Monocular vs Spotting Scope: What is the Difference?

From learning where you can use each device to understanding their differences in construction and working process - we will explain what is monocular vs spotting scope
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Last updatedLast updated: October 07, 2022
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Size is the immediately noticeable feature when it comes to monocular vs spotting scope. So, does size play a role in their individual power and performances? We will discuss this in detail in this article so people who like astronomy or bird watching can decide on the best one for their needs. This is important because each of them is suitable for specific functions which we have explained in this guide.

We have analyzed the key features that you should keep in mind before making a purchase, and recommended when you should go for a monocular instead of a spotting scope, and vice versa. Some of the key features we have examined in this monocular vs spotting scope guide are the lens, field of view and magnification. We also reviewed how much they cost as well as their lifespan and portability.

Spotting Scope Anatomy

We will start off with the different parts of a spotting scope.

  • Ocular lens: This refers to the eye piece; the lens nearest to the eye which you look through to observe objects
  • Objective lens: These are lens located on the end that is opposite to the ocular lens. They are used to point at what you are viewing.
  • Eye cap: This is a flexible rubber component that shields your peripheral vision against light, wind and dust, prevents glare caused by ambient light on the ocular lens, and limits distractions. It is also known as eye shield. You can extend or contract it to use it with glasses, or without.
  • Ocular and objective lens caps: These are rubber coverings that protect the lenses from damage from water, dirt and impact during transit or in storage. Some of them can be flipped up.
  • Focus ring: You twist it to the right or left to adjust the focus for a clear picture. Some models have focus knobs instead of focus rings. You will also find dual focus spotting scopes with coarse and fine adjustments.
  • Tripod: Since a spotting scope comes with large objective lens and higher magnification, you need a foldable tripod to mount it on for support and to lessen the scope’s vibrations for steady viewing.
  • Lens hood: They are also known as lens shade. Their role is to minimize objective lens glare in sunny conditions, and you should retract them in a dim environment.
  • Zoom adjustment: Most spotting scopes allow the user to alternate between fixed length and zoom magnification. Zooming enables you to find objects at low magnification and then widen the field of view and magnify the object for a closer look at the details.  You can quickly switch from magnification power of 20x to 60x.

Pros and cons


  • They come in three sizes and are available in a range of powers; 12 to 45 for compact and medium sizes and 20 to 60 for full sizes.
  • They have powerful zooming and magnification features that provide image clarity even at a long distance range.
  • They are ideal for glassing because you can watch prey undetected from a safe distance and shoot it at a long range because they are efficient at sharp details.
  • You can use bigger objective lensed to improve their performance in low-light environment.
  • There are compact spotting scopes for free-hand operation.
  • They come with telephotography. You can also attach a digital camera to record distant objects through the scope. This is known as digiscoping.
  • They are ideal for outdoor adventures and terrestrial views.
  • They come with different eye pieces that can be interchanged
  • They are the best option for extended viewing.


  • Premium models are expensive
  • Spotting scopes generally have large and powerful features that also make them heavy and inconvenient to carry around.
  • Most require a tripod for a solid base, and this may take time to set up.
  • Images may become too dark at higher magnifications
  • The require a tripod, carrying bags and accessories which hike up the cost
  • Some products are not weatherproof. Heat waves and humidity may affect the scope’s vision and reduce magnification ability. The gas may leak, expand or contract and affect the quality of the images.

Monocular Anatomy

Monocular share most features in the spotting scopes, but in a smaller size and with less power and capabilities. For instance:

  • Zoom knob: This is used to adjust zooming power from 4x to 12x for models with variable zoom. A standard monocular has zooming power of 8x.
  • Head: It provides support for the eye piece and connects it to the objective lens.
  • Nose piece: A rotatable component that holds and selects the active objective lens.
  • Eye piece: Ocular lens at the top where you look through to view objects.
  • Objective lens: They are usually 2 or 3, with a prism in the middle that folds the optical path and extends the entire optical system length for an erect image.
  • Arm: It supports the head and connects it to the base.
  • Focusing ring: It is located around the body in some monocular. Some use a focusing lever or slider button instead.
  • Eye cup: A small and twist-up shield for the eye

Pros and cons


  • Because they feature one viewing scope, monocular are compact and normally half as large as binoculars. You can buy them in various sizes, including a small one that is 10 cm long.
  • They are lightweight and portable for a wide range of outdoor activities such as bird watching, sightseeing, hunting, hiking, or spectator sports. They are also ideal for viewing details in museums and art galleries.
  • Monocular are inexpensive, which makes them a good choice for beginners.
  • They are suitable for brief viewing and mere observations.
  • You can only view the image with one eye at a time. This may be inconvenient for some, but it actually suits users with visual impairment in one eye.
  • They require little to no set up.


  • They are less powerful than spotting scopes which feature larger lenses and higher magnification.
  • The common magnification power is x7. This is significantly lower compared to a spotting scope’s minimum magnification power of 20x.
  • They often have one fixed eye-piece that you cannot remove to increase comfort when viewing.
  • Unsuitable for viewing moving objects.
  • At higher magnification, a monocular’s field of view narrows and affects the brightness of the object.

Difference Between Spotting Scope and Monocular

Below is a breakdown of the main differences between monocular vs spotting scope that influences their performances and where they can be used.


Spotting scopes have larger features, advanced functions and greater capacity than monocular. The same applies to their tripods and accessories which normally increase their price range. However, there are scopes in the market that are reasonably priced and applicable for a wide array of activities. They are available in compact sizes, too.


The objective lens size, with diameter ranging from 15 mm to 50mm, determines the amount of light that a monocular or spotting scope can collect, and how bright and sharp the image will be. Manufacturers usually state this information about their products; the objective lens diameter and magnification for monocular, and the objective size for spotting scopes with fixed-length eyepieces that are interchangeable.

You can improve image quality in low-light conditions with larger objective lenses. So, consider a minimum diameter of 30mm if you would be using the scope in a dim environment.

Bear in mind that the size of the objective lens also correlates directly to the overall size and weight of your model, and sometimes the cost.

Field of view

Monocular vs Spotting Scope: What is the Difference?

This refers to the widest measurement you can view through the scope or monocular. A wide field of view is preferable for tracking moving objects and for viewing more details.  Please note that the field of view narrows as you increase magnification.


Usually, the magnification power of spotting scopes varies from 20x to 60x, while that of monocular ranges from 4x to 12x. For instance, Vortex Solo 10×25 Monocular has objective lens diameter of 25mm and magnifies objects by 10x.

Depending on your model, you can adjust magnification by zooming with a single eye piece or by switching fixed-length eyepieces. This allows you to scan objects at a long distance using lower power and increase the magnification power when you locate them. Eye pieces with fixed focal length are better at light gathering whereas zoom eye pieces excel at widening the field of view for detailed observation.

However, high magnification narrows the field of view, reduces the light received and increases vibrations and effects of heat distortion. This results in poor clarity and images that are too dark or blurry.


If you compare monocular vs spotting scope, monocular is the lighter of the two. This is because the size of objective lens imparts the size and weight of the model. Spotting scopes have larger objective lens and other components necessary for high magnification and image quality. This is why there are few compact spotting scopes that are portable. They also need to be supported by a sturdy tripod that can keep the scope stable during use and conveniently folded away for storage. You can adjust the legs of the tripod to position the scope at a height that will be comfortable for you when observing objects for an extended time.

This is in contrast to monocular which requires minimal set up because you can hold it when viewing objects.

Durability and accessories

Monocular vs Spotting Scope: What is the Difference?

Monocular and spotting scopes are mainly used outdoors where there is always a risk of damage from adverse natural conditions. Look for products and accessories like Bushnell Advanced Tripod which buyers say is made of robust materials to extend its lifespan. It offers solid support, adjusts to a maximum height of 61 inches and you can use it with several optic devices in various settings.

Most units also come with lens caps, protective rubber armoring and storage cases.

What are They Best Suited for?

Let’s look at a few scenarios and see what the better option should be, between monocular vs spotting scope?


Monocular wins. They are significantly much more lightweight and smaller than spotting scopes and would make the best companion on a long hiking trip.


This will depend on where you are bird watching Trusted Source How to start birdwatching during the pandemic - The Washington Post During the pandemic, the popularity of birdwatching is soaring. Here’s what you need to know to tune in to the feathered soap opera outside your window. . If you are on the move, then monocular would be ideal because it requires little to no set up and most are compact enough to be carried around for long outdoor adventures.  We would recommend a spotting scope for watching birds from outside your home. You can set it up in your backyard, and it will be more effective than a monocular in observing flying birds because of the high magnification and larger field of view. It is also better at viewing moving objects.


A spotting scope would be more suitable because it has extensive range that will allow you to observe the prey from a safe distance that will not scare it off or put your life at risk. For those that might argue that a monocular would make more sense to avoid your presence being detected by the intended prey, there are now small-sized scopes that do not require a tripod.


If you hope to view any meaningful details, then your go-to option should be a spotting scope because its power and magnification is superior to monocular which magnify objects up to 12x. For perspective’s sake, the minimum magnification power of a scope is 20x.

Final Thoughts

When you buy a durable and waterproof optics unit, get ready for an exciting adventure that will provide you with a great way to explore plenty of amazing sightings. We included the above situations and recommended the better option based on the individual strengths and drawbacks of each type. There are other factors that would determine what to choose in a particular setting. They include current weather and location, type of activity, what you want to view, and your individual preference. Now that you know the qualities of monocular vs spotting scope Trusted Source Spotting Alaskan Game Game animals are most commonly active in the low light of early morning and late evening. Quality optics in the form of binoculars and spotting scopes are essential for the hunter to see into the shadows and pick out a deer or a moose from alder or willow branches. , how they differ in their applications and their pros and cons, you should be able to make the right choice whenever you want to view distant objects.


How to start birdwatching during the pandemic - The Washington Post
During the pandemic, the popularity of birdwatching is soaring. Here’s what you need to know to tune in to the feathered soap opera outside your window.
Spotting Alaskan Game
Game animals are most commonly active in the low light of early morning and late evening. Quality optics in the form of binoculars and spotting scopes are essential for the hunter to see into the shadows and pick out a deer or a moose from alder or willow branches.
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