
Dimensions: 19.1 x 11.7 x 8.9cm
Reasons to buy
+Large objective lens with 50mm model+Generous magnification at 20x+Pair with smartphone via included adapter and tripod+Waterproof
Reasons to avoid
-Plastic-y feel

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 Endurance ED 10x42 Monocular

(Image credit: Hawke)

2. Hawke Endurance ED 10x42 Monocular

Best high-powered, tough construction monocular out there

Specifications
Objective lens size: 42mm
Magnification: 10x
Field of view: 304ft at 1,000 yards
Eye relief: 13mm
Closest focusing: 6.6ft
Waterproof: yes
Fog proof: yes
Weight: 325g
Dimensions: 19.6 x 11.7 x 7.1cm
Reasons to buy
+Useful 10x magnification plus above-average 42mm lens+Waterproof and fog proof construction+Top-of-its class optical performance
Reasons to avoid
-Better glass bumps up price tag

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.

Celestron Nature DX 10x25 Monocular

(Image credit: Celestron)

3. Celestron Nature DX 10x25 Monocular

Best budget monocular

Specifications
Objective lens size: 25mm
Magnification: 10x
Field of view: 304ft at 1,000 yards
Eye relief: 14mm
Closest focusing: 18ft
Waterproof: yes
Fog proof: yes
Weight: 170g
Dimensions: 112 x 50 x 35mm
Reasons to buy
+Very fair value for money+Useful 10x magnification plus 25mm objective lens+Fog-proof and waterproof
Reasons to avoid
-No frills feature set-No ability to attach to a tripod-No integral compass

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.

Opticron BGA WP 8x42 Monocular

(Image credit: Opticron)

4. Opticron BGA WP 8x42 Monocular

Best alternative to using a pair of high-end binoculars

Specifications
Objective lens size: 42mm
Magnification: 8x
Field of view: 330ft at 1,000 yards
Eye relief: 19mm
Closest focusing: 6.6ft
Waterproof: yes
Fog proof: yes
Weight: 285g
Dimensions: 136 x 43 x 46.2mm
Reasons to buy
+Best-in-class optical performance+Waterproofed and fog proofed+Similar performance to using a (larger) pair of roof prism binoculars
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey for this level of spec

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.

Pentax VM 6x21 WP Monocular

(Image credit: Pentax)

5. Pentax VM 6x21 WP Monocular

Best waterproofed monocular for use with just the one hand

Specifications
Objective lens size: 21mm
Magnification: 6x
Field of view: not stated
Eye relief: not stated
Closest focusing: not stated
Waterproof: yes
Fog proof: yes
Weight: 150g
Dimensions: 101 x 39 x 68mm
Reasons to buy
+Palm-sized construction for firmer grip+Rubber coated body plus tripod screw mount +Option to also use as an 18x microscope or with smartphone (via optional mount)
Reasons to avoid
-Design is relatively chunky-No option for night vision

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.

Gavin Stoker
Gavin Stoker

Gavin Stoker has been writing about photography and technology for the past 20 years. He currently edits the trade magazine British Photographic Industry News - BPI News for short - which is a member of TIPA, the international Technical Imaging Press Association.