A spotting scope is simply a powerful optic used alongside your traditional rifle-mounted optic. They are usually mounted to a base or short tripod. They typically range in power from 60x or more. Traditional rifle-mounted scopes are generally less than 20x. They are often less than 15x.
In a hurry? Don't have time for the details? Check out our best picks for Spotting Scopes:
1. Vortex Optics Viper HD
2. Athlon Optics Ares
3. Vortex Optics Diamondback
4. Vanguard Endeavor
5. Bushnell Trophy XLT
6. Meade Instruments Wilderness
7. Barska 90x90 Colorado
8. Bushnell Sentry
9. Celestron C70 Mini Mak
10. Barska 60x60 Colorado
A spotting scope allow you to get a better view of your target. They also often have a reticle that doubles as an optical rangefinder. Be careful in your selection. Spotting scopes for birding or other peaceful pursuits may not have a reticle at all. Hunters and sport shooters need a reticle.
If you want a spotting scope for digiscoping, you don't need a reticle. Digiscoping is where you use the scope as a makeshift magnifier for your camera.
Spotting scopes are often more powerful than binoculars. At its core, a spotting scope is a telescope that can be used in daylight. Spotting scopes are not as powerful as binoculars. But, they are far more powerful than most other magnifying optics used in daylight.
- Spotting Scope Considerations - How To Choose
- Best Spotting Scope Comparison Table 2020
- Top 10 Best Spotting Scopes Best Scope For 6.5 Creedmoor
- Spotting Scopes Under $1000
- Spotting Scopes Under $500
- Spotting Scopes Under $300
- Spotting Scopes Under $200
- Spotting Scopes Under $100
- Spotting Scope Tips
Spotting Scope Considerations - How To Choose
All spotting scopes will have a notation like 20x60mm or 18-45x60mm. For these products the numbers before the x are most important. They denote the magnification of the scope.
If that first digit is a single number, you have a fixed power scope. A hyphenated number like 18-45 indicates a variable power scope. In general you will want a variable scope. It is more versatile.
When determining your maximum power needs, you will have to know the intended use. For target shooting, the more power the better. For simple scanning purposed, a lower powered scope may be better. I prefer something in the 25x or 30x range for deer hunting.
Your best bet is a variable power scope that has low-end magnification. You can use these to scan. Then just dial up the magnification to get a better look.
The number after the x in 20x60mm represents the size of the objective lens. The larger the lens, the more light can enter the scope. A larger objective lens will work better in low-light conditions.
Large objective lenses will also have a large field of view. Field of view allows you to see a wide image. No matter the purpose, a large field of view is best.
You will generally want a large lens. Still, the quality of that lens will be crucial as well.
There are four types of lens coatings available on spotting scopes. The idea behind the coating is to prevent glare. This increases the light gathering ability of a scope. The highest end scopes allow you to see better in low-light than you can with the naked eye.
The four types of coating are: Coated, Fully Coated, Multi-Coated, Fully Multi-Coated. As these categories progress, the price increases. But the quality of the lens gets better too. You should try for at least a coated lens as long as it is in your budget.
You may find more affordable brands claiming to offer multi-coated lenses. Beware of this tactic. They typically use this tactic to cover up otherwise shoddy optics. Stay away from a cheap scope with a multi-coated optic.
Straight or Angled Scope
There are two spotting scope body styles available. They differ by changing the orientation of the eyepiece. The body style you choose is a very important decision. It will govern the versatility of the scope.
A straight scope is a great handheld option. But using it from a shooting bench may be difficult. A straight scope is still a much better handheld option than an angled scope. Straight scope on a bench or angle scope as a handheld can both cause neck strain.
If you plan to use your spotting scope as a rangefinder, a good reticle was historically necessary. It allows you to accurately measure your shot. Reticles are used by military snipers.
The rise in advanced technology has changed the reticle's role. Many long-range shooters now opt for growth or laser rangefinder technology. Unless you need a spotting scope for target shooting, a reticle may just be visual clutter.
If you do use a reticle, learning to read it will be a time-consuming endeavor. Make sure to do your research. Plus, always practice at smaller distances with objects with a known height.
Eye relief measures distance. It tells you how far you can hold your eye away from the eyepiece and still get the full field of view. Eye relief of less than 15mm is too short. It can make it hard to get your head in the right position. If you wear glasses, don't even try a product with eye relief of 15mm or less.
Some spotting scopes are quite an investment. The best scopes tend to cost well over a thousand dollars. Scopes of this level are worth the money. You just need to make sure an protect your investment.
Most scopes have some sort of rubber coating to weatherproof them somewhat. The rubber coating also protects them from any rough treatment they may get in the field. If the scope you are looking at lacks weatherproofing, move on.
A well-made scope with good weather protection can last multiple lifetimes. You don't want to risk not having this durability feature.
Best Spotting Scope Comparison Table 2020
Water and Fog Proof
Water and Fog Proof
Water and Fog Proof
Water and Fog Proof
Water and Fog Proof
Water and Fog Proof
Water and Fog Proof
Top 10 Best Spotting Scopes Best Scope For 6.5 Creedmoor
Vortex Optics Viper HD
Vortex is a current leader in the optics market. Their best product for spotting scopes is the Viper. For the money, nothing beats this scope. Even scopes that cost far more than the Viper fail to meet the same standards.
Vortex uses their own proprietary lens coatings on the Viper. The coatings go on their outstanding glass. So you will receive the clearest images available in a spotting scope under 1000 bucks. Vortex couples their clarity with prism technology. The sizable objective lens in addition to the prism technology creates one of the brightest scopes on the market. You will even be able to see in low light and twilight.
This isn’t exactly a light and portable scope. It is field-ready. It has a nitrogen purged interior that keeps weather and fog out. The exterior is clad in a rubberized armor that minimizes damage. For super long shots try the Viper. Vortex has designed it for 1000 yards or more. If you are looking for a scope for long range shooting, this is it. No matter the distance, you will see clearly.
Athlon Optics, Ares, Spotting Scope
Athlon has become quite the respected name in the optics world. Although you may never have heard of them. Much like Vortex Athlon have wonderful glass. The glass really should cost hundreds more than it does. They offer a very wide range of high-quality optics at unbelievably reasonable.
The glass in the Ares is simply amazing. When you couple it with the high-end prism, you get the best images around. There isn't even a power sacrifice. The multi-coating and large objective lens deliver great image quality. It will look almost like a photograph. For the money you aren’t going to get a better scope.
If you are looking for a quality long-range spotting scope with a price that you can live with, consider the Ares. Much like the Viper, the Ares has everything you could want in a spotting scope. This scope is lighter than the Viper. It has all the protection it should need to work hard in the field. So, it should last multiple lifetimes with a little care.
Spotting Scopes Under $500
Vortex Optics Diamondback Spotting Scopes
I told you that Vortex was making waves. It shouldn't come as a surprise then that we have listed another product by the brand. Vortex gives you the most for your money. Much like their Viper, the Diamondback is the leader in the $500 range.
Many of the features found on the Viper can be found on the Diamondback. The amazing prism technology is back. It is combined with fully multi-coated glass. This gives you a great image without wash-out or glare. The large objective lens keeps things crisp and bright. In a scope at this price, the image quality is unbelievable.
This is also a scope that you can take anywhere. It is more portable than the Viper because of its lighter weight and smaller size. No doubt the Diamondback is a very affordable spotting scope. You won't need to replace it in your lifetime. I own a variety of Vortex optics and have had no issues with any of them.
The Diamondback is a good scope for target shooting. And, it is my favorite spotting scope for hunting, especially in bad weather.
Vanguard Endeavor HD 65A Angled Eyepiece Spotting Scope with 15-45x Magnification
Vanguard is an overlooked company. They have actually been making good quality products in the optic market for over 30 years. Their Endeavor HD will work perfectly throughout the world of shooting sports. It is also a great multi-use scope. Don’t be fooled by the low price. This scope competes with the best of the best.
The Endeavor HD does have the power of a Vortex scope. It makes up for that lack with its amazing glass coated with Vanguard's own multi-coat recipe. The objective is large enough to keep the scope bright and images vibrant. Things like sun spotting and glare are hardly an issue. For an inexpensive spotting scope for 300 yard shooting competitions, the Endeavor is the one to try.
I love the styling of the Vanguard. It looks tactical enough to keep me happy, but still fits into outdoor sports. It is rugged and fully weatherproofed. While it may not be as tough as the Vortex optics, it will still hold up quite well.
Spotting Scopes Under $300
Bushnell Trophy XLT 20-60 x 65mm Waterproof Compact Tripod Spotting Scope
Any reviews of spotting scopes for hunting will mention Bushnell at least once. The hunting forums will be the same. Bushnell has never been known as an industry best. But it is their solid products and price that sets them apart.
The Trophy XLT is a very rugged scope. It can take the punishment of bad weather. It is fully weatherproof and nitrogen purged from the factory. It will resist fog with ease. The large objective lens allows you to pick out any target.
If you need a spotting scope under 300 bucks, the XLT should be your choice. It may not have everything the high-priced scopes offer, but it is very affordable. This is a very bright scope. The optics are a little prone to glare issues. But the extreme durability will provide you with years of service.
Meade Instruments 126002 Wilderness Spotting Scope
This company has crept into the spotting scope world. Most companies start with lower-powered rifle scopes and then get fancier. Instead, Meade Instruments has made high powered telescopes for years. Now they dialed back the power so we can have a terrestrial scope.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a rugged scope. It will not stand up to a lot of abuse. That said, you won’t find glass anywhere near this good for anything approaching this price. The coated lenses provide amazing light transmission. The huge 100mm objective lens keeps the scope bright on even the worse days.
The 126002 is fully water and fog proof. It holds up well to harsh temperatures. A little care goes a long way towards increasing its versatility. In terms of value for your money, this may be the best scope on this list. If you are into digiscoping or other less demanding sports, check out the 126002.
BARSKA 30-90x90 Waterproof Colorado Spotter Scope
Barska doesn’t have the best reputation in optics. Some of their rifle scopes are probably not even worth their metal. The main issue with Barska is that their optics cannot handle a rifle's recoil. Luckily, a spotting scope doesn’t have to deal with that kind of abuse.
The Colorado lacks high-quality glass. It does have a huge 90mm objective lens to keep the images bright and crisp. You will enjoy plenty of fine detail to pick out your target at a reasonable range. The glass is fully coated, which helps avoid brightness issues. The Colorado will perform better than many other spotting scopes under 200 dollars.
Of course, the main selling point of this scope is its amazing magnification. You won't get close to the magnification with any other brand. You will need to accept some small fogging and durability issues. But, the 90x90 Colorado will get you closer to a target than any scope near this price.
Bushnell Sentry 12-36x50mm 789332 Ultra Compact Spottingx 40mm Green/Waterproof
When you start looking at spotting scopes under $200, you will need to make sacrifices. Most people, including myself, cannot bear to sacrifice durability. You also can't give up quality either. If you do, what's the purpose of having a spotting scope in the first place?
The Bushnell Sentry is a super tough, compact, and rugged spotting scope. It does its job better than any other scope in its price range. The tradeoff is that it’s not as powerful. You are still getting great glass. It is multi-coated and will give you an image that is clear and vibrant at long distances.
For the money, you won't find a scope that has quality armor and are nitrogen purged. The Sentry is even fully fog and weatherproof. If want a scope you can slog take with you everywhere that needs little upkeep, then try the Sentry.
Spotting Scopes Under $100
Celestron 52238 C70 Mini Mak Spotting Scope
So, what is a spotting scope? Basically, it's just a more rugged telescope that is easily transportable. Much like Meade Instruments, Celestron started with high-powered telescopes. Their Mini Mak is really just a telescope with less power.
The Mini Mak will give you great, clear optics at long distances. When I say clear, I mean the coated lenses are super clear. They bring distant objects in focus with no issue. And, the massive objective lens keeps everything crisp and bright. The 75x zoom gets you up close and personal at huge distances.
For a budget spotting scope, you can't do better. The versatility is also amazing. When you are done in the field or at the range, you can wow your kids with a view of the moon. The Mini Mak is not a durable scope. It actually lacks any weatherproofing whatsoever. Still it will get you over a 1000 yards of view distance for a price that is very hard to beat.
BARSKA 20-60x60 Zoom Colorado Spotting Scope (Green Finish)
It doesn't make sense to rehash everything I said about Barska above. All of that still applies. This product is not really a great scope. It is usable and well under $100. For people on a major budget, you can't beat this Barska.
Finding a scope that has fully coated lenses with adequate glass at this price should really be impossible. The glass combines with a 60mm objective lens to allow you to see targets to almost any distance. The Barska doesn't lack power or clarity. This isn’t a Vortex, but it costs a fraction of the amount.
I see a ton of these products at the range. Many have been around for years. If money is tight, Barska does a good job. They aren’t rugged and the weatherproofing is lacking. If you know how to take care of your gear you can get a lot of use out of the scope. Light or occasional use would also be ideal with the Barska.
Spotting Scope Tips
Be Mindful of the Weather
Most spotting scopes are weatherproof or at least weather-resistant. Weather isn’t the only performance concern. Rain will greatly affect visibility at high magnification. If you use your scope on a rainy day, make sure it is in the minimum magnification.
Humidity and heat can have a similar effect. Viewing wavy heat lines through the scope is called the mirage effect. Decrease the power or opt for a less powerful scope. That should solve the issue. Although, some days it's all but impossible to have the best visibility.
Watch the Sun
Sunlight can majorly throw off the view in magnification. It will mostly wash out. But it could also severely damage your vision. Multi-Coated lenses help. They aren’t, however, a universal answer. Don't line up your shot with the sun. Keep yourself at an angle, especially during dawn and dusk.
Keep your Gear Clean
I carry a couple of microfiber towels and several small cleaning cloths with me. Every time I bring the scope out I check it. Don’t store the scope in the case, especially if the case has absorbed moisture. If there are lens covers, use them!
Get a Tripod
Even at low-level zoom, shaking hands can cause problems. Getting a solid, stable tripod will help more than anything. Choose one that is adjustable for rough terrain if you plan on using your scope in the field.
Take a Break
No headache is worse than one cause by too much time spent on a scope. Be sure to look away from time to time. Take extended breaks after prolonged use. Yes, it is hard to remember to take breaks. But they are essential for your health.
A spotting scope excels at getting a clear view of distant objects. You will still need to use other tools like binoculars. Only use the scope when you need a really good view.
Spotting scopes are great. But, how do they compare to other magnification products? The answer really depends on how your intended use and shooting goals. Here are a few comparisons to aid your decision.
Spotting scope vs binoculars
Typically, a spotting scope will have a greater magnification range than binoculars. Binoculars have a range of 8-16x, and a spotting scope will usually range from 15x and up. Some models even reach up to 100x.
If you want to bird watch, a pair of binoculars might be more comfortable. It can be trying to view out of one eye for an extended period of time. However, a scope can be beneficial if you are trying to spot anything at a much greater distance.
A pair of binoculars are preferable for brush or short field hunting. Use a spotting scope for anything over 500 yards out. They are also very useful when trying to spot animals that may be camouflaged in brush, swamp, or logging trails.
Spotting Scope vs Camera
Using a camera to view objects at a great distance can be tricky. In order to effectively use a camera to far away objects, you will likely need comes accessories.
To use a camera for long distance viewing, you definitely need a tripod. This will help keep your camera still and pointed in the correct direction. You would also need a prism. A lens adapter is also essential to make sure the image comes out correctly. If you are taking photos, you might find that the images are grainy and have lost some light.
If you want to spot while hunting a spotting scope is your better bet. It is simple and possible to use a spotting scope for 1000 yards. This range is ideal for hunting as well as viewing.
Spotting scope vs Telescope
You really can't use a telescope as a spotting scope. The magnification of the telescope is much greater. If you try and use a telescope for hunting the view would be blurry and out of focus. You can not view objects close to you through a telescope.
A refractor telescope will also give you the image backwards. A spotting scope produces a static image. You will also view the image as it actually appears.
Also keep in mind the portability. A spotting scope is much more portable and easier to carry. A telescope is larger and more delicate. A spotting scope is designed to be portable. You can easily carry it outdoors. It is made to be more rugged and usually comes in a carry bag.
Spotting Scope vs. Monocular
A monocular is essentially a baby spotting scope. It is an extremely lightweight optic device that provides some magnification. In addition, It is compact and easy to use.
A monocular is capable of use any time. It is good for targeted applications. In fact, a monocular can double as a magnifying glass. There is not a great deal of magnification though. You will have trouble viewing targets without getting close to them.
Monocular is easy to wear around your neck. It is also very portable. However, it might not be very helpful in sighting objects or wildlife. For hunting you would do better to purchase a spotting scope.
Spotting Scope vs Range Finder
Many people believe that spotting scopes and a range finders are useful and can be used together. A range finder works by emitting a laser. The laser measures the distance of the target.A spotting scope can help you locate targets. But a range finder will let you know the exact distance to the target. You would definitely benefit from using both together. Some users even prefer to purchase a good quality range finder, and just borrow a spotting scope.
Can a spotting scope be used for astronomy?
A spotting scope is intended to be used for viewing objects that are closer to earth. You can, however use it for astronomy.
You should be able to use your spotting scope for casual night sky star-gazing. Since the design of spotting scopes and telescopes are similar, you can expect to view planets, stars, and the Moon. This is especially true if you are viewing under ideal night sky conditions.
Can you use a spotting scope as a telescope?
Since there are certain similarities between the two, the short answer is yes. You can use your spotting scope for stargazing. However, you will need to keep a few things in mind.
First, a telescope will have a different eyepiece than a spotting scope. A telescope's eyepiece usually has a 90 degrees to the barrel. This is designed for greater user comfort. A spotting scope has either a straight or 45-degree angle eyepiece. The angle is different because spotting scopes are intended for a different type of viewing.
To compensate for the angle difference, you will need to put the spotting scope on a tall tripod. Tall stands or lowering yourself to the ground will also work.
Can you use a spotting scope without a tripod?
Technically yes, but it is not ideal. A tripod provides eye relief, stability, and better sighting. Some users are hesitant to add the extra weight of a tripod. But, you still should bring one with you.
Today there are options for those who are concerned about the extra weight of a tripod. Some are made out of carbon fiber. These are very lightweight and easy to carry. There are also scopes that can be attached to your rifle with rings. This does provide some stability. It doesn't really fix the weight issue, though, because your rifle will be heavier. Do yourself a favor and invest in a spotting scope tripod.
Can you use a spotting scope for hunting?
The short answer again is yes. It is possible to use a spotting scope while hunting. Some hunters prefer to use them as a back-up to their binoculars. Other hunters prefer to use them as a way of finding targets that are hard to see. You can also use a spotting scope for birding.Spotting scopes are capable of higher magnification levels than binoculars. Begin using your scope with the lowest magnification setting. This will help preserve the field of view. In addition, you will need to transition from using both eyes with binoculars, to using one eye with a spotting scope.
If you are looking for a way to see farther, you need a spotting scope. Most people would benefit from one. Get the best scope you can find and afford. "You get what you pay for" means a lot with spotting scopes.
While the Bushnell will do the job, it doesn't compare to a Vortex or Athlon. If your budget allows for a slightly more expensive scope, do it. However, people on a stricter budget still have the affordable scope options.
If you aren’t a serious spotting scope user, start out with the cheaper scopes. They are great for those just getting into the hobby. I would hesitate to go cheaper than the Bushnell Sentry myself. You may have a different opinion. Our reviews give you the best spotting scope in every price range. So every budget has a scope option!