Monocular vs binoculars for birdwatching – which is right for you?

Monoculars and binoculars offer different benefits when viewing wildlife but which is most suitable for your needs? We examine the different options.
A man stands among foliage in a bird reserve, holding a Canon PowerShot Zoom in one hand and wearing a pair of Canon binoculars around his neck.

Observing birds in the wild or garden focuses your attention and senses, making it an incredibly mindful activity. And with so many different calls, plumage patterns and behaviours on show, there's always something new to look for. For beginner birdwatchers, there are several options for viewing and capturing birds up close – but which is best for you?

Binoculars are a traditional birdwatching tool and offer incredible zoom as well as being lightweight and compact, but they're unable to record what you see.

Canon's PowerShot ZOOM is a monocular camera that packs a powerful long lens into a body small enough to fit in your pocket. With a versatile 100mm, 400mm and 800mm step zoom, it can bring your favourite subjects a lot closer, not to mention shoot rich, colourful photographs and videos.

Alternatively, a compact camera such as the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS combines high-resolution stills with a powerful 40x optical zoom and is ideal for birdwatchers who want to take their photography further.

Here, we'll look at the varying benefits of a monocular vs binoculars, and compare the Canon PowerShot ZOOM with Canon 8x20 IS and Canon 10x30 IS II binoculars as well as compact cameras to help you make the best choice for birdwatching.

Monoculars vs binoculars: pros and cons

A man crouches at the edge of a stream, holding a Canon PowerShot ZOOM up to his eye.

The Canon PowerShot ZOOM offers a clean, neat and compact design, and is available in white and black.

A man leans against a wooden fence holding a pair of Canon binoculars to his eyes.

The optical viewfinders in the Canon 8x20 IS and Canon 10x30 IS II binoculars mean you won't strain your eyes when observing over longer periods.

Monoculars such as the Canon PowerShot ZOOM provide magnification for a single eye, as opposed to a pair of binoculars, which cover both. This generally makes monoculars lighter and smaller, but with similar degrees of magnification to binoculars.

This light weight and easy portability makes the PowerShot ZOOM more comparable to a smartphone, but it will capture much more detailed and high-quality images than your phone from a distance. Some smartphones may advertise long zoom capabilities, but a combination of alternative technologies such as digital zoom, hybrid zoom and a folded optical design are used to capture images and videos from a distance. This means that image stabilisation is limited, and most of the time does not deliver the image quality which is otherwise achieved with a dedicated camera. The PowerShot ZOOM offers the light weight and pocket-sized portability of a smartphone, but with a much more powerful, high-quality lens.

If you value having the very best optical quality, then the Canon 8x20 IS binoculars feature precision optics and the same Super Spectra coating found in Canon's renowned EF lens range, giving you an incredibly vivid view with accurate colour rendering, so you see birds at their most magnificent.

Similarly compact and lightweight, the Canon 10x30 IS II binoculars offer 10x magnification and are perfect for nature, travel and sports observation. The major advantage is that the binoculars have the same optical Image Stabilizer technology used in Canon camera lenses, to give superior clarity and reduce shake so you can clearly observe subjects over long distances. The binoculars also have an optical display, whereas the PowerShot ZOOM has an electronic viewfinder (EVF).

A pair of hands hold out a set of black Canon 8x20 IS binoculars in front of their body.

The Canon 8x20 IS binoculars weigh just 420g so you'll barely notice them hanging around your neck, enabling you to focus in as soon as you spot movement in the distance.

A hand placing a Canon PowerShot ZOOM into the pocket of a fluffy cream and yellow jacket.

With its small size – weighing approximately 145g (including card)/144g (body only), USB-C charging and generous operating time, the Canon PowerShot ZOOM can be kept in your pocket or on your wrist for those essential wildlife shots.

However, the larger size and greater weight of binoculars means they aren't always practical – and most won't fit inside a pocket. They also don't allow you to capture images, or change the level of zoom. When you're out walking and don't want to carry excess kit with you, the PowerShot ZOOM makes perfect sense. It is beautifully discreet yet gets you closer to birds as it allows you to instantly zoom in and photograph with ease. Just switch on, frame up and shoot – even with just one hand – thanks to a simple button layout with no complicated menus.

Speed is where the PowerShot ZOOM really delivers. Because it's Full Auto, you can point and shoot without having to stop and consider the best settings.

Long lens power in a pocket-sized body

A smiling man brings a Canon PowerShot ZOOM up to his face while looking through the window of a bird hide.

Fully automatic, the Canon PowerShot ZOOM's powerful DIGIC 8 processor saves time in doing the thinking for you, leaving you free to catch that magical moment before it's gone.

A pair of hands holds a smartphone next to a Canon PowerShot ZOOM, showing it connected using the Canon Camera Connect app.

The Canon PowerShot ZOOM can connect to your phone via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth using the Canon Camera Connect app, ideal for adding GPS location information to your shots as well as being able to review your photographs and select the best straight away.

The Canon PowerShot ZOOM monocular offers a unique birdwatching experience, sitting far more comfortably in your hand than a phone or compact camera. And unlike a pair of binoculars, it is capable of shooting detailed 12MP images, with a rapid 10fps continuous speed that's ideal for birds in flight.

For birdwatching and wildlife photography, you need enough magnification to fill the frame with a feathery subject. The Canon PowerShot ZOOM excels here, taking photos and Full HD video using a step zoom design consisting of two optical focal lengths – 100mm and 400mm – with a 2x digital converter to take you to 800mm. You can flip instantly between zoom lengths with the flick of a switch, so you can bring distant objects closer without ever having to take your eye away from the super-clear 2.36MP viewfinder, which is usable even in bright daylight with no glare on the screen. Thanks to the built-in 4-axis Optical Image Stabilizer, the view is also free from vibrations, which reduces eye fatigue.

Unlike a traditional monocular, the PowerShot ZOOM is well-connected, offering Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that link to the Canon Camera Connect app for some handy features. For example, you can connect it to your phone to geotag images you've captured, which is perfect if you want to track bird sightings and remember a location for later. You can also share the live view, so others can see what you see in real time.

The Full Auto mode conveniently handles exposure for you, and you can easily change settings in the simple menu.

Monocular, binoculars or compact camera: which would suit you best?

A shot of a Canon PowerShot ZOOM, Canon binoculars and a Canon camera resting on a wooden bench in a wildlife hide.

With a 100-800mm zoom range, the monocular Canon PowerShot ZOOM can offer incredible magnification of small and far away subjects. Its 0.39-inch EVF OLED viewfinder provides clear and sharp observation, with 2.36m dots and a 59.94fps refresh rate. It's the perfect addition to any birdwatcher's kitbag, or a good alternative to bulky, heavy equipment.

Canon's stunning image-stabilised binoculars offer incredible reach and quality while birdwatching, and binoculars have been the constant companions of generations of birdwatchers with good reason. However, if you want something a little smaller and lighter, with the ability to capture images, then the Canon PowerShot ZOOM offers a comparable telephoto reach plus photo and Full HD video recording capabilities.

Both the Canon PowerShot ZOOM and Canon's range of binoculars offer powerful magnification, but the Canon monocular camera has the ability to go beyond simply viewing a subject to capturing it at the same time. It also offers a very fast power-up time, so you can literally pick up and shoot to make sure you don't miss the moment.

If taking photographs is the most important part of birdwatching to you, then you might prefer to choose a compact camera such as the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS. Its 40x zoom is ideal for getting close-up shots while keeping your distance, and the 20.3MP sensor will give you high-resolution images you can print out and display with pride. The PowerShot SX740 HS is larger than the PowerShot ZOOM, but it has a screen rather than an EVF, which may suit people who have difficulty with a viewfinder.

There are so many beautiful birds out there for you to photograph, and choosing either of the PowerShot products – and having a pair of binoculars handy – will aid you on your journey. Why not go to a woodland on the outskirts of a city, or step into your backyard, and give it a go today?

Written by Lauren Scott

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