Modeled after a Cold-War-era spy camera, the Sport Optics MD monocular from Minox ($139, www.minox.com) is a miniature telescope that weighs less than 4 ounces. It’s made for hikers, climbers, birders and hunters, and it provides 6X magnification in a metal case not much larger than a pack of gum.
The monocular has a unique slide-focus switch to let you easily and precisely adjust focus while sighting a distant object. Its sharp, clear lens provides a wide field of view while also granting a minimum focus distance of 4.5 feet to accommodate people who want to view wildlife without causing a disturbance.
On the other end of the cost spectrum, Bushnell’s Powerview monocular ($16, www.bushnell.com) is a rubber-coated-tube design that has 10X magnification. It weighs an ounce more than the Minox Sport Optics MD but is similarly compact.
Of the two, Minox’s Sport Optics MD is hands-down the more refined and user-friendly model. Its slide-focus switch is easier to use than Bushnell’s traditional twist-focus setup, and the Minox’s 4.5-foot minimum focus — which is more than 10 feet better than Bushnell’s minimum-focus distance — is a nice feature for birders and other wildlife enthusiasts.
However, the Powerview has better magnification than the Minox product, and it is more than $100 less expensive. In my tests, the Powerview performed admirably, letting me sight a climbing route on a distant mountain before trudging uphill for three hours to the base. It’s not as easy to focus nor as bright and sharp as the Minox model, but I’m willing to forgive those faults for the low price.