A good spotting scope is a useful tool for birders, big game hunters, long-range shooters, and even amateur astronomers. With so many different options, finding the right model can feel pretty mind-boggling. Don’t worry, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you by reviewing some of the best spotting scopes on the market today. Use our handy guide to help you narrow down the options and find the right model to suit your needs.
If you don’t have time for the details, check out the list below for the best rated spotting scope:
- Vortex Optics Viper HD 20-60×85
- Maven S.2 12-27x56mm Compact Spotting Scope
- Vanguard Endeavor HD 82A 20-60×82
- Celestron Hummingbird 9-27×56 – Best Compact Spotting Scope
- Swarovski Optik HD-ATS-80 HD 20-60×80 – Best High End Spotting Scope
- Zeiss Conquest Gavia 30-60×85
- Nikon Fieldscope ED50 – Best for Digiscoping
- Hawke Vantage Spotting Scope – Best for Stargazing
- Leupold Mark 4 12-40×60 – Best Tactical Spotting Scope
- Burris Optics Signature HD 20-60×85
- Emarth 20-60x60AE
Table of Contents
- Things to Consider Before Buying a Spotting Scope
- How Will You Use Your Spotting Scope?
- What Do the Numbers Mean?
- Angled Vs Straight
- Other Things to Consider
- Best Spotting Scope on the Market Reviews
- 1 Vortex Optics Viper HD 20-60×85
- 2 Maven S.2 12-27x56mm Compact Spotting Scope
- 3 Vanguard Endeavor HD 82A 20-60×82
- 4 Celestron Hummingbird 9-27×56 – Best Compact Spotting Scope
- 5 Swarovski Optik HD-ATS-80 HD 20-60×80 – Best High End Spotting Scope
- 6 Zeiss Conquest Gavia 30-60×85
- 7 Nikon Fieldscope ED50 – Best for Digiscoping
- 8 Hawke Vantage Spotting Scope – Best for Stargazing
- 9 Leupold Mark 4 12-40×60 – Best Tactical Spotting Scope
- 10 Burris Optics Signature HD 20-60×85
- 11 Emarth 20-60x60AE
- Final Thoughts
Things to Consider Before Buying a Spotting Scope
A spotting scope is basically a small, portable telescope. Although spotting scopes generally have lower magnification than telescopes, they are useful in situations where you may need more magnification than a standard pair of binoculars.
Spotting scopes are used for a wide variety of applications, including bird watching, hunting, wildlife and landscape viewing, and even amateur astronomy. You will often see them in shooting competitions, where long-distance shooters use them to help score distant targets. Spotting scopes can even be used with some cameras to take beautiful long-distance pictures.
Not only are there a ton of applications for spotting scopes, there is also an overflow of models on the market. Knowing which ones will work best depends on several factors. Here are a few key things to consider when shopping for a new spotting scope.
How Will You Use Your Spotting Scope?
How you plan to use your spotting scope will have a major impact on the qualities and features you need. Here is a brief summary of what you’ll need for each application.
Many hunters use a spotting scope to help them locate game animals. A spotting scope can also be a handy tool for observing animal behavior, allowing you to plan your hunts accordingly. Because hunters often hike long distances and deal with rough weather and terrain, they need a lightweight, easily portable scope that is also durable enough to stand up to hard use.
Spotting scopes with magnifications of 20-60x work well for spotting game at distances. Also, a large objective lens and high-quality glass will help provide bright viewing in periods of low light when game are most active.
A spotting scope that has an adjustable magnification of 20x- 60x works well for birding. This magnification range will help you spot birds at a distance and give you close-up, detailed views of feathers and markings.
A wide field of view will also help you spot birds on the wing. Look for a scope with a large objective lens and extra-low dispersion (ED) glass for crisp images and bright colors.
Range and Target Shooting
A good spotting scope can be a godsend when scoring long-distance targets or zeroing a new optic. When shooting targets out to 100 yards, a spotting scope with 15-50x magnification should be more than sufficient. For distances past 200 yards, look for something in the 20-60x magnification range. A scope with mounting capabilities and a sturdy tripod will also come in handy at the gun range.
If you plan to pair your spotting scope with a camera, you’ll need a model that includes a T-mount adapter. This feature will allow you to easily attach a DSLR camera to the scope, so you can capture those once-in-a-lifetime photos.
A spotting scope can be a great investment for budding astronomers, allowing them to get better views of the moon, stars, and faraway planets. However, not every spotting scope is suitable for stargazing. Scopes with more powerful magnification (at least 60x) work best.
You should also look for a spotting scope with a large objective lens. A large objective will gather more light for brighter viewing. However, you shouldn’t make your choice based on size alone. Glass quality is just as important. Look for a scope that features fully multi-coated lenses for best results.
What Do the Numbers Mean?
If you’re new to the world of optics, all those numbers used to describe a spotting scope can be completely confusing. Those digits may look like a complicated equation, but they don’t need to induce any math anxiety. The numbers are really quite simple to understand when you know what they mean.
The first two numbers indicate the scope’s magnification range. For example, a spotting scope with the numbers 20-60x will magnify distant objects 20 to 60 times larger than they appear when viewed with the naked eye.
The third number (the one that follows the “x”) indicates the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. The objective lens is located on the end opposite the eyepiece.
The job of the objective lens is to let light into the spotting scope. Generally, the larger the objective lens, the brighter and clearer the images will be. However, that larger size comes at a price. Scopes with large objective lenses are heavier, bulkier, and usually more expensive.
Angled Vs Straight
Spotting scopes come in two basic designs – straight and angled.
A straight scope resembles a tube where the eyepiece is in line with the objective lens. This design is easier for first-time viewers to use, and can be much simpler to pack. However, a straight scope can be uncomfortable to use for long periods of time.
An angled spotting scope has the eyepiece set at an angle from the objective lens. The design allows you to look into the scope from above. Viewing in this position reduces stress on the neck and back, especially when viewing for long periods of time. Angled spotting scopes tend to be harder to pack, making them more difficult to use when traveling or backpacking.
Other Things to Consider
Field of View (FOV)
The field of view, or FOV for short, is the amount of area you can see when you look through the optic. FOV for spotting scopes is usually measured at 1000 yards. For example, a spotting scope with an FOV of 100 feet at 1000 yards means you can see 100 feet from left to right when looking at a landscape that is 1000 yards away.
Sometimes you will see FOV measured in angular degrees. The higher the angle, the wider the FOV. If this is confusing, you can convert angular to linear FOV by multiplying the angle by 52.5.
FOV is determined by several factors, including lens thickness, objective lens diameter, magnification, and the optics assembly.
Lenses and Coatings
A high-quality spotting scope will have special anti-reflective coatings to help enhance image quality. For the best quality, look for a scope with HD or ED glass and multi-coated or fully multi-coated lenses.
Gas Purging and Sealing
A high-quality spotting scope will be purged with gas (usually nitrogen or argon) and then sealed. This process helps prevent internal fogging due to rapid temperature changes. Purging and sealing also makes the optic waterproof and prevents mold or fungus from growing inside.
You should never attempt to disassemble your spotting scope. You could release that gas and disturb the delicate internal balance of your optic.
Because spotting scopes come with high magnification, any external movement of the scope is also magnified when you look through the scope. This can make viewing difficult, especially for extended periods. It can even cause a mild case of motion sickness.
To get the best performance from your spotting scope, a sturdy tripod is an absolute must. A tripod provides a sturdy viewing platform for a more stable and enjoyable viewing experience.
Many models come with their own tripods. If the model you’re considering doesn’t come with a tripod, make sure it at least has a tripod mount. You can use this feature to mount your spotting scope to any standard camera tripod.
Best Spotting Scope on the Market Reviews
We consider the following models to be the best of the best in spotting scopes.
1 Vortex Optics Viper HD 20-60×85
The Vortex Optics Viper HD spotting scope performs just like a high-end spotter. The only thing it’s missing is the high end price tag.
The Viper HD spotting scope is argon purged and o-ring sealed, so it is completely fogproof and waterproof. The exterior of the scope is wrapped in rubber armor for increased durability and to provide a secure, non-slip grip in wet weather.
This scope also features XR anti-reflective coatings on exterior surfaces. XR coatings are designed to enhance light transmission and provide brighter views, even in low light. For bright, mid-day viewing, the scope has a built-in sunshade to help reduce glare. The lenses on this high-quality scope also feature Armortek coatings that provide a layer of protection against scratches, oil, and dirt, ensuring crystal clear viewing for years to come.
Other awesome features include an ultra-smooth helical focus and a handy multi-position eyecup.
2 Maven S.2 12-27x56mm Compact Spotting Scope
Although Maven is a relative newcomer to the world of spotting scopes, their high-quality, highly-affordable optics are quickly gaining a loyal following.
Built specifically for backcountry hunters, the Maven S.2 spotting scope is compact, lightweight, and stows easily in a backpack. But don’t be fooled by the S.2’s size. Although the scope weighs just 34 ounces and measures a scant 11 inches long, Maven has crammed plenty of magnification and jaw-dropping optical quality into this modestly sized scope.
The S.2 features a generous 56mm objective lens made from high-quality fluorite, which provides fabulous light transmission. With nearly zero chromatic aberration, the sight picture has amazing edge-to-edge clarity and vibrant colors through the entire magnification range.
Maven backs all of their optics with an “idiot-proof” guarantee. They will replace a damaged scope, even if the damage is your fault. Run over it with your truck? Maven will replace it, no questions asked.
With optical quality you would expect only from the big names in the business, and a rock-solid warranty, we think this is one of the best scopes you’ll find for under $1000.
3 Vanguard Endeavor HD 82A 20-60×82
One of the best budget options on our list, the Vanguard Endeavor HD is perfect for birding, big game hunting, or viewing wildlife, and it’s priced well under $500. It has an ample field of view, providing 156 feet at 1000 yards on the highest magnification setting.
With ED glass, fully multi-coated lenses, and a BaK-4 phase-coated prism, the Vanguard Endeavor also has some seriously amazing glass quality for a spotting scope in this price range.
Built for outdoor use, the Endeavor HD is made with a rugged magnesium body. The body is coated with rubber armoring for extra shock protection, and features a built-in sun shield to eliminate glare on the sunniest days. The scope is also o-ring sealed and nitrogen filled to prevent fogging. Although the spotting scope is completely waterproof, it does come with a padded raincoat for extra protection in wet weather.
4 Celestron Hummingbird 9-27×56 – Best Compact Spotting Scope
This compact spotting scope from Celestron is ideal for backcountry hikers trying to keep their gear light. Small but powerful, the lightweight Hummingbird weighs less than a pound and a half and measures less than a foot long. It works well as a travel-friendly scope, and it fits easily into your backpack.
The Hummingbird’s extra-low dispersion glass reduces color fringing. The result is images with crisp edges and sharp color contrast. It performs remarkably well at dawn and dusk, and is well-suited for archery and deer hunting.
Nitrogen purged and fully waterproof, the Hummingbird resists internal fogging even when exposed to rapid temperature changes. The scope also features a durable rubber armor to protect against bumps and bangs on the trail.
Although the Hummingbird works well as a convenient handheld optic, it also includes a tripod/window mount. This feature allows you to easily mount the scope to a stable platform for more comfortable long-range viewing.
5 Swarovski Optik HD-ATS-80 HD 20-60×80 – Best High End Spotting Scope
Swarovski boasts some of the best glass quality in the optics industry, and they’ve cut no corners on this high-end spotting scope. The HD-ATS-80 features fluoride-containing HD lenses designed to reduce color fringing and provide crisp, high-contrast images. It also has Swarovski’s patented Swarotop lens coatings, which produces vibrant colors and bright quality, even in low light.
Perfect for dynamic birding situations, the Swarovski HD-ATS-80 has a wide FOV (108 to 60 feet at 1,000 yards) that lets you scan distant tree lines for long-distance bird identification. Birders will also love the crisp detail the scope provides, even at maximum magnification. You’ll have no trouble observing intricate feather detail with this top-of-the-line optic.
Built to last, the HD-ATS-80 is o-ring sealed and nitrogen filled, has a durable rubber armor, and features a unique Swarclean lens coating that helps extend the lifetime of the optic. It is also dustproof, waterproof, submersible to 13 feet, and comes backed by a lifetime warranty.
However, quality like this doesn’t come cheap. We promise you won’t find a spotting scope of this quality for under $2000.
6 Zeiss Conquest Gavia 30-60×85
With a lightweight magnesium body and a robust design, the Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85 is perfect for viewing big game and other wildlife that wander well off the beaten path. While this isn’t a scope you’ll want to hike to the most remote locations, it does weigh only 3.75 pounds, which makes it fairly lightweight for a high-magnification spotting scope.
The Conquest Gavia 85 provides bright, clear images with rich detail. It also features Zeiss’s exclusive LotuTec coating that sheds water so you can enjoy a clear and unhindered view, even in rainy weather.
Aside from the scope’s brilliant image quality, the most striking feature is its ergonomic design. With a large focusing ring, viewers can make precision adjustments and easily focus on both close and long-range objects.
7 Nikon Fieldscope ED50 – Best for Digiscoping
Nikon is well-known for its high-quality camera equipment. The company’s Fieldscope ED50 spotting scope works seamlessly with a Nikon camera. Just attach the camera (The scope is compatible with six MC eyepieces and three Wide DS eyepieces), and enjoy the world of digiscoping.
The Nikon Fieldscope ED50 also makes a great stand-alone spotting scope. It is relatively compact and lightweight, is both fogproof and waterproof, and has full multi-layered lens coatings for impressive light transmission and high-resolution images, even in low light.
8 Hawke Vantage Spotting Scope – Best for Stargazing
We think the Hawke Vantage Spotting Scope is a great option for beginners in astronomy. The scope’s massive magnification range (24-72x) lets you get up close and personal with distant celestial objects. Even more impressive than its magnification, is the scope’s affordable price tag. We have a hard time believing you can purchase the Hawke Vantage spotting scope for under $200.
The scope comes bundled with an adjustable tripod and an integrated window mount for a steady view of the heavens. You also get a convenient carrying case, so you can transport your scope out beyond the light pollution for even better viewing.
Although the Hawke Vantage has a dependable and durable design, it also comes backed by a lifetime, worldwide warranty. If the scope becomes damaged or defective, Hawke will replace it with a new one at no charge.
9 Leupold Mark 4 12-40×60 – Best Tactical Spotting Scope
One of the best military style spotting scopes on the market, the Leupold Mark 4 is perfect for long-range shooting. Whether on the battlefield, target shooting in competition, or chasing big game in the field, you’ll appreciate the crisp clarity and easy target acquisition this spotting scope provides.
The Leupold Mark 4 comes with rangefinder TMR reticle, a high-quality Bak-4 prism, and a rugged, fogproof, waterproof design. This model is built tough. It is perfectly capable of surviving blows, drops, and jarring impact without breaking a sweat.
Big game hunters will particularly appreciate Leupold’s patented Twilight Max Light Management System. Combining superb glass quality and special coatings, this system adds up to 20 minutes of extra glassing light at dawn and dusk when animals are most active.
10 Burris Optics Signature HD 20-60×85
The Burris Signature HD spotting scope is perfect for trips to the gun range. The magnification range works well for medium to long-range distances, so this is a handy tool for zeroing your rifle. You can also use it to see the holes you punch in paper targets at 500 yards or more.
The Signature HD spotting scope has a forward mounted focus knob that lets you make both coarse and fine focusing adjustments. It also features an angled eyepiece and a rotating tripod mount, so you can use it comfortably from standing, prone, or on a bench rest.
With a die-cast magnesium body, the Signature HD has a durable design that will stand up to years of hard use. It also has a special rubber armor to help protect against bumps, drops, and shock. The body is o-ring sealed and nitrogen purged for fogproof, waterproof protection even in wet conditions. This model is also backed by Burris’ lifetime guarantee.
11 Emarth 20-60x60AE
It’s hard to find a decent spotting scope for under $300, so we were pretty skeptical about Emarth’s. In fact, we were completely floored when we found out this scope had a price tag under $100, but here it is nonetheless.
A decent buy for the money, the Emarth spotting scope features fully multi-coated lenses and a BaK-4 roof prism. It also has an adjustable 20x to 60x magnification, an ergonomically designed 45 degree angled eyepiece, and an ample FOV.
While the image quality definitely isn’t on par with the high-end spotting scopes on our list, the Emarth does a better-than-decent job.
With a durable construction and high-quality rubber armor, the Emarth spotting scope is definitely rugged enough to use for hunting. Sealed with o-rings for waterproof protection and filled with nitrogen to prevent internal fogging, this spotting scope offers reliable performance in even the worst weather conditions.
When it comes to spotting scopes, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” generally rings true. Quality optics don’t come cheap, so if you want the best spotting scope that provides crisp, clear images, you should consider expanding your budget.
While it may be tempting to pinch pennies, once you’ve looked through quality glass, we promise you’ll never want to go back to the cheap stuff.