How to Choose a Spotting Scope (Australia / NZ) 21

[ 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 2 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 30 Km 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 80mm lens will have better light-gathering capability than a smaller 50mm or 60mm 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 scope (if you can afford it of course). If you like to travel light or move around more than a 50-60mm 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?

Some scopes offer two basic design options: an angular eyepiece or a straight one. With an angled spotting scope you will be peering down the eyepiece while with a straight scope looking straight ahead. Both have advantages and disadvantages. For most applications, such as looking at scenery or landscape, ocean, river or beach viewing, bird watching or looking at the moon and stars, the angled spotting scopes are more suitable 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 as well as straight ahead or downwards at the beach or landscape.
  • It is significantly more convenient to attach and use a camera with an angled spotting scope

In other cases, a straight scope will be preferable. For example, a straight scope would be 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.

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 Vortex, Avalon, Yukon and Bushnell 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 85mm) 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 2 Spotting Scopes for 2018

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

 

Avalon 80mm Venture HD Spotting Scope – For those who need the extra power! Our best seller and favourite spotting scope for general observation. Featuring up to 60x magnification and a bright, fully multi-coated 80mm lens. 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 $695 inc. free delivery

 

Vortex Razor HD 22-48X65 – One of the best spotting scopes money can buy. The highest quality available today for hunting or bird watching. Vortex’s flagship scope designed to compete with the world’s best European brands. Supreme optics and Xtra-low Dispersion glass allows its clear, bright razor sharp images. Extra wide field of view, smooth focusing and extreme durability. Covered by Vortex VIP lifetime warranty. $1979 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.

 

21 Comments

  1. Hi,

    I too am looking for a scope to watch whales from a distance of about 5klm. The scope does not need to be portable as we’ll be looking to have it on a tripod. I am a complete newbie to this kind of gear. I am looking for some sort of ‘smart’ scope/spotter that I might be able to view the image on a smart TV, either direct or via computer. I’d also like to be able to record images/video. I see there are a number of suitable suggestions for scopes above, but is there also something that can interface with a computer/smartTV?? Could you also recommend a suitable tripod?

    Appreciate the advice.

    Allan

    Allan Kearney
    1. Hi Allan,

      Thank you for your message. Basically if you don’t mind the size and weight, and will be mounting the spotting scope on a tripod (best practice), then you can opt for a large powerful model. It will allow you to see the whales in more detail from 5Km and even further. We have several spotting scopes available which will work. We can personally recommend the
      Avalon 80mm Venture HD spotting scope reviewed in the post above as it has both the power as well as the excellent sharpness and image quality. You can read more about the Avalon 80mm spotting scope here: https://procular.com.au/avalon-80mm-venture-hd-spotting-scope/ — It works best with a sturdy tripod such as the Avalon Universal PRO Tripod below: https://procular.com.au/avalon-universal-pro-tripod/ — We don’t know of any spotting scope that has photo or video features built-in but you can use an adapter in order to connect a DSLR or a mobile phone to the spotting scope. If your camera or otherwise phone has a live feature then you can instantly see the footage on your computer or smart TV. With an iPhone for example you can use the camera and/or AppleTV to stream the view to your TV or computer. If connecting a mobile phone with the spotting scope you will need the following adapter: https://procular.com.au/avalon-digiscoping-adapter-for-camera-phones/ — Otherwise if using a Canon or Nikon DSLR you will need one of the following adapters respectively: https://procular.com.au/avalon-digiscoping-adapter-for-canon-dslr-cameras/ or https://procular.com.au/avalon-digiscoping-adapter-for-nikon-dslr-cameras/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  2. Hi, I’m interested in buying a Spotting Scope to check out boats fishing in a bay 700+ metres away and also viewing ships out to sea.. I live up a very steep hill so i’m looking down to the bay from my balcony. i would like to be able to recognise faces and fish type at that distance, also some star gazing, but the daytime function is the most important. Price is not a big issue, I would rather have something that does the job and i would like the most powerful scope i could buy that would be practical for my requirements.

    Thanks for your help.

    John

  3. Sorry, i also wear glasses, prior enquiry.

    Thanks
    John Ragen

    1. Hi John,

      The Avalon 80mm spotting scope reviewed in this post above should do a wonderful job for checking out boats from that range (and from much further!). From 700 meters you should be able to easily make out the faces of individuals on the boats and even fish types. You can use the scope either with or without glasses but you will probably find it easier without the use of glasses. The scope’s magnified and enhanced image together with its fine focusing will make up for any vision impairments your glasses fix. The scope has a very large objective (80mm) so is also very suitable for night viewing and star gazing. You can read all about the Avalon 80mm Venture HD spotting scope here: https://procular.com.au/avalon-80mm-venture-hd-spotting-scope/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  4. Greetings
    I am looking for a spotting scope for a range of 30-50 km to watch mountains and landscape. Please advise.

    1. Hi Awadallah,

      As you are viewing from such a long range (30-50 Km) we recommend the Avalon 80mm spotting scope reviewed in this post above. You will be able to see fine details with it on the mountains, trees and landscape that would otherwise not be visible with lower powered scopes. Details of the Avalon 80mm Venture HD Spotting Scope again below:

      https://procular.com.au/avalon-80mm-venture-hd-spotting-scope/

      Adam Murray, Procular
      1. Many thanks your helpful and informative reply. I have the following comments:
        1/ Its price looks cheap relatively.. I have a budget of USD 3000+, therefore please advise if there is more advanced equipment ( more advanced in terms of image quality and longer range coverage).
        2/ can such a spotting scope be fitted with bincular lenses .. I mean I feel more comfotable using the 2 eyes instead of 1 eye.

        1. Hi Awadallah,

          The most advanced scope we carry is the Vortex Razor HD 27-60×85 Spotting Scope. It is the larger version of the Vortex Razor HD scope reviewed in detail in the post above. It has an outstanding image quality and is extremely durable yet lightweight. A professional level spotting scope which is very popular with our avid birdwatchers and hunters. We are unaware of an option to fit binocular lenses to a spotting scope, sorry. You can read more about the Vortex Razord HD 27-60×85 Spotting Scope here: https://procular.com.au/vortex-razor-hd-27-60×85-angled-spotting-scope/

          Adam Murray, Procular
  5. Hi,
    I’m looking to buy a spotting scope for longer range target shooting (200-700+ yards) so that I don’t have to walk to the target to check my groups. Which scope would you recommend that gives good enough detail at those distances?
    I would like the image to be clear enough that the spotter has a chance to see the bullet ‘splash’ if the target is missed entirely.

    I don’t want to spend too much on something that’s overkill, but don’t want to get the little Bushnell or NatGeo if they aren’t effective at those ranges.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Dan,

      Unfortunately to spot a clear enough image from that distance (500 years and over) and see bullet splash you will need the absolute top of the line spotting scope. Most shooters use the simple scopes (Bushnell / NG) for up to 100 yards. Mid range scopes with 20-60x magnification, assuming they actually maintain image quality at over 30x, will work well for 200 yards target practice. But for anything over 400-500 yards there are very few spotting scopes on the market that will show clear bullet holes or “splash”. The only one we can can guarantee to perform in your case would be the Vortex Razor HD 22-48×65 below: https://procular.com.au/vortex-razor-hd-22-48×65-angled-spotting-scope/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  6. hi adam..

    I thinking of buying a spotting scope.. I mostly uses for long range spotting, about 5 to 10 km away from a high hill looking down at a village. I wanted to buy a scope that can see high details clearly from up hill to down hill looking at a village roughly 7 km away. I want to spot thing from far away without anyone noticing it.. I wants my scope to be able to use in low light condition… Just say in all weather conditions… The cost is not a problem, so as the weight. Which scope should I buy???

    please give me a detail answer…
    kindly regards
    johny

    1. Hi Jonny,

      We can surely recommend a good spotting scope for your application. First of all since you are viewing from such a distance and want to see small details very clearly then a spotting scope would be the BEST choice (in opposed to binoculars or a telescope). As you probably know a spotting scope is designed for long distance day viewing while a telescope more for night time astronomy. Because you will be mainly looking downwards we recommend going for a straight eye-piece spotting scope. This will allow you to point your scope downwards in a much easier and intuitive manner. If weight is not an issue then it’s better to have an 80mm scope. Because 1. You won’t need to carry it out to the field 2. The large objective will significantly improve your low light performance and provide a brighter image in all-weather. Note that for a spotting scope of this caliber we recommend mounting it on a tripod. Regarding using the scope discretely – setup the tripod a-bit further away from the window, lower and keep the room dark. A good comfortable tripod setup will be a-lot less obvious than standing up and holding large binoculars.

      Regarding which spotting scope will work best. As mentioned a high power one with a straight eye-piece and a large objective lens. We have a few of these on Procular with the differences being price vs. optical quality. The best one we can recommend is the Vortex Razor HD 20-60×80 (straight), details below:

      https://procular.com.au/vortex-razor-hd-20-60×85-straight-spotting-scope/

      As per its name it really provides razor sharp images. Works well in low light and even at night. It is also beautifully designed, easy to use and fully durable (waterproofed, fog proofed etc.). A cheaper option, similar in specs, would be the Vortex Diamondback 80mm. Details below:

      https://procular.com.au/vortex-diamondback-20-60×80-straight-spotting-scope/

      Quite a-bit of info there, I hope this helps! Please feel free to let us know if you have any further questions.

      Adam Murray, Procular
  7. Are there any spotting scopes that allow the attachment of a camera?

    I have a Nikon 80D

    Many thanks, Paul

    Paul Paterson
    1. Hi Paul,

      Yes, there are a few options for spotting scopes that can attach to a camera. Here’s all the info on it:

      https://procular.com.au/digiscoping-spotting-scope-photography/

      Adam Murray, Procular
  8. Hi Adam, am moving into a house with ocean views and would like to buy a spotting scope to check the beach and surf as well as boats etc out on the water. Thinking either the vortex razor 22-48×65 or 27-60×85. Am about 200-300 mtrs to the water, your advice would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Gary, both of these Vortex Razor spotting scopes have FANTASTIC optics. So you can’t really go wrong with any of these two. They will both allow you to observe the beach, surf and horizon in great detail and enjoy beautiful, sharp images. From as close as 50m to 5-6 Km easily. And even further. The 22-48×65 has the advantage of being smaller, lighter and cheaper while the 85mm allows for a more powerful magnification and wider field of view (due to its large 80mm lens). On the downside it is a heavier product and more expensive of course. If you plan to have your spotting scope fixed on a tripod and in the same position, and are not interested in taking it out on trips etc. then the 80mm model performs better. But honestly the 65mm version is not far off from it. So it’s mainly a matter of budget. We heard excellent feedback on these scopes so far so happy to recommend them.

      Adam Murray, Procular
  9. Hi, I would like to get a spotting scope so I can take advantage of the magnifications they offer but for photography use. There is not much information on using them for this purpose. I would like to use it with my Canon 5D M III.
    I would like to know which adapter do I get for it and if I need a plate to balance the weight of the scope or anything else I might need. I would also like to know the major differences between the Vortex Viper HD 20-60×80 and the Vortex Razor HD 27-60×85 apart from the obvious price difference! Would any of these be suitable for my camera?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Maria- excellent questions! We published a post about digiscoping (taking photos using a spotting scope) which I think you’ll find very useful:

      https://procular.com.au/digiscoping-spotting-scope-photography/

      At the end of this post you can also see our recommendations for necessary camera adapters for the scopes.

      Adam Murray, Procular
  10. Can a camera be attached?? Use is for sighting from land to sea up to say 4km. I am also looking at Vortex Razor HD 27-60X85.

    1. You can attach most cameras to any spotting scope. The best quality universal adapters for spotting scopes are by Avalon Optics. They fit any Nikon or Canon SLR/DSLR to any spotting scope you see here on Procular. Here’s the adapter for Canon or Nikon cameras:

      https://procular.com.au/avalon-digiscoping-adapter-for-canon-dslr-cameras/
      https://procular.com.au/avalon-digiscoping-adapter-for-nikon-dslr-cameras/

      Adam Murray, Procular

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