The 10 Best Spotting Scopes

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This wiki has been updated 21 times since it was first published in February of 2015. If you are a hunter, marksman, nature watcher, or outdoor photographer, you'll find our list of spotting scopes, ranked by magnification, ease of use, and durability, includes the perfect instrument for your next outing. Whether you need to identify bullet holes in a downrange target, spot a wild animal in the bush, or simply take stunning photos from a distance, there is a model here for you. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best spotting scope on Amazon.

10. Bushnell Trophy Xtreme

9. Bushnell Legend Ultra HD

8. Barska AD12356

7. Celestron Regal M2

6. Celestron Ultima

5. Vortex Diamondback

4. Leupold GR Gold Ring Compact

3. Pentax PF-80ED

2. Redfield Rampage

1. Vortex Razor HD

Special Honors

Leica APO-Televid 82 With a rugged die-cast magnesium, nitrogen-filled housing and waterproof to a depth of five meters, there is nowhere you can't take this top-of-the-line model. Despite having an impressive magnification factor of 90x and an 82 mm front lens, it somehow manages to weigh just a touch over three pounds. It is available with a straight or angled eyepiece and comes with a carbon fiber tripod. leica-camera.com

Zeiss Victory Harpia 95 With a 95 mm objective lens, this scope gathers a lot of light, allowing it to produce bright and crisp images in very low-light conditions. It is an ideal choice for early morning and sunset bird watchers. Plus, it transitions from rapid- to fine-focus adjustment automatically, and it is designed to accommodate gloved and one-handed operation for convenient use. zeiss.com

Editor's Notes

June 21, 2019:

Spotting scopes are a must for hunters, birdwatchers, and anybody who shoots at long-distance targets. Last year, the Vortex Diamondback claimed our #1 spot, and while it is still a great scope it did drop down a bit and now takes the #5 spot. Our new #1 item, the Vortex Razor HD, is still made by the same company, but beats the Diamondback considerably in the component department. The Vortex Razor HD features an extra-low dispersion glass and anti-reflective coatings on all air-to-glass surfaces that give it impressive brightness and essentially no chromatic aberrations. The Pentax PF-80ED also as an extra-low dispersion glass, plus a very high level of water resistance. With a retractable lens shade and professional-grade BAK4 prism, and coming with a tripod and various other accessories, the Redfield Rampage offers one of the best values in the field. The Bushnell Trophy Xtreme is also a nice value buy, but some of the included components aren't as high quality as those that come with the Rampage.

Of all the models on our list, the Celestron Ultima offers the most powerful magnification, at up to 66 times, though the images in it will be less crisp than what our top few picks offer at their maximum zoom range. Anybody who hikes in the field for long distances, carrying their scope the entire time, should consider the Leupold GR Gold Ring Compact. At just around 1.5 pounds, it is exceptionally lightweight, though we do want to mention it is only capable of 30 times magnification.

Scoping Out Versatility

Some can even be used in conjunction with a digital camera to take long-distance photographs.

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.

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

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.

The development of reflecting telescopes continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

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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Brett Dvoretz
Last updated on July 11, 2019 by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as in front of a laptop screen, Brett can either be found hacking away furiously at the keyboard or, perhaps, enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He has been a professional chef, a dog trainer, and a travel correspondent for a well-known Southeast Asian guidebook. He also holds a business degree and has spent more time than he cares to admit in boring office jobs. He has an odd obsession for playing with the latest gadgets and working on motorcycles and old Jeeps. His expertise, honed over years of experience, is in the areas of computers, electronics, travel gear, pet products, and kitchen, office and automotive equipment.


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