Whoever you are, a bird watcher, a hunter, a target shooter or an outdoor naturalist, a spotting scope is an indispensable tool. And if you are an avid hunter and sportsman like me, then you know how important it is to have a powerful spotting lens. And in order for you to choose the best spotting scope, you first need to understand some notions relating to this optical device. The following definition of a spotting scope and a comparison between two types of its body will give you the very first ideas.
- 1 What is a Spotting Scope?
- 2 Angled Body vs. Straight Body Spotting Scopes
- 3 Top 10 Best Spotting Scopes for You
- 4 Top Best Spotting Scopes for the Money Under $200
- 5 Top Best Spotting Scopes for Hunting Under $500
- 6 Things to Consider When Choosing a Spotting Scope
- 7 10 Steps to Pick the Best Spotting Scope
- 8 Check Video Demonstrations
- 9 Frequently Asked Questions
- 9.0.1 1. What is the difference among coated, multicoated and fully multicoated spotting scopes?
- 9.0.2 2. Do I need fully multicoated spotting scopes?
- 9.0.3 3. How do I clean my spotting scope?
- 9.0.4 4. Can I use a completely waterproof spotting scope under sea?
- 9.0.5 5. Should I go for zoom or fixed power scopes?
- 9.0.6 6. How much magnification do I really need to get a good image?
- 10 Conclusion
What is a Spotting Scope?
A spotting scope is a device that is used to view distant, typically terrestrial objects. You may find spotting scopes, binoculars and telescopes similar in that they are constructed with an eyepiece lens and an objective lens to magnify images so that you can see them clearly from long distance. However, this is where the differences arise. The magnification of a spotting scope is far better as compared to a regular binocular. In comparison to a telescope, while the primary purpose of this instrument is to study celestial objects, a spotting scope is used to observe targets on land. Additionally, with lighter weight and more ergonomic design, a spotting scope is portable, so allows for frequent transport and mobility. Although it has lower magnification than an astronomical telescope, a wider field of view makes a spotting scope an ideal choice for those who are looking for an optical instrument that is best suited for observing moving targets.
Angled Body vs. Straight Body Spotting Scopes
Most spotting scope manufacturers offer the choice between angled viewing or straight viewing. It is crucial to consider the two types as both have their pros and cons.
Some users will prefer angled scopes, where the eyepiece is offset at 45 degrees or 90 degrees from the scope barrel because it requires less height adjustment to look down or up at things. Thus, this design is suitable for multiple users of different heights and commonly used in standing situations like watching birds perched high above the viewer and more comfortable for prolonged observation periods. However, due to the angled part itself, it causes difficulty for users in finding the targets and in packing as more space is required. This kind of spotting scope also does not work well at all for viewing from hides or with a car window clamp.
But others will prefer the straight viewing models, where the eyepieces are parallel, for these are much easier to use when getting on the moving targets like birds in the first place. With a straight scope, your eyes will stay level with the object you are looking at through the lens. You do not need to worry when the target is below your level, for example, at the bottom of a cliff. As a matter of fact, the drawbacks of this type are normally the merits of the other and vice versa. On one hand, while angled body scopes do not allow for viewing from hides or with a car window clamp, straight body scopes do. Straight viewing models are also usually a bit lighter, brighter, better for packing and slightly less expensive. On the other hand, straight body scopes require a taller tripod and more adjustment for multiple users of different height. If you’re above average height, it can be more expensive to buy a tripod that needs to be stable at 170 centimeters high and above. The larger tripod is also harder to carry.
The choice is yours. And for me, a straight is always my style of hunting and wildlife viewing. The unique feature that I like from a straight body spotting scope is that it takes tiny space of my pack back and leaves much room for other pieces of stuff.
Now I know what you concern is how to choose the best spotting scope in various range in the market. But you need not worry much as with my practical knowledge and experience, I will ensure that you can save your time and money by studying the following categorizations, reviews and tips for buying a spotting scope that meets your demand.
Top 10 Best Spotting Scopes for You
A vast number of spotting scope producers, namely Barska, Celestron, Alpen, Konus, Tasco, Bushnell, etc. are confusing you with diverse designs, materials, features, and specs. But most importantly, what you need to do is understanding your real requirements, or in other words, exactly what type of spotting scope you want.
Remember that a buying decision will be profitable investment, bringing you a lot of joys and satisfaction if it is reasonable. Otherwise, it is merely a worthless waste of money. So be sure to decide on queries for a spotting scope like, what magnification you need, whether you like an angled spotting scope or a straight one, what weight range you prefer, etc. And of course, don’t forget to consider your budget availability.
Let me help to put aside your troubles with my high-end selection of the most popularly used spotting scopes mainly packed with impressive features. All you need to do is just looking through the following comparison table including detailed information about brands, weights, dimensions, rating, warranty time and customer reviews.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Spotting Scope
A wide range of spotting scopes are available, and you need to choose carefully in order to ensure you did not waste your time and money. If this is the first time you buy a spotting scope, you need to have a firm grasp of the factors affecting the performance, namely, magnification power, objective lens size, quality of optics, field of view, body style, eye relief, prisms, and tripod. Besides, don’t forget to think about durability and warranty policy.
It is not true that the only important feature of a spotting scope is magnification. The reason is that when the magnification exceeds the needed power, the following adverse effects will occur.
- Reduced image brightness since available light is spread over a greater area
- Reduced field of view
The power of a spotting scope is usually represented by two numbers intervened by an X. The first two numbers specify the magnifying power of a spotting scope. Usually, spotting scopes provide a magnification of 15X to 60X.
Objective lens size
The third number indicates the size of the objective lens. The larger the size, the more light it allows to enter the spotting scope. As a result, the image is brighter and has greater contrast and clarity. The size of the objective lens varies from 50mm to 80mm. However, high-quality spotting scopes with an objective lens size of up to 90mm are also available.
Quality of Optics
A crucial factor to the optimal performance and lifespan of an optical device, especially a spotting scope is good anti-reflection coatings.
The coating can be of a single or multiple-layer on the lenses or all the external surfaces. And the coating material is a determinant of the quality of a spotting scope. Top spotting scope lenses are made with fluorite-coated, HD (high density), or ED (extra-low dispersion) glass. In low light viewing condition, the distinction in image quality of these spotting scopes is particularly recognizable. With the arrival of multicoated lenses, light transmission can be up to incredible 98% per surface.
Field of View
The field of view refers to the actual distance across your viewing field (left to right) through the spotting scope. Field of view and magnification has a close relationship in that the wider the field of view is, the lower the magnification is. And remember that a broad view is suitable for observing fast-moving objects.
“Angled or straight body?” The favorable conditions a straight scope bring to you is that it views a target in line with the central line of the scope so allows you to locate and track a target, especially when it is moving. Meanwhile, an angled scope can accommodate people of different heights.
Eye Relief is the maximum distance at which the spotting scope can be kept from the eye without obstructing the entire field of view. The longer distance will comfort your eyes when your viewing is in long durations. Check the distance for the right length to ensure you can obtain the full field of view, especially when you wear glasses.
The prisms determine the quality of images created through the spotting scopes. Most prisms are made from BK7 or BAK4 glass. Generally, BK7 glass is considered better as it provides sharper and brighter images than BK7. And thus, spotting scopes made from BAK4 glass are more costly.
A spotting scope like all optical devices requires a firm tripod to function properly. Tripods come with a variety of features and prices vary accordingly. So if you don’t want to invest more money on an extra tripod, look for a spotting scope with a tripod attached.
After you decide on performance features, you have to consider the durability of the scope. Waterproofing and fog proofing are always a plus, regardless of your activity, and are standard features on many scopes.
Consider the manufacturer’s warranty – the stronger the warranty, the longer the life of your investment.
10 Steps to Pick the Best Spotting Scope
Step 1: Budget
There is definitely a difference among spotting scopes in the price range from under $200 to over $2000, and you get what you pay for. So just make sure you go with the best you can afford.
Step 2: Angled or straight body
Buy a straight scope if you want to locate and track a target, especially when the target or the viewer is moving because it views a target in line with the central line of the scope.
Buy an angled scope if you want it to accommodate people of different heights.
Step 3: Waterproof and fog proof design
Look for a spotting scope with rubber armor coating for protection from harsh weather conditions if you are outdoors a lot.
Step 4: Lightweight
A lightweight scope will be portable, so ideal for regular carrying
Step 5: Lens coating
The more coating on the lens, the brighter the image will appear.
Step 6: Larger exit pupil
The larger the exit pupil is, the brighter the image is created.
Step 7: Extended eye relief
It is essential if you wear glasses so you can obtain the full field of view.
Step 8: A large field of view
A wider field of view is preferred in case of observing quickly moving targets.
Step 9: Appropriate magnification and lens size
The first two numbers specify the magnifying power of a spotting scope, usually from 15 X to 60 X. The third number represents the size of the objective lens, which varies from 50 mm to 80 mm. For example, the BARSKA20-60×60 WP ColoradoSpotting Scope has a magnification power of 20 to 60 times and an objective lens of 60 mm.
Step 10: Place of Purchase and Warranty
Buy at any retailing store that provides scopes and other related items or shop online at Amazon for larger options and more competitive prices.
Read customer reviews of the models you are considering to find information about pros and cons.
Ask about the return policy and warranty. Some manufacturers warrant most of their products to be free from defects in materials and workmanship for the whole lifetime.
Check Video Demonstrations
Choosing the Right Tripod for Your Spotting Scope
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the difference among coated, multicoated and fully multicoated spotting scopes?
The names themselves describe the number of layers of coating onto the glass surfaces, and the number of glass surfaces that the coating is applied to.
Coated spotting scopes have at least one layer, and the multicoated have multiple layers of coating applied to at least one of the 10 to 18 glass surfaces. Fully multicoated lenses have multiple coatings onto all of the glass surfaces.
2. Do I need fully multicoated spotting scopes?
Obviously, fully multicoated spotting scopes provide the highest level of light transmission with high anti-reflection level. As a result, images produced are brighter, sharper and higher contrasted, as compared to those produced by coated or multicoated spotting scopes. Therefore, they are highly recommended with regard to the quality of images. Nevertheless, they are more expensive to manufacture, so your choice may depend on budget.
3. How do I clean my spotting scope?
First and foremost, read the manual or consult the manufacturer for instructions before you start. Then you can apply the following general steps.
- First, get off any large dust.
- Second, put a soft cloth in warm water (possibly apply a mild cleaner) then clean the outer metal, rubber or plastic on the body of the spotting scope
- Third, prepare a soft lint-free cloth, produced particularly for cleaning lenses, lens cleaner then carefully polish the lenses in order not to scratch or damage the coatings.
4. Can I use a completely waterproof spotting scope under sea?
Some spotting scopes are made from waterproof materials. Though guaranteed to be waterproof, they are not recommended to be used under water because as you know, a spotting scope is for terrestrial observations.
5. Should I go for zoom or fixed power scopes?
Scopes with zoom eyepieces make it easier to find your object at low power (which gives a wider field of view) and then zoom in to see more details. However, at the same magnification level, they have a relatively narrower field of view as compared with fixed power eyepieces. Therefore, to get a good quality image, you have two ways, either zoom out, or use a fixed power eyepiece.
6. How much magnification do I really need to get a good image?
With a 60mm scope, the maximum magnification level should be around 2×60=120 times in good viewing conditions. A 70-80mm scope, however, can gather 55-65% more amount of light it than a 60mm scope, so the magnification level can be lower.
Buying the best spotting scope may be an expensive investment but the features and results you will get surely back your decision. All products have their own merits and drawbacks. Thus, a rush purchase is never suggested because you need enough research before finalizing your decision on a spotting scope that best fits your need and pocket.