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What Is a Monocular and How Does It Work? 

Last Updated: 27.09.23


A monocular is essentially a special type of telescope, smaller in terms of size, that has a wide range of applications and differs from a binocular in some essential ways. If you want to find out more details about top-rated monoculars on the market, you have more info here

What makes these devices stand out is the fact that they feature one lens, one tube, one eyepiece, and can be maneuvered single-handedly. Of course, this means that they are easier to carry around and use when necessary, which always helps when you are out hunting or birdwatching. However, there are plenty of other reasons for which monoculars are such popular devices. 

If you are wondering whether you should choose a monocular over a pair of binoculars, but you are not yet sure what the answer is, then it’s probably a good idea to understand a bit more about how these units work so that you can tell whether it’s a good alternative for your needs. 


How Does a Monocular Work? 

It’s true that even experienced users have a hard time deciding whether to go for a monocular or for a pair of binos, as the differences between these types of devices vary quite a lot, especially in terms of function. So let’s take a look at how a monocular works in order to see what it is that makes it a better option in some situations. 

The first thing you should know is that a monocular uses light that goes through the prism lens in order to magnify the subject and render distant viewings clear. Of course, this principle is not new to someone who is used to optical devices. However, it’s good to keep in mind that prism lenses don’t work like regular optical lenses when it comes to light refraction. 

This means that they impact your vision and overall viewing experience in a different way. The way prism lenses are made includes a base that resembles a pyramid, as well as a pointed top. When the light goes through it, the lens bends it in the base’s direction, and the object becomes visible toward the pointed top. 

If this sounds a bit complicated, in reality, it is not, because what it means is that the image is transferred using the lens, which is a principle on which most telescopes work in order to help users see further away into space. The way in which a monocular is different from binos is through the fact that you ultimately get a single image, instead of the standard double one. 


Lens Size

Of course, the size of the lens is directly correlated to the magnification power and the overall clarity of the image rendered, but there’s another reason for which you should consider this aspect when it comes to optical devices, and especially to a monocular. If the lenses are larger, this has a direct impact on the unit’s overall weight. 

It’s true that there are plenty of binoculars on the market that are lightweight, but some of these do make compromises in terms of image clarity in order to gain more in terms of portability. This issue can be overcome using a monocular, simply because you only have one set of lenses within its construction, which automatically means that it’s a lighter alternative. 

If you are not a fan of carrying bulky and heavy items while you are out in the wild, then you can probably find the right unit by choosing a monocular that offers a superior viewing experience, but an overall lower weight so that you remain comfortable as well. 

In case you are wondering what a comfortable lens size would, the average 30mm to 42mm does a great job for most users. With such a lens size, you can see wider and brighter images of your subject, while also remaining in a comfortable field of view. 


Various Situations 

Those of you who are fans of outdoor adventures, such as hunting or birdwatching, need to be very careful when packing for several days in order to remain comfortable and able to hike. On the other hand, it’s true that you need to find the right balance between size and performance, which is something that the right monocular can ensure. 

Of course, these devices work great for those situations in which you shouldn’t make too much noise that could scare away the subject. You can move easier using a monocular and, given that you can single-handedly maneuver it, you will be able to remain unnoticed for longer. It’s true that this also depends on your overall experience in the wild, but it’s always better to move with ease and have the right devices to do so. 

A good monocular can be successfully used for a wide range of applications, including military activities, hunting, fishing, hiking, birdwatching, archery, as well as plenty of other ones. 


Details on Other Optical Devices 

It’s quite tempting to see a monocular as an alternative to a pair of binos or to other optical devices. However, the truth is that many times these have different uses, so they can be used in a complementary way. It all depends on where your outdoor adventures take you and what you need in order to remain comfortable when walking for multiple hours outside. 

With this being said, it may be helpful to take a look at some of the differences between binoculars and a monocular, and the first one you should think about is portability. If you are going to remain in the same location for a longer period trying to get a good look at your subject, then a spotting scope is probably going to prove more efficient. 

You can take your time to install a tripod, and the magnification results are far superior to those offered by both the binos or the monocular. However, if you intend to move around a lot, then you definitely need to think about carrying items that are easy to handle and lightweight. 

Compared to a pair of binoculars of the same lens size and magnification power, a monocular is going to be around half as heavy, and probably around half the size. So, as you can see, this can actually make a difference in terms of your overall comfort. You can easily carry a monocular in your pocket for easy access when you are out in nature. 

Plus, while binos usually come with a neck strap, a monocular can be many times carried using a wrist strap. Another aspect that you definitely need to look for in any optical device that you are planning to use outdoors is its durability and resistance to elements. 

No matter if you go for a monocular or for a pair of binoculars, the unit should be fog-proof, waterproof, and shock-proof so that you have peace of mind no matter what comes your way in terms of weather conditions. 


Field of View

The field of view is actually one of the most important differences between binoculars and monoculars, given that the former uses more lenses, which automatically means that the user benefits from a wider field of view. Of course, you always have the right field of view when looking at something with your own eyes, but binos are the ones that come closest to this experience, given their construction. 

This feels more natural than using a monocular, which does come with some compromises in terms of viewing comfort. Moreover, the element that has the highest impact on the available field of view is the size of the lens. The larger the lens, the more light can come in, which results in better color and greater detail. 

On the other hand, the lens size also drives a model’s price up, so you need to decide what it is that you need when making your choice. Also, keep in mind that, as the magnification goes up, the field of view decreases, so you will be able to see more details, but less of the overall scenery. 

In the end, the right choice in terms of optical devices depends on the user’s specific needs. There is no single unit that can satisfy all the preferences and offer ideal performance from every point of view. For this reason, the first thing you should always do is determine how you are going to use the optical device and then proceed to look at various models and specifications. 



Ioana Moldovan

Ioana’s professional experience in the optics field has helped her understand the value of passing her knowledge forward. Her curious personality helps her gather useful information for her readers and her goal is to make technical information fun and accessible to everyone.

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