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Best Monocular for Birding for the Money

Updated on April 14, 2015
EricDockett profile image

Eric is an amateur birder and photographer who is amazed by the natural world just about every day.

Orion 10x42 Waterproof Monocular: In the running for best monocular for birding.
Orion 10x42 Waterproof Monocular: In the running for best monocular for birding. | Source

A Monocular for Birding

If you're into birding you might decide a monocular is your best choice for identifying birds at a distance, or zooming in to get a better look at an unusual species. It took me a while, but I came to the same conclusion.

In the past, when I was bird watching, I'd always have binoculars at the ready. I have a great pair of binoculars, too, and I put a lot of effort into finding a pair I really liked. They’re very powerful, and super-effective if I’m staying in one spot. I’ve seen some interesting things through their lenses over the years.

The only problem is, they aren’t a lot of fun to carry around on hikes. I can't throw them in my pocket; I have to carry them around my neck, or over my shoulder in a bulky case.

A couple of summers ago I was looking around for another option, and a monocular seemed like the perfect idea. They are small enough to fit in your pocket and many have the power of binoculars. Or at least enough power for spotting birds.

You can spend hundreds of dollars and more on a top-quality monocular if you really want to, but I wouldn't. Just like when I shopped for myself, in this article I tried to keep my recommendations within a reasonable price range to help you choose the best monocular for the money.

From backyard bird watching, to long-distance hikes, a monocular is the perfect tool for birders. Here are some of the best options I discovered, including the one I eventually chose. If you're trying to find the best monocular for birding these picks will get you off in the right direction!

Vortex Optics Solo 10x25 Waterproof Monocular

The Vortex Solo 10x25 weighs in at a mere 6 ounces and offers 10x magnification through a 25mm objective lens. That means it's both easy to carry around in your pocket, and has the power for birding and other short-range spotting jobs.

This isn't going to replace your binocs, but it will provide a solid alternative in cases where you don't want to carry them along.

It's also waterproof, for those of us who tend to end up in places where we ought not to be. You may feel a little more comfortable whipping the Vortex Solo out in the rain, or in a canoe or similar places where calamity can occur.

The Vortex Optics Solo has earned 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon as of this writing. The biggest complaint appears to be getting the thing to focus, and some say the focus ring is too stiff to manage properly. However, overwhelmingly owners are very happy with their Vortex monocular.

It's also worth noting that there is a 10x36 version of this piece. It has a larger lens, which means a clearer, brighter picture.

If you want a solid, basic, dependable monocular with no gadgets the Vortex Solo 10x25 is a great choice.

More on the Vortex Solo Monocular

Orion 10x42 Waterproof Monocular

If you're looking for power and a clear, bright image this big boy may be what you're after. It offers a 10x zoom and a whopping 42mm lens. The trade off comes in the size of the piece. The Orion might not fit comfortably in your jeans pocket, but it ought to fit in a jacket pocket and it will be easier to tote than binoculars.

The Orion 10x42 also offers a very impressive near-distance focus of twenty inches. That means you're not likely to ever have an issue zooming on a bird that's too close to you.

Reviewers on Amazon have given the Orion 10x42 Waterproof Monocular 4.3 out of 5 stars as of this writing. While it gets many 5-star reviews for performance, most complaints appear related to imperfections in construction. As with any piece of equipment you purchase, make sure you buy from somewhere with a good return policy.

Note: There is also a version with a variable 10-25x zoom. With a maximum zoom of 25x, spotting distant birds will not be an problem. In fact, for birding 25x might be a little too powerful. But if you have occasion to use so much power you'll also like another feature of the Orion: Both the 10-25x and 10x models are tripod adaptable. Powerful zooms can make the image shaky, and mounting this piece on a tripod will help a great deal.

Orion 10x42 Monocular Features

Brunton Echo 10-30×21 Zoom

The Brunton Echo Zoom combines the best of the two pieces above. It's light, at just over 3 ounces, and with a twist of a knob you can adjust the zoom between 10x and 30x.

It has been my go-to monocular for a while now, and it’s easy to toss it in my pocket whenever I’m headed off on a long walk. I even took it on a cruise when I wanted to have a better chance of spotting landmarks on shore and other ships at sea.

To my surprise, this piece gets mixed reviews on Amazon. Some people love it, but there are also a lot of complaints about the zoomed image quality. I've not had issues with it, myself.

I generally adjust the zoom to around half or a little more; however, the Bruton Echo Zoom is tripod compatible if you do wish to employ the full 30x.

The Brunton Echo Zoom is a great choice for birders who just want a small, functional monocular with some added power. The 21mm lens means it may not be as clear as larger pieces, but for its size I have found it really gets the job done.

Check Out the Brunton Echo Zoom in Action

Barska 10x40 Blackhawk Monocular

The Barska Blackhawk features a wide 40mm lens, 10x zoom and a close-focus range of four meters. These specs make it a solid optic for birding.

Barska also makes a monocular with similar specs called the Blueline 10x40 Close Focus that's made specifically for birding and nature study. However, between the two, I think I'd choose the Blackhawk.

Reviews on Amazon seem to agree and give the Blackhawk 4.2 out of 5 stars, compared to 3.7 earned by the Blueline as of this writing. There are few complaints, but always buy from a reputable source.

The Barska Blackhawk is waterproof, fog-proof and armored by a shock-absorbing shell. However, it's also kind of big at a length of over six inches, and if you are looking for an optic to toss in your pocket this probably isn't it.

Otherwise, it is a fine choice, and great monocular for bird watching.

Celestron Outland 6x30 Monocular

With 6x magnification and a 30mm objective lens the Celestron Nature has the perfect specs for birding. It's waterproof and fog-proof and features a rubber coating for protection. It's small and light enough to toss in your pocket, and off you go.

As of this writing the Outland has 4.1 out of 5 stars on Amazon, and no one-star ratings. Reviewers like the image quality and the excellent near-focus ability. The few complaints involve quality issues that may not be indicative of each piece.

This is one of the best monoculars for birding, especially if image quality is more important to you than zoom power. Personally, aside from the Brunton which I own, I would rank it second behind the Vortex listed above.

Celestron also makes a model called the Nature with 10x magnification and a 25mm lens. It's made especially for those who want to (you guessed it) view nature.

Celestron Outland 6x30 Monocular
Celestron Outland 6x30 Monocular

Choose Your Monocular

There are a ton of choices out there if you're looking for the best monocular for birding. You can get a tiny, cheap monocular but you might have trouble seeing anything past twenty feet.

Barska 10x40 Blackhawk Monocular
Barska 10x40 Blackhawk Monocular

You can get an expensive, powerful optic with night vision and a range finder that's way too elaborate for birding.

What most birders need is something that allows a clear image but is compact, moderately powerful and easy to use. Your monocular probably isn't going to take the place of your binoculars, but it should give you a viable alternative to lugging the binocs around all the time.

Hope this article helped you sort out your options when choosing a good monocular for bird watching!

Your Opinion: Which is the Best Monocular for Birding?

Which monocular do you like best?

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    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 2 years ago

      That was very informative Eric. I think if I ever choose a monocular then I would have to really compare three for what I do. The Echo, the Blackhawk, and the Outland. I voted this up, shared it and pinned it.

      Kevin

    • EricDockett profile image
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      Eric Dockett 2 years ago from USA

      Thanks Examiner! I'm really happy with my Brunton Echo, but the others look good too.

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 2 years ago

      Thanks for all of the great information. I never thought about buying a monocular, but now I can see how one would have advantages. I'm not an avid birder, but I do like having the ability to see animals more closely when I'm walking through the woods. Binoculars tend to feel as if they weigh a ton at the end of an all day hike. I'll have to give some serious thought to buying one of these products.

    • EricDockett profile image
      Author

      Eric Dockett 2 years ago from USA

      Thanks Shelia. I've found I often gravitate to my monocular rather then binocs because of its pocket size and ease of use.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 23 months ago from Arkansas USA

      I like the idea of a monocular for birding and just for having in a pocket to see things at a distance. Added one of these to my Amazon wish list, pinned, and tweeted (get it? Tweeted?).

    • EricDockett profile image
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      Eric Dockett 23 months ago from USA

      Thanks Susan! I've found a monocular is so much easier to carry around, and with the good ones you're really not sacrificing much.

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