How To Use A Spotting Scope

How To Use A Spotting Scope?

Whatever your favourite outdoor hobby is, it will be greatly improved by using a spotting scope. Whether you enjoy bird watching, hunting, whale watching, even backpacking or trekking, using a spotting scope will enhance your enjoyment. What could be better than catching a bird of prey feeding its young?

And with no fear of causing any disturbance at all, as you are well over 100 yards away. But to capture such a memorable experience, you need to know how to set up and use your scope correctly. If you are used to using binoculars, you will be amazed at what a difference a spotting scope can make.

Spotting Scope Magnification Ranges

Spotting scopes are really just like a medium range telescope with a magnification range of between 15x and 60x. You can change the magnification power with either  fixed-length interchangeable eyepieces or a single zoom eyepiece. When scanning an area with a spotting scope, we find it best to start at the lowest zoom setting (or lowest power eyepiece). Then, once you’ve located whatever you are trying to watch, you can increase the magnification and get a better view.

Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses change the magnification from 20x to 60x with a simple, single twist adjustment. The benefits are obvious, by starting at the lowest magnification you can locate the bird (or whatever you are watching) and once found, you can zoom to the highest magnification for a closer, more detailed view.

The only problem with zoom lenses is like cameras, they don’t  collect light as well as a fixed lens. Plus as with any scope, or binoculars as you increase magnification, you lose light, narrow the field of vision and of course the image will shake (unless you are using a stand).  And as with any lens, high power magnification increases the effects of heat distortion and haze.

There are pros and cons with zoom lenses, but if you do decide to go with a zoom lens, there are many to choose from. Plus many of the more reasonable models do just as good a job as many of us will need. 

Which Glass Quality Should You Buy?

The highest quality spotting scopes are made with flourite coated, high density (HD) or extra low dispersion (ED) glass. The difference between these and the same models using standard glass comparing clarity and brightness is mainly noticeable during low-light viewing conditions. And at high power. So whether you need a HD or ED coated glass spotting scope depends on the time of day you intend to use it most.

What Is The Size Of The Objective Lens On Your Spotting Scope?

The size of the objective lens is indicated by the second number on the scope, the one after the x, this is anywhere between 50mm and 100mm on average. The larger the objective lens is, the more light is gathered by the scope and the clearer the image appears. Also the larger the objective lens, the bigger the scope and the heavier and harder to carry it is.

What Does Eye Relief Mean?

Scope users who wear glasses should take particular attention to the amount of eye relief on the scope you are interested in. The eye relief is the distance the user can keep their eyes from the lens and still see the complete field of vision. Look in the technical specifications for eye relief, the averages are anywhere between 12 and 15 mm, this is usually enough for those who wear glasses. On some scopes, there are folding or removable rubber eyecups so both glasses wearers and non glasses wearers can be accomodated.

How To Focus Your Scope

Whale Watching

There are 2 different ways for focusing the spotting scope depending on the model type. One has a focusing collar, which you focus by twisting the whole scopes barrel. The other type has a small knob usually mounted on the top of the scope near the eyepiece. This type is slower to twist, but does allow for more accurate and precise focusing. These can be harder to use depending on the size of your hand and your dexterity. 

When To Use A Spotting Scope

Spotting scopes are basically really easy to use telescopes that have been improved for daytime usage and mobility. They can offer more magnification than some binoculars and are great for many different situations. Including:

  • Bird Watching
  • Landscape viewing
  • Watching Ships
  • Scoring targets for shooting and archery
  • Whale Watching
  • Hunting
  • Surveillance
  • Digi-Scoping
  • Stargazing
  • And Many More

Do You Need A Stand To Support Your Scope?

This is dependent on your spotting habits. If you are an avid bird watcher and spend as much time as possible twitching, then a tripod might be a good idea. If however you spend most of your time scoping from your car, you might want to consider a pair of window mounts. If you do want to stop the shaky views, then here are a few points to consider when looking for a tripod.

  • Adjustable Legs
    No matter how unsteady the ground, with adjustable legs, you will always get a level view.
  • A Pan Tilt Head
    Is best for use with a spotting scope, as these can be operated with one hand.

What Is Best: A Straight Scope Or An Angled Scope?

There are circumstances when either is best, for instance, if you’re looking down from above, or in a confined space, then a straight scope is your best choice. Angled scopes are better when spotting with a group of people. It will be easier to share the image with others without raising or lowering the scope to keep level with people of different heights. Angled scopes are also more stable as the tripod doesn’t need to be extended so much.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a spotting scope better than binoculars?

Spotting scopes are easy to transport and have a great magnification and a clear image too. So in many circumstances a spotting scope is far better than binoculars.

Where do you use a spotting scope?

Spotting scopes are used for bird watching, hunting, watching wildlife, surveillance, scoring targets on pistols, rifles and archery, and also for stargazing.