My backyard garden is large; not exactly sprawling.
Sometimes, it feels nice to get a close-up view of the birds at my feeders without spooking them.
Fortunately, I do own a pair of binoculars for observing the birds.
But sometimes, my love for bird spotting takes me beyond the comfort of my garden into the wild.
For my outdoor trips, I prefer something light and compact.
While binoculars are associated as a birder’s tool of choice, a monocular would suffice, especially if you’re hoping to travel light.
Using a monocular has several benefits over using a set of binoculars. They’re sleeker, compact, and lightweight, making them easier to wield than traditional binoculars.
I find them much more convenient to carry around, meaning they spend less time in my glovebox and more time in use.
Their spotting performance is also not any less than what you would expect from a binocular. For almost any bird that crosses your path, a good pair of monoculars will show you the fine details and allow you to identify your target.
For most bird watchers, monoculars have turned out to be an extension of their eyes.
But as with binoculars, there’s a whole lot of options to choose from. So, how do you know what monocular is best for your bird-watching needs?
Fortunately, we’ve compiled a review guide and put together a list of our favorite options. And while our picks aren’t fully exhaustive of the market, they’ll give you an idea of what to look for.
Table of Contents
The Best Monocular for Bird Watching For The Money
#1 Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Monocular - EDITOR'S CHOICE
It wasn’t really hard to give the Bushnell Legend our top pick for the best birding monocular.
After all, it’s one of the Cadillac of the competition, outclassing other monoculars in just about every department, except for one; the price.
However, in this case, you’re also paying for a Cadillac. And if you take birding seriously, you’ll want to have a Cadillac.
Features and Benefits
One of the reasons I love the Bushnell is because of its size and weight.
I know monoculars are generally light, but this option takes portability to a whole new level.
About the size of a standard flashlight, it’s easy to stash it into your pocket or even purse. It’s ultra-light, so it’s less likely to bog you down even when carrying it for extended periods.
And that’s not all!
It flaunts lens caps on either end to keep the lens fully protected against falls and dings.
A rubberized outer also keeps the body protected from accidental grinds and bumps.
The design is fantastic, but Bushnell’s optical performance is even more impressive.
First, the larger object lens (42 mm) has excellent light-gathering capabilities and really opens up your world.
While you’ll barely differentiate the throat coloring of warblers on other monoculars, Bushnell brings colors to life. It’s as if the glaring, whitish background of the sky isn’t there.
The large lens also helps with views in the gray low-contrast light of overcast, drizzly rain conditions, and early and late in low light.
As for the 10x magnification, there’s a lot of details to see. Even better, the magnification is better at picking up moving objects, so the perfect option for experiencing a murmuration of starlings and their beautiful formation.
Despite the higher magnification, the images aren’t anywhere close to getting shaky or blurry!
The reason behind this is Bushnell size and shape make it easy to keep the monocular steady, even when using it free-handed.
But if you prefer doing bird watching inside, you can stand with your elbow on the window sill and hold your elbows against your body for a steady experience.
Users who prefer to take their birdwatching to the outdoors will no longer have to worry about weather inclement.
The Bak-4 roof prisms with proprietary RainGuard HD coating from Bushnell will keep the monocular free from glare and fogging.
Not only that, but the ED glass also reduces any color dispersion, letting you see the images as nature would have loved you to see.
Ease of Use
Bushnell’s ease of use and precision in adjusting the focus is simply amazing.
I love how it’s smoothly and accurately across a wide range of focal depths.
It’s not confusing and will allow you to make quick adjustments without scaring the birds.
#2 Wingspan Optics 8X42 Bird Monocular - Value Option
If the Bushnell Legend price tag is a bit above your means, you can opt for the Wingspan Optics Monocular.
The Wingspan is an inexpensive alternative to the Bushnell.
While it can’t compare to our first model’s performance, it flaunts a wealth of features but at a fraction of Bushnell’s cost.
Features and Benefits
First off, bird watchers can’t get enough of how lightweight and compact this monocular is!
It’s a compact and portable option, perfect for birders who need to take their monoculars along on the long wild walks, camping or hiking,
Even as light as it comes, it feels ultra-sturdy, and you won’t be more happier with this purchase.
It rarely scratches, and the high-quality construction means it can take a few hits, drops, and dings here and there without compromising on its structural integrity.
Wingspan may have a budget tag, but its optical performance doesn’t reflect that!
On my first outing to spot and observe birds, the Wingspan could pick out the elusive Scaled ground-cuckoo.
Part of the reason is the large 42 mm objective lens, which has a fantastic light-gathering capability.
The large viewing area is bright and clear and will provide you with a decent view even in lower lighting conditions.
While the lens is not sufficient to capture detailed and clear images in the dark, I found it handy in overcast, rainy, and low-light conditions.
As for the magnification, the 8x magnification is the sweet spot for bird watching, especially for handheld observation.
While larger magnification is better, it also means sacrificing the image clarity because of the hand’s shakiness.
But the 8x Wingspan’s magnification means a single-hand focusing is sufficient to keep the objects on target as your focus.
The magnification is also powerful enough to provide you with detailed images, yet not too powerful to be affected by the shakes.
I like having optics with me for impromptu viewing, be it birds and other land sights. Fortunately, Wingspan’s wide field of view has good image quality, especially for the price.
The image is bright and reasonably accurate, though you might experience some minor distortion around the perimeter. However, you’re unlikely to notice it with 95% of the objects you probably look at.
Ease of Use
Wingspan Monocular is an easy to use and intuitive general use monocular,
It’s easy to adjust the focus on the scope, and even users with arthritis will find it easy to operate Wingspan.
#3 Gosky 12×55 Monocular for Bird Watching - Best for Low-Light Conditions
Birding during the day is an impressive sight to behold, but birds flying at dusk or dawn bring a whole new sense of beauty to bird watching. From nighthawks to woodcocks, there’re plenty of birds to sight.
Unfortunately, not any monocular suffices for the low light conditions!
To get better views at these conditions, you need a monocular with a large objective lens such as the Gosky Monocular.
This monocular has the largest objective lens on our list and provides you with detailed images regardless of the conditions.
Features and Benefits
Lightness and compactness aren’t Gosky’s greatest suit.
It’s one of the heavier models around, weighing almost 16 ounces.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not awfully heavy, but it’s something to account for, especially if you’ll be hiking for long distances.
Due to its weight, Gosky can be challenging to use when attached to a cell phone for pictures.
Nonetheless, it feels sturdy, and externally, the outer shell feels pretty durable. It flaunts a hard plastic material that would take some effort to damage.
The non-slip rubber armor helps with shock absorption in case of a drop or hit while providing a firm grip.
Overall, for the price, I’m not disappointed with the bulkiness, and I think the Gosky is a nice item to keep around.
The biggest Gosky’s selling point, or at least according to our opinion, is the large 55 mm lens, which can gather significantly more light.
It provides adequate lighting even in low light conditions, so it would be a great pick to capture the birds even in low light conditions during dusk at dawn.
Furthermore, the larger lens will let you see the smaller and finer details you would typically miss with monoculars with a smaller aperture.
For instance, I found it easy to distinguish between the different species of birds, such as the rollers and bee-eaters, which would otherwise be hard to differentiate with other monoculars.
Moving on to the magnification, Gosky offers an incredible 12x magnification. It’s really a powerful magnification that you’ll find hard to beat.
In fact, you could even use the monocular to observe the moon and gaze at star constellations.
When used for bird watching, it brings the images closer and more magnified.
But at this price point, you’ll find the image quality isn’t quite as well defined as what we had seen on the Bushnell.
As you would expect with monoculars with high magnification, there’s a tradeoff between magnification, and stabilization, and field of view.
Fortunately, Gosky is pretty good at this compromise.
The mounting tripod helps with the stabilization of the images even at high magnification. But when using it as a hand-held option, you’ll need to brace like you would using binoculars.
#4 Emarth High Power 10-30X50 Zoom Monocular - Most Versatile Monocular
The Emarth Monocular, with a dynamic magnification, is a lightweight and portable instrument that can be used in a variety of different circumstances.
Beyond bird watching, this monocular also comes in handy for other tasks such as target shooting, hunting, wildlife watching, and so much more.
Features and Benefits
Emarth monocular is unmatched due to its quality built.
It flaunts a rubber armor coating to protect it against rough handling, and allows for a non-slip grip.
The tube is further purged with nitrogen gas, which further underlines its resilience, especially against water and fog.
While you can’t take it for a dive with you, Emarth should handle any weather inclement, including light rains, like a champ.
There’s plenty to love with the Emarth, but one feature that captured our attention is the zoom magnification range.
You can easily adjust the scope’s magnification from 10x to 30x, depending on your viewing needs.
For instance, the low 10x magnification is useful when you need to view larger images. On the other end of the spectrum, the 30x magnification is handy when you need to zoom and see objects in longer distances and when you need to see a specific picture.
The adjustable magnification is an awesome feature to have as it expands on the activities you can handle with the monocular.
Besides bird watching, this option is also a great pick for other activities such as watching wildlife, scenery, target shooting, archery, and even astronomy.
However, as with all other scopes with higher magnification, Emarth has less clarity and is highly susceptible to light pollution on high magnification levels.
While it works well for magnifications less than 15x, anything more than that isn’t impressive.
Unless you don’t have a heartbeat or breath, the higher magnifications amplify the shakiness, making the monocular challenging to use.
Another reason you might consider getting this scope is the longer-than-average eye relief.
Now, if you’re asking whether you can use the monocular without removing your glasses, the answer is a big YES.
Emarth flaunts a generous eye relief of 19.5 mm, making it one of the absolute best options for those who wear corrective lenses.
Finally, the BAK4 crystal prism and 50mm objective lens place Emarth amongst some of the respected models in the market.
It has excellent light-gathering capabilities and allows for clearer, sharper, and brighter images, even in low light.
#5 Roxant Grip Scope - Budget Option
Our final pick, Roxant Grip Scope, is an ideal option for those on a budget.
It’s an expensive yet pragmatic option that will serve the needs of casual bird watchers.
But is it the right purchase for you?
Features and Benefits
Roxant Grip Scope is a compact, mini device and has a lot going for it.
It obviously lacks the frills and frays of some of the premium options, but we still recommend it for bird watching, camping, and possible spy sessions.
It’s quite basic, and though it flaunts entry-level quality, it has some quality features worth mentioning,
The 6 by 30 monocular, is just compact enough to forfeit a retractable eyepiece, but it doesn’t cut corners with the design or performance.
Rather than utilizing the cheap, fold-up types that never stay up, Roxant employs a twist-up eyecup to help achieve ideal eye relief with or without glasses.
While Roxant doesn’t specify the actual eye relief, I put it at 12 mm to 20 mm, providing you with plenty of breathing space.
Roxant’s size and feel are magnificent, but the magnification is a little disappointing.
But for a budget option, it’s not a surprise,
The 6X magnification is a bit on the lower side and doesn’t magnify the image as I would have hoped.
But the good thing is for the existing magnification; you don’t have to face stability issues from the “jitter.”
I find this magnification the sweet spot between magnification and ease of zeroing in on location as the image is also more stable.
Roxant doesn’t say anything about the field of view, other than it’s “wide” and offers a “whole panorama.”
I would put the field of view at 250 feet at a thousand yards, which is about the average.
For a budget scope, we were impressed that Roxant didn’t skimp on the optics.
It utilizes a BAK4 roof prism with fully multicoated optics.
The optics deliver excellent images with plenty of detail, brightness, and contrast.
I found the optics useful in low-light conditions too.
Even better, the images are clear and vivid, with no hints of chromatic aberration, so you see the birds as you would on naked eyes.
Best Monocular for Bird Watching Buying Guide
If you’ve used a monocular before, you’ve probably seen a lot of numbers on one.
One of the numbers refers to the magnification, and it goes hand in hand with the lens size.
You might come across a lens with a power of 8 x 42, which is also the recommended size for a bird-watching monocular.
The first digit indicates how many times the image is going to be magnified. For a birdwatching monocular, the higher the magnification, the better the monocular is.
Given the choice of 8X and 10X magnification, 10X monocular would be, in general, better at distance birding. However, the larger magnification comes at a cost, including a narrower field of view, a slightly darker image in low light, and a more noticeable handshake.
On the other hand, the 8x magnification provides you with a smaller image that is wider, brighter, and easier for finding and following birds.
Image Quality and Optics
Another essential thing to consider is the amount of clarity you get from a monocular.
From my personal view, I’d recommend that you choose the best optics you can afford.
But remember that some light energy is lost when viewing an image through an optical device, so some of the images may look slightly darker than when viewed with our naked eyes.
One essential thing to consider on the optical clarity is the prism construction.
The three common types of prism construction are:
- Porro Prism
Porro prism is the classic prism type that is the most widely used.
They’re available in a wide hinger ocular shape and frequently watched such bird watching.
- Roof Prism
The roof prisms are more expensive than the Porro prism and are commonly used for heavy-duty performance.
They’ve a narrower hinge than the Porro prism and high magnification power.
- Galilean Prism
Galilean prism is a general-type of a prism with a magnification of between 2x and 3.5x. These prisms are largely used in dental works.
What is BAK4 Prism?
While purchasing monoculars for birdwatching, you’re likely to come across terms like BAK4 prism.
The BAK4 is a superior type of the Porro prism and flaunts a quality optical glass for better images.
In general, these prisms are found in high-end monoculars.
On the other hand, low-end monocular use BK-7 prisms. While they generate a decent image, it’s quite inferior to the BAK4 output.
It’s also essential to consider the optical coating on the lenses.
Here’s why it’s important;
Coatings function to peent the loss of light, hence giving you quality images.
The four common types of lens coatings for monocular are:
FMC is known as fully multi-coated, is the best among all lens coatings.
It assures maximum brightness and offers the best output. It’s durable, too, and one more reason why it’s so expensive.
- Multicoated Lens
If you need satisfying results, your budget can only stretch so far; consider the multicoated lens.
They perform great, but not as the FMC.
But for regular or casual use, choose this type without any confusion.
- Fully Coated Lens
The FC lens has a single-layer coating, so they provide fewer clear images.
They don’t provide the best results, and in general, viewing isn’t enjoyable with these lenses.
- Regular Coated Lens
These are the cheapest options, and their performance is poor.
We don’t recommend these to anyone.
Eye relief defines the distance your eye has to be from the eyepiece lens and still can see the full field of view.
It’s a critical feature for those who wear glasses, and I’d recommend that they get monocular with outstanding eye relief.
Once you’ve ticked the boxes on the optical output, the next thing to consider is the size, weight, and durability.
- Size: Generally, most bird watching monoculars are small in size. They should be easy for you to carry comfortably anywhere.
- Weight: Consider the weight of your monocular. Choose a lightweight option that should be easy to carry without fatiguing.
- Durability: The best monocular should be sturdy and hardwearing. It should stand up to the abuses o Mother Nature.
Monoculars can be expensive, but you don’t necessarily have to go for the most expensive unit.
On the other hand, remember that you get what you pay for. Generally, the quality of the optics and the build corresponds with the price.
Here are the five monocular price point and what to expect at each one:
- Under 25: The monoculars at this price are available in a variety of sizes and magnification. However, at this price, the image quality and durability are seriously limited.
- $25-100: For under a hundred bucks, it’s quite easy to find quite reliable and quality monoculars.
- $100-200: At this price range, you’ll find more brand names like Bushnell, Zeiss, and Vortex. Here, the optical quality is much improved.
- $200-500: This price point represents some of the high-end models, and some options may even include features such as rangefinders or night vision.
- $500+: Options at this range are exceptional in terms of glass and build quality. Optics may even include internet connectivity, image capture, and thermal imaging.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
We choose the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Monocular as our editor’s choice for different reasons.
This option ticks on all the boxes for the best monocular for bird watching.
First, it comes with an ultra-light, compact design, perfect for birders who are always on the move.
Its greatest selling point, though, is the fantastic optical performance that will allow you to spot the gritty details of your targets.
With a 12x magnification and objective lens of 42 mm, this option will provide you with a detailed image of your target, even in low-light conditions.
While it runs a bit expensive, it has a lot going for and worth the price tag.