Are Monoculars Good For Stargazing?

Monoculars are incredibly versatile optic devices that give you a more detailed look at all kinds of distant objects.

Some people believe that monoculars are simply half of their binocular peers; but in reality, there are different uses, as well as pros and cons of both.

Here’s whether monoculars are good for stargazing

Monoculars’ portability and compactness are useful for occasional stargazing, especially while hiking, and they’re a good spotting tool to help aim a telescope. However, monoculars’ apertures are too small for serious stargazing. Most stargazers should choose a entry-level telescope or good binoculars, and save their monocular for birdwatching, hunting, and other terrestrial observation.

While monoculars are quite portable, small, and compact — binoculars and telescopes have plenty of advantages as well. Still, there are many optics professionals who believe that using monoculars in nightly conditions is better and healthier than opting for binoculars, especially when it comes to stargazing. However, both of these are far worse than telescopes for astronomy, at least in the practical sense. That being said, monoculars have plenty of uses in other fields.

What monoculars do best

The main difference between binoculars and monoculars is obvious at a glance. Binoculars generally possess two tubes for viewing, whereas a monocular only has a single one.

But does that necessarily mean that binoculars are always a better option compared to binoculars? Well, no — otherwise they wouldn’t really exist.

There are many instances where a good monocular would be preferable to any kind of binoculars. But by and large, the world of optics is a bit critical of monoculars. That being said, we’ll explore the ups and downs of monoculars compared to binoculars and telescopes, particularly for stargazing.

When it comes to the applications of monoculars, you’ll notice that plenty of optics users actually have at least one in their possession — and the reasons for that are many. First of all, and most obviously — monoculars are quite small.

They are smaller than even the binoculars; let alone telescopes. With that in mind, they’re simply more practical for traveling when you need some sort of optics for magnification; you won’t feel like this device creates any additional clutter. Plus, unlike the situations you can get into with telescopes — you don’t really stand a chance at knocking something around with monoculars and creating additional damage for both items.

Apart from being compact, a majority of monoculars are also incredibly lightweight; plus, most models come with straps that you can comfortably use to wear the optics around your own neck. That way, you have your hands free when you need them — but also have your optics available to you at a moment’s notice. Naturally, if you’ve ever used binoculars — you know that they have this feature as well. However, binoculars are far weightier — causing you neck pain over extended use.

In terms of magnification, depending on the respective models — binoculars and monoculars can be pretty much even. After all, a pair of binoculars can be created from two monoculars, in theory. However, if you view magnified objects in the sky and on the ground with just a single viewing tube — there are some effects that are different.

When it comes to astronomy, monoculars are mostly used for spotting specific targets among celestial bodies, before you find them in more detail using the lens of the telescope itself. And while binoculars can be used for the same purpose, monoculars may cause less eye strain when used at night. This means that you won’t go as far towards ruining your eyesight if you use monoculars for stargazing; the fact that you only focus on one eye allows your eyes to adjust to the darkness quicker than with binoculars.

Where monoculars struggle

Of course, there are downsides that render monoculars a less-than-perfect piece of viewing equipment. There’s a reason why monoculars and binoculars aren’t used for extensive stargazing (apart from their insufficient power compared to telescopes). Mainly, it’s the fact that using monoculars for a long time definitely means straining your eyes — over the long term, comparatively as much as you’d get with binoculars. So, both of these optics are used for quick glimpses of your viewing targets; not constant observation.

Also, it should be pointed out that binoculars are definitely the winner in the FoV arena; they’ve got a better field of view because the two viewing tubes provide you with a wider range compared to a single one. Though, monoculars still carry the day (ironically) in night vision scenarios.

Should I get monoculars, binoculars, or a telescope for astronomy?

Obviously, telescopes are the way to go for any budding stargazer. Over the long run, there’s simply no way that a monocular or a set of binoculars could provide you with a sufficient level of detail and viewing range to allow for any kind of serious stargazing.

However, if you’re going to do some light and short observing before buying a telescope — binoculars can be the way to go, due to the fact that they have bigger objective lenses. On the other hand, if you need a spotting tool to go along with your telescope — we recommend monoculars, for the reasons we’ve already outlined above.

Generally, though, most people start out looking through binoculars before they buy their first telescope; that’s perfectly normal, seeing as most of us (particularly in rural areas where there’s less light pollution) have a pair of binoculars lying around the house already.

Most notably, we have to point out that while monoculars aren’t the first piece of optics that comes to mind when we talk about stargazing; they have a couple of very wide uses. For instance, many people who engage in wildlife viewing find that monoculars are definitely the way to go; particularly in the niche of bird watching. 

Bird watchers have the unique situation of being burdened with a lot of equipment — like bird seed, tripods, cameras, etc — while also having to stay light footed and quiet. With that in mind, even monoculars with varying distance and clarity are an excellent tool for bird watchers; simply because they’re not heavy and bulky.

Other nature observers are quite fond of this as well — people who like to observe the different patterns and types of leaves on trees can get amazing amounts of detail up-close using monoculars. And other kinds of animal viewers find this to be a valuable piece of optics too.

Are monoculars and handheld telescopes the same thing?

If you take a look at the average monocular, you’ll find that it has an 8x zoom and quite a tiny aperture. As a result, you can’t use it to see any celestial bodies in any discernible detail, apart from perhaps the moon.

On the other hand, a basic handheld telescope like the one pictured up top (sometimes called a spyglass) can range from a toy or novelty to a serious optical device with much larger zoom. The lack of a tripod makes it hard to work with all that magnification, however, so we don’t recommend holding your telescope in your hand. And, needless to say, a toy-quality spyglass won’t hold a candle to even a mid-range monocular.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, monoculars are compact and lightweight optic al devices that can work with fairly distant objects. They just don’t do as well with the huge distances and faint objects that are par for the course in astronomy.

When it comes to their use in stargazing, they are rarely used as the main observing tool, save for viewing the moon. While buying monoculars for spotting and any other non-stargazing activities, prospective buyers must think about the expenses, specifications, and their own requirements.

While monoculars tend to take a back seat in the world of optics, struggling beneath the weight of telescopes and binoculars; their existence is more than justified via their use in all kinds of activities. From amateur astronomy spotting to tactical applications, surveillance, birding, wildlife watching, marine observation, and hunting. Using the small size and compact design of the average monocular, there are plenty of activities where they can help with the optics immensely.

If you’re in the market for new optics, then check out our buyer’s guides to stargazing binoculars and catadioptric telescopes. We’ve also published a further comparison of the two here, in case you’re still unsure which makes sense for you.