Best Spotting Scopes Reviewed & Rated for Quality
Hunting, bird watching, target shooting, these three and many other sports like them have one thing in common: they all revolve around a target of interest that is, to say the absolute least, jumpy. Birds have trained themselves to be as vigilant as possible, as man’s means of hunting them to near extinction for their own amusement have only gotten better and more efficient. So what can you do to outwit your feathered foes? Simple, by making sure you have them in your sights from a far distance. This is where spotting scopes come into play.
- The Roxant Authentic Blackbird HD
- Superior Grip
- Emarth Waterproof
- BK7 Prism
- Vortex 20 - 60 X 85 Razor HD
- ArmorTek Lens Coating
Spotting scopes are essentially high powered telescopes, meant to be used on a tripod, and are much less practical to carry than binoculars. However, spotting scopes have binoculars outclassed where it counts: image clarity and magnification. If you love hunting, or especially if you just love watching birds, then these are essential. And this list counts down the top ten. So put on your camo, get your best tripod, and learn how to crawl while prone, because we’re counting down.
10 Best Spotting Scopes
1. The Roxant Authentic Blackbird HD
If you think the fact that you need glasses means you can’t enjoy spotting scopes like you used to, then the Roxant has a pleasant wake-up call just for you. Not only does the extendable and retractable eyepiece used by this scope work wonders for spotting at long range, it’s also great for people with vision problems.
This grip utilizes a rugged rubber armor that gives it a superior grip to many of its peers. You wouldn’t think you’d need a great grip for something that you’re expected to put on the ground and keep as still as possible. But rest assured, you’re going to need a really good grip to keep a scope straight and unmoving, especially during windy days.
Cost and value
This is a pretty good deal for a spotting scope of such high quality. While not the cheapest on this list, it’s more than decent a price when you consider what you’re getting.
Eyepiece removes the need for glasses when using it
Rubber outer layer improves the grip dramatically
Eyepiece angles at around 45 degrees, making it comfortable to look through
Multi Coated lenses
Tripod may be too small
2. Emarth Waterproof
WHat is a BK7 Prism? To cut a very long and very technical story short, it’s essentially what helps give these scopes their clear crisp images. And the BK7 prism is one of the best on the market. Using the BK7 Prism, you’ll be able to get a continuous, clear, crisp image at almost any length that this scope can extend to.
Extendable and retractable sunshade
If there’s anything that consistently gets in the way of a good shot with a scope of any kind, it’s glare from the sun. Luckily, in comes Emarth’s scope with its extendable and retractable sunshade which helps to remove glare from the equation on those bright and sunny days.
Cost and value
This scope isn’t that much cheaper than the Blackbird, but is a lot of money these days, so many buyers will more than appreciate the difference.
BK7 Prism makes images more crisp at longer ranges
Sunshade reduces glare
Water and fog resistant
Is most effective with a digiscope adapter, which isn’t included
3. Vortex 20 - 60 X 85 Razor HD
This specializes lens uses a series of smaller lenses to help enhance images from farther away than most other singular lenses. Combined with a sophisticated prism, this is one of the most powerful lens systems on this list, and certainly of the market at large.
ArmorTek Lens coating
Oils like sweat and other liquids can get onto your lens when you’re bent over the thing for hours on end, so to combat the potential vision issues this may cause, the lens of this scope is coated in a special ArmorTek coating that helps to repel oil from the lens. Making it easier to see.
Cost and value
One of the big downsides to this scope is the cost. But considering the high quality that this scope provides and the expensive technology that went into making it, it’s safe to call this a fair price. However, it does cost it the #1 spot.
ArmorTek lens coating
Equipped with a triplet apochromatic lens
4. Gosky Porro Prism
Like many high-quality spotting scopes, the Gosky Porro Prism has been thoroughly weatherproofed and terrain tested. However, unlike other scopes, this was not done with the aim of seeing what climates or terrains it could or could not withstand. This was instead done go see what needed to improve to make it usable in any climate and terrain. Needless to say, the tests paid off.
Unlike our #2 spot, this scope actually remembers to pack the digiscope adapter. And what’s so special about the digiscope adapter anyway? Well, it lets you attach your phone to the lens. This lets you record the footage the digital camera inside the scope picks up. Meaning that there’s no complicated transferring process afterward, the footage instead sent straight to your phone from the start.
Cost and value
It’s certainly in the realm of pricey. However, considering what the #3 spot charges for its services, this scope’s price tag is downright cheap by comparison.
Heavily weatherproofed scope
Digiscope adapter makes recording bird watching significantly easier
Tripod quality doesn’t measure up
5. Redfield Rampage
A high powered scope usually requires more hardware to attain it’s higher power, which inevitably means that it’s harder to carry around, more cumbersome to hold, and harder to store. However, the rampage breaks this streak by being just as high powered as the leading brands, while also being lightweight and very easy to carry.
High quality mid range magnification
While the scope will get the job done, by all means, at short and long range, this is a mid range scope through and through. Mid range is where the image is at its most crisp and clear and definitely where it’s best utilized.
Cost and value
Much less than other scopes that do the exact same thing as the rampage, making it a far better deal.
High powered scope for one so lightweight
Mid range magnification is as crisp as can be
After the 100 yard mark, the image begins to blur
6. Vanguard Endeavor
As spotting scopes moved into the digital age, one of the things sadly sacrificed was that color and small details were lost in translation. However, with the Vanguard Endeavor, you don’t need to worry about that, as the colors and the environment and the smallest details of your game’s movements are intact and even intensified under the scope’s HD filter.
Extended eye relief
Staring through a magnified image for long periods of time can be a bit of a strain on the eyes. Even if you don’t feel it for the most part it will cut down on the amount of time you can bear to look down the scope. However, this scope does away with that by providing you with extended eye relief that helps you keep watching for longer periods of time.
Cost and value
Obviously, such a high powered scope would be priced decently high, but thankfully the Endeavor manages to keep to a comfortable price range. Not too low, but definitely far from the most expensive price tag on this list.
Vivid color and detail
Extended eye relief
Picture perfect, distortion free images
Range isn’t as far as other scopes, coming in at 15x - 45x instead of the standard 20x - 60x
7. Celestron Regal M2
Even if the center area of the lens is crystal clear with most scopes, you’ll still find that the edges are distorted. However, with the Regal’s low dispersion glass, not only is the entire image, edges included, completely clear and free of distortion, even at increased magnification, the image doesn’t alter.
Durability isn’t as much a concern with spotting scopes, since the whole point of the things is that they stay as far away from things that could potentially break it as possible. However, it’s always good to know your stuff is made from top quality material, and the magnesium alloy body that makes up the Regal is certainly that.
Cost and value
The main issue with this scope is its cost. Not the most expensive thing we’ve seen on this list, but then again, just because a full home makeover isn’t as expensive as a yacht doesn’t mean it isn’t still expensive.
Low dispersion glass makes for clearer image
ED objective lens reduces chromatic aberration and enhances accurate color
Pricey, especially if you go for the longer range versions
8. Bushnell Trophy Xtreme
One problem with scopes like this is that the field of view is extremely narrow. Which is understandable, given that scopes are meant to focus on just one person or object, but it can bite you in the tail on more than one occasion to limit your field of view so much. Luckily the Trophy Xtreme doesn’t have this problem, using a specialized scope to result in a wider field of view.
BAK4 Porro Prism
Inside every great spotter scope is a great prism, and in the Trophy Xtreme’s case, that prism is the BAK4 Porro Prism. These prisms specialist in maximizing the light in the image and ensuring the sharpness to result in cleaner, clearer, more striking imagery.
Cost and value
If you still want to remind money conscious, then you should invest in the smaller size.
Special lens provides wide field of view
BAK4 Porro prism adds to the beauty of the image
Very affordable in smaller sizes
Gets pricey when you go for larger sizes
9. OXA 20 X 60 Angled Waterproof
If you’ve ever looked at certain conditions and concluded that this was no place for your spotter scope, then you need the OXA. The OXA is equipped with a magnalium framework and shock absorbing rubber armor that withstands even the harshest conditions.
Why is the angling of an eyepiece so important? Well for starters, if you have a really bad back, you probably can’t get down completely prone like younger men can. So having an angled eyepiece that you don’t have to bend down completely to use is a godsend for those in that situation.
Cost and value
This is a very good deal for a spotter scope. Among the best deals for a spotter scope on this entire list, in fact.
Magnalium framework and shock absorbing rubber armor
10. MINOX MD 16 - 30x50 W Angled
The color attained with this scope is thanks in large part to a combination of a porro prism and a full multi colored lens. This makes for brilliantly vibrant colors that enhance the quality of the image exponentially.
Non slip surface
If you’re rock climbing with one of these things, you need to make sure that little sucker isn’t going anywhere. So the MINOX has a metal exterior with a rubber, nonslip coating that ensures a firm grip.
Cost and value
The price range for this scope is a pretty modest price for a spotter scope, all things considered.
Non slip surface
Close focus may be a bit too much for some photographers
So what is it that separates a spotting scope from a telescope? Well, a telescope isn’t mechanical, for one. Nor is it digital, as the majority of spotting scopes are powered digitally and can even be used to record video. But really that’s the only difference. Like a telescope, there are plenty around, all in different types and sizes. Some zoom in, some don’t, some are ergonomic and practical to carry, some really aren’t. But what makes spotting scopes so special is that there are very few other kinds of scopes out there that can do their job in quite the same way with quite the same efficiency. Spotting scopes are, for one, more practical to hold than binoculars or telescopes, are generally smaller, yet often get to much farther distances than either binoculars or telescopes. It’s worth noting that none of the entries on this list are bad. Some are better, and certainly cheaper than others, but none are bad. If one interests you more than the other, there’s nothing wrong with that. So if you love bird watching or bird hunting, buy yourself a spotting scope and enjoy your hobby just a little bit more.
Criteria Used in Choosing the Best Spotting Scopes
But there’s more to a spotting scope than just looking down the sight. There’s a lot of other criteria that a spotting scope has to meet before it makes it on the list. Here is what gave the ones on this list such a leg up on the competition.
Obviously, anything that uses glass as a key feature in its design needs to make sure it’s being made from some high-quality glass. You don’t, after all, want just any old glass in your scope, you want the best. As such, the most commonly used glass types in spotting scopes are HD, ED, or Fluoride coated glass. Whichever type you choose should depend on what purpose you’re using the scope for, as the differences between these glasses and the images they produce are intricate, complicated, and require their own article to fully cover.
A spotting scope, with certain exceptions, is typically a medium range telescope. Their magnification usually extends between 15x-60x. How much magnification a spotting scope has is usually decided via single zoom eyepieces and/or fixed length interchangeable eyepieces. If you want to scan an area with a spotting scope, you’re going to need a low power eyepiece. However, if that isn’t an option, you can still get the same results by using a zoom eyepiece and putting it on its lowest setting.
These are still light gathering objects, it’s part of what makes their images come through all crystal clear. However, long periods of staring through an object like this can put a strain on the eye. So any quality spotting scope needs to have some form of eye relief, in order to make sure the user doesn’t get too strained too quickly, and can thus keep using the scope for longer periods of time. If the scope’s eye relief is longer, then the focal point needs to be stretched behind the eyepiece. This gives the eyeglass wearer a better field of view on top of reducing the strain.
Grip and durability
Durability doesn’t play into the quality of a spotting scope as it would for other products, because if you’re using it correctly, that spotting scope won’t go anywhere near anything dangerous. However, you obviously don’t want something you spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on to fall apart on you while using it, so durability is still important. This also plays into making sure that your scope has a good grip to go along with it. Mostly because, generally speaking, the most durable materials, are also the best when making a good firm grip as well. The usual materials used to make durable spotting scopes are either metal or very hard plastics, which help your grip when you’re carrying your spotting scope up a very steep cliff, and you’d very much prefer to not drop your extremely expensive spotting scope.
An angled eyepiece goes a long way to getting a spotting scope on this list, as they help to fix a major issue that spotting scopes tend to have. The thing about spotting scopes is that they’re best used when you’re lying prone and watching from a distance. However, the problem is that a lot of people can’t do that comfortably for very long, and when you’re lying that prone, comfort is a major factor that determines whether you’re going to be able to stay like that for long periods of time that it takes to get that perfect shot. To combat this problem, spotting scopes typically put the eyepiece at a 45-degree angle, which is comfortable enough for someone to look down with relative comfort, even with certain back problems.
Next, we have cost. While there are definitely high-quality spotting scopes that don’t cost all that much, usually around $50-80, if you want the truly great scopes, with the HD camera, digiscope adapter, and firm, durable grip, then you’re going to need to break out the big bucks. You saw with our #3 spot that the prices for these things can jump to extreme heights. Luckily, if you don’t want to shell out your next 5 paychecks just for one spotting scope, you can definitely settle on a cheaper spotting scope without necessarily sacrificing quality. As long as you know where to look, you can find a high-quality scope for a more reasonable price, but don’t expect any of the big shops to have it.
This more refers to the versatility of use rather than versatility of function. You really only expect a singular function from a spotting scope, but what matters is the environments in which you can use it. Spotting scopes can be tricky when it comes to operating in different climates since they can be susceptible to intense heat and cold. This is why high-quality spotting scopes make sure to weather test, and more importantly, weatherproof their spotting scopes in order to make sure that they can be used whenever and wherever they need to be used. Make sure to find a weatherproofed spotting scope if you can.
Frequently Asked Questions
When it comes to using spotting scopes, there are many different questions that abound. Some are more frequent than others, which means that they have more common answers. Here are those questions, and their answers.
Q: What kind of lens do I need if I’m less interested in bird hunting than I am bird watching?
A: When it comes to bird watching, you need a zoom lens. With the simplest and quickest adjustment, you can change the magnification of these lenses from 20x, to 60x, which is very important for bird watching. Why? Because this way you can have the advantage of quickly changing the magnification as you need to. It may take you a second to notice if you haven’t yet already, but birds are fast and can change their entire time zone if they feel like it in the time it takes you to realize they’ve even moved at all. So you’re going to need a scope and a lens that allows you to make equally snap decisions at a moment’s notice. So when deciding what kind of lens to go with for bird watching, every time, choose a zoom lens.
Q: Why is it important that my scope has light gathering capacity? Shouldn’t the sun stay out of my scope in order to work properly?
A: All scopes of all kinds have a light gathering capacity, it plays a huge part in how they magnify an image. Spotting scopes and binoculars, in particular, follow a very specific principle when it comes to light gathering. In this case, the objective lens’ size defines the scope’s light gathering capacity. On the other hand, increase the size of the objective lens, and you get a brighter, clearer image. The tradeoff being, of course, that the spotting scope becomes heavier, bulkier, and harder to carry. So now you have to decide what you want the balance to be if you even want a balance at all.
Q: How do focusing mechanisms work?
A: Focusing is generally done in one of two ways: it’s either done with a small focus knob on top of the eyepiece, or it’s done with a larger focusing collar. With the former, you have a longer time to focus the lens, but that extra time lets you focus more precisely, letting you find that perfect range. And with the former, the barrel will usually be knurled or rubberized so you can focus by twisting the whole barrel like you see reporters do with their cameras on t.v. shows. With either choice, dexterity and the size of your hand will be the deciding votes that will swing you towards one or the other. Thankfully if you go to buy these mechanisms in a store, the store owners will usually let you try out each mechanism before making a choice. Give both a try and see how they work out for you.
Q: Why do I need a wide field of view with my spotting scopes? Shouldn’t the point of a spotting scope be to be as focused as possible?
A: because you need that extra bit of space when hunting or bird watching to know where the subject of your view is going in a split second. Again, birds are faster than you, and capable of making more snap decision than you at a moment’s notice. So a little bit of extra space in your scope’s line of sight will better tell you where you need to turn your scope and how far out or in you need to zoom in order to find the bird again. On top of that, if you’re doing bird watching right, then you’re likely out in the wild. Meaning that you need to be on your guard. There are a lot of wild animals out there, wild and territorial. And they’re not going to be big fans of you, this strange pink/black/brown etc. thing wandering around their territory and looking into tubes with glass in them for some reason. So you need to have a bit more for your field of vision in case you spot one no so friendly creature coming to file a trespassing complaint with your face.
Q: Why does it matter if my scope is weatherproofed?
A: Because if you do, let’s say, bird watching and photography professionally, then you and your little spotting scope are going to be very busy and traveling to very exotic climates and areas. And you may be ready, having packed the appropriate clothing, camping gear and so forth, but what about your spotting scope? A weatherproofed spotting scope is a spotting scope that is prepared for the most horrid elements and will stand up to even the worst scrutiny that mother nature has to offer. So even if you think you won’t need it, get a scope that’s weatherproofed anyway if you can. If you know where to look it won’t cost you that much. Better to have it and never need it, than to need it and not have it.