The Ultimate Guide To Buying A Spotting Scope


Are you looking for more magnifying power and better image quality than a standard telescope can provide? It may be time to upgrade to a spotting scope. Whether you are a hunter, a bird watcher, a target shooter, or an outdoor enthusiast, you will surely appreciate the added features and capabilities of a good spotting scope.

What does a spotting scope do?

Spotting scopes are a step above a binocular. They provide greater magnification, making them ideal for hunting, bird watching, archery, and wildlife spotting. They are also handy for magnifying scenery, such as coastal areas or mountain ranges. 

Spotting scopes can be useful tools for photography, greatly extending the range of most camera equipment. Wildlife photographers may use them to take photos of animals from a distance. They could, therefore, avoid disturbing animals in their natural habitats and reduce the risk of an animal attack. 

Spotting scopes are most often used for target shooting and hunting. They allow you to get a clear view of the target before you fire off a shot, which is always a good thing when hunting wild game. And when you fit a scope on your rifle for target shooting, you will be able to see whether or not you hit the target, even from a distance.

What is the difference between a spotting scope and a telescope?

Like telescopes, spotting scopes are monocular, which means you look through them with only one eye. They both provide greater magnification than binoculars, but that is about the extent of their similarity. 

Spotting scopes and telescopes differ from each other in the following aspects: 

  1. Image orientation
  2. Portability and sturdiness
  3. Variable zoom 

Image orientation

Image orientation is one of the main differences between spotting scopes and telescopes. This refers to how the image faces when viewed through the eyepiece. 

Reflector telescopes show you the image upside down. Although this makes it ideal for astronomy, it makes them practically useless for viewing terrain and animal life.

As for spotting scopes, the image they produce is always the right way up and facing the right way. The image is clear and crisp, making them ideal for viewing terrain, animal life, and objects on the water. 

Portability and sturdiness

Spotting scopes are generally more durable and more comfortable to carry than most telescopes. Their rugged exteriors give them the ability to withstand harsh surroundings and extreme conditions, which isn’t always the case with telescopes.

You will especially appreciate the durability and portability of a spotting scope when you need to move quickly across rugged terrain. You can just as easily carry it around in your hand as in a case, which saves you the trouble of having to pull it out quickly when you need it. 

Furthermore, many spotting scopes are equipped with rubber sleeves. These provide added protection against impact and ensure a firmer grip. 

Variable zoom 

Finally, spotting scopes generally allow for variable zoom. This is the ability to zoom in and out freely without being restricted to predetermined zoom settings. Most telescopes have a zoom eyepiece with a fixed zoom. Although you could swap between different eyepieces, each of them is fixed to a specific zoom level. 

You do have the option to purchase eyepieces with variable zoom capability for your telescope. But these are pretty expensive and will add to the cost of the unit. Considering that spotting scopes have variable zoom built-in, they are the more cost-effective option if you need that particular feature. 

What to look for in a spotting scope 

The best spotting scopes offer a combination of cutting-edge features, ergonomics, and rugged durability. Here are some essential qualities to look for if you are in the market for a spotting scope: 

Body style. You will want a scope that is designed to work the way you want. Most people find straight scopes to be perfectly adequate for their needs. But if you routinely find yourself looking up steep inclines or across flat terrain, an angled scope might be the better choice. 

Objective lens. At the very least, your scope should have a high-quality objective lens made with high-performance glass. This provides superior image quality, so don’t compromise on this feature. 

Magnification. Try to go with a scope that offers an extensive magnification range. This lets you see faraway objects more clearly and with better clarity. 

Lens coating. Spotting scopes typically come with a fully coated lens, multi coated lens, or fully multi coated lens. In general, a fully multi coated lens produces the best images. 

Weatherproofing. Consider going for a model that has waterproofing and fog-proofing features. These can be useful for working in various environmental conditions and will protect your scope from the elements. 

What is the best spotting scope for target shooting?

If you are purchasing a spotting scope for target shooting, there are a few essential factors to keep in mind. For one thing, magnification distance tends to vary by a considerable margin, which is why we like scopes with variable magnification for maximum magnification. And although rain isn’t usually a crucial factor, you have to account for several atmospheric conditions, including dust, humidity, and even air turbulence. All these factors could affect your spotting scope’s performance considerably. 

That being said, we’ve picked out two spotting scopes that are exceptionally well-suited for target shooting: the Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 and the Swarovski ATX. 

The Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 is a 20-60×80 model that offers superb optical quality and a slick, modern design. It provides high contrast images with excellent brightness, and the field of view is nice and expansive. 

We especially like the Ventana’s angled eyepiece, which is a lot more comfortable than the ones that come with other angled eyepiece scopes. It has eyecups that twist upward for easy viewing, and it focuses as smoothly as scopes costing many times more. 

One of the best features of the Ventana 2 is the multi coated lens, which makes the scope usable even in extreme fog and moisture conditions. Despite its winning combination of features and capabilities, the Ventana is much less expensive than other spotting scopes on the market.

Our second pick for the best spotting scope for target shooting is the Swarovski ATX. A 30-70×95 model, the ATX also has an angled design and comes with a separate ATX eyepiece. 

The ATX is one of the highest-powered spotting scopes you can get for the money. It utilizes an innovative lens technology that gives you visual access to your spotting destination quickly with minimum effort.

Shooters of all levels will love the 30-70x magnification range, which produces exceptionally sharp images. Objects within range always show up crisp and clear, with no perceptible distortion. 

Little details that make the ATX stand apart from other spotting scopes in its class are the conveniently located focus and zoom wheels. Both controls are placed for easy access, allowing you to zoom in and out quickly without fumbling around. This feature is handy for hunting when a split-second usually spells the difference between a clear shot and your prey scampering off out of sight. 

Like Leupold’s Ventana 2, the ATX has a multi coated lens that features a high-density design. As expected, it produces extremely clear and vivid images, even when the light conditions are less than optimal. 

One thing we did notice about the ATX is that it is quite heavy. Although this will add a bit of weight to your pack when you take it out on a hunt, the extra heft gives it a solid feel that inspires confidence. In any case, the rotating tripod ring makes the scope a lot easier to handle, and we found that we seldom had to move the scope after positioning it.

How far can an average spotting scope see?

Even the lowest spec’d spotting scopes let you see farther than average binoculars. The most powerful spotting scopes even allow you to view faraway objects that wouldn’t even register with most binoculars. 

In the middle of these two extremes are spotting scopes that let you see objects located a few hundred yards away. While the lowest spec’d spotting scopes allow you to view objects from about a hundred yards away, most models will let you see targets that are two to five hundred feet away.  

This range is adequate for most applications, including sightseeing, bird watching, hunting, and even target shooting. But for police and military applications where precision targeting is essential, spotting scopes allow for viewing objects up to a thousand yards away. 

How far can a 60x spotting scope see?

Are you wondering how far a specific spotting scope will let you see? The number in front of the ‘x’ holds the clue. Let’s say you have a 60x spotting scope. In theory, objects that you view through the eyepiece will seem 60 times closer.

Of course, there are other factors to consider that could affect how far you could actually see in real-world applications. For instance, if you can see a bullet hole with your naked eye from a distance of 10 yards, you will theoretically be able to do so from 600 yards with a 60x spotting scope. 

In a real-world scenario, factors such as refraction and the shaking of the tripod will make it difficult for you to see clearly at that distance. There is also the quality of the optics to consider. All other factors being equal, a high quality 60x spotting scope will let you see farther and in clearer detail than a lower quality 60x scope.

How powerful of a spotting scope do you need?

So how much magnifying power do you really need? How powerful do you need your spotting scope to be? Although we would all like to have the most powerful scope available, high magnification capabilities came at a price. The more powerful models are quite expensive and might be beyond the reach of most casual users. 

For most applications, a spotting scope with a magnification range of 20x to 60x should be sufficient. Shop around for lenses with diameters ranging from 60 mm to 80 mm, which provides adequate image clarity for most uses. Spotting scopes with these specs should provide all the power you need for hunting, bird and game watching, and even astronomy.

Is angled or straight spotting scope better?

Spotting scopes generally come in two basic designs: straight scope and angled spotting scope. Straight models are pretty much like most standard telescopes, with the lens and eyepiece in line with each other at either end of a cylinder. With angled scopes, the eyepiece section is positioned at a 45° to 90° angle.  

Straight scopes are generally better suited for beginners, and they make it easier to focus on targets and viewed objects quickly. They are also much easier to stow away and transport because of their straight form. 

The downside of straight spotting scopes is that they place your neck and head at an awkward angle if you are crouching or lying on your stomach. They could also cause pain and discomfort from some angles. 

Angled scopes allow for more comfortable viewing positions. They reduce neck and back strain, which could be helpful for long sessions. 

Angled scopes are better suited for use on uphill and downhill slopes, as they allow for lens adjustment. They are also easier to use if you have a relatively short tripod due to the angled eyepiece’s added height. 

There are some disadvantages to angled scopes, though. They take up more space due to their shape and are more difficult to pack. The angled end also tends to collect water or moisture, which could affect visibility and clarity.

What do the spotting scope numbers mean?

Like many telescopes, spotting scopes are imprinted with numbers, which can confuse those unfamiliar with such devices. What do those numbers mean, and how do they affect the performance of your spotting scope? 

Spotting scopes are usually classified by number designations, for example, 20-60×80. The first two numbers signify the scope’s magnification range. The third number refers to the size of the front lens in millimeters. In this particular example, the scope has a magnification range of 20x to 60x, and the diameter of the front lens is 80 mm. 

As explained previously, the magnification value signifies how much closer an object would seem when viewed through the scope. Therefore, a 20-60x spotting scope would make the target object seem 20 to 60 times close than when viewed by the naked eye. 

A higher magnification range lets you see faraway objects much more clearly. The size of the lens, on the other hand, affects the sharpness and clarity of the image. The larger the lens, the better the image quality you will get. 

What is the right type of optic for your rifle scope: red dot or prism?

When it comes to optics, spotting scopes are generally described as having “red dot” or “prism” sights. As the name implies, red dot scopes utilize an illuminated red dot to pinpoint the target. 

Interestingly enough, describing scopes as “red dot” and “prism” isn’t entirely accurate. One particular spotting scope model is commonly referred to as a “red dot” due to its use of red light, even if it is a prism scope by design. 

Scopes commonly referred to as “red dot” are more accurately called “reflex sight” scopes. The lights of these scopes are usually red, although models with green lights are quite common as well. 

Prism scopes are usually magnified and have eye relief built-in. This lets you see objects without necessarily having to place your eye right at the lens. However, you will have to ensure that your eye is in the same spot every time you use the scope. 

On the other hand, reflex/red dot scopes typically do not have eye relief. You could, therefore, get accurate sights regardless of your viewing position.

Although prism scopes don’t provide a lot of magnification, they do allow you to view faraway objects much more clearly than most standard reflex sight scopes. Most models also have etched reticles, enabling you to keep using the sight even if your battery runs down or you lose your light source. 

Are spotting scopes worth it?

Are spotting scopes worth the extra money? Ultimately, that question is for you to answer. 

There is no question that spotting scopes provide greater magnification than standard telescopes, with much crisper and clearer images. But you do have to pay a premium for the privilege. Even an entry-level spotting scope will cost more than a mid-tier telescope. 

That being said, they are absolutely essential if you are an avid hunter, bird watcher, or target shooter. Even if you want one just to enjoy ocean or mountain views with stunning clarity, the extra cost of a spotting scope will be worth the extra cash.