Monocular vs Binoculars for Birding, Hunting, Hiking, Sports & Travel

In this article and in the video below, I take a look at and compare the main strengths & weaknesses of a Monocular vs Binoculars giving you examples with full reviews to discover which is best for uses like Birding, Hunting, Hiking, Prepping, Survival, Sports & Travel, which in turn will hopefully help you decide which is best for your particular needs and requirements.

BBR Video Version on YouTube: Monocular vs Binoculars for Birding, Hunting, Hiking, Sports & Travel

Theory & Real-World Testing!
So at the time of writing, I am currently testing the Opticron WP 8x30 Monocular for review, and so I thought this would also make the perfect opportunity to also test and compare them against similar binoculars with the aim of discovering which is best under different circumstances and uses based not only facts and figures, but also on my real-world use and experience in using them alongside each other:

Size & Weight

For me, the main reason why you would consider a monocular over a binocular would be down to the difference in size and weight.

As a monocular is essentially just a binocular cut in half, it is also usually around half the size and weight of a binocular of similar quality and with similar or the same sized objective lenses.

This means with a monocular, you can either just enjoy the advantages of having a smaller device to carry about than the equivalent binocular with the same or similar size lenses.

Or instead, you could choose a monocular that is of a similar size to the binocular you are prepared to use and thus it will invariably have a larger lens and so whilst they may both have similar outer dimensions and weights, you will now gain the potential benefits that a larger lens offers.

We will take a look at these possible advantages in the image quality section below, but for now, if you only factor size and weight into the equation, a monocular would certainly be the winner and a good option for uses like travel, backpacking, lightweight hiking, as an instrument to take along to a sporting event, or indeed most uses where size and weight are an important consideration.

Image Quality & Viewing Experience

When it comes to the viewable image, I find that a binocular and a monocular give me quite a different experience, which plays an important role in deciding which instrument I would prefer to use in any given scenario:

Light Gathering

So, if we take a monocular like this Opticron WP 8x30 Monocular, as an example:

Theory
It’s 30mm objective lens, will have pretty much the same light-gathering ability as one of the lenses on a mid-size binocular that uses similar size lenses (assuming they both are made from similar quality glass, using similar lens coatings).

Now, with a binocular, say something like the excellent Kite Lynx HD 8x30 Binoculars, you obviously get two objective lenses and not just one, meaning they capture twice as much light.

This sounds great, but using both your eyes (even without binoculars) does not mean that you perceive an image that is twice as bright, or twice as better as when you close one and only use the other. This I think is because your brain combines the two images it receives into one.

Although having said that, from personal observations and from research, whilst very minor, I do believe there is some improvement in some of your vision when using both eyes versus one:

After some digging on the internet, I discovered this study on Binocular vs. monocular hue perception by Jamie K.OpperVicki & J.Volbrecht where it was concluded that hue and saturation perception, as well as perceptive field size, differs when using one versus two eyes.

Real-World Use
From personal experience, I certainly get a far more immersive experience using binoculars when compared to using a monocular.

I also feel that in this example, the image that I see through my 8x32mm binoculars is a fraction brighter in low light situations.

To be fair barely perceptible and I had to check back and forth many time to be sure, and keeping in mind that the Vanguard binocular I testing this Opticron against in this example has slightly larger lenses, but even so, for me, when image quality and brightness are a priority over dimensions and mass, I will most likely opt for a binocular over a monocular.

User Experience

Carrying About
There is no doubt that the particular shape and physical size of a mid-sized 30mm – 36mm monocular like this Opticron just makes it easier to pop it into a jacket pocket or even a small bag and carry it about wherever you go and you’ll barely notice its there.

A mid-sized 30mm – 36mm binocular… not so much! For that type of convenience, you will have to sacrifice some low light performance and go for a smaller 20mm – 26mm compact and then preferably one that uses the double hinge design. For more on this, take a look at my guide to the best compact binoculars.

Viewing Experience
Nerd Alert! Now I know that the section below is me being extremely picky and I almost deleted it before publishing, but for the sake of completeness… I have decided to leave it in:

I have tested and used many hundreds of binoculars and whilst most of them essentially look the same to most people, I have reached the point where I truly appreciate a well-designed, well-balanced set and for me, it can sometimes be the difference for me between a good and a great set.

As a truly ergonomic binocular just feels right in the hands and the focus wheel is easy to reach and turn and thus it just becomes a joy to use, which in turn just makes me want to use it more.

On the other hand, a monocular can and does feel comfortable in your hands for sure, but for me, and perhaps having to keep one eye closed is the cause, but I just don’t get that feeling of being “at one” with the instrument and stepping into the view that I get from a binocular when using one.

Business vs Pleasure
So for this reason I tend to look at a monocular more as a good instrument to identify or gather information when needed, so say for safety reasons where you need to look ahead, or perhaps for use as part of your lightweight survival gear or store in your get home bag for preppers. For birders or wildlife enthusiasts it can also work as a good instrument just to identify a subject.

On the other hand, if I’m out to enjoy the view, like when general bird watching, observing and watching wildlife, or just viewing the scenery, then I would rather hold a good set of binoculars up to both my eyes than use a monocular. This is especially true for long periods of observation.

Robustness

With a monocular, the manufacturer does not need to worry about maintaining perfect alignment between the two sides as you alter the focus as you do with a binocular.

This more basic design means a monocular is a far easier optical device to make, using less moving parts, and thus they have less chance of anything going wrong with the focus mechanism or you having collimation issues.

Here I don’t want to overplay this point as I think for higher-end and even mid-range binoculars, this is not really a factor to consider as I have never had an issue, but at the cheap end of the market, this may just be something just to keep in mind with your decision making.

Price

The fact that a monocular has fewer parts and is easier to produce, makes them less expensive to produce.

Thus, like for like, a monocular will usually retail at a lower price than the equivalent level binocular.

Therefore, if you are looking to save space as well as some cash, a monocular can certainly be a good option.

Conclusions

So as is very often the case when it comes to optics, there is no clear winner here, and it rather comes down to your particular use and needs:

Same Size Objective Lenses

If size, weight, portability, and the price difference is of major importance to you, then a monocular is well worth considering over a similar quality binocular with similar or the same size lenses.

On the other hand, I would suggest that if you want the best viewing experience and are looking to appreciate and enjoy the view a little more then a binocular with the same or similar size lenses is the way to go.

Compact Binoculars vs Mid-Size Monoculars

Things get a little more complicated if your choice is between choosing a binocular that has similar outer dimensions, but smaller lenses than the monocular. So for example a compact 26mm binocular versus a mid-sized 32mm monocular:

Mid to High-End Optics
Here, in low light, the monocular will likely look to have a brighter image, but it will still be less immersive and so for me, if the difference in price is not a major concern, the choice comes down to the “business vs pleasure” aspect to why you are using the device.

Cheap Optics (Under about $80/£80)
If the price is of major concern and you are shopping at the budget end of the spectrum, then I would certainly suggest a cheap mid-sized or better still full-sized monocular as a better, more robust option over a cheap roof prism compact for sure.

Here I make the point of emphasizing the type of prism, as a cheap compact that uses Porro prisms can offer a better performance than a roof prism compact and so could still be worth considering. For why see my article on Cheap Binoculars – Is a Roof or Porro Prism Best?

Related Information

Opticron WP 8x30 Monocular

Opticron WP 8x30 Monocular

For those of you who are interested, the example monocular that I used in the video at the top of this page is the excellent value for money Opticron 8x30 WP Mono.

As well as its very small form factor and lightweight body, other major highlights for me include:

  • Extremely wide field of view: 393 ft@1000yds
  • A fully multi-coated optical system that delivers a bright, high-quality image
  • A tough Nitrogen gas-filled chassis with a fully waterproof construction

Costing about £110 / $140, it for me has an excellent price to performance ratio and I have no hesitation in recommending for the right types of uses that I have discussed on this page.

Buy & Compare Prices: Opticron WP 8x30 Monocular

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