Whether you’re a fledgling birder, white-tail tracker, or private eye, monoculars are a tool of the trade. Monoculars are designed with powerful optics for surveillance, zooming right up on the action, and giving you the spotting power you need. Lighter and cheaper than binoculars, monoculars are a great tool where mobility is important.
Most monoculars today use prisms to lengthen the path from the objective (front) lens, to the ocular lense (eyepiece), and create an erect image. Because monoculars are effectively half of a set of binoculars and only support one eye, images seen through monoculars are two dimensional, without three-dimensional depth. Still, they’re fully capable of out-magnifying some binoculars, and sometimes outperforming them entirely, especially where mobility is a concern. Whether for birding, hunting, surveillance, or boating, the best monoculars deliver the magnification power you need.
— Best Overall: Opticron Explorer WA ED-R
— Best Budget: Roxant Monocular Telescope
— Best for iPhone: Gosky Titan
— Best for Bird Watching: Hawke Endurance ED
— Best Thermal: ATN OTS LT Thermal Viewer
— Best Night Vision: Night Owl Optics 5-Power NOXM50
How We Picked the Best Monoculars
When building this list, we researched monoculars from across the spectrum of manufacturers, digging into the specs and pinpointing the features that we thought were important. We performed some testing and made some of our judgments based on personal experience. Below is a rundown of the criteria we looked for.
Magnification: This varies somewhat among monoculars. As refracting telescopes, monoculars use an objective lens to form its image, which is usually run through a prism. Monoculars usually don’t achieve the same levels of magnification found in telescopes made for astronomy. Galileo’s most powerful telescope from the 1600s was capable of magnifying objects about 30 times with a 980 millimeter length, while common consumer-grade monoculars of today usually magnify between five and 12 times, with some going higher. This is usually denoted with a set of two numbers such as 10x42 or 8x42, with the first number denoting the level of magnification, and the second denoting the size of the objective lens in millimeters.
Form Factor: As monoculars are often packed in for bird watching in the bush, or brought along on rainy boats, designs that include waterproofing, impact resistance, and simple grippy coatings, can make all the difference in your optical device’s quality.
Handy Features: Extra features can make or break a monocular. Some connect to your phone or tablet enabling you to use the monocular as a scope zoom to record or photograph distant objects. Some also include thermal night vision, which we noted in our picks below.
Best Monoculars: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Opticron Explorer WA ED-R
Why It Made the Cut: A beautifully designed roof prism monocular with 10x42 magnification, a retractable eyecup, and the accessories you’ll want for field use, this is the best monocular for most users.
— Dimensions: 5.43 inches L x 2.13 inches W x 1.85 inches H
— Magnification: 10x42
— Type: BAK4 roof prism
— Waterproofing: Nitrogen gas-filled waterproofing
— Excellent clarity and focus on close range as well as long
— Rugged waterproof build that feels great in your hand
— Ships with the accessories you’ll want
— No phone adapter
The Opticron Explorer WA ED-R puts you into the same atmosphere as the birds. Our pick for the best overall monocular for most people, the Explorer is one of those products that seems to do everything right.
Pulling the cap off the eyepiece and focusing, I was immediately struck by the quality of the Explorer’s build. The monocular is weighty and tumble-proof, yet isn’t heavy when strapped to your belt. Another feature is the retractable eyecup, which ensures it fits any face. While Opticron doesn’t feature an ingress protection rating, the Explorer is filled with nitrogen to make it internally fog-proof and waterproofed.
The focus smoothly adjusts between clear, precise distance-magnification and close-ups. We were able to perfectly focus on a face as close as six feet away, as well as the bark of an oak tree that was a football field out. Even through the interference of a bug screen on the window, we could focus on individual leaves on a tree two city blocks away. The wide eyepiece even makes it possible to shoot photos and video through this monocular on an iPhone, even though the required positioning makes iPhone shooting impractical for anything too technical.
All in all, we think this is an extremely impressive monocular that you’ll feel comfortable carrying with you on hikes in changing weather conditions, and is light enough to live in your daypack full-time. You can even expand its potential for stargazing with the Opticron Universal Tele-Adapter. Keep the Explorer around for easy deployment whenever you spot that elusive Black-crowned night heron.
Best Budget: Roxant Monocular Telescope
Why It Made the Cut: Small and lightweight, this 6x monocular is a great pocket companion that's so affordable, you won’t have to worry about scuffing the lens.
— Dimensions: 5.5 inches L x 2 inches W x 2 inches H
— Magnification: 6x30
— Type: BAK4 Porro prism
— Waterproofing: Claims to be water-resistant but doesn’t provide specifics
— Small and light
— Very affordable
— Clear optics
— Not a lot of magnification
Slip it in your pocket and take it with you for a hike, because the Roxant Monocular Telescope is not only the best budget monocular out there; at less than eight ounces and under six inches long, it’s also so compact and lightweight that you’ll find yourself carrying it along everywhere. This small monocular features a 30-millimeter lens with a retractable eyepiece, and 6x magnification.
On the lower end of magnification, the Roxant isn’t great for long-range sighting, but at 6x magnification it makes a great tool for bird watchers wanting to get a close look at a goldfinch’s crown pattern, or a hiker scanning the slope for a trail. It’s a great monocular for backpackers leery of adding the weight of a binocular set, or anyone who doesn’t like the idea of spending hundreds on a technical device that they’ll be packing into some precarious scenarios. If you’ve got budget on the brain, you can’t go wrong with Roxant.
Best For iPhone: Gosky Titan
Why It Made the Cut: With an outstanding 12x50 magnification, an easy hookup that connects it to your smartphone camera, and an affordable middle-point price, this is the best monocular for iPhone shooting, and one of the best we’ve seen.
— Dimensions: 7.1 inches L x 3.4 inches W x 2.8 inches H
— Magnification: 12x50
— Type: BAK4 Porro prism
— Waterproofing: IPX7
— Solid durability with good water and fog-proofing
— Superior magnification
— Snaps onto most smartphones for magnified photos and video
— Phone connection bracket is finicky and hard to get right
With the widest feature set and some of the best magnification out there, the Gosky Titan is an easy pick for anyone looking to shoot through their iPhone (or any other smartphone), it just has so much going for it. Even without the smartphone mount, the Titan delivers 12x magnification with a large surface lens. It’s capable of zooming in further than the competition, while delivering excellent clarity. It’s also lightweight and notably durable, with an IPX7 rating for water fastness, meaning this monocular isn’t only rain and fog-proof, it’s even submersible.
The smartphone mount is the Titan’s standout feature. When you attach your smartphone, the adjustable mount locks into place on your phone’s camera, allowing you to zoom in, for videos and photos at 12x. Not only is this a great photo tool, but with a tripod attached, you’ll easily be able to watch zoomed-in action right from your phone screen. While this feature is exceptional, in practice, setting up the mount isn’t particularly easy. You’ll need to finely adjust the connection to get good results, and this takes some doing. Still, while the smartphone mount isn’t perfect, it’s the best for iPhones among the competition, and for its moderate price point, we think the Titan is also one of the best picks around for most users.
Best for Bird Watching: Hawke Endurance ED
Why It Made the Cut: With 10x magnification, a BAK4 roof prism, and a rugged build that won’t let in fog or water, this is a powerful monocular for the field that will make itself useful to birders, hunters, and captains.
— Dimensions: 7.7 inches L x 4.6 inches W x 2.8 inches H
— Magnification: 10x42
— Type: BAK4 roof prism
— Waterproofing: Claims to be water and fog-proof but does not include ingress protection rating
— Solid magnification with a nice image provided by the high end ED glass
— Sturdy and waterproof
— Tripod thread
— Pricey for what it is
On the larger side, the Hawke Endurance ED is a rugged monocular with 10x magnification, and takes the cake as the best monocular for bird watching enthusiasts. Using ED glass for superior clarity, and paired with a BAK4 roof prism, this is a monocular with tuned optics. With a raised focus wheel on the top that helps your hand keep a tight grip on the system, as well as a lanyard connection, you won’t be dropping this monocular off the side of your boat. It also features a tripod thread for those who want a steadier image guaranteed.
With its included pouch and lens covers, this is a great monocular to invest in for serious birdwatchers, geology enthusiasts, and trackers. Water-resistant and fog-proof, it’s built to withstand anything that you can.
Best Thermal: ATN OTS LT Thermal Viewer
Why It Made the Cut: With solid thermal nightvision, this 3 to 6x monocular is an invaluable tool for surveillance, tracking, and more, and the series only gets more powerful, offering monoculars with magnification up to 12x.
— Dimensions: 7.7 inches L x 2.9 inches W x 2.6 inches H
— Magnification: 3 to 6x
— Type: Obsidian LT Core thermal vision
— Waterproofing: Claims “weather-resistant”
— Solid detection range
— White hot or black hot modes
— 10+ hour battery life
— Three-year warranty
If you want to add thermal optics to your kit, take it from the pros and get the ATN OTS LT Thermal Viewer. For night tracking, monoculars outperform binoculars. Rather than exposing both eyes to a display, a monocular leaves your unused eye adapted for natural night vision, so that your non-scope eye isn’t dilated and remains less affected with use. This also helps your monocular eye readjust more quickly after spotting.
The ATN OTS LT is a great thermal monocular with decent magnification and powerful spotting abilities. The device uses the signature Obsidian LT Core for thermal vision, and displays in HD at 1280x960 pixels. It maintains a battery life that can exceed 10 hours of use, and is weather-resistant enough for you to remain confident in it in the field. ATN also guarantees the monocular with a three-year warranty.
While the OTS LT we featured has a magnification potential of 3 to 6x, the series actually goes all the way up to a whopping 12x. However, be ready to pay for the higher end models. The 3 to 6x is already pricey, but the more powerful versions price out all but the enthusiasts. Still, if you want reliable thermal optics, you can’t do much better than sleuthing, spying, and spotting with ATN.
Best Night Vision: Night Owl Optics 5-Power NOXM50
Why It Made the Cut: With effective infrared for about 70 feet, this 5x night vision monocular can’t compete with true thermal monoculars, but still impresses for the price.
— Dimensions: 8.9 inches L x 2.91 inches W x 4.8 inches H
— Magnification: 5x50
— Type: Infrared LED, unspecified ocular system
— Waterproofing: None
— Infrared works well across short distances
— Very cheap for night vision ocular technology
— Strap makes it stable in hand
— Short range
— Projects infrared light from top LED which is visible to humans
Do you feel your inner spy but don’t quite have the budget for true Bond-grade tech? The Night Owl Optics 5-Power NOXM50 is a budget-priced active infrared night-vision monocular. Priced right for a gift or hobbyist, this monocular is great for finding owl nests, tracking hogs, or catching the raccoon family that’s been wreaking havoc in your backyard.
This monocular uses a simple LED infrared projection that does a good job up to about 60 or 70 feet. With 5x magnification, it doesn’t have the power of some of the scopes on this list, but it does still do a good enough job to amount to a real tool. The scope also features a side strap that makes it easy to hold on to.
The one issue with this monocular’s night vision is that the active LED infrared system is clearly visible to humans. Animals might not notice the infrared projection on top of your monocular, but humans will quickly spot you in the dark. Still, this doesn’t get in the way of watching wildlife at night, and we think the NOXM50 is still a great night vision optical system for the price.
Thing to Consider Before Buying a Monocular
Before you buy a monocular, make sure you’re acquainted with monoculars and other optical systems. It’s also a good idea to decide what you’d like out of your monocular system.
Lens and Prism Type
There are three main systems used in monoculars. These are Galilean lenses, Porro prism systems, and roof prisms. Galilean lenses use the same basic technology Galileo famously used to observe the stars, and pair convex lenses with a concave lens eyepiece. Galileo lenses generally magnify up to about 4x.
More common today are the more powerful Porro prism binoculars and roof prism monoculars. Porro prism monoculars use an eyepiece that’s offset from the objective (front) lens, to house a set of 180-degree refracting prisms. These models are simple and effective, and have been in use since the 19th century. Porro prism monoculars provide better clarity for cheaper prices. BAK4 is a common high-quality Porro prism, though there are also BAK4 roof prisms.
Roof prisms use more complex reflective prisms where two surfaces meet at a roof-like 90-degree angle, and cross from one joined tube into the next. Roof prisms are easily discerned from Porro prism monoculars by the fact that they are usually straight, consisting of two joined tubes, without the offset build found on a Porro model. Because of the complex prisms found in roof prism monoculars, which involve precise machined pathways for light, roof prisms are usually more expensive, but are lighter-weight and more durable, with better possible magnification.
Infrared Night Vision Vs. Thermal
Because using a night vision or thermal monocular doesn’t dilate both eyes, they remain ever popular for serious night trackers. If you’re looking for a good night vision monocular and you're new to the game, you might see the words thermal and infrared floating around and become confused. Why are they priced so differently? Aren’t they the same thing? Well sort of. Both thermal and infrared night vision use infrared. However most night vision monoculars that are advertised as infrared use an active short-wave infrared system that projects an infrared wave, which then reflects off objects and is made visible to you through your monocular. Thermal systems use a different passive method, passively mapping long frequency infrared heat signatures of everything in its field of view. Thermal systems equip you to immediately spot any heat-generating living objects or systems, no matter how dark it is, while cheaper active infrared effectively shines an infrared spotlight over everything in its view.
Power vs. Stability
Before you buy, remember that greater magnification comes with more difficulties. The more a monocular magnifies, the harder it will be to stabilize. Monoculars that magnify at 10x and up will wobble with the innate motion of your hand. If you want a highly powered monocular, but also want perfect stability, consider investing in a monocular that can easily attach to a tripod.
Q: Are monoculars as good as binoculars?
Whether monoculars are as good as binoculars depends on your needs. A monocular is effectively one half of a binocular, so a monocular and binocular with the same optics will magnify the same. However, this doesn’t mean they are the same. Since binoculars are used with both eyes, they create stereoscopic depth. Monoculars on the other hand do not create depth, and because of this they deliver flat 2D images. However, they still have their uses. Monoculars are usually much lighter than binoculars, making them better for hikers who wish to carry less weight. Night vision monoculars also come with their own benefits, in that they allow you to keep your other eye dilated for natural night vision.
Q: What is a good magnification for a monocular?
Most users will find the 8x or 10x is a good magnification for a monocular. These magnifications allow you to see into the far distance, but aren’t so strong as to give you a wobbly picture that can’t be balanced.
Q: Is a monocular better than a telescope?
While monoculars aren’t as powerful as telescopes, they are generally far more mobile. Most will fit into a pocket, or come with a carrying case that easily straps to your belt loop. Because of this, monoculars are better than telescopes for looking at objects on the ground, even if telescopes are usually better for viewing the sky.
Q: What monocular does the military use?
The AN/PVS-14 is widely used by the US military, as well as by other NATO states. Often mounted on a tactical helmet it can also be held for sighting.
Q: How far can you see with a 40x60 monocular?
Since a 40x60 monocular would magnify by 40x, it would be as powerful as an intermediate skill-grade 1000mm telescope meant for astrophotography of the moon. Without a tripod, a 40x monocular would be effectively unusable. For most users we recommend monoculars between 6x and 12x. Check out our guide to the best telescopes of 2023 for good 40x zoom options.
Q: Can we see planets with monoculars?
With a good monocular we can get nice views of some planets. No monocular will give you much detail when you’re looking at planets, but a good one will give you a much better image than the naked eye.
Final Thoughts on the Best Monoculars
With one eye open, a world of detail is before you. The best monoculars are more than the spyglasses of pirate adventures; these advanced optical systems use precisely manufactured prisms to create clear images that are usually magnified by between 5x and 12x, enabling you to snoop on distant details and spot feathered friends, even in the high branches. For the best thermal monocular for spotting distant lifeforms at night, check out the ATN OTS LT Thermal Viewer, which offers powerful thermal detection in HD, even at long range.
If you want the best monocular you can get, but don’t want to splurge too much, the Roxant Monocular Telescope is about the best bang for your buck on the shelf. The Gosky Titan is the best choice for those who want to mount their monocular to their phone camera, with 12x50 magnification, IPX7 waterproofing, and a phone mount system. Finally, the Opticron Explorer WA ED-R is our overall favorite, for its waterproofing, excellent near and far focus, and all-around stellar quality.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.