The modern monocular is a magnifying assembly of lenses that is used with one eye only. It has the smallest footprint of any magnifying optic, and it is also the lightest. In fact, some can tip the scales at under 2 ounces.
Large monoculars are comfortable enough to be used for extended viewing times.
These tiny spotting scopes are the fastest observation devices deployed into service and do not require a hinge adjustment for proper IPD (interpupillary distance), as does a binocular. Magnification is from about 3x to 15x, with 8x and 10x the most common. Objective sizes on huge models can be up to 50mm, but most subcompact objectives are from 20mm to around 28mm. Many are about the diameter of a quarter and carry just as easily.
Some monoculars are very similar to one barrel only of an existing “sibling” binocular. But theoretically cutting a binocular in half would save only 50 percent of the size and weight. The monocular barrel does not carry half of the binocular’s required hinge, so many are only one-third the size and weight of a binocular.
MONOCULAR VS. BINOCULAR
A monocular is generally not an instrument designed to be used for long periods of time. Monoculars are at their most useful when snapped up to the eye for a quick peek or to determine what can’t be identified with the naked eye. Examples are traffic jams up ahead, unusual airplanes passing, the fire trail to help me find my way home or looking for that certain person or booth on the floor of the convention center. Using only one eye causes strain; and, for viewing pleasure or for extended periods, the binocular is the better choice and also offers better depth perception.
Also keep in mind that the exit pupil—the column of light exiting the ocular lens and into your eye—will be tiny with a small monocular, often around 2mm. As a result, compact monoculars are generally not a great choice for use in low light.
The human brain allows us to see better and more comfortably when using two eyes rather than one. That is, if you can put a performance number on the visual acuity you have with one eye and also put a number on the other eye, using both eyes will result in a performance number greater than the sum of the two individual eyes added together. Binocular vision enhances performance. Make sense?
Still, there are many users who prefer a monocular over a binocular, mainly due to size. Some users might only have the use of one eye due to injury or illness. My friend, Mark, lost the center of vision in his right eye as a complication of diabetes. He loathes spending money on a binocular when he can physically only use one-third of the total product. He insists that even though binoculars are ubiquitous and, therefore, relatively inexpensive to manufacture due to such high volume, he’d rather put his money into a better-quality monocular. His choice is the Vortex Solo R/T.
An argument to use a binocular instead of a monocular is that the two-barreled optic is easier to hold steady, because you use two hands to stabilize a binocular and only one to steady a monocular. If this is a problem, use two hands to steady the monocular; there’s no rule stating that you can’t.
However, one benefit of using a monocular with one hand is that it’s more discreet: It does not universally distinguish you as a person using an optic.
Vortex Optics offers the widest variety of quality monoculars. They are premium optical systems that will last a lifetime and are warranted to do so. Many are large enough to be used as a primary optic for reconnoitering and other extended use, and a rangefinding reticle is available in some models. Many are similar to one-half of that company’s compact and subcompact binoculars.
Most manufacturers’ monoculars are designed and manufactured as monoculars from their inception. These tiny spotters can be so inexpensive as to make them required equipment in all your vehicles, as well as backups in bug-out bags and survival kits.
There are myriad monoculars available at around $20, but they can cost several hundred dollars from makers such as Leica and Zeiss. They deliver deliriously color-saturated views with little discernable distortion. Some are waterproof, and others offer variable magnification. Almost all come with a protective case and lanyard. A favorite Carson 7×18 Closeup model I keep in my Jeep has a close focus down to 10 inches. I’ve used this feature to view small parts, bugs and slivers in fingers.
Consider a monocular for lightweight travel. In addition, think about stowing one of more of these tiny and inexpensive spotting scopes in places you might not have considered previously—the pocket of your car door or in your tackle box, for instance.
They are cheap enough to give as great gifts, and they are also a smart way to introduce magnified optics to youngsters, who sometimes might have initial difficulty understanding how to use binoculars. Besides, monocular users tend to look cool using them … whether they are or not.
- MAKE: Vortex
- MODEL: Solo R/T Monocular
- MAGNIFICATION: 8x
- OBJECTIVE: 36mm
- WATER RESISTANCE: Waterproof
- WEIGHT: 10.2 ounces
- LENGTH: 5.4 inches
- WIDTH: 2.3 inches
- CLOSE FOCUS: 16.4 feet
- EYE RELIEF: 18mm
- FIELD OF VIEW: (1,000 yards/degrees) 393 feet/7.5 degrees
- RETAIL: $159.99
You know how a roll of quarters in your hand feels kind of satisfying? The Vortex Solo R/T (recon/ tactical) 8×36 monocular is similarly satisfying.
It’s just the right diameter and weight, and it has a voluptuous, curvy feel. The skin is slightly sticky, or rather tactile, and ensures a positive grip. It simply feels right. It’s a midsized optic that’s large enough to be used for extended periods with minimal fatigue. A rather large exit pupil of 4.5mm means that it can be very useful in low-light conditions. This monocular has a unique utility clip than can attach to PALS straps, belt or pocket.
This monocular features the Vortex R/T ranging reticle, which can be focused independently from the image. The eyecup is comfortable and helps steady the optic when using only one hand. For glasses-wearers, the eye relief is generous. It comes with a nice protective case. This product has a lifetime warranty—and few peers.
BRUNTON OUTDOOR: Brunton.com
CARSON OPTICAL: Carson.com
LEICA US: Leica-Camera.com
VORTEX OPTICS: VortexOptics.com
ZEISS SPORT OPTICS: Zeiss.com
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2018 print issue of Gun World magazine.