A Guide to Birding with Spotting Scopes


There is nothing that can replace the extreme close-up view of a rare bird in the wild. Binoculars can get you close but, if you want to look the bird in the eye or confirm that identification for your life list, you need a spotting scope. Spotting scopes pack incredible magnification in a generally simple and lightweight package that is durable enough for field work while boasting fantastic optical quality for birding.

In this second part of a four-part series on birding optics, we will discuss birding through the powerful magnification of the spotting scope.

Call it a hobby. Call it a pastime. Call it a sport. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), as of 2011, more than 47,000,000 Americans are “birders.” Birding ranks as the 15th most popular outdoor recreational activity in the US. Chances are that you either know a “birder” or you see one when you look in the mirror. B&H Photo is a great place for stocking up on the best birding optics available, or for shopping for your favorite birder.

Getting Closer

The binocular is the traditional heart of the birder’s optical kit. However, the popularity of the spotting scope is growing for birders who are serious about getting closer to the action. At first glance, the spotting scope may look like a telescope, but it is more closely related to a monocular due to its image-erecting prism system. It delivers larger magnification capabilities to birders than all but the most powerful binoculars, and many spotting scope eyepieces can produce magnifications of up to 60x or higher. While some telescopes can be used to make terrestrial observations with the addition of specialized accessories, most will have optics and coatings specially designed for celestial viewing, so the viewing experience has the potential to be slightly off—especially where colors and resolution are concerned. The spotting scope—its optics, optical coatings, and housing—is designed, from the start, to be a terrestrial viewing instrument. This does not mean that you cannot admire the moon, stars, or planets with a spotting scope; it just may not present an image quite as good as a purpose-built celestial scope.

45-year veteran birder and Director of Conservation and Community at the American Birding Association Bill Stewart says, “A good spotting scope will change your birding forever.” Using a spotting scope, he says, “is better for detailed observation and is the fastest way to advance your birding.”

Details are the key for Walker Golder, Deputy Director of Audubon North Carolina, who uses the office’s Swarovski, Vortex, Kowa, and Nikon spotting scopes to read “bands on tiny shore birds and terns.” These coastal birds may only be three or four inches tall, and the leg bands, placed on the bird’s tarsus, might measure only half an inch.


All that magnification means that handholding the device is nearly impossible, so taking a spotting scope into the field means taking a tripod and tripod head (or alternative support) into the field with you—a big consideration when it comes to how far from home, or your vehicle, you will be setting up. Also, binoculars may be lifted a few inches from your chest to your face for a quick observation. The spotting scope needs to be set up.

Spotting scopes are not often very heavy and, therefore, do not require large tripods. But, you do want to get a tripod that reaches a comfortable height for extended viewing while being heavy enough to provide needed stability for your scope. For birding, a fluid tripod head, popular for use with video cameras, works fantastically with a birding scope. When asked for spotting scope advice for beginning birders, Patrick Comins, Director of Bird Conservation at the Audubon Society’s Connecticut office, and President of the Friends of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, says simply, “Get a good tripod.”

Straight versus Angled

Spotting scopes come in two general configurations—straight viewing and angled viewing. The difference is at the rear of the scope, where the erecting prism directs the light path straight in line with the body, or at an angle, typically 45 degrees, to the body. The straight or angled configuration is one of the first considerations that a birder must evaluate when buying a spotting scope. In general, users, especially beginner birders, find it is easier to acquire and track birds with a straight scope, but the angled scope offers more viewing comfort.

Chris Wood, experienced birder and Project Leader at Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird program, spoke to us about considerations when choosing one configuration over another: “Passion can abound on the question of straight versus angled scopes. The best reason for straight is usually that it’s more intuitive to find the bird. If you bird from your car and want to use a scope, straight scopes are also easier to use.

“If you are birding with others, you almost certainly want to use an angled scope, which makes it much easier for people of different heights to use the same scope. The other advantage is that you don’t need to raise the scope as high, which means that the wind isn’t as likely to shake the scope. In most cases, people are more pleased with an angled scope after a week or two of use. It may take a little longer to get started, particularly if you have used a straight scope for your entire life. But your short friends will thank you.

“With practice, anyone should be able to find birds just as easily with either straight or angled scope.”

Bill Stewart, adds, “The only people I know [who] use straight [spotting scopes] owned them before the popularity of angled [scopes].” He uses an angled-view Leica APO Televid 65mm to see birds.

To give the best of both worlds, Swarovski’s latest modular spotting scopes can adapt an angled or straight-viewing eyepiece by simply changing out the rear module.

Walker Golder notes that, with an angled scope, the tripod can set lower than when using a straight viewing scope. As he is often “getting in and out of boats,” this has time-saving advantages for him. A shorter tripod also has stability advantages (especially in windy conditions), and, if getting a new support, the shorter height requirement might also allow you to purchase a smaller tripod, better for extended travel. But remember: small and light has its limitations, as well!

Objectives and Eyepieces

Spotting scopes are differentiated by their objective diameters and eyepiece magnifications. Those that have fixed eyepieces will, like a pair of binoculars, carry both the magnification and objective diameter in the product name. Scopes with interchangeable eyepieces will simply list the objective size. Just like with binoculars, the larger the objective, the more light-gathering power the scope has. The tradeoff is that more glass equals more weight and usually is more expense, depending on the other features. Patrick Comins told us, “You have to remember, you are going to be carrying this scope into the field. I would love a 100mm Swarovski, but it would probably be too heavy.” He finds scopes around 80mm, like his 25-year-old Leica APO Televid 77, strike a good balance between light-gathering ability and portability.

Eyepiece magnification is another important consideration. This is the part of the spotting scope to which you put your eye. Many manufacturers include eyepieces with their scopes. Some of these eyepieces are not interchangeable, but many scopes offer interchangeable options and the user has the choice of fixed magnification or zoom versions.

Fixed focal length eyepieces offer slightly improved optical quality over the zoom eyepieces (however, high-quality zooms are spectacular), but this comes at the expense of flexibility. For birding, every expert we spoke to said that the zoom eyepiece is a must-have for birding, as the observer can zoom out to a wider field of view, find the bird they want to observe, and then zoom in for a closer look. “Finding a bird with a high-magnification fixed eyepiece is often difficult,” as the field of view can get incredibly small, says Eric Lind, the Audubon Constitution Marsh Center & Sanctuary’s Center Director. At their Garrison, New York location, they use a Kowa straight-viewing spotting scope with a zoom eyepiece. Lind recommends a minimum magnification of 25x.

eBird’s Chris Wood says, “It will take some practice, but start with looking for the horizon line, and then working toward what you are interested in putting in the scope. Then move onto distant trees or other large objects. Once you are good with stationary objects, you can try to find flying birds near the horizon. When trying to find the moon—at first it will be frustrating, but over time you’ll get good at it.”

Expanding their versatility, some spotting scopes accept standard-sized 1.25" telescope eyepieces that might give the user greater magnification options, as well as coatings and optics designed for improved celestial viewing.

Additional Options

Just like their binocular cousins, spotting scopes come with different levels of features. And, just like when shopping for birding binoculars, you’ll likely want to make sure your spotting scope is water and fogproof. Some spotting scopes come with rubber armoring to protect their surfaces and provide a tackier surface to grip.

Some newer spotting scopes are specially designed with mounts that accept cameras from specific manufacturers, so, if you see yourself connecting a camera to the scope (referred to as digiscoping), this might be an important purchase decision. Many companies that offer spotting scopes with interchangeable eyepieces have the ability to take a specially designed camera adapter that usually just needs a threaded T-mount to connect to a DSLR camera. Some scopes have adapters to connect to point-and-shoot cameras or smartphone cameras, as well.

Another characteristic of certain scopes to keep in mind is how they focus. Some have focus knobs while others have focus rings. Some feature dual focus, with coarse and fine adjustments available. At higher magnifications, the fine adjustment is often a nice feature to be able to access.

One term that spotting scope buyers may see pop up on the B&H Photo site while they shop for scopes is the term “apochromatic.” Many scope manufacturers offer apochromatic and non-apochromatic versions of a specific scope. The apochromatic versions contain a specially designed lens that helps remove chromatic aberrations, basically color fringing, from the image. Extra-low dispersion and achromatic lenses are designed with the same goal in mind: to ensure maximum image resolution and produce accurate color rendition so you can observe, categorize, and identify a bird confidently.

Like binoculars, spotting scopes have features that change from brand to brand and throughout a manufacturer’s product line: lens and prism coatings. Multi-coated lenses have an advantage over coated and non-coated, but for an in-depth discussion about coatings, visit Chris Witt’s binocular buying guide. The article focuses on binoculars, but the coating information is applicable to this discussion, as well.

There are also numerous ways to customize your spotting scope. Manufacturers offer hard travel cases and some sell view-through soft cases that envelope the scope to further protect its chassis in the field. Many scopes have rubber armoring and some feature flip-up lens caps to help the birder set up faster and not worry about losing lens caps to the wind or brush.

Try Before You Buy

Like the advice we gathered for binoculars, the experts we spoke to all said that you should not only try out the spotting scope before you purchase it, but that you should learn how to bird with a spotting scope to be certain you want to make the investment. When it comes to that investment, the advice was, again, that you should get the best spotting scope you can afford.

As we mentioned in the segment about binoculars, the optical quality of spotting scopes can be the difference between a highly enjoyable outing looking at birds and a frustrating experience that makes the day less enjoyable.

And, like binoculars, the quality of the scopes can vary greatly. Patrick Comins says that there are some good-quality mid-price-range spotting scopes on the market today, but that you also need to know that “you get what you pay for.”


In speaking to a group of birding experts, it became apparent that the spotting scope is a great tool for birding, but not necessarily the tool with which you would want to start your birding adventures. The learning curve for the spotting scope is noticeably steeper than that for learning to use binoculars. Also, while you can get magnification past what practical binoculars offer, it comes at the expense of a relatively heavy optical device that must be accompanied by some sort of support for proper use. Mid-range-magnification binoculars can usually be carried around your neck all day long, but a spotting scope and tripod can become a logistical challenge for long hikes across rough terrain.

For the serious birder or for those wishing to get more serious about their observations, a spotting scope might be just the thing you need to get a superlative close-up of a distant bird.

Do you have questions about spotting scopes and birding? Please engage us in the Comments section, below, and check our other birding content on Explora here!


In most things there is a "bang for the buck" factor.  You know, up to a certain amount the improvements are substantial, and beyond that point they are incremental.  Does this apply to spotting scopes?  Where would you say that point is?  Are there certain features that you feel are absolutely needed?

My use case is birding.  I have binoculars and a camera with long reach (40x from 1:1).  I would hope to be able to identify species well over 100 yards away, sometimes in less than ideal light.  Thank you. 

Hi Mark,

To answer your question: YES!

Just like with binoculars, there are inexpensive spotting scopes that aren't great, medium-priced ones that are amazing, and then expensive ones that are only slightly better than the medium-priced scopes.

The $1000 neighborhood will guarantee you a really good scope, but there are some great ones for less.

I would personally err to a larger objective, unless you are carrying the scope far off the beaten path and need to save weight. High quality spotting scope zoom eyepieces give great optical performance unlike the optics with zoom binoculars. Waterproof and fogproof is a must.

Here are a couple of options you might explore:




Standing by for follow-ups. Thanks for reading!



I see all 3 recommended scopes are angled.  Is there a story behind that?

Hi Mark,

Great question! I guess I was reflecting on personal preference. Also, angled scopes are more popular than straight ones in general.

There is a section above that discusses the pros and cons of each type...but optically, you won't have an advantage with one over the other.

Were you leaning towards a straight scope?



Very helpful article! My budget is 1000 - 1500 and you offer many great options. However I think I'd like to be able to easily mount my FujiXT5 to the scope - but an alternative seems to be using a phoneskope between the scope and my iphone 14 pro. That would mean carrying less stuff,  always a good thing.  Any thoughts you have would be appreciated!

Hey Tom,

I am glad you found the article helpful!

In some (many) ways, it is easier to digiscope with your iPhone than with a mirrorless camera or DSLR. One advantage will be in set-up time—it will be easier to get the phone mounted using a universal adapter, grab the shot, and then go back to regular viewing. Also, camera adapters aren't as portable or friendly as smartphone adapters tend to be.

I would recommend starting with that, and if, in the future, you want to mount the FUJI then cross that bridge later.

I like the Celestron NexYX DX 3-Axis phone mount [https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1640214-REG/celestron_81057_nexy… there are other options on the market as well. A Novagrade mount gets great reviews, but I haven't tried it.

In your price range for scopes, check out the Celestron Regal M2 and the Vortex Viper. The Celestron accepts telescope eyepieces for additional flexibility and viewing options.

Standing by for follow-up questions!

Thanks for reading!




Hello, We have a Swarovski ATS 65mm spotting scope which we love. it is great for travel. However, we are interested in another scope for more local birding that is a bit more powerful in particular for viewing shorebirds. We are trying to decide between the Swarovski 85mm angled scope 20-60 zoom and the 95mm ATS with objective lens that zooms to 70 power. Any thoughts?

Hi Deborah,

 I would recommend the 95mm scope with the 30-70x zoom eyepiece. Besides providing more magnification, it provides better viewing due to the larger objective diameter.

This comment does not belong here but a reply was available so here goes

I am seriously interested in digiscoping and would like some recommendations. I have digiscoped with a Leica Televid and TL2 but this gear is no longer accessible for me. Any info at all is welcome

Hi guys,

I'm deciding between 2 scopes - Kowa TSN 82SV (20-60x) and the Vortex Viper 20-60x 80mm HD.

What would you recommend?

Hi Pavel,

Don't loose too much sleep. Both scopes are great. I know people who really love their Vortex optics and I have always been really fond of Kowa's glass as well when I tried Kowa scopes and binoculars in the Superstore.

One feature I like about the Kowa is the quick aiming sight. I have "iron sights" on my Leica spotting scope and use them often. I don't know if the Vortex has an equivalent feature.

The Kowa seems to get slightly better ratings from customers, but both are well regarded.

Either way, these are two good scopes. Do you have any specific questions we might be able to help with?



Hi Todd,

thanks for the reply. I read some reviews saying that Kowa performed better in worse light condition - still wondering how it is possible, as Vortex has most probaly better lens (HD) compare to FMC Kowa's lens. On the other Kowa is made in Japan, Vortex in China (only Razor is made in Japan).

I want to use it for birdwatching, so I'm still thinking which one would be better option for me...

Hey Pavel,

If I were shopping, based on my experience with products from both companies, I would go with Kowa. I see you are doing your research, and that is great. At some point you need to jump in! :)  And, just to make it more confusing, a friend from B&H has the Vortex and loves it. I don't think he considered the Kowa when he was shopping.

B&H does have a very generous return policy if you aren't completely happy with your purchase, so that might make the decision a bit easier.

Let me know if you have more questions!



Thanks for the informative article.

I am looking into an entry-level scope for casual wildlife watching/star-gazing and the occasional trip to the national parks. I want a piece that would perform well during either pursuit.

The conversation you had with Pavel leads me to think Kowa would be the better choice. Have you had more feedback on these scopes since then?

Hi Elizabeth,

To answer your question: I have not seen any recent feedback on those two scopes. Both are very well received, with the Kowa ahead in the reviews.

If you want me to make the call, I would go with the Kowa. I recently bought some binoculars from Kowa for my son to grow into and they are simply amazing...combined with the price point, they are unbeatable. [Note that the Kowa TSN 82SV we have listed requires a separate eyepiece.]

If you want me to muddy the waters, take a look at the Hawke Sport Optics 25-75x85mm scope [https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1584137-REG/hawke_sport_optics_5…]. That is another nice model in that price range. I have not tried the scope, but the Hawke binoculars I have used impressed me.

My advice: dig deeper into online reviews for both (or all three) scopes and made an informed purchase. Honestly, all three are going to be great. As I told Pavel, you can always return a scope if you aren't totally happy and grab another.

If you are near NYC, I would not hesitate to suggest coming to the Superstore to check them out in person!

By the way, if you are entering the market at this level of scope, you will be really pleased with what that price range has to offer...likely you'll be buying a scope for your lifetime...and that of your offspring/friends as well. These are all great optics.

Let me know if you have more questions, or if you make a decision, please let us know what your impressions of the scope are!




Hi Todd,

I have a Celestron Regal M2 80ED Spotting Scope and would like to get an eyepiece that enables me to focus on nearby objects, say within 8 feet of the objective lens.  Currently I can only get good focus out to about 20 feet.  Can you help me figure out where to obtain such an accessory or at least define its characteristics?

Thank you, 


Hey Richard,

Great scope!

I asked around the office and our best guess is that you are stuck with that minimum focus distance.

Having said that, your scope awesomely can take 1.25" telescope eyepieces, so you might be able to get closer focus with a wide-angle telescope eyepiece, but we cannot predict which one would work for you if you try that option.

You may want to contact Celestron directly to see if they have any solutions.

Out of curiosity, what are you trying to get closer to? :)

Thanks for reading!



Hi Todd,

I'm looking for a portable tripod for the Hawke Sport Optics Endurance ED 20-60x85. Will you be so kind as to give me some information, with so many options to choose from, on what I might look for in all around function as well as quality for a price range up to say $200.00. I will also be using it for my DSLR camera.

Thanks for your time,

Mike Stilinovich

Hey Michael,

Generally, a spotting scope lends itself to the video fluid-head atop a tripod instead of the more traditional 3-way or ball heads you see for photography. Because of that, I am going to kick you over to our product experts to see if they know of a good hybrid tripod head that will meet your scope and photo needs. I will be tuning back in to see what they recommend as well!

A great tripod to consider for your needs is the Manfrotto MK290XTA3-3WUS 290 Xtra Aluminum Tripod with 804 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head B&H # MAMK290XTA33, which is right below your budget of $200.  https://bhpho.to/2k56e3F

This is very good guide and I dont Need any more information about the bird scope. I also visit sometime the scopehut blog but I was not satisfy with the information that I need to read before buy a product, This is awesome post. Cheers

Hi there, I have recently joined eagle watch in Florida. This is a program where volunteers monitor an eagle nest to provide information on the eagles to one of the Audubon Centers in Florida.  We collect details on a nest for various reasons which include compiling data on nesting, help with protection of eagles, monitoring eaglets and a count of how many fledge, providing help to assist state and federal agencies with implementation of Bald Eagle Management Plan, to provide information to law enforcement if needed, and many other reasons. I am considering purchasing a spotting scope to help with my nest observations. I am not an avid birder, just love the eagles. Most of my viewing will be on the nest, not really watching their flight.

I was hoping that you might be able to give me a bit of guidance on spotting scopes. I would prefer not to spend more than $250 if possible. I will be watching the nest usually from my car. The nest is approximately 300 to 800 feet from where I will be parked. It will usually be sunny out, Florida :). I prefer something not too heavy. I have done some research on spotting scopes only to confuse myself more. I am a beginner at this. I have seen scopes that provide a cell phone attachment. Does that really work? 

I would greatly appreciate any help you can share. Would you please suggest a spotting scope, or more than one that you think might be a good start for me? If you have any questions for me, please let me know.

Thank you so very much. I look forword to hearing back from you. Have a great week.



Hi Beth - 

 This angled-viewing Level 20-60x65 Waterproof Spotting Scope from Barska makes the ideal companion at the range, in the field, or on the trail. At the low 20x it can be used for taking in expansive views and to find your subjects, while dialing it up to 60x gives you the capability of making detailed observations - even at long distances. The scope's large 65mm objective, combined with fully multi-coated optics, draws in copious amounts of light giving it competent low-light performance such as at dawn or dusk, or when trying to pick game out from under heavily-canopied forests. With its eyepiece set at a 45° angle relative to the optical tube your head and neck are in a comfortable position whether you're standing, sitting, or lying prone.

Great stuff and suggestion for me... id like to observe some bird near my home from the kitchen area. some bird is very beautiful for me... I like to pet it. but, I realize when I keep the bird in my home it I just make the bird hurt.. so, put some bird food near my windows and observe it.



Good call, Porter. Don't hurt the birds!

I am a longtime bird watcher and fieldtrip leader for a local Audubon chapter. I followed the advice from several bird forums in 2005 when I began looking for a scope. I wanted a scope for both wildlife viewing and digiscoping. I chose the Carl Zeiss Victory Diascope 85 FL. I compared Zeiss and Swarovsky optics (at that time) and read that Zeiss allowed 'more' light transmission. Coming into this with a film camera background, I felt more light reaching the eyepiece (and the camera) was a good thing.  When considering the body style (angled vs straight) I would now buy the straight. I purchased the angled body because at 6" tall I did not want to stoop down to look through the eyepiece when mounted on a standard size tripod. But I discovered when I got a species in focus, and then allowed others in the group to look, the shorter folks had to stand on their toes. A straight body type seems to work better for group-sharing. 

I then chose the Sony Cybershot DSC-W7 thanks to the same website forum. You might laugh, but the selling point of that model over others was its start-up time. The W7 was ready to take a picture in under 2 seconds. Other brands on their comparison list took 0.5 to 2.0 seconds longer to be ready. (how far have we come since then!) Most birds won't sit still for you if they feel nervous.

I pre-mount my camera at the start of my trip using the Zeiss Camera Adaptor. This allows me to focus the scope on my subject then quickly swivel the camera to the eyepiece and take my photo. 

In the last 7 years I have looked through many of the mid-price range scopes on the market. Quality has improved in many of the brands thanks to improved manufacturing processes. The differences are usually only discovered 30 minutes before sunrise at the edge of a marsh. There have also been many new cameras and camera mount adaptors introduced. My new point & shoot camera has more megapixels and file types. It also turns on and is ready in a matter of 1 second. 

Great stuff, Jim! I have a Leica APO-Televid 77 of the same vintage. Luckily for us, these scopes will be great for life. The new ones might be a hair better, but we both own heirloom scopes that we can pass down to those behind us.

Good point about the straight versus angled eyepiece. Thanks for sharing your experience!

I own and use an angled scope, and like the lower viewing height. One drawback not mentioned in the article is rain - if there is a light drizzle, keeping the viewing lens dry is more difficult, one has to be sure to cover it as soon as your head/hat visor stops keeping the rain away.

Hey Jeremy,

Great point! I guess I never went birding in the rain before!

Thanks for stopping by!

hello, I just have a redfield and dont seem to very good at locating my subjects.I seem to need a spotting scope for my spotting scope. Is this common or is this just a practice thing. I notice the subject is a good chunk higher so to speak, then the scope itself when a subject is located with very much trouble. Any suggestions? stuck to binnocs

Hey angelflight,

Welcome to the club! You are not alone! Targeting with a high powered scope is difficult. There are a few things you can do or use to help:

1) Practice. The more you use your scope, the better you will get at targeting (I hope!).

2) Check to see if your Redfield scope has some kind of "iron sights"...many scopes have notches on the barrel or an aiming "tube" somewhere that allow you to get the scope pointed fairly accurately before you look through the eyepiece. My scope has a pair of notches on the lens hood—a double notch on the front part of the lens hood and a single at the rear. I just looked at the Redfield Rampage, and I think it does have sights on the hood.

I would also check the interweb to see if some folks have elegant homemade solutions!

Let us know what you discover!

Good article Todd. I also liked the big text and images - made it easy to read for my eyes.

However, it seems like there are couple of things you missed to discuss in this article. For example [on other reviews] they discuss things like prisms, focus types and brands.

What is your take on best prism, focus type and what you consider to be leading brands in spotting scope industry?


Hey Jonathan,

Thanks for the note. I am glad you enjoyed the article and I apologize if I didn't get too in-depth with the details. That was a conscious decision due to an attempt to keep under a certain word count and appeal to a wider audience. Also, recommending specific brands over others was not my goal as it is important for all customers to be able to enjoy a scope, regardless of their budget.

Having said that, I cannot find much information about BAK5 prisms. In fact, on the Schott glass website, there is no mention of that type of prism. In the binocular world, BAK4 prisms are superior to BK7 prisms.

Focus type is really a matter of preference. I have always enjoyed the ability to fine-tune my focus with a separate knob and most high-end scopes seem to favor this system.

Brands...just last week I wrote this to someone asking about tripods: "In the world of manufactured goods, I think there is a relatively large gap between the bargain widgets and the mid-priced widgets, and a narrow gap between the mid-priced widgets and the luxury widgets. This applies to many many things; automobiles, leather hand bags, binoculars, electronics...and tripods." In general, you get what you paid for, but the difference between a $2000 scope and a $400 scope is much much less than the difference between a $400 and a $40 scope.

Swarovski and Leica have long been the industry leaders in scopes. Nikon represents fantastic value in their binoculars, and they used to with their spotting scope lineup, but their newer scopes are priced well north of the luxury scopes on today's market. At the store, the experts at our optics counter eagerly present some Celestron scopes as having outstanding value, and some have the ability to accept standard telescope eyepieces—a fantastic way to increase the flexibility and power of a scope.

If you want to share your budget, and tell us what you will be using the scope for, we can narrow down your options a bit!

Thanks for your question and sorry for the delay replying...we are just back from an extended break!

A lesson I learned the hard way years ago is, when it comes to optics, buy the best and most expensive that you can afford. If you skimp to try to save some money, you will typically become dissatisfied later and sell the cheaper binocular or spotting scope at a loss, and then buy the more expensive unit that you passed up in the first place. Believe me, that process, especially if repeated more than once, can be very expensive. Been there and done that. Quality is expensive. You get what you pay for, especially when it comes to optics. And Quality is remembered and appreciated long after price is forgotten.

Bill G

Tulsa, OK

Always good advice, Bill!

Thanks for stopping by!

This is a terrific entry-point guide -- thanks!

Very helpful for our 'use case' -- we are just progressing from a very casual "backyard bird feeder" interest in birding to a bit more serious curiosity (inspired in part by The Big Year movie) and had been using some good quality, but on-hand, binoculars that we use for stargazing.
As part of upping our backyard birding game including nest-watching, we wanted to move to higher magnification than is typical of binoculars. And this meant looking at spotting scopes -- ultimately we decided to go for a Celestron C90 Mak spotting scope (the BH C90 page links, appropriately so, to this article) with the included diagonal plus binoviewers, extra eyepieces, and a digiscope/afocal camera adapter.

Hey Dave,

Thanks for the kind words!

Nice pick on the Celestron mirror scope! I hope you all enjoy it!

Thanks for reading and thanks for dropping by!

Hi there

Thanks for the article. I'm looking for some advice. I am planning on buying the Vortex Razor HD scope and am having a difficult time deciding between the larger 20-60x85 vs the 22-48x65. Any thoughts?

I am going to FL for a week in March and thinking about travel with a large vs medium scope and tripod.




I am looking for a birding scope that is compact and light weight for travel, back packing, etc.  Could you make some suggestions in the low, mid and high priced ranges?

Hi Dwight -

Consider the following scopes:

     The ATS-65 20-60x65mm HD Spotting Scope with Eyepiece (Angled Viewing) from Swarovski is a rugged yet refined scope from one of the world's most renowned optics manufacturers. The ATS series combines the unmatched image quality and world-class workmanship that nature enthusiasts, tactical professionals, and researchers have come to expect from Swarovski. The 65mm configuration is compact, relatively lightweight, and particularly well-suited for the hunter or birdwatcher on-the-go.

     The Vortex Optics 45° angled viewing Razor HD 22-48x65 Spotting Scope is engineered with superior glass and specialized optical coatings to provide clear and bright images at all magnifications. The triplet apochromatic lens configuration are made of High Density (HD) Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass to increase light transmission, minimize distortion and virtually eliminate chromatic aberration. All air-to-glass surfaces have Vortex's XRPlus anti-reflective coatings to minimize light loss and maximize image brightness, while the Porro prisms have highly-reflective dielectric coatings which improve brightness, clarity, and color accuracy. This combination of coatings and optics create a spotting scope that produces bright, clear, high-contrast images with accurate color rendition.

    The angled view Endeavor HD 15-45x65 Spotting Scope from Vanguard combines a nitrogen-filled magnesium housing and a fully multicoated optical path to create a well-equipped zoom optic for intermediate to long-range observation. Vanguard gave the Endeavor HD series an extra-low dispersion (ED) lens system and phase-corrected BaK4 prisms, which maximize light transmission and produce color faithful images that are rich with contrast.

    This angled-viewing Level 20-60x65 Waterproof Spotting Scope from Barska makes the ideal companion at the range, in the field, or on the trail. At the low 20x it can be used for taking in expansive views and to find your subjects, while dialing it up to 60x gives you the capability of making detailed observations - even at long distances. The scope's large 65mm objective, combined with fully multi-coated optics, draws in copious amounts of light giving it competent low-light performance such as at dawn or dusk, or when trying to pick game out from under heavily-canopied forests. With its eyepiece set at a 45° angle relative to the optical tube your head and neck are in a comfortable position whether you're standing, sitting, or lying prone.






Hey Larry,

Good questions...

Unless you are trying to save size and weight, I would recommend the larger diameter scope. The only reason to get the smaller is for travel, but if you are using your scope at home a lot, you will likely not regret having the light-gathering power of the larger scope.

You mention travel to Florida, so you need to decide if you want to suck it up and travel with the larger scope, or get the smaller one and travel lighter. If you have room in your bag, get the bigger scope!

Let me know if you have any follow-up questions. Sorry for the delay, I was out last week! Thanks for stopping by!


Now I feel better about getting a spotting scope. Thanks for the information. I have a group of Eurasian Doves settling in the backyard and this is going to make keeping an eye on them the highlight of my fall.

Glad to make you feel better! Let us know what kind you get or if you need a recommendation! Thanks for reading!

Excellent write-up. Thank you! Generally speaking, spotting scopes are half of a binocular. But their performance is incredible. Binoculars are great for bird-watching but you cannot get very detail from that far from you. With the right spotting scope, you can spot a rare bird in forest and view every single detail about the bird.  The best spotting scopes for birding are made with a magnification up to 75 and they are light-weight and durable. 

Hey Bryan,

Thanks for reading and sharing the good info with your fellow birders!

I approcieate your tips and tricks. As a bird lover, I should follow your guidlines for birding with spotting scope. Thanks Todd, for such kind of informative post.



Hi Todd,

Thanks for the good suggestions. I now know what to look for in a birding spotting scope. I wish some more specific models had been suggested too.

Optics Owl

Hey Gary,

Thanks for the praise! I am more than happy to talk scopes or answer any questions you have about particular scopes...so bring it!

The reason I didn't mention specific scopes in the article is so that we wouldn't have to keep coming back to update the article as new scopes arrive and older ones become discontinued.

Thanks for reading. Standing by for your questions and some scope banter!

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