Many bird watchers are confused about binoculars vs monoculars, and it’s easy to see why. In short, monoculars are easier to carry around while binoculars give you a wider field of view. But is a monocular or a binocular best for birding?
Incorporating the same quality optical components, a birding monocular costs less than a pair of binoculars but still provides clear, bright images. Monoculars’ sleek shape and lighter weight makes them more packable and portable for birdwatching than binoculars.
With a lens for each eye like our natural vision, binoculars offer a wider field of view and greater depth perception. For this reason, some bird watchers prefer binoculars for a more involving viewing experience. The extra weight, bulk and expense are worth it.
If you are wondering if a monocular is as good as a binocular for bird watching, we can say straightaway the answer is yes. Though binoculars tend to be more well known, the best monocular can perform just as well, and it has additional benefits.
When it comes to binoculars vs monoculars, there are a few things you should consider before making your decision. This article will help clear up any confusion by discussing the advantages and disadvantages of binoculars and monoculars in different birding situations. Armed with this knowledge and understanding, you can assess which option would be most applicable to you.
Birding monocular vs binocular – what are the similarities?
Both optical devices offer many of the same features that improve the quality of the images, such as multi coated optics or fully multi coated lenses. They can be made in fog proof options and with the correct eye relief suitable for people who wear glasses.
Further factors to consider include obvious differences such as their comparative size, weight and cost, as well as more specialized optical features like field of view and image quality.
Birding monocular vs binocular – what’s the difference?
How a binocular works
There are two main types of binoculars: Porro and roof. The names denote what kind of prism is used to direct the light through the body of the binoculars.
Porro prism design was the most popular design until the 1960s, then roof became more popular. Roof binoculars are more like telescopes because they use lenses instead of mirrors.
For a more detailed explanation of the two main types of binoculars, please see this article.
How a monocular works
A monocular is a single-lens optical instrument that gives the viewer a magnified view of an object. A monocular is basically a mini version of a telescope. It uses refraction to direct the light through to the user’s eye.
Monoculars vs binoculars: viewing comfort
With just one lens a monocular can be used with either eye, depending on which you favor. If you have vision problems in one eye and naturally favor just one, then a monocular is your ideal solution.
Long use of a monocular can cause discomfort or eye fatigue because only one eye is looking at a magnified image. Eye strain is more likely with a monocular.
The advantage of binoculars is that you are looking with two eyes, instead of having to close one. This is easier on your eye muscles and gives you a more natural 3D view, as with the naked eye.
Some people also find it easier to resolve detail when looking with both eyes.
Monocular vs binoculars: portability and ease of use
This is especially important if you plan on carrying them around with you while bird watching. A monocular is typically lighter and smaller than binoculars, making them easier to carry.
Wearing them around the neck on a strap is more comfortable than binoculars. The narrow body of a monocular is easy to put away. Being more than twice as wide as a monocular, binoculars are less conveniently packed into your bag.
On the other hand, binoculars tend to be bulkier and heavier. As more than twice the size, they obviously have double the weight of lenses and barrel, plus the hinge in the middle.
It is possible to find very light and compact binoculars, though, still with a good specification. There should not need to be a compromise in terms of magnification levels and image quality.
Monoculars vs binoculars: field of view
On many birding occasions a wider field of view is more helpful. For instance, when a small bird takes off unexpectedly, it is easier to follow this quick-moving target or to spot its new location with a wider field of view.
Binoculars are preferred by many birders because they have a broader field of view. This means that they allow you to see more at once than with a monocular.
The wider field of view on binoculars makes it easier to follow moving objects and targets. Binoculars can also be made with wide-angle lenses for an even broader vista.
Binocular vision – looking with two eyes – also allows for a greater perception of distance. The monocular, in contrast, gives a somewhat flatter view.
Some people find it more difficult to aim a monocular accurately. In comparison to the best binoculars, a monocular is less suitable for scanning the distance or searching around, which is what birders need to do when they first spot a rare bird.
Monoculars’ narrow field of view therefore make it difficult to find birds in enclosed areas, like amongst trees. This smaller field of view means, though you see the bird itself in more detail, you have a more limited view of its surroundings.
The monocular might be more useful if you wish to precisely focus on something that is in the distance, or not in your direct line of sight.
Monocular vs binoculars: magnification power and image quality
Binoculars typically offer magnification power of 8x to 10x. If someone goes for higher magnification binoculars, they could reach up to 12x magnification.
Monoculars and binoculars are generally available in similar ranges of magnification.
As with any optical device, the larger the magnification, the greater the risk of image shake. With a larger magnification – in excess of 12x, for example – it’s advised to opt for a tripod for increased steadiness.
Monoculars vs binoculars: size of objective lens
Compared to a pair of binoculars of the same magnification, a monocular has a larger objective lens. Because the wider objective lens lets in more light, this makes for a bright image even in low light, which is good if you are observing birds really early or later in the dark, or in overcast weather conditions.
Low light performance: monocular wins for night vision
Some people think that the monocular is better than many binoculars for seeing at night. Night vision monoculars specifically for this use are available.
The advantage of using a monocular at night is that the use of one eye saves your natural night vision. That eye using the night vision monocular will be able to readjust to the dark much faster than if you were using night vision binoculars with both eyes.
Monocular vs binoculars: price
Binoculars typically have a higher price point due to the extra optical components and engineering that goes into making them. Monoculars tend to be less expensive because they are more simplistic in their design.
There are more companies who make binoculars than monoculars. This popularity means you have more options to pick from that are both high quality and competitively priced.
A birding monocular is potentially cheaper to maintain as they cannot get knocked out of alignment, as traditional binoculars might do. A monocular cannot suffer issues of collimation and so is more robust in this sense. Plus you have half as many lenses to keep clean and free of smudges!
Monocular vs binocular: advantages and disadvantages for bird watching
- more compact
- focus more quickly
- easier to hold and move into place with one hand
- less of a burden to wear around your neck while moving
- less than half the weight of a binocular (there is no bridge)
- equal optical quality for less money
- makes sense for those with unequal vision across both eyes
- makes sense for those that need night vision
- narrower field of view
- can take more practice to aim accurately
- risk of eye fatigue with extended viewing – using one eye is more tiring than both eyes
- no stereoscopic advantage that binoculars offer
- less perception of depth and detail
- two optical tubes give a more natural feeling
- better depth perception
- eyes can gather information more quickly
- wider choice of makers and models
- may take longer to focus both sides
- require both hands to use, which can be a problem with reduced mobility
- heavier to carry (though accessories like harnesses can help)
- bulkier to fit in your bag or purse
- more expensive
Monocular vs binoculars: best uses for birding
Where and when should I use a monocular?
Its extra portability makes a monocular preferable if you are bird watching while hiking, or need to walk very long distances to hides.
If birding at dusk is one of your favorite pastimes, then a monocular with a larger objective lens may suit most birders as offer better viewing in limited light situations.
Where and when should I use binoculars?
Binoculars, on the other hand, are good for optic users who do not need to carry them far. Bird watching in a backyard or from a car are examples of when a binocular might suit better.
For more eye comfort during extended periods of viewing, binoculars are better, though it is worth considering the extra weight if you are intending to hand hold them.
Decision time: do I want a monocular or binoculars for bird watching?
Ultimately, it’s up to you which instrument you decide to purchase, as modern binoculars and a top notch monocular each have its own benefits. In addition, for people who have been considering the purchase of a spotting scope, a monocular is an even more portable option. Despite having less magnification than typical spotting scopes, a monocular of at least 12x power can allow you to see the birds well (as long as you have a steady hand!).
It is important that you make your decision based on the factors we’ve discussed here: which instrument will be more advantageous for the type of bird watching you plan on doing? Which size and weight do you prefer? What features are most important to you? And finally, what is your budget?
For some people, binoculars offer an overall more rounded and vivid viewing experience. For those who prioritize portability and budget, then a good monocular has a sound quality ratio as it still provides impressive images at a lesser price point.
We hope our comprehensive guide to binoculars vs monocular for bird watching has helped clear up any confusion and that you are now better informed about which option is best for you.
Once you have worked out whether you want a monocular or a binocular for your birding, we have further buying guides to help you narrow down your choice of model.
- 1 Birding monocular vs binocular – what are the similarities?
- 2 Birding monocular vs binocular – what’s the difference?
- 3 Monoculars vs binoculars: viewing comfort
- 4 Monocular vs binoculars: portability and ease of use
- 5 Monoculars vs binoculars: field of view
- 6 Monocular vs binoculars: magnification power and image quality
- 7 Monoculars vs binoculars: size of objective lens
- 8 Monocular vs binoculars: price
- 9 Monocular vs binocular: advantages and disadvantages for bird watching
- 10 Monocular vs binoculars: best uses for birding
- 11 Decision time: do I want a monocular or binoculars for bird watching?