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What is a Spotting Scope? All You Need to Know

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Are you a bird watcher, lover of nature, or a hunter; you’ll need a spotting scope if you like viewing long distances? This kind of scope allows you to see far-away objects.

You may be thinking about binoculars at this point, and you may have a point. However, binoculars cannot see long distances.

Imagine trying to see an animal over 1500 yards away. The regular scope will disappoint you, but a spotting scope will not only allow you to see this animal, but it’ll also give clarity that shows distinct features. A spotting scope is a trustworthy scope for long-distance viewing.

Bird watching has become a big activity in many areas now with bird watching fan clubs springing forth everywhere. Most birds will not linger close to the ground. If you’re looking for scarce species, you’ll need to search high into the sky.

This kind of distance is why spotting scope thrives. While some can identify a spotting scope, others have not even seen the spotting scope before. This guide teaches you everything about this special type of scope.

What is a Spotting Scope?

What is a Spotting Scope (1)

A spotting scope is a device used to view long-distance objects that other scopes like binoculars or rifle scopes cannot reach. It is a compact high-power telescope. It sports several differences from the telescope used in astronomy. It works during the day, always produces upright images, and it doesn’t require a complicated stand set up like a telescope.

Unlike rifle scopes, a spotting scope is an observation device. If you need to do more, you’ll have to use it alongside other instruments. It can view and distinguish objects that are thousands of yards away because of its high magnification levels, far higher than what you’ll obtain in regular rifle optics.

With a spotting scope, you can do those long-range activities with utmost precision. You can say for certainty how big a patch on the target is and its characteristics.

Astronomical Telescope Vs. Spotting Scope Vs. Binocular – The Differences

Astronomical Telescope Vs. Spotting Scope Vs. Binocular - the Differences

While explaining what a spotting scope is, we’ve meddled with the telescope used in astronomy and a binocular. It can become confusing at this point, seeing that they have a lot of similarities, especially in their use. However, they cannot be more apart with distinct features giving them more specific uses. Here are some of the differences between an astronomical scope, spotting scope, and binocular:

1. Magnification


The ability of optics to produce images several times their size so it is visible across long ranges will always be talked about. These three optics all have magnification but their ranges are distinct. An astronomical scope sports the largest magnification, with the spotting scope following behind. The binocular has the smallest magnification range among the three optics.

2. Uses

Their magnification ranges help define some of their uses. An astronomical scope, as the name implies, is used in astronomy to view the planetary bodies. A spotting scope is an observation device used to view far-away objects. A binocular is also an observation device, but it specializes in viewing objects within a closer range.

3. Stand

An astronomical scope requires a complicated stand set up with the ability to achieve specific angular views. A spotting scope requires a simple tripod stand to use it. A binocular does not require any stand, as you can hold it with your hands while viewing your target.

4. Weight

Astronomical scopes are heavier with more knobs than the other two optics. Spotting scopes are lightweight when compared to an astronomy scope. However, a binocular blows it out of the water when it comes to lightweightedness.

Types of a Spotting Scope

There are two major types of spotting scope when considering their viewing angle.

Straight Spotting Scope

Straight Spotting Scope

Straight spotting scopes produce greater magnification for targets far away because you can place your eyes closer to the eyepiece. There are no separate eyepieces or assemblies here making it compact and lightweight.

Angled Spotting Scopes

Angled Spotting Scopes

These scopes are perfect when viewing with both eyes because they are angled to make it better and easier to see through. You can use angled spotting scopes with binoculars or camera lenses to improve the magnification. There is a wider field of view available here with better eye relief since your eyes don’t have to be so close to the eyepiece. However, it is heavy.

Bonus Read: How to Mount a Rifle Scope – 6 Easy Steps for Maximum Accuracy.

Parts of a Spotting Scope

A spotting scope features several parts that all work together to produce the result. Before we go further, it is essential we know some of the most important parts of a spotting scope. This way, you have an idea when it is used to explain further down the line.

  • Eyepiece: In spotting scopes, you can select between a fixed eyepiece and zoom option. The eyepiece features the magnification of the scope. In some cases, you may have to buy the eyepiece separately from the scope.
  • Body: The body is the large central part containing several other smaller parts like the lenses.
  • Case: This is the cover around the body holding some of the smaller parts together. It is usually sturdily made from durable materials that can withstand falls.
  • Tripod: This is the stand holding the spotting scope for you to view through it. It provides stability where you do not have to use your hands to hold it.

How Does a Spotting Scope Work?

The working principle of a spotting scope may seem complicated, but it is similar to that of most optics. It does have distinct characteristics which make it stand out. 

First, light is taken in through the convex lens, which shortens the focal length there when compared to the focal length in the eyepiece. The image travels through the tube, where it is reflected by a mirror. This reflection causes a better focus, however, it also inverts the image.

The inversion will then be corrected to an upright image by the convex lens. Spotting scopes produce upright images every time you look through the lens. However, when going through the spotting tube, the image is inverted and corrected.

The prism splits the image into two, and they are focused on the viewing tube. Because of the prism, the image is blurred slightly and it is different from how you would see the target without the spotter. This phenomenon is called chromatic aberration and is resolved when you use a device with a large focal length.

Features of a Spotting Scope

These are the characteristics of a spotting scope and how it affects its work.


Image source: backwoodspursuit.com

Spotting scopes usually involve high magnification ranges from 12x up to 100x. However, the more common ranges are from 15x to 60x. Spotting scopes with magnification power above 60x are reserved for more detailed uses. These kinds of high magnification levels allow you to bird-watch and follow animals from afar, among other things.

Larger magnification levels reduce the field of view you can see; there’ll also be less light available and a less stable image. The atmosphere has a huge effect on the magnification quality of your scope.

The eyepiece carries the magnification, whereas the zoom eyepiece features variable magnification levels you can adjust. Fixed eyepieces, on the other hand, feature a single magnification level which means you’ll have to change the eyepiece if you want another magnification level.

Nevertheless, fixed magnification eyepieces offer more precision.

Optical Quality

The most impressive magnification ranges will not mean much without an accompanying optical quality. The quality of the optics allows you to use larger magnification levels while maintaining a stable image.

Aside from using optics with verifiable quality, the coatings on your optics also determine the general optics quality. Fully multi-coated optics shows all the lenses are coated severally and are the most suitable. When the optic is termed “coated,” it means the surfaces are coated partially.

There are also other types like flourite-treated lenses that produce great images in low light and higher magnification levels. There are also high definitions of extra-low dispersion glasses. These glasses focus more on removing optical errors.

Bonus Read: How To Adjust & Zero Iron Sights‌?

Lens Size

This is the diameter of the front lens and is usually found on the body of the scope. You’ll see an inscription like this: 50X90mm which shows that the magnification is 50 while the lens size is 90mm. The lens size takes light into the tube. The larger the lens size, the more light that can enter, leading to better image quality.

Also Read: What do the Numbers Mean on a Rifle Scope?

Field of View

Field of View
Image source: vikingoptical.com

The field of view of a spotting scope is the size of the target in the width you can see. A bigger field of view allows you to see a wider and clearer image of the target. The more magnification power you use, the lesser the field of view you can achieve.

Eye Relief

The eye relief of a spotting scope is the distance away from the lens your eye must be for you to see the field of view without affecting the image quality. Typically, angled spotting scopes offer better eye relief than straight spotting scopes, as people using glasses can use them with their glasses on. Eye relief of 12 to 15mm is the ideal eye relief for most spotting scopes.


The durability of a spotting scope is essential even though the tripod stand offers it some stability. The body of the spotting scope should be made from quality materials that can withstand falls without breaking.

The durability of the scope may also depend on the type of protection against the weather that is available. There is the option of having a waterproof, dustproof, and fog-proof scope.

Prism Type

Spotting scopes feature prisms that split the image and make upright or right to left corrections to the image. There are two types of prims mostly available in spottings scopes; porro prism and roof prism.

Porro prism is the most commonly used prism Bak-4 glass is used here. Porro prism is efficient, easy to produce, and affordable. The roof prism, on the other hand, is not as efficient as the porro prism; however, it is slim and compact, which reduces the overall weight of the scope.


The price of a spotting scope varies depending on the quality and brand, but you should expect to see a range from $200 to $2500. Scopes around $300 have limited features and are suited for bird watchers. However, if you want to do more with the scope, like hunting in difficult light conditions, you may need a higher-end scope.


Spotting scopes may have similarities with binoculars and astronomical scopes, but they are not the same. Spotting scopes can achieve farther distances than binoculars can imagine and are the perfect optics for people like bird watchers, long-distance hunters, and nature lovers, among others. The overall quality of the scope will rely on several factors including the price and brand.

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.