If you’re headed for the great outdoors to go hunting, bird watching, nature watching, target shooting, or practicing survival skills, you’re going to need something with a little more oomph than an ordinary pair of binoculars.
You’re going to need a spotting scope.
So, what is a spotting scope and how do you use it? Glad ya asked! Let’s dive right in.
Spotting Scope vs Telescope vs Binoculars
Although all three optical instruments provide magnification, there are differences between them.
Spotting Scope vs Telescope
A spotting scope is essentially a small(er) telescope that is used during the daytime instead of at night and the image is always right side up.
It also has weatherproofing features telescopes don’t as well as mounting connectors allowing it to be used with most camera tripods. Spotting scopes are lightweight compared to telescopes.
Spotting Scope vs Binoculars
A spotting scope only has one lens on either end, whereas binoculars (bi, meaning two) has two lenses on each end.
The magnification on a spotting scope generally begins where binoculars stop, so you’ll be able to see further with greater magnification. Spotting scopes are heavier than binoculars.
There are three numbers on spotting scopes. We’ll use the example of 20-60×60 to explain what they mean.
The first two numbers mean the scope has a magnification between 20x and 60x.
The third number measures the diameter of the objective lens, the large lens on the front end of the scope. In this case, it would be 60mm. See below for why this is important to know.
So, a spotting scope that is 20-60×60 has a magnification of 20x to 60x with a 60mm objective lens.
The size of the objective determines the quality of the image. The larger the objective, the better the quality of the image you can see (weather and atmospheric conditions permitting, of course).
For most uses, 30x or 40x will be sufficient but as the magnification increases, the clarity of the image will decrease.
If you need sharp images in the 50x range and above (for photography or something), you’ll need to spend some extra money on special glass in the objective such as ED Glass, Fluorite glass, APO Glass, or HD glass.
There are two types of prism spotting scopes used to ensure the image you see is right side up and correctly presented left-to-right; in other words, to make sure the image in the scope is the same as you would see with your own eyes.
This is the most common and efficient design. It is affordable, easy to use, and has interchangeable eyepieces. It also has camera adapters. It is a heavy prism though.
Roof prisms are lightweight, slim, and compact. They’re not as efficient as a Porro prism. If you intend to do a lot of traveling, the lighter weight may be worth it.
To increase the efficiency of a Roof prism, get a PC (phase-coated) one.
Low price spotting scopes usually come with an attached eyepiece, but the high-end scopes don’t. Instead, you have to buy separate eyepieces that can be swapped out as needed depending on what you need.
When you’re buying a spotting scope, be sure to check if it is a “body only” scope that doesn’t have an eyepiece.
Some eyepieces are single magnification while others have zooming capabilities. Both types have their own advantages and disadvantages.
The single magnification eyepieces offer superior clarity and sharpness but the zooming ones mean you don’t have to keep switching eyepieces.
Which one is better is a personal choice you have to make.
Spotting scopes are heavier than binoculars. Their weight is usually given in grams (g). for comparison, 480 grams is equivalent to 16.9 ounces, or a little over one pound.
Most spotting scopes weigh between 1500-1900 grams, 3.3 to 4.2 pounds. Holding it with one hand is going to be difficult.
For most spotting uses you’re going to need a tripod. If you’re hunting this is essential so you can keep both hands on your rifle.
Find the animal in the spotting scope with its great reach and clarity, then sight in with the telescopic sight on your rifle, and pull the trigger.
Venison stew at your house!
Which Spotting Scope Is Best?
If all this has whet your whistle for a spotting scope of your own, head on over to Stealthy Ninjas where they review all the latest and greatest scopes.
They will give you a full rundown on all the features, sizes, magnifications, and attachments of the different spotting scopes.