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Spotting Scope Vs Telescope: Know The Difference

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The two scopes are somewhat alike, so it is understandable for people to confuse the two. Even though they spot several physical features, they are not the same and offer different uses. If kept side by side, many people may need help to differentiate between a spotting scope and a telescope, especially if it’s a straight spotting scope.

Suppose you’re looking for a scope for use but need help finding the right one between a spotting scope and a telescope. This guide establishes the differences between the telescope and spotting scope, making it an easier decision.

To save you time and resources, we’ve tested for you, perused several other reviews from verified buyers, and brought forth a fundamental differentiation between the two.

Difference Between Spotting Scope and Telescope

You’ll also find general information on the two scopes, similarities, pros, and cons, among other things.

Spotting Scope

Spotting Scope
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A spotting scope is a one-eye scope for viewing targets in our atmosphere. They usually have non-removable built-in eyepieces with long-range ability. Most spotting scope uses refracting lenses with up to 3 lenses working together to focus light.

Most suited for daytime use with easy-to-use features, the spotting scope is the go-to scope for users with less experience.

It has a long magnification range that is great for viewing wildlife, birds, and nature, as well as target shooting. Most spotting scopes are portable with straight or angled eyepieces attached to them.

A spotting scope is versatile, with a lot of viewing capacity and activities possible with the scope. The field of vision is minimal for spotting scopes since it reduces with increased magnification, and magnification is high for spotting scopes.

Spotting scopes require a stand but can easily be moved since they are portable and easily fit into your gadget bag. You can use this scope to view the skies at night, but you will notice limited capacity when viewing long-range targets for hunting.

The spotting scope sports a good enough close distance focus at around 6 feet depending on the magnification range, helping you view targets at close range.

Pros & Cons of Spotting Scope


  • The versatile scope allows viewing for different activities like hunting, birdwatching, nature viewing, and more.
  • Portable and can fit into your backpack
  • Made for daytime use
  • Straight and angled eyepiece options are available
  • Durable design with most carrying extra rubber armor protection
  • More affordable


  • Not suitable for nighttime viewing
  • A short field of view makes picking up targets difficult
  • The lens is affected by moisture


Image Source: bobvila

Telescopes have many adjustment options that may take a while to learn but are essential for astronomy. Stargazers know how important these extra features mean to their ability to see far into the sky and enjoy the view beyond our atmosphere.

The telescope is a one-eye scope with a long body and a high-precision optical system.

The telescope’s length and features make it easier to break, and it has reduced durability. Using the telescope in areas where minimal movement is required, like your backyard or loft, will help to prolong its lifespan.

If you want a nighttime viewing scope to see the stars, the telescope will give you all features. You’ll need a sizable investment to get a decent telescope.

You can choose between refracting and reflecting telescopes with the sole aim of gathering light for the high magnification in the telescope.

The high magnification is the reason you can see far into the sky. Regular home telescopes have magnifications ranging from 90x to 150x, helping you see your favorite stars.

Unfortunately, the telescope is unsuitable for land viewing and can even develop upside-down images. However, you can correct these errors by using some special gadgets.

Pros & Cons of Telescope


  • Great for nighttime viewing
  • Excellent for astronomy
  • High magnification
  • Impressive light-gathering ability
  • Reflecting and refracting lens styles available


  • Expensive
  • Not suitable for land viewing
  • Not portable
  • Reduced durability

Similarities Between Spotting Scope and Telescope

Similarities Between Spotting Scope and Telescope
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The two scopes share some similarities between them, and that is why a lot of users need help to differentiate them. Aside from some physical similarities, especially between straight spotting scope and telescope, the scopes have long-range capabilities, although varying degrees.

They both use stands to hold the scope in place while viewing, which makes them suited to stationary viewing. The two scopes also have one-eye viewing ability.

Differences Between Spotting Scope and Telescope

Differences Between Spotting Scope and Telescope
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Spotting scope vs telescope has a longstanding battle as people mix up their uses and struggle to find the best one for their activity. In this section, we’ll see how these two scopes differ by looking at common scope features and functions.

1. Magnification

Magnification or power is the number of times a target can be increased to make it easier to see. Typically, you’ll need a scope with high magnification to see a target far away.

Spotting scopes have high power levels compared to most other scopes; however, their power levels look small when put beside a telescope. Telescopes magnify above 100x, helping viewers see far into the sky.

2. Portability

Having a scope that you can move around easily is a huge plus, especially considering the space and energy required to move bulk scopes.

In addition, spotting scopes are more portable than the telescope, with shorter lengths and an overall compact design, helping them fit into backpacks and gadget bags without stress.

3. Lens Quality

Spotting scopes sport minimal lens quality compared to the high-precision telescope for long-distance viewing. As a result, spotting scopes generally do not provide great image quality but are good enough for your activities because their lenses are decent at best.

On the other hand, telescopes view the skies, so they come with additional adjustment settings to improve their already impressive lens quality.

4. Durability

No one wants to buy a scope that’ll break at the slightest pressure, especially when that scope costs a lot of money, and this is why durability is important. When comparing spotting scope and telescope, the telescope has lower durability as it comes with more features, and higher precision is built with materials of lesser strength.

Spotting scopes are typically built with durable materials, sometimes with additional rubber armor and lower precision levels, making them more durable than the telescope.

The telescope may break under minimal pressure, but it’ll take more than that to break the spotting scope.

5. Cost

If you don’t have an unlimited budget, you’ll want to consider the cost implications of getting any gadget. Spotting scopes cost between $100 to $1000 and are quite affordable compared to the telescope, between $300 to $3000.

The telescope will cost considerable money to purchase and may be out of reach for some people on tight budgets. In addition, most low-budget telescopes come with poor lens quality or lower magnification ranges, defeating the telescope’s purpose.

6. Uprightness

When you view through a spotting scope, you see an upright image due to the presence of prisms that flip the upside-down image produced in the scope.

Telescopes do not have these prisms and produce upside-down images, which can be negligible when viewing the skies but become a problem when viewing targets on land.

You’ll have to erect a diagonal prism to the telescope to correct the image position. However, this attachment can reduce the image quality and make long-range viewing difficult.

7. Ease of Use

While the two scopes are relatively easy to use, the spotting scope is easier because of the fewer features and adjustment options available. On the other hand, telescopes have many features and adjustment options, making using the scope difficult and requiring a learning period to understand its process.

For example, while the spotting scope has variable magnification systems, most telescopes will require you to change the magnification by removing the unit and replacing it with another.

Also, when considering the type of tripods you can use, simple camera tripods will work for spotting scopes, while telescopes require special tripods.

8. Light Gathering

Light gathering affects the image quality of a scope. The telescope has reduced light-gathering ability as manufacturers try to produce a lightweight scope focusing more on close targets.

Telescopes, on the other hand, sport impressive light-gathering ability with a large objective lens that makes it possible to see clear images at night and at far away distances.

9. Close Focus

Telescopes are built to view targets from thousands of miles away, which means they cannot focus on close targets. A spotting scope is more suited to closer ranges and can easily focus on closer targets.

10. Versatility

Learning about the versatility of scopes focuses on the number of activities each scope can do. For example, telescopes can view the skies excellently and put up a decent terrestrial view too, but that’s about where it ends.

On the other hand, spotting scopes can view birds and nature and be used for hunting, target practice, and even putting up a decent showing when viewing the skies.

This versatility will help people who are torn between several hobbies or who have several family members with different hobbies.

Spotting Scope vs Telescope: Which Should You Choose?

What would you choose if you had to choose between these two scopes seeing their similarities and differences? This question requires a clear identification of your needs.

For astronomy, the clear winner is the telescope, as it has the precision and power to reach the skies. When it comes to terrestrial viewing, the spotting scope is king. The spotting scope will serve you better if you’re looking for a versatile scope for different activities.

Final Thoughts

Finally, you can differentiate between the telescope and spotting scope and choose the right one for your needs without testing the two.

The similarities between these scopes go beyond physical features and include some optical features; however, the differences are too numerous to cause confusion.

About Author

James Towndrow, a NRA-certified Firearms Instructor. During a career of 18 years had won several shooting competition including major leagues. Taking all those experience down the road, is now a successful Shooting Instructor in Texas, US.