What Is A Spotting Scope Used For

What Is A Spotting Scope Used For?

If you’re thinking about optics for the first time, or if you’ve been using binoculars for some time, and you’ve seen all these spotting scopes and you’re wondering what they are used for? You’ve found the right article, we’ll give you all the information you need to see whether a spotting scope would work better for you than binoculars, a telescope or a monocular.

What Is A Spotting Scope Used For?

Let’s get straight into it and not give you a load of facts and figures that although interesting, don’t answer the question. Spotting scopes are useful for many applications, due to the extra magnification available to a scope you’ll be able to see distant objects far closer than through a pair of regular binoculars or a monocular. Spotting scopes are used for;

  • Bird Watching
  • Wildlife Watching
  • Target Shooting
  • Astronomy
  • Ship Watching (from land)
  • Whale Watching (from land)
  • Surveillance
  • Ranging
  • Archery
  • Digiscoping
  • Anywhere You Want To See Far Off Objects

Bird Watching

Many bird watchers prefer binoculars because they are far easier to transport than spotting scopes, mainly due to the need to use a tripod with a spotting scope. However, a spotting scope has such a better magnification range than binoculars so you’ll be able to see more birds at closer quarters without disturbing them at all.

Perfect for use in bird hides or anywhere you can set yourself up a long distance from the birds and observe their activities without ever needing to worry about spooking them. We recommend a high magnification when bird watching for better detailed viewing.

Wildlife Watching

The only problem with using a spotting scope compared to using binoculars for watching wildlife is scopes have a narrower field of view. Binoculars usually win the field of view comparison because they have twin optics compared to a scopes one. However, the far superior magnification more than compensates for the narrower field of view.

Very handy for spotting deer etc from an incredible distance, so no fear of disturbing them, you’ll have the ability to study deer or any other wildlife for long periods of time without detection and subsequently scaring the animal away. We recommend high magnification for wildlife watching for better close up viewing without worrying about spooking the wildlife.

Target Shooting

For checking if your shots are on target, a spotting scope is a great option. Whether you’re using paper or steel targets, you’ll get a clearer view using a spotting scope. You will need a specific size scope for specific yardages. Below is a run down of the size and range of the spotting scopes.

Distance In YardsMagnification RangeObjective Lens Diameter
100 Yards10-30x to 16-48x50mm
200 Yards10-30x to 16-48x60mm
300 Yards20-60x to 20-80x65mm
500 Yards20-60x to 20-80x85mm
1000 Yards20-60x to 20-80x85mm +



Using a telescope is always the best option for astronomy, they are specifically designed for observing low light objects far away in the night sky. But for basic moon watching and checking out meteor showers etc a spotting scope can be used with some pretty good results. Spotting scopes offer high magnification although, not as high as a telescope but high enough to see far off planets etc.

With the added advantage that a scope is far more maneuverable than a telescope which gives you options of taking the spotting scope away from brightly lit areas where light pollution isn’t a problem. Always remember that spotting scopes were originally designed for diurnal (daytime) use and not nocturnal (night time).

Ship Watching 

If you live by the coast or have access to an estuary and want to watch the ships as they wend their way across the horizon, a spotting scope will work excellently for this. With high magnifications and large diameter objective lenses, spotting scopes offer far more viewability than binoculars.

Whale Watching From Land

Whale Watching

We added the from land because taking a spotting scope onto a boat is pointless. Due to the motion of the boat any images will be rendered unviewable. From land however, a spotting scope with a 20-80x magnification will allow you to see any whale or dolphin activity for some distance. 


Surveillance work needs to be as undetected as possible, for you to gather any evidence necessary. You will need high powered magnified optics for surveillance work. If you’re observing from a long distance, a scope on a tripod could work well. If you’re observing from relatively close, say, from a car, there are stands available for spotting scopes that attach to car windows with great maneuverability.


Rifle and pistol shooting ranges generally allow the use of a spotting scope to assist you to range your shots and to see your groupings. Once the scope is set up in position you’ll find you don’t need to move it again until hometime.


Lots of archery competitions allow binoculars up to 8x magnification so you’d need to check first before taking a scope on site. But at informal meets a spotting scope can be a great help in ranging, spotting your grouping etc.


This is the art of attaching a camera or smartphone to a spotting scope to act as a super powerful telephoto lens at a fraction of the cost. Telephoto lenses cost an extortionate amount of money compared to a decent spotting scope. Yet with the aid of a small adapter, your spotting scope can be turned into a digiscope.

Imagine taking close up photos of all those birds and animals from far away. Shots you’d never get with a standard camera.

Other Applications

There are many other applications for spotting scopes, some of our customers use a scope from their high rise flat to get tremendous views over the city scape. Others that live on cliffs get numerous viewing opportunities that would otherwise be missed. The applications of a spotting scope are limited only by your imagination.

Which Type Of Spotting Scope Is Best?

Spotting Scope

There are two types of scopes available, straight and angled. They both have their good and bad points and as such one type is more suitable than the other in certain situations. Many people swear by the angled spotting scopes whereas others prefer straight spotting scopes. The choice is yours ultimately but to help you understand them better here’s a short summary of what’s best for what activity.

ActivityBest Type Of Scope
Bird WatchingAngled
Wildlife WatchingAngled – Unless Looking Extremely Downhill When A Straight Scope Has The Advantage
Target ShootingAngled Or Straight (Personal Preference)
Ship WatchingAngled
Whale WatchingAngled
SurveillanceAngled Or Straight Depending On Circumstances
RangingAngled Or Straight (Personal Preference)
ArcheryAngled Or Straight (Personal Preference)
DigiscopingAngled (Easier To Attach The Camera/ Smartphone)

In general usage, an angled spotting scope creates less body tension because using a straight scope makes you sit forward and more upright than using an angled scope. Angled scopes also make sharing images with others easier because they can look through the lens without having to move the actual scope. Plus for some reason angled scopes seem to reduce glare far more than straight scopes. 

Straight scopes work better from inside a vehicle, the angle on an angled scope makes it far more difficult to use inside a vehicle. A straight scope will also fit into a backpack easier than an angled scope and a straight scope works better when looking downhill at extreme gradients. For extreme uphill gradients, angled spotting scopes work better.

Explanation Of Terminology

If you’re new to the world of spotting scopes or optics altogether, there are probably a few terms we’ve mentioned so far that you’re not familiar with. So let’s clear that up right now.


This is what makes the images you see through the lens of a spotting scope larger than they actually are. Most spotting scopes have a zoom magnification which means they start at a lower level of magnification and increase substantially. On the scope it will have something similar to this stamped onto the body somewhere. 20-60×60, This tells us that this particular scope has a zoom magnification of between 20 to 60 times, which means the objects seen through that scope will appear 20 to 60 times larger than with the naked eye.

That covers the numbers up to and including the X. The X always means magnification and the hyphen between the first two numbers indicates zoom in this case from 20 to 60 times. The numbers after the X are always referring to the objective lens diameter and always in millimeters, in this case 60mm.

Objective Lens

The objective lens, which is the lens furthest away from the eyepiece, closest to the object you’re looking at, is the only way light can enter the scope. Which is important because it’s the only way the object you’re looking at can be illuminated. The larger the objective lens, the brighter the image seen through the scope will be.

Field Of View

The field of view is the width of image you can see at a set distance usually quoted in the specs 

As so many metres@1,000 metres for example 16.7 metres@1,000metres. This means at a distance of 1,000m you’ll see a width of 16.7m through that particular scope. This is important depending on what you’re looking at through the scope.

Songbirds for example move pretty quickly which means you’ll need a fairly wide field of view to keep up with them. Waders and other waterfowl are relatively slow, so a wide field of view isn’t necessary to keep them in view. Always remember as the magnification increases, the field of view decreases.



The thing with high powered magnification is unless it’s adequately supported you won’t be able to use it. This is due to human physiology, we all have tremors or shakes when holding any object for a long time. This shake is natural and nothing to worry about, until it’s magnified by 20 to 60 times.

At that point it becomes so prominent that the images seen through the scope will be too blurred to recognise. Which is why a tripod is needed for all spotting scopes and binoculars with greater than 10x magnification. The tripod needs to be strong enough to support the scope sufficiently but light enough to carry over long distances on sometimes rough terrain.

Image Quality

When it comes to spotting scopes, price really does make a difference. There is a massive difference between cheap scopes and expensive scopes when it comes to the quality of the image you can see through them. For many uses a reasonably priced scope will do fine, but there are times when you need that extra quality image. Always buy the best scope you can afford, if not, you’ll only regret it later on.

Other Points To Consider When Buying A Spotting Scope

Spotting Scope

That’s the main points covered, but there are other things to consider before you buy a scope. They include;

The Weight Of The Spotting Scope

As the objective lens diameter increases, so does the weight of the scope and the size of the tripod you’ll need to support it. All of this weight you’ll have to carry every time you take the scope out. Opt for a 60 to 65mm objective lens diameter to keep the weight down.

Waterproof & Fog Proof

Even if you never intend to take out your scope when it’s raining, we would still recommend a waterproof scope. That’s because we live in Great Britain which means rain is never far away. Plus exposing your scope to a damp environment can cause problems. Most modern scopes of decent quality are waterproof and fog proof but it’s best to check.

They remove the oxygen from the scope and replace it with an inert gas, usually nitrogen but could be argon. These gasses are sealed in and cannot escape which means nothing else can enter either. This includes water, damp, dust, mould spores or any microbial bacteria. As these inert gasses contain no moisture, they cannot react with sudden extreme temperature fluctuations and so won’t fog up.

Light Transmission

We said earlier how the image we can see through the lens is reliant on the light that enters the scope through the objective lens. Just as important to image quality is the way light travels through the scope. To improve light transmission the scope manufacturers use a special optical glass which has been highly polished to remove as many imperfections as possible.

BAK-4 Glass

BAK-4 glass is the very best quality precision optical glass and is used in the better quality spotting scopes and binoculars to make the prisms. It is a combination of glass and fluorite that is highly polished to remove as many imperfections in the glass as possible.

 BK-7 Glass 

This is still top quality precision optical glass but BK-7 glass has slightly more imperfections than BAK-4 glass. BK-7 glass is mainly used at the budget end of the spotting scope range for making prisms. BK-7 glass is the best glass for astrophotography.

The Lenses

To improve the light transmission even more, manufacturers use special glass to make the lenses too. Look for Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass or High Density (HD) glass in the scopes lenses.

Lens Coatings

All modern binoculars and spotting scopes have their lenses coated to improve light transmission and reduce glare. There are many different lens coatings available but we have found the better scopes have Fully Multi-Coated (FMC) lenses, which is incidentally the best coating available.


Most spotting scopes come with a fixed eyepiece which means they have a set magnification level. In many this can be swapped for a higher magnification eyepiece. Others have what we talked about earlier, zoom lenses, these allow you to change magnification in an instant.

The beauty of zoom lenses on spotting scopes is you don’t need to carry extra eyepieces around with you all day. Plus the time it takes to swap an eyepiece could mean you miss the object you were trying to get a closer view of.

Eye Cup

This is the soft rubber or polycarbonate rim around the eyepiece designed to keep your eye comfortable while using the scope. The eye cups can be adjusted to fit your face by either twisting or folding them up or down.

Eye Relief 

Eye relief is that spot where you place your eye to get the clearest image from the scope. Usually the eye relief doesn’t matter but if you wear glasses, it’s important to get the correct fit for your eyes and glasses. If you do need to wear glasses constantly, look for a scope with long eye relief. Long eye relief is an extra distance allowed between your eye and the lens to accommodate your glasses.

Prisms Types In Spotting Scopes

There are two types of prism used for making spotting scopes they are;

  1. Porro Prisms
    Porro prisms are bulkier, heavier, easier to misalign the prisms, and more difficult to fully waterproof. Having said all of that, Porro prism scopes are often less costly than roof prism scopes.
  2. Roof Prisms
    Roof prisms are compact, stronger (less likely to get damaged), weigh less, are far easier to waterproof and fog proof,  but they do have a less clear image than Porros and they’re more expensive than Porros.


Spotting scopes cost quite a lot, it’s only right that you get a decent warranty with your scope. Most of the top companies offer a warranty on their scopes. With the better companies offering a lifetime guarantee. This means that as long as you are the original owner they will repair or replace any scope that develops a serious defect etc.

Caring For Your Spotting Scope

Spotting scopes are precise optical equipment and need to be looked after in the correct way to keep them as good as they were when you first bought your scope. So maintenance is essential, you should;

  • Always clean the lenses with a lens cloth 
  • Wiping from the centre outwards
  • Always replace the lens caps after use
  • Store in a cool dry place
  • Never look directly at the sun through the lens of a scope.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should you use a spotting scope?

You should use a spotting scope whenever binoculars don’t have enough magnification power to see whatever you’re trying to look at.

Can spotting scopes be used for stargazing?

Spotting scopes can be used for stargazing but a telescope will give you more success than a spotting scope as spotters were designed primarily for daytime usage. Whereas telescopes were designed to show low light objects from far away.

Is a spotting scope worth it?

Spotting scopes are definitely worth buying. They can show objects over far greater distances than binoculars.

Can you take pictures with a spotting scope?

You can take pictures with a spotting scope. All you need is a DSLR camera or a smartphone and an adapter and you can use the scope as if it was a telephoto lens.

Are spotting scopes more powerful than binoculars?

Spotting scopes are more powerful than binoculars. Binoculars tend to range from 3x to 12x and spotting scopes take over from there. Starting at around 15x and going up to 100x in some cases, spotting scopes are definitely more powerful than binoculars.