5 Best Monoculars for Bird Watching (2020)

Binoculars and spotting scopes are great for observing birds, but sometimes bird watchers are hoping to travel light. If you’re looking for something compact and portable, monoculars are a great option. 

A monocular is essentially a lightweight telescope that uses a series of lenses and a prism system to magnify objects. Unlike binoculars that allow you to use both eyes to view objects, monoculars only require one eye to be used effectively. 

Before you buy a monocular, it can be helpful to learn about the various features and styles of these optics. The monocular buyer’s guide below will help you gather all the information you need before you make a purchase.

We Recommend

Best mid-range

Bushnell Legend HD
Monocular

High-magnification

Gosky HD
Monocular

Best night vision

Bestguarder HD Digital
Monocular

Types of Monoculars

Monoculars feature 2 main types of prism systems: porro prism and roof prism. A proper prism can enhance image quality while also minimizing space. 

  • Porro Prism – Many older style monoculars feature porro prisms. Monoculars that use porro prisms will be larger and the eyepiece will be offset from the objective lens.
  • Roof Prism – By far, the most popular prism system for monoculars is the roof prism. Monoculars are inherently compact and a roof prism will make the optic body even smaller. A monocular that features a roof prism is typically the better choice. 

Another important component to consider when purchasing a monocular is the focus mechanism. There are 2 types of focusing systems that monoculars feature. Take a look below to see which focus will work best for you: 

  • Eyepiece Focus Ring – Some compact monoculars will feature an eyepiece focus ring. An eyepiece focus ring will use a roof prism to reduce the size of the monocular. The only drawback to this focus mechanism is that it can be difficult to use with one hand.
  • Focus Knob – A monocular that features a focus knob will have a bit more size added to the frame, but focusing an image with one hand will be much easier. Typically, a monocular with a focus knob will have the focus mechanism just above the lens body. This allows you to easily hold the monocular in one hand while turning the focus knob with one finger.

Why Monoculars are Essential for Bird Watchers

The main benefit of monoculars is its size. Monoculars can pack a whole lot of magnification into a small package. For example, an 8×42 monocular will perform just as well as an 8×42 binocular in terms of magnification but be half the size. This is great if you get tired of carrying around binoculars on long hikes. Long-distance hikers and backpackers who want to reduce weight on the trail will find that monoculars are a great choice for observing birds in the backcountry. 

For bird watchers who are looking for a portable spotting scope, a monocular 12x or higher is a great option. It’s essentially a spotting scope that can fit in your hand. You may not get the high-magnification of a typical spotting scope, but you will still be able to get great looks at birds that are within a reasonable range. 

Another great benefit of monoculars is cost. Monoculars can be a fraction of the cost of a pair of binoculars or spotting scopes. If you are looking for optics at an affordable price, monoculars are an excellent choice to start your bird watching hobby.

Monocular Price Timeline

There are a variety of different specifications that monoculars may feature: magnification, lens diameter, focus style, glass quality, etc. It’s possible to find monoculars with these varying features at different price points, but the quality of the optics and the build corresponds with its price. Here are 5 monocular price points and what to expect at each one:

Under $25 – There are actually quite a few monoculars available at this price point. It’s certainly possible to get monoculars in a variety of sizes and magnifications in this range, but at this price, image quality and durability will be seriously limited. 

$25-100 – There are tons of options for monoculars in this price range. Choose from a variety of magnifications (such as 8x, 10x, or 12x) or lens sizes (such as 25mm, 42mm, 50mm, or 55mm). For under a hundred bucks, it’s quite easy to find reliable, quality monoculars.

$100-200 – This price range will include more name brands like Vortex, Bushnell, and Zeiss. Optics quality, such as the glass, will be much improved at this price point. 

$200-500 – Monoculars in this price range can have quality features such as a rangefinder or night vision.

$500+ – High-end monoculars in this range will be exceptional in terms of glass and build quality. Optics may feature internet connectivity, image capture, and thermal imaging.  

Do You Wear Glasses?

People who wear glasses should not hesitate to get involved in the bird watching hobby. Most optics are quite accommodating for glasses wearers. The main thing to look for in a monocular is one that includes a proper eye relief.

Eye relief is the distance between the eyepiece and your eye that allows you to view the full image before losing some field of view. A short eye relief will not provide enough space for people who wear glasses to get a full picture of the object in view. 

If you wear glasses and are looking for a monocular, look for one that has an eye relief of at least 14mm. However, it’s always best to test out a monocular before buying to ensure that the optics work well and your eyes respond well to the lenses.

How to Choose the Right Monocular for Birding?

Now that you’ve learned the basics, it’s time to start looking for the perfect monocular to get you started. There are a few things to consider when buying a monocular. You’ll want to make sure the one you choose will perform well for your needs. Whether you’re a backyard bird watcher or a more adventurous birder, look closely at the features to determine which specs are best for you:

  • Magnification – Most bird watchers will want a magnification of at least 8x. Higher magnifications, such as 10x & 12x, are great options too but may require a more steady hand. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to view birds with these magnifications.
  • Field of View – One of the downsides of monoculars is a reduced field of view. Because monoculars only use one eye, unlike binoculars, the field of view is diminished. Finding a monocular with a field of view over 300 ft @ 1,000 yds will be enough to provide you with a decent image.
  • Durability – Monoculars are meant to be used outside. You’ll definitely want to find one that can withstand the elements. Durable monoculars will be waterproof, fog proof, dustproof, and shockproof.
  • Portability – A highlight of monoculars is their compact design. Both size and weight will determine the portability of a monocular. If you’re looking for optics that will fit in your pocket, you may need to prioritize sizes such as 8×25. 
  • Special Features – There are a variety of special features that monoculars may have: night vision, rangefinder, cell phone mount, image capture, etc.

Best Monoculars for Bird Watching

1. Vortex Optics Solo Monocular (Best Compact Monocular)

The Vortex Optics Solo Monocular is a great option for bird watchers looking for optics that can fit in their pockets

The Solo is a compact monocular weighing only 5.6 oz and is only 4.4 inches long. 

The lenses are fully multi-coated, allowing for better light transmission and resolution, which helps ensure clearer, brighter images. 

Even though the Solo is small, that doesn’t mean it’s fragile. 

It’s both waterproof and fog proof, and the rubber coating makes it extra durable. But even if this monocular did break for some reason, the Vortex brand ensures all their products for life with their VIP Warranty.

The Vortex Optics Solo Monocular is a good choice for birdwatchers looking to downsize their optics. If you plan on traveling light, this is an excellent monocular to have on hand. 

Check the price of Vortex Optics Solo Monocular here

What we liked

  • Compact Monocular, Only 5.6 oz!
  • Great Value for Brand Name Optics
  • Excellent Lifetime Warranty
  • Good Low Light Performance

What we didn’t like

  • Focus Ring is Stiff and Requires Two Hands to Turn
  • No Lens Cap

Magnification: 8x
Lens diameter: 25mm
Field of view: 378 ft @ 1,000 yds
Eye relief: 15 mm
Weatherproof: Waterproof & Fogproof
Weight: 5.6 oz

2. Wingspan Optics ProSpotter 10X42 Compact Monocular Scope

The Wingspan Optics ProSpotter 10×42 Compact Monocular Scope is a great all-around monocular. 

The 10x magnification gives you plenty of zoom and the 42mm lens diameter is large enough to filter light through to create bright, colorful images. 

It also features an easy-to-use focus knob that makes spotting birds with one hand a breeze. 

This lightweight, compact monocular is also fairly durable. It is drop-proof, dustproof, slip-proof, waterproof, and fog proof. The biggest thing that could be improved with this optic is the field of view. A slightly larger field of view would help stabilize images and make it easier to locate small birds.

Beginner birders will benefit the most from this monocular. It’s easy to use and has all the specifications and features necessary to start observing birds. 

Check the price of Wingspan Optics ProSpotter Monocular here

What we liked

  • One-Handed Focus Knob for Easy Focusing
  • Lightweight & Compact 
  • Low-Cost Monocular for Clear Image Quality
  • All-Weather Durability: Drop-proof, Dustproof, Slip-proof, Waterproof, & Fogproof

What we didn’t like

  • FOV Could Be Improved
  • Eye Relief May Be Too Short for Some People

Magnification: 10x
Lens diameter: 42mm
Field of view: 304 ft @ 1,000 yds
Eye relief: 14 mm
Weatherproof: Drop-proof, Dustproof, Slip-proof, Waterproof, Fogproof & All-Climate
Weight: 11.6 oz

3. Gosky 12x55 High Definition Monocular (Best High Magnification Monocular)

The Gosky monocular is the best high magnification option out there. It has a 12x magnification and a large 55mm lens

This monocular may not be as compact as others, but its magnification power makes it more like a compact scope than a pocket monocular. 

The Gosky 12×55 comes with a hand strap and a cell phone mount. The cell phone mount will let you project the image from the monocular onto your phone. 

This is a great option if you plan on using this monocular with other birders nearby. At 12x, it can be difficult to maintain a stable image, so it may be best to use a tripod with this monocular.

The Gosky 12×55 paired with a tripod can be used as a small spotting scope. If you plan on observing birds in a stationary position, perhaps on a porch in a large backyard or in a chair near a lakeshore, this monocular can pick up images of birds at further distances than the standard 8x and 10x monoculars. 

Check the price of Gosky High Definition Monocular here

What we liked

  • High Magnification at 12x
  • Handstrap & Cell Phone Mount Included
  • Easy-to-Use Focus Knob
  • Tripod Compatible
  • Excellent Eye Relief
  • Great Durability: Waterproof, Fogproof, Dustproof, & Shockproof

What we didn’t like

  • Larger Compared to Other Monoculars
  • In certain situations you may need a tripod

Magnification: 12x
Lens diameter: 55mm
Field of view: 325 ft @ 1,000 yds
Eye relief: 18 mm
Weatherproof: Waterproof, Fogproof, Dustproof, & Shockproof
Weight: 15.85 oz

4. Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Monocular

The Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Monocular is a great option for birdwatchers who prioritize image clarity

The fully multi-coated ED Prime glass provides excellent image quality for bird watchers who want to see sharp, vibrant images of birds. 

It comes with added zoom with the 10x magnification and has a 42mm lens, which helps brighten images

Impressively, these specs are still able to produce a field of view of 340 ft at 1,000 yds. Overall, this monocular performs exceptionally well in the areas that matter: image quality, magnification, and field of view. 

This monocular is a good step-up if you’re looking for optics that prioritize image quality. Serious birders who want to see every detail of a bird will be pleased with the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Monocular.

Check the price of Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Monocular here

What we liked

  • Name Brand Quality
  • Extra-Low Dispersion Glass Lenses
  • Great Image Clarity and Color
  • Excellent FOV
  • Durable Design: Waterproof & Fogproof

What we didn’t like

  • Lens Cap Design Could Be Improved

Magnification: 10x
Lens diameter: 42mm
Field of view: 340 ft @ 1,000 yds
Eye relief: 15.2 mm
Weatherproof: Waterproof & Fogproof
Weight: 13.2 oz

5. Bestguarder 6x50 HD Digital Night Vision Monocular

The Bestguarder HD is the only night vision capable monocular in this list.

It has a 6x magnification and a digital viewfinder, which helps project illuminated images to viewers at night. 

This monocular will help you view nocturnal wildlife at any time of day. Plus, you can take photos and videos. 

The Bestguarder 6×50 HD Monocular is an impressive optic given its special features and its durability. This biggest downside to this monocular is its size. 

If you’re looking to downsize your optics, this may not be the best monocular for you. 

These specialized monoculars are for bird watchers with very specific intentions. If you’re on the hunt for owls or other nocturnal birds, the Bestguarder can help you spot hard to find birds at any hour, day or night.

Check the price of Bestguarder HD Night Vision Monocular here

What we liked

  • Excellent Infrared that has 4 Adjustable Levels
  • Able to Capture Photos and Video 
  • Night Vision Capable
  • Can Be Used Day or Night
  • Very Durable Construction

What we didn’t like

  • FOV is Limited
  • Image quality can always be better

Magnification: 6x
Lens diameter: 50mm
Field of view: 205 ft @ 1,000 yds
Eye relief: 20 mm
Weatherproof: IPX4 Water Resistance
Weight: 1.54 lbs

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