Spotting Scopes VS. Binoculars: When to Use Which?


Before discussing when to use which, let’s first take a look at how both specs differ from each other.

Spotting Scopes


Magnification power Ranges from 20x to 60x Magnification power is limited: Only 10x, 15x, and 20x
Objective lens Have bigger lens diameter, can be above 60 mm Have smaller lens diameter, below 50 mm
Transportability Difficult to handle and may be inconvenient to bring Can be transported easily
Low light compatibility Great but not excellent Almost useless in a low light setting
In-motion Can be unsteady when the magnification is high Can easily be used even when in motion
Perfect for

Professional bird watching, adequate stargazing, and long range shooting

Light bird watching, limited stargazing, and medium range shooting

Since spotting scopes have bigger apertures than binoculars, they offer sharper and brighter views in a low light setting. Spotting scopes are perfect when you want to glass at sunrise or sunset. They will give you a more detailed image than the binoculars.

On the other hand, binoculars are for those who want to spot targets that are large such as an elk. Binoculars can do the trick at a moderately distant range while spotting scopes are better for bringing out the details of birds, flowers, and etc. at an extended range.

If you want a convenient device, especially one that’s portable, you should use binoculars. Most of them come with a cord that you can easily sling across your neck or around your wrist. If convenience isn’t really an issue for you, a spotting scope would be fine. They’re just heavier. Plus, you’ll have to carry them in a large pouch. At first, you might find it uncomfortable to bring a spotting scope.

With regards to their use while on the move, I still suggest you take your binoculars with you. because of their fixed and lower magnification, they can be used easily. It’s not recommended to use a spotting scope if you know you’ll be moving a lot. Spotting scopes are sensitive and they demand you stay put and steady them before you can maximize their capability.

Spotting scopes are perfect for viewing animals that are far away. Binoculars will require you to get closer physically in order to get a more detailed view. The former also allow you to target more efficiently. Plus, they can be used for telephotography and digiscoping. High-end spotting scopes are also easier to set up. Some don’t even require installation! Expensive ones can even be as compact as binoculars. However, unlike binoculars, they’re more expensive. So if your budget is limited, I say you should get yourself top-quality binoculars instead, they’ll still be cheaper than high-quality spotting scopes. If you don’t like buying additional accessories which are considered necessary, you should also settle with binoculars. Spotting scopes require a tripod and if your wallet can’t afford it, it’ll be difficult for you to use your spotting scope. At the end of the day, it all boils down to what you’ll use it for. Your personal taste is also a factor you must consider.