The 10 Best Spotting Scopes
10. Konus 7120
- easy for beginners to use
- wide field of view at long distances
- loses some clarity in shady weather
|Rating||3.6 / 5.0|
9. Leupold SX-1 Ventana
- low short focus distance
- withstands hard impacts well
- somewhat large and overly heavy
|Rating||3.8 / 5.0|
8. Bushnell Trophy Xtreme
- nonslip grip on the housing
- comes with hard and soft cases
- doesn't have an angled eyepiece
|Rating||4.2 / 5.0|
7. Celestron Regal M2
- ideal for bird watching
- solid metal eyepiece cover
- feels a bit tail heavy
|Rating||4.0 / 5.0|
6. Redfield Rampage
- retractable lens shade
- has standard tripod adapter
- makes it easy to identify animals
|Rating||4.0 / 5.0|
5. Vanguard Endeavor HD 65A
- has a wide field of view
- fine and coarse adjustment wheels
- designed for all-weather use
|Model||Endeavor HD 82A - Paren|
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
4. Sig Sauer Oscar 3
- bak4 prism provides good clarity
- rubber-armored housing
- rapid focus capabilities
|Rating||4.2 / 5.0|
3. Trijicon TSS01
- impressive light transmission
- high strength magnesium body
- comfortably angled eyepiece
|Rating||4.7 / 5.0|
2. Celestron Ultima
- green housing blends into nature
- exceptional image clarity
- comes with a soft carrying case
|Rating||4.6 / 5.0|
1. Vortex Razor
- waterproof and fog-resistant
- integrated sunshade
- easy to adjust dual focus knobs
|Rating||4.6 / 5.0|
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.