What is a Spotting Scope and Where Do I Get One?


A spotting scope is in simple terms, a portable telescope. It is used primarily for observing wildlife, especially birds.

Spotting scopes have a magnification usually on the order of 20X to 60X.

Other features found on most models include a touch exterior usually rubber and built for long lasting touch usage. There will always be a focus control knob, a lens cap that is attached, and a plethora of eyepieces that all have different magnifications. Many brands will make you purchase the eyepiece separately to ensure you get the range of magnification you are looking for.

These scopes have light gathering power that is determined by the objective lens width. This width is normally between 55 and 80 mm. For a higher quality scope and a higher price, you will select a larger objective lens.

Basically, there are three styles of scopes:

  1. Angled – This is when the eyepiece is angled at around 45 degrees to the body of the scope. These tend to be easier to use for taller people or when you are trying to get views of something on the ground.
  2. Straight – This is when the eyepiece is on the same axis as the body of the scope. Traditionally, this has been the most used of the three and was also the initial style.
  3. Shoulder Mounted – Very rarely found, these are just like you would expect, mounted on your shoulder.

The overall magnification is determined by the choice of the eyepiece lens. Magnification of less that 20X would be difficult to find as you could get this in a cheap pair of binoculars. If you have a magnification of more that 60X, you could experience problems with brightness and will probably discover shake will be a problem.

Birders tend to use spotting scopes with a 20X or 30X, although some use greater than this for hard to see birds. Long range hunters use spotting scopes up to 60X if they are mounted on a platform.

These scopes have many uses. The most popular and growing rapidly is for bird watching. When purchasing one, you should look at the features and not the price. In addition, check out the warranty. Kowa spotting scopes for instance have a lifetime warranty but are priced a little higher than other models.

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