Are you in the market for a spotting scope, but unsure which one to get? How does weight, glass, and size factor into your decision? If you’re looking to purchase a spotting scope, you’ve come to the right place. With so many options on the market, not to mention varying quality, it can be difficult to narrow it down to just one.
We’ve created this buyer’s guide to do just that. Whether you’re a hunter, target shooter, or bird watcher, having a spotting scope is essential. With this guide we’ll aim to answer the most common questions we get on a regular basis, and give you a variety of options to choose from, depending on your needs.
Normally, spotting scopes are akin to small telescopes both in the way they look and function. In fact, they’re like portable telescopes thanks to their great magnification and object clarity capabilities, with most of them having objective lenses measuring between 50mm to 80mm and can magnify from 15x to 60x depending on extra features.
Even though spotting scopes are less portable than binoculars and are designed to use tripods, they offer arguably the best magnification and clarity compared to any other type of sporting optic. This makes them absolutely perfect for spotting and viewing animals and birds from long distances. And because spotting scopes are vital for ardent hunters, target shooters, bird watchers or nature lovers who want to get precise clarity before taking the shot or pulling the trigger, this article will comprehensively review the best spotting scopes that are currently available in the market while highlighting what to look for before spending your money on one. At the end of it, you’ll be in a better position to make the right decision when choosing the best spotting scope for your hunting, bird watching or even golfing adventures.
Features to Consider before Buying a Spotting Scope
There are obviously numerous spotting scopes in the market that choosing the perfect one becomes quite hectic. However, here are some of the most essential features to look for before spending your hard-earned cash in a spotting scope.
How to Choose the Right Spotting Scope
There are a lot of manufacturers out there using various shortcuts to make low-quality spotting scopes that will only afford you poor field performance and lots of headache. Instead of going for cheap and low-quality scopes, it’s advisable to spend a few hundred dollars and get a good quality scope or even spend a few thousand dollars and get a top-notch scope that will last a lifetime. But before spending your hard-earned money, here are some valuable tips on choosing the right spotting scope for you.
With so much to take into account, it can be pretty daunting to choose the right spotting scope. Since they can be used in a variety of circumstances and with budget always playing a factor, we’ve put together a list of 8 different scopes depending on what you’re looking for. Each have their own pro’s and con’s, so it’s just a matter of choosing the right one to fit your needs. So, let’s dive in and see what the 8 best spotting scopes of 2019 are.
Vortex 20-60 x 85 Razor HD Spotting Scope – Best Overall
If there’s one thing that both hunters and shooters will agree on is that a big and open country certainly demands for high-quality glass. From the rainforests of Colombia, the Atlantic Ocean to the Saharan Desert in Morocco all the way to the Strait of Gibraltar, the Vortex Razor has proved to be simply the finest spotting scope money can buy.
This is a top-tier HD spotting scope offering the highest level performance thanks to its sophisticated triplet apochromatic lens system (three differently-shaped lens that help in refocusing the visible light wavelengths to the same focal point) so that it can deliver high-definition views across long distances without degrading resolution, diluting color fidelity or fringing the color of the object. With a large 85mm objective lens that provides high-level magnification between 20x and 60x, the Vortex Razor HD is very bright and we really mean it when we say that it is sharp right to edge of the field view. This scope has a lens made of high-quality, high-density and low-dispersion glass and a variety of coatings such as the XR multi-coating (to enhance light transmission) and ArmorTek coating (to make the lens surface harder and scratch-resistant) that help the scope achieve different ends.
Its angled configuration, fairly compact design (15.25 inches in length) and lightweight design (a little over 64 0z.) not only gives it a distinctive look but is also essential in improving handling. The Vortex Razor HD combines light gray texture and green color and is fully sealed and argon-purged to make it absolutely dustproof, waterproof and internally fog-proof. Its Razor tripod mount comes with a standard ¼ inch screw socket and a hole for an anti-twist pin.
Even though it comes with high-quality eyepiece, objective covers and a view-through case, you’ll be disappointed that it doesn’t come with a ton of modern accessories.
- Very durable
- Angled-body design makes for easy and improved handling
- Porro prism design offers amazing image quality and performance
- Has a fantastic focus
- Its wide-angled eyepiece offers great fixed magnification
- It is lightweight, compact and weatherproof
- It’s very simple to use
- Doesn’t have a ton of extra accessories
- It’s quite expensive
Like all of Vortex’s products, the Razor HD is a high-end angled spotting scope that comes with a full-sized 85mm lens, HD glass and is fairly compact, lightweight and is of course, very durable. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a hunter, bird watcher or a target shooter, the Vortex Razor HD guarantees excellent optical performance. Even though many people may fringe on its price, you’ll never get disappointed if you get your hands on this scope, especially if you’re one of those ardent hunters and bird watchers who like to transverse the world looking for the big, open country.
Bushnell Trophy XLT 20-60x 65mm Scope – Best Budget Scope
One of the most important things that people want to know is what they get for their money, and the Bushnell Trophy XLT doesn’t disappoint on this front. Built to withstand the toughest of conditions, the Bushnell is extremely rugged, comes with high-quality optics and offers and an array of innovative features at an incredibly affordable price.
The generous 65mm objective lens and the adjustable magnification from 20x to 60x is absolutely great for spotting wildlife. And even if you like wearing eyeglasses, the charitable 18.3mm eye relief will provide you with plenty of enough room to see through the eyepiece. This spotting scope is fully multicoated, giving it the phenomenal ability to gather light and you won’t have to worry about sunshade.
Measuring about 13.4 inches in length and weighing about 42.3 ounces, this spotting scope is compact and lightweight enough for hunting application. The housing of this scope is encased in rubber armor to ensure that it is fully protected even during transportation. This scope is built to work with any tripod; however, its only drawback is the included tripod. It’s flimsy, small and almost useless.
- Top-notch HD image clarity
- Quite affordable
- Excellent eye relief
- Hard and soft cases for protection
- Easy to use
- Fully weatherproof
- Poor tripod quality
- Quality control issues
The Bushnell Trophy XLT is arguably the best affordable spotting scope in the market. It’s not only durable but also fully weatherproof with a very crisp and clear view thanks to its 65mm objective lens. The included tripod could have been better if it was a little taller but that’s the only negative thing to say about this magnificent spotting scope.
Best Spotting Scopes for Hunting
Whether you’re a first-time hunter or a seasoned pro, the spotting scope that you use to identify and spot a target can make a big difference between a prized catch and the one that got away. A great spotting scope will allow the hunter to get a better look at that elusive prey before pulling his/her trigger. It can give the hunter the opportunity to pick a deer from the herd through proper magnification. Hunting spotting scopes have slightly different features, but they can be of great help when you’re using a rifle or a bow and arrow. Here are some of the best spotting scopes for hunting.
Vortex Optics Viper HD 20x – 60x 80mm Spotting Scope – Best for Hunting
For big-game hunters, the Vortex Optics Viper is an absolutely fantastic scope for spotting their prey and stalking them from unbelievably long distances. If you’re such a hunter, you’ll appreciate the convenience that this scope gives you and the up-close-and-personal view that you’ll get despite the adjustments that your prey makes.
Measuring about 20 inches in length and weighing 60 ounces, this scope is compact and lightweight and comes with a high-quality lens that offers astounding color and resolution reliability. In addition to the XR anti-reflective coating that protects the scope’s lens from fog and water, the high-quality optics are tightly sealed with O-rings to prevent any issues that might arise as a result of moisture or dust. The ArmorTrek coating is essential in protecting the lens from scratching.
This angled spotting scope is equipped with an eye cup that allows for maximum comfort and can be twisted up or down depending on your location and the location of the prey. It’s also equipped with a rotating tripod to allow you to rotate the eyepiece sideways or to your preferred position. It also comes with an additional accessory rail to enable you to easily attach it to a red dot sight. This scope has a rubber armoring to provide a non-slip grip and magnesium alloy body to make it sturdy and to ensure that it is resistant to corrosion.
It’s unfortunate that things aren’t as sharp even at 60x. You’ll notice that the contrast will slightly drop and the prey won’t be that crisp, but that’s if you are past 150 yards.
- Stunning image quality and clarity at less than 150 yards
- Offers a great range
- Come with an array of additional accessories
- Excellent HD ED glass
- Easy to use
- Limited eye relief
- The cover is rigid and difficult to put on
- Not very reliable past 150 yards
The Vortex Optics Viper is undoubtedly an excellent hunting and tactical scope thanks to its top-notch features that are meant for long distance viewing. These features will not only help you encounter challenging hunting conditions head-on but will also ensure that you experience your hunting adventures in an ultimate way.
Leupold Mark 4 12-40x60mm Spotting Scope W/Mil Dot 53756 – Best for Hunting
If you’ve always had the desire to have a spotting scope with a high-quality mil-dot reticule to enhance your hunting endeavors, the Leupold Mark 4 might just be the perfect solution. This is because the mil-dot reticule will give you a much higher magnification that’s required to accurately spot and hit a target. Again, you can read the mils and range the target, but will require you to have an aide by your side.
Popular with sniper hunters, this spotting scope is compact at 12.4 inches long and absolutely lightweight weighing just about 37 ounce. It’s built to withstand the most difficult conditions and is filled and sealed with nitrogen to ensure that it’s totally waterproof. The exterior of this scope is made of black matte color and combines a soft outer covering that allows for nice grip. Like almost all Leupold products, this spotting scope comes with high-quality optics that is clear and sharp all the way to the edges and is devoid of any blurry effects or contrasts.
With the magnification ring furthest forward and the focus closer to the user, this scope is very simple to use as it gives you complete control of the scope. Furthermore, the magnification ring is larger and smooth while the focus is thinner and has ridges so as to help you use the scope without having to take your eye away from the scope. Additionally, this scope has a very generous eye relief to give you the full picture of the prey even if you’re wearing those big hunting glasses. The scope also has a fantastic 12-40x zoom range to provide impressive flexibility.
Better still, the mil-dot reticule is so powerful and will help you spot and target preys 725 yards away before taking that precise shot. On the other hand, the tripod that has to be ordered separately is more of a disappointment because it’s too tall for many shooting positions.
- Easy to use
- High-quality optics
- Compact, lightweight and sleek
- Completely weatherproof
- Has a generous eye relief
- Can spot over impeccably long distances
- Provides high accuracy thanks to its high-quality mil-dot reticule
- Its tripod is ineffective
With high-quality optics, perfect weight and weatherproof features, as well as the mil-dot reticule for high-precision, the Leupold Mark 4 is unquestionably one of the best hunting spotting scopes out there. Despite the minor issues with its tripod, which has to be bought separately, you’ll never be disappointed if you’re one of those ardent hunters who prefer to take a shot at their prey from long distances and with unwaveringly high precision.
Swarovski 80mm STS HD Straight Spotting Scope – Best for Hunting
Whether you’re looking for a spotting scope for birdwatching, target shooting or golfing, you’ll agree that the Swarovski 80mm STS HD is one of the best hunting spotting scopes in the market. Its ability should not be in doubt as it is another high-quality scope from Swarovski Optics, a company known for its high-end precision telescopes, binoculars, rifle scopes, and of course, spotting scopes.
The Swarovski 80mm STS HD stands out as a high-quality scope that’s sleek, modern, streamlined, stylish and still able to perform at the roughest of terrains. Measuring 13.9 inches long and weighing just about 42 ounces, this scope is light, compact and portable, which is very crucial for your hunting endeavors. Its straight barrel that has a camera attached makes it quite easy for you to spot a prey. The 80mm aperture allows for maximum light, which is crucial for bright and crystal clear images. Its objective and ocular lens with a focal length of 460mm is quite impressive and enhances picture quality.
The Swaroclean coating not only increases durability of the lens but also helps in reducing blur, thereby enhancing the scope’s sharpness. This scope also comes with a soft case that’s designed to protect the scope’s optical parts and to make for easy transportation. In addition to the coatings, the scope has an aluminum exterior to protect the scope from fog, ice and water, thereby increasing its durability.
The only noticeable drawback of the Swarovski 80mm STS HD is its price. You’ll have to spend on the north of $1,500 to get your hands on this scope. Nonetheless, this product is of high quality and is a worthy investment.
- Its 80mm aperture affords maximum light and quality
- Has high-quality sharp lines
- Has a powerful zoom lens for high-quality image and precision
- Easy to use
- Very durable
- Fully weatherproof
- Light, compact, portable and stylish
- Quite expensive
Forget about its price and look at the fact that the Swarovski 80mm STS HD is a serious investment for hunters, birdwatchers, target shooters and golfers who want to get high-quality image clarity from long distances. You’ll never have a bad day in office during your hunting escapades if you get this valuable scope as your spotting guidance.
Best Spotting Scopes for Birding
It’s without doubt that few things can actually match the amazing feeling of watching rare birds up-close-and-personal in the wild. While binoculars or other devices can get you close, they cannot match the incredible magnification that spotting scopes offer. Here are some of the best spotting scopes for birding. In fact, they’ll enable you to view the birds so close to even tell the color of their eyes!
Leupold Gold Ring (GR) 20-60×80 Spotting Scope w/Impact Reticle – Best for Birding
Packed with efficient Folded Light, Path Lens, mirror optical system, an Impact Reticle, Xtended Twilight Lens, a magnesium chassis and a DiamondCoat 2, the GR 20-60×80 have it all. This is a fairly compact but very powerful scope that will give you the most effective optical path that’s very crucial for birdwatching.
The mirror optical system is great as it can reflect the light twice so as to get you great optical quality. This scope is designed with a new High-Definition fluoride-based glass objective lens system that is essential for the remarkably crystal clear and bright images that it produces. For a scope that measures 12.4 inches in length and packed with 60mm objective lens, this scope is amazingly compact, light and easy to pack. This scope comes with a field carrying case that’s soft-sided and ruggedly designed for field use and to ensure that your scope is protected at all times. The unique Impact Reticle comes with mil-dot scale measurements and works in tandem with the Front Focal Plane (FFP) to increase magnification and precision, and also to estimate distances. In terms of durability, this scope has various coatings to protect the lens from any scratch.
Despite these effective features, the GR 20-60×80 would be much better if it had an extendable sunshade to help protect you from the effects of sun especially in the afternoon.
- Very adaptable and versatile
- Highly powerful
- High-quality Reticle
- Completely weatherproof
- Very easy to use
- Gold ring guarantee
- Lacks and extendable sunshade
If you’re one of those birdwatchers who spend most of their time sampling the world’s rarest birds, the GR 20-60×80 will never let you down. It may be quite costly, but certainly a worthy investment with an impact Reticle that not only adds an excellent touch but also makes it an absolutely impressive long-ranging scope.
Kowa TSN-883 Angled 88mm Prominar Spotting Scope – Best for Birding
If you’re one of those ardent birders looking for a high-end spotting scope, you might want to throw a glance in the direction of the Kowa TSN-883 Prominar, which is an angled high-performing spotting scope that will ensure that your birding adventures are never dull. Known for its clearly visible resolution, the Kowa TSN-883 Prominar has become the main reference scope and a benchmark for testing other scopes in the market.
This scope has a sensitive fine focus knob that will ensure that your target prey or bird is popped into utmost focus. Its 88mm objective lens is crucial in bringing the finer details into focus and in improving the scope’s light transmission and contrast by eliminating chromatic aberration. The impressive eyepiece is firmly held into place with a button on the left side and has three indents and differing degrees to enhance eye relief. The scope also has an extendable lens that is smooth and easy to use.
To protect this high-performing scope, it’s made from strong but very lightweight polycarbonate materials. Its JIS class 7 protection standards ensure that it is waterproof and is filled with nitrogen to prevent the lens from fogging. Measuring 13.2 inches in length and weighing 53.6 ounces, this scope is essentially compact and lightweight for birdwatching adventures. The only noticeable downside is its larger lens that comes with greater expense and added weight.
- High-quality optics
- Very durable
- Fully weatherproof
- Compact and sleek
- Great for long-distance ranges
- Easy to use
- Sturdy and built with quality
- Quite heavy
- Fairly expensive
The Kowa TSN-883 Prominar is a truly magnificent spotting scope and has raised the spotting scope bar to a whole new level thanks to its impressively functional features, resolution and technological advancements. It’s certainly the king of optical evolution and is miles ahead of others.
Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 20-60x80mm – Best for Target shooting
Integrated with lenses made from superior quality optics, the Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 has gained numerous compliments from users. It not only enhances the objects with its absolutely great magnifications but also ensures that they are bright, clear and sharp to the edges.
The 24mm adjustable eye window will allow you for superior viewing and you won’t have to worry of any discomfort even if you’re wearing eyeglasses. Knowing very well that very bright light can at times interfere with visual quality, this scope is built with an impressive retractable lens shade to ensure that the sun doesn’t become a problem. This scope is 100% waterproof and fog proof and can flawlessly work in any of these conditions. To offer further protection from rough usage, the optical lens is protected by plastic covers, which can be easily removed and are meant to offer extra security when the scope is not in use.
The knobs of the Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 20-60x80mm are strategically placed and can be handled even with gloves and will enable you to make precise adjustments easily and quickly. Even though the Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 20-60x80mm is an impeccable “jack-of-all-trades” in the spotting scope market, its included tripod looks and feels very cheap. It’s not sturdy and is too high to be used comfortably.
- Offers high-quality resolution
- Fully weather-proof
- Very durable
- Has a retractable lens shade
- Good quality lens
- Very versatile
- Comes with a shaky and less sturdy tripod
- Fairly heavy
Manufactured with very high quality glass that can perform well in low light conditions, the Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 20-60x80mm will never disappoint you in terms of resolution and quality. Its included tripod may be of questionable quality, but that’s the only bad thing that can be said about this superb scope.
Whether you’re a first-time hunter, shooter, birdwatcher or a seasoned pro in any of the aforementioned activities, you’ll agree that nothing enhances these activities more than having a high-quality spotting scope. There’s no doubt that you’ve been missing big time if you’ve been using cheaply-made binoculars or low-end spotting scopes. That’s because having a high-quality spotting scope can make a big difference between a prized catch and the one that got away. It’s therefore advisable to invest in a high-quality scope that will serve you impeccably and last a lifetime.