The best spotting scopes for birds, planes, and stars in 2021

These are the best spotting scopes for outdoor activities of all kinds, combining portability and high magnification.

The best spotting scopes
Best spotting scope: Celestron Ultima 80

Our guide highlights the best spotting scopes for birdwatching, stargazing, and wildlife observation. Spotting scopes, also called fieldscopes or digiscopes, are available in a variety of configurations to suit a variety of budgets. However, what are they?

Spotting scopes are a type of outdoor optics that are used to magnify distant objects. You may believe that binoculars are the best tool to use in this situation, but this is not always the case. Binoculars are often large and heavy, do not always provide adequate magnification, and not everyone is comfortable with dual eyepieces and binocular vision.

A monocular is one possibility. As the name implies, this is effectively half a binocular and is intended for single-eye use. They address the issue of weight and are more comfortable for people who prefer to observe with one eye. If you’re interested in learning more, we have separate guides for the best binoculars and monoculars available right now.

However, binoculars and monoculars rarely exceed a magnification of 10x – and when they do, the weight penalty is significant, and it’s extremely difficult to hold them steady enough to obtain the full benefit.

Spotting scopes come in handy in this situation. They provide significantly higher magnification than monoculars (or binoculars) but are still compact enough to take into the field. Some models even include a variable zoom for fine-tuning the magnification.

However, it’s worth considering the amount of magnification you require, as spotting scopes can be quite expensive at the higher end. We recently reviewed the Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85 and the Leica APO-Televid 82, both of which offer excellent optical performance at a price comparable to a full frame mirrorless camera. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend that much money to get a decent spotting scope, and our guide includes options for every budget.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that in order to get the most out of your spotting scope, you’ll almost certainly require a tripod. This is not only to support the weight, but also to provide a stable image, which becomes increasingly important as magnification increases.

While you may be interested in using a spotting scope to view distant objects, you can also use it for photography. This is referred to as “digiscoping,” which is the process of taking a photograph using a camera attached to a spotting scope.

In 2021, the best spotting scopes

Best spotting Scope: Bushnell Sentry 18-36×50

The best value spotting scope available for budget-conscious buyers

Best spotting Scope: Bushnell Sentry 18-36x50
Best spotting scope: Celestron Ultima 80

Magnification ranges from 18 to 36x | Objective diameter is 50mm | Field of view at 1000m is 38-25m/115-75ft | Closest focusing distance is 20m | Eye relief is 16mm | Weight is 877g | Dimensions are 373mm in length.

This stylish spotting scope solution includes a straight eyepiece and is reasonably priced. Despite its low price, the Bushnell Sentry 18-36×50 is an impressively waterproof scope, with proper O-ring sealed optics that ensure the Bushnell’s internal workings remain completely dry even when submerged in water. In terms of optical performance, multiple coatings help to eliminate reflections and all ‘air to glass’ surfaces produce bright, high-contrast images. Additionally, the porro prism system includes twist-up eyecups and a 16mm eye relief. Despite the moisture-sealed construction, this spotting scope weighs 877g, making it a manageable and portable size.

The very best spotting scopes

Celestron Ultima 80 is the best spotting scope available (Image credit: Celestron)

Celestron Ultima 80

Best spotting scope for air show & aeroplane

Best spotting Scope: Celestron Ultima 80
Best spotting scope for air show & aeroplane

Magnification ranges from 20 to 60x | Objective diameter is 80mm | Field of view at 1000m is 32-16.15m / 105-53ft | Closest focusing distance is 8m (26ft) | Eye relief is 18mm | Weight is 1,616g | Dimensions are 239x125x72mm.

Magnification range adequate for all weather operationHeavier than competitorsAngled scope may not be suitable for everyone

While plane spotters are slightly more likely than train spotters to be the brunt of amusing jokes, there is nothing amusing about the waterproof Ultima 80 from industry giant Celestron, which features a 20x to 60x magnification range and a large and bright 80mm objective lens. With a comfortable 45-degree viewing angle, a close focusing distance of eight metres is also acceptable, provided your quarry is an aircraft and not a rare butterfly on a bush. Similarly, while 1,616g is not the lightest option available, it is perfectly reasonable given the feature set and value for money. Additionally, this model can be equipped with a camera, allowing you to capture photographic evidence of a 747 landing – before you stash the scope in your hand luggage and jet off yourself.

Hawke Vantage 24-72×70

This is an excellent spotting scope for astronomy, stargazing, and general use.

Best spotting Scope: Hawke Vantage 24-72x70

Magnification ranges from 24x to 72x | Objective diameter is 70mm | Field of view at 1000m is 28-14m / 84-42ft | Closest focusing distance is 9m (29.5ft) | Eye relief is 18-13mm | Weight is 1,045g | Dimensions are 380mm in length.

Magnification greater than mostLarge objective lensAngled scope configuration

When it comes to stargazing, a dedicated telescope is preferable, though there are plenty of general-purpose spotting scopes that will suffice. Enter the Hawke Vantage 24-72×70, a multi-purpose spotting scope that boasts an impressive magnification range of 24-72x and is packaged with an adjustable mini tripod and integrated window mount. For those who wish to use it in the wild in order to avoid light pollution impairing their view of the night sky, it also features a tough rubber body coating and a waterproof construction. Additionally, the manufacturer claims that its porro prism design produces intense colour and contrast. And did we forget to mention the reasonable price tag?

Vortex Viper HD 20-60×85 is the best spotting scope.

Vortex Viper HD 20-60×85 Vortex Viper HD 20-60×85

A high-end spotting scope at an affordable price

Best spotting Scope: Vortex Viper HD 20-60x85
Vortex Viper HD 20-60×85 is the best spotting scope.

20-60x magnification | 85mm objective diameter | 34m field of view at 1000m | 12m (39ft) closest focusing distance | 19.6-17.8mm eye relief | 2.2kg weight | 19.1×8.2×6.8-inch dimensions

Not inexpensiveHigh-definition glass elements with a ‘AmorTek’ coating

Have you succumbed to the spotting scope bug? Then this high-end Vortex ‘Viper’ scope with up to 60x magnification and a large and bright 85mm objective lens may tempt you. Although not inexpensive, this sveltely designed 45° angled scope part justifies the investment with HD glass elements that deliver stunning colour fidelity, superior light transmission, and edge-to-edge sharpness. It’s fog-proof and waterproof, and the rubber armour enhances grip, while the cleverly dual-geared focus system enables quick and precise adjustments. This is a sophisticated option, and given the asking price, we’re pleased to see an unlimited life warranty included.

Celestron Regal M2 65 ED is the best spotting scope.

Regal M2 65ED Celestron

Excellent glass and a DSLR T-adaptor are included.

Best spotting Scope
Celestron Regal M2 65 ED is the best spotting scope.

Magnification ranges from 16 to 48x | Objective diameter is 65mm | Field of view at 1000m is 43-23m / 131-68ft | Closest focusing distance is 5m (16ft) | Eye relief is 20mm | Weight is 1327g | Dimensions are 208x127x68mm

The Celestron Regal M2 65ED is a high-end spotting scope that offers excellent value for money in its price range, with applications ranging from bird watching during the day to stargazing at night. Celestrons claims that this second-generation unit reduces the overall weight of the spotting scope by over 14% while maintaining a rugged magnesium alloy body. Additionally, it features an upgraded dual-focus mechanism that enables users to focus on their subject two times faster. When premium features such as Extra Low Dispersion (ED) glass found in the best camera lenses are considered, and a camera can be attached to the Regal via an included T-adapter ring for DSLRs, the Regal is a scope with plenty of, er, scope.

Nikon ED50 Fieldscope

A fantastic spotting scope for digiscoping that can withstand submersion

Best spotting Scope
Nikon ED50 Fieldscope is the best spotting scope

It’s unsurprising that Nikon, the camera and optical manufacturer, produces scopes capable of being attached to a camera and enjoying the art of digiscoping. Nikon, in fact, manufactures its own digiscoping system. There are numerous options in this category, but the Nikon Fieldscope ED50 features a 50mm objective lens (to which a 55mm filter can be attached if desired) and is both compact and lightweight in conjunction with it. It also includes standard features such as a fog-busting nitrogen-filled construction and built-in waterproofing (it can even be submerged up to a metre for five minutes) for those times when the weather is less than cooperative, as well as a multilayered lens coating that ensures superior light transmission and, ultimately, high-resolution images.

The complete Nikon Fieldscope ED50 review can be found here.

Celestron Hummingbird 9-27×56 ED is the best spotting scope.

(Photo courtesy of Celestron)

Celestron 9-27×56 ED Hummingbird

A spotting scope that is sufficiently light to be used as a monocular

Best spotting scope: Celestron Hummingbird 9-27x56 ED

Best spotting scope: Celestron Hummingbird 9-27×56 ED

Magnification ranges from 9 to 27x | Objective diameter is 56mm | Field of view at 1000m is 73 to 32m / 663-297ft | Closest focusing distance is 3m (10ft) | Eye relief is 15mm | Weight is 590g | Dimensions are 208x127x68mm

As with the Hummingbird from which it takes its name, the Celestron Hummingbird 9-27×56 ED spotting scope is compact and portable, weighing only 590g. As a result, it’s also ideal for travel. It fits comfortably in a large jacket pocket, rucksack, or shoulder bag, and is small enough to fit in carry-on luggage. At its lowest magnification setting of 9x, it can even be used in place of a binocular, effectively combining two products into one. Additionally, the device is waterproof and filled with nitrogen to prevent fogging. While it is small enough to be held comfortably in the hand, this model is also tripod, monopod, and window mount compatible, adding to its versatility. In conclusion, if you’re looking for a more portable alternative to a full-sized spotting scope, this ‘bird is difficult to beat. Additionally, it is camera-adaptable for those interested in digiscoping.

Pentax PF-80 EDA 80mm

A superb all-purpose spotting scope designed to withstand the elements.

Best spotting scope: Pentax PF-80 EDA 80mm
Pentax PF-80 EDA 80mm spotting scope is the best.

Magnification: not specified | Objective diameter: 80mm | Field of view at 1000m: not specified / 131ft to 68ft | Closest focusing distance: 5.8m (19ft) | Eye relief: not specified | Weight: 1.6kg | Dimensions: 17.6×7.4×5.8-inches

Spotting scopes are outdoor devices, so it’s always nice to see one designed for use in the great outdoors. Similar to Pentax’s DSLRs, the Pentax PF-80 EDA 80mm features a rugged, well-armoured body that is rainproof and provides a secure grip, making it ideal for roughing it in the countryside. Internally, it’s no slouch either, with a large objective lens ensuring a bright, crystal clear image. The inner elements have been “nitrogen purged,” a process that eliminates even the tiniest traces of moisture. Even without the required eyepiece, the Pentax PF-80 EDA 80mm is a reasonably priced spotting scope.

The very best spotting scopes

Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85 is the best spotting scope available. (Zeiss is credited with the image.)

Zeiss Gavia Conquest 85

A fantastic birdwatching spotting scope, but quality does not come cheap!

best spotting scopes

Magnification: 30-60x | Objective diameter: 85mm | Field of view at 1000m: 33-23m (108-75ft) | Closest focusing distance: 3.3m (10.8ft) | Eye relief: not specified | Weight: 1.7kg

Any photographer is familiar with the name Zeiss as synonymous with optical quality, so choosing a Zeiss scope for wildlife and nature photography has to be a rational choice. Of course, Zeiss is not cheap, but the Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85 is versatile thanks to a rapid focus mechanism and a close near-focus setting, making it easier than ever to observe smaller objects or wildlife. Of course, one need only look at the product’s name to recognise one significant advantage – namely, a monstrous 85mm objective lens, ideal for low-light observation. When you combine this with a zoom range of up to 60x and a fogproof, nitrogen-filled construction, you’ve got something special.

Kowa TSN-501 10.

A fantastic spotting scope for children

Best spotting scope: Kowa TSN-501
(Image courtesy of Kowa)

Magnification ranges from 20 to 40x | Objective diameter is 50mm | Field of view at 1000m is not specified | Closest focusing distance is 2.5m (8ft) | Eye relief is not specified | Weight is 400g | Dimensions are 239x125x72mm

Why did we select the Kowa TSN-501 as the best candidate for children? Not only is this polycarbonate-constructed model compact and lightweight at 400g, ensuring that little arms do not tyre, but it also comes with an optional adapter ring that allows for the attachment of a smartphone, allowing children to experiment with digiscoping on their own. Along with being lightweight, the Kowa TSN-501 is only 239mm in length and is available in angled or straight models, adding versatility to its suitability for all ages. Additionally, the scope is waterproof and filled with nitrogen. The 20-40x zoom has a twist operation, which adds to the ease and speed with which this one operates. Indeed, after considering the foregoing, we’ve concluded that this is far too good to be reserved for children.

Is your body straight or angled?

When selecting a spotting scope, you have the option of a straight or angled body. Straight scopes have the body and eyepiece on the same optical plane, allowing you to view your intended subject directly through the eyepiece. However, with an angled-body spotting scope, the eyepiece is at a 45-degree angle to the body, resulting in an angled line of sight. This enables more comfortable use while lying down or sitting and eliminates the need to crane your neck, regardless of your height.

Magnification range of a spotting scope

Spotting scopes typically have three numbers on their specifications: the first two indicate the magnification range, and the third indicates the size of the front lens. For instance, 14-45×60 indicates that the front lens is 60mm in diameter and has a magnification range of 14x to 45x.

A larger lens produces a sharper, more detailed image, while a higher magnification range enables you to use the scope on a wider variety of subjects.

What do the numbers on the spotting scopes mean?
A beginner may find it confusing to see a range of numbers describing a spotting scope! Here is a brief description of the most significant ones.

The primary number you see appears to be 20-6080.

The first two numbers, 20 and 60, indicate the spotting scope’s from-to magnification. This factor is also referred to as the strength or the number of times closer you see an object than you do with your naked eye. Thus, 20x indicates a factor of 20 or a distance 20 times greater than what the naked eye perceives.

The third digit, 80, indicates the objective lens’s diameter in millimetres. 3-940 is another example of this number. This equates to a magnification of three to nine times and a small lens diameter of forty millimetres.

The greater the magnification, the more sophisticated and likely more expensive the spotting scope. The same is true for the lens diameter. The larger the image, the clearer it will be.

Home users will be content with a spotting scope with magnifications ranging from 20x to 60x and lenses measuring 60mm to 80mm in diameter. These are the spotting scopes we reviewed, and they are excellent for bird watching, hunting, game observation, surveillance, harbour activities, and even casual astronomy.

What are your plans for viewing?

As with the majority of technological devices, you must first decide what you intend to use it for. The following is a summary of some of the points to keep in mind.

Shooting range

A spotting scope with a magnification of 15-4050 is ideal for range and target shooting up to 100 yards. For distances greater than 200 yards, increase the magnification to 15-60x and the lens diameter to 80mm. A sturdy tripod is an absolute necessity.

Hunting

Hunting entails walking and the requirement for rapid setup. The ideal hunting spotting scope should be compact, easy to mount, waterproof, and fog proof. Magnifications of 20-60x are acceptable when using lenses with a diameter of 60mm or greater.

Birding

This is a great family activity, and you can get started with an entry-level spotting scope. Choose a compact and lightweight birding scope. Magnifications of 20-60x and lenses with a diameter of 50mm or greater provide excellent views.

Photography

If you intend to use your spotting scope to take photographs, you will need a scope equipped with a T-mount adapter. This enables you to connect the scope to your DSLR camera.

All-encompassing wildlife

It is not necessary to spend a fortune to enjoy wildlife viewing. A scope with a magnification of between 20 and 60x and a lens diameter of at least 50mm will provide razor-sharp views. If you’re planning an outdoor adventure, straight scopes are easier to pack in a backpack.

The price history of spotting scopes

The spotting scopes we tested ranged in price from approximately $150 to more than $900. As is the case with the majority of high-end gadgets, there are affordable and more expensive models. Purchasing inexpensively is not always the best course of action. However, paying a premium may not always provide value for money.

Here is a quick overview of what you can expect from various price ranges of spotting scopes.

0 – 150 dollars

This more affordable range is ideal for a family seeking adventure at the beach or in the wilderness. They may not be weatherproof and are unlikely to include a tripod.

Between $150 and $300

Within this price range, you can expect high-quality spotting scopes with magnification ranges of 20x-60x and razor-sharp views. Most will be well-suited for outdoor use due to their waterproof nature, compact size, light weight, and portability.

Between $300 and $700

Spending more money gets you multi-coated optics that produce crisp, clear images. Even at great distances, you can expect true-to-color views. This is an excellent entry-level price range for spotting scopes.

Between $700 and $1000

These spotting scopes feature fully multicoated optics that provide breathtaking views. Many will come equipped with T-mount adapters for mounting cameras. Additionally, they offer rotating tripod mounts for target shooting, hunting, and even astronomical observations.

Plus $1000

At $1000 or more, you’ve entered the elite league. They are ideal for commercial surveillance, professional hunters, and digiscopers. You’ll find Swarovski Scopes and other high-end spotting scopes in this category.

What about digital photography?

Once you develop an addiction to spotting scopes, you are certain to come across the term digiscoping. As is likely the case with me, you have no idea what this is. As a result, I will inform you after conducting some research!

Digiscoping is the process of combining a camera and a spotting scope. This enables you to not only examine distant images up close, but also to take photos to show off. How wonderful it would be to create an album of rare birds, close-ups of wild game, or a glimpse inside a beehive.

Taking high-quality photographs from a distance with a camera typically requires an expensive device with multiple objective lenses. Additionally, these devices are large and complicated. The same results can be obtained using a simple spotting scope and a standard camera.

To use your spotting scope for digiscoping, it must have a T-mount adapter. Additionally, you’ll need a DSLR, or digital single-lens reflex, camera. These cameras are available in a variety of configurations, including entry-level models. Numerous smartphones can be converted into DSLR cameras.

Digiscoping provides an incredible window into the natural world. Choose a high-definition glass scope that is both compact and simple to set up. Ascertain that you have a stable tripod that is lightweight. Angular scopes are more comfortable to look through and alleviate neck strain. To take digiscoping to the next level, consider purchasing a Bluetooth remote shutter release to ensure vibration-free shooting.

What is the best way to choose a spotting scope?

Magnification

A good quality scope for a beginner will have a magnification range of 20x-60x, which is ideal for crisp, razor-sharp images. The greater the magnification, the greater the detail visible.

Aperture

50mm to 80mm apertures are ideal for amateur scopers. These scopes are inexpensive and produce excellent images. Bear in mind that scopes with 80mm apertures are typically larger and heavier than scopes with 60mm apertures. Spotting scopes with a smaller aperture are better suited for hiking.

Viewing angle

Field of view (feet at a distance of 1000 yards). This is the width of your image. While larger scopes provide a larger field of view, they are also more expensive. Scopes with a field of view of 1.0 to 2.5 degrees are ideal for bird watching, wild game viewing, boating, and sports.

Type of prism and lens coating

Keep an eye out for high-definition glass and multi-coated or fully multi-coated prisms. They feature anti-reflective coatings that enhance image colour and contrast. Additionally, they maximise brightness in dim lighting.

Weatherproof

Outdoor gadgets must be waterproof. Waterproof can refer to anything from being able to withstand a few drops of rain to being completely submerged – verify this! The more expensive spotting scopes feature Argon-purged tubes that eliminate fog.

Tripod

A sturdy spotting scope tripod is essential. Scopes that are less expensive can be propped up on a table or carried in the hand. The tripod mount on the majority of spotting scopes allows them to be mounted on a standard camera tripod. Choose one that is both light and robust. Certain models include a tripod.

Accessories

A carry case is a convenient accessory that, if it is padded, will protect your scope as well. Lens caps, eyepiece pouches, and lens cleaning cloths are all items to look for.

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