The easiest way to decide is by using the 80/20 rule. This is the question you have to ask yourself: Are you going to use 80% viewing objects or animals in the sky or 80% viewing objects on land? The remaining 20% will, of course, be spent on whatever you did not choose. Why do you have to answer this? Because if you’re going to use the scope more for sky viewing, you need to get yourself a telescope. If it’s the other way around, you should purchase a spotting scope.
It’s necessary to know that telescopes usually produce an image that’s upside down. This makes telescopes ineffective to use for land viewing. Spotting scopes, on the other hand, give an image that’s clear and sharp, perfect for birdwatching.
If you value portability, obviously, a spotting scope will suit you more. Spotting scopes can be carried around in a pouch or in your arms while you’re on the move. They are also sturdier than telescopes because the latter are usually delicate and are too heavy and large to carry around when you want to transfer from one place to another.
When it comes to zooming in and out, a spotting scope is more convenient. Most telescopes have standard eyepieces that will require you to switch them when you want to zoom in or out. This is time-consuming and can be taxing on your part. A variable eyepiece is available on the market but it’ll cost you money again. With a spotting scope, however, all you have to do is adjust the variable zoom eyepiece. Spotting scopes come with numbers, for instance, 20-60×60. 20-60x means the scope can zoom in 20x to 60x. The last 60 is the size of the lens.
Spotting scopes are perfect for unexpected appearances of animals such as birds. You wouldn’t be able to get a detailed glimpse of a bird in an instant if you have to switch eyepieces. That’s why when it comes to land viewing, you should let the spotting scope work.
Despite their many differences, they also have similarities. Both the spotting scope and the telescope are used for viewing distant objects and are tailored to work with tripods. However, the latter is designed to be supported by special mounts which aren’t cheap.
To wrap it up, use a telescope if you want to observe celestial objects and if you’re not going to constantly move from one place to another. If you’re going to view targets which are moving fast or are unpredictable, you should use a spotting scope. Spotting scopes offer a wider view that make them ideal for birdwatching and hunting. They are also versatile since they can be used to capture photos of faraway objects—you just have to pair one with a camera. For stargazing, a telescope is obviously the perfect one for the job. Although you can use a spotting scope, it won’t give a clearer image.
Now you know when to use which.
Now how about when it comes to spotting scopes vs. binoculars? Check this guide to find out more.