The next time you go out hunting, hiking, or bird watching, consider taking a spotting scope along. These portable little devices are more powerful than binoculars but with less magnification than a telescope, giving you the perfect compromise for spying on objects in the distance.
Of course, it’s not quite as simple as buying the first scope you see and trudging off into the wilderness. There are quite a few factors to consider, and if you’re new to using a scope, you may not even understand them all, much less know what to look for.
In the reviews below, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to find the perfect scope for your budget and situation.
|Vortex Optics Razor HD 27-60 x 85|
|27-60x||Comes in both||4.90/5|
|Vanguard Endeavour HD 65A|
(Best under $500)
|Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima|
|20-60x||Comes in both||4.60/5|
|Gosky 20-60X 80||20-60x||Angled||4.40/5|
|Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 12-36 x 50||12-36x||Angled||4.30/5|
The Vortex Optics Razor HD is an angled option with a triplet apochromatic lens, which gives you crystal-clear magnification in low light conditions without sacrificing color clarity in the process. Don’t think it’s only for use at dusk, however, as it boasts XR Plus anti-reflective coatings, ensuring it performs at a high level in broad daylight.
It performs as admirably at close range as it does at 1,000 yards, with the ability to focus on objects as close as 16.4 feet. The magnification ring turns smoothly and easily, allowing you to quickly switch between objects at various distances.
The Razor HD is surprisingly durable for such a sophisticated piece of equipment, boasting Amortek coatings to keep oil, dirt, and debris from fouling up the internal components. And while we wouldn’t recommend playing catch with it, the rubber armor should protect it in the event of an accidental drop or two.
However, while the scope itself offers some protection against damage, the bag it comes with leaves quite a bit to be desired. It’s large and bulky, with very little padding, and you’ll likely want to swap it out for something more formidable the first chance you get. That’s little reason to ding the scope, though, and it certainly isn’t enough to detract from the Razor’s generally excellent performance.
The lenses boast extra-low dispersion glass to give you vivid, accurate color depiction, and each one has been covered in advanced MultiGuard coatings to maximize light transmission.
Where the Endeavour really shines, however, is in its user-friendliness. It’s lightweight with an ergonomic grip, and the stacked controls are easy to use on the fly. The detachable eyepiece has a soft rubber cup and 20 mm of eye relief, making it comfortable for extended use.
This is an excellent scope for beginners, and it’s even forgiving of a few mistakes, thanks to its heavy-duty magnesium body. If you do manage to break it, though, don’t worry — it’s covered by a lifetime warranty.
As you might expect, there are a few areas in which the pricier Razor edges it out, most notably image quality. The Endeavour tends to be a little soft around the edges, which isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker — but it is one area in which the more expensive unit undoubtedly outperforms it. All in all, this budget-friendly scope should be able to get the job done for all but the most discriminating users, and it’s a good stepping stone to a more sophisticated model.
If you’re not prepared to make a sizable investment in a scope, the Celestron Ultima can rival its more costly competitors, but a budget-friendly price that puts it well within most users’ budgets.
You get a complete setup with your order, as in addition to the scope you’ll receive a tripod-mounting plate, a zoom eyepiece with T-adapter, and all the gear you’ll need to transport and clean it properly. Is any of this gear top-of-the-line? No, but it’s enough to get you started on the right foot for not a lot of money.
The scope itself boasts multi-coated optics designed to make colors pop and enhance contrast, allowing you to find your quarry even in dense brush. The focus dial is rather large as well, so sighting it in should never take more than a few seconds, even if you’re wearing gloves.
This is a mid-range scope, as it has a relatively pedestrian close focus distance of 26.2 feet and struggles at ranges beyond 200 yards or so. The multi-coated optics help brighten things up in low light, but at the expense of adding a slight rainbow sheen to everything you see.
No one is ever going to confuse the Celestron Ultima with an elite spotting scope, but then again, not everyone needs an elite spotting scope. If you’re just dabbling in bird watching or you want something to give to your kids, this is a respectable model that performs better than you have any right to expect, given its bargain-basement price.
While not ideal for use on the move, the Gosky 20-60X 80 is a great choice for target shooting or other stationary pursuits.
Our favorite feature is the inclusion of a digiscoping adapter that allows you to attach your smartphone to the scope. The universal mount works with any model of phone, enabling you to zoom in closer and even record video of your best shots.
As you likely guessed from the name, the scope is capable of magnification from 20-60x, and while it claims to have a dynamic focusing system, we found that sharpening the image took a few seconds each time. This is another reason why the Gosky is better suited for stationary targets, as it reacts a little too slowly to track fast-moving birds or deer.
It also gives a scant 17 mm of eye relief, so users with glasses may get frustrated from constantly bumping up against the eyepiece.
You can likely use the Gosky at distances up to 800 yards, but be aware that it will get fairly blurry when set at the maximum magnification level. You’ll still be able to see at that distance, but picking up small details isn’t going to be easy.
The Bushnell Legend Ultra is an extremely portable model, as it’s only 10.5 inches long and weighs a mere 36 ounces. It’s perfect for stashing in a backpack or rifle case, and it won’t weigh you down out in the field.
Despite its diminutive stature, it still boasts a 50 mm objective lens that’s capable of up to 36x magnification. That’s not as much as some of the other models on this list, but it’s still respectable, especially given the compact nature of the scope.
It performs admirably in inclement weather, thanks to the RainGuard HD coating that protects it from rain, sleet, and other moisture. We still wouldn’t recommend dropping it in a stream, but at least you won’t have to panic if it gets wet.
The Legend Ultra works well even if your target is right in front of you, as it has a close focus distance of 15 feet. It provides a respectable 90-foot field of view at 1000 yards on the highest magnification setting, but don’t expect to count every feather on a bird at that range; this scope is more for finding things in the near-to-mid-distance.
The kit includes most of the basics, including a tripod, but you won’t be wowed by any of the accompanying equipment. The lens covers are especially annoying, as they refuse to stay on for very long, especially if you’re jostling the scope while traveling.
We wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Bushnell Ultra to be your first spotting scope, but it’s an excellent choice if you want something to carry with you for quick scans of the surrounding terrain.
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!
There are two main types of spotting scopes for you to consider: straight and angled. 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!
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).
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, but struggle in low altitude and humid climates.
The objective lens of a spotting scope is also very important since it dictates how well you can see. As a rule, the bigger the objective lens, the more powerful it will be. 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. 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.
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. We recommend at least 14mm of eye relief, though, 17mm would be adequate.
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.
Before you make that purchase, consider these final points:
If you’re a hunter, marksman, or nature enthusiast, buying a spotting scope will open up a whole new world of possibilities for you. You’ll be able to see small details with incredible clarity at distances up to 1,000 yards, allowing you to accurately sight in a rifle or identify a rare species of bird.
For those who want the best scope on the market (and are willing to pay the price), the Vortex Optics Razor HD is hard to beat and best overall spotting scope. It boasts a triplet apochromatic lens to give you a clear picture in low-light conditions, and its XR Plus anti-reflective coatings let you see the world perfectly even in direct sunlight. It’s not as fragile as you’d expect a sophisticated piece of optics equipment to be, either, thanks to its Amortek coating that safeguards the internal components.
Users on a budget will find that the Vanguard Endeavour HD 65A can rival the Razor HD in many ways, but at a fraction of the price, earning its best spotting scope under $500 award. While not quite as capable of providing crystal-clear images, it will still bring the world around you into crisp focus, as it has extra-low dispersion glass lenses with MultiGuard coatings. It’s also backed by a lifetime warranty, making it a smart choice for users who are rough on equipment.
The Celestron Ultima has decent optics at a friendly price. It’s the best value spotting scope and a good gateway product for beginners.
You’ll be amazed at everything you can see once you have a high-quality spotting scope readily available. Regardless of whether you’re out at dawn, dusk, or the middle of the day, the options on this list will ensure that nothing can hide from your gaze. The only downside is you’re now officially out of excuses for anything you miss!
Best Nikon Binoculars 2020 – Reviews & Top Picks
Best Point and Shoot Camera for Birding 2020 – Reviews & Top Picks
Best Schmidt Cassegrain Telescopes 2020 – Reviews & Top Picks
Best Cameras for Bird Photography 2020 – Reviews & Top Picks
Best Superzoom Camera for Birding 2020 – Reviews & Top Picks
Best Telescope for Astrophotography 2020 – Reviews & Top Picks
Best Refractometers 2020 – Reviews & Top Picks
How Do Binoculars Work? Explained