How to Choose a Spotting Scope (UK) 11

[ Skip the details and just show me the best ones ]

A spotting scope is a portable telescope designed for land or sea viewing. It is a remarkable instrument loved by many nature observers, bird watchers and hunters. With a spotting scope, you can view across great distances and notice details that are nearly impossible to see with binoculars. The following guide covers the most important features to look for when buying a spotting scope and our Top 3 Spotting Scopes for 2018.

Vortex Angled Spotting Scope

 

Should I Buy a Binocular, Spotting Scope or Telescope?

If you were just getting started with birding or hunting, then binoculars would probably work best. Binoculars are more compact, portable and intuitive to use. They are also good for travel and a variety of other uses. As you become more serious about your outdoor activity, you will, sooner or later, want a spotting scope and tripod. For bird watching, the high magnification and better stability will allow you to see details on birds that cannot be seen with binoculars. Hunters use them to effectively spot, follow and identify wildlife while target shooters use them for scoring.

Telescopes are purely designed for astronomy and viewing the night sky. Spotting scopes, on the other hand, are also designed for viewing subjects on land or at sea. A spotting scope would work great if you want to see boats in the bay, ships in the horizon, scenery as far as 50 miles away or simply observe subjects from a very long distance.

What Do the Numbers Mean?

A spotting scope is always represented by two sets of numbers. For example 20-60×80. The first set of numbers refers to its magnification (or zoom). For example 20-60x means 20x to 60x variable zoom. The second number refers to the diameter of its objective lens. A spotting scope will usually have a 50mm to 80mm lens.

What is the Best Magnification?

Most spotting scopes will have a variable zoom, for example, 15-45x or 20-60x. This suggests that you can manually adjust their magnification when viewing – just like a camera. Generally, a spotting scope will have a maximum magnification of 15x to 60x. The higher the magnification is, the more detail you will be able to see. Remember that you will always be able to zoom out when needed.

What is the Ideal Lens Size?

You simply need to choose if you prefer a better image quality or a smaller and lighter spotting scope. A spotting scope with a larger lens (60mm to 100mm) will have better light-gathering capability than a smaller 50mm lens spotting scope. This means that the image you see will be brighter and clearer. You will also enjoy a wider field of view. On the other hand the bigger the lens is, the larger and heavier your spotting scope will be. Larger spotting scopes are also more expensive.

Think about where you will be using the spotting scope the most. If you normally stay at a fixed location for a long period or don’t need to worry about extra weight then opt for an 80mm to 100mm scope (if you can afford it of course). If you like to travel light or move around more than a 50mm to 60mm scope will suit you better. Some 50mm scopes can even be used without a tripod when needed.

Should I Choose an Angled or a Straight Spotting Scope?

Most scopes offer two basic design options: a straight eyepiece or an angular one. With an angled spotting scope you will be peering down the eyepiece while with a straight scope simply looking straight ahead. Both have advantages and disadvantages. For bird watching or looking at the moon the angled spotting scopes are more popular than the straight ones because of the following reasons:

  • They are easier to use for extended periods of time.
  • They are more convenient to share with other viewers. If you set your angled spotting scope to a certain height most people will still be able to view through the eyepiece without needing to adjust the scope’s position.
  • An angled scope allows you to aim skyward at a bird in a tree, soaring hawks, the mountains or the moon.

In other cases, a straight scope will be preferable. It is more trivial to use because where you point is where you look. A straight scope is also good for a hunter who is spotting game while lying on the ground. It allows for a straight “point and shoot” alignment as well as keeping your head down low when stalking wildlife. A straight spotting scopes works well when looking either straight ahead or downwards from an elevated location. For example looking down at the beach, checking the surf or viewing the landscape from your elevated porch.

Straight Spotting Scope

What Other Features Should I Consider?

Spotting scopes are frequently used in extreme weather conditions, so features like waterproof and fog-proof are desirable. A lot of vendors say that they have waterproof scopes, but they are only protected against water. Proper waterproofing will make sure that your spotting scope is protected from all types of water and moisture and will not fog up. This also means that the inside of your scope will have protection from corrosion, which will be an added benefit if you like to use it near the ocean. Our spotting scopes by Barska, Celestron, Bushnell and Bresser are all highly durable and 100% waterproofed and water sealed.

Another feature to look for is long eye relief. In plain English, this means that you will be able to position your eye further away from your eyepiece and still see a clear image. This is important if you’ll be wearing your glasses or sunglasses while using the spotting scope. Most mid to high-end scopes have a long enough eye relief for all users.

Do I Need a Tripod for My Spotting Scope?

In short, yes. Spotting scopes use high magnifications so must be stabilised to eliminate image shakiness. Although some smaller models can be used without a tripod, they are still better used with one. You can also mount your spotting scope on a table, stand or any other platform. But a tripod will definitely allow you to enjoy your scope’s full potential truly. All of our spotting scopes come with a standard tripod mount, which can be used, with nearly any tripod on the market.

Which Tripod Should I Get?

Some spotting scopes already come with a tripod in the box. Others come as a spotting scope+tripod kit. Read carefully through the product description to see if a tripod is included. If not, you can sometimes use your spotting scope with a standard camera tripod. If you choose a larger spotting scope (60mm to 100mm) we also stock selected tripods and mounts. These are a-bit more expensive than your standard camera tripod. They are better quality, heavy-duty tripods specifically designed to carry binoculars and spotting scopes. If you are buying a large or heavy spotting scope, we highly recommend getting a good tripod for it. Our suggested full-size tripod for each of our spotting scopes is mentioned below the scope’s product description.

How to Consider Image Quality vs. Price?

Once you’ve decided on an angled or straight version and if you prefer a smaller or a larger spotting scope, the next step would be to look at image quality. Some models will provide a better and brighter image than others. Image quality will depend on the size of the objective lens, the optics used and the coating process of the lenses. Higher-end models will feature fully multicoated lenses, which allow for a greater light gathering capacity.

With optics, you really do get what you pay for but we have a few outstanding choices for very affordable prices. Below is a list of our best-selling spotting scopes that we believe are also the best bang for your money:

 

Our Top 3 Spotting Scopes for 2018

** Note: All 3 spotting scopes recommended below are suitable for eyeglasses users **

 

National Geographic 20-60X60 – If you want to purchase a good general viewing scope without breaking the bank then this is a great entry-level model. The National Geographic spotting scope is well built yet very compact and easy to use. Featuring 20x to 60x magnification and an included tabletop tripod. Great for daytime viewing and as a first spotting scope. £179 inc. free delivery

 

Celestron Ultima 20-60X80 – A great performer for birding, stargazing, hunting and outdoor. Powerful 20x to 60x zoom with a large 80mm objective lens for brighter images. Extremely durable and waterproof, adjustable angled eyepiece and super-smooth focusing mechanisms. The Celestron 20-60×80 spotting scope is very popular and very affordable for its high-quality optics. On sale for £299 inc. free delivery

 

Barska 30-90X100 WP – For those who need the extra power! Our best seller and favourite spotting scope for general viewing. Up to 90x magnification. Waterproof and durable in all weather conditions. Outstanding image quality with sharp, lifelike colours and definition. If you have ocean or country views and need a powerful scope to enjoy them, then this is the one. Discounted to £399 inc. free delivery

 

[ Show me all the other spotting scopes ]

 

Want to take photos or video using your spotting scope?

Checkout our blog post on digiscoping. It includes everything you need to know about photography using a spotting scope as well as our favourite spotting scopes and adapters for digiscoping.

 

11 Comments

  1. I am looking for a spotting scope so I can see views of the coast, The vast majority of the time the scope will be indoors on a tripod so weight is not an issue. The view to the coastal town is 1.6 miles or 2.6 km away so would be great to be able to see the boats in the harbour clearly. I am looking for a bright clear image and a scope that is easy to use.

  2. I have recently lost the sight in one eye, and need a monocular to do what a pair of good binoculars used to do; general looking at distant things when out walking, on holiday etc, and birds/animals in general, though not specifically birdwatching as such. So good magnification, bright and clear lens.

    Any thoughts much appreciated.

    Thanks

    Mark

    Mark Lysons
    1. Hi Mark,

      If you need the monocular for general use while walking, to see things in the distance, you will be best off with a handheld monocular rather than a spotting scope. We can recommend the Avalon 10×42 WP Monocular which is our best selling compact monocular at the moment. It offers 10x magnification (same as any good binoculars) and a very sharp image. It is also very easy to use with one hand as the focus wheel is on top of the monocular’s body. You can read more about it here: https://procular.co.uk/avalon-10×42-wp-monocular/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  3. Hi there,

    My husband and I have just returned from holiday where we visited several national parks and spent days watching wildlife, some of which was around 0.5 – 1 mile away (using the zoom on one of my cameras!) We have decided that for our next trip we need a spotting scope. I do like the idea of being able to attach a camera to it although it’s not completely necessary. I was looking at the Barska 30-90X100 – is that over the top for what I want to do or having used my 230x zoom (digital) will I find it not as good?

    Many thanks!

    1. Hi Alex,

      A spotting scope only uses optical zoom so the image quality is significantly better than looking through a camera. Also, since these scopes have a very large objective lens you are able to see a much brighter, sharper image than you would with a camera. Especially when zooming in. The difference is very noticeable. You can also use a special adapter to connect any camera, or even a mobile phone, to the spotting scope. These adapters work with any spotting scope we have on Procular. This is called “digiscoping” and is quite a popular hobby with avid bird watchers and nature viewers.

      Now, regarding which spotting scope works best. The Barska 30-90×100 might be an overkill for seeing from only 0.5-1 mile. Also, it is very large (100mm lens) and heavy for safari and travel. If you don’t mind that then it will work fine. Otherwise most bird watchers, hunters etc. favour the 20-60×80 angled spotting scopes. They are more compact and more practical for using in the field. The angled eyepiece is also better for bird watching as you can point the spotting scope upwards. you can also rotate the eyepiece and point it straight ahead or downwards. Specifically we can recommend the Celestron 20-60×80 WP spotting scope, it works well for 0.5 to 1 mile and further (2-3 miles). It has 20x to 60x times optical zoom. Note that other products offering 100x times or so optical zoom simply have bad image quality when using over 30x !! So beware of products like that. You can read more about the Celestron 20-60×80 WP spotting scope here:

      https://procular.co.uk/celestron-ultima-20-60×80-spotting-scope/

      You can mount it on any photographic tripod. If you don’t have a tripod then we have a better quality, more durable tripod, the Avalon Universal PRO tripod below:

      https://procular.co.uk/avalon-universal-pro-tripod/

      Last but not least, camera adapter. There are a few on the market but we only recommend the ones by Avalon Optics for digiscoping. They have 3 models, for Canon DSLR, for Nikon DSLR and for phone cameras. Here’s the links for the 3 adapters respectively:

      https://procular.co.uk/avalon-digiscoping-adapter-for-canon-dslr-cameras/
      https://procular.co.uk/avalon-digiscoping-adapter-for-nikon-dslr-cameras/
      https://procular.co.uk/avalon-digiscoping-adapter-for-camera-phones/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  4. Hi ,
    I am interested in buying a high mag spotting scope for viewing over extreme distances (5 or 6 miles). Why would you recommend the Barska over the Yukon & how sharp would images be at this distance ?

    1. Hi Dave,

      Although both scopes have the same magnification the Yukon seems to only provide sharp images up to about 30x-40x power. When zooming in further than that the image become significantly less clear. Also, the focusing mechanism is quite wobbly and does not always set the focus to the magnification – it takes some playing around. It is quite an old model. We find the Barska better in terms of image quality (regardless of power) and also sharper images even when using the full magnification. From 5-6 miles you can still recognise a person’s body for example but not facial features. Overall in terms of long distance viewing it is excellent value. Scope like the Barska 30-90×100 or even with less power can be over twice more expensive. The only downside is that you will probably be best with a better tripod if you’re viewing from such distances. In order to achieve more stability while viewing as well as properly support your (full sized) spotting scope. We can suggest the Avalon Universal PRO Tripod below for it: https://procular.co.uk/avalon-universal-pro-tripod/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  5. Is there a dual telescope for spotting and astronomy? My husband is a complete beginner but likes good quality equipment.

    Linda Dilley
    1. Hi Linda,

      Yes, the Celestron 20-60×80 Spotting Scope does a very good job at both terrestrial viewing and astronomy (stargazing). It has an angled eyepiece which can be easily rotated. So you can use it to look straight ahead at the horizon, look upwards towards the skies or look downwards if you are on an elevated. platform. This spotting scope also has very good quality optics and produced a clear and bright image. Suitable for watching the moon and stars and also for watching landscape, ocean etc. during daytime. Details below:

      https://procular.co.uk/celestron-ultima-20-60×80-spotting-scope/

      You will need to mount it on a tripod. If you don’t have one we can suggest the Avalon Universal PRO Tripod below:

      https://procular.co.uk/avalon-universal-pro-tripod/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  6. I am going bird watching in the country side and to the islands of South Wales. Please could you recommend a good Spotting Scope and a tripod which is easy to handle and which would be suitable for the spotting scope you recommend. I am after one which would give me very good detail. Many thanks.

    1. Hi Stephen,

      As you will be on the move we would recommend a spotting scope that is not too heavy yet still offers a sharp image and high detail. A very good fit would be the Celestron 20-60×80 spotting scope. It has good power, an excellent image quality and is quite portable (Weight: 3.3 pounds). It is also very suitable for spotting and following moving subjects (birds, wildlife etc.) and a very popular choice by our birdwatchers. You can view the details of the Celestron spotting scope below:

      https://procular.co.uk/celestron-ultima-20-60×80-spotting-scope/

      Adam Murray, Procular

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