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You have probably heard of and probably used a pair of binoculars. But do you have an answer to the question, “what is a monocular?” Monoculars are on the rise in popularity, and you’ll even find adapted versions for your smartphone.

They are popular with outdoor lovers, sports enthusiasts, spectators, art lovers, tourists, and even the military. But you’re missing out if you don’t know what a monocular is! Read on to find out all you should know about the humble monocular and why you may want to buy one.

What Is a Monocular?

Monoculars are a small type of telescope that are used to view distant objects. As their name implies, monoculars are essentially only half of a pair of binoculars. A monocular, with mono meaning one or single and bi meaning two or double.

Although they are designed for single-handed, monoculars are fairly basic yet easy to use optical instruments used to provide a magnified image in the field use. Despite their wide range of applications (see below) and relatively inexpensive price tag, monoculars are not that well known, especially when compared to binoculars.

What Are Monoculars Used For?

Monoculars are a popular choice to carry outdoors while hiking, touring, camping, wildlife spotting and hunting, given their compact size and ease of use. They are also commonly used for viewing works of art, watching distant races, and getting close-ups at the theatre and sporting events. Monoculars are used by the military for quickly scouting out an area and by climbers for spotting climbing routes.

In short, monoculars may be used by pretty much anyone who needs to zoom in on any terrain features, items or persons for short periods. Monoculars for smartphones are a popular way to shoot close up videos and photos on your smartphone.

Other specialised types include night vision monoculars and thermal monoculars useful in military and security applications. Low light monoculars are also more readily available for better vision both early and late on in the day.

What Do Monocular Numbers Mean?

If you are interested in purchasing a monocular, you’ll find that the former is defined by two numbers, just like binoculars. For example, 8x32mm.

The First Number

The first number of a monocular refers to its level of magnification. This is essentially how much bigger a distant object will appear when viewed with this monocular compared to your naked eye. Some versions may have a range, e.g. 4-10x, rather than just one number if they have variable magnification, as found in zoom monoculars.

Most standard monoculars have a magnification range between 4x and 10x, although specialised models with more magnification levels are also available. However, bear in mind that while higher magnification levels will allow you to see smaller items that are further away, this will decrease your field of view substantially and require a larger optic.

The Second Number

The second monocular figure, such as the 32mm in an 8x32mm, refers to the objective lens diameter. This figure is generally between 20mm to 42mm for most monoculars: the larger your lens, the more light for a brighter image.

However, a larger lens makes for a larger, bulkier monocular. This, in turn, will do away with the monocular’s main advantages of having a compact and lightweight design. Also, if you increase the size of your monoculars, it will become more challenging to keep them steady and in focus, which will, in turn, compromise their utility.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Using a Monocular

While there are plenty of advantages to using a basic monocular, there are also some significant disadvantages that you should also be aware of.

Monocular Advantages

  • One of the main advantages of using a monocular is its compact size making it very easy to carry inside a jacket pocket and requiring no stand or setup.
  • Monoculars are also lightweight, which adds further to their portability.
  • As they require only one eye, you can simultaneously keep your other eye on your surroundings when using your monocular – useful for when you’re out in the great outdoors.
  • Monoculars are also easily adjustable on the go, making them a good choice for bird watching and wildlife spotting.
  • Monoculars are typically used single-handedly for effective long-range vision. You can even get a night vision monocular.
  • Inexpensive. Even high-quality monoculars are relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of binoculars or a telescope.

Monocular Disadvantages

  • Lack of depth perception. As you’re only using one eye with a monocular, you won’t get anything like the same depth of vision as you would using both eyes with binoculars.
  • Potential for eye fatigue. Using one eye instead of two for sustained, intense focusing with a monocular can cause your eye to tire rapidly, leading to eye fatigue.
  • Blurring at high magnification levels. While you can use a monocular to see far away in great detail, like with a telescope, you’ll need a tripod to steady your monocular if you use high magnification levels.
  • Discomfort. The eye that you are not using may cause you some discomfort as you automatically try to rectify your vision over both eyes. Also, the small aperture can lead to further temporary distress and irritation.
  • Even the best monoculars will have relatively low zoom levels compared to a telescope and other optical instruments for viewing over long distances.

Monoculars vs Binoculars and Telescopes: FAQs

What Is the Difference Between a Telescope and a Monocular?

a coin-operated steel tool used for viewing the entire city proper

As mentioned earlier, a basic monocular is a compact version of a refracting telescope. However, while most telescopes use relay lenses with straight optical paths, monoculars tend to rely on roof or Porro prisms to shorten the optical path, making them much smaller than even a small home telescope.

Monoculars, unlike telescopes, are primarily designed for use on the go, with very limited, quickly-made adjustments. Telescopes take a lot of calibration and are designed to be used in one place where they are carefully set up on a tripod to ensure clear viewing. Telescopes also have much higher magnification levels and are more expensive than monoculars.

Which Is Better? Monocular vs Binoculars

Both have their advantages, with monoculars being better for hiking, camping, and casual wildlife viewing. They weigh less and are very quick and easy to focus on for a clear image with minimal adjustments. Using a single eye also enables you to remain situationally aware.

On the other hand, for sustained use over extended periods, whether you are viewing, be it animals, birds, or your surroundings, a pair of binoculars will be much more comfortable to use, providing better eye relief than a pocket monocular.

In short, the best binoculars will be much more comfortable to use and give you a clearer image with a wider field of view. If viewing comfort and a wider range is more important to you and your needs, binoculars will be your best bet. Otherwise, if you are on a budget and looking for a good spotting scope or to view objects on the go, then a good monocular makes the best option. If portability is also important, a monocular makes a better choice than bulky binoculars.

Are You Now Interested in Getting a Monocular?

So, what is a monocular? In a nutshell, it’s a convenient and compact magnifying handheld device to use for long-distance and close-up viewing.

Whether you are looking to spot wild animals when you’re out camping, take close up videos on your smartphone of the scenery on your holiday, sports viewing, or want to get a closer peek at your favourite artist’s work, a monocular is a must.

Wherever you’re planning on going with a view, make sure you pack a lightweight, compact monocular. Even if it is small and has one lens, you can still get the most out of your surroundings.

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