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January 15, 2017

The Best Budget Spotting Scope Reviews

When it comes to spotting scopes – most of us regard them as another major but necessary expense for powering our long-range sighting pastimes / professions. The relatively high price of these products can be a major hindrance for newcomers – and even seasoned outdoorsmen – for stepping up their game when the time is right. I’ve been in the same boat myself – torn between investing in a long range binocular or a spotting scope, when going from 100 yard shots to 300 yard shots.

Tripod For Your Spotting Scope

After doing some digging though, I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a few budget options in the spotting scope market. Sure, they’re limited in their applications as compared to higher end offerings, but for consumers with those exact requirements, these inexpensive scopes work reasonably well.

Here’s a guide covering these offerings in detail – the aim is to help you in deciding whether they’ll work for you, and also to help you choose the best budget spotting scope for yourself.

Top 5 Budget Spotting Scope Comparisons

Model

Weight

Lens Coating

Warranty

Our Ratings

Celestron Landscout 60MM

Celestron Landscout 60MM

17.6 oz.

Multi-coated

Limited Lifetime

Nc Star High Resolution

Nc Star High Resolution

27.8 oz.

Fully Multi-coated

Limited lifetime

Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima Zoom

Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima Zoom

20 oz.

Multi-coated

Limited lifetime

BARSKA 20-60x60 Zoom Colorado

BARSKA 20-60x60 Zoom Colorado

40 oz.

Fully coated

Limited lifetime

Gosky 20-60X 80 Porro Prism

Gosky 20-60X 80 Porro Prism

48.3 oz.

Fully multi-coated

Not specified

Feasible applications for budget spotting scopes

Judging mirage at long distances


Mirage is used to calculate of windage adjustment when shooting at long range. A budget spotting scope with even limited visual clarity at its highest magnification setting can help you judge the horizontal deviations occurring due to variable wind conditions between you and the target – as far out as 600 yards even!

Spotting bullet marks


You can use a budget spotting scope with up to 60x magnification and a 60mm objective to call out bullet hits out to 300 yards – but only if you’re using shoot-n-c type targets (you can make them at home if you want). Run of the mill bullseye targets will limit you to 150 yards tops, because that kind of low contrast cannot be identified with the cheap glass / coatings employed by budget spotters.

Run of the mill bullseye targets will limit you to 150 yards tops, because that kind of low contrast cannot be identified with the cheap glass / coatings employed by budget spotters.

Wildlife observation


For medium-long range hunting applications involving larger quarries such as deer, coyote etc., the 40x zoom setting of a low end scope will suffice, provided that you’re hunting in ample daylight.

Deer Hunting

Similarly, you can use a cheap spotter for viewing flights of birds in the sky, but don’t count on being able to observe their color patterns / identify their species from a distance, because these scopes lack the apochromatic glass needed to paint vibrant, color correct images at full zoom.

Digiscoping


Professional photographers often affix spotting scopes to their DSLR cameras in order to capture their subjects / landscapes in greater detail. Although a budget scope (limited by its inferior optics) won’t provide the same kind of fidelity, it will still be a step up from capturing pictures without any scope at all – sufficient for hobbyist photographers.

Gosky 20-60X 80 Porro Prism

Learning the ropes


As mentioned above, decent spotting scopes require you to spend several hundred dollars’ worth of cash and are still quite delicate; for someone who isn’t confident in their use (i.e. a rookie) it can be a smart move to get their hands dirty on a budget scope first.

You can try out various techniques involving a spotting scope, without worrying about what would happen if you end up damaging it. Once you’ve become adept at using a budget scope, you’ll be set for making the jump to a fully featured high end product.

If, after having tried out a budget scope, you decide that you’ll do better with a binoculars – at least you will not have lost as much money as you would have if you had gotten an expensive model!

Performance limitations of budget spotting scopes

Noticeable performance degradation at higher magnifications

Budget scopes tend to employ inferior optic coatings on their air-to-glass surfaces, which means less light is gathered overall. While this isn’t a huge problem at lower magnifications e.g. 20x – 40x, as you take it up to 60x, this limitation becomes apparent with a significant decrease in the brightness and clarity of the image, as well as an increase in visual distortion.

This dimness issue is even more pronounced at sunset / sunrise conditions when the ambient lighting is already low on its own. It is vital therefore, that you select a budget product only if you plan to use it in reasonably well lit situations.

Visual fidelity is achieved at the expense of unwieldiness

There are exceptions to the aforementioned trend of visual degradation at higher magnifications, but these will contain heavier glass that translates into a larger build and, in some cases, you may even have to change the lenses manually in order to alter their magnification setting!

All spotting scopes require a tripod to operate them at the highest zoom setting without any vibrations disturbing the focus – and in order to stabilize a bulky spotting scope with already shaky visuals, a pretty heavy duty (read expensive and cumbersome) tripod will have to be purchased.

Reduced structural integrity

While cheap scopes aren’t made entirely out of flimsy plastic, one simply can’t count on them to weather rough handling in the field the way a higher priced solution will – some will lack waterproofing, others fog proofing, and a few may not have either!

Restricted warranty policy

Restriction Sign

A low end scope is not the embodiment of quality – this much should be abundantly clear to you. A consequence of this is that the scope maker simply cannot offer a wholesome warranty policy for these products: in fact, a limited lifetime warranty is the best thing you can get here.

These policies cover defects in workmanship, and there’s absolutely no chance of them covering damages done to the scope post purchase (as in the case of certain high end offerings).

Top Rated Budget Spotting Scope Reviews

Celestron Landscout 60MM Spotting Scope

  • Magnification range:12-36x
  • Objective Diameter: 60mm
  • FOV (feet):157-84 (@1000 yards)
  • Eye relief: 18-14mm
Celestron Landscout 60MM

This low-cost, lightweight spotting scope is designed to be an easily portable solution for people who don’t want to be bothered overmuch with taking care of an expensive product.

Sporting a decent 60mm objective diameter and multi-coated optics, the scope is able to yield sufficiently bright and detailed images suitable for bullet mark spotting up to 300 yards (with Shoot-n-c targets and a hunting rifle caliber), as well as casual nature observation, and digiscoping at close range.

However, the optical limitations with this scope are immediately apparent due to its low 36x magnification cap, and you can’t use it for several mainstream spotter applications such as astronomy, long range hunting, and observing birds in flight and so on.

The build quality, while definitely not the sturdiest one out there, is still quite decent for a budget offering. A non-slip rubber focus ring makes it quite easy to zero in on your subjects, and the integrated tripod mounting collar can be rotated to modify the viewing angle to match your needs.

The low zoom limit means a decent FOV range (157’-84’), but the restrictive 18-14mm eye relief will create problems for those who wear glasses. There have been some complaints pertaining to shoddy focusing and abnormal blurriness as well, which indicates poor quality control – unsurprising for a product this cheap.

Still, the product comes with a limited lifetime warranty that should cover the QC issues - and even though I found the included complimentary tripod to be essentially useless, given the scope’s reliable core performance, I feel it offers good value at a sub-$100 price.

What We Liked

  • Inexpensive.
  • Lightweight, compact design.
  • Decent visual performance at around 300-400 yards.
  • Easy focusing, and adjustable tripod collar.
  • Limited lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Not for long range spotting scope applications.
  • Quality control issues.
  • Somewhat restrictive eye relief.


Nc Star High Resolution Spotting Scope with Carry Case, 20-60X60

  • Magnification range:20-60x
  • Objective Diameter: 60mm
  • FOV (feet):96-48 (@1000 yards)
  • Eye relief: 15.5-13 mm
Celestron Landscout 60MM

Featuring 20-60x60mm fully multi-coated optics, and a sturdy waterproof and fogproof design, the Nc Star High Resolution Spotting Scope belies its extremely cheap price point.

The 60mm objective diameter paired with fully a multi-coated lens yields surprisingly crisp and bright visuals for a budget product even at 60x magnification: I daresay you can use this scope for applications requiring vivid imagery i.e. birding and photography.

The scope has a rubber armored over-molded body, and comes with a soft carry case, so you can take it outdoors with the confidence that it will sustain some punishment in the field. As with every budget product, there’s a catch though: you’ll have to put up with seriously stingy FOV ([email protected]) and eye relief (15.5-13mm) – this effectively prevents the scope from being used for extended periods of time, or for wide landscape viewing.

The manufacturer has included a laser pointer with this scope which is of no practical use for spotting applications because it is extremely difficult to center it properly, besides the standard complementary (and unworkable) tripod.

For the majority of budget products, QC problems are to be expected – but the Nc Star manages to surprise here too, there are practically no complaints about the scope itself (although the tripod was a whole different story). Still this is quite impressive for such a cheap product, especially considering that it packs a limited lifetime warranty as well.

Everything considered this is the best spotting scope under 100 that you could get.

What We Liked

  • Affordably priced.
  • Surprisingly crisp visuals for a budget offering.
  • Sturdy, weatherproof construction.
  • Useful included carry bag.
  • Limited lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Very restrictive FOV and eye relief.


Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima Zoom Spotting Scope

  • Magnification range:20-60x
  • Objective Diameter: 80mm
  • FOV (feet):105-53 (@1000 yards)
  • Eye relief: 18mm at 20x
Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima Zoom

Some may argue that this isn’t a true budget scope given how it is slightly more expensive than your average sub-$100 offering, but if you’re short on cash and want a properly functioning spotter that can be used for mainstream applications to a certain extent, the Celestron Ultima 80 is a fine choice.

The 80mm objective is a significant boost over the typical 50 and 60mm options available at lower prices, and manages to provide a decent (though not perfect) picture even at the highest zoom. The light gathering ability of the scope can be judged from the fact that users have been able to successfully spot bullet marks at ranges of 300-400 yards (using splatter targets) on clear days.

Even after the sun had set, the scope managed to portray fuzzy images of Saturn’s moons at its highest mag setting – rather impressive for a low cost solution. A neat feature of the Ultima 80 is its sight tube which lets you track moving objects at closer ranges where it would be awkward for the magnified primary tube.

Controls are smooth, and the build quite strong in general (waterproofing lets you use it in rough weather) – the two issues that I came across with this scope were slight chromatic aberration and blurred edges (noticeable at higher zoom settings), and tight eye relief.

However, there have also been complaints from users about intolerably fuzzy performance in broad daylight, which points to an inconsistent lens coating process – something to be expected from a Chinese made product. Fortunately, a limited lifetime warranty from Celestron will ensure a replacement if you end up with a bad product.

What We Liked

  • Decent performance in long range applications.
  • Can be used for casual astronomical observation.
  • Strong, waterproof construction.
  • Limited lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Not the cheapest budget offering.
  • Limited eye relief.
  • Chromatic aberration / fuzziness issues.


BARSKA 20-60x60 Zoom Colorado Waterproof Spotting Scope

  • Magnification range:20-60x
  • Objective Diameter: 60mm
  • FOV (feet):114-51 (@1000 yards)
  • Eye relief: 13-11 mm
BARSKA 20-60x60 Zoom Colorado Waterproof

This cheap offering from a well-known budget shooting optic manufacturer works remarkably well as a shot calling tool on the range.

The scope incorporates fully coated optics (not to be confused with fully multi-coated), which are able to output passable visuals below the 60x zoom limit – at 60 however, it gets a little fuzzy. Nonetheless, you can use this scope to sight bullet markets up to 300 yards, for a wide range of bullet calibers, but keep in mind that this applies only to high-contrast targets.

In spite of its cheap price, the Colorado’s optics are housed in a robust, lightweight body with rubber armoring that can withstand bumps in the field. It is also fog-proof and waterproof, so weather extremes will not get in the way of your sightseeing.

As with other cheap products, this scope suffers from a severely restricted eye relief (13mm maximum), so I can’t in good faith recommend it to those who wear spectacles. The FOV range of 114-50 feet is quite generous for such a lightweight and cheap offering though.

The budget nature of this scope means there are quite a few complaints pertaining to manufacturing defects, but you can avail Barska’s limited lifetime warranty policy if you end up in this situation. The scope comes with a free soft carry bag and tripod as well.

What We Liked

  • Cheap.
  • Works great on the range for a budget scope.
  • Lightweight construction of decent strength.
  • Ample FOV.
  • Limited lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Grainy visuals at 60x zoom setting.
  • Scant eye relief.
  • Quality control problems.


Gosky 20-60X 80 Porro Prism Spotting Scope

  • Magnification range:20-60x
  • Objective Diameter: 80mm
  • FOV (feet):127-62 (@1093
  • Eye relief: 17-13.5 mm
Gosky 20-60X 80 Porro Prism

Although it’s hard to guess from the clearly computer-translated description of this Chinese made product, this one is a hidden gem in that it offers extremely clear long range visuals at a remarkably low price point.

The scope has fully multi-coated glass and an 80mm objective lens, which means excellent light transmission even when it gets slightly dark – in fact, users have reported being able to sight in and snap up lucid photographs of the moon with this scope at 60x zoom! In other words, this is one budget scope that can be used for hunting, bird watching, photography and even amateur astronomy.

The body of the scope is made from durable, corrosion resistant magnalium alloy, and is covered by a rubber armor, so it can be used in tough field conditions, especially given the fact that it is also fully sealed to make it waterproof. One especially cool thing about this scope is that it comes with a digiscoping cell phone adapter that can be used by hobbyists to create impromptu videos of wildlife / shooting practice / comet trails.

The user feedback for this product has been very positive, with only a few scattered complaints pertaining to unsatisfactory visual performance, likely from individuals with unrealistically high expectations from a budget offering. While the manufacturer does not mention an explicit warranty policy, the support is reportedly excellent and they stand behind their product – replacing defective units at no charge!

What We Liked

  • Affordably priced.
  • Clear and bright long range visual output.
  • Generous field of view.
  • Durable, waterproof construction.
  • Very helpful customer support.

What We Didn't

  • Somewhat limited eye relief.


Conclusion

Now that you’ve gone through the entire guide and accompanying reviews, I would like reiterate that buying a budget scope involves making some sort of compromise – the cheapest scopes won’t offer decent visuals at higher magnifications / longer ranges; the ones that do will be heavier or with the highest zoom settings removed altogether, and regardless of what your preference is, you will still have to put up with uncomfortable eye relief.

That being said, if you have no choice but to go for a budget option, I’ll recommend the Gosky 20-60X 80as my pick for the best budget spotting scope, because it offers the best value for the money in this price bracket: an 80mm objective, fully multi-coated optics, durable construction, ample field of vision, a smartphone digiscoping adapter, and last but not the least, it’s made by a company that stands behind their product.

Gosky 20-60X 80 Porro Prism

It’s a classic example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – a relatively obscure Chinese product that manages to beat the offerings of several renowned spotting scope brands.

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