Best Spotting Scopes – Reviews & Top Picks in 2017

using a spotting scopeMore powerful than binoculars but with less magnification than a telescope, spotting scopes offer an excellent compromise when you’re hiking, hunting or bird watching. There are two main types of spotting scopes (straight and angled) as well as various sizes to suit people who are seeking power, those who want portability and anybody who wants something in between the two! Best of all, there are spotting scopes to suit all levels of budget.

The best spotting scope will help you see far beyond binoculars since they often offer magnification of up to 60x. More than this, they offer portability which means that you can take them with you on long hunts and hikes with no problem. Such is the quality of production nowadays, spotting scopes are made to be rugged and most are now waterproof and fogproof. These are just some of the reasons why spotting scopes are a great choice.

Our Top 5 Picks

ProductMagnification
Objective LensWeightAngled?Our RatingPrice Range
Vortex Optics Razor HD 27-60 x 85
Vortex Optics Razor HD 27-60 x 85 (Angled)
27-60x85mm4.0 poundsComes in both5.0/5
$$$$$
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Vanguard Endeavour HD 65A
Vanguard Endeavour HD 65A
15-45x65mm or 82mm3.2 poundsAngled4.6/5
$$$$
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Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima
Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima
20-60x80mm4.9 poundsComes in both4.5/5
$$
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Gosky 20-60X 80
Gosky 20-60X 80
20-60x80mm4.6 poundsAngled4.3/5
$$
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Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 12-36 x 50
Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 12-36 x 50
12-36x50mm2.3 poundsAngled4.1/5
$$$
Check Lowest Price on Amazon

If we’ve convinced you that a spotting scope will come in handy, you’ll certainly appreciate what’s coming next! Our list of spotting scope reviews will give you a much better idea of what sort of products are out there, what features they have and some of their unique advantages and disadvantages. The idea is that these will help you narrow down the options and find the right product for your needs. Please be sure to read beyond the reviews for our very informative buying guide which is complete with information on features to look out for and more!

1. Vortex Optics Razor HD 27-60 x 85 – Best of the best

Vortex Optics Razor HD 27-60 x 85-perfectAs you’d expect from the best spotting scope on the market, the Vortex Optics Razor HD offers great quality in all areas. In particular, the color sharpness offered through the optics is very impressive and this is down to the HD glass used as well as the lens which is triplet apochromatic. These also provide resolution that is sharp and the result when you look down this spotting scope are images that are sure to impress. For this reason, it’s a great choice whether you’re going hunting, birding or using it for target practice. After all, the ability to look through dense foliage or distinguish between different colors even in low light conditions can be crucial.

Speaking of low light conditions, the anti-light reflective coatings provide more than enough brightness to images, as do the multi-layer prism coatings. As such, you can be confident of using this product in the early morning or evening. Built to last, we really like the durable yet streamlined design that this product features. This provides a balance between feeling confident that it can withstand the odd bump or scrape and knowing that you can easily put this particular spotting scope in your backpack. Unsurprisingly, the price tag for this product is on the high side which will put it beyond the budget of some consumers. But if you can stretch your budget to buy it, we’re confident you’ll be very happy indeed.

Pros

  • The optics provide excellent image quality
  • It can be used in conditions with low light
  • Solid construction yet quite small in design

Cons

  • This is a pricey product

2. Vanguard Endeavour HD 65A – Best Pick Under $500

Vanguard Endeavour HD 65AShould the price tag of the Vortex Optics Razor HD be beyond your spotting scope budget, take a look at the best pick under $500! The Vanguard Endeavour HD 65A is also an angled spotting scope and features ED glass which means accurate color rendition and minimal fringing for a great quality image. These images are also nice and bright because of the phase-coated prism and fully multi-coated lenses. As such, you can use this spotting scope in darker conditions. Not only this, you don’t need to worry about rain or humidity since this product is fully waterproof and fogproof.

A number of other features making this a particularly convenient spotting scope to have. In particular, we like the solid build of the product. It has a rubber armored magnesium body with a built-in sun shield. Also, the focusing wheels are quick and convenient to use so that you don’t miss any of the action! However, at almost 4 lbs, it isn’t the lightest spotting scope around. The angled eyepiece is detachable and offers long eye relief for those with glasses. With the eyepiece, you have the ability to magnify between 15-45x which is more than enough for most people’s spotting scope needs! If you’re in any doubt about this product, know that it also features a premium lifetime warranty.

Pros

  • Fully waterproof and fogproof
  • Offers good eye relief for glasses wearers
  • Has a very good warranty

Cons

  • Might be a little bit too heavy for some people

3. Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima – Best for the Money

Celestron 52250 80mm UltimaThough the Vanguard Endeavour HD is our best pick under $500, the best spotting scope for the money is the Celestron 52250. This 80mm spotting scope has multi-layer anti-reflection coatings which help provide brighter views whether you’re bird watching or target shooting. In terms of design, the product is fairly sleek and the green and black color choices allow it to easily blend in with natural environments. Despite this, it is solid and we like that it’s waterproof and that additional protection is provided through the soft padded case. The case actually has zippers on each end so that it can be used even when the scope is on a tripod.

While the optics at lower magnifications are good, we feel that they are of fairly poor quality at higher magnifications. We’d certainly recommend the use of a tripod as this would provide some stability which may help somewhat. At least the focus is quick and easy to use so that you can get the most out of the product for the price. Glasses wearers may wish to avoid this product as the eye relief is minimal. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for and this is the best spotting scope under $200.

Pros

  • Smart and sleek design
  • Comes with a soft padded case
  • Focus is fairly quick and easy to use

Cons

  • Image quality drops significantly at greater magnification
  • Minimal eye relief for glasses wearers

4. Gosky 20-60X 80 – Suited for Target Shooting

Gosky 20-60X 80Perhaps the best spotting scope for target shooting is the Gosky 20-60X 80. Of course, it can also be used for other activities such as bird watching. Target shooting requires clear, crisp images and that’s what this product tries to deliver with the fully multi-coated green film objective lens. It’s also helped by the variable 20x to 60x magnification. The ability to quickly and easily zoom onto a target cannot be overstated and this is where the Gosky 20-60X 80 excels. You’ll be able to see your shooting targets at various distances with decent optical clarity. You can find better quality optics on the market but they’re unlikely to be in this price range.

When you’re on the move with a spotting scope then it always helps if it’s durable. In this case, it’s rubber armored which helps act as waterproofing, provides good grip and helps absorb the shock of the odd bump or scrape. One particularly interesting feature of this target shooting spotting scope is the digiscoping phone adapter. This lets you take photos and videos of what you’re seeing through your scope. On top of this, you’ll also find a carrying case, lens protection covers, straps and cleaning cloth. We think that this is great value. While it also comes with a tripod, it is of poor quality and we highly recommend you invest in one of higher quality.

Pros

  • Offers plenty of magnification for target shooting
  • Rubberized exterior is rugged and provides good grip
  • Includes a phone adapter that lets you photograph what you’re spotting

Cons

  • The optics are average but good value
  • Included tripod is of poor quality

5. Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 12-36 x 50 – Extremely Compact

Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 12-36 x 50When you’re out on a long hike or hunt, it’s just not practical to constantly carry around a big and bulky spotting scope. For this reason, you may be interested in the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 12-36 x 50. Measuring just 10.5-inches and weighing just under 2.3 lbs, this is one of the most compact spotting scopes on the market. You’ll be impressed with the optics of this product. Featuring ED glass and fully multi-coated optics, you can expect high-quality images that are clear and bright, even when conditions aren’t favorable. You can find better optics on the market but we’d argue that such products are typically more expensive.

It’s not only waterproof but fogproof and is built with a durability that should see it last for years of use. Despite this, we’d probably want a more reliable warranty. The warranty that comes with this product only covers manufacturer’s defects so this may put off some consumers. Value is added to this Bushnell spotting scope with the addition of a few accessories which include a soft carrying case, scope glove, and viewing tripod. Those who wear prescription glasses or even sunglasses will be pleased to know that there is 17mm of eye relief. It’s a product that has a lot going for it so be sure to keep it in mind if you’re looking for a more compact spotting scope.

Pros

  • Lightweight and compact so ideal for long hikes
  • The construction is nice and durable
  • Plenty of eye relief offered for those who wear glasses

Cons

  • You can find better optics but will be hard pressed for the price
  • The warranty doesn’t cover a great deal

Buying a Spotting Scope: What to Consider

Knowing about the different types of spotting scopes, which features to look for and how to get the most out of them will help make your decision so much quicker and easier. If this sounds appealing then read on for our buying guide!

Straight VS. Angled

straight-vs-angled-spotting-scope

There are two main types of spotting scopes for you to consider: straight and angled. These terms refer to the eyepiece and whether you will need to look down it or look straight ahead. But how are you supposed to decide between the two? Simply take a look at the various pros and cons of both and you’ll soon have an idea as to which is best for you!

Straight Spotting Scope

  • Easier to use from a vehicle
  • Less likely to collect snow and water when not in use
  • Easier to store in a backpack
  • Target acquisition is faster
  • Very uncomfortable to use at uphill angles
  • Crouching can be uncomfortable
  • Tripod needs to be taller which can be problematic in windy conditions

Angled Spotting Scope

  • Can use a shorter tripod
  • Arguably more comfortable
  • Better suits to looking up steep terrain
  • Can easily switch between people of different heights
  • Better support for digiscoping (using your phone to photograph and film)
  • A little more difficult to store away because of the shape
  • Not as capable when it comes to spotting downhill
  • Can collect snow and water on the lens when not in use

If you’re going to be doing a lot of bird watching or stargazing, we recommend an angled scope since it easily allows you to look upwards with less discomfort. For anything else, a straight spotting scope is best since they’re easier to use (where you point is where you look). It basically comes down to personal preference and in reality, both work fine for most people’s spotting requirements.

How much magnification do I need?

magnification

The magnification of the spotting scope is one of the most essential features. After all, the whole point of a spotting scope is to allow you to spot objects that the naked eye can’t. Spotting scopes are typically more powerful than binoculars and typically have a variable zoom of 15-45x or 20-60x. You’re unlikely to need anything more than 60x as the conditions of the atmosphere limit how much you can see. Greater magnifications work best at high altitudes and in dry climates and struggle in those that are low altitude and humid climates.

What about the objective lens?

The objective lens of a spotting scope is also very important since it dictates how well you can see. We always recommend that you go for quality rather than size when it comes to the objective lens though it is worth knowing that, as a rule, the bigger the objective lens, the more powerful it typically is. Larger lenses are typically between 60 and 100mm in size and will gather more light resulting in clearer, brighter images. A wider field of view is also provided.

Remember that the bigger the objective lens, the heavier the spotting scope will be. Really it comes down to whether you want power, portability or a mix of the two. Don’t worry, there are plenty of spotting scopes to cover all people’s needs! If you’re planning on staying in one place with your spotting scope then an 80-100mm lens may be ideal. Those who are moving around such as on hikes may appreciate a smaller 50-60mm lens.

How important is eye relief?

Eye relief is very important when wearing prescription glasses or sunglasses when you use your spotting scope. It’s annoying having to constantly take glasses off every time you look through the scope. For this reason, you should look for a product that offers long eye relief. This refers to the distance from which your eye can be from the eyepiece while still being able to see the full view. The problem with minimal eye relief is that you then won’t have the full picture. We recommend at least 14mm of eye relief though 17mm would be ideal.

Do I need to have a tripod?

spotting scope tripod

Because spotting scopes use high magnifications, tripods are highly recommended. A good tripod will help reduce the image shakiness that can occur which will help provide you with better quality visuals. Of course, spotting scopes don’t require tripods but it’s always good to have the option. In some cases, tripods are included with the spotting scope upon purchase. But in most cases, these need to be bought separately. We advise that you get the best tripod that you can realistically afford for the best experience with your new product.

Is there anything else?

Before you make that purchase, consider these final points. Take a look at the following and consider how important each is to you:

  • Most spotting scopes are both waterproof and fogproof. We consider this to be essential as it means you don’t have to be limited by the weather. Make sure your spotting scope is weather-proof to avoid any potential problems in the future.
  • Since a spotting scope can be an expensive purchase (though it doesn’t have to be!), it’s well worth looking for a product that offers a good warranty. The best spotting scopes have lifetime warranties and offer great customer service when issues arise.
  • The size and weight of your spotting scope may be very important to you if you plan on taking it on long hikes and hunts. If this is not important to you then we recommend you go for a more powerful spotting scope with a bigger objective lens.
  • Try to set a budget that you’re happy with. Don’t worry, there are spotting scopes to suit all budgets from $200 right up to $2000. The more you spend, the greater the optical performance. You’ll also be able to expect more features.
  • It’s sensible to have a look which accessories are included with your spotting scope. You may find that you have to buy them separately but most products come with at least a lens cloth and carry case. You may also wish to purchase a tripod.
  • Finally, we think it’s a great idea to shop around. Prices of spotting scopes can vary a great deal and by exploring the market, you may well find a bargain. It’s also good practice to read consumer reviews to get a better impression of a particular product.

Conclusion

From the type of spotting scope you choose to the features it has, there’s plenty to think about before making your purchase. We believe that with some careful consideration, you can find a product that best matches your requirements. What’s more, we’re confident that you can find good options in your budget with no need to break the bank.

We’re seeing spotting scopes improve year on year. They’re becoming more powerful, portable and more competitively priced than ever before. Equipped with our reviews of spotting scopes and our informative buying guide, you will soon be out and about exploring and seeing things like never before with a great spotting scope. Have fun!