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No matter how serious you are about your outdoor activities, a good spotting scope is invaluable. Gone are the days when a spotting scope was something exclusively used by men in camo, hidden in the brush, stalking deer. While spotting scopes are an essential piece of equipment when hunting, they’re so much more.
With lightweight and compact designs and some handy tech add-ons, a high-quality spotting scope will pay for itself in terms of value added to activities. Use it on the target shooting range, hiking, birdwatching, or stargazing.
Roxant Blackbird Spotting Scope
The Roxant Blackbird offers excellent build quality in a compact form, as well as military-grade glass construction.
Overall Top Pick
The Authentic ROXANT Blackbird High Definition Spotting Scope with 12-36X zoom. This spotting scope works well for hunting, birding, hiking, target shooting, stargazing, or any other outdoor activities. It features high-quality optics and is a banger in the value-for-money department.
Best Birding Scope
The Gosky 20-60X 80 Porro Prism Spotting Scope is a great contender for Best Entry-level scope, and here’s why: It is lightweight and portable and made for the outdoors with its waterproof design. What pushes this up in the ranks is the digiscope adapter, making this the best spotting scope for photographers and casual outdoorsmen alike. It is at a great price point for what it delivers and would make a great starter spotting scope.
Best Astronomy Choice
The Celestron 52268 C90 Mak Spotting Scope has come out as one of our top picks for the best spotting scope available. It has performed very well with users across the board. The quality of the build is excellent, and it is easy to use. It is not waterproof, but when you weigh that up with the vivid image quality and its performance in both terrestrial and celestial viewing, it can be forgiven.
Our Selection of The 10 Best Spotting Scopes
We’re here to help, so we’ve put together a review for each one of the ten most popular spotting scopes below.
1. ROXANT Blackbird High-Definition Spotting Scope
The Authentic Roxant Blackbird High Definition Spotting Scope is a compact precision device with 12-36X zoom. In our minds, it is one of the best spotting scopes available. The scope includes a carry case, a portable, foldable tripod with a handle, and lens caps.
The 45° angled eyepiece is designed for comfort; it is extendable/retractable (rather than fold-down) to make it comfortable to use with or without glasses. The scope has a rugged, non-slip rubber armor and a folded grip, making it durable and comfortable.
The textured focus ring is on the barrel itself for ease of use. This Roxant Blackbird scope boasts military-grade optical glass, a BAK4 prism, and a large, full, multi-coated objective lens, allowing excellent light transmission and a wide view. The spotting scope also features a handy sunshade built into the main barrel, which you can extend to reduce glare. You can take this spotting scope hunting, birding, hiking, target shooting, stargazing, or vacationing.
So, how does the scope fare out in the wild?
By all accounts, this is an excellent entry-level spotting scope. The scope is small and lightweight, making it a great portable device. The tripod is metal and very sturdy, with non-slip feet; it makes a welcome change from many other devices in this category, which invariably come with flimsy tripods. If anything, some may find this tripod a bit small. For the price of this scope, you are getting excellent value for money. The image is clear and retains its crispness even at full magnification. There doesn’t appear to be any distortion to speak of. Focusing is smooth and quick, thanks to the textured wheel on the barrel.
Is military-grade glass overkill in this small device? Well, no. The high-quality components used in this scope are probably what push it across the line and give you that bang for your (relatively few) bucks. You could use this spotting scope for outdoor activities, but it’s also small enough to take along to the theatre or sports games. It is an all-rounder.
Reasons to buy
2. Emarth 20-60x60AE Waterproof Angled Spotting Scope with Tripod
The Emarth 20-60×60 Angled Spotting Scope is touted as being designed with the traveler in mind. It’s a fairly light (640g), compact, and portable piece of equipment that’s waterproof and fogproof. This scope comes with a tripod and a nifty carrier bag with a specific compartment for the tripod (a thoughtful added extra to avoid the scope and tripod banging around in the bag).
It features a dynamic lens with sharp resolution, good contrast, and vibrant color. The optics are multi-coated and offer a clear, crisp image. This scope is made to be used in all weather conditions and is versatile enough to be used for target shooting, hunting, birding, hiking, or archery.
So how does it perform? By most accounts, quite well. The field of vision is problematic as the magnification goes up; the result is that you’ll have to get your eye as close as possible to the eyepiece to get the full viewing field, which is otherwise very small and distorted. Overall, it seems the focus becomes poorer as the magnification goes up. That’s something to remember if you’re looking for a spotting scope to use when hunting, for example.
The included tripod is lightweight and rather unstable, so it’s not necessarily suitable for heavy-duty use. This spotting scope is probably best suited to use on the range or for casual bird watching. It performs at its best in clear, sunny weather conditions and fares well overall in clear lowlights. Avoid this one if you specifically need a scope for long-range.
The verdict? The Ermarth spotting scope fares well. It’s good value for money; it may not be the best spotting scope available, but you get what you pay for. It probably won’t exceed your expectations, but you won’t be left feeling like you’ve wasted your money, especially not at this price point.
Reasons to buy
3. Gosky 20-60X 80 Porro Prism Spotting Scope
Let’s start with the specs. The Gosky 20-60X80 Porro Prism Spotting Scope features a full multi-coated green film lens, eyepiece, and prism. It has a variable 20-60X magnification and a dynamic focusing system. The magnesium framework and shock-absorbing rubber armor make this spotting scope strong and durable enough to withstand tough weather conditions.
The scope comes with a carrier bag and tripod, making this 1230g equipment easily portable. It has a waterproof design, including that the eyepiece shield can extend to protect the eyepiece. For those who love a bit of added tech, the Gosky Porro Prism scope also features a digiscope cellphone adapter so that you can attach your smartphone and use it to take photos and videos through the scope. One of the best spotting scopes for watching birds, wildlife, and scenery, it also performs well for moon gazing.
The biggest drawcard on this spotting scope is probably the cell phone adapter. No matter what you use your scope for, in the age of social media, adding the (easy) ability to capture your unique perspective is pretty hard to pass up. There are mixed feelings about exactly how easy the adapter is to use, that it’s clumsy and awkward to set up. But once that’s figured out, it works well and gets a thumbs up.
This spotting scope is in a slightly higher price bracket than the others we’ve looked at so far, and it seems, as always, you get what you pay for. All around, the Gosky 20-60X80 Porro Prism is good value for money. Devices designed for photography can be very pricey, so if you want those features without breaking the bank, this spotting scope is great.
This scope is waterproof but does not claim to be fogproof, which is good because it isn’t. So, keep your lens clothes with you to ensure your images come out clearly.
Should you buy it? If you’re a keen photographer or an amateur outdoorsman on a budget, this is probably the best spotting scope. It is a package deal: you get a decent scope, and there’s no need to buy photography adapters and accessories. The quality is good, and you’re saving some money along the way.
Reasons to buy
4. BARSKA 15-40×50 Colorado Spotting Scope
If you’re looking for something simple and uncomplicated, and if you don’t have very serious spotting scope needs, try the BARSKA 15-40X50 Colorado Spotting Scope. This spotting scope is light and compact and comes complete with a mini tripod and case to make it portable and convenient, making it great for spotting on the go. This scope’s lens is fully coated, but it does not come with lens covers, so you’ll have to source those separately.
So those were the basics. Here’s the low-down on this scope’s performance. At 15X magnification, the image is clear, the focus ring isn’t too loose or stiff, and the zoom wheel is easy to operate. Once you’ve passed the 30X magnification mark, though, you may struggle with focus and achieving a sharp image.
You wouldn’t necessarily want to use this particular scope for any heavy-duty spotting, not least because the accompanying mini tripod isn’t very sturdy. And you’ll have to dismount the scope from the tripod to get it to fit in the case. You can easily get around the issue of the wobbly tripod by ensuring it’s supported by something sturdy, that you get set up in a spot that it won’t be moved from, or, preferably, that you set it up on a completely different tripod altogether.
If we’re splitting hairs, it would be better if the lens was multi-coated, but it gathers light very well. And if eye relief is a deal-breaker for you, the shallow 10-13mm allowed on this scope will let you down.
Given the (few) low points about this scope, if you’re new to using a spotting scope, this particular one is not a bad place to start. For more experienced users, if you know exactly what you’d be using this for — zeroing, for instance, or using it as a spare scope in a pinch — then this will not be the best spotting scope for you.
The BARSKA Colorado scope comes in at the lower end of the price scale, so you are getting what you pay for. It is not low quality, but certainly not the absolute top of the range. If your expectations are reasonable, this spotting scope won’t disappoint. If you don’t need a scope for long ranges, you’ll be satisfied with this one. It does the job, and it does it well.
Reasons to buy
5. BARSKA Colorado Waterproof Spotting Scope
Another BARSKA spotting scope review on our list. This one is at a slightly higher price point, and for your money, you’ll get a bit of an improvement on the scope we reviewed earlier. This spotting scope sports fully coated optics, with a 60 mm objective lens, 20-60X adjustable zoom, and quick access focus. The image is crisp, and the light transmission is increased.
This spotting scope is built to withstand tough conditions and is 100% waterproof. It features high-quality rubber armor and is nitrogen-purged, making it fogproof. The BARSKA Colorado Waterproof Spotting Scope weighs 1250,06g and comes with a pan-head tripod, a carry case, and a neck strap, making it light and comfortable enough to be easily portable. You can use this scope for hunting, target shooting, and any other general observation.
In terms of quality, the Colorado Waterproof Spotting Scope fares relatively well. The scope is lightweight and easy to port; the neck strap is convenient, and the carry case is handy. The waterproof casing lends itself to a more durable scope. The image quality is very good, clear, and crisp. If astronomy is your thing, basic stars, and moon viewings should be fine, but anything more detailed may become a problem as the image loses clarity. If you’re using your spotting scope for hunting or target shooting, remember that the Colorado Waterproof scope doesn’t show any target readings.
The eye relief is adjustable, which is convenient. However, it can become annoying having to adjust it. It’s also a short relief, which is the same problem that came up in our previous BARSKA scope review. The tripod is a let-down. It’s great that it’s included because you’d often have to buy a tripod separately. However, the tripod isn’t very sturdy; as you move up to full power magnification, you’ll feel that you need something more stable. This seems to be an unpleasant trend with BARSKA.
This spotting scope is significantly more expensive than its counterpart – which, fair enough, is priced at a steal, so this scope is still relatively cheap. For the extra money, you’re getting a slightly more durable and better spotting scope. BARSKA has some persistent issues, but at this price point, you are getting a bargain that works well. This spotting scope won’t disappoint if you’re looking for a step-above-entry-level piece of equipment.
Reasons to buy
6. Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima Zoom Spotting Scope
This is a popular spotting scope that seems to perform relatively well across the board. Celestron is known for its high-quality devices, so they know what they do. Some specs: The Ultima 80mm Zoom Spotting Scope’s images are sharper and brighter than its 60mm counterparts. You can enjoy a 77% improvement in brightness with the 80mm lens.
The zoom lens takes you from 20X to 60X magnification. Thanks to multi-layer, anti-reflection coatings on the objective lens zoom eyepiece and BAK-4 prisms, this scope has great light transmission. The scope comes prepared for photographers: remove the rubber eyecup to attach your camera. This spotting scope does not come with a tripod, but it is built to fit any standard tripod.
The scope’s design is pretty streamlined and waterproof and comes with a soft, padded, zippered case that can keep it undercover even when the scope is mounted on a tripod. You will want a good, sturdy tripod for this scope, as it is bulkier. It’s a ruggedly built, sturdy spotting scope; it may be a bit hefty for those looking for something lighter and more portable. With that said, this spotting scope might be better suited to those of you who are avid bird watchers or enjoy shooting on a range.
If you wear glasses, you’ll probably want to remove them when using this scope; the eye relief could be quite shallow for some users, impacting your experience. If you are a more experienced spotter, the blue fringing may be a bit of a distraction as you zoom up to 60X magnification. But for the most part, this shouldn’t bother you. There is also a loss of clarity and resolution as you increase magnification.
All in all, this spotting scope is good value for money. At this price point, you’re getting your money’s worth — and, some would argue, more. If you want to use this scope for stargazing, it’s probably not the best spotting scope, as the fringing and clarity on the magnification let this scope down. But for bird watchers and range shooters, this spotting scope ticks all the boxes.
Reasons to buy
7. Celestron 52268 C90 Mak Spotting Scope
Another compare-and-contrast with our second Celestron scope: The Celestron 52268 C90 Mak Spotting Scope. Again, this scope comes in at a significantly higher price point than its counterpart, which means, hopefully, that it also comes with some added extras. This is a brand known for its high-quality products, so our hopes are high for this one.
This Celestron spotting scope features a Maksutov optical design with a 90mm diameter aperture with multi-coated optics. It has a 32mm eyepiece, with an erect image diagonal angled at 45° for comfortable viewing, as well as an 8×21 erect image finderscope. This spotting scope is lightweight and portable and comes with a soft backpack-style carry case.
This is certainly an excellent spotting scope, certainly one of the best we’ve looked at. Across the board, it’s done well with user reviews, and honestly, it’s not difficult to see why. One of the talking points around this iteration of the C90 (the first one was introduced in the ‘70s) is that the image quality is great, sharp, and clear with vivid colors, thanks to the multi-coated optics. Even at full power, it would be difficult to detect much, if any, blue fringing (chromatic aberration). This is impressive, as many other scopes in this class would suffer.
The C90 is very sturdy and well-built. The body of this scope features a lot of metal in its construction, making it durable and strong for use in many settings. And that’s the other thing: this spotting scope performs well for terrestrial or celestial viewing. So whether you need a device for birding, wildlife observation, hunting, or star- and moon-gazing, you won’t be disappointed. The C90 is also adaptable for photography.
The drawback to this scope is that it is not waterproof, which may be a deal-breaker for those who use your scopes in areas with less-than-favorable or unpredictable weather conditions. So keep that in mind when considering buying the C90. You would also want to invest in a good, sturdy tripod to get the most out of your C90 spotting scope.
As far as entry-level goes, this scope is towards the higher end of the price range than its counterpart we reviewed earlier, and the value for money is remarkable. The quality of the spotting scope is great, not only in its construction but also in the experience it offers you. We’re calling this one a frontrunner.
Reasons to buy
8. Vortex Optics Diamondback Spotting Scope
This is one of Vortex’s more popular spotting scopes. And when it’s not that hard to see why. Of the scopes we’ve reviewed here, this one is at the highest end of the price scale. Despite that, it’s still considered relatively entry-level by Vortex standards. That should give you some idea of the type of reputation Vortex has. They endeavor to make some of the best spotting scopes available today.
The Vortex Diamondback Spotting Scope features porro prisms to ensure excellent image quality, XR fully multi-coated optics, and dielectric prism coatings. It has 20X-60X zoom magnification, it’s water- and fog-proof, and it includes a built-in sunshade for further protection from the elements. The scope’s body is angled for comfortable viewing, and the ArmorTek exterior is hardy and durable. The eyecups are adjustable, and the scope features a rotating tripod ring. One major highlight of this scope is that it comes with a lifetime, unlimited, unconditional warranty.
On the job, the Diamondback performs and does it well. This spotting scope is an excellent quality piece of equipment. The scope is very well built. What lets this spotting scope down is the fact that as the magnification is increased above 40X, the image loses clarity and sharpness. The eye relief is too small for some, especially glasses-wearers. It bears repeating that this is the entry-level scope in the Vortex range, so these cons can probably be expected. It helps to keep that in context.
When you buy this spotting scope, you buy into Vortex’s three Ps: People, Products, and Promises. And they won’t let you down. If you have the extra money, you won’t be disappointed if you spend it on this spotting scope. Touted as entry-level, yes, but what are you getting? Superb quality build, as well as outstanding after-sale service. Let’s face it: that warranty is a big drawcard. The durability of this spotting scope, thanks to the excellent craftsmanship, justifies the price.
If you have that little bit extra to send, this isn’t a bad place to spend it.
Reasons to buy
Essential Spotting Scope Accessories
We’ve also put together a short collection of accessories, some things you may want to add to your bag when purchasing a spotting scope.
This handy little monocular features a molded grip, carrying case, neck strap, and a cleaning cloth. It is compact and packs a powerful punch like a high-definition mini telescope. It offers 7X18 magnification and is constructed using premium optical glass and multi-coated optics for excellent light transmission and brightness. This portable little device is great for hunting, sports (like golf or archery), birdwatching, hiking, camping, or boating.
It comes with a carry pouch, cleaning cloth, and neck strap.
You won’t be breaking the bank with this one, and it is a convenient device to have on hand. Users have responded very well to it, with its biggest drawcard being how light and compact it is and very easy to use.
The magnification is not particularly high, so you would want to be sure that 7X18 is enough power for what you want to use it for.
The verdict? This is a useful tool to add to your kit. It won’t do any heavy-duty scoping, but that’s not what it’s made for.
A good tripod is an indispensable piece of equipment in your kit. The Bushnell Advanced Tripod is worth considering. This is a sturdy, durable tripod with a three-way pan/tilt head and a large mounting platform with a universal mount. The center column is adjustable, and the aluminum legs are individually adjustable to find your perfect height and angle. It comes with three padded foam leg cushions for comfort. The anti-corrosion finish and rubber leg tips add to the durability of the tripod.
It is a full-sized tripod, great for mounting spotting scopes, binoculars, SLR cameras, or camcorders. It is a sturdy and rather weighty piece of equipment, so one thing to remember is that this isn’t a particularly portable tripod, so the best practice would be to use this in situations where it’s not essential to be portable. Once it’s set up on a deck or platform, it should stay there. This tripod also doesn’t have quick-release legs, which may be a deal-breaker for some, especially birdwatchers.
The pros outweigh the cons here. With the Bushnell Advanced Tripod, you’re getting an excellent quality product. This is a piece of equipment that will serve you well.
Alpen Optics is known for its line of scopes, binoculars, and accessories and their offerings of good value for money. And that’s exactly what you’ll be getting with this car window mounting device.
The mount attaches to the top edge of your car window glass and fits all cameras and scopes with standard mounts. As a bonus, it has a lifetime manufacturer’s warranty against material and workmanship defects. The all-metal construction is sturdy and hardworking.
We reckon the Alpen Car Window Mounting Device is a good buy. By most accounts, it does what it should. Some users have been disappointed that it struggled to support the weight of their lenses. Another negative one or two users experienced is that in order to pan, they had to keep the handle loose; this could potentially result in your camera or scope falling forward if you don’t keep a steady hand on it.
Despite a couple of lows, this window mount comes to the party, both in terms of delivering a really good user experience and offering great value for money. Having a window mount is handy, and with a solid product like the Alpen Car Window Mounting Device, you’ll be adding a lot of value to your viewing experience.
Here’s a cool gadget, if ever there was one. The UltraClamp Assembly Camera Mount Accessory suits cameras, scopes, and binoculars. What makes it such a nifty piece of equipment is that it has an adjustable clamp that can attach to round and flat objects like handlebars, car windows, railings, and tables. It features a ball and socket head, allowing speedy adjustment and positioning. The body is aluminum and should hold up to 2.7kg. It carries a limited lifetime warranty.
So, is this all lip service, or does the device work? Well, it’s a mixed bag. While most users are very happy with the UltraClamp, there are some limits to the mount’s functionality. For some, the mount would be only suited to using smaller, lighter cameras and scopes. There were also issues with the knob on the clamp coming loose or stripping completely, resulting in the clamp not being usable at all. Which is disappointing. However, many users have been more than satisfied with their purchase.
The verdict here is rather middle of the road. The idea of this mount accessory is great. Especially because it attaches to handlebars, it can potentially bring a very interesting and interactive aspect to adventure sports and lifestyle activities. This purchase doesn’t put you out of pocket by any means, so it may be worth buying and testing out.
Spotting Scopes vs Binoculars
Spotting Scopes are a vital tool in the kit of many outdoorsmen, especially useful for keen birders, stargazers, or hunters. They offer an excellent range, and in many cases, the clarity achieved can allow one to identify the target much easier than with alternative optic options. For example, while binoculars are much simpler to use and, in many cases, more affordable, they don’t offer the same type of range as a spotting scope.
Binoculars typically have a magnification of between 8x and 12x, and the smaller lens diameter means the amount of light getting let through the lens is often not ideal in lower-light situations. Because spotting scopes tend to have larger lens diameters, you will find that they typically perform much better in lower light than most binoculars, and when it comes to magnification, spotting scopes blow binoculars completely out of the water, as spotting scopes can offer anywhere from 20x to 80x magnification.
The use of a scope differs in nature from that of binoculars in that binoculars are an easy on-the-move optic choice. Spotting scopes require a tripod, which is not only an additional cost but also takes some time to set up.
Spotting Scopes For Birding
When it comes to birding, spotting scopes are an essential tool for those looking to identify bird species in tough situations. While binoculars will do just fine for most types of birding, when one is looking at waders or doing a sea watch from shore binoculars aren’t enough, and that’s when you’ll need to reach for your trusty scope.
Waders are often found on flats of sand on the incoming or outgoing tide and can often only be observed from a distance; in many cases, a spotting scope will be required to identify the species accurately. While most of the scopes on our list will work for birding, the smaller scopes are more practical as it may be tough to set up large scopes in bird hides.
Spotting Scopes For Hunting
It’s not only birders who find use in spotting scopes; hunting is another common sport whereby a spotting scope can make a great addition to your equipment. Spotting scopes will allow a hunter to do some initial recon work in the field to locate the target. While a rifle scope is sometimes used to double as a spotting scope, there is far more comfort for the user if they opt for a dedicated spotting scope.
It’s not all positive, though, as hunters will often traverse environments and conditions where it may prove too cumbersome to carry a dedicated spotting scope. However, if you’re planning to do your hunting close to the vehicle, there is value in these scopes.
Spotting Scopes For Astronomy
Spotting scopes can also be used for astronomy purposes, but there are limitations compared to telescopes. Spotting scopes will be able to give you good views of the moon and can offer some decent views of stars in the night sky, but remember that telescopes will almost always offer higher levels of magnification and can be used for deep-space viewing.
Given the price point, spotting scopes aren’t a bad introduction to observing space and will still give you a greater sense of what exists above us than you can achieve with binoculars. Telescopes will often run at a much higher cost as well. So, if you’re looking to dip your toes into astronomy without breaking the bank, a spotting scope is a great way to go.
Frequently Asked Questions
So you’re in the market for a spotting scope or scope accessory, and you’re unsure where to start? Here’s the quick and dirty on what to look for when scoping for a scope.
Do you need a straight or angled spotting scope?
A straight scope is ideal for viewing from a car or a fixed position. The object that you’ll be viewing will be at eye level. With an angled scope, the eyepiece is offset from the barrel at 45° or 90°. This offers you a comfortable viewing experience and mobility.
Do you need your scope to be weatherproof?
If you will be using your spotting scope outside, invest in one that is waterproof, at the very least. Even better, get one that’s fogproof too. This will ensure that your scope doesn’t get damaged by the elements. It also keeps your image clear, as it prevents the buildup of condensation inside the scope.
How much does it weigh?
If your scope is set up on a tripod on a viewing deck, or you don’t need to carry it around too much, a heavier scope won’t be a problem. But if you’re using it while hiking or need to carry it often, it’s worthwhile looking for something lightweight.
What are the scope’s measurements?
Look at the spotting scope’s magnification and lens size to see if it suits your needs. Here’s how you know what you’re getting: In scope with the measurements 60X80, the target in your view will be 60 times closer. The lens is 80mm in diameter, giving you an indication of the amount of light it will transmit. More light means a brighter image.
You should also consider the scope’s eye relief.
That’s the distance the scope can be held away from your eye, with you still able to see the full field of view. Look for longer eye relief to reduce eye strain, especially if you need to wear your glasses while scoping.
The field of view is the width of the round viewing field of the scope. A wider FOV is ideal for spotting wildlife; remember that with a higher magnification, FOV is reduced.
Are the optics coated?
You want a scope that has a coated lens. The coating improves light transmission, meaning your image is clearer and sharper. The more layers, the better. Most scopes have at least a thin layer of magnesium fluoride. Lenses are either coated, fully-coated, multi-coated, or fully multi-coated.
How much are you willing to spend?
This will depend on how serious you are about scoping and how much experience you may or may not have. A top-of-the-range scope with the newest tech will set you back substantially, although that is understandable. And for the seasoned scope user, it’s an investment. However, at the lower end of the price scale, some great quality scopes get the job done.
Hunting, birdwatching, celestial observation, wildlife or scenery viewing… All of these activities have specific scope needs. And the specs do matter.
Roxant Blackbird Spotting Scope
The Roxant Blackbird offers excellent build quality in a compact form, as well as military-grade glass construction.