Last Updated on November 18, 2020
You may think that spotting scopes have to be large and bulky, which means that a trusty pair of binoculars may be the better choice if you’re looking for field-ready portability. If that’s what you think, however, you couldn’t be more wrong.
There are a ton of compact spotting scopes on the market today, which means that you can find one that meets your magnification needs, but also comes in a form factor small enough to make it easy to take them anywhere you want to go.
However, it’s not always clear which models are high-quality, and which ones you should pass on. This gets much worse when you shop online, as it’s harder to get a feel for the product from its online description. That’s why we created this list of reviews of some of the best compact spotting scopes of 2020. We’ve also included a buyer’s guide with a lot of good general information about spotting scopes, so if this is your first time shopping for one, we have you covered.
|Best Overall||Celestron C70||
|Best Value||Roxant Blackbird||
The Celestron 52238 C70 Mini Mak is one of the most compact spotting scopes that you can find on the market. If you need something incredibly small, then this is already the model that you should get. But, its size isn’t its only selling point. It also produces reasonably clear images, due to its multi-coated optics and great magnification that works well out to about 500 yards, which outdistances larger models.
The 25 to 75 times magnification that comes with the included eyepiece works especially well. You can also use an aftermarket eyepiece if you want since this model is compatible with all 1.25” eyepieces. This feature is a bit surprising for a model this small but makes for a good deal. The only knock on this model is that it’s a bit dim, but that’s the tradeoff for getting something this small. Overall, this is a great model to travel with, and one that you’ll enjoy using.
The Visionking 25-75×70 Maksutov is our runner-up. It comes with fully-coated optics which keep things bright and clear through most of its magnification range. That range is quite large, running from 25 to 75 times magnification, which is great for viewing bullet holes at 100 yards, or other tasks at a similar distance. The large, 70-millimeter lens lets in a lot of light and generally produces clear images.
However, this model comes with a proprietary eyepiece that isn’t 1.25”, which means that this model isn’t compatible with that common line of eyepieces and that you’re stuck with the eyepiece that comes with the model. That’s unfortunate because this model experiences some serious dimming at its higher magnifications. Overall, this model is best for tasks in the 100-yard range, where it produces bright, clear images. Past that distance, you’re less likely to get great images. This model is good for you if you’re not looking for extreme magnification and are also looking for something compact.
The Roxant Authentic Blackbird is our choice for best for the money. This model has superior image quality. It doesn’t have the greatest field of view, but that’s a worthy tradeoff to get images that are this clear and crisp. There’s also very little chromatic aberration across the entire zoom range, which means you’ll enjoy using it no matter how far away your target is. It also comes with a metal stand, which is a nice touch as most companies would only include a plastic stand, or none at all, at this price point.
The downside to this model is that you’re only getting 12 to 36 times magnification, which is on the low-to-average side of things compared to other models on our list. That’s not unworkably bad, but it’s not the 75-times magnification you’ll get on other models. It also has subpar eye relief, which makes it hard to use this model if you wear glasses. Overall, this model produces great images in the short-to-medium range and comes with a great stand that you won’t be able to find with any other model at this price point.
The BARSKA 20-60×60 C011502 falls to fourth on our list due to its difficulty of use, despite some initial upside. It comes it an excellent 60-millimeter lens and fully-coated optics, which should, in theory, do a good job of creating a crystal-clear image, and to some extent, they do. It’s also a waterproof model which makes it suitable for use outside. However, this model has abysmal eye relief. There’s no way you can use this model without taking off your glasses.
However, this is a model that feels cheap. And cheap-feeling models don’t tend to last long under regular use. This flaw wouldn’t be that big of a deal if it was a pleasure to use but focusing this model can be a very difficult task, and you may never get the image in focus, especially if you’re looking at wildlife or other things that might move. Overall, this is a model that you might like if you want something cheap, but you can probably get better value out of a different model.
The Bushnell Sentry 12-36x50mm 789332 is an example of a model with a lot of add-ins, but little overall quality. This model comes with a tripod, a car window mount, and both a soft and a hard case. With all these add-ins, you might assume that you were getting a good deal for the price. Unfortunately, while the add-ins are nice, the spotting scope itself has a lot of problems. Chief among these is the fact that it doesn’t produce a very good image, as it tends to be both blurry and dim.
This model also only has 12 to 36 times magnification, which is average at best. For the price, you’d like to get better magnification options. It also suffers from poor eye relief, which makes it hard to use even if you don’t wear glasses. You must get your eye uncomfortably close to the eyepiece to see anything. Tack on the fact that this compact model is expensive, and you have a recipe for a spotting scope that is very poor value. You can spend less money and get a better spotting scope.
We hope that our reviews have helped you learn something about spotting scopes and what makes for great compact models. If you want to learn more about spotting scopes or want to see some of the thinking that went into our reviews, this buyer’s guide is for you.
Straight spotting scopes are generally better for viewing objects that are the same height as you are. If the heights are too different, you’ll start to see some chromatic aberration. Angled scopes have less chromatic aberration when viewing objects at a different height, and they can also be more comfortable to use since you can typically adjust eyepiece to an angle that is comfortable for you, no matter what position you’re in.
Each spotting scope comes with a pair of numbers that tells you a lot about how they function, that looks like this: “20×60” or “20-60×60.” The number or numbers before the “x” tell you about the magnification. If it’s just a single number, then the scope is fixed. If there are two numbers separated by a hyphen, then the scope is variable and can magnify to any value between the numbers, including those numbers.
The second number tells you lens diameter in millimeters. Bigger lenses let in more light and generally produce clearer images, so you should get a bigger lens when you can.
Surprisingly, mirrors and lenses don’t do a great job on their own of focusing and reflecting light. Lenses will distort the different colors of light, which results in a fuzzy final image. Manufacturers solve this problem by carving a more complex “ED” or Extra-low Diffraction lens, or by achieving the same effect with a chemical coating.
Likewise, the protective glass on mirrors can absorb up to 96% of all light that enters it, which can dramatically darken images. Each spotting scope company uses a different process to fix this problem, but the best chemical treatments can alter the glass to let more than 83% of the light that passes through continue, making for significantly brighter final images.
Here’s some more compact equipment we reviewed:
The Celestron 52238 C70 Mini Mak is our top choice, coming with an extra-compact design that is still compatible with the common 1.25” eyepiece design. The Visionking 25-75×70 Maksutov is our runner-up, due to its large lens and good magnification, and only losing the top spot due to its lack of compatibility with 1.25” eyepieces. The Roxant Authentic Blackbird features an easy-to-use large focus ring, produces great images, and comes at an unbeatable price. The BARSKA 20-60×60 C011502 has a good lens, but feels cheap and is hard to focus, which drops it to fourth on our list. The Bushnell Sentry 12-36x50mm 789332 includes a lot of add-ins but creates poor images, which means we can put it no higher than last on our list.
Hopefully, our reviews have given you a good idea of what you should look for when shopping for a spotting scope. Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to find the compact spotting scope that is perfect for you.
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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