Top spotting scopes reviewed – Buying guide & Comparison for 2018
If you don’t have the time to go through a large number of spotting scope reviews and are only after a quick suggestion for a competent product, then the following short paragraph should fill you in. For a good quality spotting scope look no further than the Vortex Optics Viper HD. This item is well appreciated for its high-quality lens that offers clear images even at a 60x magnification factor. All the optics it uses are multi-coated for superior brightness with the least possible amount of light reflection. It can also be mounted on a tripod lower than other similar models, offering better stability in windy conditions and a greater level of comfort for the operator. If The Viper HD doesn’t fit your budget, then a more affordable alternative would be the Vanguard Endeavor XF.
How to choose the right spotting scope
Spotting scopes are the biggest sporting optics you can regularly find and are generally used for large distance viewing in a variety of applications such as hunting, target shooting or stargazing. Choosing a good spotting scope for your purpose requires that you know a couple of things about this item’s specifications, what each of these means and how they translate to real-life applications.
Objective size and magnification
Arguably the most important measurements with any type of optics, the size of the objective and degree of magnification are featured together, generally following the products name. In case it needs clarifying the magnification refers to how much closer or larger the image will appear, for example, a 60x scope will “enlarge” objects in your field of view 60 times.
Generally for a spotting scope, the bigger this figure is, the better since image shaking at higher degrees of magnification won’t be an issue with the optics mounted on a tripod. However, this also negatively impacts the unit’s size, with more powerful pieces being larger. This is because high magnification requires a lot of light, and a larger diameter objective lens will allow more of it through.
60×80, for example, will offer plenty of brightness, since an 80 mm lens is plenty for 60x magnification, but a 60×60 unit won’t do such a good job in low-light conditions. Brightness will also be factored by things like glass quality and the type of coating the lens receives, both of which affecting image clarity as well.
Brightness and coating
Glass is naturally reflective, meaning a certain percentage of the light received will go back into the atmosphere instead of hitting your eye, thus making the image appear dimmer. To circumvent this, manufacturers employ a special type of magnesium fluoride coating on one or more of the scope’s glass surfaces.
Depending on price and quality, optics can be “coated” — meaning one or more surfaces received a single layer of magnesium fluoride — “fully coated” — when all the glass bits have been treated — “multicoated” — when multiple layers had been applied on at least one surface — and “fully multi-coated” — meaning all the optics received multiple layers of magnesium fluoride.
The prism system
Naturally, an image seen through a scope will appear upside down and mirrored. That’s why a prism is used to correct it, which in a spotting scope is either roof mounted or follows the Porro system. The Porro is considered to give the best overall image quality for a relatively low price. It also allows for a wider field of view, but due to its construction, the scope using it won’t be streamlined.
This will make it harder to carry around and is seen as an important enough downside for another system be used in some models. Mounting the prism on a roof will allow for the scope to be shaped as a continuous tube, but you will have to pay extra if you want a similar level of performance to the Porro and your field of view will always be narrower.
The glass used for the prism also impacts image quality, and it is acknowledged that the best you can get at this time is BAK4, with other options performing noticeably poorer.
Field of view
While a pretty self-explanatory concept, a few things can still be said about the field of view. This refers to how much of the image you will be able to see through the scope’s optics and is measured either in units of length for a set distance or as an angle.
A larger field of view is primarily important for viewing fast moving objects, that might otherwise leave your sight too quickly, so make sure to consider this spec when looking for a good birding spotting scope from what’s available for sale.
A basic rule of optics states that field of view decreases with magnification, so a powerful scope won’t let you see much of the horizon unless its optics are designed a certain way. This is further circumvented by allowing for multiple degrees of magnification for a single unit, so you can zoom out of objects when they take too much of the image you’re seeing.
This denotes the distance at which your eye can stand away from the optics piece and have the image still appear in focus. It is important as it affects user comfort when scoping for any considerable amount of time but is primarily something that glass wearer should take note off.
Most standard sized spectacles sit at around 20 mm away from your eyes, so the piece should allow for at least that for the image to appear clear to the wearer. The vast majority of models will have an eye relief
bigger than that, but a cheap spotting scope might still give you unpleasant surprises.
This is primarily an issue covered by reviews of hunting spotting scopes, so if you only intend to use the unit from inside the house or car feel free to ignore it. A good hunting spotting scope should be waterproof to handle the rain and also fog proof so that the lenses don’t become blurry on the inside from air condensing.
This is usually handled by introducing pressure gas inside the housing so no oxygen from the atmosphere might get through. Note that gaps might still appear if the unit is handled poorly in which case the fog proofing will cease to work.
It is also important for outdoorsmen that the scope will be able to handle the rough and tumble associated with walking through nature. Some spotting scopes feature rubber inserts to offer protection in case these get dropped or hit on rocks.
Size can also factor in when it comes to safety as more portable units will naturally be easier to handle and less prone to accidents when not on their tripods. Spotting scopes can come somewhat small, with as little as 35x in maximum magnification, with a minimum as low as 8x, which places them in the same range as some monoculars. You might not even need a tripod when these values are concerned, as long as your hands are steady enough to use it properly.
Types of spotting scopes
The biggest point of distinction that is unique for this category of optics comes from its shape, namely the angle that the eyepiece forms with the main body. This breaks them into straight scopes, where you have a relatively continuous line, and angled ones, where the eyepiece is mounted at around 45 degrees of the objective.
The prism system used will also account for the shape of the casing. Porros can be said to have two volumes, which are slightly off from one another, while roof-mounted prism can allow for a continuous line.
There’s also the size to consider, with the smallest spotting scopes coming in at 40×40 objective lens diameter. These units can even be used without a tripod, rested on a knee or a rock. The largest ones are similar to small telescopes in size and performance, the difference being that the image is corrected via a prism.
Our 2018 list: Find the right spotting scope for your needs
Best spotting scope under 1000
Vortex Viper HD
If your budget stops at 1 grand then it would be hard to find a better option out there than the Viper HD from Vortex. This is an all-around good spotting scope that offers all the functionality and durability you will require for basically any task.
The zooming range goes from 20x to 60x meaning you can use it to effectively watch both relatively nearby objects, such as small birds and animals and far away ones, like you would do when admiring a natural vista.
You should get plenty of light and clarity from an 80mm objective lens, coated with magnesium fluoride to prevent reflection and glare. The prism features a multi-layered phase coating, which would make this a very effective unit during dusk or nighttime conditions.
It comes with the regular waterproofing, fog proofing, and reinforced frame to handle the vicissitudes of outdoor use, but it also features a universal Picatinny rail which will make it adaptable to virtually any tripod, including shorter ones for use while prone.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($727.89)
Best spotting scope under 500
Vanguard Endeavor XF 80A
Specifications-wise this mid-to-high priced unit doesn’t look all that different to top of the range models, although you shouldn’t expect it to offer the best image quality possible.
It’s sized at 20-60×80, which should cover most outdoors and target range uses, including bird watching, hunting, sightseeing, and intermediate caliber bench shooting. The first number refers to the minimum magnification, in which case your field of view will be 110 ft at 1000 yards, which might not beat the best marine binoculars but it’s plenty for your purposes.
This item uses a roof prism, made of quality BAK4 glass and phase multi-coated to prevent glare. All the optics in this fully multi-coated piece have received the same treatment, which will make it very good in low-light conditions and assure for a clear image, with no borders.
It’s been claimed to be fully submersible and armored for outdoor use, while the inside has been filled with high-pressure Nitrogen to prevent fogging.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($310.99)
Best spotting scope under 300
Celestron 52257 Ultima 100
Celestron is widely considered as your best bet for relatively affordable optics equipment and judging by the response received from satisfied customers, the Ultima 100 holds well to that fame.
Where the best optics quality isn’t available, manufacturers generally go for a bigger lens to supplement a lacking in brightness and/or clarity, and this straight Celestron model employs a whopping 100 mm objective, that has also received multiple layers of magnesium fluoride coating to allow even more light through.
The zoom is adaptable from 22 to 66x which should provide plenty of versatility for both urban and outdoor use, although some customers noted that this unit is a bit too cumbersome to carry around while long-distance hiking.
Another thing that displeased some customers is the rapid drop in image clarity at higher magnifications, but then again this was to be expected for the price range and the majority of reviews still remain positive, citing the very good image quality at low zoom levels, among other things.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($299.95)
Best spotting scope under 200
Meade Instruments 126001
This item is primarily intended for outdoor use, by hunters, bird watchers, and other nature enthusiasts. Consequently, it features a reinforced body while it’s also water and fog proof, with Nitrogen gas injected into its casing to drive the air out.
However, many of its users noted that the image clarity is good enough to tell low caliber holes on white paper at more than 100 yards and .308s at up to 500 yards on the range. This additional capability and overall good quality should make it very good value for the optics enthusiast on a budget.
Otherwise, it’s sized at 20-60×80 and it features a roof-mounted BAK4 glass prism on an angular design, with the eyepiece at around 45 degrees off from the main body. The objective lens has been multi-coated to allow for more light through and to reduce glare, which should give it good performance at dusk or early morning.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($159)
Best spotting scope under 100
Gskyer might not be a name a lot of American consumers are familiar with, but this product earned quite a deal of confidence from its buyers.
Its objective lens diameter is only 60 mm wide, so it might not be the best performer in low light at high magnification levels, but it supplements this by being noticeably lighter than what outdoor spotting scope users are generally accustomed to.
It also comes with its own adjustable tripod, which should make it a good first buy for uninitiated customers who don’t want to bother with finding a good piece to go with it. You’ll also get lens caps for the eyepiece and the objective, as well as a carrying bag and cleaning cloth.
The manufacturer doesn’t specify if this is water and fog proof or not, which leads us to believe that it isn’t, but some reviewers found its hard plastic frame surprisingly sturdy.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($57.99)
Best affordable spotting scope
In the same price range as the Gskyer, this slightly smaller model comes with all the features you will need for outdoor use, together with a digiscoping adapter for a smartphone. This will allow you to take pictures with your phone without adding any additional gear to keep it in place, and it’s a nice bit of functionality for contemporary times.
The zoom only goes from 15 to 45 degrees of magnification, but this will be very easy to use thanks to a dynamic focusing system that will remove the need for you to make the necessary adjustments. At 60 mm, the objective should be big enough for use in low light condition, and this item is additionally fully multi-coated.
Very tough, especially for its price range, the casing is made out of a magnesium alloy with additional rubber inserts while O-rings provide waterproofing and a Nitrogen environment will keep its lens from getting foggy during cool mornings.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($188)
Best spotting scope for hunting
Bushnell Trophy Xtreme
You don’t always want to carry around the biggest optics with you while hunting and this Bushnell Trophy meets just that demand by keeping itself compact, durable and easy to use without a tripod.
At only 12x magnification, the minimum zoom for this unit isn’t all that greater than that of hunting binoculars, which means the image will be easy to keep from shaking without the use of a stand. With the maximum setting of 36x, you will be able to get a clear view of far away game.
Naturally, this piece is reinforced with rubber armor, and it’s 100% waterproof and fog proof for use in the wild. It is also accompanied by some nice accessories, like a window-adaptable tripod and a hard case.
This will make it seem like a steal at the very affordable price it comes at, and this was made possible by the use of a Porro prism system, which also gives better image quality and a wider field of view (150 ft at 1000 yds for 15x zoom).
Buy from Amazon.com for ($108.31)
Best birding spotting scope
Orion 52205 GrandView
Another compact unit that’s low power enough to be operated free-hand, this Orion might offer great service for the bird enthusiast out there as it can be adjusted for three zooming ranges instead of the more usual two.
32x power is considered ideal for long-distance birding due to the magnification and field of view it allows, but this model can go as low as 16x for scanning the surroundings and a 48x for some close in shots at distant birds.
A 65 mm multi-coated objective lens will let plenty of light through for it to be used in the dusk even with higher magnifications. Judging by its shape, it likely uses a Porro prism, which makes for a good field of view to keep track of fast-moving objects.
It’s most definitely built for the outdoors, with a rubber armored body and adequate waterproofing for rainy weather.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($104.09)
Best compact spotting scope
Sometimes confined spaces such as cars require the use of a snub-nosed spotting scope. This fat-looking Visionking piece delivers just that, with a short body but a sizeable enough objective to allow for up to 75x magnification.
True, a 70mm lens probably won’t allow for a very bright image at this value, even if this piece is fully multi-coated with layers upon layers of Magnesium fluoride, but you can always use it at the minimum level of 25x in poor light conditions.
Otherwise, it’s been reported that this reasonably priced unit allows for a surprisingly clear, crisp image, good enough to be used on the range keeping track of .233 shots in excess of 100 yards away.
The build quality appears good, with high-transparency BAK4 glass being used for the prism and its body reinforced for outdoor use. The inside of its ocular is filled with Nitrogen to prevent fogging in cool weather and O-rings were used for waterproofing.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($149.99)
Best lightweight spotting scope
Enkeeo 8×30 Monocular Scope
Your best lightweight, easy to carry and easy to use “spotting scope” can only be a monocular, since if those are the characteristics you’re after, you can only be looking at this class of items.
Despite the classification, this nice all-around optic from Enkeeno comes with its own small tripod, which should make it substantially easier to use with a camera or by distal neuropathy sufferers.
The 30 mm objective should provide plenty of light for 8x of magnification power, but even so, its optics have been fully multi-coated. The use of a roof-mounted prism makes this item remarkably streamlined and comfortable to fit in hand, with no significant impact on the field of view.
Thanks to a large, 26 mm eyepiece lens, this measures at around 190 yds for 1000 yds, which will make this a very good piece for bird watching, especially as it’s also water resistant.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($49.99)
Best Vortex spotting scope
Vortex Optics RZR-50A1 Razor HD
Vortex’s flagship product for the 11-33×50 size boasts that it can offer a near-perfect clarity for the entire field of view, with no color fringing or loss in resolution towards the edges. Judging by the good reception it got, we can only conclude that it achieves as promised.
It does so by using a sophisticated triplet apochromatic lens system with some remarkable light transmitting properties, which keeps the image crisp and in natural color.
It only received positive reviews for the clarity it provides, even at the 33x maximum zoom, and some users particularly noted the good color fidelity, which allowed them to easier make out details on bird plumage and game as far as 1000 yards away!
Thanks to its small size, of only 4.2 pounds for 14.5 inches in length, this item is also remarkably portable and can conceivably be used free-hand at the minimum magnification level.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($699)
Spotting scope accessories
Most reviews of spotting scopes you’ll find stress the importance of compatibility between the optical device and various accessories. Most models can’t be practical without a good tripod, for example, and when this proves too cumbersome there are other ways to properly fix the scope in place. We’ve looked at these and more, and featured some of the better ones below.
Best spotting scope tripod
Vortex RS-85A Razor HD w/ Pro GT Tripod Kit
It’s sometimes hard to pair up a spotting scope with the right tripod, as various compatibility issues might arise if not accounting for the particular shape of the optical device. Straight scopes tend to require taller mounts while in the case of angled ones, the user is expected to lean forward, so a shorter tripod will be needed.
This spotter and tripod kit does away with all that by delivering a high-end scope with the right tripod, chosen by the specialists at Vortex to go well with it.
The optics device is a Vortex RS-85A from their Razor HD series, highly similar to the RZR 50A1 covered elsewhere in this guide, only with an 85 mm objective lens, which allows 27x and 60x zoom in full brightness and crystal clarity.
The Pro GT Tripod has a sturdy design and a 3-way pan head, that allows for smooth adjustment in both axes.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($1748)
Best monocular pocket scope
Roxant High Definition Mini
A spotting scope isn’t really suited for taking quick glances at relatively nearby objects, and you might need to do that when spotting a rare bird on a tree nearby or similar circumstances. That’s why many outdoorsmen prefer to pair up their powerful scope with smaller, portable optics that are always in reach.
This Roxant pocket-sized monocular will prove perfect for that since it offers 7x of magnification at a price that won’t make you feel like you’ve wasted your money on what is essentially an auxiliary unit.
At only 2-3 ounces in weight, this will be exceptionally easy to use, even with one hand, especially as its rubber surface allows for good grip, even when sweaty or wearing gloves.
Furthermore, its lenses are multi-coated to allow for better light transmission and the 18 mm objective should provide an adequate level of brightness for nature watching while still allowing the unit to fit a vest pocket.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($24.95)
Top car mounting device
Alpen Optics AB703
This is basically a mounting device that allows for the spotting scope to be propped up against your car window. It works by attaching to the glass of a partially closed car window by its little padded vice, which only needs around 2-inches of diameter to get a good hold, so the window can be nearly closed.
A small mount holds to the scope at the other end. This should be compatible with any commercially available model (we didn’t come through any comments accusing compatibility issues in any of the feedback we’ve gone through, at least).
It doesn’t have any weight restriction — although some common sense is advisable considering the surface you’ll be attaching it to — and its tough all-metal body should allow for years of effective service.
Besides the good reviews it got, the fact that the manufacturer offers a lifetime warranty for this product should serve as a further indication of its reliability.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($20.72)
Top clamp assembly mount
If a car mount is designed to be exclusively used on a car window, this UltraClamp device should provide you with a way wider range of options. It has an adjustable screw vice that can take hold of virtually any round or flat hard surface that is up to 4 inches thick.
This can be a tree branch, a plank of wood, or even one of the flat surfaces on your truck; the possibilities are only limited by the user’s ingeniosity and the basic rules of physics.
Its mounting port is compatible with ¼-20 tripod screw devices, and the manufacturer places maximum weight allowance at 6 pounds, but this really depends more on how secure a grip you can get on the surface.
The mounting bracket that connects to the scope or camera is adjustable on all axis, so you won’t have to use the securing clamp to work out proper tilt or elevation.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($40.14)
Top cell phone adapter mount
This lightweight device provides you with a convenient way of securing your scope to a camera phone, so you can take long distance photos with little hassle. Since it uses an adjustable clamp to get a hold of the phone, it works with any mobile device that falls between the ranges of 52 and 100 mm in width.
This includes all the iPhone 6s, Samsung Galaxy and Note models, all Sonys and Sony Xperia versions and a whole slew of less popular brands. As per the eyepiece, the small vice used for holding it in place can open to accommodate 25 mm to 48 mm units, so you will get quite a deal of range.
Both the outfaces that connect to the phone and eyepiece are covered in soft padding to prevent scratches while the framing itself is made out of aluminum, to keep it light and painted black to keep it rust free.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($39.99)
Top spotting scope brands
The American manufacturer offers a wide range of sporting optics, including a high variety of spotting scopes, which go in size from the small and adaptable Diamondback to the powerful Viper HD series.
A similar variety can be found in regards to price where Vortex really offers something for all pockets, with the only unifying factor being that their products are usually seen as better value than those of competing brands.
This is achieved by a high degree of familiarity that the people working at Vortex can be said to enjoy with the outdoors since most of them are hunters and nature lovers.
Bushnell has achieved legendary status in the field of optics with their series of sporting and tactical rifle scopes. The nearly century-old brand has been getting into spotters for hunters and bird watchers lately, with fairly good results.
Their Elite series is well-regarded for offering great quality for the money while the level of image clarity achieved with the Trophy series puts them among the go-to premium brands in the field.
With the full force of their name behind them, Bushnell might very well achieve the same success in the sports scope market as they enjoy everywhere else.
Barska might not enjoy the same level of fame as other manufacturers out there, but they make up for it with a good range of affordable products, which quickly came to be preferred by beginners working on a tight budget.
This is not everything that Barska offers, however, since their range of optics covers everything under the sun, from binoculars to microscopes. Even their premium, high-performing models tend to be more affordable than the competition, and these are worth a look if you desire high specks for a good price.
The Californian manufacturer grew huge since its 1950s inception and produces every piece of optics one can think of. Like any big company, it’s got quite a sizeable research budget, and it’s well known for constant innovation, especially for their top of the range products.
However, good value is where Celestron shines, since a high production figure allows it to offer the same quality at lower prices than most manufacturers. If you want something affordable that works just as well, or better, than a mid-range product, then there might not be a better pick than a Celestron.
Many-a-reader might ask “who?” upon seeing the name at the top of this paragraph, and this would be understandable, as the company has only been around since 1999. However, they do aim high, and mostly towards the market for affordable sporting optics, spotting scopes included.
Their products are especially good for beginners who want to familiarize with how a spotting scope is used before making their own demands out of a product. They also make great pieces for occasional users, for whom buying something more expensive wouldn’t be justified by the amount of use they expect out of it.
We doubt there are any readers out there who haven’t heard of the Japanese optics manufacturer or haven’t used one of their products at one time or another. While they do offer some premium models, especially in the camera department, they’re mostly seen as a solid contender for the middle of the range bracket when it comes to quality.
Their most popular line of spotting scopes makes no difference, by offering good performance for prices that just keep them out of the high end, especially for a Japanese import. They are also appreciated for designing highly task-specific scopes intended to accurately fit any need.
From hard cases and optics cleaning kits to full-sized spotting scopes, the American manufacturer aims at covering all equipment demands a nature enthusiast or sports fan might have. They’ve been doing this for quite a while and fairly competently, as Vanguard products tend to be well received both domestically and internationally.
Their Endeavor series of spotting scopes covers multiple apparatus sizes, from 65 to 80 mm and they all feature an angled body with a Porro prism design to keep them affordable without making any sacrifices in regards to image quality. This might not be such a feature-rich series, but it’s still well-appreciated for offering good quality for a mid-range price.
With a history in the field stretching over five decades, Meade Instruments is primarily known as a manufacturer and supplier of refractive lens telescopes and accessories. They’ve been going into outdoors binoculars and spotting scopes lately, and it seems that all the experience acquired manufacturing similar optics has done them good.
They don’t yet sell a wide range of products in this regard, with their Wilderness series filling only the middle section when it comes to price and the upper one in regards to size, but they do offer something that most manufacturers don’t: a 100 mm objective lens for their largest model.
When it comes to sheer optics quality, there is hard to beat the German manufacturer. They are known throughout for their high-end cameras, and their line of spotting scopes doesn’t hold back either.
Their APO-Televid simply dazzles reviewers by offering a level of clarity, contrast, and brightness for the full range of view and in all weather conditions that many of them did not think possible with today’s technology.
Almost all members of the series sport high tech features like rangefinders as well, but most hunters will find their prices to be more than prohibitive.
Frequently asked questions about spotting scopes
Can you use a spotting scope for astronomy?
You can, and this is even one of the uses they are advertised for. However, don’t expect to get results as good as what you would with a telescope. First, there will always be a higher degree of color falsification when viewing through a spotting scope because of the prisms slightly distorting the light, and this will give you poorer images of stars.
Second, the scope won’t have the added convenience features you’ll find in a telescope for watching the night sky. Other than that, they work well for viewing the solar system or distant dim objects like nebulae.
What spotting scopes does the military use?
Both Army and Marine units are issued with compact Leupold Mk4 spotting scopes. Its main quality is high magnification power achieved with a remarkably compact design of only 12.4 inches in length and 37 ounces in weight. It achieves this by using a Newtonian-reflector design which makes the light follow a Z path inside the apparatus.
Otherwise, it is as rugged as the best civilian spotting scopes, with a reinforced frame, a sealed body that allows it to be submerged and a Nitrogen treatment that keeps its lens from fogging.
What is a spotting scope used for?
A spotting scope is mainly used for long-distance viewing, at ranges where a binocular just wouldn’t do. This is because of its high magnification power, that starts right where that of a powerful binocular ends (around 20x) and can go in excess of 60x.
This opens it up to many wildlife-oriented applications, like bird spotting and long distance hunting, where is well appreciated as a static, long-range observation piece. Its common uses also include bench shooting, for seeing where the bullets have landed on a target, or stargazing, in which it can match a weak telescope for viewing the solar system.
Why get a spotting scope instead of a binocular?
The main reason has been highlighted above, namely that it allows for a significantly higher degree of magnification so you can effectively look at objects further away. Besides that, it also allows for a far greater range of distances at which you will be able to accurately see, as most modern spotting scopes feature two or more zooming powers.
This means that you can set the device to magnify to a smaller extent, say like 12x or 20x for objects that are basically in the powerful binoculars range, but it can also be set for values like 40x or 60x to effectively see at up to 1000 yards.
How to mount a spotting scope on a tripod?
First, you should properly set the tripod on a level surface. Extend or tighten the tripod legs one or two at a time to achieve the desired height. You do this by first pulling out the lock lever, setting the leg to the desired position and then closing the lock lever back up.
For connecting the optics, you need to remove the cap covering a threaded hole in your scope. This should fit with an appropriate screw on the tripod or on an adapter mount already placed on the tripod (usually by sliding it in place). You then screw it into place and make the necessary adjustments by working the dials on the tripod/adapter.
Is a spotting scope with a built-in camera better?
A built-in camera spotting scope does offer some advantages over a camera and scope setup. First, it is naturally easier to keep stable around the pivoting point of the tripod (assuming that one is present). Second, it’s substantially more rugged over the long run, because lacking a connector it has fewer points of failure.
Furthermore, the fit between the eyepiece and the connector on a traditional set-up won’t be 100% perfect all the time, as padding material is often used to prevent damage between the two and this has a natural give. The clearest disadvantage the built-in camera scope suffers from is in limiting your choice of recording devices.
Angled or straight spotting scopes
On a spotting scope, the eyepiece will either be placed in a straight line with the main body, or it will be off, generally at 45 degrees from the actual viewing direction. Both layouts offer their advantages and disadvantages.
It’s obvious that it will feel much natural to have your head tilted towards the direction that you are seeing and this will help you make easier sense of your surroundings, which is especially important while hunting.
So the situational awareness “round” goes to the straight scope, but it’s advantages don’t stop here as this is also considered to be the better layout to use for a comfortable prone viewing position.
However, when mounted on a tall tripod, like those used for admiring vistas or the stars, but also for most bird watching, plane watching and any other type of idle viewing experience, the angle design gets ahead.
This is in part because a lot of affordable tripods won’t really get so tall to allow a normal sized man to use a straight scope without squatting. Therefore, an angled eyepiece will help you cut on the total cost of the setup by freeing you to buy a cheaper tripod, that will also offer better stability for your expensive scope by keeping it close to the ground.
The advantages of this setup are quite evident when there is more than one viewer involved. And that’s because the tripod won’t need to be adjusted for each, and it will also make it easier to look at objects that are placed at a higher level than the operator. It will only have to be tilted a little to achieve this endeavor while its straight counterpart will have you uncomfortably lowering your head.
So in short, straight scopes are better at looking at objects near the horizon line or even slightly down, while angled models should make it easier to study the sky or share a tripod with your friends.
Things you should know about digiscoping
For those unfamiliar with the term, digiscoping is the practice of attaching a digital camera to a scope in order to take still pictures or film objects that are far away. The camera used can be anything from the one that comes with a smartphone to a semi-professional DSLR and the scope for the task will generally be angled since this setup allows for better pivoting on the vertical axis.
The angle between the camera and the scope must be near-perfect to achieve the best results, and a number of manufacturers offer specialized adapters to facilitate the connection between the two. Nonetheless, if you feel dexterous enough, you could conceivably fit the camera objective to the eyepiece by hand, like the earlier practitioners where doing way back in the early 2000s.
While the practice has been pioneered by bird watchers and other nature enthusiasts, pretty much anyone using a scope engages in it today, from hunters that want a clear picture of their future trophy to aerospace enthusiasts looking for spectacular shots of the latest and greatest in military technology.
If you happen to belong to a bird watchers club that doesn’t function on the honor system alone, than digiscoping should be something to look into for getting both evidence of your latest find, and a remarkable piece of photography to add to your collection.
The first thing to consider when starting to take photos through your scope is that this shouldn’t be any different than other photographic practices. Meaning that digiscoping follows pretty much the same rules of aesthetics as regular photography, so adjust your contrast, lightning and set up your composition accordingly, without seeing the powerful scope in front of your camera as an excuse to slack off.
It needs to be said, however, that digiscoping does present you with an added level of difficulty, so you’ll probably need to take more photos than usual to see some good results. So make sure to “stock up” on camera memory and batteries, and consider some measures that will make your photos take up less space on the card.
You can decrease resolution, use a simple format like JPG instead of a TIFF and even decrease the ISO, which might make your photos noisier but will also make them smaller and will let you take more of them in quick succession.
From all possible measures to take, this last one is clearly the most extreme, especially if you appreciate high contrast, true whites, and true blacks, but it might just land you the right shot of a fast flying bird when otherwise your shutter would have been too lazy.
Centering your object, or even getting a straight angle isn’t as important these days as it used to be since you can simply crop your pictures in an editing program to make them look good. This doesn’t mean that a well-leveled tripod isn’t important for digiscoping, however, as it will affect the stability of your setup.
You don’t need us two tell you that two objects are heavier than one, so please take all necessary measures for the tripod to be stable, much more so than you normally would.