10 Best Spotting Scopes | March 2017

We spent 35 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top options for this wiki. Whether you are a hunter, nature watcher or outdoor photographer, you'll find our selection of spotting scopes, ranked by magnification specs, ease of use, and durability, includes the perfect instrument for your next outing. You'll find models here suitable for hardcore hobbyists and casual amateurs. Skip to the best spotting scope on Amazon.
10 Best Spotting Scopes | March 2017

Overall Rank: 5
Best Mid-Range
Overall Rank: 3
Best High-End
Overall Rank: 6
Best Inexpensive
The Konus 7120 comes with everything a photographer, bird watcher or hunter needs to get out there and get to work. It includes a tripod, a forward-expanding lens hood to block unwanted glare, a photo adapter for photography, and more.
The Leupold SX-1 Ventana is an entry level model with an adjustable relief eyepiece, which makes it suitable for users who wear glasses. It performs surprisingly well in low light conditions, and produces clear, crisp images at full zoom.
The Bushnell Trophy Xtreme is rubber armor-coated and completely waterproof, so it can accompany you on every adventure, no matter how extreme. It can focus in clearly on objects nearly 1,000 yards away, but unfortunately it comes with a flimsy stand.
The Celestron Regal M2 features an extra low dispersion objective lens allowing it to produce accurate colors with almost no chromatic aberration. Built into the housing is a rotating mount that allows you to attach it to a tripod & swivel it 360° to track moving animals.
  • ideal for bird watching
  • solid metal eyepiece cover
  • feels a bit tail heavy
Brand Celestron
Model 52304
Weight 5.3 pounds
The Redfield Rampage is a basic hunting model with a lightweight, all black, polycarbonate housing that won't reflect light back at your target. Considering its low price point, it offers exceptional performance, making it a great value.
  • retractable lens shade
  • has standard tripod adapter
  • makes it easy to identify animals
Brand Redfield
Model 67600
Weight 5.5 pounds
The Vanguard Endeavor HD 65A features an angled eyepiece and extra-low dispersion glass that produces a vibrant image with almost no edge fringing. To prevent glare from obstructing your view, it also has a built-in sunshade.
  • has a wide field of view
  • fine and coarse adjustment wheels
  • designed for all-weather use
Brand Vanguard
Model Endeavor HD 82A - Paren
Weight pending
The compact Sig Sauer Oscar 3 is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, making it perfect for those who don't like to lug around a lot of gear. For more user-friendly operation, it has an onboard gyroscope to stabilize images, even when fully zoomed in.
  • bak4 prism provides good clarity
  • rubber-armored housing
  • rapid focus capabilities
Brand Sig Sauer
Model SOV31001
Weight 2.7 pounds
If you are looking for a premium model with high quality components that will last a lifetime and ensure you never miss a single thing when in the bush, the Trijicon TSS01 is what you need. Conveniently, its fingertip controls are well-placed for quick access.
  • impressive light transmission
  • high strength magnesium body
  • comfortably angled eyepiece
Brand Trijicon
Model TSS01-C-2100000
Weight 6.5 pounds
The Celestron Ultima takes nature spotting to extremes. It has a 100mm refractor that makes it ideal for use in low light conditions, and a comfortable eyepiece that is perfect for extended viewing. Those who are on a tight budget can't do much better then this model.
  • green housing blends into nature
  • exceptional image clarity
  • comes with a soft carrying case
Brand Celestron
Model 52252
Weight 7.7 pounds
The Vortex Razor brings everything into laser focus with a 20-60x zoom range and a large 85 mm objective lens that allows you to see a high level of detail. It also features dielectric prism coatings to provide you with a bright image and perfect color representation.
  • waterproof and fog-resistant
  • integrated sunshade
  • easy to adjust dual focus knobs
Brand Vortex Optics
Model VT-RS-85A
Weight 8.4 pounds

Scoping Out Versatility

If you're a photographer, hunter, or just love studying the environment around you but are limited by your conventional pair of binoculars, then a spotting scope may be just the tool for you.

Unlike large astronomical telescopes that require heavy, specialized mounting equipment and produce reversed/upside down images, a spotting scope is a small, portable telescope with added optics designed to present you with an upright image. Such spotting scopes are optimized for terrestrial activities, such as birdwatching, wildlife observation, scenery viewing, hunting, ship watching, and surveillance. Although their degree of magnification isn't as powerful as larger telescopes used for stargazing, spotting scopes still provide a greater degree of magnification than what you would ordinarily experience with a pair of binoculars. Some can even be used in conjunction with a digital camera to take long-distance photographs.

The light-gathering power and resolution of a spotting scope is determined by the diameter of its refracting objective lens. The objective lens is typically between 2-3 inches in diameter with an image erecting system that uses any combination of prisms, generally Porro or roof, image erecting relay lenses, and a removable/interchangeable eyepiece to deliver varying degrees of magnification power, depending on the activity you've chosen. Spotting scopes can use other types of designs as well, including the Schmidt and Maksutov optical assemblies.

These devices usually include some type of mounting hardware for use with tripods and feature ergonomically-designed knobs for easy focus adjustments. Spotting scopes can include several interchangeable eyepieces or they may come with a single eyepiece that gives you variable zooming options.

What To Focus On

One thing to bare in mind if you're just starting out is that a high degree of magnification doesn't automatically mean that the spotting scope you go with is the best choice. For example, if you live at low altitudes and experience frequent humidity or high winds, you may find that your spotting scope isn't giving you the highest image quality. That said, ambient weather conditions (heat, humidity, high winds, dust, and glare) will definitely have an impact on overall image quality. The greater the magnification, the more drastic the reduction in image quality may appear when weather conditions aren't optimal. That doesn't mean you shouldn't look for a spotting scope with variable magnification, but it's something to be aware of. Just be sure that you're going with the right type of spotting scope for your environment. An astronomical telescope would not be the right choice for birdwatching, as an example.

Pay attention to the description of the lens coatings when shopping for a spotting scope, as this also impacts magnification quality. The idea behind using lens coatings is that they improve light transmission, which is important for a high-magnification instrument like a spotting scope. Many spotting scopes have lenses that are fully coated, multi-coated, and fully multi-coated. Fully multi-coated lenses are found on most of the premium-grade models.

If you wear eyeglasses, make sure the spotting scope you choose provides adequate eye relief. A good range is around 14mm so that you'll be able to see the entire field of vision when wearing thick eyeglasses with heavy lenses.

Other spotting scopes offer built-in sunshields, which comes in handy if you do a lot of birdwatching in the middle of the day.

A Brief History Of The Spotting Scope

The first refracting telescopes were invented in the Netherlands around 1608 by 2 spectacle makers named Hans Lippershey and Zacharias Janssen, and Dutch instrument maker Jacob Metius of Alkmaar.

Galileo Galilei developed his own refracting telescope in 1609 using a convergent (plano-convex) objective lens and a divergent (plano-concave) eyepiece lens. The Galilean telescope offered a design with no intermediary focus, which resulted in a non-inverted and upright image. This helped to pave the way for the development of modern spotting scopes and their upright object orientation found today.

By 1611, German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler improved upon Galileo's refracting telescope design with his use of a convex-shaped lens as the eyepiece instead of a concave one. This development allowed for both a wider field of vision and improved eye relief over the Galilean telescope, but the resulting image would be inverted and not upright.

In 1668, Isaac Newton developed the first known functional reflecting telescope. The development of reflecting telescopes continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. As reflecting telescopes grew larger in size, their reflectivity suffered as did their speculum metal mirrors, which had to be removed and polished constantly.

The first spotting scope appeared as early as 1903. Today, most spotting scope manufacturers offer scopes in both apochromatic and non-apochromatic versions. Apochromatic spotting scopes contain a specially-designed lens that helps remove chromatic aberrations, which are fringes of color along boundaries separating both the dark and bright portions of a given image. Apochromatic scopes represent a cutting-edge form of the evolution of optical viewing technology that will ensure your images remain as crisp as possible without excessive interference.

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Last updated: 03/26/2017 | Authorship Information