Choosing a spotting scope is something you want to make sure you get right the first time. These units can be expensive and there is lots of criteria that needs to be met before you can be sure you are getting the best spotting scope for you needs based on price, weight, length, body style, optical zoom, and more.
There are a multitude of uses for spotting scopes. The most common uses are bird watching, wildlife viewing, hunting, and astronomy. Regardless of your hobby, the same criteria apply when choosing a spotting scope. This article discusses the components that you will want to take into account when buying a spotter. For more information on particular spotting scope models, check out the link below.
Price and Quality: You get what you pay for so go with the best you can afford!
The first item that needs to be taken into consideration is price. Everyone has a different budget; therefore it is reasonable to assume the best spotting scope for you may be different than that of someone else due to price alone. Spotting scope prices vary from under $100 to well over $3000, and you can bet there are a lot in between. When deciding on your budget, it is important to realize the difference in quality that price gets you. First of all, you need to spend at least $300 to get a spotting scope of any type of quality, although $500 is where the quality really starts to shine through. After that, then the law of diminishing returns applies and quality does not go up equally with price. For example, a $500 scope is usually twice as good as a $250 scope, but a $1000 scope is usually not twice as good as a $500 scope. Nor is a $2000 scope twice as good a $1000 scope. There just isn’t that big of a difference between mid-priced and high-priced unless you have them side by side. Still, typically the more money you spend the better of a scope you’ll get. That is why it is important to go with the best scope you can afford, because when choosing a spotting scope you definitely get what you pay for.
Size: Weight, Length and Objective
There is a large variance in the size of spotting scopes. What you use it for will determine how big you can get by with. If you plan to bird watch, hunt, or view wildlife away from the road, then you will want to choose a spotting scope that is small enough to pack into a backpack. A good sized scope for this would be one that has an objective lens of 65mm or less, is not much over 12 inches, and weighs about 36 ounces plus or minus. You will also want to invest in a good lightweight tripod.
If your needs for a spotting scope will keep you within sight of your vehicle or on your deck, then you most certainly can get by with a much larger scope. Larger scopes equal more light gathering ability, wider field of view, and bigger price tag. When dealing with high end models, it is hard to tell the difference between larger scopes with 80mm objectives over scopes with 60mm objectives unless they are side by side. Even then the difference is only noticeable in low light conditions. Like I said though, if this scope is going to be mostly stationary, you will not regret going with a larger sized scope.
Body Style: Straight or Angled
When choosing a spotting scope, one of the biggest decisions you will have to make is to go with a straight or angled body. Both have their pros and cons, but in the end it all comes up to personal preference.
- Best for situations when standing as it requires less height of a tripod and will be best for multiple users of different size as it requires less height adjustment.
- Harder for beginners to find game due to the angle.
- While good for standing in the field, it is harder to pack.
- Does not work well at all for viewing in a car with a window mount.
- Straight Body:
- Easier to get on the intended object.
- Easy use with window mount and sitting in a car.
- Better for packing.
- Slightly less expensive then angled.
- Taller tripod needed and more adjustment required for multiple users of different height.
- Author’s Preference:
- Straight is the only way to go for my style of viewing. I spend a lot of time throughout the year viewing wildlife from the comfort of my vehicle with my spotting scope on a window mount. I also cram my spotter into my back pack a lot when hiking. I do not go anywhere without it so I need all the space and pack-ability I can get.
Optical zoom is another very important factor to include when choosing a spotting scope. Most are variable with a range between 15-75 magnification power. You want to make sure the scope goes low enough that it is easy to find an object due to the increased field of view and less shakiness. On the other end of the spectrum, you want to have a scope that once you find something, you can zoom it in to get a close up view from afar.
The higher magnification power you have it set to, the grainier (or less clear) the image will be. It will also have a smaller field of view, and movement will be magnified making things look shakier. With high quality spotting scopes, the optics provide a generous field of view, gather a lot of light, and give crisp images. This makes it possible to have a clear image at higher magnification levels. This is not the case on less expensive models making the image quality deteriorate as you climb up in magnification. Therefore, if you are in the market for a less expensive spotting scope you will want something with magnification that starts low, say around 15 power, and goes up to 40-50 power. With more expensive spotting scopes you can get by with something that gives you more magnification and still get a clear image.