Monocular vs Binoculars: Which Should You Use?

binoculars

The difference between monoculars and binoculars is very easy to figure out. Monoculars are designed for use with one eye, while binoculars are designed for use with two eyes. Since most people are more familiar with binoculars, monoculars often get overlooked when people are searching for a magnification device.

That’s too bad. Choosing one or the other solution isn’t likely to make you regret your purchase since the devices are so similar, but these tools have small differences in function that can greatly affect your satisfaction, and they have differences in price that can lead to great differences in value for the same amount of money spent.

Many people compare monoculars to a miniature telescope. If that’s the case, then a pair of binoculars is like two miniature monoculars taped together. The truth is that optics have come a long way since the days of scanning landscapes with a telescope, and today you can get great magnification in a small device.

Modern binoculars and monoculars are more rugged than telescopes, and while you shouldn’t go around intentionally dropping them, they are more likely to survive a fall than their predecessors. Consequently, there’s no real reason not to get one of these great devices for your next excursion. Of course, you may not be sure which one is right for you. If you still have that question, then make sure you check out the rest of this guide, which breaks down the differences between monoculars and binoculars so that you can find the model that’s right for you.

Portability

If you’re going to be staying in one place while using your magnification device, then you’re probably going to be better off with a spotting scope, which uses a tripod and provides superior magnification to either the monocular or binoculars.

However, if you’re going to be moving around, both of these devices are a great choice. Monoculars have a slight edge in this category. Compared to a pair of binoculars with the same magnification and lens size, a monocular will be half or just under half as heavy, and they will be under half the size. That means that many monoculars can be put in a jacket pocket for easy access while you’re out in nature. They’re also generally light enough that you can let them hang from a wrist strap, whereas binoculars typically come with a neck strap.

That means that monoculars will be a hair faster to get in position and to get focused. Some binocular models require you to focus the lenses independently, so you can save some time there with a monocular as well. If you’re backpacking or camping, or in any other situation where every ounce matters, then the monocular again wins out.

However, not all models come with waterproof, fog-proof, and shock-proof designs, which means you’ll have to pay a bit extra on both monoculars and binoculars in order to get models that are suitable for extensive outdoor use. However, the best models will be able to take a hit and keep working and will survive an accidental fall into a lake or river.

monocular

Night vision

You may have heard that the military makes extensive use of night vision equipment. What you may not know is that most militaries favor night vision monoculars over binoculars. The reason is twofold. Having one eye free to examine the battlefield in real color, even if you can see a lot is invaluable. The second is that using night vision equipment is likely to lower that eye’s ability to see in the dark, and while modern night vision makes an effort to reduce sudden flashes of light related to things like muzzle flashes, those bright lights filtered through night vision equipment can be blinding.

In the consumer market, you have a choice between using binoculars and monoculars. However, many of the same reasonings still apply. If you’re night hunting, night vision monoculars can be a great choice, as they give you the opportunity to scan for prey without killing your own night vision. You can also find more monoculars targeted at hunters, with neat features like recording and IR illuminators, which light up a seen in the non-visible spectrum. That allows you to see your target without them becoming aware of your presence.

Night vision binoculars also exist and can come with many of the same features. However, the big downside is that you’re probably going to kill your night vision every time you use them. Of course, if you’re doing something where you won’t need your night vision, then night vision binoculars can provide a wider field of view.

night vision

Image credit: Wikimedia

Field of view

Speaking of field of view, one of the biggest differences between monoculars and binoculars is that binoculars use twice as many lenses and provide a much wider field of view. While you’ll never get a field of view as good as that which you can get with your own eyes, binoculars come closer to achieving a natural view relative to a monocular.

The biggest factor in field of view is lens size. The bigger the lenses on your monocular or binoculars, the larger the field of view can be. Bigger lenses also allow more light in, and in the right circumstances, can lead to greater detail and better color. Of course, bigger lenses come at a higher price, so you have to decide how much you want. The size of the lens doesn’t affect how much magnification you get, though monoculars and binoculars with greater magnifications tend to have larger lenses as well, to let in more light and produce greater detail.

As your magnification increases, your field of view goes down. Essentially, you see an area farther away more clearly, but that area is smaller. So, if you want the largest overall field of view, you’ll be best off with a pair of binoculars that has a smaller magnification.  If field of view doesn’t matter as much to you, you can go with a pair of binoculars with greater magnification, or even switch to a low-magnification monocular.

field of view

Pricing

Unlike a lot of fields, pricing correlates well with quality in magnification devices. That’s not to say that you can’t get a great deal, but rather that going too cheap could result in you getting a truly inferior product that you won’t like using.

The good news is that you have some options to save some money and still get a good experience. You can typically get a monocular with a higher part quality, a great magnification, or both, for the same price as a less-nice pair of binoculars. Not only do binoculars require a larger shell, but they use twice as many optical components, which make up the bulk of the cost of making these tools.

Or, if you find a magnification and lens size that you like, you can get a monocular that has them for a fraction of what you’d pay for a pair of binoculars. A good rule of thumb is that a monocular will be cheaper for the same quality as a pair of binoculars, or that you can get a better-quality monocular for the same price as a pair of binoculars.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t get a pair of binoculars. They excel in many areas and especially excel in field of view. But, if price was your only concern, then you would probably get a monocular due to how well it performs in this category.

Comfort

The biggest difference in comfort between a monocular and a pair of binoculars will relate to how you wear them when they’re not in use. Binoculars are heavier, but they also usually come with a neck strap, allowing you to hang them around your neck when not in use. Neck straps vary in comfort, so it’s an important feature to research when you’re shopping for binoculars.

Monoculars tend to come with wrist-straps instead. If you have arthritis or other conditions which hurt your hands or wrists, you may not want to wear a wrist strap. Even people with healthy wrists usually don’t find a wrist strap as comfortable as a neck strap. Some monoculars do come with neck straps, and it wouldn’t be too hard to fashion one of your own, so there’s a chance you can get a model that will be more comfortable in this regard.

When it comes to comfort during use, binoculars also win out. Being able to keep both eyes open while using your binoculars is a more natural, and more comfortable, state to be in. You have to keep one eye shut while using a pair of binoculars, which can grow uncomfortable if you’re going to be looking through it for long periods of time.

Of course, these differences are relatively minor. In some cases, they won’t even apply, as you’ll be primary keeping your monocular or binoculars in a case in your backpack when not using them.

man using binoculars

Ease of use

Monoculars and binoculars rely on the same technologies, so there’s not going to be a clear winner in this category. Something to keep in mind is that some binoculars require you to focus both eyes independently, which can take more time than it would to focus the single lens on the monocular. Monoculars are straightforward. There are only one lens and one focus to adjust. That lets you work very quickly in most situations.

Another piece of good news is that neither of these tools typically require much assembly. You may have to attach a wrist strap, and very occasionally, an eyepiece, but beyond that everything is done at the factory. That makes these tools ready to go as soon as you take them out of the box.

Monoculars will also require less maintenance. It’s important that you keep your lens caps on over the lenses on both monoculars and binoculars, and do the same with the eyepiece caps if your model comes with them. That will keep you from having to clean them off, which can be a tricky task since you need to do it in a way that won’t streak. Since monoculars have fewer lenses to worry about, they’re going to be easier to care for.

Monoculars are also lighter, so you’re not going to be as burdened by them if you’re taking them on a long trip or going backpacking with them. However, the returns on the lower weight are lesser on shorter trips where they won’t be as much of a burden.

man usig monocular

Conclusion

As you may have gathered, you would probably be fine with either a monocular or a binocular in most circumstances, unless you value certain features over others. If you need the most portable device, go with the monocular, which weighs less and comes in a more compact form. If you want the device with the best night vision, go with the monocular, as it provides good tools for hunters and doesn’t kill your night vision. You should also get the monocular if you’re concerned with getting the best optical clarity and lens size for the price.

Of course, there are reasons to get binoculars as well. Binoculars provide a far better field of view, since they’re using twice as many lenses and delivering images to both eyes. They also tend to be more damage-resistant, though that will depend on the model. Finally, they have a slight edge when it comes to comfort.

We hope that our guide has helped you figure out whether a new monocular or pair of binoculars will best serve you in future endeavors. You now have the information you need to sort through potential matches like an expert and find the model that will leave you satisfied with your purchase for many years to come.