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Is a Monocular Better Than Binoculars?

The choice between monoculars and binoculars is a perennial one among outdoor enthusiasts, bird watchers, and stargazers. Both optical instruments have their unique advantages, making the choice between them less straightforward than it may seem. This article centers on the shared features of monoculars and binoculars, their differences, and how to choose the right tool for various scenarios. By understanding these aspects, you can make an informed decision about which optical device best suits your needs.

Important Features that Monoculars and Binoculars Share

There are things that make both monoculars and binoculars useful:


Magnification is a critical feature for both monoculars and binoculars, determining how close an object appears compared to the naked eye. Typically expressed as a number followed by “x” (e.g., 10x), this number indicates that the object appears ten times closer than it does to the unaided eye. For example, a bird watcher might use an 8x monocular or binoculars to clearly see the details of a bird’s feathers from a significant distance. Similarly, a stargazer might use a 10x device to bring the craters of the moon into sharp focus. Both monoculars and binoculars can offer similar magnification levels, but the user experience differs due to their designs. Monoculars provide a quick, one-eyed view, which can be more convenient for brief observations. In contrast, binoculars offer a more stable, two-eyed view, reducing eye strain during prolonged use.

Monoculars provide a quick, one-eyed view, which can be more convenient for brief observations.

Field of View

Field of view (FOV) refers to the width of the area visible through the optical device at a specific distance, usually measured in feet at 1,000 yards or meters at 1,000 meters. A wider FOV is beneficial for activities like bird watching, where tracking fast-moving or multiple subjects is necessary. For instance, binoculars with a 7-degree FOV can allow users to view an area roughly 367 feet wide at 1,000 yards. Monoculars and binoculars can provide wide FOVs, but binoculars generally offer a more immersive experience because using both eyes naturally enhances depth perception and spatial awareness. This dual-eye usage creates a more extensive and richer view, which can be crucial for activities requiring detailed and comprehensive observation, such as wildlife tracking or sports events.

Objective Lens Diameter

The objective lens diameter, measured in millimeters, affects the amount of light that enters the device, influencing image brightness and clarity. Larger objective lenses capture more light, which is crucial in low-light conditions such as dawn, dusk, or dense forests. For example, binoculars with a 50mm objective lens will gather more light than those with a 25mm lens, providing brighter and clearer images in dim lighting. While both monoculars and binoculars can have large objective lenses, binoculars often excel in light-gathering ability due to their two-lens system, effectively doubling the light intake. This makes binoculars more suitable for activities like stargazing or nocturnal wildlife observation, where maximum light capture is essential for clarity and detail.

Focus Mechanism

The focus mechanism is essential for obtaining a sharp image, allowing users to adjust the clarity based on distance and object size. Monoculars and binoculars typically use similar focusing systems, such as individual eyepiece adjustments or central focus wheels. For example, binoculars might feature a central focus wheel for simultaneous adjustment of both eyepieces, with a diopter adjustment on one eyepiece to compensate for differences in vision between the eyes. Quick and precise focusing is important for both devices, especially when observing moving subjects like birds or transitioning between different distances, such as switching from a nearby deer to a distant mountain range. Monoculars, with their single lens, can offer rapid focusing, making them advantageous for quick, on-the-go observations where speed and simplicity are key.

How a Monocular Differs from Binoculars

However, the two differ in many ways:

Portability and Weight

Monoculars are inherently more portable and lightweight compared to binoculars. Their single-tube design makes them easy to carry in a pocket or backpack, ideal for hikers and travelers who prioritize compact gear. For instance, a monocular might weigh as little as 150 grams and fit comfortably in a pocket, whereas binoculars with similar specifications might weigh twice as much and require a carrying case. This significant difference in weight and size can be a deciding factor for users who need to minimize their loads, such as long-distance trekkers or backpackers.

Ease of Use

Monoculars are often simpler to use due to their straightforward design. With only one lens to focus on, they can be quicker to deploy and adjust. This simplicity can be beneficial for those who need to quickly spot and observe objects, such as hunters or sports spectators. For instance, a hunter might use a monocular to quickly scan for game without needing to spend time adjusting two lenses. Binoculars, while offering a more immersive viewing experience, require coordination between both eyes and can be more complex to adjust, which might not be ideal in fast-paced or high-stakes situations.

Depth Perception

One significant advantage of binoculars is their ability to provide depth perception. By using both eyes, binoculars create a three-dimensional image, making it easier to judge distances and the relative position of objects. This depth perception is crucial in scenarios such as marine navigation, where understanding the distance between buoys or obstacles can be vital. Monoculars, using only one eye, offer a flat image, which can be a limitation when depth perception is crucial. For example, during bird watching, accurately judging the distance and movement of birds in flight is significantly easier with binoculars than with a monocular.

Versatility and Special Features

Monoculars often come with features like built-in compasses, rangefinders, or even night vision capabilities, catering to specific needs. For example, a monocular with an integrated rangefinder can be invaluable for a golfer estimating distances to the next hole or a hiker needing to determine the distance to a waypoint. Their design makes it easier to incorporate such functionalities without adding much bulk. Binoculars, on the other hand, may include advanced optical technologies like image stabilization, which reduces the shakiness of the image, enhancing long-term viewing comfort. This feature is particularly useful for activities like bird watching from a boat or during windy conditions, where maintaining a steady view can be challenging.

Monocular vs. Binoculars: How to Choose

This section will help you decide on monocular vs. binoculars based on different situations:

Hiking and Traveling

For hikers and travelers, portability is paramount. A monocular’s compact size and light weight make it an excellent choice. It can easily be packed and accessed without adding significant weight to your gear. For example, a monocular weighing 150 grams and measuring 4 inches long can be a constant companion on a hiking trip, offering quick and convenient viewing of distant landscapes or wildlife. However, for more detailed observation, such as bird watching during a hike, compact binoculars might offer a better balance between portability and viewing experience. A pair of binoculars with 8x magnification and a 25mm objective lens can provide a broader view and more detailed observation without being excessively bulky.

Bird Watching

Bird watchers often prefer binoculars due to their superior field of view and depth perception. The ability to track moving birds with both eyes enhances the overall experience. For instance, binoculars with 10x magnification and a 42mm objective lens can bring distant birds into sharp focus, allowing observers to appreciate intricate details like feather patterns and colors. The dual-eye viewing system of binoculars helps in maintaining a steady image, reducing eye strain during prolonged use and providing a more immersive bird-watching experience.

The ability to track moving birds with both eyes enhances the overall experience.


For stargazing, binoculars generally outperform monoculars. The dual lenses of binoculars gather more light, providing brighter and clearer images of celestial objects. For example, binoculars with 50mm objective lenses can gather sufficient light to reveal details of the moon’s surface and brighter planets, offering a more engaging stargazing experience. Additionally, the three-dimensional effect of using both eyes can enhance the stargazing experience, making it easier to navigate the night sky and distinguish between various celestial objects.


Hunters and tactical users may favor monoculars for their simplicity and ease of use. Monoculars are quick to deploy, and their single-handed operation allows for swift spotting and target acquisition. For example, a monocular with 6x magnification and an integrated rangefinder can provide a hunter with quick distance measurements and clear views of the target. The addition of features like rangefinders can be particularly useful in these settings, offering tactical advantages without the need for bulky equipment.

Sports and Events

For watching sports and events, binoculars offer a more engaging experience. Their ability to provide a wide field of view and detailed imagery helps in following fast-paced action. For instance, binoculars with 8x magnification and a wide field of view can make it easier to track players on a field or follow the action in a race. However, for those who prefer a more compact option, a monocular can still provide adequate magnification and ease of use, offering a convenient solution for quick and focused viewing of the event.

Their ability to provide a wide field of view and detailed imagery helps in following fast-paced action.

Final Words

Monoculars offer unmatched portability and simplicity, making them ideal for travelers, hikers, and quick-spotting tasks. Binoculars, with their immersive viewing experience and superior depth perception, are better suited for detailed observations, such as bird watching, stargazing, and sports events. If you understand the strengths and limitations of each device, you can select the optical tool that best enhances your outdoor adventures and observational activities.

Read More

How to Properly Use a Monocular for Hunting Success



Waylin is an avid hunter and tactical gear enthusiast with over 8 years of experience using and testing optics like monoculars and rifle scopes in the field. He provides practical, real-world advice and reviews to help others select and get the most out of their monoculars, scopes, and other key gear for hunting
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