The Best Spotting Scope: Reviews & Buying Guide
Vision is arguably the most important of our senses as it provides our primary means of perception, as is the case with many other mammals on Earth. Of course, human vision is not perfect, and you will sometimes need to augment it based on what you are doing, but there are many different ways to do so.
If you want to be able to see things at a long distance, you have a few options at your disposal, and we’ll take a brief look at them later on, but first let’s get to our subject. Over the course of today’s guide, we’ll be trying to find the best spotting scope available. To that end, we have assembled a comprehensive guide.
This article will contain more than just ten reviews of contenders for the title of the best spotting scope, as we will also be guiding you through the process of finding the ideal model for your needs. Of course, you have no obligation to read through this guide in any particular order, so you should use it in the way that suits you.
For example, if you are buying your first spotting scope, then perhaps you will want to pay closer attention to the section in which we cover the integral features to search for in the right product. If you are a more experienced buyer who wants to know more about a particular model, you may be more interested in the review section.
However you choose to utilize this guide, we hope that it will be able to fulfill all of your needs, as we intend this to be the most comprehensive online guide to buying the best spotting scope. First off, let’s take a look at what a spotting scope is and how it differs from some similar products.
What is a Spotting Scope and What Does it Do?
Of course, the first thing we want to do is make sure that all of our readers are on the same page, and the best way to do so is to start from the ground up. A spotting scope is an optical instrument that is (as the name suggests) designed to help you spot targets at a more extended range than your Mk. 1 eyeball.
You may be wondering how exactly a spotting scope differs from other kinds of optics, as they may sound similar to binoculars and monoculars. Typically, a spotting scope will have a higher level of magnification than different types of optics, and it will come equipped with a tripod to improve its stability. Spotting scopes are designed to present an erect image (one that is right side up).
Spotting Scope vs. Other Optics
Since it may cause some confusion, this section is devoted to letting you know the differences between a spotting scope and distinct types of long-range viewfinders. While this part of the article is by no means comprehensive, we’ll be going over the more common varieties of consumer optics.
The most common comparison to spotting scopes tends to be a pair of binoculars, and we can see why this is the case. While binoculars and spotting scopes may appear similar at first glance, you will find that most spotting scopes are a form of telescope, so they will not give you the depth perception of binoculars.
While binoculars are typically much more portable than a spotting scope, they are handheld while the latter is meant to be mounted to some sort of stabilizing implement. For instance, most spotting scopes will come equipped with a tripod, and some of them will not be usable without one in the first place.
Spotting scopes need tripods because of their high degree of magnification, which causes amplifies small movements and jitters, making it nearly impossible to see unless you have the steadiest of hands. Some models will feature a lower magnification level so that they can be used properly in the handheld role.
A monocular is more similar to a spotting scope than binoculars in that there is only a single lens that presents an erect image for the viewer. Of course, in every other way, a monocular is essentially a lower-power version of a spotting scope, and it won’t usually have provisions for a tripod.
Monoculars have the advantage of being more portable than many of the optics on this list, thus making them a little more rugged too. If you will be traveling through harsh environments and you want to ensure that you’ve got the best possible tool for the job, there are worse choices than a monocular.
Night Vision Scope
While a spotting scope is designed primarily for use at much longer distances than other kinds of optics, you will find that a night vision scope is one that is intended for night illumination. Spotting scopes tend to have superior range and image quality than night vision models, but they can’t see well in the dark.
Keep in mind that many night vision scopes of a similar price to high-end spotting scopes will not feature optical quality that is on par with them. Since night vision tends to compromise the visibility of the rendered image, you will need to opt for the most expensive models to get a high degree of clarity in night vision.
When it comes to choosing the right scope for hunting, you may be wondering whether or not you need a spotting scope or a scope that is attached directly to your rifle. First off, you will want to consider the compatibility of your gun with some scope lugs, as some will be equipped with Picatinny rails but others will need dovetail mounts.
The advantage to a rifle scope is that it will make it easier to hit targets at a longer distance than iron sights, but you will also have to consider the ease with which a scope can lose its zero. When you’re traveling through the forest on a hunt, there are plenty of opportunities for your scope to get banged against an errant tree branch.
Every impact that your gun has to endure over the course of your hunt will slightly misalign the scope’s crosshairs from the point of impact (the zero). You will typically want to opt for a hunting scope to ensure that you will be able to make the best use out of it in the harsh conditions of the outdoors.
Which Activities Require a Spotting Scope?
Let’s take a look at some of the things that you can expect to do with a spotting scope, as there a few very particular sets of activities that they are used for. To put it simply, however, a spotting scope is ideal in any situation where you may need to see at much longer distances than are possible with your eyes.
If you have a love of birds, you probably know how frustrating it can be to get into a position where you can observe them without having to worry about startling them. Even the most subtle of movements can result in the entire flock of birds you are watching flying away at a moment’s notice.
There are a few ways to get around this annoying situation, and one of the best ways is to do so using a spotting scope. These products give you a lot of versatility when you are bird watching, and there are quite a few reasons why you should always use one in your ornithological pursuits.
First off, your spotting scope will allow you to stay much further away from the birds that you will be researching without having to worry about compromising visibility. That extended range will also make it less likely that you will need to relocate as often as you will be able to see more from your position.
Using a spotting scope also allows you to set yourself up in vantage point from which you can observe huge swathes of the terrain that you will be searching for birds. For instance, if you can get to the top of a foothill or something equally tall, you will have long sightlines, provided the weather holds up.
Of course, hunters can also make excellent use of spotting scopes for many of the same reasons that bird watchers can do so. Since spotting scopes will allow you to observe animals from a longer distance without having to worry about startling them and having them run off on you, they are ideal for hunters.
Keep in mind that you will likely want to equip your rifle with a high-magnification scope and you may want to opt for one that is chambered in a long-range caliber, though .308 is usually sufficient. You likely won’t have time to reposition from your vantage point with your spotting scope to take your shot.
A spotting scope will also make hunting much safer for you since you can set yourself up in a treestand or somewhere else where you are less likely to be injured by the animal. Hunting from a distance is also an excellent option for those of you who are recovering from prior injuries, perhaps even from past hunts.
When choosing the best spotting scope for hunting, you will usually want a product that can withstand the elements since you will be taking it outside with you. Some extra durability often goes a long way with these models as well, since they should be able to withstand some scuffs and impacts.
Another common use for spotting scopes is in target shooting, which can be either competitive or non-competitive. There are many different applications for a spotting scope in this discipline. For example, a shooter using a scoped rifle can work with a partner using a spotting scope to call out targets for them due to the larger field of view of a spotting scope.
One of the primary applications for a spotting scope in the target shooting world, however, is to ensure that hits on targets are scored fairly. There will often be neutral observers using these scopes in shooting competitions to ensure that all of the hits on targets are tallied up accurately and without issues.
Using a spotting scope for this task is much safer as well as more convenient than having someone walk up to the target to check it themselves. This would require everyone standing down on the range for a few minutes while the shooters go all the way over to their targets to check their hits.
When you are doing the type of target shooting that will require a spotting scope, you will typically be shooting at targets that are very far away. Nobody wants to have to travel back and forth between a far-off target and their shooting position so that they can ensure that their hits are accurate.
The advantage of having a dedicated spotter is that they can also call out which specific shots hit which area, so you’ll know how to adjust your technique instead of having to remember. Whether you like to shoot competitively or just with your friends, a spotting scope is ideal for long-range target practice.
Other Uses for Spotting Scopes
There is another use for spotting scopes, though it is not one that typical consumers will ever have to use it for. Military spotting scopes are designed for a wide range of uses, though they are almost never available for public use unless we are discussing models that have long been obsolete.
As you can expect, the spotting scope is a helpful piece of gear for soldiers, especially those with skills in the department of marksmanship. In fact, sniper teams operate with two men, one of which uses the rifle and the other of which uses a spotting scope to find targets and provide data for the shooter.
Of course, spotting scopes can also be used for other tasks by soldiers such as surveying an area for artillery bombardment, and many other tasks that can only be accomplished with such an optic. Though civilian customers will never use these products in such a manner, spotting scopes are very popular with militaries around the world.
Why You Need to Choose the Best Spotting Scope Possible
You may be wondering if it is really important to put this much effort into getting the best spotting scope on the market, and we’ll provide a few reasons why it is a good idea to do so. The first of these reasons is that a spotting scope is often a hefty investment and you want to be sure that you’re getting the right one.
Spending a huge sum of money on the wrong spotting scope is something that you will want to avoid at all costs as a return may not even be possible. Aside from making sure that you don’t end up with a spotting scope that is useless to you, doing your research can also end up saving you money.
You will find that there are many obscure spotting scopes available that will feature the same capabilities and build quality as models that are much more expensive. When looking for the best affordable spotting scope, you will want to sift through the models that will stop working in under a month.
Remember that a spotting scope isn’t a product that typically needs replacement very often. You may have your spotting scope for years to come, and if that will be the case, it makes sense to want the best product on the market. One of the best ways to choose the right model is to know what you need out of it.
What to Look for in the Best Spotting Scope
When you are selecting the right hunting scope for your needs, you will want to consider those very needs in the first place. Since everyone will have a different use for their scope, you will need on that can get the job done for you and not for someone else, and that is where this section will come in handy.
The first thing that you will want to consider when you are choosing the best spotting scope is the price. As with most optics, the assembly of a spotting scope is a delicate process, and perhaps even more so due to the tighter tolerances that are necessitated by such a high power of magnification.
Like you would expect, the need for quality components and skilled labor in the construction of these products means that spotting scopes aren’t the most affordable optic on the market. With a bit of effort, however, you can find more affordable spotting scopes that are worth your money.
We understand that most of our readers would be apprehensive opting for a more affordable spotting scope since you never know if you can rely on the quality. However, there are many great options even in the lower price ranges though you may have to give up some bells and whistles.
Type of Scope
When it comes to choosing the right kind of spotting scope, you will want to ensure that the design matches your needs. You have a choice of a spotting scope that is either angled or straight, and the consideration is one that is purely ergonomic, so you will find that it is a matter of preference.
The angled scope is often used for those on the same level as their targets since it is easier to position on the ground or on an embankment in front of you. If you are planning on posting yourself up in vantage point, however, you will want a straight spotting scope since it will be easier to position.
In the end, you are better off opting for the kind of spotting scope that you are most comfortable using. While some customers may not think so, ergonomics are critical in the best spotting scope. If you are more comfortable with your scope, you will be more likely to use it instead of having it sit around collecting dust.
Of course, something else to account for is the level of magnification that your scope features. The magnification will be represented by a power, which is typically notated using a capital X. For example, a model with a power of 30 will be represented by “30X,” and referred to as a 30-power scope. Magnification goes hand in hand with the size of your objective lens.
Your magnification level will determine how far away you can be from your target while still being able to see it, but it will also increase the sensitivity of minor movements. As the power of your scope increases so too does the need for a tripod so that you can see something in the first place. Keep in mind that magnification is determined by the attached eyepiece instead of the scope itself.
The amount of punishment that your spotting scope can withstand is another thing that you will need to account for, particularly if you are taking it out into the wild with you. Hunters, in particular, will need spotting scopes that can deal with the harsh conditions that they are exposed to over the course of a hunt.
Features like lens coatings can help ensure that your spotting scope doesn’t get scratched, further improving the durability.
Opting for a more durable hunting scope can ensure that you won’t have to end up purchasing a new one to replace a model that broke too soon. Most scopes should be able to put up with at least a little bit of abuse. The only scopes in which lowered durability is acceptable is in models that are explicitly made for controlled environments.
A tripod is an integral aspect of your spotting scope as it will ensure that the image is stable enough to be seen in the first place. Low-quality tripods will often make it nearly impossible to focus your image.
To that end, you will want to ensure that your preferred model has a reliable tripod that will not present you with any issues, and this is more challenging to find than you would expect.
You can typically attach a different tripod to a spotting scope if you find yourself unsatisfied with the one that came included with it. Tripods with legs that are flimsy and unreliable can end up damaging your spotting scope if they collapse while you are using it, so it is a serious matter.
You might also like The Ten Best Hunting Binoculars Available To Buy In 2018.
Best Spotting Scope for Hunters – Swarovski HD-STS 80 Spotting Scope
- Straight spotting scope
- Features an 80 mm objective lens
- Both dustproof and waterproof
- Rubber casing protects the scope from shocks
- Features HD lenses for optimal colors and clarity
If you are a hunter who is looking for the best spotting scope on the market, there aren’t many models that will be able to match this one from Swarovski. Of course, this product embodies the philosophy of “you get what you pay for,” so you will have to be ready to spend quite a bit on this scope.
You may be wondering what exactly makes this scope so well-suited for use by hunters, and it has to do with this scope’s combination of a rugged design with excellent optics. Few scopes can go through as much punishment as this one while still providing an excellent image.
The use of rubber armoring on the exterior helps this scope absorb any shocks from impacts. The waterproofing and dustproofing are done thoroughly, and the scope made it through our torture tests without any permanent damage from either of those elements.
Overall, this is an excellent scope for hunters who want to buy a single scope for lifetime use. If you need a spotting scope that is built to last without sacrificing image quality, this is your best option.
Best Compact Spotting Scope – Bushnell unisex Trophy Xtreme Spotting Scope
- Features Trophy Xtreme Spotting Scope 20 60×65
- Multiple layers of anti-reflective coating on all air-to-glass surfaces
- Waterproof and fogproof
- Exterior features 100% waterproof rubber armor
If you need a compact spotting scope for use in the outdoors, then Bushnell has you covered with this little spotting scope. While this product may be small, it is not to be underestimated as it comes with a 50 mm objective lens, allowing you to see targets clearly even near the extent of the magnification levels.
This scope from Bushnell comes equipped with all of the features that you can expect to find on a model that is meant for use in the outdoors. For instance, this product is designed to resist the infiltration of fog, water, and even dust to a lesser extent, and it is also armored for improved durability.
The extras that you get with this scope are also rather impressive for a model with such a relatively affordable price.
Of course, when opting for a smaller spotting scope, you will have to accept that you will be compromising image quality for the sake of portability. Luckily, this model is highly portable, and so is the compact tripod that comes included with it.
Best Spotting Scope for Target Shooting – Leupold SX-2 Alpine HD 20-60x60mm
- Features a multi-coated lens
- Equipped with a tripod adapter but the tripod is sold separately
- Comes included with a lens shade that can be adjusted
- Objective lens: 60mm
When you are target shooting, you will want to use a spotting scope that provides a clear, detailed image at a longer range. This model from Leupold may not be the most durable scope on the market, but it will present excellent image quality for anyone who needs it.
Keep in mind that this product is still armored so you won’t have to worry about it suddenly breaking on you, but it is still designed primarily for image quality. Thanks to the 60 mm objective lens, you won’t have to worry about your image getting distorted when you start nearing the max magnification power.
The adjustable lens shade allows you to account for sunny conditions that may be a little too bright for your liking, which is excellent for days when the sun is beating down on you at the range.
This spotting scope also features a multi-coated lens that is resistant to many different factors that could block your view. The coatings are hydrophobic as well as fingerprint and dust-resistant.
Best Spotting Scope for Birdwatchers – Kowa TSN-880 Series Angled Spotting Scope
- Resistant to both water and dust
- Features an angled eyepiece
- 88 mm objective lens
- Made of magnesium alloy
- Compatible with ¼ inch and ⅜ inch tripods
For all of our readers who are interested in bird watching, this is the best spotting scope that you can purchase for the task for a multitude of reasons. First off, the angled eyepiece makes this model much easier to use when you are observing targets that are higher off of the ground than you, just like birds.
The massive 88 mm objective lens ensures that the image you see will be as bright as possible, a necessity so that you can see birds who are in the shadows of tree branches. This model also comes equipped with a dual focus mechanism that makes it easier to focus on small targets like birds.
This scope is both waterproof and fogproof, which makes it excellently suited for use as a bird watching scope, as it can be exposed to the elements with little issue.
The TSN-880 also features an eyepiece that can be locked to it so that it won’t get lost while you are out in the wilderness. Finally, this product is made out of a magnesium alloy, so it will be much lighter than other scopes while still maintaining the same degree of durability.
Best Spotting Scope for the Price – Celestron 52304 Regal M2 65ED Spotting Scope
- Equipped with a 65 mm ED objective lens
- Optics fully coated
- Comes included with a tripod with detents
- Features a T-mount adaptor for cameras
If you want to save money when you are buying your spotting scope, Celestron’s Regal model is probably the best bet. While this may not be the most affordable spotting scope on this list, it certainly offers the greatest value for money out of any product here.
Unlike many spotting scopes that can be found for a relatively low price, this model still comes equipped with a range of extras as well as some impressive features. The 65 mm ED objective lens may not be the largest one you will find on a comparable scope, but the color definition is excellent.
Thanks to the multicoated lenses, you won’t have to worry about water and scratches quite as much, and you will find that the light is filtered through the lens much more evenly.
This product also comes equipped with a tripod that features detents so that you can keep your spotting scope facing where you need it. The included T-mount adaptor also allows you to attach a camera to this model for digiscoping purposes.
SVBONY 60 mm Spotting Scope
- Resistant against fog and water
- Includes a cell phone adapter, carry case, tripod, lens covers, and more
- Features a folding eye guard
- Extending shade protects lens
- Angled design
For those of you that need a spotting scope that is affordable and versatile enough to be used in a wide range of hobbies, this model from SVBONY is not a bad option. Of course, the quality of this model won’t match that of the big names, but it will get the job done.
As long as you don’t expect spectacular performance from this scope, you will likely be satisfied with it, as it comes included with more extras than most pricey models.
This scope comes with an adapter so that you can use your phone for digiscoping, making it fun and convenient to use. Of course, this model is also equipped with some more serious features like an extendable shade over the lens to deflect excessive sunlight.
While the 60 mm objective lens offers some decent visibility at longer ranges, the prism and the lens won’t match a scope that sells for over ten times more.
Gosky 20-60 x 80 Porro Prism Spotting Scope
- 80 mm objective lens is fully multi-coated
- Magnification ranges from 20X to 60X
- Features rubber armoring along the exterior
- Includes a digiscoping adapter
Perhaps you want a little more quality out of your spotting scope, but you still don’t want to pay too much money for it. This model from Gosky is another more affordable scope that will offer the right combination of build quality, extras, and value for money.
For example, it features an 80 mm objective lens, which is quite impressive for a product that is relatively affordable, but you shouldn’t expect the quality of a Swarovski lens. For most purposes, however, this spotting scope will be able to provide a clear enough image at long distances.
This product includes a wide array of extras including a carrying case, a digiscoping adapter, and more. You also don’t have to worry about breaking this spotting scope as it has rubber armor panels along the exterior.
BARSKA 15-40×50 Colorado Spotting Scope
- Features a 50 mm objective lens
- Ideal range: 150 meters
- Armored exterior
- Optics are fully coated
- Comes included with a case and tripod
The Colorado spotting scope is an excellent alternative for our readers who need something a little more compact. With a 50 mm objective lens, you can’t expect this product to be effective out to a very substantial range, and the image starts to get blurry around the 150-meter mark.
When it comes to everything else, the Colorado scope is equipped with what you would expect to see on a product at this price point. While the included table tripod is appreciated, we feel that you will likely want to replace it soon after purchasing this product due to its flimsy design.
The carrying case for this scope is a little more reliable, so you won’t have to worry about discovering that it broke during transport. The inclusion of rubber armoring along the top, sides, and bottom of this scope ensures that any shocks will not reach the delicate internals.
BARSKA Benchmark 25-125×88 Waterproof Straight Spotting Scope
- Objective lens: 88 mm
- Magnification: 25X to 125X
- Dynamic lens focusing
- Coated optics
- Features both a table tripod and a handle mount
- Waterproof and fogproof
Up next, we’ll be looking at yet another product from BARSKA. This particular spotting scope is designed to put up with the rigors of the outdoors, and it is well-designed for that purpose. For example, this scope is completely waterproof as well as fogproof, so there will be no infiltration of either element.
The dynamic lens focusing knob on this model makes it easier for you to get the perfect focus on your target. When coupled with the 88 mm objective lens, you’ll be able to see far-off targets much more clearly than you would be able to with smaller scopes.
You can choose between a handheld mount or a tripod with this model, but the long-range capabilities mean that you will likely want to use the tripod. As with most tabletop tripods, the stability of the one that comes included with this product is questionable.
Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima Zoom Spotting Scope
- 80 mm objective lens
- Angled design
- 20X – 60X magnification
- Comes included with a T-mount
- Lens is multi-coated
The last product on our list is one from Celestron, and it just missed the cut. This is an excellent spotting scope for the money, as it comes with everything that a beginner will need save for a tripod, and most users prefer to choose their own tripod anyway.
Thanks to the 80 mm objective lens, this product has some impressive magnification abilities. The eyepiece that comes included with this model will permit magnification from 20X to 60X which is a rather extensive range.
The multi-coated lenses will allow more light through while simultaneously ensuring that the optics don’t end up getting damaged. In addition to coming with a variety of extras, this spotting scope is very easy to use due to the large controls and the simple design. Overall, this is an excellent option for anyone who needs their first spotter scope.
We hope that this guide has provided you with the information that you sought about these products. While finding the best spotting scope isn’t as cut and dry as some of us would prefer, you can’t go wrong with the help of our reviews.