Many people entering into the realm of stargazing just aren’t ready to drop tons of money on a telescope. Monoculars and binoculars serve as a great entry point to star and planet watching without needing to break the bank.
Both monoculars and binoculars are quite portable while providing an ample amount of magnification for seeing things you simply can’t with the naked eye. The night sky comes to life that much more when you can see Mars’s red hue or a lunar crater much more clearly.
What, though, are the differences between monoculars and binoculars? What features stand out between the two? Is there even a reason to purchase one over the other? For example, is it better to purchase a Gosky monocular or the Orion binocular?
Read on to find out the answers to all these questions and then some. By the time you finish reading, you’ll have a much better idea of which one of these devices will serve you best under a canopy of stars.
Monocular: A Quick Overview
A monocular is a type of condensed telescope used for seeing distant objects more clearly. Due to that condensed shape, monoculars often contain lenses and prisms for bending and increasing the size of the object in view.
As the term implies, monoculars have one external lens and are designed to be used with just one eye. They are typically small in size and are often held with one or both hands during viewing. As a result, monoculars are quite portable and can be worn around the neck or sometimes even in a pocket.
Binoculars: A Quick Overview
Binoculars are a much more common household term than monocular. These devices feature two distinct lenses and are designed to be used with both eyes simultaneously.
Each of the binoculars’ two telescopes contains similar technology to a monocular, with internal prisms and lenses to bend and magnify objects. Their smaller size to a traditional telescope allows for more portability, as binoculars can be carried in a backpack or around the neck.
Differences Between Monoculars and Binoculars
There are many notable differences between monoculars and binoculars. This list will help you pinpoint which device would work best for your needs.
When it comes to stargazing, magnification is absolutely crucial. After all, outside of the Moon, those objects are all millions of miles away!
While neither device can compare to the powerful magnification of a long telescope, both monoculars and binoculars offer a decent amount of clarity to the night sky.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see Saturn’s rings with either one. Chances are, though, that you can spot Jupiter’s moons or perhaps catch a double star that, without magnification, looks like just one.
In general, there aren’t significant differences in magnification between monoculars and binoculars. On average, you’ll find either device with capability somewhere between 10 and 12 times magnification.
Field of View
Eyes are amazing organs that we use to take in the world around us. They let us see in a wide range around us. When we look through a viewing device such as a monocular or binoculars, that field of view condenses significantly.
When it comes to the field of view, monoculars and binoculars are akin to seeing with either one eye open or both eyes open. You further lose field of vision when trying to view things with one eye as opposed to two.
This is no different when it comes to monoculars and binoculars. Monoculars offer a tight field of view and work well for zeroing in on a specific object in the night sky. If your focus is on the Galilean moons of Jupiter, a monocular may be just the tool you need.
On the other hand, binoculars give a wider field of vision to take in more of the night sky. They will still allow you to see the moons of Jupiter, but a wider range means you can take in more at the same time.
It’s also worth pointing out that magnification has a direct effect on the field of view. The more magnification your device gives, the smaller the field of view will be.
On both monoculars and binoculars, the objective lens is the lens on the far end of the device that first receives incoming light from an object. Naturally, the wider this lens is, the more light it can take in and the better the image quality will be.
Monocular and binocular devices come in an assortment of objective lens sizes, and these lenses are a significant factor in the cost of the device. It is possible to find both binoculars and monoculars with large objective lenses, but keep in mind that binoculars need two, which affects the price accordingly.
When scanning the night sky for hours on end, eye strain can become an issue. Eyes are not made to be used independently, and looking through a monocular for an extended period of time can cause a lot of strain on the eye.
This discomfort can limit your eye’s ability to focus and ultimately take away from the stargazing experience.
Binoculars can eventually cause the same strain, but since both your eyes are open, the discomfort takes a lot longer to manifest. They can generally be used for much longer stretches of time as a result.
Devices often come with the ability to adjust things like magnification (and field of vision as a result). Being able to zoom out and take in a larger piece of the night sky can make it easier to locate the object you really want to see.
Having to look through and remove a monocular or binocular over and over can compromise your night vision, wreaking havoc on your eyes as you go back and forth. Fortunately, both monoculars and binoculars tend to do a good job of allowing adjustments.
Assuming you don’t plan to stargaze during the day, you’ll want a device that has some built-in night vision. Monocular and binocular devices with night vision are able to boost the limited amount of ambient light around you from sources like the Moon. Making the most of this light gives a much clearer, brighter image when looking through the lens.
The downside to this feature is that, while it enhances the celestial object that you’re looking at, it inhibits your own night vision once you take the device away from your eyes. Although the effect only lasts until your eyes readjust, it can be annoying to have to frequently go back and forth between light and dark.
Monoculars benefit here because only one of your eyes is going through this transition. Your other eye is unaffected by the monocular’s night vision and can still be used to see what’s around you or to locate another object while your other eye readjusts to the dark.
Durability is also a key factor when you’re selecting from either a monocular or a binocular.
Both can handle your average stargazing evening, but when it comes to long-term use, binoculars have the edge thanks to the extra material needed in their construction.
That being said, even though binoculars can handle a little more of the rough and tumble, neither device is designed to handle a serious drop.
Monoculars are in many ways one-half of a binocular design. This means a monocular has half the components and is effectively just fifty percent of the size.
While it’s not quite so black and white, monoculars are smaller in design to a similar pair of binoculars. They are also more lightweight and easier to hold for extended lengths of time while scouring the Milky Way and beyond.
There are some larger monoculars and smaller binoculars out there, but the features won’t be comparable. A larger-sized monocular will eclipse a compact binocular’s features without question.
As monoculars are smaller and more lightweight, they are much easier to travel around with. They store easily in a backpack, and some are small enough to fit inside a pocket, although those may not be sufficient for stargazing.
Binoculars are quite a bit bulkier but should still fit into a pack whether you’re going across town or across the country. More often than not, we’re only talking about a pound of weight difference between monoculars and binoculars.
When you’re out searching for stars, both monoculars and binoculars often come with a neck strap so the magnifier can sit on your chest when not in use.
Monoculars and binoculars are an excellent budget foray into the magnified stargazing space. It likely goes without saying that price does go up with more and higher quality features.
If you compare an apples-to-apples binocular and monocular, the monocular will win the price battle. A top-tier monocular will be cheaper than a top-tier binocular and maybe even more affordable than a lesser quality pair of binoculars.
Both monoculars and binoculars can come with additional features that make them easier or more comfortable to use, depending on how much you’re willing to spend.
For instance, there are both monoculars and binoculars out there that come with monopod or tripod stands for stability and a reduction in strain on the hands. They may also come with holders that you can slide your hands into, helping to support your device without putting too much strain on your hands.
Although less common with binoculars, devices sometimes have a mobile phone attachment. These attachments effectively turn your mobile device into a display, so you’re not having to squint through the ocular lens. You can also use this feature to record what you’re seeing on your phone.
Monocular Vs. Binocular Devices for Night Sky Viewing
- Monoculars are lighter in weight and smaller in size than binoculars, making them more portable and easier to hold for lengthier periods of time.
- In general, monoculars are very affordable options for getting a magnified look at some of our celestial neighbors.
- When it comes to focusing on a particular object in the sky, monoculars provide a good amount of magnification and a smaller field of view to bring out the specific features of that object.
- Since you’re required to use one eye while looking through a monocular device, they can cause a lot of uncomfortable eye strain that leads to discomfort and a loss of focus on your object.
- Binoculars give a much larger field of view when compared to monoculars, offering a much larger chunk of the sky even at higher magnifications.
- For those who love scanning the night sky for hours on end, binoculars create a lot less eye strain, thanks to the fact that you’re able to look through a lens with each eye.
- Binoculars are more durable than their monocular cousins and tend to not only last longer but also handle more rigorous environments.
- Because of the extra range that binoculars offer, they will be heavier and bulkier than a monocular device with the same or similar features.
Monoculars for Night Sky Viewing
Gosky 12×55 High Definition Monocular Telescope
Vortex Optics Solo Monocular
Orion 10-25×42 Zoom Waterproof Monocular
Binoculars for Night Sky Viewing
Orion 51464 20×80 Astronomy Binoculars
Celestron TrailSeeker 8×42 Binoculars
Nikon 7247 Action 16×50 EX Extreme All-Terrain Binocular
It may or may not come as a surprise that there’s no clear winner in the battle between monoculars and binoculars. Both have been around for hundreds of years, so it stands to reason that they both serve a purpose.
Monoculars, like the Gosky we mentioned above, are likely a better option for those who are looking to travel really light. Their smaller size and weight make monoculars easy to take anywhere while taking up little space among the rest of your gear. They are also cheaper and can help you laser focus in on that celestial object you’re keen to see.
On the other hand, Binoculars such as the Orion have a wider field of vision for taking in more of the night sky at one time. You can zero in on that elusive comet before amping up the magnification and zooming in for a close look. Using two eyes also removes the strain from squinting while using a monocular, and binoculars are known to be more robust.