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I am looking for a good monocular that I could use with my mobile phone. I have seen the Zen Ray ZRS, the Vortex Solo and the Opticron. These are all a bit rich for my pocket.

So what are the must haves and what are the nice to haves - how should one choose where to compromise for lower costs? I want to photograph wildlife at long distance.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I answered, as I think OPs expectancies are, let's say, optimistic. So my answer is probably not quite what she expects. \$\endgroup\$
    – remco
    Apr 20, 2018 at 10:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. Better to know than continue down unrealistic path. Hadn't quite realised how much point and shoot zoom camera you can get for your money these days. I shall upgrade my much loved but now out of date Panasonic. Thanks for all your help, everyone. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sarah
    Apr 20, 2018 at 11:50

2 Answers 2

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Seriously, if you are planning to photograph wildlife from a long distance, you'll want something else than a monocular add-on to a smartphone.

You need:

  • Ability to use fast shutter speed (1/1000) because wildlife can be... wild, and run/fly fast.
  • A decent aperture. Note the aperture number is effectively multiplied by the crop factor, which on smartphones is huge (crop factor, that is).
  • If photographing in any conditions other than sunlight, good high ISO performance, meaning the sensor should be far larger than a smartphone sensor.
  • Image stabilization could be a bonus as well, but my experience is that fast shutter speeds (1/1000) don't need it. Still, in low light, photographing non-moving or slowly-moving wildlife, image stabilization can be mandatory.
  • A long focal length.
  • A high-megapixel sensor.
  • A good lens, because lens can limit the image quality, and even with a long focal length, you may need to crop the image.
  • Good ergonomics on the camera. Aiming a 400mm-equivalent lens isn't easy.
  • A display / viewfinder that can be viewed in sunlight.
  • Burst mode to take number of pictures within a short time interval.
  • Fast autofocus

Let's see what a smartphone has:

  • Shutter speed: is this even adjustable? Probably not.
  • Aperture: whatever it is, the crop factor means it's effectively too small in size (too large in number).
  • Good high ISO performance: no, due to the sensor size
  • Image stabilization: yes, but if you use a monocular, it probably means the IS gets confused and doesn't work as it should.
  • A long focal length: can you get long enough on a monocular?
  • A high-megapixel sensor: modern smartphones may have it, so yes, you can have enough many megapixels.
  • A good lens: NO!!!
  • Good ergonomics: no, smartphones aren't made for camera use ergonomics
  • A display / viewfinder that can be viewed in sunlight: no
  • Burst mode: I don't know, may depend on the smartphone, and autofocusing in a burst isn't probably fast enough if at all supported
  • Fast autofocus: no, and especially no on a monocular

If you don't have much money to spend on this, you could purchase a cheapish crop sensor DSLR (avoid the cheapest of them all to avoid the ones having slow burst mode) and a cheap crop sensor telezoom. Do expect to spend nearly $1000 for the setup, however. This $1000 is what photographers consider "cheap", some laypersons could consider it expensive. I used to photograph wildlife with Canon 2000D and 55-250mm. The lens quality may be ok but not stellar. The camera has too small buffer for the burst mode. I missed a huge number of potential shots due to the small buffer for the burst.

A better setup would be a full frame DSLR / mirrorless and a professional telezoom. For example, I currently have EOS RP and a second-hand 100-400mm L (the first version of the lens) for $2000 total (purchasing the second version of the lens for new would have cost with the camera $3500 total). It's much better than the first setup, but still some could argue the burst of the EOS RP isn't fast enough.

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After a quick search, I think the models you mention are already at the low end of the range.

The main disadvantage with the cheaper monoculars is that the various lens defects aren't very well corrected. That's not neccesarily a big problem when just using it for observations (until you get to use a good scope), it is a problem for photography.

And, there's a big difference in using a monoscope for watching wildlife and using it for photography. At the least you'd need a sturdy tripod, a way to keep your smartphone in place (it needs to be in a specific position relative tot he monocular) and a way to take a picture without touching the camera/smartphone. The tripod alone is going to be more expensive than the monoculars you mention...

Don't forget that a 10× monocular is about equivalent to a 500mm tele-objective on a 35mm (full-frame) camera. Not many use those lenses without a tripod.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Would it therefore be better to use one with a shorter focal length or just that just mean the 'reach' wouldn't be as far? \$\endgroup\$
    – Sarah
    Apr 20, 2018 at 11:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ shorter range, and it won't change the basics. How do you plan to hold the phone in place, given that it has to be in a precise and fixed position relative to the monocumar? \$\endgroup\$
    – remco
    Apr 20, 2018 at 11:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like I'm on a hiding to nothing and should just buy a new camera with a decent zoom... \$\endgroup\$
    – Sarah
    Apr 20, 2018 at 11:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ You'll still have to be very careful about camera movement at the tele end of the zoom range (shutter times of about 1/500th s or shorter) \$\endgroup\$
    – remco
    Apr 20, 2018 at 12:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sarah I'd consider a camera with image stabilisation (IS) (as I would with mon-/binoculars) \$\endgroup\$
    – flolilo
    Apr 21, 2018 at 15:50

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