There are surprisingly few monocular options for the lightweight backpacker that combine good optical quality with both small size and low weight. Three Points of the Compass has been using the Opticron 8×20 Gallery Scope for almost quarter of a century and the current incarnation is still a good choice for use on trail.
Opticron are a UK optics company that produce monoculars, spotting scopes, binoculars and peripheral equipment. The great majority of their products are manufactured in Japan by ‘elite optical manufacturers’. Products are good value, high quality and backed up by warranty and good after-sales service. The 8×20 monocular is quite an old product now, but has undergone a minor design revamp with mostly welcome improvement. It is an affordable and good choice for the lightweight backpacker who is interested in not only distance work, but close-up observation as well. This is a review of the older model (product code 30165) with relevant mention of changes to the currently available model (product code 30176).
Unlike many alternative monoculars, the Opticron 8×20 Gallery Scope lacks an internal focus ring, instead, the body extends when focused. This introduces both pluses and minuses to the product. First targeted at the fine art student the Opticron 8×20 monocular is capable of remarkable close focus so is useful beyond simple viewing of paintings and lends itself well to close study of nature in the field. I purchased mine almost quarter of a century ago and while it doesn’t accompany me on all my trips, it is very frequently tucked into a packs hip-belt pocket. It has frequently proven its worth, being pulled out to watch birdlife, insects, aided in attempts to identify cetaceans, or just try and work out a path ahead, or if the pub is still open and worth a detour!
The present incarnation of my gallery scope from Opticron features metal ridging on the forward extending body that has been greatly extended on the focusing part of the body. Less useful is the removal of the metal ridges on the part of the body closest to the eye. I have found it useful to have a grippier surface to hold with fingers from both hands when extending or closing the body of the scope. The fold-down rubber eyecup has been retained, a shame as it would benefit from a twist in/out eyecup. I always felt that the soft rubber eyecup would split with continual folding but other than a few cracks appearing, it is still intact. It is bound to fail eventually however through continued stress.
It is with this monocular that I learnt how to use one. It is not as easy to find an object with a monocular as it is with a pair of binoculars and it is a skill that takes time to master. Attempting to locate a Red Footed Falcon amongst a small group of Hobbies in a featureless blue sky can be a frustrating task indeed. It is a tool for some distance work but not all.
The Japanese made BK7 roof prism optical system is enclosed in a black painted aluminium alloy body that lacks any additional rubber armouring or protection from knocks. Due to its expanding design this monocular is not Nitrogen filled, which is a desirable feature for monoculars as it prevents fogging with temperature change. However the extreme light weight of this instrument may be enough to make this an acceptable loss, everything is a compromise in lightweight backpacking. Whereas my old model weighs 109g (though specified by Opticron ‘back in the day’ as 105g), remarkably, the weight of the latest model has dropped to a reported 72g. If I am expecting particularly wet conditions, I do not normally carry this non-waterproof instrument on hikes, or use it in rain, often. Though I did carry it on a five month backpacking trip, through some horrendous weather conditions and it survived that. The issue is the expanding body of the monocular, as you twist the outer part of the instrument to focus this exposes the inner tube where water (rain/snow) can enter and become trapped and enclosed as the body is subsequently wound in. It requires careful drying out when wet and needs a degree of mollycoddling that some might feel too much. For instance, taking from a warm pocket and used in the hand in especially cold conditions causes almost immediate fogging, but use a pair of gloves and this almost always prevents fogging occurring.
Opticron are a family run optics business established in 1970. They proclaim to offer the “widest range of quality full-size field monoculars of any company in the business”, while few of these are small enough to be seriously considered by the lightweight backpacker, most are eminently suitable for outdoor activity. Their length of guarantee differs with each product sold but is never les than two years. Both old and new model Opticron Gallery Scope monoculars have a thirty year guarantee.
|8 x 20 (old model)||8 x 20 (new model)|
|Minimum focus distance||300mm||300mm|
|Angle of view||6.8°||7°|
|Field of View||119m/1000m||122m/1000m|
|Dimensions (mm)||94 x 34||94 x 34|
My Opticron has a Field of View of 119 metres at 1000 metres and 6.8° Angle of View, though the current model has been upgraded to 111m Field of View and 7° Angle of View respectively. Eye Relief remains unchanged at just 11mm. As a glasses wearer, this has been sufficient for me when in use with folded down eyecups. Anything beyond 15m requires little in the way of focusing though close up work requires precise control. There is a Close Focus Scale on the body of the Gallery Scope to help with macro focusing but in actual use I have never required this, simply focusing as required.
There is little in the way of colour fringing though colours are a little flat and lack great clarity though this may be improved in the current incarnation. The glass has been upgraded in the intervening years and coatings added and improved. Whereas mine came with all glass exposed to the air given single coating, this is now multi. Combined with an Exit Pupil of just 2.5, performance and image quality is better in good light. It is seldom that I attempt to use this monocular at dusk as the image is unsurprisingly quite dark. But that has been more than made up for on occasion during the day, for example, the ability to use this little lightweight monocular to focus on Odonata at close range. Something few other monoculars will permit. The close focus capability of this instrument is almost in a class of its own.
Few accessories came with my little monocular when I purchased it almost a quarter of a century ago. There was a cleaning cloth (lost to the mists of time), a hand strap (likewise lost) and a small brown leatherette zip case. I never liked this due to the snagging zip and the lack of waterproofness so always carry it in either a small DCF drawstring baggie or a zip lock sandwich bag, or both. Unprotected as it is, it is not surprising that the body has sustained a multitude of scratches over time but internal optics are still in place. The latest model Gallery Scope comes with soft case with handstrap and dust caps. The dust caps do not permanently fix on and are easily lost or mislaid, as were mine decades ago. For a handstrap I have on occasion added a short length of cordage to the hanger on the side of the ‘scope, but more often than not, do not bother with anything.
Though tempted, I never got round to buying the optional Opticron Microstand, accessory number 30259. This stand is more intended to convert the monocular to home or lab microscope use rather than field. It can be attached to the gallery scope body and provides a further 3 x magnification for the close up study of plants, insects etc. The stand also has an included battery powered detachable and adjustable LED light. The whole stand costs around £40.
The Opticron 8×20 Gallery Scope extends use beyond that of a simple monocular, it can perform double duty for those who also want to carry out close up study of nature, either down to 30cm as it is, or microscope work with the add-on accessory. Not that many of us will be carrying that on trail. The Opticron Gallery Scope is a niche product, but may be exactly what you want. It has certainly suited my needs for many years. As I write this, in April 2022, this optical instrument cost around £100 but can be sourced cheaper with a bit of searching.
Three Points of the Compass has produced three other blogs on the subject of monoculars on trail: