Even though binoculars are often the go-to tool for outdoor observation, they’re far from the only choice. They’re far from the best choice in any situation, too. For example, there are plenty of situations where binoculars are too big or heavy to carry. There are situations where you’ll find that you don’t really need the power of binoculars. In those situations, having binoculars is actually a disadvantage.
Enter the monocular. A monocular is somewhat of a middle ground between binoculars and a spotting scope, but it’s smaller than both. Compared to binoculars, a monocular is also held in the hand, but is only half the size, and consequently, half the weight. This makes it easy for carrying, as you can often put it in a bag or a purse. Some of them are small enough to fit in your pocket, too. When compared to a spotting scope, it’s basically a smaller, lower powered spotting scope. This isn’t all that bad – you sometimes just don’t need something too powerful.
The main advantage of a monocular is pretty much the size and weight. Even though you’ll need to make a compromise or two in certain areas (more details below), there are plenty of valid reasons to get one. For example, even though it’s primarily used by hunters and outdoorsmen, some use it to help with their day to day vision. Some doctors may even prescribe the use of one, as it’s a very convenient way to look at something from up close, without getting physically close to it. You will also find them being used at sports stadiums. When you don’t have seats that are too close to the game, a monocular can get you closer, and it’s an easy way to track things.
At the end of the day, though, outdoor lovers are the main buyers of monoculars. Both bird watchers and hunters can take a good close up view of things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. Hikers also use them to avoid any potential obstructions, and save themselves some time and energy.
There is one thing that must be said, though. Even the best monocular isn’t for everyone. Using a monocular does put a bit more strain on your eye than a binocular would, and it also alters your depth perception. If these two things are an issue, you might want to avoid monoculars. Another issue could be magnification. A monocular often has less power than a binocular, making them somewhat useless for things such as stargazing. If, however, these things don’t really bother you, you should be good with one.
Now that you know you do need a monocular, how do you choose one? There are plenty of choices on the market, all of them with their respective pros and cons. Buying the right one for your needs isn’t always easy, and you might end up spending a lot of your hard earned money on a bad monocular.
Well, we’re here to help. Below, you will find a list of ten of the best monocular options on the market today. They come in various price ranges, and they have differing features to set them apart. All of them are excellent for a certain type of usage, so which one you get depends on what you need it for. If you find all of the numbers and terms confusing, there’s also a buyer’s guide that should answer all of your questions. Without wasting any more time, let’s begin!
We’re starting our list with a couple of budget oriented monoculars, and first is the Explorer by Wingspan Optics. Even though its price isn’t extremely high, don’t let that fool you – it’s one of the best monocular options on the market today if you’re on a budget. It has all the basics covered, and even at this price, it manages to put in one or few things that are usually reserved for higher end monoculars. Interested? Read on for the full review.
The first thing we’d like to discuss is the build quality and design. On the outside, the Wingspan Explorer looks simple. Black exterior, nothing extraordinary about it, but it looks minimal and elegant. The whole outside has a rubberized coating. This is the first sign you have a quality product. Cheap options tend to put a rubberized grip only at the points of contact. The goal is to prevent any kind of slipping from your hands, even in wet conditions. Even if that does end up happening, there should be a good amount of shock protection if you drop it.
One more thing that you will come to appreciate is the weather and water resistance. The whole monocular is completely waterproof. Got caught out in the rain? Dropped it in a puddle? You don’t have to worry. It is not just waterproof, but it’s also fog resistant as well. Drastic temperature changes won’t result in internal fogging, which is very welcome.
The last thing to mention in terms of the design is the focus adjustment knob. Even though some monoculars put it on the eyepiece, this design requires two hands for adjustment. The Wingspan Explorer moves the focus knob, and now you can adjust it with your holding hand. While we’re at the focus knob, there’s a minimum focus distance of 8.3 feet. There are 14mm of eye relief, which is just right, but more on that later.
Moving on to the inside, we have a 12×50 combination. The 12 times magnification factor is great for activities such as bird watching. However, with a field of view of 246 feet, that might just be a touch too narrow for some. There is a 50mm objective lens, which does let in plenty of light. Even though Wingspan claim you can use it for up to 1000 yards, we’ve found that to be a touch optimistic. At distances that are a bit further away, you will notice image quality drops, and you can’t get your subject sharp in focus.
Let’s discuss the glass for a moment. Inside of the Explorer, you will find a BAK4 prism. This is more or less the standard for a quality Porro prism, and it shows a truer round image. You will find this also results in a better light transmission, as well as no fringing or sharpness loss around the edges. Unfortunately, there’s no mention of lens coatings here, which is more or less the only thing that’s missing. At this price point, we really aren’t sure we should be complaining, though.
To wrap things up, the Winspan Explorer is an excellent option for someone looking to buy their first monocular. It is built really well, it has a good magnification and the glass is decent. You also get a few useful extras such as a carrying case, lens caps and a cleaning cloth, which will come in handy for carrying it in your backpack. The only potential downsides are the lack of lens coatings, as well as the lack of a tripod mount. If you can look past them, though, there’s basically no reason not to get the Wingspan Explorer.
Before we get to the most expensive, and possibly the best monocular on our list, we have the cheapest one. The ROXANT Grip is priced well below anything else on our list, yet manages to check the basic boxes and be a good option for a beginner’s monocular. It may not have a huge magnification, or the most impressive build quality, but it’s still a very viable option for your first monocular. Let’s take a closer look and see whether it’s worth it.
To begin with, the Grip has a smaller body than the other monoculars we discussed above. That’s because the focus knob is actually on the eyepiece, and therefore does require two hands for focusing. This is a minor gripe, though. The focus knob is smooth and accurate, and you can operate it very well even with gloves on. The eyecup is retractable, which gives you a bit more eye relief. It also lets you use the monocular with glasses, since there is no diopter adjustment. You’ll find a rubberized surface on top, one which won’t let the Grip slide out of your hands. What you won’t find, however, is water or weather resistance, or a tripod mount. The tripod mount we could do without, especially when we get to the magnification. But the lack of waterproofing and fog proofing is a major downside. Even in the lightest rain, you’ll need to put it in your backpack if you want it to live another day. Drastic temperature changes will fog up the insides as well. If you’re using it in warm places, though, none of this should be a concern.
The Grip comes in a 6×30 configuration. This is what makes it so compact, but it also severely limits it in terms of usability. It’s great for traveling, as well as situations such as camping or concerts and outdoors activities. However, for serious bird watching or hunting, you might want to get something a bit better. 6 times magnification will get you somewhat close, but long distances will be an issue. The focus doesn’t work that well once you get past a certain distance, too. The main benefit of the magnification on the other hand is that you can easily hold it steady, without it shaking in your hand, and without image quality loss. It also results in a very wide field of view, which some might appreciate. The 30mm objective lens diameter lets in enough light for a clear and bright image, with a decent amount of contrast.
What’s really impressive, and not expected on a monocular that costs this much, is the optics. You get a BAK4 prism, as well as fully multicoated optics. The combination results in a sharp image, just as you would expect from a midrange monocular. There’s also the set of accessories – a carry pouch with a belt loop, a neck strap, as well as a cleaning cloth.
When you take everything into consideration, the ROXANT Grip is far from a high end monocular. However it also costs a fraction of the price, yet manages to include most of the basics, and a few extras. You won’t find fully multicoated lenses, nor a BAK4 prism, on many other scopes at this price. It is severely held back by the lack of waterproofing and weather resistance. But if you can look past this, you’ll notice that it is actually a great budget monocular, even if you just throw it in your backpack as a backup.
Leica is a very well known name in the optics game. From their praised cameras, to their sports optics, all of their products are excellent. They don’t cut corners on build quality, construction materials, or performance, but they do cost a pretty penny. The Leica Monovid is a prime example of their quality, and is the most expensive monocular we’ll be taking a look at today. You’ll end up seeing that the price is actually very justified, and if the magnification works for you, this is the best monocular on our list. Let’s dive into the details.
We’ll start things off on the outside, with the design. The red Leica logo found on many of Leica’s products is present here as well. The entire monocular has a subdued black design, but you won’t find that cheapish rubberized grip. Instead, Leica uses higher end materials. The monocular is also made of aluminum, instead of plastic, for durability and weight savings. As a complete product, it comes in at a touch under 4 oz., and its dimensions mean you can easily put it in your pocket. You have a focus knob at the center. It is easy to rotate, and is very smooth. One potential downside is that you don’t have a separate knob design, such as with the Wingspan or Xgazer, but the focus knob is easy enough for you to still be able to turn it with one hand.
Weatherproofing is as good as it gets. You have full waterproofing, and the monocular is nitrogen purged on the inside, so no internal fogging either. One thing that’s a first for our list is the AquaDura coating. Found on the outside of the objective lens, it makes sure that water doesn’t stick to your monocular. It also ensures that the glass doesn’t scratch easily, which further improves the durability. It is very obvious that Leica went all out on the build quality.
Moving on to the inside, you have a roof prism with a P40 phase correction coating. The coating corrects the phase shift commonly found in roof prisms, resulting in a very sharp, very crisp image. Fully multicoated lenses are there too, with Leica’s HDC (Highly Durable Coating) ensuring optimal light transmission and image brightness and contrast. The optical performance, as we’d expect from Leica, is absolutely perfect. No image quality loss, no loss of sharpness around the edges, and no fringing at all. This is the crème de la crème of monoculars.
The 8×20 configuration might be questionable for some. 8x magnification often requires a larger body, as well as a larger objective lens. However, with Leica’s expertise, you won’t lack any brightness – the 20mm lens lets in just enough light for the monocular. One thing that’s impressive is the close focus distance. As a regular monocular, you get around 6 feet of close focus distance. But Leica includes an accessory close focus lens, which brings the minimal focus down to an impressive 9.8 inches. This means that you can easily use the Monovid inside, and not just as an outdoors monocular, adding to its versatility.
It is no secret that the Leica Monovid 8×20 is an expensive piece of gear. That puts it out of range for many, especially for people who are looking to get their first monocular. However, if you can afford it, you’ll be hard pressed to find something better for the price. Impeccable optics, excellent build quality, and impressive close focus distance put the Monovid in a league of its own. It is, after all, a Leica product. If you have the budget, don’t hesitate – just get it.
Next on our list we have the Xgazer Point View monocular. It’s available in a few configurations (8×42, 10×42, 10×50 and 12×50), and at a price a touch higher than the Explorer above, it manages to fix everything that was lacking on it. It’s still a budget-oriented monocular, though, as it costs a fraction of the price of some truly high end options we’ll discuss later. Should this be your first (or backup) monocular? Let’s find out.
For starters, the Xgazer has that same understated outside design, albeit in an extra color. It comes in a combination of black and green, where the green surface is completely rubberized for grip and shock absorption. We have to say it is a very comfortable monocular. It is also completely waterproof and fog resistant, meaning you could use it in whatever kind of weather you want.
The focus knob is made for one-hand operation, and is very smooth and accurate. You can make quick adjustments, sure, but you can also make small, precise ones. Close focus is 6.5 feet, which is excellent. There’s also a diopter adjustment on the eyepiece, which goes from -4 to +4, so you could potentially leave your glasses behind. If you choose not to, however, the generous 18.6mm of eye relief should still have you covered. One thing that was lacking with the Wingspan is the tripod mount, and the Xgazer has it. If you’d rather stay in one place, you can attach it to a tripod using the bottom mount.
Moving on to the inside, the Point View has fully multicoated optics. We’ll get into more detail in our buyers’ guide below, but they’re the best possible option, often reserved for high end monoculars. There’s also the BAK4 prism inside, which, as we mentioned, is the best possible option. It’s obvious that even at this price point, you’re getting some really good glass and optics.
As we mentioned, it comes in a couple of configurations, and the one we tested, 8×42, is absolutely incredible. Since this is a budget monocular, 8x magnification is a good number if you don’t want to have image quality loss. Yes, you could go up to 10x or 12x, but at further distances, you will have noticeable quality loss and you won’t be able to focus that good. At 8x, a 42mm diameter lens will absolutely let in plenty of light, and the anti-reflective lens coatings will help with that as well. The combination also results in a very impressive 393 feet field of view at 1000 yards. If you’d rather focus on a whole landscape, instead of just one tiny subject, this is an excellent tool to do so with.
So, who is the Xgazer Optics for? Even though we didn’t try out the other configurations, the 8×42 was very impressive as a budget monocular. The optics are incredible, with good brightness and contrast, and the build quality is everything we would expect from a monocular. If you’re looking to get your first monocular, or just don’t want to spend too much, this is one of the best monocular options for you. It does cost a bit more than the Wingspan Explorer, but it makes up for that with the inclusion of fully multicoated optics, as well as the tripod mount. If you can afford the difference, by all means go for it.
We touted the Wingspan Explorer as an excellent cheap monocular, the ProSpotter is a bit cheaper, yet still packs a punch. It ensures that all of the essentials are covered, without any unnecessary extras to increase the price. If you’re after a budget-oriented, no-frills monocular that will just get the job done, this might be an excellent choice for you. It’s available in an 8×42 Tracker configuration, too, but the 10×42 ProSpotter is what we’ll be looking at today. Let’s begin.
On the outside the ProSpotter is similar to the Explorer. It has a subdued black design, and a plastic body with a rubberized grip surface on all the key areas. This is the first place where you can see the difference in price. There’s still enough rubberized surface to absorb some shock in case you drop it, but we would do our best not to if possible. It does have a larger central focus knob, though, making it a bit easier for one-hand usage. The eye relief is 14mm, which is just enough for people who wear glasses. We would’ve liked to see more, but it will get the job done. On the bottom you will find a tripod mount, so you don’t have to hold it in your hand all the time if you don’t want to.
Even though it’s a budget option, it still covers all the build quality essentials. You get waterproofing, as well as fog resistance. The inside is filled with nitrogen, and well sealed, so no issues here. You don’t have to worry about rain, or a splash of water. However, if you do get caught out in heavy rain, we would still advise that you put it in your backpack, just as a precaution.
Moving on to the inside, with the ProSpotter you get Wingspan’s PrismView optics and a BAK4 prism. You get a clear, crisp image, with plenty of brightness. We did notice some loss of sharpness near the edges though. It is unfortunate that there’s no mention of anti-reflective coatings, so it’s safe to assume there aren’t any. As with the Explorer, we can’t really complain about that, considering the price. Optical performance is decent, though, so that’s not too much of a problem.
The configuration is fairly versatile, with 10 times zoom and a 42mm objective lens diameter. We noticed that when looking a bit further away, we had problems focusing, and there was noticeable image quality loss. If your use case demands far away viewing, this might be an issue. The combination gives you a field of view of 304 feet at 1000 yards, which is fairly wide. Minimum focusing distance is 6.6 feet, which is good, but nothing to get too excited about.
We do appreciate all the extras you get in the box. There are caps for the eyepiece and the lens, as well as a microfiber cleaning cloth to keep the glass clean. You will also find a neck strap, as well as a nylon mesh carrying case. Even though the quality of the accessories is nothing special, the fact that they’re included is a nice touch.
The ProSpotter is first and foremost, a budget oriented monocular. It won’t give you award winning build quality, or optical performance. However, if you’re only getting into monoculars, you get a stellar experience out of it. Good image quality, weather resistance, and plenty of accessories in the box are all enough to get you started. A great beginners’ monocular!
Even though most people are concerned with build quality and optical performance, there are some that also care about accessories and extra functionality. For such people that also care about their budget, we have the Gosky Titan. It’s a budget-oriented monocular that covers all the basics, and has a nifty feature we have yet to see on our list. If you’re interested, read on, as this is a strong contender for the budget best monocular on the list.
Starting on the outside, you’ll notice a standard affair with the Gosky Titan. A plastic body with a rubberized coating all over, for a comfortable grip, shock resistance and durability. On the bottom is an extra grippy surface for even more grip, as well as a tripod mount. Even though at 14oz it isn’t really heavy, sometimes you just need it static, and the tripod mount comes in handy. There are two removable lens caps, and the one at the front can be left attached on the monocular. The focus knob is on the center, and not on the main body. You can easily use it with one hand, and it’s smooth and accurate. Unfortunately, there is no diopter adjustment. However, the generous 17mm of eye relief mean you can easily use it with glasses.
Water and weather resistance is excellent. You get a fully waterproof design, and it’s also shockproof and dust resistant. On the inside, it is filled with nitrogen to prevent fogging, and sealed with O-rings, to prevent the nitrogen from coming out. You won’t have to worry about getting caught out in bad weather.
While we’re discussing the outside, we should mention that extra feature. The Gosky Titan comes with a phone mount in the box. The phone mount is compatible with a host of smartphones. It lets you put your phone right next to the monocular, and take a photo or video of what you’re looking at. This is another situation where the tripod mount comes in handy, as this is tricky to do when handheld.
Moving on to the inside, the specs are very impressive if you consider the price range. There’s a BAK4 prism, as well as fully multicoated lenses. You won’t have to worry about light transmission and image clarity. This is as good as it gets, and we’re happy to see this on a monocular that’s considered budget-oriented. The 12×50 configuration is somewhat limiting, with a field of view of 289 feet at 1000 yards. It might not work for sports events or concerts, but it is absolutely great for outdoors activities such as bird watching or hunting. We’re happy to report that optical clarity is better than we expected. Even when looking at far away objects, there is no noticeable image quality loss, nor is there sharpness loss as you get closer to the edges. The image is bright, clear, and with plenty of contrast.
As we said earlier, this is a very strong contender for a budget best monocular on our list. It has everything one would need – build quality, weather resistance and optical performance. The phone mount is an interesting addition, and some of us will use it more often than others. Still nice to have, though. There are no notable downsides to it, except that the whole monocular feels somewhat cheap. However, we didn’t have any issues with it, so that shouldn’t worry you too much, especially at this price. If you’re looking for a budget option that covers all the basics really well, you won’t find a better option.
Bushnell is another household name in the sports optics game. From binoculars, to monoculars and spotting scopes, they have an extensive range of products for a variety of uses. They’re also known to give you excellent quality and performance, without a price that goes through the roof. We have a good example of that here, with the Bushnell Legend Ultra monocular. It costs around half of what you would pay for the Leica we just reviewed, yet manages to include all of the crucial features, and some additional ones. Let’s take a better look at it.
On the outside, if you’ve ever used Bushnell’s products, it will appear very similar. A plastic body with a grippy surface on all areas you’re likely to need to use, it won’t slip out of your hands during use. The construction is completely waterproof and fog proof, just as you would expect from a Bushnell product. In terms of design and build quality, the Legend Ultra checks all the boxes. There’s also one thing you won’t find on most other monoculars – a Picatinny rail. This allows you to attach accessories to the monocular, such as an IR illuminator if you want to use it during the night. There’s a carry clip, so you can attach it to just about anything you want. Unlike the Leica, you do get a conveniently placed centered focus knob. It lets you adjust focus with the same hand you hold the monocular with, which is very convenient. The knob is somewhat smooth, but we feel like the Leica has spoiled us a bit in terms of smoothness and precise adjustments. It absolutely does the job very well.
Moving on to the inside, Bushnell have decided to go with a BAK4 prism, as well as fully multicoated lenses. The prism has a PC-3 phase correction coating, for added sharpness and clarity. The glass used throughout the monocular is ED (extra-low dispersion) glass. ED glass compensates for color fringing, and is especially noticeable at high magnifications. As if that wasn’t enough, you also have fully multicoated optics. All of the aforementioned results in a stunning image, which doesn’t lack any clarity, sharpness, brightness or contrast.
The 10x42mm configuration is a very versatile one, with plenty of zoom, while maintaining a wide field of view. If you need a monocular for a variety of applications, yet can only get one, 10×42 is the configuration you want it in. The 42mm objective lens diameter will let in plenty of light. When combined with the high quality glass and prism, it’s as good as it gets.
All things considered, the Bushnell Legend Ultra is the best monocular in the midrange market. It gives you all the features of a high end monocular, as well as most of the performance, while only costing a fraction of the price. If you’re a person who wants a good outdoor monocular, yet doesn’t want to spend an exorbitant amount of money, you might be looking at a winner here. The excellent build quality is another bonus, and so is the inclusion of a carry clip and Picatinny rail. A truly excellent, and very versatile monocular.
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re most likely noticing one thing that all of the monoculars so far have in common – they’re all fixed magnification models. This means you’re pretty much stuck with a single magnification factor. Even though this does warrant better optical performance, it severely hampers versatility. If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t need that much zoom, or you need more, you’re out of luck. The next model on our list, Orion’s 10-25x42mm monocular, solves that, while remaining small and compact as an overall package. Let’s take a look at the details.
The first thing that gives away the fact that this isn’t a regular monocular are the two rings on the outside of the body. One of them adjusts the focus, as expected, but the other one is a zoom adjustment ring. More on that later. As far as the rest of the body goes, again we have a subdued black design, with a rubberized contact surface. Chances are it won’t slip out of your hand, even if it’s wet. You’ll find a tripod mount at the bottom as well, which might come in handy as you zoom in. When using a higher magnification, the image might become shaky, so this inclusion is a good idea.
In terms of weather and water resistance, you have a completely waterproof design. There’s no mention of fog resistance. Therefore, you might want to be careful when using it in situations that lead to drastic temperature changes. If you don’t think you would be dealing with those, you should be good to go.
On the inside, things aren’t exactly impressive. There is no mention of coating, so it’s safe to assume there isn’t any, and optical performance isn’t really mentioned anywhere. We did find that it gave us satisfactory results when we were closer to 10x. However, as you go closer to 25x, you will notice image quality loss, especially around the edges. This is an issue with most optic devices that are budget oriented, and attempt to achieve big magnification numbers. If you use it during the day, you shouldn’t have too much of an issue with it, though.
Let’s discuss the magnification for a moment. With most monoculars, you get a fixed magnification, which is somewhat of a limitation. On the other hand, a variable magnification should be made very well in order to perform as it’s supposed to. Even though the Orion one isn’t bad, per se, it’s still far from a good option. If given a choice between this, and a good, fixed magnification monocular, we would advise getting the fixed one, simply due to the optical performance. The only situation where the Orion is actually an excellent choice, is if you don’t intend on going past 20x. The adjustments are infinite, so you can stop anywhere between 10 and 25x. Anything past 20x, and image quality drops significantly, and you’ll want to avoid that.
So, is there a market suitable for this product? Well, there is, but it isn’t too big. People who want a bit of versatility, and don’t mind the lack of fog proofing, could take a look at it. However, if you don’t reeeeally need the zoom, you’ll be much better off with other options. There are plenty of good monoculars that hover around that price range, and most of them will perform better than the Orion.
Vortex is another brand that people who have experience with sport optics will immediately recognize. They have a host of excellent binoculars and spotting scopes. Therefore, it’s safe to say we have high expectations for their Solo R/T monocular. It’s priced closer to the budget options than the midrange. However, we’re used to Vortex positively surprising us with the optical performance of their products, as well as the build quality. Is that the case here, or is the Solo R/T a disappointment? Let’s find out.
Starting things off on the outside, the design is a bit different from the other options on the list. At the front, where the grip is, you have a thick, rubberized surface for good grip. You can rest assured it won’t be slipping out of your hand anytime soon, as it is very well made. It also looks like it provides plenty of shock absorption too, so if you happen to drop it, it should stay in one piece. Moving towards the eyepiece, you’ll notice two rings. The larger one is the focus ring, and it works very well. Smooth and precise, just like it should be. The second ring, the one towards the back, is for the reticle focus, or diopter adjustment. Even though there’s a generous eye relief of 18mm, you can still adjust the reticle if you’d rather leave your glasses at home. If you do want to use your glasses, the eyecup folds down to make room.
As you would expect from a Vortex product, the Solo R/T is completely waterproof. It is also sealed with O-rings and nitrogen purged, making it fog resistant as well. You could use it in any situation you want, and you don’t have to worry if it starts raining outside.
Let’s talk about the internals. Vortex does have a reputation to live up to, and they went with the best option – fully multicoated lenses. Regardless of the available light outside, plenty of light enters the monocular. This ensures a bright, crisp image with plenty of contrast. The Solo R/T is a fixed magnification monocular, in an 8x36mm configuration. This combination results in a field of view that is 393 feet at 1000 yards. This should be wide enough for most of us, except if your needs specifically demand something else. The minimum focusing distance is a potential downside, because it’s 16.4 feet. This basically renders the Solo R/T useless for most inside applications. But this is a tactical monocular, so chances are you won’t be using it indoors.
One thing that Vortex have done very well is the reticle. It’s similar to one on a spotting scope, and it has marked lines for ranging, holdover, as well as windage correction. It’s based on milliradian, and you can easily estimate the range of an object if you know its dimensions. This may come in handy for people who intend to use the Solo R/T for hunting purposes.
When you take everything into consideration, is the Solo R/T a good overall monocular? We would say it is. It comes at a price point that’s dangerously close to the budget-oriented options on our list. Yet, it performs much better than all of them, and even gets close to some of the high-end options, such as the Leica, or the Zeiss we have next. The tactical reticle might not be useful to everyone, but for whoever needs it, it works very well. All in all, it’s a great monocular if you don’t want the cheapest, but want a good performer that doesn’t cost a lot.
We’re wrapping things up with another premium offering, this time by the pioneers at Carl Zeiss. Zeiss is well known for their optics, usually by making extremely high-end products for professionals. The prices are also often extremely high, and so is the case with the Mono T* monocular. With it being a Zeiss product, and the second most expensive item on our list, it really has to impress us if we are to recommend it to people who can afford it. We’ll be completely honest – it did impress us with quite a few things, but do read on to find out the details.
We’ll start things off on the outside. At first sight, the Zeiss looks remarkably similar to the Leica in terms of build. It’s tiny, to say the least, and it weighs 2.7 oz. This makes it an excellent candidate for carrying in a pocket, if you’d rather leave your backpack at home. The size shouldn’t fool you, though, it’s a very impressive monocular. On the body is a focus ring that will require your second hand for operation, as well as the diopter adjustment. You can go from -4 to +4, if you want to leave your glasses at home. If you don’t, the 15mm eye relief should have you covered. The minimum focusing distance is a tad less than 15 feet, which is excellent considering the magnification. You won’t be able to use it indoors, unfortunately, but it should cover just about any outside use case.
In terms of weather and water resistance, the Zeiss Mono T* is completely covered. You can use it in just about any kind of weather conditions, and it won’t get damaged or fog up from the inside. This is to be expected at this price range, and we can say we had absolutely no issues with the Mono.
As far as the insides go, it’s obvious that Zeiss didn’t hold back, at all. The lens that’s used is Zeiss’ well received Achromat lens, and you’ll also find a Schmidt-Pechan prism system. This is basically a smaller version of a roof prism, but it does manage stellar optical performance. The prism gets a bit of help by Zeiss’ T* coating, which is the absolute best anti-reflective coating you can find on glass nowadays. The lenses are multicoated, so you’ll find plenty of that coating around the monocular – not just on one piece of glass. When you consider everything, you really have the crème de la crème of optics inside the Mono T*.
In terms of the numbers, a 10x25mm configuration is fairly standard in a small monocular like this. Just like with the Leica, when you have high end optics, you don’t really need a huge objective lens to get excellent optical clarity. The Mono T* is an excellent example of this.
To sum it all up, the Mono T* is by no means a budget monocular. It costs a pretty penny, and it doesn’t have any of the extras you’ll find with other scopes (think phone mounts or tactical reticles). However, for a person who knows what they want, and can afford it, it manages to be an impeccable no-frills monocular. We wouldn’t think twice before recommending it to anyone who thinks that 8x is suitable for their use cases. If you ask us, we saved the best for last, as the Zeiss Mono 10×25 T* may very well be the best monocular we had the honor to take a look at when assembling this list.
The buyers’ guide
Now that you know what your options are, it’s time to take a look at that buyers’ guide we mentioned in the beginning. There are plenty of terms when we’re discussing monoculars – things such as “magnification power”, “lens diameter”, “eye relief”, “field of view” may not be crystal clear, and you might end up making the wrong decision. To make sure that doesn’t happen, let’s take a look at what those terms mean, and how to approach them best.
Magnification and lens diameter
The first thing you’ll notice with a monocular’s name, is that it has a set of numbers, such as 3×14, 5×20, etc. The first number here is the magnification factor, whereas the second one is the objective lens diameter. Both of them are very important factors, so let’s discuss them both.
A simple explanation for magnification is that the magnification number tells you how many times bigger the object you’re looking at appears, or how much closer. For example, if you have a 3×14 monocular, and you’re looking at a rock that’s 30 feet away, it will seem like it’s only 10 feet away. When discussing magnification, it’s not just a matter of “get a bigger magnification factor”. This completely depends on what you’ll be using your monocular for. Getting a monocular with a too big magnification factor means that you won’t be able to clearly see objects that are a bit closer, for example. A larger magnification factor also requires a bit more light to show you a good image as well, so don’t get more than you need.
The objective lens diameter is the second number. On a monocular, the objective lens is at the front, and it is what gathers light that actually lets us see what’s on the other end. The lens, and the diameter, have a direct impact on how bright, as well as how sharp, that image is. If you have a larger lens, it lets in more light. However, it also means your monocular is larger, bulkier and heavier, too.
In terms of the combination, you’d be best off if you choose a combination that allows you to get close enough to the objects you’re looking at, without it being too large to carry. If you aren’t sure what magnification you’ll need, a good option is to get a variable one. We did include one such monocular on our list, so that might be a viable option.
Field of view and eye relief
These two might not be a huge deal for everyone, but for people that wear glasses, they undoubtedly are. The eye relief is a bit more important, but let’s take them one at a time.
Field of view is a fairly simple thing to explain. Let’s say you have a fence that is 1000 yards away. If you have a monocular with a field of view of 350 feet at 1000 yards, you would only be able to see 350 feet of that fence without needing to move. The field of view is usually dictated by the magnification and optics inside. A thing to remember is that a larger magnification always results in a smaller field of view. If your requirements demand a wide field of view, you’ll want to get something that doesn’t have a big magnification.
Then, we have eye relief. Eye relief is the distance at which your eye can be from the eyepiece, while still seeing the complete field of view. You’ll find in the spec sheet of a monocular, expressed in millimeters. For people who don’t wear glasses, this might not be too important. However, if you do wear glasses, you’ll need to account for them too, and they do add quite a bit. A general rule of thumb is to stick to 14mm or more if you wear glasses. Magnification also impacts eye relief too, just like it does field of view.
This is another combination that you need to choose as per your specific use scenarios. Depending on what you’ll use the monocular for, you pick the field of view. Unless you’re using it for hunting, and only need to see your target, you should be better off with a wide field of view. Eye relief, as we mentioned, is important if you wear glasses. If not, you can get by with less eye relief.
Lens coatings are a major factor in terms of image quality, as well as brightness, sharpness and contrast. You will find that most monoculars have some kind of anti-reflective coating, but not all of them are created equal. It’s usually the best monocular options that have the good coatings, as well as the appropriate amount of them. Let’s take a look at the options.
The cheapest monocular will come with just “coated” lens. This is the lowest end option, and using such a monocular in direct light is a recipe for disaster. You’ll find there’s too much glare, and it will be pretty much useless. The next step up is “fully coated” lenses, which has all lenses covered with at least one layer of coating. This kind of lens is still affected by sunlight and glare, but to a much lesser degree than just a “coated” lens. Then we have “multicoated” lenses. In this case, lenses have multiple anti-glare coatings. Even though this isn’t up to par with the highest end option, it is still a good alternative. The crème de la crème are “fully multicoated” lenses. All sides of all lenses have multiple layers of anti-glare coating, and this is as good as it gets. You won’t have any issues with glare or direct sunlight. This makes your monocular usable in any kind of light conditions.
The better coating options will always result in a better image, so if you can afford it, by all means get the best possible coating option. However, for those high end ones, be prepared to spend a pretty penny.
Minimum focus distance
Most of the monoculars you’ll come across can focus to infinity. But how many of them can focus close? Depending on your use, close focus might be a crucial factor in how good the monocular is, and how it fits your needs and requirements.
Close focus with the best monocular options out there is measured in inches, not in feet or yards. If you’re using them for indoors, this can be crucial. Objects that are only a few feet away from you can only be seen clearly if you have a good close focus distance. Even if you do use them outdoors, there’s nothing as impressive as looking at a butterfly that’s only a few feet away, and being able to distinguish all the tiny details.
Build quality and weather resistance
The fact that they’re so low on our list doesn’t make build quality and water resistance any less important. A monocular, especially one that is used outside often, should be able to withstand a few bumps, and resist the weather to some degree.
Build quality is something that you will undoubtedly get if you’re looking at some of the best monocular options at the high end. Rubberized grip surface, quality materials and no loose parts or play are all indicators of a well made monocular. However, this is where cheaper options cut corners. You’ll notice flimsy plastic, seam edges, as well as other indicators that the materials used aren’t really high quality. Even if you are careful with your monocular, chances are you’ll hit it against something at some point in time. When that moment comes, a rugged, well-built monocular will withstand it much better.
Weather resistance is highly important, too. Even though there are no electronics (unless you have a monocular that records photos and videos), any water or moisture inside the lens system can have an impact on the image. Internal fogging is next to impossible to solve, and water inside can degrade the quality of your image. To ensure this doesn’t happen, you’ll want a fully waterproof, O-ring sealed binocular. To make sure you don’t have any internal fogging as well, the monocular you’re buying should be either argon or nitrogen purged. A combination of both is best, but that’s often only seen with the best monocular options, only in the high end market.
Wrapping things up
To sum things up, even though there are plenty of choices on the market, you can easily pick the best monocular once you’ve narrowed down your use cases, and decided on a budget. As we mentioned earlier, not all monoculars are great for everything, so the most important thing is to get one that works for you, and your needs.
Once you have your priorities set, as well as a budget in mind, you can go through our list and see which one suits you best. Do you get something that’s entry level, and budget oriented, such as the Wingspan Explorer or the Xgazer Optics monocular? Should you invest a bit more, and get something like the Vortex Solo, or the Bushnell Legend? Or, maybe you should go all out, and get the Zeiss T Monocular, or the Leica Monovid. Those decisions are up to you. Now that you know what the terms and numbers mean, you can easily make an informed buying decision before you order. Happy shopping!