How To Find The Best Spotting Scope For Your Needs

Gosky 20-60X 80 Porro Prism

Sometimes, using your rifle mounted scope or trusty binoculars to spot a far off quarry just doesn’t cut it – for the uninitiated this can be a dismaying notion, but the experienced outdoorsman has one more card to play – the spotting scope.

It’s alright if you’re wondering, “Now, what is a spotting scope?”, because even the most seasoned birdwatcher / shooter has asked this question at some point – I know I did. Put simply, a spotting scope is a compact telescope that utilizes a combination of lenses, prisms and/or mirrors to magnify the subject beyond what is typically possible with other terrestrial sighting utilities.

While they are very helpful in a wide range of sighting situations, they also come with their own dilemmas – they’re expensive, they’re delicate and they’re bulky - so choosing them (or indeed, deciding if you need them at all) is a matter that requires careful deliberation and research.



Lens Coating


Our Ratings

Vortex Optics Razor HD

Gosky 20-60X 80 Porro Prism

28 oz.

Fully Multi-coated

Not specified

Leupold SX-1 Ventana Straight

Leupold SX-1 Ventana Straight

35 oz.

Fully Multi-coated

Limited lifetime warranty

Leupold Mark 4 12-40X60Mm

Leupold Mark 4 12-40X60Mm

37 oz.

Fully Multi-coated

Unlimited lifetime guarantee

Vortex Viper HD 20-60x80 Straight

Vortex Viper HD 20-60x80 Straight

66 oz.

Fully multi-coated

Unlimited lifetime warranty

Celestron C90 Mak

Celestron C90 Mak

128 oz.


Limited lifetime guarantee

Do you need a Spotting Scope?

Do You Need A Spotting Scope

Regardless of what your subjects are - birds, bullet marks, deer, celestial bodies and so on – the common factor between all these is that after a certain range, you’ll need the eyes of a hawk to pick them out.

Unless you’re absolutely certain that you’ll only be viewing them from a distance at which they are sufficiently visible for your intended application, you’ll need a spotting scope to give you the freedom to view further afield.

Parts of a Spotting Scope

Before moving on to learning how to choose a spotting scope, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the major constituent parts:

Objective lens

Objective Lens

This is the large lens present at the front of the scope, responsible for gathering and transmitting incident light into the internal magnification system. Light transmission varies directly with the square of the objective diameter – so even a boosting the objective from 60mm to 80mm has a major impact on visual quality.


Gosky 20-60X 80 Porro Prism

This is the combination of lenses present at the back of the scope, responsible for magnifying the distant image so you can view the subject clearly. Modern spotting scopes normally come with variable zoom eyepieces, but some allow you to replace these with fixed zoom eyepieces that provide a greater field of view and better clarity because of the lesser amount of lenses involved.

Prism system

Eye Piece Prism

An eyepiece placed directly behind an objective lens would result in a vertically and laterally inverted image. Spotting scopes place a prism system between the objective and the eyepiece to rectify the orientation of the image.


Nikon FieldScope ED50 Straight

The entire optical setup – objective lens, prism system and eyepiece – is put together in a body that can be made from a metal, metal alloy or carbon fiber, depending on the pricing and the application. The job of the housing is to protect this intricate setup from physical harm by external force and/or the elements.

Applications of a Spotting Scope


Deer Hunting

Certain kinds of prey, such as deer, can sense an assailant approaching from quite a distance away, requiring the hunter to spot them out from an even greater distance and approach tactfully.

In order to scout out a path to your quarry from a far off vantage point, you need a powerful spotting optic that can survey both vast landscapes and zoom in up close to the prey. A spotting scope fits the description perfectly.

Range shooting

Range Shooting

While you can aim at a far off bullseye with your riflescope, you won’t be able to ascertain if the bullet found its mark with it – even the average binocular would be useless beyond 200 yards.

A much more powerful sighting utility is need for this, in particular if you’re shooting at low contrast targets, and a spotting scope, with its huge zoom limit and large objective diameter (that enable it to gather sufficient light to show tiny bullet holes) is just it.

Wildlife observation

Wild Life Observation

While you can always spot larger animals like deer comfortably from several hundred yards away, the subtle details such as the number of tips on the antlers are left out. Things get even more difficult with animals that are better able to blend in with the environment and / or are small in size.

Similarly, serious birdwatchers will want to be able to identify the various subspecies of a particular kind of bird, and that too from a distance because birds take to the sky the moment they sense a potential threat – again, a powerful visual aid is required which only a spotting scope can provide in a relatively convenient manner.


Gosky 20-60X 80 Porro Prism

Capturing detailed photographs of nature requires lots of raw visual input to your DSLR's optical sensor, and the built-in zoom on most DSLRs isn’t really up to the task. Fortunately, modern spotting scopes often come with adapters that let you attach them to the front of your camera so you can capture incredibly vivid images of your subjects even if they’re far away.

Casual astronomy

Astronomy Observtion

The obvious visual aid used to spot celestial bodies lightyears away from the earth are telescopes – but these are heavy and delicate, not to mention expensive, so they can only be operated from static positions.

In comparison, modern spotting scopes are relatively more robust and affordable, and can be taken on outdoor excursions to enjoy the night sky in significantly better clarity than what the naked eye allows – they’re not as good as telescopes at producing detailed pictures of the planets and their moons, but that’s the price you have to pay for the added convenience.

Buying considerations

Magnification range and objective lens size

Spotting scopes usually come with variable zooms, ranging from lowly 12-20x options, to ultra-powerful 20-80x options – both extremes have unique benefits.

Scopes with a smaller maximum zoom limit are a lot more compact and portable because they can yield adequate visual output with a smaller objective lens e.g. 40mm, which in turn needs a smaller body to be housed in. However, they do restrict your viewing range – e.g. at 20x, you won’t be able to spot finer details after around 200 yards.

A higher zoom limit e.g. 60x or 80x, allows you to see much farther with your spotting scope by magnifying the subjects even further. But this also requires a much larger objective size e.g. 80mm, in order to gather enough light to produce reasonably bright visual output. As a consequence, these scopes suffer from being cumbersome, and are also more expensive.

It should be kept in mind that the higher the magnification, the more you’ll start to notice the effect of vibration – in fact, anything over 40x will necessitate the use of a tripod to stabilize the scope and keep it from becoming blurry every time your hands move or the wind blows!

Lens coating

Besides the objective lens, the lens coating is the single most important factor in determining the overall quality of the image yielded by a spotting scope. Light tends to bounce off surfaces at the boundaries between different materials, which obviously means lost visual information and ultimately a less detailed image.

To minimize this phenomenon, special anti-reflective coatings have to be applied to lens surfaces so they can absorb light to the fullest extent, thereby producing the crispest image possible. The usefulness of good lens coating is especially noticeable in sunset / sunrise conditions where the light is already sparse and every photon that reaches your eye through the scope counts.

Most mainstream spotting scopes come with multi-coated optics, which means that their external air-to-glass boundary surfaces have multiple coats of anti-reflective material to improve light transmission. Higher end scopes have fully multi-coated optics, which means that they have multiple anti-reflective coats on both their internal and external air-to-glass boundary surfaces.

Prism type

Spotting scopes normally pack either BAK4 prisms (made from barium crown glass) or BK7 prisms (made from borosilicate glass). The former is the best in terms of quality (also a bit more expensive) – but the latter works well for most applications too, if you can tolerate a slight loss in brightness towards the edges.

Angled or straight

The choice between the angled and straight form factors is based on the intended application for the scope, as well as the degree of convenience sought.

Generally speaking, straight scopes are much easier to adjust to for beginners and allow you to track moving subjects much more intuitively. However, they’re also more difficult to use when prone, or when you want to look at objects above your height.

Angled scopes, while they’re a bit trickier to get used to when following a moving body, are a lot easier to use in the prone position e.g. long range shooting, as well as when you want to look overhead at birds or the night sky.

Weight and build materials

Most spotters are made from a light metal such as aluminum (or an alloy of two metals when more durability is needed at the same weight). Despite the use of lightweight metals, larger (e.g. 60x80mm can go beyond 40 ounces) scopes can get quite bulky, and necessitate the use of a tripod to hold them for extended use.

Those who require a portable spotting scope generally have to compromise on a restricted zoom range and objective size, thereby sacrificing visual fidelity at long range. Alternately, you could go for scopes with a carbon fiber body, but these are available only rarely and are significantly more expensive than regular metal body models.

Eye relief

Having ample room between your pupil and the eyepiece is essential for comfortable prolonged use of the spotting scope. Those who don’t wear glasses can make do with even a relatively scant 15mm clearance, but those who do require at least 20mm if they want to look through the eyepiece easily without removing them.

Note that if you’re only afflicted by nearsightedness or farsightedness, you can take of your glasses, and adjust the focus control of the scope to achieve the same correction that was being originally provided by the glasses – so, theoretically, you could put up with a scope with tight eye relief if you were alright with the small inconvenience of having to take off your glasses every time you wanted to use the scope.

This trick does not apply to those suffering from astigmatism though, since it can’t be resolved by a simple focusing correction.


All but the least expensive scopes are made weather-proof through waterproofing and fog-proofing. The former is achieved through the use of O-ring seals, while the latter is ensured by means of a gas purging procedure (normally nitrogen or argon).

Weatherproofing is a must for consumers who will be frequently taking their spotting scopes outdoors for applications such as wildlife observation, hunting and stargazing. In fact, I’d recommend that weatherproofing is a good idea even when you’re positive that you’ll be using the scope exclusively indoors, because it keeps other small debris (besides moisture and fluids) from entering the scope and obstructing your view.


As mentioned before, spotting scopes are intricate and expensive instruments – so the manufacturer has to provide a pretty substantial guarantee of reliability with even their cheap offerings. As a consequence, you’ll find that most mainstream scopes come with a limited lifetime warranty. Higher end scopes come with no-questions-asked unlimited lifetime guarantees which are fully transferable from owner-to-owner.

Only extremely low end products don’t have dedicated warranties – I’ll strongly advise you to avoid getting these scopes, unless you have no problems with taking a major gamble on the product’s performance.

Best Rated Spotting Scope Reviews

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

This relatively obscure, Chinese manufactured spotting scope genuinely surprised me with the performance it provides at a budget price point.

Incorporating fully multi-coated optics alongside an 80mm objective ensures optimum light gathering capability for the scope, even when the day turns to twilight. This is a remarkable feat for a budget product, and has led to a lot of praise from users who were able to capture photographs of celestial objects with the Gosky set at max zoom!

The scope has a magnalium alloy construction bolstered by rubber armor, so it can weather minor bumps and bruises in the field – it is also waterproof, so you can use it with confidence in wet conditions. On top of this, the scope packs a smartphone adapter that lets you capture your subjects from afar on video.

The general opinion about this product is extremely positive, but you should note that this is still a budget product, so don’t go in expecting the performance of a German made scope based on the glowing recommendations. Also, the scope suffers from a tight eye relief (going as low as 13.5mm) that may prove unworkable for bespectacled individuals.

The manufacturer has not explicitly stated their warranty policy, but as per feedback from consumers, they provide dedicated customer support and replace defective units free of charge if so required.

What We Liked

  • Cheap.
  • Crisp and clear visual output at a budget price.
  • Ample FOV.
  • Robust, waterproof build.
  • Solid support team.

What We Didn't

  • Tight eye relief.

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

  • Magnification range: 15-45x
  • Objective Diameter: 60 mm
  • FOV (feet): 142-89
  • Eye relief: 21.5 (at max zoom) mm
Leupold SX-1 Ventana Straight

The Leupold SX-1 Ventana is a relatively compact, lightweight offering packing clear visuals and good usability at a reasonable cost.

Despite being manufactured in China, the scope manages to impress with its visuals: the 60mm objective goes well with the fully multi-coated optics, and yields imagery clear enough to let you make sense of small details while you’re hunting from as far as 500 yards!

The eye relief at 45x zoom is 21.5mm – highly impressive for a budget product, and one of the reasons why this scope is preferred by individuals who wear glasses. The FOV range too is quite generous, at 142-89 feet, and allows you to view wide landscapes for photography or for seeking your prey. The build quality is satisfactorily strong, and is both fogproof and waterproof to withstand environmental excesses. The scope weighs 35oz. and has a 13” length, so you can carry it around on expeditions with comparative ease.

There have been a few complaints pertaining to fuzzy visuals at short range, but these are likely products that escaped QC – but you can count on Leupold’s lifetime warranty to acquire a replacement in such a scenario.

What We Liked

  • Reasonably priced.
  • Strong core visual performance.
  • Plenty of FOV.
  • Generous eye relief.
  • Limited lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Scattered complaints of defective performance.

Leupold Mark 4 12-40X60Mm Spotting Scope W/Mil Dot 53756

  • Magnification range: 12-40x
  • Objective Diameter: 60 mm
  • FOV (feet): 168-52
  • Eye relief: 30 mm
Leupold Mark 4 12-40X60Mm

Compact and rugged, with seriously high end optics, and a first focal plane mil dot reticle to assist in compensation calculations, the Mark 4 is the go-to choice of serious military shooters and hunters for calculating bullet trajectories and spotting targets.

The Mark 4 is used by US military sniper teams, which means Leupold has to go the extra mile to ensure superb, unfettered visual performance. They have achieved this by using their in-house Multicoat 4 fully multi-coated glass in conjunction with Xtended Twilight Lens System, enabling the scope to yield ultra-crisp and bright visuals in all lighting conditions – even the infamous blue hour.

Unorthodox for a spotting scope, this Mark 4 features a mil-dot reticle to facilitate in target acquisition and range estimation. Since it lies in the first focal plane, the dots read accurately at all magnification settings, saving you from pesky mental conversions in the field.

For all its benefits though, the reticle can become an unnecessary nuisance for wildlife observers and digiscopers. Furthermore, the zoom range is 12-40x which, while being sufficient for military and hunting applications, may not work for long range bird watching or astronomy, so those who require a scope for non-militaristic purposes may want to pass this one over.

The scope is very easy to use for prolonged periods of time thanks to its compact build and a 30mm eye relief that works for even those who wear thick prescription glasses. The field of view ranges from 168 feet to 52 feet at 1000 yards, so the scope can be used to survey both vast landscapes, and to pick off tiny details at long range.

DiamondCoat2 coatings are applied to all external glass surfaces to keep them protected against scratches, while improving light transmission even further; the body is completely weatherproof as well. These two features allow the scope to be used in rough outdoor situations typical of military engagements.

A tripod adapter as well as a McCann Rail accessory is provided to maximize the scopes usability, and the included soft carry case can be used to keep it covered while the scope is in use. Complaints about the scope have been virtually non-existent, but if you do experience problems, you can use the included unlimited lifetime guarantee to secure a replacement.

The only genuine issue with getting this scope is that it is extremely expensive – given the high production value though, this is something to be expected.

What We Liked

  • Tailor made for tactical sniping applications.
  • Excellent visual output at all zoom settings and in every lighting situation.
  • Very high eye relief for comfortable usage.
  • Strong construction, made to withstand harsh usage and environment conditions.
  • Unlimited lifetime guarantee.

What We Didn't

  • Highly costly.
  • Mil-dot reticle is an obstruction in non-military uses.

Vortex Viper HD 20-60x80 Straight Spotting Scope

  • Magnification range: 20-60x
  • Objective Diameter: 80mm
  • FOV (feet): 110-50
  • Eye relief: 20-15 mm
Vortex Viper HD 20-60x80 Straight Spotting Scope

The Vortex Viper HD is an all-rounder spotting solution meant for consumers who require crystal clear long range visuals and long lasting performance, but don’t want to spend over a thousand bucks to get it.

The scope utilizes an 80mm objective coupled with Vortex’s proprietary XR fully multi-coated optics to achieve efficient light transmission that results in bright and vibrant images. Multi-layer dielectric prism coatings and HD lens elements ensure that the images projected on the eyepiece are color accurate, making this scope perfect for serious birdwatchers and other wildlife observers.

Exterior lens surfaces are given an ArmorTek coating to secure them against scratches and dirt; the overall structure is also robustly built, utilizing argon purging for fog proofing, and O-ring seals for waterproofing. In short, you can take this scope on excursions in the wild without worrying about it coming to harm due to environmental exposure.

The scope, which is available in both straight and angled form factors, comes with the Vortex VIP warranty – which is a guarantee from the manufacturer that they will replace it / repair it for free, no questions asked, should the product develop a defect over its lifetime (not that there have been many complaints).

The only thing marring this scope’s otherwise excellent performance and feature set is its short 15mm eye relief that could prove irritating for users with glasses.

What We Liked

  • Crisp, color-correct visual performance.
  • Built to withstand environmental damage.
  • Best spotting scope for the money in terms of cost-benefit ratio.
  • Unlimited lifetime warranty.

What We Didn't

  • Not for those on a budget.
  • Limited eye relief.

Celestron C90 Mak Spotting Scope

  • Magnification range: 30x
  • Objective Diameter: 90mm
  • FOV (feet): 68
  • Eye relief: 20 mm
Celestron C90 Mak Spotting Scope

The C90 Mak, with its unique Maksutov-Cassegrain Optical Design (normally found in telescopes) and a wide 90mm objective with fixed 39x magnification setting, is geared towards hobbyist astronomers.

Even though it is only multi-coated, the scope renders faithful images of celestial bodies during the night thanks to its huge 90mm objective size. The default 32mm eyepiece allows for a 39x zoom which is only good for viewing your subjects from a distance; however, you can switch it for other eyepieces to enhance the zoom range – up to a theoretical limit of 210x - this is more than enough to identify the moons of other planets.

The scope comes with a secondary 8x21mm image finderscope – another staple of astronomical sighting utilities – which lets you track a moving subject across the sky with ease (the default primary FOV of 68’ may prove difficult to manage in these situations).

The C90 Mak is quite affordable and highly customizable, with only its lack of waterproofing and somewhat fragile design setting it back. There have been some complaints about it pertaining to manufacturing defects / malfunctioning, but the limited lifetime guarantee the C90 ships with should have you covered.

All in all, this is a highly suitable solution for the aspiring astronomer who doesn’t want to spend money on a fully featured telescope.

What We Liked

  • Affordably priced.
  • Tailor made for long range, low-light applications such as astronomy.
  • Switchable eyepiece.
  • Finderscope facilitates in tracking moving targets at a distance.

What We Didn't

  • Fragile construction.
  • Not weatherproof.


The one thing you should be certain of by now is that it is impossible to choose one single product that can be called the best spotting scope for everyone: this sighting utility has such a wide range of applications (going from short range to long range, indoor to outdoor, daytime to nighttime) that it has become divided into many different categories that cater to the needs of vastly different segments of the consumer market.

That said, if I had to pick one scope from the ones I’ve reviewed, it would be the Vortex  Viper HD. This product embodies all the qualities of a good spotting scope – topnotch visual quality even in dim light and/or at high magnifications, an ample zoom range, robust construction, decent FOV, and excellent value for the money backed by an unlimited lifetime guarantee.

Barring a few very specific uses e.g. long distance birdwatching, or serious (as serious as it gets with a spotter, that is) astronomy, this scope can perform in almost any role thrust on its metaphorical shoulders.


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