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January 13, 2017

What’s the Best Compact Spotting Scope for You?

Spotting scopes are quite popular with outdoorsmen who require an extended viewing range than what traditional riflescopes / binoculars have to offer. They enable this through their huge zoom ranges and objective diameters – but often at the expense of added weight, which can seriously slow you down in the field.

Spotting Scope

For this reason, there’s a segment of the market (a rather large one) devoted to compact spotting scopes, which claim to be more manageable outdoors than their full sized siblings. Often, because of their (relatively) downsized features, they are also more affordable.

The only issue is that there is a plethora of these products available right now, so finding the right one for your needs can be a challenge for rookies. If you’re in such a fix, here’s a detailed guide that will educate you on finding the best compact spotting scope for yourself.

Compact Spotting Scope Comparisons

Model

Weight

Lens Coating

Warranty

Our Ratings

Vortex Optics Razor HD

Vortex Optics Razor HD

25 oz.

Fully Multi-coated

Unlimited lifetime

Alpen 15-45x60

Alpen 15-45x60

28 oz.

Fully Multi-coated

Lifetime warranty

Nikon FieldScope ED50 Straight

Nikon FieldScope ED50 Straight

20 oz.

Multi-coated

25 year limited warranty

Leupold SX-1 Ventana Straight

Leupold SX-1 Ventana Straight

35 oz.

Multi-coated

Limited lifetime warranty

Swarovski Spotting Scope HD ATS-65

Swarovski Spotting Scope HD ATS-65

48.3 oz.

Fully Multi-coated

Limited lifetime warranty

Who should get a compact scope?

  • Hunters
  • Wildlife / nature observers

Tracking game may require you to traverse several miles over the course of a day. However, you can’t really use a full sized 100mm objective optic because carrying (and stabilizing) it outdoors will be a pain. A compact 60mm (even 45mm) scope will be your best friend here – allowing you to transport it in a carry bag, and enabling you to spot your prey more effectively by taking less time to set up.

Regardless of what your intended applications is, one of the most compelling reasons for opting for a compact scope not wanting to carry around a bulky tripod kit on your outdoor excursions: larger optic equipment needs a heavier tripod to stabilize it, and the added pounds can prove tiresome after several miles of hiking.

Compact scope features

Smaller zoom range and objective diameter

Vortex Optics Razor HD

A spotting scope is generally regarded as compact if it doesn’t exceed 13-14” in length, and 35-45oz. in weight – the reason why I’ve given a ranged criteria is because everyone has a different threshold for what they consider lightweight.

This translates into a smaller objective lens diameter (around 45 – 60mm, typically) – which in turn means that a smaller amount of light is transmitted to the scope’s inner lenses for magnification.

Generally, this limits the scope’s zoom range to 48x or lower – there have been a few exceptions where lightweight 80mm scopes have been made, but these are considerably pricey, because the weight reduction in their case has to be achieved through high end build materials with superior strength-to-weight ratios.

Multi-coated optics work fine

Swarovski Spotting Scope HD ATS-65

While many experts recommend getting a spotting scope with fully multi-coated optics to enjoy crisp visuals at the highest magnifications – in the case of compact scopes, even lenses that are only just multi-coated work. This is because the maximum magnification on these scopes isn’t so high as to require lots of light transmission to paint a (reasonably) clear image.

Of course, some degradation is to be expected with increasing zoom power, but if the lenses are otherwise made of good quality material, the image result will be quite satisfactory.

Pricing trends

Price

Naturally, by using smaller amounts of glass (and ordinary multi-coating in some cases), the manufacturer is able to cut down on the overall cost of production – this trend can clearly be observed in a spotting scope product line that offers models over a range of objective diameters and zoom ranges - the lower you go, the cheaper it gets.

While the aforementioned trend holds strong in the mainstream compact scope market, quite the opposite happens in the high end segment. High end scopes promise to deliver uncompromisingly crisp visuals at all mag settings, which is why the manufacturer has to pull out all the stops to make up for / overcome the objective lens limitations.

Normally, this means the utilization of extra low dispersion glass and fully multi-coated lenses to ensure that the limited objective is utilized to the fullest. Some scope makers take it further: they use high end lightweight materials to allow their product to push the objective size boundary beyond the 60mm mark – going as far as 80mm – without inflating the product’s weight. As you may have surmised, this leads to the price being several times higher than mainstream compact products.

Lightweight

Compact scopes tend to have smaller objectives (and bodies) – which means they have a smaller weight, and occupy less space, making them a lot more portable than their large sized siblings. As mentioned above, this is one of the biggest selling point of these scopes.

Limitations of compact spotting scopes

Lesser viewing range

Spotting scopes depend on incident light to develop a clear zoomed image and project it to your eyes – compact ones will suffer from somewhat reduced resolution (which means you won’t be able to identify tiny details at super long distances) because of the smaller objective diameter.

Even if you were to opt for a pricier compact product with fully multi-coated optics, you would still not get results on par with a quality full sized scope – the size of the objective introduces a ceiling on what can be achieved in terms of light transmission.

Poorer performance in low light conditions

Another consequence of reduced light gathering capabilities of mainstream compact scopes is stunted performance in low light situations. You may have already deduced this: a smaller objective coupled with already dim ambient conditions means a definite decrease in image brightness!

In other words, astronomers should avoid mainstream compact scopes unless they’re content with only being able to view specs of planets / satellites / star clusters in the sky. Obviously, for those who are serious about their pastime / profession and are willing to shell out several hundred bucks, there are top tier compact options with larger objectives and fully multi-coated lenses to allow for high magnification settings (in excess of 45x) that allow you to zoom farther into celestial bodies.

Top Rated Compact Spotting Scope Reviews

Vortex Optics Razor HD 11-33x50mm

  • Zoom Range:11-33x
  • Objective Lens Diameter:50mm
  • FOV [ft. @ 100 yards]:191-96
  • Body Length: 10.3 in
Vortex Optics Razor HD

If you’re not on a tight budget, this is one offering that strikes a fine balance between performance and portability, making it ideal for serious hunters (and birders who don’t need a huge zoom range).

Sporting the same high quality HD glass and XR multi-coating as its larger siblings, it produces better visuals (even in low light conditions) than many full sized scopes at comparable zoom settings. Furthermore, it utilizes a triplet apochromatic lens system to minimize color fringing, and display images in true color – ensuring the best possible long range visual performance from a scope with such a low zoom.

All this is achieved with an objective size no larger than 50mm, which adds up to a total weight of just 25 ounces – one of the lightest in the market. Furthermore, the 11x zoom with a close focus of just 6.6 feet is much lower than the competitors, and allows you to observe your subjects rapidly, without having to set up a tripod.

The scope has ArmorTek exterior lenses that are resistant to scratches, and it is Argon purged and O-ring sealed to make it fogproof and waterproof, respectively. While there have been no complaints about its performance, it still comes with Vortex’s signature no-questions-asked VIP lifetime warranty that will have you covered against any kind of damaged.

What We Liked

  • Very lightweight.
  • Top notch visual performance at every zoom setting.
  • Robust construction to withstand environmental effects.
  • Low minimum zoom lets you view subjects without having to set up shop.
  • Unlimited lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Expensive.
  • Somewhat limited maximum zoom.




Alpen 15-45x60 Spotting Scope

  • Zoom Range:15-45x
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 60mm
  • FOV [ft. @ 100 yards]: 115-59
  • Body Length: 11 in
Alpen 15-45x60

Inexpensive, lightweight and dependable, the Alpen 15-45x60 is perhaps the best compact spotting scope for hunting / range shooting on a budget.

Sporting a healthy (for a compact scope) 60mm objective diameter and a wide 15-45x zoom range, the scope is great for spotting elk in the wild, or for calling out bullet marks on shooting ranges (you can go as far as 300 yard with steel gong type targets). The scope owes its surprisingly good visual output in part to fully multi-coated optics, which enable it to make the most of its 60mm objective.

In spite of its low cost, it manages to combine powerful optic features with a meager 28 ounce weight and compact 11 inch body length – which means you can carry it around with relative ease, tucked away in your backpack. The scope is rubber armored, fogproof and waterproof, so it can weather some punishment outdoors.

The one recurring complaint with this scope is slight visual degradation at 45x, but this is to be expected in an offering this inexpensive. Some manufacturing defects have also surfaced, but the product comes with a flexible lifetime warranty for these problems – in fact, it has received serious praise about how polite and helpful the support team is!

What We Liked

  • Very cheap.
  • Surprisingly good optical performance for the price.
  • Compact, lightweight and sturdy construction.
  • Lifetime warranty, handled by an excellent support team.

What We Didn't

  • Slight loss of fidelity at highest zoom.
  • Minor manufacturing defects.




Nikon FieldScope ED50 Straight

  • Zoom Range:13-30x
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 50 mm
  • FOV [ft. @ 100 yards]: 157 (at minimum zoom)
  • Body Length: 9.3 in
Nikon FieldScope ED50 Straight

Weighing a bare 20 ounces, and with a length of just 9.3 inches, the FIeldScope ED50 is perhaps the lightest, most portable (if somewhat expensive) scope on the market right now.

In spite of using a smaller 50mm objective, alongside simple multi-coated lenses, the scope manages to yield highly crisp imagery at all settings. Furthermore, the extra low dispersion lenses eliminate chromatic aberration, so that the projected image has superb color accuracy – a feature that will be much appreciated by birders and digiscopers.

While the compactness of the scope is undeniable, it does suffer from a slightly limited field of view as a result of the size reduction, which might makes it unsuitable for applications that require you to view broad landscapes. On the other hand, the objective can be fitted with 55mm lens filters for diverse photographic applications.

The 25 year limited warranty has you covered in the event of damage / malfunction, even if it isn’t the manufacturer’s fault – no that there have been any complaints, but it does indicate the level of confidence Nikon has in the quality of its product.

What We Liked

  • One of the lightest, most portable scopes in the market.
  • Crisp visual output at all zoom settings.
  • ED lenses for accurate colors.
  • Can be fitted with 55 mm filters for photography applications.
  • Solid 25 year limited warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Pricey.
  • Limited field of view.




Leupold SX-1 Ventana Straight Spotting Scope, Black, 15-45 x 60mm

  • Zoom Range:15-45x
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 60 mm
  • FOV [ft. @ 100 yards]: 142-89
  • Body Length: 13 in
Leupold SX-1 Ventana Straight

The Leupold SX-1 Ventana is an affordable option for those in need of a no-nonsense, workable sighting solution that offers a respectable field of view without taxing your back.

Before proceeding further – let me state this: the Leupold is a Chinese made scope, so you can expect some manufacturing defects (although there have been surprisingly few complaints about this particular product!). Nonetheless, the limited lifetime warranty it comes with should have you covered if a situation arises.

With that out of the way, for its price, this scope yields seriously crisp and bright imagery, even at the 45x zoom setting: users have reported being able to pick out small details even from 500 yards out – thoroughly impressive for a cheap multi-coated product with a small 60mm objective. Another praiseworthy feature is the generous 142-89 inch FOV range, which should be especially helpful for landscape viewing.

General user feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – in fact, the only issue I have with it is its slightly heavier build (35 ounces, 13’) in comparison with other mainstream compact scopes. Nonetheless, the construction is solid – with both waterproofing and fog proofing to protect against external hazards.

What We Liked

  • Affordably priced.
  • Excellent optical performance for the cost.
  • Generous field of view.
  • Limited lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Slightly bigger than average compact products.




Swarovski Spotting Scope HD ATS-65 w/ 20-60x eyepiece (sold separately)

  • Zoom Range: 20-60x
  • Objective Lens Diameter: 65 mm
  • FOV [ft. @ 100 yards]: 118-66
  • Body Length: 14.6 in
Swarovski Spotting Scope HD ATS-65

If you’re a professional outdoorsman who simply cannot compromise on performance but requires a reasonably portable solution nonetheless, the HD ATS-65 may be right up your alley.

Sporting a lightweight aluminum build that weighs 48.3 ounces and measures 14.6” (with the 20-60x eyepiece), it will not meet everyone’s expectations as a lightweight product – however, if you require the visual output of a fully featured scope in an easily movable package, this is as low as it gets.

This is an ultra-high-end product: it features proprietary technologies to provide crisp, color correct, fully detailed visual output – multiple coatings on all prisms and lenses maximize contrast and minimize glare. The fluoride containing HD glass eliminates chromatic aberration problems. The 20-60x eyepiece combined with the 65mm objective ensures a pretty decent FOV of 118-66 feet, so you can get the edge to edge view necessary for wide-angle photography and landscape viewing.

Outer lenses are given a special non-stick coating to prevent scratching and help in the removal of dust and residue. The scope has been designed to take a beating outdoors – with rubber armoring in place to protect against noise and shock. It is waterproof and dustproof, as expected, and comes with a limited lifetime warranty from the manufacturer.

While the scope’s performance is flawless, and the design ergonomic and reasonably compact, there’s one undeniable problem: it is extremely expensive – the eyepiece and body are sold separately, and together they will set you back by more than a couple of grands!

What We Liked

  • Exceptional visual output.
  • Robust design meant for outdoor adventures.
  • 20-60x eyepiece allows for wide FOV applications.
  • Limited lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Extremely expensive.
  • May not fit everyone’s definition of lightweight.




Conclusion

My primary purpose with this guide was to underscore the fact that compact scopes do occupy a huge segment of the spotting scope market and choosing them requires careful evaluation of your priorities:

There isn’t a single convergent limit below which all products are considered compact – it varies with your requirements – for example, hunters (and amateur photographers / birders) will do fine with the Leupold Ventana – it is affordable, offers decent visual output, and definitely fits as a standard compact product. However, pros will have to splurge on the super expensive (not to mention heavier) Swarovski HD ATS-65 if they want performance on par with full sized products.

Leupold Ventana

Leupold SX-1 Ventana Straight

Swarovski HD ATS-65

Swarovski Spotting Scope HD ATS-65

In summation, it is impossible to find a one-size-fits-all compact scope that will work with every possible outdoor application.

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