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How to Choose a Spotting Scope

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to picking the best spotting scope or rifle scope for your next outdoor adventure. Finding the one that most suits your needs depends on a few factors, such as what you’ll be using it for and how powerful you need it to be.

Wondering where to start your search? Not sure whether you need a spotting scope or just plain-old binoculars? Read on to see if a spotting scope is right for your next trip.  

Why Choose a Spotting Scope Instead of Binoculars or Monoculars?

Binoculars and monoculars are popular among bird watchers and hunters because of their ease-of-use and convenience. They’re great for quickly spotting faraway animals, birds, and landscapes. However, they’re not nearly as powerful or as clear as spotting scopes.

Compared to binoculars and monoculars, spotting scopes offer far higher levels of magnification and zoom, as well as larger objective lenses. The larger lenses collect more light—so they work better in low-light conditions—and enable a far greater field of vision than most binoculars or monoculars.

For all these reasons, spotting scopes are most often used with a tripod, which helps to keep the image steady. If you need to see things in great detail over vast distances—such as bird watching—a spotting scope with a tripod is your best option.

Why Kind of Magnification Can I Expect?

Most spotting scopes feature variable zoom, so their magnification range is displayed as a set of numbers, such as 20-60x. Typically, scopes have a magnification range that’s somewhere between 15x at the low end and 60x at the high end, though you can find scopes with magnifications up to 250x. Binoculars and monoculars, by contrast, usually have a magnification of 7x or 10x.

Types of Spotting Scopes

Beyond their magnification levels, spotting scopes can differ quite a bit in their design. There are two basic types of scopes to choose from: straight or angled. With a straight spotting you’ll be looking and aiming in the same direction. With an angled spotting scope, you’ll be looking down the eyepiece, rather than in the same direction you’ve pointed the scope.

There are pros and cons to each type. Straight scopes are easiest for beginners and great for viewing things at or below your current eye level. Angled scopes, on the other hand, are more comfortable to use over extended periods of time and make it far easier to view things higher up, such as flying or nesting birds. Angled scopes are also easier to share with a group, since the eyepiece is at a comfortable position for people of different heights.