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If your binoculars just aren’t doing it for you anymore, it might be time to look into getting a spotting scope. Spotting scopes are small and portable high-powered telescopes that can offer higher magnification than binoculars.
For bird watching over a long distance, spotting scopes are far superior but how do you pick the best birding scope?
The first thing to consider is how much money you want to spend on your new favorite bird-watching tool. There are great options in all price categories, going from under $500 all the way up to $5000 depending on how much you want to invest. Of course, the more you spend the higher quality your spotting scope will be.
Having a high-quality spotting scope means greater magnification and enhanced close focus. Many of them are also more durable with magnesium coatings and waterproof and fog proof material.
One of the best things about spotting scopes is that they are larger so they can have a much greater objective lens diameter of 50-100mm when binoculars rarely have lenses of over 42mm in diameter.
This means that the lenses gather light effectively so you can use your spotting scope even in low-lighting. This is why spotting scopes beat binoculars for bird watching.
The only issue with this is that the greater the objective lens diameter the heavier your spotting scope will be. If you are planning on taking your equipment on long walks or traveling, the extra weight could be a real problem. But there are lighter options to choose from.
Not only do spotting scopes have greater objective lens diameters compared to binoculars; they also usually have better quality lenses. Picking a spotting scope with good lens quality is very important as bigger doesn’t always mean better when it comes to lenses. Good spotting scope lenses are made with fluorite coated HD (high density) or ED (extra-low dispersion) glass.
There are two options on spotting scopes when it comes to focusing. Whereas with binoculars you might be used to twisting the eyecups, with a spotting scope you will have to focus either by twisting the whole barrel of the scope or using a small knob which is usually mounted on the top near the eyepiece.
Depending on your hand size, whether or not you are wearing gloves and your personal preference, you’ll want to try out both focusing methods and decide which one suits you.
Another key thing to think about when looking for a spotting scope is what you will be using your spotting scope for. As well as bird watching, you can use your spotting scope for a range of activities including astronomy, surveillance, and telephotography. If you have other plans for your spotting scope, it is a good idea to look for a product that can be used for a range of things.
Another cool use for spotting scopes is telephotography which involves attaching a camera to your scope to capture images as you see them. This means that you can get a much better zoom than you would with your camera alone and spotting scopes are also easy to use for photography thanks to their stable image and tripod.
In terms of picking a spotting scope, high magnification is one of the things you’ll definitely want. The pricier options are sure to give you an impressive zooming experience but it is important to pick a high-quality spotting scope with this high magnification to make sure that the image remains clear and crisp no matter how far away it is.
If you are using a professional quality spotting scope, you’ll really benefit from the tripod which works to steady the image at high magnification. The trouble with handheld binoculars is that a slight shake of the hand can blur the image but with a smooth and easy-to-use tripod, you’ll be able to see through your spotting scope even with up to 100x magnification.
Depending on where you are planning on using your spotting scope, you’ll need to think carefully about how much magnification you need. If you are spotting birds from your home, you might need greater magnification than if you are planning on going to popular bird spotting areas for example.
Lastly, eye relief is always important with spotting scopes. Eye relief is measured by the furthest distance away from the telescope at which you can look through it and still see the full field of view. Especially if you use glasses, you’ll want at least 14mm eye relief to allow you to use the spotting scope without taking off your glasses.
The eyepiece itself is also worth considering whether you wear glasses or not. Just as important as the lenses, the eyepiece can affect the clarity of the image. You can also choose between a detachable eyepiece or an all-in-one eyepiece depending on your preference.
The last choice you’ll need to make for the perfect spotting scope is an angled or a straight view that is affected by the eyepiece placement. With an angled eyepiece you can use a lower tripod height which means better stability. On the other hand, with an eyepiece configured for straight-through viewing, you can find your target and focus more quickly.
In my opinion, an angled eyepiece is better for standing for long periods of time while a straight-through view is better for when you are on the move.
In the end, as long as you buy from a reputable brand and are prepared to make a decent investment, you won’t be disappointed with your new spotting scope.
For bird watchers, this is one piece of equipment that I couldn’t see myself going without, and once you try one you’ll be sure to feel the same.