If you’re into bird watching, hunting, star gazing, or any other activity in which you need to look through a glass because of the distance, you may need a spotting scope. Spotting scopes are portable telescopes
, but unlike the telescope, you can use them for both land and sea viewing. Generally, they are easy to use, and they let you see over a very long distance. Even in the night time, some spotting scopes are still very clear, and they capture clear images.
For the occasional bird watcher or gamer, binoculars should be sufficient
; but for any serious outdoor activity that involves sighting, then you most definitely will need the spotting scope. The high magnification and stability afforded by the spotting scope allows you to see the details on birds that you normally wouldn’t when using binoculars. The professional hunting gamer can use it to effectively spot, follow, and identify wildlife while the target shooter will be saved several walks down-range with it.
Its great magnifying power is also an invaluable asset to the professional or hobbyist photographer. Most spotting scopes come with camera adapters so you can conveniently mount your camera
on them, and take very clear and highly defined pictures of far-away objects or animals.
There are several features and terms you need to understand and consider before investing in a spotting scope including the magnification, type of lens, glass quality, light gathering capacity, eye relief, eyepiece placement, focusing mechanism, and the cost, of course! As you shall see shortly, these features are very important and should inform you of the type of spotting scope you should buy. So, please read on.
Spotting scopes are generally considered a major investment, so you need to carefully check your budget and determine how much you’re willing to spend before purchasing a spotting scope. Like so many products out there, the price of any spotting scope is largely dependent on the type of features it has, many of which are discussed in our review.
But really, trying to skimp or cut corners cost-wise for this particular product won’t be to your advantage because those very cheap spotting scopes will only end up giving you headaches and eye fatigue from hours of struggling to use them. So, we suggest you plan towards spending a moderate amount and make a lifetime investment out of it.
With the price of our reviewed spotting scopes ranging from $150 to $1500, we believe that you’ll find one that suits your requirements. Choosing any one of them will give you your money’s worth.
Choosing the right spotting scope may seem like a herculean task, but having a good knowledge of the important features to look out for and keeping them in mind, will help you conveniently make the right choice. Here are some of the features to look out for:
- The magnification
- Optical lens size
- Light gathering capacity
- Eye relief
- Eyepiece placement
- Glass quality
- Type of tripod included, if at all
- Focusing mechanism
Construction and Design
A spotting scope can be classified as a telescope that has a medium range. Its magnification capability can range between fifteen times (written: 15x) and sixty times (written: 60x) which is far higher than what’s obtainable with binoculars. It means you can see in far greater detail from far away by manually adjusting the magnification when viewing. Different spotting scopes come with varying degrees of magnification which might be specified as a range like 20x - 60x or a single number. Whatever be the case, the number before “X” means your target object will appear that many times closer than it actually is.
A spotting scope’s objective lens’ size is very important, but you’d have to decide if you want a clearer image or a lighter scope. This is so because a larger objective lens has more light gathering capacity which translates to a brighter and clearer target image and it also affords a wider field of view. But on the flip side, a larger lens means a bigger, heavier, and more expensive spotting scope. As a rule of thumb, if your work requires you to stay at one location for long and you don’t have to worry about extra weight, then you’re better off with an 80mm to 100mm scope lens, if you can afford it. But if you move around a lot or like to travel light, then you’re better off with a 50mm – 60mm scope.
Spotting scopes come in two basic eyepiece placement designs: a straight-through view and an angled view. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but most professional bird viewers or hunters prefer the angled view type. This type is easier to use by people of different heights when mounted on a tripod, without having to adjust the position of the scope. It also makes viewing above the horizon a lot easier, such as gazing at a bird in flight or up in a tree, mountains, or the moon; they’re also more convenient to use for an extended period of time. The straight-through view type is more or less a point-and-view scope, best suited for looking straight ahead or downwards from an elevated position. So depending on your specific need, you should choose the eyepiece placement that will suit you best.
Another design feature that should interest you is the eye relief which lets you still see a clear image even with your eyes placed further away from the eyepiece. This comes in handy for those that use eyeglasses so they can get a clear and full field of view. The eye relief is measured in millimeters and a 12mm -15mm eye relief is usually the right size for the majority of eyeglass wearers. Some models of spotting scopes come with a collapsible eye relief so that non-eyeglass wearers can also use them easily.
The focusing mechanism is normally operated in two ways: either with the focusing collar or with a small focus knob situated on top of the scope near the eyepiece. The focusing collar works when the whole knurled or rubberized barrel of the scope is twisted until the desired focus is achieved.
Performance and Ease of Use
Top-notch spotting scope lenses are manufactured with ED (extra-low dispersion) or HD (high density) glass that’s coated with fluorite. There’s a whole world of difference in the brightness and image clarity between these high-quality scopes and those made with standard glass, and this is most noticed when used in low-light viewing conditions and high magnification power.
Special chemical coatings are applied to the surface of a lens to reduce glare and minimize the amount of available light lost during transmission from the target to the eye. The quality, number, and position of these coatings greatly determine the performance of the spotting scope lens. A fully multi-coated option in which multiple layers are applied to all air-to-glass surfaces is the best glass coating option and makes for top-notch performance.
A fog and waterproof spotting scope is preferable as this device is meant to be used in harsh conditions. So you need to be sure that your spotting scope is tightly waterproofed and that fog won’t hinder its performance under harsh weather conditions.
You’ll see that some of these scopes are covered in a rubber armor-type protection against bangs and bumps. A great number of them are compact models that will easily fit into a pack and come in a hard or soft carrying case, and sometimes, even a special car window mount for use in a moving vehicle. A top-notch spotting scope will not give a very good and bright image if it’s not mounted on a tripod, or on a shaky and flimsy tripod. So to eliminate image blur, you need a sturdy, rigid tripod with very few leg adjustments. A flip lock is good, as is an easy way to quickly extend, retract, and adjust the legs on uneven grounds.
Spotting scopes are easy to maintain as they don’t need too much cleaning except in rare cases, and the maximum cleaning you need to do is to wipe the lens. They are very easy to set up and use as they don’t require any technical tuning. Anyone can use them.
Lots of factors are considered before making the right choice of a spotting scope. Having already taken time to read our buying guide, it shouldn’t be difficult to recognize the spotting scope most ideal for you. In this review, we’ve listed all the features of each scope so when you go through it, you’ll be able to pick one that best suits your needs.
We’re glad that you have taken the time to go through our reviews and we know you’ll be able to pick out the best spotting scope for yourself now. So go ahead and place that order.