There are many different types, sizes, and shapes of spotting scopes on the market today. Understanding how to choose a spotting scope that is right for you means begins with knowing the basics of how the device works. Although many people are familiar with telescopes, there are subtle differences. This means that you may be wasting your money on a spotting scope you do not need when you don’t know what it offers.
Before you go searching for the right spotting scope, remember that you are not looking for an astronomy telescope. Such telescopes have magnifications so high that you will not be able to see the target or birds. Remember, the scopes you want are meant to see a target hundreds of yards away, not millions of miles away.
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It helps to understand the basics of a spotting scope first so that you know what you want. This means breaking down the features into easy-to-understand sections. You do not need to be an expert, but it does help to know generally what type of scope fits your needs. Plus, there are many spotting scopes that offer plenty of versatility if you know what to look for in the product.
Magnification: Most spotting scopes are considered medium-range telescopes. That means they generally have more magnifying power than binoculars, but not as much as telescopes made for astronomy.
The typical magnification power of most spotting scopes is 15x to 60x, which means they can bring the image of the target 15 to 60 times closer. Many spotting scopes have zoom or interchangeable fixed-length eyepieces. Either way, having variation in the distance is important, especially when spotting a moving target.
If you are hunting or birding, you can choose a lower magnification first to spot the target, then zoom in once you have it in view.
This is the lens at the end of the scope. The larger the objective lens, the more light it gathers which means sharper images. Most objective lenses are 50mm to 100mm in size. When considering the objective lens, it helps to know if you will be moving around a lot. If not, you can go with a larger objective lens.
There are noticeable differences in the quality of the glass used for spotting scopes. You can see it when comparing standard versions to high quality, high-density (HD), or extra-low dispersion (ED) glass. This is particularly true in low light conditions such as twilight or a cloudy day.
Choosing how expensive you want to go with the glass will depend in large part on when you plan to look through the lens. If you mostly go out during the day, then the standard glass will work. However, if you are hunting or birding at dawn or dusk, then go with high-quality glass.
A zoom lens is generally better in most situations compared to interchangeable lenses. The exception may be photography or video if you are using the scope to record images. This is because interchangeable or fixed lenses let in more light. However, zoom lenses are far more versatile and allow you to change distances quickly when needed.
Needless to say, the better the zoom lens, the more expensive it will be. But since this is the most important part of the scope itself, you are better off saving up for a good quality zoom lens.
Straight vs. Angled
This is a seemingly subtle, but important difference. A straight scope works well for those who are alone or going to be the only ones using the scope. That’s because you can set it to the height you want.
An angled scope is often more convenient, especially if more than one person is going to use it. You simply set the scope on the tripod to the height of the shortest person. That way, everyone else can look down and view through the scope comfortably. Many angled scopes have movable eyepieces, so you can adjust them without losing the target.
Another consideration is the eye relief provided by the scope. If you wear glasses, then having an eye relief of 12mm to 15mm will help. You can wear your eyeglasses while still looking through the eyepiece.
For the most part, spotting scopes come with either a focus collar or knob. The collar surrounds the scope allowing you to twist the ring until the scope is in focus. This is the most common of focusing devices. The other is a knob usually located near the eyepiece. A knob is not as fast as the collar, but you can get a more precise focus.
Choosing between a knob and a collar, it will depend on whether the target is stationary or moving. For stationary targets, the knob works best. For moving targets, go with the collar.
Last, but not least is the tripod. Too many people overlook the value of having a good tripod for their spotting scopes. You want one that is of good quality so that it does not wobble or break easily. Plus, you can choose between tabletop or free-standing versions depending on where it will be used. A free-standing version is more versatile, but a tabletop is perfect when you have a table or other surface to set the scope.
Plus, most spotting scopes have a ¼” x 20 thread plate. This allows you to use a quick-release plate for your scope so it can be attached and detached from the tripod quickly.
How to Choose a Spotting Scope for Hunting
When you are out hunting, the requirements for the spotting scope become pretty specific. First, you will need to get a scope that is lightweight and compact. This is because most hunting trips mean traveling to locations that may be on foot. You do not want to lug around a spotting scope that is heavy and unwieldy. Instead, choose one that is light, easy to carry, and set up so you can focus more on hunting.
The magnification that you will want is roughly 15x to 45x at most. The objective lens will usually be 55mm or less. This is because you are searching for a game that is close enough to be within rifle or shotgun range. Greater distances are generally not needed. Plus, the longer the distance, the larger the scope will be.
The only exception would be if you are hunting from a truck or boat. This means that you are not having to carry the scope on foot. You can then hold or mount a larger spotting scope under such conditions.
How to Choose a Spotting Scope for Birding
For birding, it’s all about the quality of the optics that you choose. You will need to understand how to choose a spotting scope that offers long-range and quick movement, so you do not lose the bird. This generally requires a larger budget compared to hunting or target shooting because the quality of the lenses along with greater distances is key.
Of course, if you plan on birding in a small location such as your backyard, for example, a 15x to 40x will probably work. Larger areas will require longer distances, so you will need greater magnification. Another factor to consider is the distance you will have to carry the spotting scope. If you are hiking or camping, then a pocket magnifier that reaches from 6x to 15x works pretty well. This is because you can get closer to the birds.
Keep in mind that some scopes have a fixed and variable magnification option. If you are sitting in one location, then you might want to consider a variable option to see birds at different distances.
How to Choose a Spotting Scope for Target Shooting
Because target shooting is usually performed from a stationary position, you have a wide range of options. Generally speaking, the most important factor is magnification. You want greater magnification to evaluate the target before and after each shot. This allows you to judge the accuracy of your shots.
A minimum is 20x to 60x magnification. This will depend on the distance in which you are shooting. But consider that most targeting shooting is performed at ranges up to 1000 yards or even greater. By choosing a scope with this type of magnification, the objective size of the lens should be at least 80mm. This allows for greater detail along with magnification.
You should tailor your scope depending on your needs. For extreme ranges of 1200 yards or greater, you may want to add some video equipment to help you see the details. Conversely, for those who shoot pistols at ranges up to 150 yards, a 15x to 40x range is perfect.
When you know how to choose a spotting scope that is right for your needs, you can save a considerable amount of money while getting what you want. What makes the right spotting scope for you starts with finding one that suits your needs while fitting your budget.