Three best monoculars
Monoculars are often overlooked, but they have numerous advantages over the more widely used binoculars. Power for power, monoculars are lighter and more compact. They're easier to carry, easier to hold, and many can be focused with one hand. Monoculars are invariably cheaper than equivalent binoculars, and with more people recognizing the benefits, you're not short of choice.
Our monocular buying guide will help you sort through the details and choose the model that suits you best. We've also made a few recommendations that showcase the best of what's available.
Considerations when choosing monoculars
Magnification: Monoculars are identified by two numbers, for example, 5x20, 10x30, or 12x50. The first number is the magnification and the second is the size of the object lens (the far end). The larger the diameter, the brighter the image.
But big numbers aren't always best. For one thing, they increase the physical size of the monocular. Then there's focus. High magnification is great for distance but not near objects. "General purpose" monoculars are 8x and 10x. If you're bird-watching in a heavily wooded area, 5x or 6x is better. It's a good idea to check with websites that pertain to your leisure pursuits to see what they suggest.
Field of view (FOV): Another consideration is field of view. As the magnification increases, the size of what you see decreases. You get fine detail but little overall picture. If the subject moves, it quickly disappears from view. Lesser magnification gives a bigger picture, making it easier to track wildlife, for example.
Optics: Good optics are key, whatever the magnification. There are two main aspects: lens coatings and prism type.
When it comes to coatings, in general, the more the better. Descriptions of lens coating seem written to confuse, so let's simplify:
Coated: One anti-reflective layer on one or more surfaces
Fully coated: Same as above on all surfaces
Multi-coated: Several layers on one or more surfaces
Fully multi-coated: Several layers on all surfaces
Also consider lens tint, which is either blue/green or red (ruby).
Blue/green enhances contrast, giving a sharper image at the loss of some color definition.
Red reduces the "halo" effect, but it makes all images blue/green only, so it isn't good for viewing wildlife.
There are two types of prism: BAK7 and BAK4. The latter is widely recognized as providing a clearer image.
Exit pupil: Also called eye relief, this is the distance your eye can be from the eyepiece and still see the whole image. People who wear glasses can find a short exit pupil awkward. Removable eye cups can help.
Case: The construction of the case is important. It protects the internals and makes the monocular easy to handle. Rubberized sections provide shock proofing. O-rings help keep out dust. High-end monoculars are filled with nitrogen, which neutralizes oxygen and hydrogen, thus reducing fogging.
Night vision: These monoculars use infrared, so images appear green (actually black and white seen through a green lens). Electronics and batteries add size, and they can be unwieldy. The magnification is less than daylight models (typically between 3x and 5x), and they are expensive ($200 and more). However, they do an excellent job of revealing things that would otherwise be hidden in the dark.
Monocular prices: You can expect to pay from $25 to over $400 for night vision devices. In our opinion, the "sweet spot" for general-purpose monoculars is $40 to $100.
Q. Can I use a night vision monocular in daylight, too?
A. Normally, day and night vision monoculars are separate devices. There are combined models, but they're usually large and expensive, and we don't recommend them. If you buy high-quality dedicated monoculars for each task, you'll get far better daytime performance and save money.
Q. How do I clean the lenses on my monocular?
A. Carefully! It's likely you'll get specks of dirt or water spots on them occasionally, but don't be tempted to use paper towels or scratch them with a fingernail. You might damage the coating, which can't be repaired. Specialist lens cleaners are available that should be applied and removed with a microfiber cloth (sometimes provided with the monocular) or soft cotton cloth.
Monoculars we recommend
Best of the best: Wingspan Optics Explorer Monocular
Our take: Exceptional power and clarity. Unbeatable for the money.
What we like: Rugged build. Good ergonomics. 12x50. One-handed focus. Ranges down to 10 feet and out to 1,000 yards. Waterproof and fogproof. Tripod mount (tripod not included).
What we dislike: Minor quality-control issues (should be covered by lifetime warranty).
Our take: Compact device with quality optics. Ideal for casual users.
What we like: Perfect for coat pocket or bag. Fully multi-coated lens. BAK4 prism. Case and neck strap included. Great value for money.
What we dislike: Modest magnification.
Choice 3: Grosky Titan High Power Monocular
Our take: Powerful. Tough. Feature-packed monocular delivers superb performance.
What we like: Quality throughout. Excellent optics. 12x50. Dustproof, fogproof, shockproof, waterproof. Ergonomic rubber grip.
What we dislike: Not much. Smartphone holder could be more robust.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.