The best spotting scopes are perfect for wildlife watchers, sports fans and even star-gazers. Also known as fieldscopes or digiscopes, they are like a half way house between a monocular and a telescope, offering high magnifications while still being compact and portable.
What to look for in a spotting scope
The chief advantage of a spotting scope over a monocular is magnification. Monoculars don't generally exceed a magnification of about 10x, and if they do,they will be extremely heavy. Spotting scopes, in contrast, offer powerful magnification but are typically slimmer and more portable. Some of the best spotting scopes have zoom for changing the magnification.
Many spotting scopes can even be used for photography by hooking up a camera, a practice known as 'digiscoping'. But whether you're viewing with the naked eye or a camera, the magnification means it's worth checking out the best tripods to get a properly steady image.
Spotting scopes are available at all different price points, and in this guide we've included models for all budgets, from cheap entry-level scopes to high-end optical marvels like the Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85. If you are in the market for a premium scope, you may also want to check out the Leica APO-Televid 82.
• Straight or angled body? When you pick a spotting scope, you can choose from either a straight or an angled body. With straight scopes, the body and eyepiece lie on the same optical plane, which allows you to look straight through the eyepiece at your intended subject. Angled-body spotting scopes are more comfortable use when lying down or sitting, and can save having to crane your neck.
• Magnification range: Spotting scopes can 'zoom' in and out, the specs quote the zoom range as a minimum-maximum value. A higher magnification range will enable you to use the scope for a broader range of subjects.
• Objective lens size: A larger lens will, broadly speaking, provide a better, clearer image, especially in low light, though this will also make the spotting scope bigger, heavier, and potentially more expensive.
The best spotting scopes in 2022
This is a great mid-priced model for wildife watchers. It comes kitted up with its own travel tripod, and a mount for using the scope from your car. The 20-60x range gives it versatility for use with different animal and bird species, with a decent 65mm aperture that is more than satisfactory for daylight viewing. This spotting scope offers IPX7 level waterproof construction with O-ring sealed optics, ensuring everything stays reassuringly dry in all weather conditions.
It’s no surprise that camera and optical manufacturer Nikon produces scopes with the ability to attach a camera and enjoy the art of digiscoping. Indeed, Nikon has its own digiscoping system. There’s a lot of choice in this field, but the Nikon Fieldscope ED50 offers a 50mm objective lens (to which a 55mm filter can be attached if desired) and is both relatively compact and lightweight with it.
It also ticks the boxes for the regular must-haves, such as a fog-banishing nitrogen-filled construction and built-in waterproofing (it can even be submerged up to a metre for five minutes) for all those times when the weather doesn't play ball, along with a multilayered lens coating to ensure superb light transmission and, ultimately, high-resolution images.
See full Nikon Fieldscope ED50 review
Any photographer will recognise the name Zeiss as being the bee’s knees for optical quality, so selecting a Zeiss scope for wildlife and nature photography has got to be a sensible decision. Of course, Zeiss don’t come cheap, but the Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85 is versatile due to a rapid focus mechanism and a close near-focus setting, so even observing smaller objects or wildlife is claimed to be easier than ever.
Of course, you only have to look at the name of the product to see one great advantage – namely a whopping 85mm-diameter objective lens, useful for low-light observation. Couple this with a zoom-magnification range up to 60x and a fogproof, nitrogen-filled construction, and you’ve really got something.
Read more: Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85 review
Weighing 2kg and sporting a 100mm diameter, this is one of the biggest and bulkiest scopes on our list, so it wouldn't be great for, say, action photography. But for more stationary pursuits like stargazing and watching wildlife from a distance, it's a great option.
The largest aperture scope in the Ultima line, the 100mm Ultima offers more than 50 per cent brighter images than the 80mm version, so it's a better option for low light shooting. The 100mm refractor features a 45° viewing angle and offers excellent multi-coated optics packed into a portable and durable refractor design and comes standard with an angled, 22-66x zoom eyepiece. A soft carrying case is also included.
This sleek-looking spotting scope solution comes with a straight eyepiece and won’t break the bank. Despite the budget price, the Bushnell Sentry 18-36x50 is also impressively waterproof, with proper O-ring sealed optics so the internal workings stay fully dry, even when the Bushnell is submerged in water.
In terms of the optical performance, multi coatings help ensure reflections are avoided and all ‘air to glass’ surfaces deliver bright, high-contrast images. The porro prism system also features twist-up eyecups and a comfortable 16mm eye relief. Weighing 877g despite the moisture-sealed build, this is still a relatively manageable and portable spotting scope.
Bitten by the spotting scope bug? Then this high-end ‘Viper’ scope option from the Vortex brand, offering up to 60x magnification plus a large and bright 85mm objective lens, may tempt you. It's not cheap, but this sleekly designed 45° angled scope part justifies the outlay by offering HD glass elements that promise knockout color fidelity, superb light transmission and edge-to-edge sharpness.
Fog proof and waterproof with it, rubber armor aids grip, while fast and precise adjustments can be made via the cleverly dual geared focus system. This is a sophisticated option, and, given the asking price, we’re pleased to see additional peace of mind provided via an unlimited life warranty.
One of Hawke's relatively new spotting scopes, the Hawke Sport Optics 9-27x56 Nature-Trek is super-light and easy to carry around with you. It's on the lower end of magnification compared to the other scopes on this list, but if you can live without a little extra distance then you get a lot back in return, not least of which is a lower asking price.
Tremendously light and easy to carry, this is an angled spotting scope that's well equipped for inclement weather. Its internals are nitrogen-purged to prevent fogging, and the outer casing is weatherproof. The specially coated optics also provide excellent clarity and light transmission, reducing eye fatigue and making the scope more pleasant to use, even for long periods.
The Celestron Regal M2 65ED is a premium spotting scope that is nevertheless fair value in its price range, offering suitability for everything from bird watching in the day to watching the heavens at night. Celestron claims that this second-generation unit has reduced the overall weight of the spotting scope by more than 14 per cent, while still providing a rugged magnesium alloy body.
Further advantages include the fact that it has an upgraded dual-focus mechanism, which enables users to bring their subject into focus two times faster. You can factor in premium features such as Extra Low Dispersion (ED) glass found in the best camera lenses, and a camera can be attached to the Regal using an included T-adapter ring for DSLRs, so it's a scope with plenty of, er, scope.
Spotting scopes are outdoor devices, so it's always welcome to see one that's been built with the outdoors in mind. The Pentax PF-80 EDA 80mm, much like Pentax's DSLRs, is made with a durable, well-armoured body that's rainproof and provides a secure grip, making it perfect for roughing it in the countryside.
It's no slouch internally either, with a large objective lens ensuring the resulting image is bright and crystal clear. The inner elements have been "nitrogen purged", a process designed to prevent them from fogging up by removing even the tiniest traces of moisture. It's relatively expensive even before you add on the cost of the required eyepiece, but if it fits into your budget, the Pentax PF-80 EDA 80mm is an excellent spotting scope.
Like the Hummingbird it takes its name from, the Celestron Hummingbird 9-27x56 ED spotting scope is small and mobile, with a very manageable weight of 590g. That means it’s also ideally suited to taking on your travels. It will fit into a roomy jacket pocket, a rucksack or shoulder bag, and can be stashed in carry-on luggage.
At its lowest 9x magnification level, it can even substitute for a monocular, giving you, in effect, two products in one, though the angled viewfinder may not be ideal for handheld spotting. This device is waterproof and nitrogen filled to prevent fogging, and is tripod, monopod and window-mount adaptable, giving it an extra degree of versatility. In summary, if you’re looking for a more portable alternative to a full-sized spotting scope, this ‘bird is hard to beat. What’s more, it’s also camera-adaptable for those into digiscoping.
How we test spotting scopes
We test spotting scopes within the field on moving subjects and landmarks for our buying guides and look for a scope that combines magnification, good construction and image clarity, which can be used and withstand a day's bird watching or wildlife spotting. Budget is also an indicator and within this guide you will find spotting scopes to suit everyone's budget .
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