Binoculars vs. Spotting Scopes

The question to bring one set of optics on an outdoor excursion over the other will always be tricky. It depends on the situation and the power and versatility of your optics. In this article, we’ll narrow down some areas where you should prefer one over the other. On the other hand, you might be inclined to bring both.

Spotting Scopes

On average, spotting scopes are going to have more powerful focus and longer range than your basic set of 8x42mm or 10x42mm binoculars. If you recently purchased a spotting scope or are looking to get one, here are a couple of situations you should consider:

  • Hunting-For long distance hunts where the terrain is variable. Spotting scopes will help you determine key details about the environment. When you are sitting in a location where you can observe the terrain around you for miles, the scope will be preferable to a set of binos.
  • Birding-In order to have a successful birding experience, acquiring the most intricate details of birds is the priority. It’s no surprise that two different bird species may only be separated by a small and hard to see color scheme. With powerful zoom and light transmission, the spotting scope is going to be your best friend.

The inconvenience with spotting scopes is that the larger ones (that are usually the best), require tripods for the best stabilization. Depending on where you’re going, tripods add a lot of excess weight. If you’re planning on walking long distances or going up steep terrain, you might want to think twice about bringing a spotting scope. Despite the excess weight, there are ways to bring a spotting scope and tripod and still get the job done:

  • Travel with a friend
  • Bring a larger backpack
  • Use a pack animal

There are some spotting scopes that you can freehand. This means less overall weight but smaller and less powerful lenses.

Click here for our picks for the best spotting scopes of 2018.

BinocularsNikon 7576 MONARCH 5 8x42 Binocular (Black)

While not as powerful as spotting scopes, binoculars are certainly the most widespread and versatile optics in the outdoor adventuring world. They weigh less than spotting scopes but some models do produce impressive power, focus, and light transmission.

With binos, you can place them in pouches on your body for easy access. You don’t have to take off your backpack every time you need to glass terrain. Compared to spotting scopes, they’re a whole lot more convenient.

So, where should you be using binos? Rather, the question should be where shouldn’t you be using binoculars? Binos can be and are usually used in just about every outdoor excursion there is. They are also commonly used in indoor events such as opera or theater, where people sitting far away may not be able to see the stage that well.

  • The key thing to do before you purchase a new pair of binos is to check the product description carefully. This description should give you the correct measurements, and how well they hold up during low light conditions (morning and evening).

For a reliable viewing experience, binos are pretty much a necessity when venturing into the wilderness, especially when dealing with shorter ranges. You would never want to travel with just a spotting scope.

Click here to see our choices for the best binoculars of 2018.

Click here to see our picks for the best rangefinder binoculars of 2018.


There isn’t a primary set of criteria that dictates which optics are better than others. Sure, spotting scopes on average sport more powerful and longer reaching lenses. However as we’ve discovered, the most power doesn’t equate to the best experience.

In our opinion, what you should be judging binoculars and spotting scopes on is the excursion you are about to embark on.

  • What’s the terrain like?
  • What will the weather be like?
  • What time of day will you be out there and for how long?
  • Are the animals/objects are want to see well camouflaged or reclusive?

There is no set answer to each of these questions. In the end, the answer will come down to how quickly you want to spot what you’re looking for. In that case, it’ll be a good idea to bring both sets of optics on a trip so you can get the best of both worlds.

Do you have a preference for one type of optic over the other? Leave a comment and let us know!

The Best Spotting Scopes for 2018

If you’re a hunter, bird watcher, target shooter, or engaged in any activity where enhanced vision is an asset, a spotting scope is a fantastic investment. Spotting scopes are designed to be used with a tripod, and are less portable than a pair of binoculars. However, they offer the best magnification and clarity of any type of sporting optic, making them ideal for spotting animals from long distances. This article will review what to look for when making an investment in a spotting scope to help you choose the best scope for your needs.

The #1 Spotting Scope On the Market Today

It is incredibly difficult to name a single spotting scope as the best available. But if you’re looking for a general use scope that can be used for a variety of activities, has good features, and is priced within the realm of reason for most outdoorsmen, you should really consider the Upland Optics Perception HD. A 20-60x60mm scope, it has the ideal amount of magnification for spotting, and the large objective lens lets in plenty of light without being excessively heavy. Its extra low dispersion glass gives it unbeatable image quality that you won’t get with very many other scopes, especially in that price range. Our partner company Upland Optics does a great job, and we feel like they are the company to beat in the optics world right now.

Typical Spotting Scope Uses

A guide to the best spotting scope for hunting, birding, and more.Spotting scopes can be used in a variety of contexts, but they are generally used to provide greater magnification than a pair of binoculars. These scopes are often used for hunting, archery, birding, and spotting wildlife. They can also be used to magnify a beautiful scenic mountain range. A spotting scope can be attached to a camera to take a long ranged pictures of a majestic animal without disturbing them or putting yourself in danger. Some people who use spotting scopes use them in conjunction with guns. This allows the person that is hunting to get a better view of the actual target before taking a shot. Spotting scopes are also used during target shooting to view the target hit at greater distances.

Features to Consider When Buying a Scope

Body Style

There are two types of spotting scopes: an angled body spotting scope, and a straight body spotting scope. Both work well in most situations, but one may be preferred over the other in certain viewing circumstances. An angled body scope is great for looking either up at your target or across flat ground. This type of scope is also perfect for viewing from the window of a vehicle. A straight body scope is best for viewing from a higher position, like from an elevated point on a mountain to catch a glimpse into the valley below.

Objective Lens

The absolute best option for a spotting scope is a high quality objective lens that is comprised of high performance glass. Always go for lens quality over size if you have to choose, as a larger lens of poor quality will result in a mediocre view when compared to a smaller lens of optimal quality. A larger lens will always produce a superior image at higher magnifications than a smaller lens of the same quality. Objective lens size can make a massive difference in price; expect to pay more for a larger scope.


The magnification of a spotting scope is designed for viewing at ad distance where conventional binoculars no longer function. Most observation done with a spotting scope requires a magnification of 30x – 40x, which assures that most scopes are capable of producing reasonable images. As the lens quality goes up, the quality of the image increases as well. A bit of quality will always be lost at higher magnifications, but a higher quality scope will reduce the image drop-off quality.

The atmosphere also plays a big factor in the quality of the image being viewed. Humidity, glare, wind, and dust can all lower the quality of the image. High altitudes with dry climates are bound to produce higher quality images at high magnifications. Low altitude areas that are wet and humid may require a low magnification for a clear image. Many spotting scopes do not go higher than 60x due to the limitations set by the atmosphere for magnified viewing in the daylight.

Lens Coating

Lens coating is an important feature of a spotting scope, especially for viewing images at high magnifications. The lens can be fully coated, multi-coated, or fully multi-coated. Each lens coating improves the light transmitting into the lens, but the quality depends on the coating chosen for the specific scope. Premium spotting scopes all tend to be fully multi-coated to produce the optimal viewing experience.

Eye Relief

Eye relief is the distance the viewer’s eye can be from the eyepiece without losing any of field of view. This feature is especially necessary for people who wear glasses. With a big enough eye relief, even people who wear glasses with thick lenses will be able to see the full image without an issue. For those who require glasses to see, it is recommended to have at least 14mm of eye relief on a spotting scope.

Prism Type

Most spotting scopes are refractors that use prisms inside the scope to flip the image right side up and left to right. There are two different types of prisms used in spotting scopes: a roof prism and a porro prism. The roof prism spotting scope is slim and compact, but it tends to lack some key features like interchangeable eyepieces. It is an extremely portable scope that is perfect for someone who is always on the go. The porro prism spotting scope is the most efficient and the least expensive prism to produce, which makes it the most common.


When purchasing a spotting scope, be aware that sometimes the eyepiece is not included in the price of the scope. If the eyepiece is included in the price, the eyepiece may not be removable. Higher end spotting scopes have removable eyepieces that often do not come included with the price of the scope, to give the buyer a chance to choose from the different options available. A single powered eyepiece has some optical advantages, but most people who use spotting scopes prefer the convenience of a zoom eyepiece. With this type of eyepiece, the magnification can be changed easily in a situation where the atmospheric conditions are not stable. A zoom eyepiece that is high quality will have a great eye relief as well as produce exceptional image quality.

Close Focus

A close focus is the nearest distance a spotting scope can view. Most spotting scopes do not have a close focus of less than 20 feet, so make sure the image being viewed is an adequate distance away. This feature is perfect for viewing birds and seeing intricate details on their feathers.

Waterproofing and Fogproofing

Waterproofing and fogproofing are not absolute necessities, but they are features that protect the spotting scope from atmospheric conditions. The seals that are produced to keep moisture out will also keep dust and debris from the scope, which will keep the spotting scope in good condition for a longer period of time.


Due to the magnification levels of a spotting scope, a tripod or some support is needed to keep it steady during the viewing process. A car mount works well if viewing from a vehicle, but in most situations a tripod is required. All spotting scopes are threaded like a traditional camera, so there is no need for a specialized tripod. The tripod needs to support the scope, so if the spotting scope is heavy, the tripod needs to be heavy as well. For anyone using a spotting scope while hiking or traveling, make sure to consider the weight of the scope and the tripod before you commit to a long haul.

You can read our guide to the best tripods for spotting scopes to get some ideas for great tripods to use with your new optic.

Camera Adapters

Most spotting scopes can adapt to a camera to take long distance pictures. This process is often referred to as “digiscoping.” Make sure the scope and camera are compatible to assure a great picture from the mountain top. To properly “digiscope,” specific adaptors may be required for the camera to produce vibrant, razor sharp images that are of exceptional quality.

To learn more about the basics of spotting scopes, check out this awesome video:

Best Spotting Scopes for Hunting

For an avid hunter, the scope used to identify a target can mean the difference between a prized catch and the one that got away. A spotting scope will allow a hunter to get a better look at an elusive deer before taking a shot. It can offer a chance to pick an animal from a herd with enough magnification. Hunting spotting scopes all differ slightly, but they can be a tremendous help when using a rifle or a bow and arrow. Here are some of the most reliable spotting scopes for hunting:

Swarovski 80 mm STS HD Straight Spotting Scope


This 80 mm scope is a straight scope design that is perfect for hunting in the great outdoors. The scope features high density glass and a fully multi-coated lens to produce a razor sharp image. A rotating tripod ring gives the hunter some much appreciated positioning flexibility. With a close focus of 16 feet, wildlife near or far can be viewed with great results. The aluminum alloy body is a lightweight, sturdy solution for trekking through the woods, and the scope is coated with a Swaroclean Coating for extra protection from the elements. This water and fogproof scope also features a sunshade to help reduce the glare and shield the objective lens. With this model, the eyepiece is sold separately.

Vortex Razor HD 20-60×85 Angled Spotting Scope

This angled spotting scope comes at 85 mm. It has a close focus of 16 feet and produces crisp enhanced images through its sophisticated triplet apochromatic lens system. The compact, lightweight magnesium alloy body is equipped with an adjustable eyecup as well as a duel focus feature that allows for fine adjustments to image clarity. The Vortex Razor spotting scope is coated with an ArmorTek Lens Coating to repel oil from the lens. The scope is a model that has been weatherproofed against rain, snow, and fog suitable for any hunting expedition. A 20x – 60x magnification eyepiece is included with the purchase of this spotting scope as well as a rotating tripod ring to allow for more flexibility when positioning the scope.

Upland Optics Perception HD 20-60x60mm Spotting Scope

Mentioned above as our overall favorite spotting scope, hunting is where the Perception HD really shines. Upland is a company that focuses exclusively on hunters, and this scope is a fine example of that. Weighing just 2.5 pounds, you can actually carry this scope with you into the field if you wanted to instead of just leaving it in the truck at the base of the hill. Should anything happen to it on your adventures, it is covered by a lifetime warranty. And perhaps most appealing to many hunters is its price, which rings in literally thousands of dollars cheaper than options from other top brands.


Best Spotting Scopes for Target Shooting

In regards to target shooting, the distance for magnification may vary. Rain may not be an issue in this scenario, but it is important to remember that other atmospheric conditions such as humidity, air turbulence, and dust can affect the performance of the spotting scope. A few of the more dependable spotting scopes for target shooting are listed below.

• Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 20-60x80mm

The SX-1 Ventana 2 features a sleek design and excellent optical quality. It delivers high contrast, bright visual, and has a good (and expansive) field of view. The angled eyepiece is comfortable and twist up eyecups and smooth focusing enhance the experience. It has fully multi-coated lens coating, is fog- and waterproof, and is less expensive than many of the other premium scopes it competes with.

Swarovski ATX 30-70×95 Angled Spotting Scope and separate ATX Eyepiece

The Swarovski ATX is a high-powered, angled scope that uses cutting edge lens technology to take the viewer to their spotting destination. The 30x – 70x magnification range will define a razor sharp image anywhere within the range that is free of distortion. The focus wheel and the zoom wheel are within easy reach to allow for a quick zoom with little to no adjustment. The high density, fully multi-coated lens produces a brilliant optical image, even in low-light situations. This scope is a bit on the heavy side, but the rotating tripod ring minimizes the need to move the scope once it is positioned.

Best Spotting Scopes for Birding

Birding has been revolutionized by spotting scopes, especially angled body scopes that are perfect for viewing an area where birds might be observed. A good quality spotting scope can be used to enhance images of a bird’s plumage in both short and far distances. A high magnification lens will bring to light the finest detail on a bird’s feathers, which will allow for species identification from greater distances. You can also combine your scope with a camera using digiscoping techniques to capture amazing pictures. Here are a few of the more popular spotting scopes available for bird watching:

Kowa TSN 883 Angled 88mm Prominar Spotting Scope

The Kowa TSN is a spotting scope that is perfect for birding because the lens and optical features are included. The dual focus, fluorite crystal lens provides superb images with enhanced features, such as color, contrast, and resolution. The fully multi-coated lens and the porro prism allow for a viewing experience that has exquisite light intake, even in low-light settings. Viewing birds at long distances results in a sharp, undistorted image, and higher magnification levels maintain an impeccable image quality. A lens of this quality is a bit heavy, so the body of the scope is made of a corrosion resistant, magnesium alloy material to help offset the weight. Eyepieces for this model are sold separately, but the design includes a locking mechanism to lock the removable eyepiece in place.

Leica Televid APO 82mm Angled Spotting Scope

The Leica Televid APO is an excellent angled spotting scope for bird watching. Compared to previous models, this scope has a six percent light yield increase that makes the image resolution even more distinct in any lighting. The fluoride glass brings vibrant color and detailed contrast to the table without sacrificing any range of view. This scope comes with a fog and water proof seal as well as a AquaDura Lens Coating that will repel water and moisture. These protective layers assure quality images are not obscured by dirt or fingerprints. The 12 feet close focus on this spotting scope is designed for bird watching. An avid bird watcher can use this scope to identify a bird from across the lawn to across the lake.

Best Compact Spotting Scopes

A compact spotting scope is a great tool for hunters and wildlife observers who are always on the move. Having a lightweight scope that can easily be managed on trails or in dense foliage will make a wildlife expedition easier and more exciting. Some of the best compact spotting scopes available on the market are listed below.

Minox MD 16-30×50 W Angled Spotting Scope

The Minox MD is a great lightweight, compact spotting scope for anyone traveling to view different types of wildlife in a variety of areas. The porro prism and the fully multi-coated lens offer a view with great color and clarity. The close focus is a bit larger than some photographers might like, but it is exceptional for securing considerable detail during those long range picture shoots. The sturdy metal exterior is fit with a rubber armoring that provides a secure non-slip surface, perfect for climbing a mountain with a lot of jagged rocks that could cause damage to the lens. The scope comes with a 16x – 30x eyepiece as well as weatherproof features that will protect the scope from inclement weather patterns.

Bushnell Sentry 12-36x50mm 789332 Ultra Compact Spotting x 40mm

Another great compact scope for those on the go is the Bushnell Legend in 12-36x50mm. This scope is a lightweight instrument perfect for hiking and other modes of travel. The fully multi-coated lens and the extra low dispersion glass give the scope a high-quality image with excellent light transmission. Make sure the image is pristine with the dual focus feature. Unfavorable weather is not a threat for the weatherproof protection.

Best Spotting Scope for the Money

When deciding which spotting scope to purchase, one should consider the features of the scopes as well as its performance. A great scope will be one that has most of the optimal features, but is offered at a lower price than competing scopes. After careful consideration, a few of the best buys for spotting scopes are:

Vortex Razor HD 16-48×65 Angled Spotting Scope

The Vortex Razor HD exceeds the quality level of many spotting scopes with heftier price tags. The top of the line lens features high density glass that is implemented to produce impeccable images free of imperfections. The high resolution and astounding sharpness can be seen throughout the entire field of view; it is even evident at full magnification. The angled body scope has a close focus of 11 feet, so wildlife that is nearby can be viewed without difficulty. In addition, a 16x – 48x magnification eyepiece is included with the purchase of the Vortex Razor. This specific spotting scope is protected from most atmospheric conditions, including rain, fog, snow, wind, and humidity. The protective layers also safeguard against dust, debris, and unwanted fingerprints.

Celestron Regal M2 16-48×65 ED Angled Spotting Scope

The Celestron Regal M2 is another great buy. This spotting scope produces exceptional images without distortion. The extra low dispersion glass enhances the image with a crisp resolution as well as vibrant colors. The edges of the viewing area are never out of focus, even at increased magnifications. Fine adjustments can be made with the dual focus feature. This light weight scope has a magnesium alloy body to prevent corrosion, and the optics are fully protected from the elements. A 16x – 48x magnification removable eyepiece is included with the purchase of the Celestron Regal M2 as well as a photo adapter that helps get the scope ready for “digiscoping” in the great outdoors. The scope is also equipped with a rotating tripod ring for greater flexibility while viewing and a sunshade to reduce the glare on the pictures taken.

Best Spotting Scopes under $200

Some situations call for products that don’t break the bank. Here are a few suggestions for quality spotting scopes under $200:

Redfield Rampage 20-60x60mm Spotting Scope

The Redfield Rampage is a great selection for anyone looking for a spotting scope in a low price range. In addition to a 20x – 60x magnification range, this spotting scope offers many features that are commonly seen in more expensive models. This lightweight scope will give you a clear image, especially at the mid range magnification levels. The fully multi-coated lens increases light transmission, giving the viewer a sharper image. The Redfield Rampage is designed to be rugged; the scope features weatherproof qualities to protect from the rain and fog.

Barska 30-90×90 Colorado Spotting Scope

Another great spotting scope under $200 is the Barska. This spotting scope features a straight body model that has a high magnification range of 30x – 90x, which is exceptional for this class of spotting scope. A fully coated porro prism helps increase the optics, giving the viewer a bright, high quality image. The Barka maintains noteworthy image quality and clarity in low light situations and at higher magnification levels.

Best Spotting Scopes under $500

Mid-ranged spotting scopes can still exhibit exceptional features. After some careful consideration, here are some great selections below the $500 price point:

Vortex Diamondback 20-60×80 Straight Spotting Scope

The Vortex Diamondback is an excellent mid-rang spotting scope. The great value is matched by a great performance that has a reputation for being on par with spotting scopes that cost twice as much. The fully multi-coated lens is coupled with a dielectric prism coating that optimizes light transmission, which gives the viewer an image that stays true to the bright colors seen in nature. The classic straight body design also features fog and water resistant seals that will protect the scope from moisture or debris. The Vortex Diamondback is a very sturdy scope that is great for “digiscoping.” A sunshade is included to help reduce the glare in the field of view.

Vanguard Endeavor HD 15-45×65 Angled Spotting Scope

A spotting scope with a top of the line reputation at a reasonable price is the Vanguard Endeavor. Vivid colors and sharp details are the result of an extra low dispersion glass and a fully multi-coated lens. This scope features a close focus of 14 feet and a magnification range of 15x – 45x to produce picture perfect, distortion-free images. Small adjustments can be made with the dual focus feature. This scope design also features weatherproofing as well as rubber armoring that are meant to protect the scope from damage. The Vanguard Endeavor is a scope that has an extended eye relief for more comfortable observation in the impressive field of view.

Best Spotting Scopes under $1000

Most people are willing to pay a little extra money to get the spotting scope features and the magnification levels they desire. A few of the choice spotting scopes under $1000 are listed below.

Vortex Viper HD 20-60×80 Angled Spotting Scope

The Vortex Viper is an angled body HD spotting scope that sports all of the top of the line features that are often seen in high end scopes. The optics on the Vortex Viper produce exceptional high resolution images that remain vivid in color and contrast. The lightweight design also features a rotating tripod ring and an adjustable eyecup for more comfortable viewing. It also has a dual focus feature that allows for coarse, fine adjustments to the image. The design is waterproof and fogproof with some added protection to keep any oil and debris from the lens. This model does include a 20x – 60x magnification eyepiece, which makes the overall value even better.

Pentax PF ED II 65mm ST Spotting Scope

The Pentax PF ED is a popular straight body spotting scope that offers extremely high performance at an affordable price. The lightweight scope has a magnesium alloy body that is easily portable for the spotter on the go. The extra low dispersion glass and the fully multi-coated lens give the scope an optical excellence characteristic of high end scopes. This model includes a 20x – 60x magnification lens that is combined with a sunshade to reduce glare. Images that are fully magnified maintain the clarity and vibrant detail seen at low magnifications. This scope can also be fit to a variety of astronomical eyepieces that create possibilities for the spotter to have a view into the galaxy.

There are a lot of different spotting scopes available on the market today, but not all scopes are created equally. This article was designed to introduce someone who is new to birding or other recreational activities where a spotting scope is useful to the different features that are available. Once a spotter is sure of the magnification they need, it comes down to knowing the price restraints for purchasing the scope and determining which extra features should be included in the price. If “digiscoping” is an ambition, make sure the spotting scope selected can accommodate. Hopefully, this article will help a new spotter determine which scope is best suited for them. Make sure to consider the suggestions made above, but also do additional research so your spotting scope lasts generations to come.

Spotting Scope Review: Swarovski HD-STS 80

A leader in birding optics, Swarovski brings hunters, golfers, and serious birding enthusiasts the HD-STS 80. Sleek and stylish, the HD-STS 80 offers a 20-60x zoom eyepiece and gives a precise, clear viewing experience for distant details. At 13.9 inches and 42 ounces, the HD-STS 80 is light and portable.

What’s Included

Swarovski HD-STS 80The HD-STS 80 comes in two options: straight barrel or angled barrel. Both options provide the same image quality. The straight barrel makes it easy to find game with a camera attached to the scope, and the camera is easily removed from the HD-STS 80. On the other hand, the angled barrel is best for group viewing. For users leading a birding group, the angled barrel makes adjustments for the height of viewers unnecessary. Also, the angled barrel makes it easy to scope birds at different altitudes.


The 80mm aperture of the HD-STS 80 affords maximum light to enter the scope. With maximum light comes optimum clarity and brightness. The HD-STS 80 gives birders the kind of high contrast viewing that makes colors pop. With sharp outlines, birds are scoped easily and with good visibility. The zoom lens offers clear imaging, and the attached lens cap is an attractive feature. The focus wheel of the zoom lens is large and easy to use, yet not intrusive to the overall design of the lens. The lens offers clean lines and an overall professional look.


The price of the Swarovski HD-STS 80 is steep. Priced upwards of $2000, the cost may intimidate novice or casual birders. However, for experienced or serious birders, the quality of the HD-STS 80 is makes it a great purchase. The durability of the scope more than justifies the investment.

What’s Great

The angled barrel is great for viewing birds at a variety of altitudes. Once the barrel is set, viewers of all heights will be able to experience scoped birds without making adjustments. Swarovski provides a Swaroclean coating on the scope, adding to the durability to the HD-STS 80’s optic parts and keeps the scope clean. The coating is waterproof and dust-proof. It generally resists sap and other debris results from using the scope in a wide range of outdoor settings. On the optic parts, there is also a coating that reduces blur while still maintaining great image quality.


The price of the Swarovski HD-STS 80 is itsonly downfall. Because Swarovski does not deal in “low-end” scopes, opting to buy a scope will necessarily be an investment. However, the quality of Swarovski products is enough to justify the cost of the HD-STS 80.

Fun and Surprising Feature

The HD-STS 80 has a sight tube. This feature allows users to spot even the quickest-moving game or birds. In the field, this responsiveness is essential to the birding experience. Catching birds in flight is breath taking, and Swarovski makes sure that bird enthusiasts are able to experience the spectacle of flight. The scope comes with a carrying case that is soft and portable but durable enough to protect the valuable scope and lens components.


Serious birders will want the image clarity of the Swarovski HD-STS 80. The HD lens offers consistently clear, sharp images. The durability of the scope makes it a wise investment. With the angled and straight barrel options, the HD-STS 80 offers birders flexibility. Both options provide Swarovski quality, and each barrel has much to recommend it to birders. The Swarovski Spotting Scope HD-STS 80 provides outstanding technology that yields fantastic results. It is a must for serious birders.

Spotting Scope Review: Vortex Razor HD 20-60x85mm

Like Icarus, popular optics manufacturer Vortex is aiming high. Their 20-60x 85mm Razor HD spotting scopes are designed to deliver super premium performance similar to market leaders in this class like Swarovski, Leica, and Zeiss. They want to do it at a fraction of the cost, too. Have they succeeded? Yes! Vortex’s spotting scopes soar high without getting too close to the sun.

Optical Features

The core of the Razor HD scope is a triple-apochromatic lens array designed to provide maximum clarity and minimal color aberration. The outermost lens has an AmorTek coating to protect against scratches, dirt, and corrosion. The inner lens elements are made of high density low dispersion glass, earning the scope its “HD” title.

The standard eyepiece on the scope is an adjustable 20-60x zoom model. A few alternatives are also available (see “accessories” below). The zoom adjusts smoothly. It has no presets, but it’s sturdy enough to hold any position it’s set to. At 1000 yards and minimum zoom the scope delivers a 117 foot field of view with this eyepiece; the maximum zoom FOV is 60 feet. The scope’s eyepiece mount is a standard bayonet system with an integrated button-release locking system.


Focus control on this scope is provided by a dual focus knob. This is a first for Vortex; the manufacturer has used single adjustments on all of its previous scopes. Vortex really knocked this feature out of the park on their first try. The coarse focus adjustment is truly coarse, taking the scope from its closest possible focus distance out to infinity in less than two full turns. This is fairly exceptional performance, and the fine adjustment knob also works smoothly.

Razor HD scopes have some very nice operational features that make them a real joy to use in the field. There’s an integrated lens hood to minimize lens flare and a basic sighting tube attached to the lens mount. The lens caps are sturdy and fit tightly; in fact the objective lens cap is extremely snug.


razor hdVortex has released the Razor HD in both straight and angled versions to suit the needs of different users. (Angled spotting scopes are often preferred by prone and range shooters, while those more interested in straight glassing find straight scopes more convenient.) The straight version of the scope is about a half-inch longer than the angled one; they’re otherwise identical.

These scopes are completely sealed and purged with argon to prevent internal fogging and water intrusion. The frame is made of a magnesium alloy to reduce overall weight. The armored body of the scope is grey with a dark green textured overlay around the prism housing, making handling a little easier.


The manufacturer offers a few extra eyepieces to expand the versatility of the Razor HD scope. These include a 30x fixed magnification wide-angle eyepiece and a 23x long eye relief model ideal for range use. Vortex also makes an excellent camera adapter for digiscoping that fits multiple cameras from point-and-shoot models up to full DSLRs.

Vortex’s case deserves special attention. A very good zippered, padded case is included with the scope itself. This case has multiple high-quality zippers allowing access to the lens, eyepiece, and tripod mount without removing the case, making the scope fully usable. It has two carrying handles and a removable shoulder strap.


  • Price! The current suggested retail price of the Razor HD spotting scope is just $2000. It easily delivers performance comparable to much more expensive models while costing only half as much.
  • Versatility. The quick focus adjustment and simple controls make this an ideal scope for use with moving targets. The availability of both straight and angled models makes it easy to match the scope to the user’s needs, too.
  • Comes with a great case. A padded, durable case that allows you to operate the scope without removing it should normally cost one to two hundred dollars. Vortex throws it in for free.


  • Performance at extreme focus is slightly lacking. Pushing all the way up to 60x zoom results in some minor image degradation and color aberrations. This is normal for high-zoom scopes, though.
  • Tight fits on both the objective lens cap and the eyepiece mount. Removing the lens cap for the first time is a real struggle, and most users will likely elect not to replace it fully. The socket for the eyepiece is similarly a very tight fit, requiring a little force to lock the eyepiece into place.


While Vortex’s Razor HD spotting scopes aren’t without flaws, there is no alternative scope that overcomes them at a price that’s anywhere close to the Razor’s. This scope offers outstanding premium performance for just $2,000; Buying an even better scope can easily cost twice that much or more. This makes the Razor HD a superb choice for spotters who want outstanding optics and great reliability without a sky-high price tag.

Minox MD50 Spotter Review

The Minox MD50 is one of my go-to spotting scopes. Lightweight spotters have always been one of my favorite companions out in the field. I do think that it is useful to have large lenses that can gather more light during those critical twilight hours, but my personal preference is towards lighter and smaller spotting scopes. They’re more fitting to my hunting style, I love that they’re generally much more agile. The Minox certainly fits into this profile. I’ve used 50mm objective spotting almost exclusively for a few years now, mostly while hunting in the backcountry.

The first time I saw the Minox was at a friend’s house. The size impressed me immediately, and when I held it I was even more impressed by the build. The twist-up eyepiece was really nice, since I haven’t seen that feature in many other compact scopes. Not long after my visit, I had one of my own waiting for me on the porch. I started putting it to work right away.

It wasn’t long before I was carring the Minox with me all through shed hunting season, and then summer scouting, and then right on in to the next fall season. The Minox is really well made, and the designers put some good thinking into it. I can’t say I ever thought about switching it out for one of my older spotters. This is surprising, considering its low price.

The size of the Minox is what caught my attention at first, because it is surprisingly small, even for a lightweight spotter. It’s just under 8 inches in length, and doesn’t sit too heavy in the hand with a nice 24 oz. weight. It’s almost small enough to fit in my pockets. I mentioned the twist-up eye piece before because it’s not something that you usually see on compact scopes at all. I’m glad they made it work. The eye-piece is plenty sturdy, and is very comfortable. The focusing ring is set on the body of the Minox, which is different from the usual configuration which places it on the eyepiece. The scope is very easy to use. At first it starts out a little stiff, but over time it loosens up a bit. After that brief break-in period it has worked flawlessly every day. The focus ring has a large diameter, which makes it easy to focus. I really like it because it makes those small focus adjustments easier than you would expect on a small scope like this.

Now on to the optical quality, the real deal-maker (or breaker) for a scope. The Minox has a 16-30x zoom, and I’m pleased to say that it is clear on every magnification. Optical quality overall is good, and when you consider the price this scope comes at, optical quality is very good. The waterproof body works together with a nitrogen filling and coated glass to keep the optics clear at all times, which has really been appreciated on some of my hunts.

This scope has been with me for a while now. I’ve used it on several hunts and in all kinds of adverse weather and hunting conditions. The scope has performed better than I could ask of a scope at that price, and it will fit in with the budget of almost any hunter. If you’re like me and you prefer light-weight spotters, then you should definitely consider the Minox MD50. Take a close look at it even, I recommend going in to a store or to a show to see it in person. It’s hard to impress just how small it manages to be. There are two models for your preference, one is straight and the other is angled. It’s hard to find a lightweight spotter that is this well-made and as optically clear as the Minox at such a low price. I definitely recommend you pick one up.

Spotting Scope Review: Kowa Prominar ED 88mm

kowa prominarFor an 88mm scope, this Kowa is remarkably small. At just over 13 inches without the eyepiece, it’s very compact. The scope is also relatively light, at 53.6 ounces, due to the use of Magnesium alloy for the scope body. With the eyepiece installed, the scope is 16 inches long and weighs 65 ounces. The small size and weight of the Kowa means that it’s possible to use a lighter and more compact tripod, which is a nice option to have.

Optical Qualities

The bright, ultra-sharp image is the most impressive quality of the Prominar ED. The image is distortion free, and can be owed to the superior quality of glass used by Kowa. The objective lens of the ED uses Pure Fluorite Crystal, which contributes to the claimed 99%+ light transmission. After looking through the scope, I don’t doubt the truth in that claim.

The Kowa is focused through two focus controls along the same axis. The large knob is for coarse adjustments, and the small knob is for fine tuning for achieving the remarkably sharp image this scope is capable of. It’s a good system for focusing, and I got used to it pretty quickly.

The Kowa Prominar ED is designed to function in all weather conditions. To help achieve this aim, the body is nitrogen-purged and fully sealed with a waterproof housing. I wouldn’t test this without need, but it’s nice to know that rain won’t be a problem. One quality to make note of, particularly if you are hard on your scopes, is that the ED does not have a rubber armor coating. This keeps weight down, but renders the scope more vulnerable to impacts and vibrations. Padded covers are available from Kowa, however.

Field Test and Range Results

The first time I used the Kowa, I compared it to a Pentax PF100-ED, a highly respected scope in its own right. In comparison, I was very impressed by the Kowa’s optical clarity, particularly at the lower powers. I have a pile of logs I keep near a garden shed about 150 yards away from my house, for the rural Washington state winters. I pointed the Kowa at them, focusing on the end of one of the logs. I could see the growth rings, and easily count them, with both scopes. However, the Kowa was unquestionably clearer. The difference in quality is hard to describe, but it is significant. It’s like the difference between a hazy day and a clear day in the city.

I’ve taken to using the Kowa at the range these last few weeks. In as many different weather conditions as possible, and alongside as many scopes as I could get my hands on, I tested the Kowa Prominar ED to see how it measured up. The Kowa out-performed every scope I compared it to, and excelled in every weather condition. From counting the bullet holes in targets hundreds of yards down range, to reading the small details on eye charts at range, the Kowa consistently outperformed its testing partners.

Overall Assessment

The Kowa is excellent in every way. It’s the best I’ve ever looked through, bar none. But you pay for that quality. The question is, is the Kowa Prominar ED 88mm really worth almost $1000 more than the Pentax PF100? That’s for you to decide, but for me the question is a resounding yes. I decided it was worth the price, and purchased one. I now use it in every situation I can, and I love its unmatched clarity and the ease of use that comes with its design.

Leica APO Televid 82 Overview and Review

Leica has a long history of building fine spotting scopes, and that tradition lives on in the APO Televid 82 scope. With a massive 82mm objective lens and a highly-adjustable 25-50x eyepiece, this sturdy scope delivers terrific images in even the toughest conditions.


Leica’s Televid has four fluorite-coated lens elements for maximum light yield. With a massive 82mm objective lens, the results are astonishing. This scope delivers a best-in-class picture that is simply unbeatable. Like the rest of the Televid’s design, the optics have been protected from any damage — a neutral glass shield protects the fluorite optics, and every piece of exposed glass has Leica’s AquaDura coating to shed water and dust.

The 25-50x wide-angle zoom eyepiece which is included with the scope is a tour-de-force in its own right. (Although like many of the latest eyepieces, it’s given up on 60x magnification.) The eyepiece attaches with a simple bayonet mount. It features 4 stable eyecup positions, each of which provides a full 19mm of eye relief. At this time Leica has not produced any alternative eyepieces, but the possibility is there for the future.


The Televid has a sturdy magnesium alloy body that’s fully coated with rubber armor for superior durability in the field. The included caps for the objective lens and the eyepiece mount are tight, with dual pinch clips, and they resist accidental dislodging very well. The large objective lens makes for a wide body at the end of the scope, with the diameter being roughly four inches in diameter.

Every part of the Leica APO Televid 82 is completely sealed against water and dust intrusion, and the manufacturer’s claim of the scope being waterproof is not just marketing hype. The Televid can handle complete submersion up to a depth of 16 feet without any adverse effects whatsoever.

Usage – With A Note On Digiscoping

Anyone who has used Leica’s older spotting scopes will be pleased to see that the manufacturer’s reliable dual focus adjustment system makes a return on this Televid. The two focus knobs are recessed and mounted in line with each other, making them easy to operate. The coarse adjustment is extremely speedy and the fine adjustment makes it easy to bring a target into perfect sharpness.

Spotting scopes are commonly combined with digital cameras today, a process known as digiscoping. The Leica APO Televid 82 is fully compatible with digital cameras, although it requires a separate digital adapter to get the best results. The official Leica adapter (the Digital Adaptor 3) costs $450, so users may be tempted to create their own, cheaper digiscoping rigs.


  • Unbeatable image quality. Bright, clear, highly immersive images with a wide field of view – even better than top-of-the-line Swarovski scopes.
  • Tremendous versatility. In testing the Televid proved capable of bringing targets as close as 12 feet into sharp focus.
  • Legendary Leica durability. The all-around optic coating and body armoring ensures that this scope will serve reliably for many years.
  • Ease of use. The smooth focus adjustment, the angled eyepiece, and even the well-designed tripod mount all contribute to make the scope quick and easy to use in the field.


  • Cost. With a suggested retail price close to $4,000, this is not a scope for amateurs.
  • Weight. With the eyepiece attached this scope weighs nearly 4.5 pounds. (It does have excellent balance, though.)
  • No case included. Cautious users will want an extra layer of protection in the form of a case for this scope, adding another few hundred dollars to the price.


The APO Televid 82 is a clear reminder of why Leica deserves its place at the very top of the heap in optics and camera technology. It’s undoubtedly a pricey piece of equipment, but the quality it delivers in every respect justifies its cost. For serious spotters who want the best of the best, the Televid 82 is an excellent choice.

Scope Review: MINOX MD 50 W 16-30x Waterproof Spotting Scope

For a definitively top-notch telescope, look no further than the MINOX MD 50 W 16-30x Waterproof Spotting Scope. This travel-friendly device boasts innovative specifications and unparalleled manufacturing excellence. The cutting-edge design is fine-tuned to suit the lifestyles of nature enthusiasts, bird watchers and campers. To showcase machinery that is truly unsurpassed in its industry, the following review demonstrates the sheer brilliance of this MINOX masterpiece!

The Lens

Minox MDSharpness and clarity are boldly accentuated by the 50mm lens. A generously wide range of vision is enabled by the expansive angle of view. At its base magnification of 16x, the MINOX MD 50 W 16-30x Waterproof Spotting Scope is equipped with a 2.7° angle. At 30x magnification, the angle comfortably reaches 1.9°. The minimum focus distance is 5 meters, and its field of view measures between 33m and 47m. Eye relief spans 11mm to 15mm, and the exit pupil diameter goes between 1.6mm and 3.6mm. These specifications are setting the industry standard for crystalline telescoping!

Meanwhile, here’s how the brand describes their zoom: “Go from just five meters from your subject right through to infinity.” There is nary an exaggeration in this claim, but the focus may lose consistency in the far distance. Still, this is an unprecedented line of vision for any telescope, especially a handheld one!

The Size

Portability is a key part of this scope’s appeal. The product weighs approximately 1.3lb or 615g. The dimensions are meant to fit in your luggage on the move. It conveniently measures 213 x 63 x 123mm. It defies the conventions of mainstream telescopes by being cleverly compact. The lightweight frame provides powerful resistance against regular wear and tear. This structure maintains the machine’s precision for life. For being so tiny, the MD 50 W 16-30x Waterproof Spotting Scope is remarkably robust. The gadget is great for accompanying binoculars. Overall, it is a little powerhouse!

The Structure

MINOX has outfitted this telescope with their trademarked multi-layer M* coating. This preserves an immaculately high rate of light transmission, so brightness is never an issue with your viewing habits. The finish also results in fantastic resolution alongside authentically natural color renditions and a resolutely sharp contrast. With the refined controls, focusing is almost automatic. Adjustments are streamlined with extraordinary efficiency!

It is built with a special angular design that ensures a relaxed posture for the user. The scope also is embedded with a swivel tripod connection, which enshrines maximum pivoting and positioning. To support handheld operation, the units also possess a soft rubber grip that maintains comfort for long durations of use. This system incorporates nitrogen filling to stave off misting within the optics. The threat of condensation can be permanently eliminated, and this protection even works under intense temperatures. Every MD 50 W 16-30x Waterproof Spotting Scope is prepared to handle relatively extreme conditions!

The Features

To ensure lasting enjoyment, this profoundly intuitive product comes with a protective nylon carrying case. It is waterproofed to withstand 5m of depth. The exterior is also weatherproofed and dust-proofed. With these quality assurances in place, there will be no disruptions to your scoping pleasures.

The Price

Upon release, the magnificent machine was listed for $339. This already generous asking rate has been lowered to around $250 at most retailers. Reliable telescopes have never been this affordable before!

Final Note

This MINOX scope can fit anyone’s needs. The craftsmanship caters to a lot of particular spotting preferences, and it is fine-tuned for personalized calibrations. For those who love the outdoors, there is no companion more faithful than the MD 50 W 16-30x Waterproof Spotting Scope!

Vortex Optics Razor HD Angled Spotting Scope Review

Seeing the ground ahead of you is the most important part of the hunt or scouting. Binoculars are heavy, and they can be difficult to carry. A single spotting scope is easy to carry, easy to use and easy to hide when you are in the field. Look over the features of the Vortex Optics Razor HD Angled Spotting Scope before making your purchase.

#1: It Is Small

The small size of the spotting scope helps you manage it in the field. Walking across the forest with the scope in your hand is easy, and you may tuck the scope in your pocket when you are scurrying through the woods.

The scope will be hidden in your hand when you start using it, and the scope will not draw attention to you. Animals in the forest will not take notice of a scope that small, but you can see at great distance with the scope.

#2: Sighting Angle

The angled style of the scope makes sighting much easier. Leaning your head down slightly to look into the glass is more comfortable than craning your neck to move the scope around. The angled scope style makes the resolution clearer.

The HD glass and technology inside the scope helps you get the clearest image possible of your prey. The animals you are tracking must be identifiable, but you cannot identify them if you cannot see them. You will get a good look at every animal you hunt, and you may choose patterns on the animal that make it unique.

#3: Spotting Distance

You can see objects at up to 15 times the original distance of the glass. You may hunt in a particular area, but you may spot animals in an adjoining area with this powerful scope. Keeping your distance from the animals prevents you from startling them, and you can track a pack of animals without fear of being attacked.

Spotting distances are very important if you have a perch that is high up a tree. Your perch increases the distance at which you are viewing your prey, and you must have as much flexibility with your scope as possible.

#4: Guiding Others To A Kill

You may use the spotting scope to guide other hunters to your kills. Staying in the perch to guide others to a kill is a responsible way to look out for others, but you must have a strong scope that will help you see the kill you have just made. You may keep an eye on the people who are still in the field, and you can clearer see what is around them as they move about.

#5: Durability

You bring your scope into the forest for every hunt, and you will encounter changing weather conditions during the hunt. Your scope must hold up to the inclement weather, and you must be able to spot in the rain for hours while you hunt. The sturdy construction of this spotting scope will prevent damage or breakage while you are on the hunt.

Carrying a spotting scope into the woods for your next hunt is wise. You must have a scope on you that allows you to see animals in the woods without drawing attention to yourself. Your spotting scope will give you a clear view of your prey at up to the 15 times the magnification of the original glass, and you will be safer when you can see everything around you. Your journeys into the woods are aided by a spotting scope that helps you see what is coming while you are on the hunt. Consider this excellent offering from Vortex for your spotting scope purchase.

Celestron Regal M2 65ED Spotting Scope: Two Reviews

Celestron Regal M2Today we’re lucky enough to have two complete reviews of the same scope, Celestron’s Regal M2 65ED. It overall sounds like a great spotting scope. Here they are:

First Review:

Whether you love bird watching or taking pristine photos of other wildlife in nature, the Celestron 52304 M2 65ED Spotting Scope can help you take the perfect pictures. Celestron is a trusted brand when it comes to creating a multitude of different scopes to give the user the best-quality view possible. This M2 series spotting scope is made from state-of-the-art materials to ensure maximum durability that allows you to use it in any type of weather. The scope also comes with a variety of adjustable options as well as accessory upgrades to make your viewing experience even better.

Celestron Quality Scopes

For years, Celestron has been creating high-quality optics. They make telescopes to view the stars, microscopes for the smallest objects on earth, binoculars and best of all they make spotting scopes. Celestron ensures that that they keep up with the latest technology by creating smartphone and tablet apps for your convenient. Not only can you access different Celestron apps, but they also make accessories that allow you to hook up your smartphone to this M2 series spotting scope. Their goal is to stay on top of innovation and provide the best quality possible for every one of their customers.

Regal M2 65ED Spotting Scope Material

Celestrong has created the Regal M2 65ED Spotting Scope with a magnesium alloy body. It’s light in weight, extremely strong and durable. Celestron understands that outdoorsman who use their products trudge through some rough terrain, so they ensure that this spotting scope can take a hit if it were to drop. The material is completely waterproof as well, so whether it’s raining or snowing when you’re out spotting wildlife, you won’t have to worry about water damage.

The M2 Spotting Scope Lens

The lens in the M2 65ED Spotting Scope is created with the same proprietary material that Celestron uses for their best telescope that helps astronomers view stars and galaxies millions of miles away. When you purchase this spotting scope, you’ll have the choice of a three different sizes that include 65mm, 80mm and 100mm. The extra-low dispersion glass helps you spot the tiniest of creatures hidden in brush or in the dimmest of light by providing maximum light transmission. No matter what the situation may be, you can rest assured that you’ll have bright, sharp images. The scope also has an easily-accessible dual focus knob so you can quickly spot your subject with crystal-clear quality.

The Comfort of the Regal M2 65ED Spotting Scope

Celestron has engineered this spotting scope to provide the maximum amount of comfort for anyone who is using it. The tripod that the spotting scope sits on is completely adjustable. You’ll be able to adjust the height and the angle of the spotting scope with ease to get the perfect angle. The spotting scope also comes with a fully adjustable lens shade and twist-up eyecup.

Accessorizing the Regal M2 65ED Spotting Scope

You’ll be able to instantly share the photos you take with the 65ED Spotting Scope with the smartphone adaptor that’s compatible with a variety of iPhone and Android products. This adaptor lets you attach your camera to the twist-up lens to take perfect pictures to save to your phone and easily upload the photos to your social media accounts or email them to friends and family. Another great accessory that Celestron makes for this scope is the stay-on case. This case gives you extra protection from the elements while not hindering the quality of your viewing.

When you want to experience nature and wildlife at its finest, the Regal M2 65ED Spotting Scope is one of the best on the market and backed by a limited lifetime warranty.

Second Review:

For enthusiastic amateur viewers, the Celestron 52304 Regal M2 65ED Spotting Scope makes a sound choice. It features many standout components, including an ED objective lens, XLT coatings and a rotating tripod mount. The quality of images is exceptional. The telescope comes in a durable magnesium alloy body, which gives users the confidence to take it out in all types of viewing conditions. This scope also offers uncommonly good features for an average price. This makes astronomers looking for a solid, high-performing telescope at a reasonable price quite happy.

The objective lens, a notable feature, produces a clear and vivid image. It replicates images in a high quality and precise color scheme. The lens has a 16-48x eyepiece with automatic zoon. It also reduces chromatic aberration and shows remarkable contrast. The eyepiece mount measures 1.25 inches — a standard dimension that makes the scope compatible with many types of telescope eyepieces. The eyepiece has a diverse magnification range, a rubber eyecup and a 20mm eye relief, which enables comfortable and accurate viewing for long viewing sessions. In addition to enabling easy adjustments and creating a precise, clear image, the lens has a special coating –Celestron’s own—that enriches color and produces a bright picture. This coating includes BaK-4 prisms and a low-dispersion ED glass piece that reduces chromatic aberration but expertly gathers light to produce a great photo. The Regal M2 boasts a long-rang viewing field of 1,000 yards and has a 16.4 foot, or 5-meter, close focus capacity for clarity and precision.

This telescope has several adjustments and mechanisms to help astronomers customize the scope to their specific viewing needs. The Celestron rests on a rotating tripod, which makes setting up and changing positions a breeze. Rounding out the tripod’s notable features are a ¼-inch mounting socket and sighting aid. A sliding sunshade lets users allow or seal out the correct amount of light for the best viewing, while a dual-focus mechanism makes the scope perfect for looking at objects nearby and afar. Once in position, the tripod locks in place with a special locking system. This gives viewers peace of mind knowing that the scope will stay safely in place.

The Regal M2 comes with a T-adapter ring, which helps astronomers easily mount a DSLR camera to the objective assembly. In less than a minute, viewers can transition from tradition viewing to digital viewing and back again. This feature is one of the scope’s greatest assets, as it makes it perfect for traditional astronomers as well as the more technologically oriented crowd. Users can adjust the scope with a set of coarse and fine adjustments to create a personalized and enjoyable experience.

The Regal M2 weighs in at 46.8 ounces, which makes it a bit heavier than other scopes in its class. This excess weight comes in handy for stabilizing the scope in a prime viewing location, but makes it less transportable. In addition to stability, the Regal M2 is constructed with magnesium alloy, which makes it ideal for withstanding all types of weather conditions. It also resists erosion, thanks to a proprietary addition of nitrogen filling, which protects them from the inside. The nitrogen filling also does double duty by keeping the viewing pieces from fogging up.

Overall, the Celestron 52304 Regal M2 65ED Spotting Scope makes a fine instrument for amateur astronomers looking for a high-quality device without spending a fortune. The scope’s rugged design and versatility make it perfect for other outdoor viewing activities too, such as birding and looking at insects. As a bonus, this instrument comes with sturdy carrying cases to transport the components with care and ease.

Bonus Video Review!