A solid, dependable spotting scope has so many uses for the hunter, outdoorsman, target shooter, bird watcher and even photographer. With the recent growth of the optics industry, they have become far cheaper and better quality than ever before. If you are looking to invest in a great spotting scope, now is the time!
While most spotting scopes are very similar, there are a few specifics to be aware of. The below guide should take you through everything you need to know to make the right choice when finding the best spotting scope on the market today.
Table of Contents
- How to Choose a Spotting Scope?
- 18 Best Spotting Scopes on the Market Review
- Best Spotting Scopes for the Money
- Spotting Scopes under $1000
- Spotting Scopes under $500.00
- Spotting Scopes under $300.00
- Spotting Scope under $200.00
- Spotting Scopes under $100.00
- Editors Picks: Best Rated Spotting Scopes for Purpose
- Spotting Scopes For Hunting
- Spotting Scopes for Birding
- Spotting Scopes for Target Shooting/Competition
- Spotting Scopes for Digiscoping
How to Choose a Spotting Scope?
There are two different considerations when it comes to the power of a scope. Most people jump straight to maximum power but the range of power is equally important. Make sure you pay close attention to both before making a decision.
When it comes to maximum power, how much you need will differ based on what you plan to do. A scope for elk hunting may need less power, say 30x where one for precision shooting that requires seeing small bullet holes at a distance may require much more, as high as 60x. Some hobbies may require more, especially for astronomy and other tasks that require seeing details that are extremely distant.
Range will often be a factor of maximum power. It simply is not possible to stretch the difference between minimum and maximum by too far. If you want versatility in a scope, range is where you get it. A scope that stretches from the high teens to the mid-30s in power will allow you to do a variety of tasks from hunting to target shooting. The lower power options can also be useful for digiscoping.
After power, the objective size is probably the most important factor that affects usability of a spotting scope. There is a ratio used for proper objective size but rather than doing math, be aware of any scope which has a vastly different objective size than most scopes of similar power.
This doesn’t just apply to scopes with smaller objectives but larger as well. A scope with an unusually large objective may have other inadequacies that require that large objective to be large to make the scope usable.
The only job the objective has is to make sure enough light gets to your eye on the other side to make the image bright and clear. Too small and it will not do this. Too large and other factors in the scope may be restricting light flow like poor lens quality. As long as you stay around the average for scopes of the power you are looking at you should be ok.
For this, we are specifically concerned about the eye-piece angle. Scopes will usually have either a straight eyepiece or a 45-degree eyepiece. Neither is inherently better than the other but one may be much easier to use with less stress depending on how you use it.
Realistically, the straight eyepiece only works better in two specific instances. If your head is level with the scope when it is set up, a straight eyepiece is best. This could be having the scope mounted on a shooting bench that is higher or if you are laying prone with the scope in front of you. It can also happen when setting the scope to look down into a valley or draw. This raises the eyepiece higher and makes straight less straining to use.
If your scope is below the head, the 45 degree is best. This can happen on low shooting benches or when sitting. Many bird watchers and nature lovers prefer this type of scope. Any time you are looking up, the angled eyepiece will be more pointed toward you making it easier to use. All in all, this is probably the most popular design.
This is not only the quality of the glass used to make the lenses but also the chemical coatings applied to the lenses to maximize performance. Some of these coatings reduce glare while others filter color to improve brightness. Some may even have coatings that prevent scratches.
No matter which way you cut it, a spotting scope with uncoated lenses will be an inferior product. These should be avoided at all cost. Scopes like this have poor brightness and faded color. The worst part is that if they skipped this cheap step, they likely skipped a number of other steps as well.
Simply having coated lenses may be enough and does enhance the image through the scope but having lenses that are multicoated is a much better option. Often this adds very little cost to the scope and can make a huge difference in clarity and performance.
Size and Weight
If you want a scope for benchrest shooting or birding watching, you may be able to handle something a little larger and heavier. It’s about balancing the weight of all your gear as a total weight. In cases where you want a scope for backcountry hunting, you may need to carry your rifle, ammo, and all of your gear for miles. In this case, you will be thankful for every ounce you save on your spotting scope.
Larger and heavier scopes can also be more of a hassle to use. If you can focus your scope on a single spot and only move it slightly, you are probably good with any scope. If you have to constantly move and shift it, having a scope that is lighter and smaller will make your life easier.
If you can take all of these things into account, you stand a much better chance of making the correct purchase. If you still need more advice, the sections below will outline a few scopes based on price, features, and uses.
18 Best Spotting Scopes on the Market Review
Best Spotting Scopes for the Money
Spotting Scopes under $1000
1 Bushnell Elite Tactical
The first and most apparent advantage of this spotting scope is the massive power range. You can get from a very low 8x all the way up to a 40x and the image is clear all the way through the zoom levels to ensure that you can use this for 100 yards or for 1000 yards with equal ease. You aren’t going to find many spotting scopes that can do this.
Being a Bushnell, you can expect good glass. In this case it is an ED prime glass that is coated to prevent glare and enhance color and brightness. Even in dim, overcast conditions you can pick out your target with little issue. This is improved by the large 60mm objective lens. With its straight eyepiece it's perfect for the long-range shooter who lays in the prone.
Of all the spotting scopes on the market, this is one of the most compact and lightweight making it easy to pack over long distances. It's durable and tough with a rubberized armor, fully waterproof, and fog resistant lenses. For the price, this is an exceptional scope.
2 Vortex Optics Viper HD
The quality of a Vortex is quickly becoming legendary, especially with their mid-range optics which represent about the best performance for the best value. Optically they are as near perfect as you could ever hope to find. They use an extra-low dispersion glass and one of the industries best multi-coat technologies. When combined with the massive 85mm objective, you will have no issue at any magnification.
When it comes to that, this scope comes in a few different versions but you are better off to go with the 10-60 in most accounts. You can also get either a straight or angled eye-piece to best suit your needs. This makes it usable for most any hobby from hunting big game to birdwatching. It even does decently as a digiscope model.
The Viper HD has durability in spades. From the rubberized coating to fully sealed and purged internals, this is built like a tank. It does run a little heavy but not out of range for a scope this powerful. To get anything lighter is going to cost you quite a bit more and won't do much else to increase quality.
Spotting Scopes under $500.00
3 Athlon Ares
Athlon is a newer company but one that is continuously making waves in the optics world. Their rifle scopes are considered decent but their large, powerful optics are often given full marks on quality and performance. Considering their use of ED glass, apochromatic lenses, and a full multicoat, you get some of the clearest and cleanest images possible.
There are a few versions floating around but the 15-45x gives you the most bang for your buck and the best quality overall. This one comes with a large 65mm objective lens and has perfect light transmission.
Being compact, this is a good travel scope and a popular choice for beginners due to the value it represents. As time progresses, you can expect Athlon to gain an even better following. They may be a little less durable than many models but for a light use scope that you aren’t dragging deep in the woods, this is a solid choice.
4 KONUS 20x-60x100mm Spotting Scope with Case
From the ground up, the Konus is designed to be versatile and user-friendly. Since it is from a smaller company, you get a lot of attention to detail that you don’t get with mass-produced models. If you are on a budget but still want a solid performing scope, this is a great choice.
Much of the idea behind scopes made by Konus is photography. While this isn’t the only use they can be applied to, this 20-60 scope has a massive 100mm objective lens that allows plenty of light through for clear pictures if you are into digiscoping. It even comes with a camera adapter to make it easier.
The price of these Konus models continues to go up. They are becoming more popular and harder to get. In their price range, they are one of the most in-demand on the market. They may lack a little in durability but they lack nothing in optical quality.
Spotting Scopes under $300.00
5 Celestron 52252 100mm Ultima Zoom Spotting Scope
Celestron started out as a telescope company so the transition into terrestrial optics has been an easy one. The main change was to increase the durability to make them meet the standards needed for hunters, shooters, and birdwatchers. A change they did a fair job with.
There are several power ranges with the Celestron and options for either straight or angled eye-pieces. For the money the 22-66x is the best value and comes with a massive 100mm objective lens. This means it has been built with digiscoping in mind but it is highly capable for any shooting sports and will work well for birdwatchers. For hunters, this is a little too light a duty model.
Optically, this is like a telescope. The glass is clear and uses a good multi-coat to improve image quality and resist fog. The whole scope is sealed and waterproof. It even comes with its own carry case and you can choose to buy it with a smartphone adapter from the company. There are worse ways to get started in magnified photography.
6 Bushnell Trophy Xtreme Spotting Scope 20-60 x 65mm
The Bushnell Trophy series of spotting scopes are probably the most popular to ever be made. This is especially true for hunters which the scope was specifically designed for. A part of this design does mean a little lower power rating but it means an increase in durability.
The power of the Xtreme model is a 12-36x that is paired with a 50mm objective lens. The whole scope is compact, easy to maneuver, and fairly lightweight for a spotting scope at about 1 and a half pounds total. For any shooter this is a great scope but the combination of features makes this a killer choice for the backwoods hunter.
In addition to sealed optics that make the scope waterproof, it is also rubberized and has a fog-resistant coating on the lenses. The Xtreme was made for extreme situations and functions well in the rain, dust, cold, and fog. For a hunter, this is one of the best options out there, especially for the price.
Spotting Scope under $200.00
7 Gosky 20-60 X 80 Porro Prism Spotting Scope
With a name like Gosky, you can probably guess they started out as a telescope company. When you see a company transition like this, you can tell up front they will have good lens quality but probably a little lower durability. This is the case with the Gosky spotting scope. The lenses are very good, especially for bare lenses but the durability is a little lower.
Gosky only makes one spotting scope so they have it pretty nailed down. This single model is a 20-60x and has an 80mm objective lens. If you have good light, the image through this scope is quite clear and crisp. It does have some issues with dimming if you are in overcast or low light situations. For the price, this is about par for the course.
Considering the lower durability, you still get a scope that is rubberized for protection and sealed for waterproofing. It isn’t bad, it's just not up to what better scopes are. Part of this is the magnesium frame. While it isn’t durable, you will find it to be exceptionally lightweight. Comes with a camera adapter.
8 Redfield Rampage 20-60x60mm Spotting Scope
When it comes to budget models, the Redfield Rampage is the best buy for the money. It uses a very high-quality BAK-4 prism combined with great lenses and very good durability. The Rampage simply blows any other scope in this price range out of the water. It's hardly even a competition.
The Rampage is the fairly standard 20-60x power range and uses a 60mm objective lens. The lenses are of good quality, even if they lack any type of anti-glare technology. The scope does have a sunshade built in that helps dramatically but can also cause issues with dim image quality.
Rather than opting for cheaper metals, Redfield chose a tough, shatterproof polycarbonate for their material. This is a one-piece mold and has sealed lenses for water resistance. Is it a perfect scope? No. Is it a good scope for the money? Very much so! If you want to get into using a spotting scope for the first time and don’t want to invest a lot, this is a great choice.
Spotting Scopes under $100.00
9 Celestron 52238 C70 Mini Mak Spotting Scope
Let's be clear. When you get under $100.00, you are low balling the price of any decent spotting scope. None are going to be exceptional. That said, there are some true gems for the value-minded consumer. The best of these is the Mini Mak and what makes it so great is instead of being a traditional spotting scope, it’s a low powered telescope.
Low price always means low-quality glass first of all and that means poor light transmission. Celestron gets around this by using a telescope sized objective lens that is probably the largest of any spotting scope. This means you get a 25-75x magnification and still have good quality images. You will want to keep the scope shaded or it will suffer from bad glare issues.
The Mini Mak has very little in the way of durability features. It is basically a telescope and needs tender treatment to stay in good working order. Keep it out of the rain and avoid shocks and impacts. If you can do this, the Mini Mak will provide you years of solid service and perform quite well.
10 Roxant Authentic Blackbird High Definition Spotting Scope
A second gem in the below $100 category is the Blackbird by Roxant. This is really an anomaly in the spotting scope world with some really good features for a very low price. This includes weatherproof armor and multi-coated lenses. Despite having these, it still isn’t as good as the higher dollar models but it’s far better than most of its competitors.
The Blackbird is a 12-36x with a 50mm objective which is a good match. The lenses are reasonable quality and are multi-coated though they are still sub-par. On magnification less than 20x, they work quite well. As you get closer to maxing out the power it gets a little rougher. On a good, clear day you will be fine but glare and fog can be real issues.
With durability, this scope is a little on the weak side but that isn’t a surprise. It is rubberized and made of polycarbonate so it isn’t a pushover. It is weather resistant but not waterproof. If there is one notable feature with the lifetime of this scope it’s the guarantee. Roxant will replace this scope at any time if it fails. That alone is probably worth the price.
Editors Picks: Best Rated Spotting Scopes for Purpose
Spotting Scopes For Hunting
11 Leupold Mark 4 12-40x60mm Tactical Spotting Scope
When it comes to hunting, Leupold is the place to look. Their Mark 4 is their premier high-end spotting scope that is perfectly geared to the task. At a moderate 12-40 power with a milling reticle etched in, you can locate and range your targets with ease. It even has an ion-assisted lens coating to keep its perfect glass free of smudges and scratches.
The whole scope is sealed and built to be as tough as possible. It is waterproof and fog proof and holds up well. This adds a little weight but its compact size does make it easy to transport. That is among many features that make this one of the most useful long range hunting tools around.
12 Vortex Optics Razor HD Spotting Scope 27-60x85 Angled
When it comes to hunting, you want tough and durable gear but you can’t sacrifice performance. The Razor fits the bill perfectly! This is the high-end line by Vortex that is made in Japan and has probably the best optical quality of any scope in its price range. To top this off it also uses extra-low dispersion glass and the some of the best multicoat in the industry.
It's not all just in the glass though. This scope is rubberized on the outside and sealed and purged on the inside. The culmination is about the toughest spotting scope on the market that is water, dust, fog, and shockproof. You could easily use this scope for any need but it fits so well for the backwoods hunter. Several models are available in both angled and straight eye-pieces.
Spotting Scopes for Birding
13 Nikon Monarch FIELDSCOPE
Among the favorite scopes by birdwatchers for generations, the Monarch is still one of the best selling models. It has a good price point for the serious hobbyist and has outstanding quality with features that a true connoisseur can appreciate.
For a bird watcher, you want the best glass you can get and this is pretty close! It has superb ED glass, multicoated apochromatic lenses, and even a field flatting lens system. This gets you up close and personal with perfect color retention and sharp images across the lens of the scope with no bright or dull spots. It's as close as you can get to purpose built.
14 Pentax PF-80ED 80mm ED Waterproof Spotting Scope
Pentax cut its teeth on camera lenses so it knows everything there is to know about color retention, sharpness, and clarity. These are traits valued above all others for the bird watcher. You get a clear and unobstructed image for identification, appreciation, and even photography if that’s your thing.
At 20x60, the scope has power on top of ED glass and multi-coated lenses but it's not all in the optics. This scope is also O-ring sealed and nitrogen purged for superior waterproof and fog resistance. It has a built-in lens shade on top of an anti-glare coating. This is a great option if you want to spend a little less than the Monarch.
Spotting Scopes for Target Shooting/Competition
15 Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85
If you are a serious target shooter, you want a few things. First you want a powerful enough optic with enough clarity to see bullet impacts and target holes at a distance. Next you want a comfortable viewing position. Third, a little durability always helps. The Conquest answers all of these needs in spades.
It's hard to find glass better than Zeiss to begin with and a good multicoat always helps. At 20-60x with exceptional clarity you will always be able to pick up your hit locations. It also uses a roof prism designed with an angled neck to give you a slim scope that is much easier to spend time on than straight models. This means less fatigue and no sore neck after a long competition.
16 Nightforce TS-80 Spotting Scope
Nightforce is among the most famous rifle scope manufactures in the world thanks to outstanding glass and some of the toughest scopes made. Their transition into the spotting scope world hasn’t been as popular but all of the same quality is there for every scope they produce.
The TS-80 is a 20-60x scope that is designed to be lightweight for easy transport. It is optically perfect and even with a low weight, still durable enough to stand up to harsh conditions. It uses ED glass from lenses ground in one of the leading Japanese lens suppliers. This is multi-coated for optimal color retention and clarity. For a target shooter, this lives up to everything you could need.
Spotting Scopes for Digiscoping
17 Leica APO-Televid 82 Angled Spotting Scope
For digiscoping the one thing you need most is optical clarity. Any small imperfection or blemish can cause issues in your photos and that just won’t do. Luckily the Leica is optically perfect. Not close to perfect. Absolutely perfect. This is one of only a handful of scopes that can even come close to claiming that.
At 25-50x it has plenty of power to do what it needs to do. Every piece of glass from the eyepiece to the objective, including the prism is multicoated. This produces the sheer brilliance of color retention, sharpness, and contrast you need for a perfect photo. They do not get better than this for any reasonable price.
18 Swarovski Spotting Scope HD-ATS 80
If you step just below that level of perfect, right at the border between perfect and near perfect, you will find Swarovski. If it weren’t for companies like Leica, this would be considered perfect. You still will find zero flaws in their fluoride glass lenses and can only tell the difference between this and anything higher-end if you are a true optics connoisseur.
I would rate this scope as a perfect 10 in light transmission and color retention. For taking photos at high magnification, you will never notice a single smudge or imperfection. Only the crispest, clearest image possible. Be aware that this scope is sold separately from the eye-piece which can be purchased as either straight or angled.
The world of spotting scopes is not nearly as complicated as many other types of optics but there are plenty of pitfalls for those who purchase unaware. Hopefully this article has guided you through many of those pitfalls and helps you make the best choice possible for picking the best spotting scope for your needs.
There are dozens if not hundreds of models available, these simply represent the best in each range and category. If none fit your needs, you should at least have a better idea of what will.