The Best Monocular

Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Monocular

Our Top Pick for 2016: Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Monocular
Read our full review.

See it on Amazon for $174.49*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Too expensive? See our budget pick.

Once called spy glasses, monoculars are popular for hunting, wildlife-viewing, and golfing. IN addition, many visually impaired persons use monoculars to read signs and menus and watch movies on the big screen. Furthermore, monoculars are great for viewing performances when you are in the back of the theatre or on the balcony and do not wish to carry a heavy pair of binoculars, as well as for viewing the whiteboard in a large lecture or classroom from the back of the room. The four products reviewed below are the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD, the Polaris Explorer 12×56, the Vortex 8×36 R/T Tactical, and the Vortex Optics Solo 10×25. These top picks all share some great features, but there are differences that are noticeable to the discerning eye. All four have nitrogen-purged barrels to prevent fogging and fully-coated optics for anti-glaring, as well as O-rings to prevent debris from entering the monocular. The four monoculars also have lengths of less than seven inches and weights of less than a pound, making them ultra-light and compact. Each monocular attempts to strike the balance between the extremes of all its features, but they each do so in different ways.

Table of contents

amazon-available
amazon-available
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12×50 Magnification
Stunning Hd Clarity
Waterproof
Durable
Used And Tested Extensively
Accurate Range Estimation
Waterproof And Fogproof
Built To Last
Adjustable Eyecup
Includes Tripod Stand
10x Magnification
8x Magnification
Secure Non Slip Grip
100% Waterproof
Shockproof Performance

*Price at time of publishing and may not reflect current pricing.

#1 Gold pick (Winner): Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Monocular

Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Monocular Gold Pick

View it on Amazon for $174.49*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-gold-winnerMade with Bushnell’s patented ED Prime glass, which helps prevent color dispersion and provides high-definition imaging, the Legend Ultra HD is a top of the line product. The face of the objective lens is coated with PC 3 coating to increase clarity and contrast for the most spectacular images you will see through a monocular, while BAK-4 roof prisms, manufactured from barium crown glass, allow very little peripheral light to be lost through the non-total internal reflection. In addition, Rainguard HD coating is applied to the lenses to provide water-resistant capabilities to the monocular, enabling the device to be totally submersed in water. With an objective lens of 1.57 inches, you can use this monocular even in low-light situations, such as on a full moon. Speaking of the moon, the variable ten times magnification and 340 feet at 1000 yards field of view will allow you to view anything from the moon’s craters to a deer at 500 yards, yet a close-focusing distance of 6.5 feet means you can read the fine print from across the room if you want. The variable power makes this monocular great for anyone who is visually impaired, as it allows them to adjust the field of view so the image can be seen more clearly. Meanwhile, a close-focusing distance of just 6.5 feet would allow a visually impaired person to read signs or fast-food menus with ease. The exit pupil is 0.17 inches, large enough for the average viewer to not have the feeling of looking through a peephole. A one-handed focus wheel also makes focusing in on a target easy to do with the forefinger of the hand holding the monocular.

At six and a half inches long and four inches in circumference, the Legend Ultra HD is about the size of a handheld flashlight and its weight of 13.2 ounces makes it great for adding to a pack that has to be lightweight, such as for backpacking or hunting. Buy a tripod to go with the Legend or remove the tripod socket and stainless steel belt clip for less weight. You can also buy additional accessories and put them on the built-in picatinny rail, such as a light, laser, or night vision. Bushnell is in the process of developing particular accessories to go on the picatinny rail, but none have been produced as of yet. In the box, you will find a case, a neck lanyard, and a rubber rear-lens cap. The front lens has a flip-down style objective cap. The case included is well-made but a bit bulkier than necessary. It has belt loops for easier carrying, as well as room inside for a small flashlight.

This monocular’s eye cap twists to go up and down depending on your needs, and the eye relief is a longer than usual 0.6 inches, enabling comfortable use with or without eyeglasses. Available in mat black or tactical sand, the rubber external armor is anti-slip and very ergonomic, with the textures in all the right places. You can drop the monocular twenty-five feet from a tree stand and not break the device! Should it break for any reason, though, it comes with a lifetime, no questions asked warranty and one-hundred percent money back guarantee.

#2 Silver pick (Runner-up): Polaris Explorer 12X50 High Powered Monocular

Polaris Explorer 12X50 High Powered Monocular

View it on Amazon for $199.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-silver-winnerOne of the most powerful monoculars on the market today, the Polaris Explorer has a magnification of twelve times and an objective lens of 1.97 inches. This allows for high-powered viewing with very low lighting. For example, while this monocular certainly cannot take the place of a telescope, it is a great viewing device for looking at the moon and stars. A BAK-4 roof prism adds to this ability, not allowing peripheral lighting to be lost. Its field of view is 246 feet/1000 yards, bringing far-distant objects into good focus. There is a one-handed focus knob on top of the monocular; the travel is very long, which some people like and others do not, so consider your preferences for this feature. Focusing up close is easy as well, with a close-focusing distance of 8.2 feet, so you can see the leaves on a tree just a short distance away. These specifications also make the Polaris Explorer a great tool for the visually impaired. If they are nearsighted, this monocular’s field of vision will make things seem much closer in the image. The high magnification also lends to this effect, making the Polaris Explorer one of the best monoculars for the visually impaired.

Durable and rugged, the external rubber armor is anti-skid and quite ergonomic. It is easily gripped with one hand. The exterior comes in just one color, black, and the lenses are coated to be waterproof. Though this monocular, like the others, is nitrogen-purged to be fog-proof, the objective lens still tends to get fogged up in some situations. Just 6.4 inches long and 3.1 inches around, the monocular easily fits in one hand, though it is a little heavy at fourteen ounces. The eyecup is of the twist-up style, making it easy to use with or without eyeglasses. In the box, you also receive a nylon mesh bag with a shoulder strap, eyepiece and objective lens protection covers, a non-abrasive microfiber lens-cleaning cloth, four e-books on expert birdwatching, and a stainless steel tabletop tripod. Because the image gets shakier at larger magnifications such as twelve times and this monocular does not have variable power, you are recommended to use the tabletop tripod as much as possible, though it can be removed to lessen the load. Finally, if your monocular breaks or is damaged in some fashion, it will be repaired or replaced, thanks to a no questions asked, lifetime warranty. The only major disadvantage to viewing device is that everyone wants to borrow it, which might force you to track it down every time you want to use it, especially if you have less than perfect friends.

#3 Bronze pick (3rd place): Vortex Vortex 8×36 R/T Tactical Monocular

Vortex Vortex 8x36 R/T Tactical Monocular

View it on Amazon for $119.79*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-bronze-awardDo you need a reticule for hunting or another activity? The Vortex 8×36 R/T Tactical monocular has a ranging reticule for precise target measurements. All you need to know is the height of the object in yards and how many MRADs it takes, since the reticule has MRAD-based subtensions. This can take time to get used to, but is well worth it once you are versed in its use. The reticule also has a secondary quick-range system with silhouettes. With a magnification of eight times and an optical lens diameter of 0.98 inches, the Vortex R/T Tactical doesn’t have as high of a power as the others, nor does it let in as much lighting. However, with the lesser magnification comes less shaking, which leads to a clearer image. There is no tripod socket, though, so what you can do to stop shaking with your hands is what you get. Presenting objects one thousand yards away as if they are 393 feet away, the field of view is not as beautiful as some other monoculars, but it gets the job done with a crisp appearance and sharp reticule. There are two focusing rings on the R/T Tactical, one for the image focusing and the other for the reticule focusing. Both are easy to turn with one finger, though once you have the reticule in focus you can leave it alone and it will maintain the sharp contrast it needs. The close-focusing view is 16.4 feet. This is not quite as good as other monoculars, but it still allows you to see a deer in detail less than twenty feet away. If you are a visually impaired person looking for a monocular to use for long-distance viewing, this device is not as good as some others, but will meet the needs of someone who is low vision, who needs just a little extra help. Fortunately, however, a close-focusing distance of 16.4 feet means it is not good for viewing close-up signs and fast-food menus. On the other hand, viewing a street sign or pedestrian walk signal is easily done with this monocular. Due to the added reticule, though, most visually impaired persons will not wish to purchase this product. With an exit pupil of 0.12 inches, it is barely bigger than the average pupil and may give a slight peephole effect.

At only 5.3 inches long and three inches in circumference, this viewing device can fit in one hand easily. It also only weighs 10.2 ounces, enabling one-handed holding without tiring your wrist or arm. The rubber external armor comes in just one color, black, and is very ergonomic and anti-slip. This armor also provides a great deal of durability to the monocular. This device also has waterproof-coated lenses to enable the monocular to be dropped in water or be used in the rain with no ill effect. A utility clip gives multiple attachment points for easy access in the field. With this monocular comes a neck lanyard, a soft carrying case, and a non-abrasive microfiber lens-cleaning cloth. The case is well-reinforced, though a little big for the monocular, so it bounces around. With no lens protection covers, this means the monocular lenses have a chance to be scratched inside the case or while carrying on the neck lanyard. This monocular also has a flared eye cup that folds up or down to use with or without eyeglasses. The flare prevents stray light from entering the monocular to create a ghosting appearance. With an eye relief of 0.71 inches, this device is good for people with eyeglasses. The final feature of this monocular is an unconditional, transferable warranty which will last the lifetime of the device.

#4 Budget pick (Best cheap): Vortex Optics Solo 10×25 Waterproof Monocular

Vortex Optics Solo 10x25 Waterproof Monocular

View it on Amazon for $54.00*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-cheap-budget-pickFor such a tiny monocular, the Vortex Solo 10×25 packs in a lot of power! Its ten times magnification and 315 feet at 1000 yards field of vision means you can easily see a target at 500 yards. This viewing device is only 4.4 inches long and 1.8 inches in circumference, easily fitting in the pocket of a backpack, pants, or even a shirt. Easily fitting in the fist for subtle viewing, it is just 5.6 ounces in weight. This means it will put no strain on the wrist or arm, enabling you to keep it steadier than a heavier monocular. With an objective lens of 0.98 inches, you will not be able to use this device at night, but it is great for daytime use. The field of vision is 315 feet at 1000 yards, a decent range for such a small monocular, and the close-focusing view is 16.4 inches. You will not be able to read fine print across a room with this monocular, but a deer at twenty feet will be detailed beyond necessary. For a visually impaired person, the field of view and close-focusing distance measure up to a decent monocular, and the small size means it can be taken wherever you go. The lenses are also coated for water-resistance. Thus, this monocular can ultimately be used in all weather conditions. With an exit pupil of 0.098 inches, however, you may get a noticeable peephole effect because it is barely larger than the average pupil fully contracted. The Solo 10×25 has a focus ring that holds focus well, but it may be a little too stiff for some people to turn with one finger. Shock-proof, the viewing device can be dropped without damage, though not from a high location.

With this monocular comes a soft carrying case, a neck strap, a wrist lanyard, and a non-abrasive microfiber lens-cleaning cloth. There are a few disadvantages to these accessories, however. For instance, the carrying case is made of cloth and elastic. While the cloth is well-reinforced and well-made, the elastic is not. It seems cheap and droops; it should have been made of only the well- reinforced cloth. The other disadvantage is with the neck lanyard, which has a white threading through it. While the white threading looks nice, it is not good for subtle viewing such as in hunting or wildlife-viewing. The monocular also has an eye cup that pops up or down, intended for use with or without eyeglasses, though the eye relief of just 0.56 inches means it can be a little difficult to use with eyeglasses on. Finally, this monocular has an unconditional, lifetime and transferable warranty, so if anything breaks or is damaged, it can be sent back for repair or replacement.


Pre-purchase considerations

magnification

The first optics specification is the magnification, such as the 12 in the Polaris Explorer 12×50. While magnification is greater in telescopes, the lower magnifications of the monoculars are useful for different reasons. First, monoculars with powers less than six times are great for viewing wide landscapes, but keep objects small at a distance. Monoculars with magnifications of seven to fourteen times are a great balance between increased target size and a smaller field of view. Finally, monoculars with magnifications of fifteen times or higher are excellent for viewing specific targets at long ranges. Furthermore, the less the magnification power, the less your shaking will affect the image. However, higher magnification monoculars can be steadied by using a tripod. Before purchasing a monocular, consider how you plan to use the device and buy the magnification that fits your need best.

objective lens size

The second number of the optics specifications is the objective lens diameter, such as the 36 in the Vortex 8×36 R/T Tactical. In this example, the objective lens is thirty-six inches across. The diameter of the objective lens affects how much light is drawn into the barrel. The more light it gathers, the lower the lighting can be and still have a crisp, clear image. Thus, a large objective lens diameter can gather light in very low-lighting situations, up to and including at night. However, the larger the objective lens, the larger the monocular and the heavier the device gets. You will need to strike a balance between a large objective lens size and a smaller, lighter monocular.

lens coating

There are many variants of lens coatings, from coated and fully coated to multi-coated and fully multi-coated. Each coating increases the brightness and clarity and decreases the glare of the image. You should expect to pay a bit more for fully multi-coated than simply coated lenses as multiple coatings increase light gathering and color contrast. More coatings also reduce glare and fog.

durability

A monocular is no good if it is broken, and there are a lot of chances for breakage in the field. For instance, the device could be accidentally swept off a tree stand railing or get left out in a downpour. This is why durability is very important for a monocular. Durability means many different things for these devices. External rubber armor provides some impact protection and keeps water off the actual barrel. O-rings on both ends create a seal against dirt, moisture, and other debris that might enter the barrel. As you can see, protecting the prisms inside the barrel is one of the most important things about durability. Without crystal clear prisms, your image will have flecks, squiggles, or washes over the image. Another part of durability is the warranty for the monocular. Some have a years-long warranty that is limited to defaults of the monocular, while others have unconditional, lifetime warranties where the company will repair or replace your device any time it breaks. This latter kind of warranty is obviously preferable, and you should look for it along with the other features mentioned that make the monocular durable.

exit pupil

Not many people consider the exit pupil to be a major factor in a monocular. However, if the exit pupil is too small, you will likely get the feeling you are looking through a peephole rather than viewing the image straight on. The average pupil, fully contracted, is 0.09 inches and fully dilated, the average pupil becomes a large 0.31 inches. As you may know, the lower the lighting, the more likely the eyes are to dilate. Thus, in low-light situations, you would need a large exit pupil in order to have a clear image without the peephole effect, though pupil dilation of a person decreases with age and thus an older person would not need as large of an exit pupil size. Larger exit pupils mean larger monoculars, so you need to find a good median between a small monocular and a large exit pupil. A good balance is an exit pupil around 0.2 inches, such as the Bushnell Legend’s 0.17 inch exit pupil. This exit pupil means that you will only get a peephole effect if your eyes are very close to or fully dilated, allowing for great straight-on views of even the moon and stars.

barrel length

The final feature that is important to consider before purchasing a monocular is the length of the barrel. You want a balanced monocular that fits well in your hand. Longer barrels provide more depth and light gathering capabilities to the monocular, but shorter barrels make a monocular easy to handle and store. You should strike a balance here as well by purchasing a monocular with a medium-length barrel that fits in your hand easily.

Conclusion (Wrapping it up)

The monocular is a great tool for many activities, such as golfing, hunting, wildlife viewing, and target shooting. Also, monoculars are great tools for the nearsighted person or for viewing plays, operas, and other performances where you are in the back of the theatre or on the balcony, but you do not wish to carry a heavy pair of binoculars. The four monoculars reviewed above are all top-notch products, capable of some the clearest and brightest images possible. Choosing which one to buy is a big challenge, but try to strike a balance between the extremes for magnification, objective lens diameter, and all of the other features available. You will do better if you find that balance and buy the monocular that fits your needs the best. Keep in mind that, in many cases, if anything gets damaged or broken, you can get it repaired or replaced at no cost to you. Ultimately, the decision is yours to make, but picking one of the four monoculars reviewed in this article is not a bad deal. They are all excellent choices at decent prices. Whatever you choose, let your monocular do the looking and have a great time at whichever activity you use it for.

Discussion and comments

We want to know what you think. Do you own any of the products we discussed? Which did you buy and how did it work out for you?

Do you know of an even better product?

Comment below and help your fellow consumers make the right choice. Over to you!

Resources

  1. http://huntingoptics.net/monoculars-reviews/bushnell-legend-ultra-hd-review-10-x-42-monocular
  2. http://www.bushnell.com/all-products/binoculars/legend-ultra-hd/monocular
  3. http://polarisoptics.com/product/polaris-optics-explorer
  4. http://huntingoptics.net/monoculars-reviews/polaris-explorer-monocular-review-12-x-50/
  5. http://shop.opticsplanet.com/vortex-optics-solo-tactical-rt-8×36-tactical-monocular-w-ranging-reticle.html
  6. http://www.opticsplanet.com/vortex-monoculars-solo-10×25-monocular.html
  7. http://www.vortexoptics.com/product/vortex-solo-8×25-monocular
  8. http://www.opticsden.com/best-monocular/
  9. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/outdoors/buying-guide/binocular

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