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.
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 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.
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.