Nikon 36-mm Monarch ATB
The last time we took a good look at the
Nikon Monarchs was when Optics4Birding was pretty much brand new, and as it was
one of the very first binoculars we reviewed, we didn’t have as much perspective
on the subject. Back then, we had no idea that the Monarchs would turn out to be
one of the most popular and best-selling lines of binoculars in the world. Our approach
to them then was sort of like the San Diego Union Tribune junior sports writer who
took Tony Gwynn to the batting cages to see if he could hit… Our perspective
is a bit more seasoned now, and so it was with some anticipation that we received
the new 8x and 10x 36-mm Nikon Monarchs for review.
Maybe we should provide a little background for those who aren’t quite up
to speed yet. Nikon Monarch ATB binoculars are a fairly diverse line of optics,
available in 8x36, 10x36, 8x42, 10x42, 12x42, 8.5x56, 10x56 and 12x56 configurations.
Basically, if you want a Monarch, there’s one that will fit you! All are roof
prism binoculars, made with phase-coated BaK-4 glass prisms and fully multi-coated
optics. They are O-ring sealed and nitrogen-purged, so they are waterproof, dust-proof
and internally fog-proof. That should all sound fairly familiar in a roof prism
binocular. The 10x36 model costs $269.95 while the 8x36 version sells for only $249.95,
which puts them decidedly in the low end of the modern binocular market. So really,
one of the questions you ought to be asking is how can Nikon offer this much quality
so cheaply? Well, we don’t really have an answer for that, so we’ll
ignore it for now.
The next question you’ll ask, since we so artlessly dodged the last one, is
what is the point of a 36-mm binocular in the first place? Good question! And we
think we have several answers for it. The 36-mm Monarch is similar in size and weight
to a 32-mm binocular, which has significant advantages in comfort and portability
over full-sized binoculars, and often a shorter minimum close focus to go with a
wider field of view. All this comes at a cost relative to a full-size binocular,
which is less light-gathering. So the next question is, how much less light-gathering?
Light-gathering has two components: how much you gather, which is limited by the
size of the objective lens, and how much gets transmitted to the eye, which is where
all the “art” in optical engineering comes in. In a circular lens, area
increases as a function of the square of the radius, so a 42-mm binocular has about
36% more light-gathering capacity than a 36-mm binocular, all other things such
as magnification, quality of glass and coatings being equal. On the other hand,
a 36-mm binocular has 26.5% more light-gathering than a 32-mm binocular, and for
the odd 33-mm optic, the difference is still a hefty 19% more, again, all other
things being equal. And the point is, the 36-mm Monarch is designed to compete effectively
against the 32- and 33-mm binocular class. The suspicious ones of you out there
are now probably thinking, “But what about that ‘all other things being
equal’ stuff”, or maybe you’re thinking, “Can I really see
a 19-27% difference?” We’ll address those in reverse order. The answer
is, yes, you can see it. We tested the 10x36 Monarch against a $400, 10x33 binocular
and the Monarch was notably brighter. The answer to the first question is also yes
- we found a couple of 8x32 and 10x32 binoculars in our selection that were brighter
than the corresponding Monarchs. The point is: they all sell for more than 6 times
the price. Feeling better now? We thought you would!
Mag x Obj
Field of view
367 ft/1000 yds
5.1" x 4.75"
341 ft/1000 yds
6.25" x 5.0"
The 36-mm Monarch ATB binoculars are quite compact, measuring 5.1 inches tall (with
eyecups fully extended) by 4.75 inches wide, and weighing just 20.4 oz. on our postal
scale. These will be pretty easy to tote around all day without even knowing they
are around your neck. Nikon lists the 10x36 Monarch as having a minimum close focus
of 8.2 feet. We are pleased to report this is an error: we had no trouble at all
getting these babies down to under 6 feet though the visual field starts to collapse
at about 7 feet. Both the 36-mm Monarchs are listed as having a 367-foot field of
view at 1000 yards. That would be fairly average for an 8x binocular, but it’s
pretty impressive on a 10x. The 10x42 Monarch, for example, has only a 330-foot
field of view at 1000 yards. The focus knob is large and turns easily, requiring
1.2 turns to go from minimum close focus to infinity, just right for pitch on a
The flat field performance of the 36-mm Monarchs was quite good overall. The image
stays sharp pretty much to the edge of the field and there is only very slight pin-cushioning,
which you must really look for specifically or it won’t draw your notice.
In terms of chromatic aberration, the 36-mm Monarch outperforms its larger cousins.
There is detectable prismatic flare around brightly-lit objects, and it is visible
fairly close to the center of the field. It’s small, but it’s there:
a slight greenish-yellow fringe to the right side of the object, or a slight purplish-blue
fringe to the left. That being said, this property isn’t really intrusive.
You don’t really notice it unless you specifically look for it. You won’t
see it while pursuing the average Ovenbird. While testing these features as well
as the overall brightness, we noted that the color fidelity is excellent. True whites
are really bright, and the iridescence of a hummingbird throat just jumps out at
The eyecups on the 36-mm Monarchs adjust with the now prosaic helical-twist mechanism.
There are four fully-stable positions: fully-in, fully-out, and two positions between.
These intermediate positions are very stable with solid detents, so we give Nikon
high marks for these overall. The 10x36 Monarchs have 15 mm of eye relief which
is just a bit short for some eyeglass wearers; they would do a bit better with the
8x36 version, which has 17 mm of eye relief. The diopter adjustment is a classic
mechanism: a twisting plastic ring at the base of the right ocular. While it does
not lock, the mechanism is stiff enough that it resists unintentional movement.
A raised vertical line on the ring lines up with one on the barrel to denote the
position for equal eyes. The diopter adjustment ring also has vertical furrows that
can serve to mark a position for unequal eyes, so that if the desired non-equal
position is lost, it can be easily regained. As basic diopter adjustment mechanisms
go, this is not a bad one. Both 36-mm Monarchs have a 54-75 mm range of interpupilary
distance. This is an unusually broad range for this; most conventional binoculars
have a range of 17-18 mm difference. Moreover, this is particularly generous on
the short end, meaning that people with narrower faces will find that the 36-mm
Monarchs fit them better. It is a bit narrower than usual on the upper end, so folks
with wider faces may want to go with a more conventional-sized binocular.
The rain guard is one feature on which Nikon reprised a problem from the 42-mm Monarchs.
The rain guard is a pair of hard plastic cups joined by a rather stiff but flexing
linker. The cups fit snugly over the eyecups when the binocular hinge is not fully
extended because the stiffness of the linker region causes friction against the
inner portion of the eyecups. In this configuration, the rain guard doesn’t
dislodge easily, but as soon as the binocular is opened more, this friction is lost,
and the rain guard falls off with almost no provocation. This is an annoyance and
could have been done better. As with most rain guards today, the strap is designed
to fit through brackets on either side of the rain guard, one of which is gapped
so it can be detached from the strap on the right side at the user’s discretion.
The objective lens caps are made of the same hard plastic and rely on the texture
of the rubber armoring to be held in place. While they fit reasonably tightly, there
is still great potential for losing these in the field. Nikon says they have plans
to change these in the near future, but for now, they are what you get. Nikon would
be well-advised to use the attached lens caps featured on the current version of
the full-size Monarchs (the 42-mm Monarchs didn’t have tethered lens caps
when we first reviewed them).
The strap is a simple nylon one, widening at the neck, with a patch of cloth padding
sewn into the inner side for more comfort. It is adequate for these light Monarchs,
though nothing great. By contrast, the cordura case is quite well executed. It is
spacious enough to fit the binocular with eyecups fully extended and features a
flap that closes with a Velcro patch, leaving the binocular strap comfortably free
so the whole ensemble can be comfortably worn over the shoulder or around the neck.
Alternatively, there is a wide, nylon, belt-mounting loop on the back of the case,
allowing it to be conveniently worn at the waist. This is a well-designed case.
We really like the 36-mm Monarchs, in truth, perhaps even a bit better than the
10x42 version. Their small size and low weight make them very comfortable to carry
while they don’t short on optical quality. In the end, some of the minor touch
and feel features don’t matter all that much, whereas a reliably bright view
and sharp image matter a lot. The price puts them solidly in the lowest quarter
of the market for cost, while delivering a lot of quality and value at that level.
We think that when word of these gets out to the birders and hunters, they are going
to sell as well as or better than the big ones, and that is saying a lot.
Nikon 36-mm Monarch ATB Binoculars - current price