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Looking into the distance

Looking into the distance

Having no central vision for more than 40 years means I have forgotten that people can see things that are in the distance. I remember asking my children to read a bus number and being surprised when they read the number long before I could see the bus. I have to remind myself to take a look into the distance and the best way to do this is with a monocular or binoculars.


I’ve used a monocular for finding key information when I’m out and about for a very long time. I have always used a Specwell M-0820 available from Optima Low Vision Services. It’s very simple to focus. Practise means I can use my finger to judge the groove on the top of the monocular, meaning I can focus before looking through the lens.

This monocular has a close focus feature which allows you to read labels in a supermarket or in a shop window. This does take a fair bit of practise and patience. Age means the monocular no longer allows me to read sign boards in quite the way it used to, so recently I’ve been on the lookout for something stronger.

What the numbers mean

There are two lenses. The ocular lens is the closest to your eye and the objective lens is the furthest away. The first number in 8 x 20 refers to the magnification provided by the ocular lens. So, in this case it will make objects 8 times closer. The second number indicates the diameter of the objective lens. As a rule, the greater the magnification, the smaller the field of view. You can increase the field of view by increasing the objective lens diameter. However, anything larger than about 22mm does require very large pockets and a large hand. The greater the magnification, the steadier your hand will need to be.

As with any magnifier, it’s a good plan to use the minimum magnification to get the job done. The last number to look at is expressed as a percent and refers to the slice of the pie you are to look at. For example, my 10x monocular has a 12.5% field of view. Click here for a more detailed explanation of binoculars

Going cheap

As mentioned above I wanted to increase the magnification to better read sign boards when out, however, I don’t want to more than £100 on a monocular. So I turned to the internet and came across the Nikula range of monoculars, sold as hunting and camping accessories.

Many of these hunting aids retail for less than £20. I purchased the 10×20 with zoom which cost me £13. It’s quite tricky to focus as both the zoom slide and lens wheels need to be in the correct position, but once this is done it does provide a sharp image.  With more practise I believe I’ll be able to focus by touch.

As to the durability of this cheaper aid, I’ll just have to wait and see. I chose to buy my vision aids, but monocular aids and binoculars can be provided by your low vision clinic, along with advice on how to maximise their use.

Going electric

Apps are available to turn both android and apple smartphones into video magnifiers. These can be used at a distance very much like a monocular. My particular favourite is Supervision Plus as it’s simple to use. However, there is quite a choice available in the Play store and App store Some video display boards do appear to flare and flicker when viewed through a magnification app. The advantage of an app is that most people have phone in their pocket most of the time. It’s also possible to attach a monocular to a smartphone to increase magnification.

My top tips for using a monocular

  • Get advice from your low vision specialist, rehab worker, or organisation such as the Macular Society before purchasing a monocular.
  • Think about the task you want achieve and whether a monocular is the right vision aid.
  • Once focussed, feel the length of the monocular and the positioning of the wheels to allow you to focus before looking through the lens.
  • Keep your monocular focussed (this may be case dependent).
  • Keep your monocular close – why not wear it on a lanyard?
  • Stand or sit still when using the monocular.
  • If you are reading boards in a station, try and position yourself with a pillar or wall behind you to prevent fellow passengers walking into you as you read.
  • Using a monocular can be tiring so keep it brief and build up slowly.
  • Talk to other monocular users and ask how they do it.

Let London Vision know your top tips for using a monocular on and we will make sure to share your tips with other blind and partially sighted people.

Jonathan Ward, July 2021

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