Views From Afar – The Best Spotting Scope for Your Outdoor Needs

What do hunters, birders, marksmen, and nature photographers all have in common? No, it’s not (just) a distaste for fast-moving lightning storms – they all have a use for a good spotting scope!

A spotting scope is a great tool for viewing something that’s far away in fine detail. Outdoorsmen and women use spotting scopes to see whether they’ve hit a target on the range or in the field. They use spotting scopes to watch discreetly for game, and they use spotting scopes to observe or photograph nature.

But what do you need to know before choosing a spotting scope? How are spotting scopes different from one another? What features should one consider before buying a spotting scope?

If you need a scope for the night time have a look at our guide about best night vision scopes!


What Features Does a Good Spotting Scope Have?

There are dozens – if not hundreds or thousands – of spotting scope options out there. It can be overwhelming. The best way to narrow down which is the best spotting scope for you is to start considering all the ways in which these products differ.

Body Style

There are two kinds of body styles for spotting scopes: straight body and angled body. As the name suggests, a straight body scope takes the form of a relatively straight line. Think of a larger version of half of a pair of binoculars and you’ll get the idea. An angled body spotting scope is mostly straight, but the eyepiece is angled upward, away from the body.

There is often no price difference between the angled and straight versions of spotting scope models. In fact, which body style one chooses usually comes down to personal preference.

Durability

Durability is an important factor with spotting scopes because these instruments are for outdoor use. Being outside means that the wind could blow your spotting scope over or other bad weather conditions can crop up suddenly. You never know when you’ll have to grab your scope quickly and perhaps not always as carefully as you’d like.

Durability is also an essential feature because your spotting scope will have glass components on the inside. Like with telescopes, binoculars, and microscopes, using glass parts is unavoidable. Since glass is notoriously breakable, the hardiness of the scope overall is important. That way, you won’t accidentally destroy a good spotting scope just by using it in the field.

Magnification

Differences in magnification capabilities are a great way to help determine which product is the best spotting scope for you. While some spotting scopes have a fixed or integrated eyepiece, others have the option of swapping out one level of magnification for another.

If you have an idea of how you want to use your spotting scope, you can determine what your magnification needs might be. Do you think that someday you’ll want a different eyepiece so that you can focus on a particular magnification level (such as 30x magnification)? Or would you always be fine with the default 20x-60x variable magnification that many scopes come with? The answers to these questions can help you pick the best spotting scope for you.

Optical Quality

There are several factors related to optical quality to consider when choosing a good spotting scope. Here are a few common terms that you should know to help differentiate the many spotting scope options out there.

Objective Lens Size

The objective lens (measured in millimeters) is the larger piece of glass at the far end of a spotting scope. In optics, bigger is usually better. That is, a larger objective lens makes for a better long distance spotting scope. However, bigger objective lenses also make heavier, more expensive scopes, and if you know that you only need a spotting scope for moderate distances, why pay more for power you won’t use?

Lens Coatings and ED Glass

A good spotting scope will have something special about the glass it uses for its objective lens. This is because a normal far-distance glass lens can have problems with distortion and “chromatic aberration”. Chromatic aberration is when colors show up differently in your magnified image than they would in real life. There could be colors around the edges of the image, or the focus of the image itself could have a strange colorful outline.

Since spotting scope manufacturers know about these issues, they use special lens coatings and/or ED glass to help combat them. ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) glass is a special kind of glass that helps correct chromatic aberration and other optical issues. Using a lens coating is typically less costly than producing ED glass, but it can also help reduce color distortions and improve the clarity of the images you see through your spotting scope.

Fluorite Glass

Like lens coatings and ED glass, fluorite glass is used to reduce the common distortions that spotting scopes can have. fluorite glass works better than regular glass as an objective lens, but it’s much harder to produce. Therefore, it can be hard to find a cheap spotting scope with a fluorite lens. In fact, it’s difficult to find a spotting scope with a fluorite lens for less than $2000, and next to impossible to find one for under $1000.

However, there are plenty of great spotting scopes out there that don’t use fluorite glass. There are other ways to combat chromatic aberration and other forms of image distortion. fluorite glass is far from being a necessity – especially if you want a good spotting scope at a budget price.

Weight

The importance of the weight of your scope depends on how you plan on using it. Just keep an eye on how many pounds or ounces any given scope weighs. A two-pound spotting scope could be an ideal choice for someone who hunts far out in the field. But if you plan to always set up your scope within a hundred yards of the parking lot, using a seven-pound scope might not be an issue.

Extras

Accessories probably shouldn’t be the primary factor when determining which is the best spotting scope for you. However, they are worth paying attention to. For example, some scopes may come with a tripod, a bag, and/or a carrying case included with the purchase of the scope. Meanwhile, other spotting scopes won’t even have an eyepiece since you have to choose (and buy) one separately.

Let the spotting scope shopping begin!

When you’ve identified which features are the most important for you, you’ll be more ready to find the best spotting scope for your purposes. If our choices did not please you, feel free to leave a comment!


Best Spotting Scopes of 2018

Meopta MeoPro 80 HD Spotting Scope – Bang for your Buck

Meopta MeoPro 80 HD

Pros
Large 80mm fluorite objective lens
One integrated piece
Nitrogen-filled and waterproof
MeoPix iScoping adapter makes digiscoping easy
Cons
No straight body option
Can’t switch out eyepieces to change magnification
iScoping adapter doesn’t fit all smartphones
4.5
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Best Features:

  • Similar to the popular Meopta MeoStar S2, but more affordable
  • CentricDrive focus for fast focusing control

Oftentimes one has to find a balance between “the best money can buy” and “the best you can afford” – we would call the even ground “the best spotting scopes for the money” as it is where the quality meets the price most accurately. The Meopta MeoPro 80 HD spotting scope is our choice for this balance. Developed as a more cost-effective alternative to Meopta’s MeoStar spotting scope models, the MeoPro shares many of the features that help make MeoStar shine. Combined with its ease of use and reasonable price, the Meopta MeoPro is an attractive scope for a wide swath of spotting uses.

Meopta

With headquarters in both New York state and the Czech Republic, Meopta lives up to its reputation as an international company. Far from specializing just in spotting scopes, Meopta produces scientific and medical supplies, cinematic projectors, weapons, and even aerospace technology – in addition to their contribution to the outdoor sports optics market. Meopta has the R&D, manufacturing, and assembly capabilities to produce some of the farthest-reaching optical equipment in the world.


Kowa TSN-880 Prominar Spotting Scope – The Best Money Can Buy

Kowa TSN-880

Pros
88mm objective lens
Available in both straight and angled body styles
Smooth focus adjustment knobs
Cons
Expensive
5
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Best Features:

  • Ultra-low dispersion fluorite glass lens
  • Two focusing knobs: one for quick focusing, another for fine adjustments
  • Waterproof even after temporary submersion

Sometimes, quality is just more important than price. Maybe you’ve been using spotting scopes for a while and you’re ready for an upgrade. Maybe cost isn’t an issue, but you still want to get a high-quality product for the money you’re spending. If these sentiments describe you, then you might best enjoy a Kowa TSN-880 Prominar spotting scope.

This Prominar spotting scope is relatively lightweight. That’s an impressive feat since this scope has the largest objective lens of all the spotters in this review! With an 88mm, fluorite crystal objective lens, the Kowa Prominar is a fantastic long distance spotting scope option. All in all it is a great choice for the discerning enthusiast.

Kowa

Like Nikon, Kowa is another well-established Japanese company. In fact, Kowa has been around since 1894, working in areas as varied as manufacturing, textiles, and pharmaceuticals. When it comes to consumer optics, however, Kowa has stayed focused on what its customers love best: binoculars, spotting scopes, and the appropriate accessories for both. If you’re looking for a well-made scope with superior optics that is also lightweight and comfortable, Kowa may be just the brand for you.


Bushnell Trophy XLT 20-60x 65mm – When Affordability is Key

Bushnell Trophy XLT 20-60 x 65mm Porro Prism

Pros
Incredibly inexpensive
Sealed with nitrogen gas
Waterproof and fogproof
Cons
Included tripod is flimsy and unreliable
Can’t swap out 20-60x eyepiece for other magnification levels
Replacing the tripod could double your investment
3
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Best Features:

  • Great for beginners
  • Multi-coated lenses for reduced glare
  • Price you won’t regret

Not every spotting scope enthusiast is ready to invest several hundred – or several thousand – dollars on a scope. Maybe you’re a beginner spotter or you can’t make more than a modest monetary contribution towards your outdoor interests. You may want to try a cheap spotting scope before committing to anything that will put a big dent in your wallet. To these ends, the Bushnell Trophy XLT could be just the spotting scope you’re looking to buy.

Bushnell

A subsidiary of Vista Outdoor, Bushnell has been selling affordable optics since 1948. Founder David P. Bushnell started his self-named business by selling mail-order binoculars out of his home in California. Bushnell has since expanded hugely into one of America’s most well-known names in outdoor sports optics. Whether it’s through cameras, binoculars, rangefinders, or spotting scopes, Bushnell helps bring the great outdoors to any enthusiast looking for game, sports, or adventure.


Nikon Monarch Fieldscope 60ED-A with MEP 16-48x – The Crowd-Pleaser

Nikon Monarch Fieldscope 60ED-A

Pros
Available in both straight and angled body styles
Slide-out lens hood
“Field flattener” lens for improved clarity and sharpness
Cons
Stiff focusing adjustment
Some shaking and jiggling while focusing
Loose ocular lens cap
3.5

Best Features:

  • Variable speed focusing
  • Nikon camera digiscoping adapter

Whether you’re hunting, sharpshooting, or bird watching, this middle-of-the-road Nikon spotting scope should be able to fit – and even exceed – your needs. The Monarch Fieldscope series has been recognized not only as a good all-around spotting scope, but also as one of the best birding spotting scope options for its price point. In short, this Nikon spotting scope has everything you want in a spotting scope – and then some. Have a look at our review box to find out what else makes this Nikon spotting scope such an appealing choice for so many outdoors enthusiasts.

Nikon

From microscopes to snapshots in space, Nikon has a lot to show for its 100-year history. This Japanese company – known by most for its cameras – also produces optical/imaging healthcare, scientific, and industrial equipment. Plus, they have many consumer lines, such as digital cameras, binoculars, and (of course) spotting scopes. You can feel good about using a Nikon product; it represents the hard work and innovations of a whole century of improvements and persistence.


The Final Say

Finding the best spotting scope for you might not be easy, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You don’t even have to read tons of spotting scope reviews to learn what you need to know. As we’ve seen, the Bushnell, Meopta, Nikon, and Kowa spotting scopes we have introduced each excel in different areas. Whether you’re looking for a cheap spotting scope, a long distance spotting scope, or even the best birding spotting scope – at least one of these brands should fit your needs and more!