Can You Use a Telescope as a Spotting Scope? [New February 2021 Update]

Many people take to the outdoors for a visual treat. Whether it be watching birds or searching the stars, many wondering can you use a telescope as a spotting scope or have it the other way around. A spotting scope or telescope are both generally used for viewing faraway objects, but the difference also depends on what setting you can use a spotting scope as a telescope in or vice versa.

Most who have their optical game down pat will know when to use a spotting scope or telescope, but for newer minds, the similarities may seem closer to the differences. These are both devices used frequently in long-distance viewing with both the spotting scope and telescope each having their own individual pros and cons. This article will assist anyone looking to discover which piece of equipment will work the best for them: a spotting scope or telescope.

Disclosure: Sooke Outdoors, as an Amazon Associate, earns commissions on qualified purchases. This informative review article may contain affiliate links. Commission and earnings support our work. This means we may receive a commission if you purchase items from links embedded in the articles.

What is a Spotting Scope?

Spotting scopes are used when viewing a faraway object on land. There are many features in place that make them easier to maneuver, but the amount in which they can adjust limits you more. Most people who use spotting scopes are looking to view things like wildlife, being able to see their targets from a long distance away when shooting or hunting, or even watching people driving their personal watercraft from the sandy shore of the beach. When you’re looking over vast pieces of land during the daytime, this is where you could use a spotting scope as a telescope.

For those reaching for the stars, this goes to say that you can use a spotting scope as a telescope. Astronomical events that appear closely in the night sky such as meteor showers is a situation in which you can use a spotting scope as a telescope. The main focus of a spotting scope, however, is not to use the scope for work as you would a telescope, but if nighttime watching isn’t acting as the sole purpose of your scoping pleasures, a spotting scope is a better buy than a telescope.

Features of a Spotting Scope

Spotting scopes create a stabilized image, that helps you see the world in the exact way as nature intended. A spotting scope or telescope both are able to magnify, but a spotting scope excels at land viewing thanks to the following:

  • Magnification power, usually between 15x to 16x
  • Objective Lens
  • Straight angled spotting scopes or Angled spotting scopes
  • Close focus also is known as the zoom lens: from 20x to 60x
  • Eye relief
  • Lens coating

Various options are available to make a spotting scope more powerful and effective for different viewing experiences. The catchphrase, “you get what you pay for” correlates with the quality of the image in which you will receive. Certain features such as an objective lens with a specialized type of glass will be able to produce far higher quality images than a cheaper lens made from the average lens coating.

Different zoom and magnification methods are available on spotting scopes by means of a small knob or the entire barrel of the spotting scope is able to be twisted to increase the close focus on the desired object. Spotting scopes are able to capture sharp images and enhance the quality of certain objects, especially if used with a DSLR camera.

What is a Telescope?

Telescopes aren’t the most designed internally for viewing things on land. When it comes to viewing things in the sky, the magnification qualities a telescope has will be the perfect fit. However, telescopes can be used as a spotting scope in certain situations if you’re looking to increase the view of an object that is extremely far away. If you’re looking to find things like planets or constellations, the amount of adjustment choices available on a telescope makes it easier to use for making the fine adjustments on objects located light-years away. There’s no stargazer who doesn’t love the powerful focusing capabilities of a telescope once they learn how to use them.

If you’re wondering can you use a telescope as a spotting scope, the answer is more no than yes. The reason you would use a spotting scope over a telescope for terrestrial viewing is the fact that with too much magnification power, the image can become extremely distorted because of its focusing too much on something that is closer in range than what the viewing object usually is.

Another reason a telescope is better for astronomical viewing is the fact that it creates upside-down images, but in space, most of the objects are spherical, meaning it will generally look normal regardless of what angle it is viewed from. Constellations are normally positioned differently in the night sky depending on the season, so this is also why it wouldn’t matter to use a telescope. Fortunately, the option to purchase accessories that can adjust this is available.

Due to the fact that telescopes usually feature a wider range of optical features, if you’re deciding whether to use a telescope or spotting scope depends on the amount of flexibility you want in range and adjustments for nighttime viewing. On top of being taller, and often bulkier to transport, telescopes are subject to being broken if the tripod or viewing mechanisms get hit or smash into something when hiking. The typical viewing location for a telescope is not in the rugged terrain but instead in the backyard or at a space observatory location that has a flat and level surface.

Features of a Telescope

The mechanics of a telescope are rather technical and complex in order to view such faraway objects in sharp detail. To understand how you can best improve the visual experience, new astronomers should take the time to begin familiarizing themselves with knowing how each scope works. This is beneficial, especially when wanting to view something at night when you’re usually in or close to total darkness.

A refracting telescope uses various optical lenses to focus light, a reflecting telescope will use mirrors to focus light. The dark depths of space provide little light, allowing the galactic bodies like planets and stars to capture any fragments of any available light it can capture and hone in on those light sources in order to focus on and allow for their high magnification power to sharpen the image.

The most important feature of a telescope is its aperture. The aperture is the diameter of the telescope’s light-gathering lens, or mirror for reflecting scopes, and can also be used synonymously with the term objective. To find your telescope’s specific aperture, look closely to the focuser, located near the front of the tube of the body of the scope. This value is also more than likely to be found on the box or product description if ordering online.

The aperture’s diameter will be written out in millimeters. This is less common, but it can also be written out in inches. For easy reference, 1 inch equals 25.4 mm. Another guideline for the telescope’s objective is that a telescope should have at least 70 millimeters, 2.8 inches, aperture width. A more experienced viewer will want a larger aperture in order to improve the viewing quality by having equipment that can capture and filter in more light.

Refracting Telescopes

The refracting scope has a convex lens that bends the light inside towards the inside of the scope, making the focused object appear smaller. Light travels through the main objective lens first and gets beamed to a focal point. It then travels further until it gets received by the lens of the eyepiece in order to shrink the object down to a size that is able to be seen to the human eye.

Reflecting Telescopes

With reflecting telescopes, there are concave mirrors located on the inside of the scope. This time light bounces off the mirror into the focal point after it travels through the objective lens. In turn, the focal point reflects the viewed image into the eyepiece of the scope. Due to the mirror being the sole method of viewing for a reflecting telescope, the size of them are huge. The biggest telescopes in the world are more commonly reflecting scopes.

Spotting Scope and Telescope Similarities

More powerful, higher-quality equipment is notably pricier than the average beginner’s tool. The amount of detail and precision in the optics of a professional spotting scope or telescope can add up quickly depending on the brand, materials, and accessories that come with it.

A good spotting scope can end up pricing out anywhere from $80 to $3000 or more. As spotting scopes are made for the land venturing spirit, additional features like weatherproofing i.e. waterproofing, windproofing and shockproofing, as well as the amount of lens power, will affect the final price. Both a spotting scope and telescope are recommended to also utilize the stabilizing benefits of a tripod.

Fortunately, a spotting scope is eligible to connect with a DSLR tripod so professional photographers will use their tripod synonymously with their spotting scope. It is good to remember that depending on the level of care and use you will get out of your equipment, this can last up to a lifetime.

As for a telescope, like the spotting scope, one can easily end up purchasing a decent telescope ranging from $300 to $3000. Various sizes of magnification lenses and bases for telescopes are also additional investments. Most refracting telescope prices end up running slower than reflectors. Both are pricey investments but with care and good use, they can land visuals that are far more valuable and make that single purchase all the more worthwhile.

As mentioned earlier, we answered if can you use a telescope for a spotting scope when doing an activity that involves little to no movement and focuses the most efficiently when stabilized on a tripod.

Spotting Scope vs Telescope Differences

When you first think of a spotting scope or telescope, the spotting scope can often be mistaken for the smaller version of a telescope. However, there are significant differences that individualize these two optic tools. While it is more commonly known, their main functions are to zoom in on more distant objects the manner in which they are used are exclusively used for that device.

A telescope is most commonly used when viewing topics related to astronomy. This was alluded to earlier in the features of the telescope, but the orientation of the final image is different than how it is seen with the naked eye. Through the lens of a telescope, the image will usually end up in an upside-down or reversed position. For astronomical subject matter, this won’t pose as an issue if the goal is stargazing and locating various constellations, but if a hunter is trying to shoot its prey or a target shooter, his archery target, the viewing position will lead to an issue.

For a spotting scope, the image appears as; the object is captured in the same position as it was from a further difference. Of course, thanks to the close focus, magnification and object lens of a spotting scope, the viewed object is closer and more detailed.

Looking out and up towards the sky enables the telescope to have an extreme amount of power to be able to hone in on an object located miles of air and particles with maintaining visual accuracy. Contrary to the telescope, order to be able to find a bird in the tree of a forest will require less power.

Due to the intended subject, telescopes tend to have a larger magnification than a spotting scope. The amount of magnification a telescope has requires a specialized tripod stable. If you’ve ever zoomed in accidentally while using binoculars, you’ll be only too aware of how wobbly things can look when you’re trying to keep your hand steady!

Telescope stands are specialized for viewing the sky at night and not suitable for during the day.  You’ll still need a stand for a spotting scope but a regular photography tripod will suffice.

Spotting Scope Advantages

Before you start thinking about how great telescopes are compared to spotting scopes, it’s worth mentioning that the spotting scopes have their own special features. As telescopes are intended for astronomical use, they aren’t made for the weather that a spotting scope would have, being used for outdoor daytime activities. A spotting scope is compatible with specially made anti-fog or lenses that are waterproof; good features to have when out and exposed to the elements.

Spotting scopes are made with the intention of their user being outdoors and going out on in the elements which give them the advantage of being constructed for durability. They are also considerably smaller than a telescope, especially when they’re not positioned on their tripod.

A smaller size means they’re easier to carry around inside a backpack, or would have a smaller specialized case. In case you’re interested in both the land and the stars, one can use a telescope as a spotting scope less easily than if they were to use a spotting scope instead of a telescope.

Spotting Scope Disadvantages

While a higher-powered scope is fine when doing minimal stargazing, or perhaps when a meteor shower is coming around, a spotting scope won’t enable you to see the galactic bodies in as much detail.  The telescope will surpass the quality of a spotting scope when honing in on celestial objects, as it is the better-constructed mechanism for gathering smaller amounts of light in a seemingly endless world of darkness.

Telescope Advantages

Telescopes will always have the greatest amount of optical power. They are made for viewing objects in space that don’t have their own light source. Beginners’ telescopes can range from 90x to 150x magnification, far outranking the close focus and magnification that a spotting scope would have.

Telescope Disadvantages

The more unfortunate aspect of owning a telescope is having to depend on the weather for ideal viewing conditions. Telescopes need to have a direct view through the clouds in order to be able to see past all of the different layers in the atmosphere. When there is wind, the effects of wind turbulence will impair the user’s ability to see and capture a clearly focused image. The windier the setting, the blurrier the final image will turn out.

As a telescope usually views objects in space, all the star watching has to wait until the night when it gets dark. For our night owls, this is perfect; for the person who enjoys their bedtime ritual, this can be an issue. The lenses of a telescope often need more cleaning than you would for a spotting scope. The different coatings on the objective lens of the telescope or the spotting scope differentiate depending on the make or model of the scope.

Telescopes yield better results when they are stationed on their tripod out on a flat surface. The telescope is bulkier and heavier, making it subject to moving lesser distances than you would with a spotting scope. For this reason, many prefer to use telescopes at a nearby observatory when it comes to exciting astronomical events.


The best way to determine which would be the better investment is by envisioning the ways in which you plan to use it. As we have discovered, you can use a telescope as a spotting scope, then you would want to use it for viewing objects that are located at extremely long distances. Depending on individual preferences, both will do exceptionally well for their desired circumstances. Both pieces of equipment will both have options to match your financial needs.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *