Binoculars vs Monoculars – What’s the Difference?

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Whether you enjoy astronomy or not, you’re likely going to have heard of binoculars. They’re a fascination for many children, and they can provide tons of fun for young adventurous children. As we get a little older, the practicalities of the binocular become more and more interesting.

Binoculars can be used for a wide variety of different activities. For me, I use a set of Celestron Skymaster binoculars any time that I’m going on an all night astronomy session. But are binoculars always the best choice of magnification, or on some occasions would you be better off choosing a monocular? And how do monoculars work?

Binoculars vs Monoculars – Which are best?

The simple answer is that for astronomy, you’re going to want to stick with binoculars because they offer a wide angle view. This means that for landscape viewing, they’re ideal – perhaps even better than a telescope. But, monoculars also have their uses too – if you’re on safari or you’re hiking, the quick and easy access of a monocular can prove invaluable.

From a specification perspective, binoculars and monoculars are very much the same. They use the same functionality, and they work in the same way. But, there are differences between them that you want to consider depending on your needs.

Is a monocular a telescope?

Yes, essentially a monocular is a very small refracting telescope. Unlike in a reflecting telescope where the light drawn into the scope ‘reflect’ off of a primary mirror onto a smaller, secondary mirror to project an image, refractors work slightly differently. They work by drawing light through an objective lens, which is then bent/angled to form an image through the eyepiece. Check out the difference between the two if you don’t already know!

You can think of traditional monoculars that you can purchase as the miniature version of a telescope. A spotting scope is somewhere between the two, and they also have their uses.

What’s the Difference between monoculars and a telescope?

Both binoculars and monoculars can be used for a variety of reasons. Binoculars have two lenses, whereas monoculars only have one lens, but that’s where the similarities stop.

Monoculars are capable of magnifying distant objects using only one eye. Binoculars use both eyes to increase magnification, sometimes even by as much as ten times or more in some models! Binoculars also offer a wider field of view than most monoculars. 

Binoculars can be used in navigation – for example, by viewing a lighthouse through them and gauging your distance from it based on how small it appears through the binoculars’ lenses. In addition, night vision is especially effective with binoculars over monoculars because they allow you to see in the dark.


A telescope is just a large monocular, and it works in the same fashion as a telescope. Of course with telescopes, with have a far greater variety and variances that we can use. Reflecting telescopes are very popular amongst amateur astronomers, but you aren’t going to find any reflecting monoculars to to their size.

This isn’t a problem, as refractors tend to display the image as is but magnified, which is what we need for a monoculars purposes. With reflecting telescopes, you’re actually going to get a reversed image, which means that they’re not used for shorter range viewing.


The reason that telescopes are exclusively used on mounts is that they need stability to work. Without this stability, unless your hands impossibly steady, you’re going to get a consistently blurred image of what you’re trying to see. This is one of the drawbacks of using a monocular – higher magnification monoculars can struggle with stability at times.

Do Binoculars work the same way as monoculars/telescopes?

No, binoculars are not defined the same way that monocular scopes are. For example, with telescopes with generally divide them into three main categories – reflectors, refractors and catadioptric. The way that these telescopes use light is different from each other.

With binoculars, we tend to divide this into two different types of binoculars, known as roof prisms and porro prisms. Porro prisms were used for the vast majority of binoculars until the 60s, where companies started using roof prisms instead. Whilst porro prisms are more similar to reflecting telescopes, roof prisms are much more similar to refractors.

Like refractors, roof prisms tend to cost more than porro prisms. This is because the materials that they use are much more expensive, and they’re usually the most common choice for advanced birders. But if you’re just getting started, then a good set of porro prism binoculars is usually advised.

Hobbies that monoculars work well for

  • Sailing – Though binoculars tend to work better for sailing, very low magnification monoculars can work well in some scenarios. They need to be low magnification because of the instability in the water, which is going to cause a problem with any kind of viewing implement. If you’re on choppy waters, image stabilized binoculars can prove to be a good choice.
  • Hunting – Monoculars can also prove to be extremely useful for hunting. This is because of their compact weight and ease of use. Generally for hunting, you don’t need a high level of magnification, which is why monoculars can work well. If people do need higher magnification, then they tend to opt for a spotting scope (just a bigger version of the monocular, basically).
  • Hiking – Probably the ultimate use for the monocular belongs with the hikers and climbers. For these people, often a low weight compact device is an absolute necessity. With monoculars coming in really small forms, this makes them absolutely ideal for putting in your pocket – not something you can do with your telescope!

Hobbies that Binoculars work well for

  • Astronomy – Although you might not think it, binoculars work very well for wide angle astronomy. Whilst they don’t provide the same view that you’d get with a telescope, they can work well for landscape viewing especially.
  • Birding – Probably the most common use of the binocular is using it to go birding, or birdwatching. This is definitely something that binoculars excel at, particularly because birding doesn’t need a massive amount of magnification. This means that you can pick up a cheap pair of binoculars for birding pretty cheaply and it’s available for everyone, which is cool. Vortex and Nikon binoculars are most recommended for birding.
  • Plane spotting – Plane spotting is another hobby where binoculars prove to be an awesome accessoty. Their ease of use makes them ideal for plane spotting, as well as easy to magnify usability.

Hobbies that telescopes work well for

  • Astronomy and astrophotography – Of course, the main use of telescopes is for astronomy related purposes. They have the ability to gather a lot of light, which helps us to view things that are faaaar in the distance. I thought I’d mention that you can use telescopes for astrophotography too, which is a branch of astronomy where you take pictures of the night sky.
  • Viewing things at long distances – There’s no definition of when something goes from being a spotting scope to a telescope. Telescopes are generally made for viewing things at long distances, but that isn’t restricted to the sky. They can work for other things too, like viewing wildlife.


It’s pretty clear to see that monoculars, binoculars, spotting scopes and telescopes all have their uses. Monoculars for short range magnification viewing, spotting scopes for mid range and of course, telescopes for long range viewing. Binoculars are your best bet for certain activities, having the obvious advantage that you can use both eyes for viewing.

Deciding on what would be best for your needs is relatively easy, though there is some overlap between them as they all have a similar aim – to aid the vision of objects far in the distance. As long as you do your research, you should be able to find a suitable scope.

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