Best Spotting Scope Reviews
When it comes choosing the best spotting scope for your long-range needs, price should not be the sole determining factor. Essentially, spotter scopes are portable telescopes that provide greater functionality than binoculars; they can be used for hunting, surveillance, bird watching, photography, and range shooting. At the very minimum, spotting scopes should be water resistant; the rest of the features and specifications will depend on the intended use and how much you want to spend.
The best spotting optics does not always have to be the one you can’t afford. Some of the most expensive tactical scopes may not be ideal for hunting and vice versa. If you only plan to use a spotter scope at a rifle range where the firing pits are covered, an affordable optics may be all you need. To determine if a scope is right for you, you need to understand its features and functions.
Top 3 Best Spotting Scopes
- Magnification:20 - 60x
- Length: 14.86 in
- Weight: 2.86 lb
- Field Of View:
91ft @ 1000 yds
- Eye Relief: 18mm
- Magnification: 20 - 30x
- Length: 16 in
- Weight: 3.31 lb
- Field Of View:
105 ft @ 1000 yards
- Eye Relief: 18mm
- Magnification: 20 - 60x
- Length: 13.4 in
- Weight: 2.64 lb
- Field Of View:
110 ft @ 1000 yards
- Eye Relief: 18.3mm
* $$$$ = Under $300
$$$= Under $200
$$ = Under $100
Uses of Spotting Scopes
When evaluating spotting scope reviews online, it helps to pay attention to the background of the reviewer and how he or she uses the scope. For example, a bird watcher who only uses scopes in Arizona may be happy with water resistant optics. A hunter in Louisiana will probably require spotter scopes that are 100 percent waterproof. Marksmanship enthusiasts can get away with a basic optics; however, if they intend to go hunting they may need more advanced optics.
If you need optics for surveillance purposes, you will probably see many spotting scope reviews that suggest the use modern tactical scopes. This type of spotting optics tends to be large, top-of-the-line and expensive; while this may seem like the best solution for surveillance, it is important to consider the size. If your surveillance needs require you to move around constantly, you may want to settle for a smaller scope that is easier to carry.
Most hunters and bird watchers will require rugged scopes that are 100 percent waterproof and fogproof, and they can select larger scopes as long as they know they can haul them around. Wildlife photographers are known to shop for the best spotting scopes money can buy, and they usually don’t mind carrying a big and heavy set of lenses as long as they can capture great nature shots.
Evaluating Spotter Scope Features and Making the Right Choice
To find the best spotting optics for the money, you will need to evaluate the following features and aspects:
Most spotting scopes start with a 20X magnification. If you don’t need more than 15X magnification, you may not need a spotter scope after all; you can get by with a good pair of binoculars. Magnification is more a matter of quality than quantity; modern optics can deliver 60X and higher, but there must be sufficient technology to compensate the loss of quality that occurs when images are amplified.
Bigger is not better when it comes to magnification; most hunters, bird watchers and biologists will operate their scopes at 20X to 30X; photographers and tactical users may operate at greater distances. The size of the lens and the type of coating are more important factors than magnification.
Coatings have been among the greatest advances in optics technology in the last few decades. Light transmission is one of the most important aspects of high-resolution optics, and it can be achieved with special chemical coatings applied to the lenses. In general, you want at least fully coated lenses; for even better resolution, look for multi-coated and fully multi-coated options.
Field of View
The size of the image that can be seen through the lenses of a spotting scope is the field of view; it is determined by the width of the image at 1,000 meters. A field of view of 50 feet is ideal for most situations; the wider the field the better since it denotes optics of a higher quality.
Top Three Spotter Scopes
The following spotting scopes will meet the needs of most users:
Barska 20-60x60 Straight Spotting Optic
This fully waterproof spotter scope comes with its own tripod. All lenses are fully coated with a special formula for ideal light capture and transmission. In addition to being 100 percent fogproof and waterproof, the Barska 20-60x60 is completely encased in rubber armor for adequate protection in the outdoors. This scope comes with its own soft carrying case and weighs just over three pounds.
The Barska 20-60x60 will equally appeal to bird watchers, hunters and photographers who need a wide zoom range and close focus to 26 feet; these settings can be adjusted by means of a smooth knob located in a comfortable section of the housing.
The manufacturer offers a lifetime guarantee. Two of the most attractive aspects of this model is that it is offered at a very reasonable price, particularly when considering that it includes a tripod and carrying case, which not all manufacturers are willing to include.
Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima Zoom
This spotting scope features great optics and is very popular among nature photographers. The Celestron Ultima is not an entry-level model; its 80 mm feature and multi-coated lenses puts it in an almost tactical category.
The multi-coated lenses allow better light transmission and higher resolution than their fully-coated counterparts, and this is one of the reasons the Celestron Ultima is chosen by many wildlife photographers; another reason is that the eyepiece sits at a 45 degree angle that makes it easy to attach digital cameras and use shorter tripods.
The Celestron Ultima spotter scope comes with a carrying case and offers a lifetime warranty. It is waterproof and rugged enough for bird watchers and hunters, and it is surprisingly compact for a scope in the 80 mm category. This model weighs a little under five pounds and measures 6 x 7 x 20 inches. On average, users can view images that are 77 percent brighter than 60 mm scopes.
Bushnell Trophy XLT 20-60x 65mm
The Bushnell brand is known for its quality, reliability and durability. With the Trophy XLT 65 mm scope, Bushnell offers great optics in a very rugged package that can withstand a bird watching expedition in Costa Rica or a hunting trip in the Appalachians.
Although the Trophy XLT is not a tactical scope, its 65 mm objective lens offers impressive images with a magnification up to 60x and a focus distance to 32.8 feet. The lens is also multi-coated for brighter views and higher resolution.
The Trophy XL measures 13.4 inches and weighs less than 43 ounces. This is a fully waterproof design that is housed within a rubber armor. Bushnell offers this scope with a tripod, a hard case and a soft case. The short tripod is easy to set up, and the comfortable eyepiece reduces vision strain. Hunters and lovers of the outdoors will probably enjoy this scope more than photographers.
Other Popular Spotter Uses
While our website focuses a lot of attention on rifle related optics, spotters themselves are very versatile and many use them for a whole host of different things. In this section we will take a look at some very common ones, which may help you make your final decision.
Once you realize that you can use a spotter not just for hunting and target shooting you will likely find ever increasing uses for a new purchased piece of optics.
Bird And Wildlife Watching
If you like hiking or just spending a bit of time in nature, then bringing your spotting optics on a day out will start revealing some incredible sights. Binoculars are great in that they are light and easy to just hand around your neck, but anything over 10x magnification will become very bulky, heavy and expensive.
In our opinion you will be much better serviced with a small and basic pair of binoculars and a small to mid-size spotter that will easily fit into a back pack. This will give you the advantage of being able to take a closer look at wildlife at a moment’s notice, but still be able to get up close once you have spotted something interesting.
The type of spotter you choose for wildlife is mainly influenced by the fact that you do not want to carry a heavy device and tripod. The best way you can do this is to choose a model with a smaller aperture, but with fully coated high quality lenses.
Let me explain this with an example. Imagine you are hiking in a forested area and you spot a bird high up in the tree canopy. Forested areas generally provide relatively poor light conditions, and the best way to get more light to your eye, is by increasing the aperture, i.e. the diameter of the front most lens.
This however will mean that the spotter you carry around will become heavier which is something you really want to avoid. But there is an alternative. You can opt for a scope that has a smaller aperture with higher quality lenses that are fully coated to increase light throughput.
Even perfectly clear glass will only let 90% of visible light through, and coatings can help improve that.
Back to our example where you are in a forest trying to spot a bird. With high quality lenses, more light will get to your eye making it much easier for you brain to distinguish between foliage and the outline of a bird, which may well be camouflaged.
Once you start bringing a spotter with you every time you head out into nature you will find yourself ever more interested and fascinated by your environment. One of my favorite activities to bring my spotter along is actually fishing trips.
If you love a relaxing day fishing at your favorite lake or river, then the next time you bring your spotter along. You be able to bridge the time between catches by watching birds, reptiles and a whole host of other animals. It can be wonderful time spent making the whole experience even more relaxing and refreshing. If you have kids, then bring them along and keep them interested and occupied by trying to find and identify different birds and animals.
This is something that most people that buy a spotting scope will be complete oblivious to. It was only on a camping trip a few years ago that I was made aware of this great way to spend a night under the stars.
The huge advantage you will have on a camping trip is that in most cases you will find yourself in near light pollution free places where stars are visible right down to the horizon. In these situation you can start taking closer looks at some of the magical sights our universe has to offer.
Even a light weight low magnification spotting scope will show you the largest craters on the moon in wonderful detail. Small tip: focus your attention on the line between day and night (called the terminator) as this is where shadows will make the features of the moon really stand out.
But you will not only be able to look at the moon. Fascinating features like the Orion nebula can be easily resolved with a spotter once you know where to look and aim your optics. The same is the case for the Andromeda Galaxy which is visible year round. Its rough outline can just about be seen with the naked eye, but at 30x to 60x you will start to be able to see some of the shape that it has.
My family have found camping trips much more exciting and we now even use the spotter at home on clear nights. It’s not a replacement for a telescope, if you are really into stargazing, but I found that even amateur astronomers tend to use one of these devices for their hobby.
It should come as no surprise that spotting optics can be used by law enforcement and private investigators to observe people and places from a distance without being detected or looking suspicious. From conversations with some PIs I have learned that the field toolkit of any investigator with credibility would include binoculars and high quality spotters.
It is their small size and ease of assembly that is so appealing and allows you to get set up from the confines of a car or otherwise hidden place. Weight and size do not seem to be much of a problem, which allows for larger and heavier models with high power magnification.
The more magnification you can afford the further away you can be from a place or subject, making you a lot less detectable.
As you can see your spotter will have very versatile uses and will not only end up in you gear bag for hunting trips or visits to the gun range. This leads me to the last tip I have that will make your scope zeroing a lot easier and faster.
We have a designated section on zeroing your scope and one part of the process is to shoot at targets at various distances and comparing the aimed target to the result of the fired projectile. One way to do that is to go and look at the target, but that takes time, and would have to be done after every fired shot.
You will save a lot of time by having a spotter to get an up close view of your target after each shot to start making immediate adjustments at a very precise level. Zeroing is not fun part of scope maintenance but it is vital to do regularly.
Don’t waste time unnecessarily when a simple spotter can make all the difference.
Some More Info On Lens Quality
On this page you heard a few references to lens quality and what it means for you and the experience you will have with your optics. This section will go into a little more detail, while at the same time omitting the actual laws of physics that apply.
It can be very appealing to people to go for a scope that has super high magnification, but falling for such a trap when low quality glass is used, is very common. No matter how large the magnification is, you will not benefit from it when the lenses are to small in diameter (aperture) or the quality of glass is crap.
Imagine looking at a printed photo and now using a magnifying glass. To a certain extent this will reveal more detail, but the further you magnify the less additional detail you will see. Ultimately you will end up with a very grainy smudge and the same is the case with scopes; they can only magnify as much as they allow light to enter.
There are three ways you can get more light to your eye.
- Increase the lens diameter or aperture
- Improve the quality of glass and coating
- Combination of the two above
The larger the front most lens is the more light will enter the tube of the scope and the more you will be able to zoom in. But larger lenses also mean heavier and all else being equal more expensive.
Higher glass quality and coatings do not add to the weight of a scope, but they do add to the price, and can do so quite significantly. Different manufacturers have different designations how they identify quality, and there is no easy way to compare. Coatings on the other hand are easier to compare.
You will often find references to coated and fully coated, which is essentially a feature of how well a lens is applied with an anti-reflective substance. The result is that more light travels through the lens and less is bounced back off the surface. However, some types of the most advanced coating materials are extremely expensive, but they are very effective.
Combining the two is essentially a recipe for very professional high end optics that can push prices into the thousands of Dollars.For most people such investments are complete overkill unless you have the money to spare. Finding the balance is not that easy, but you should start somewhere. If you know you going to be using the spotting-optics in bright open areas, then you can save yourself some money and opt for a more basic model.
But if low light conditions and tough backdrops like forest foliage is going to be a common scenario, then you will quickly hit limitations of a cheaper model, and going for better glass ware will make a huge difference.