Monocular vs Binoculars – Which Should You Get?
Here at binocular base, we often get asked this question but there isn’t a clear cut answer, it all depends on what you intend to use it for, and what your preferences are. So let’s have a look at how they compare or differ, then you’ll be in a much better position to make a decision.
The most obvious difference between a monocular and binoculars is one has 2 viewing tubes and the other only has one. Then we need to look at what you want an enhanced optical device for, there are various hobbies that benefit from getting a closer view of things. These include:
- Bird Watching
- Bird Hunting
- Hunting Game
- Observing Marine Life
But it doesn’t even stop there, for instance, bird watchers are split into 2 factions. Some stay in a purpose built hide and wait for the birds to come to the area they are watching. Others trek through areas and stop occasionally to watch the birds. Watching marine life can be standing on a boat while travelling through the sea, or kayaking to a spot where the creatures you wish to see are known to frequent. And so it continues with almost all of the other activities that call for the use of optical devices to aid closer viewing.
What Are The 3 Main Functions And Components Of Binoculars And Monoculars?
There is not really much to choose from when it comes to monoculars and binoculars, it depends very much on what you are planning to use them for. But you need to consider the following 3 points:
The Field Of View
This is how much can be seen through the device, and without getting too technical, the human eye has a field of view of around 120 degrees of arc. But most of that is peripheral vision. That means from the sides of the eye. There is no peripheral vision through either of these optical devices.
So the field of view present through a monocular will be half of the field of view possible through binoculars. The field of view is dependent on the design of the eyepiece. As a general rule the more powerful the optical device is, equals to a narrower field of view. As an example a monocular with 8X42 offers a field of view of 6.3 degrees whereas binoculars with 8X42 offers a field of view of 6.4 degrees however having 2 lenses allows easier tracking.
When it comes to magnification, it is said that larger monoculars have better and higher magnification than smaller ones. The larger the magnification is, the clearer the object will appear. 8X will give you 8 times the magnification of the naked eye. So an object 80 yards away will appear through the lens to be 10 yards away.
Binoculars work the same way but you have both eyes seeing the image. With magnification, anything higher than 12X will appear shaky, as the hands move slightly and this is made more obvious through the magnification.
The objective lens is in many ways far more important than the magnification. The objective lens determines how much light the device can obtain for objective viewing. The higher the number is the larger the lens is and the more light it allows through and the brighter the image appears to be.
With monoculars it’s best to go for the largest objective lens measurement you can. This will ensure you get clarity of vision. When it comes to binoculars it’s the larger the size of the binoculars that usually determines the larger the objective lens will be. Plus you have 2 lenses which allows better optical quality.
So binoculars are best for seeing far into the distance where a monocular is better for closer views.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Binoculars
You are probably aware of what binoculars are so we won’t go into details describing what they are. They are a very popular piece of kit, many birders won’t leave home without a pair of binoculars, and many hunters are the same. Some are very high powered and can cost quite a lot of money, but it really is a case of you get what you pay for. At entry level you will get a great deal more sightings than just with the naked eye and you won’t put too big a hole in your wallet.
Let’s have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using binoculars.
What Are The Pros Of Binoculars?
- Large Choice Of Designs
- Large Choice Of Power And Aperture
- Many Are Lightweight And Compact
- Easy To Track Moving Objects
- View In 3 Dimensions
- Easy To Carry (either around the neck or in the pocket)
- Wide Angle Viewing
- Can Be Relatively Inexpensive (Depending on the model)
- View Objects From Afar
- Easier On The Eyes Over Long Periods
Extras available on some models:
- Image Stabilizing
- Built-In inclinometers (Used for surveying etc)
- Ballistic reticles (Used for target and hunting shooting)
- Long Distance Range Finder
- Independent Focus (Used primarily for stargazing)
What Are The Cons Of Binoculars?
- More Visible Than A Monocular
- Some people feel They Are Being Spied On If They See Your Binoculars
- Can Be Big And Bulky
- Some Models Are Heavy
- Can Be Very Expensive (Depending on the model)
So that’s the pros and cons of binoculars so let’s move on to monoculars.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Monoculars?
A monocular is just like having half of a pair of binoculars, some people call them a tiny spotting scope or a small telescope. A monocular is a fairly low powered optical device,with a similar amount of light control (aperture) to binoculars. They are much smaller than spotting scopes, and only half the size of binoculars but let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of monoculars.
What Are The Pros Of Monoculars?
- Very Compact
- Easy To Carry
- Great For Covert Viewing
- A Better Price To Quality Ratio Compared To Binoculars
- Able To Use On Either Eye
- Can Be Used As A Magnifying Glass
- Can Be Used Instantly (No need to set it up)
- Works Well For Observing Wildlife
- Can See Objects Over A Long Distance
- Fast To Use
- Can Be Worn Or Carried In A Pocket
Extras available on some models:
- Night Vision
- Built-In Image Stabiliser
- Built-In Compass
- Compact Designs (Some fold)
- Gallery Viewing
Binoculars V Monocular What’s Best?
As there are various situations when enhanced optical equipment is necessary or at least useful, how do they compare in different situations?
For serious bird watching, binoculars are always going to win hands down, but the monocular can be very handy in the field too. Binoculars cause less eye strain, they have a wider field of vision, and track birds in flight with ease.
But there are some monoculars that have excellent focus distances and for close up viewing, say a butterfly or moth lands close to your hide, a monocular will win every time. Plus you can get a monocular straight out of your pocket and it’s ready to go. But in all seriousness for bird watching, you need binoculars. Much steadier viewing when you’re holding it still with both hands.
It depends on how much of a serious bird watcher you are, if you’re just out for a stroll in the woods for fitness then a monocular will suit you fine. However if you really are a committed bird watcher, then you need to invest in a decent pair of binoculars.
Binoculars have a greater depth of field and work better in low light conditions especially when hunting. They can be used for tracking, watching moving targets and stalking, plus they show up all of those acute details that a monocular probably won’t be able to.
It’s definitely true that a monocular is faster to use, binoculars allow you to gather all the information necessary faster. So for hunting, our consensus is binoculars are much better suited.
When it comes to astronomy, monoculars don’t get a look in, you will either need a specialist pair binoculars or a spotting scope, but definitely not a monocular. For astronomy, binoculars are handy for portability, or for serious stargazing you’ll need either high powered (15x+) binoculars with a large objective lens (70 to 80 mm range) or a telescope.
Wildlife Observation Or Hiking
Wildlife photographers usually go for a spotting scope, but if you’re just out for a hike, a monocular is your best bet. They’re light, easy to use and fast. You could go for a pair of folding binoculars but they go out of focus easily and take some time to refocus. When hiking, you’re not exactly creeping up on wildlife, so anything you do see will be darting away and time is of the essence. So a monocular will win hands down.
Theatre, Museum Or Gallery Use
If you struggle reading the small print on works of art or want a closer look at a particularly fine piece of early Tudor material on display at the museum, a monocular is ideally suited for the job. You would look pretty odd pulling out a pair of binoculars to look at a painting, but a monocular wouldn’t look out of place. In fact if you get caught in a museum looking through your monocular people will suppose you are a learned professor or at least a revered expert in the field of tapestry (or whatever you’re looking at).
There are a number of reasons for using night vision optics including, bird watching, hunting, tactical, military or security jobs. You will need to look at the individual device and see which features are suited for your purpose. All night vision optics will be low powered, but the choice between binoculars or a monocular will need proper consideration and a good look at the specifics of the device and what you intend to use it for.
The problem with using night vision is it impairs your own vision, and the longer you use it, the longer your own vision is impaired. So using a monocular will only impair one eye, so the other eye remains viable for seeing close up etc. Even many military men have said they prefer monoculars over binoculars when using night vision.
What’s Best For Everyday Use, Monocular Or Binoculars?
Apart from using optical devices for hunting and bird watching, they do look suspicious especially in places where lots of people congregate. Places like parks, the village lake, playing fields etc, you’re going to get labelled as either a spy, private detective or a stalker. It’s safe to assume you’ll attract unwanted attention.
For that reason a monocular is best suited for such places, they are discreet and allow you to watch the birds etc without getting interrupted. However binoculars will almost always have the edge over the monocular, they are relatively easy to use and give you a much clearer image.
The Bottom Line
The reality is, binoculars won’t replace a monocular and a monocular won’t replace binoculars, they both have specific uses and it depends on the activity you are engaging in.
Frequently Asked Questions
A good magnification for a monocular is 10X anything higher will lead to a shaky image.
The advantage of a monocular over binoculars is the weight, the size and monoculars generally cost less too. But they do cause eye strain because of the lack of relaxed vision.
Whether you should buy a monocular or binoculars depends on what you are going to be using it for. Monoculars are lighter and easier to use, but binoculars have a clearer field of vision, and are more comfortable for long term use.