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As if there aren’t enough pieces of equipment for you to obtain and understand, you’ll need a quality spotting scope for identifying distant targets. It might seem like a simple purchase on the surface, just pick a scope with enough magnification and get in the field!
But there are more factors to consider. It’s hard to tell just from looking at the two different scopes what kind of performance discrepancies you might find between them. We’re going to break down the differences and help you make an informed decision about which scope is right for you.
All it takes is one quick look at an angled spotting scope to understand where it gets its name. While a straight scope is obviously straight, the angled spotting scope curves up towards the eyepiece end.
The curve allows you to change your viewing angle. This can make things a lot more comfortable in some cases. For instance, if you’re sitting down and viewing up a large hill or mountain. Trying to angle a straight scope to view comfortable would be very difficult, but the curve in an angled spotting scope makes it easy.
Similarly, looking downhill will create the same problem. With an angled spotting scope, you can actually turn the scope to adjust the angle, providing many different ways to position the scope and your head for the most comfortable viewing experience.
Spotting scopes are essentially small, portable telescopes. They’re the perfect tool for viewing anything that requires more magnification than you might get from a set of binoculars.
You’ll often find spotting scopes used for birding, sighting shots with a gun, hunting, surveillance, and more.
Spotting scopes have very powerful lenses in order to view faraway objects in great detail. They generally fall between 50mm-80mm in diameter.
Between angled spotting scopes and straight ones, there aren’t many differences in lenses. In fact, many spotting scopes come in a straight or angled option with the same lenses on each, providing the same image with a different level of comfortability.
Those big lenses give lots of light and large, clear images, but it’s the magnification that makes it possible to see far-off targets. Spotting scopes can range drastically in magnification, though most fall between 10X and 60x magnification levels. You’ll find similar levels of magnification in angled and straight spotting scopes.
In general, the higher the magnification of your spotting scope, the smaller the field of view. Because some spotting scopes can have very high levels of magnification such as 60x, they tend to have smaller fields of view. If you want a larger field of view, you’ll want a scope with lower magnification.
Alternatively, you could switch to binoculars when you want to increase your field of view. But with an angled spotting scope, your tripod won’t be at the right height for the switch. This means you’d have to adjust the height of your tripod to fit your binoculars, which would mean you’d no longer be pointed at the proper place to find your target again quickly.
As the name suggests, a straight spotting scope is straight. It doesn’t curve like the angled spotting scopes, instead, appearing as a straight tube, like most telescopes you’re probably used to.
A straight spotting scope requires you to raise your tripod to hold the entire scope at viewing height. This makes you more high profile and could cause you to be visible. Also, you’ll generally find that straight spotting scopes are more comfortable when in the prone position. You won’t have to raise your head and look down to view the lens properly.
But they’re not as comfortable for general viewing. You don’t get as much maneuverability out of the straight scope, so you’ll have to find the best viewing angle by repositioning your head.
You’ll find straight scopes being employed wherever spotting scopes are needed. They’re often the choice for any activity that will have you lying down and spotting for any length of time.
Likewise, straight spotting scopes are often the best choice when you need to quickly acquire your target. The ability to switch your binoculars to your tripod without having to adjust the height of your stand can save precious time. Even better, your binoculars will already be aimed at your target and you won’t have to reacquire your target once you switch.
But when you’re standing up, a straight scope needs to be positioned higher than an angled one. The angled scope reaches up to your eye, but the straight scope does not. When the tripod is raised higher, the base is generally smaller, which makes the entire scope less stable. Worse, you’re now a taller target, which makes you more visible.
In general, you’ll find the same lenses on straight spotting scopes that you’ll find on angled ones. These could be as large as 80mm or as small as 50mm. Any smaller and you’d probably do just as well with a good set of binoculars.
Angled and straight spotting scopes tend to have the same levels of magnification. These can vary widely from scope to scope, ranging from 10x up to 60x magnification. You can usually find a straight or angled scope to match the level of magnification you need, so it’s best to make the choice based on how you’ll use your scope.
Though angled and straight scopes can have matching fields of view, the straight scopes have an advantage here. You can keep the tripod in the same position and switch the spotting scope for a set of binoculars. This will allow you to keep your binoculars focused on the proper place to reacquire your target and it will save you time messing around with the stand.
An angled scope won’t allow you to make such quick and easy changes to binoculars. You’d have to first raise the tripod, then attach your binoculars. But then you’d have to search all over to find the area you were just looking at through the scope! Then, if you want to switch back to the extra power of the scope, you’d have to repeat the process in reverse.
If you mainly do your scope viewing while standing or sitting, then you might lean toward an angled spotting scope over a straight one. The curve in the scope will make it more comfortable and easier to view through, especially when viewing for long periods.
Angled spotting scopes work much better with a telescoping tripod than freehand.
Because the angled spotting scope is raised on the eyepiece end, you’ll position the entire tripod lower to get a good view. This can be great when you’re trying to keep a low profile to stay hidden, an important factor when spotting live animals.
If you tend to view from a lying position often, then you might opt for the straight scope instead. When lying down, the straight scope allows for much easier, more comfortable viewing since you won’t have to crane your neck to reach the eyepiece.
When speedy target acquisition is your main priority, you’ll probably want to pick a straight spotting scope. Because a straight scope has to be mounted at viewing height, you can easily swap the scope out for your binoculars. They’ll be at the proper height and angle to quickly find your target again. Then, you can even switch back with ease.
Many factors need to be considered when you’re purchasing an expensive and important piece of equipment like a spotting scope. Luckily, in this case, price isn’t going to be a factor that you need to give too much thought. Between spotting scopes of the same specifications, angled and straight scopes cost the same. Many scopes are available in both setups, and they’re generally the same price both ways.
In the end, neither is right or wrong. It all depends on how you plan to use your scope. They have the same lenses, magnification, and even weigh the same, so the choice lies in how you will view through your scope.
If you use binoculars just as much as you use your scope and you want to quickly change between the two and easily reacquire your target with the same viewing field, then you’ll want to go with a straight scope. Likewise, if you spend a lot of time viewing from a prone position, then the straight scope is your best bet.
On the other hand, if you want to be as comfortable as possible and do most of your viewing while sitting or standing, then the angled scope is a better recommendation, as long as you don’t plan to switch back and forth between your scope and binoculars. The angled scope is also a better choice for when you need to keep a low profile since they allow the scope to be mounted lower than a straight scope.
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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