FAQs: spotting scopes
A telescope with a high magnification, used for observing at long distances or for seeing detail at medium distances (e.g. for reading target scores when shooting or for spotting game when hunting).
Spotting scopes are monocular telescopes with magnifications of between 20X to 80X, depending on the eyepiece used. They always used when it is necessary to observe at large distances or when nature-watching in large open areas. Their classic field of application is when used for larger bodies of water. A spotting scope is ideal for observing rather slowly moving objects such as floating ducks, geese, divers, gulls, cormorants, or other waterfowl. As a result of the high magnification, the visual field is quite small.
The optics provide the ability to see a level of detail which is simply not possible using binoculars: how big is the white spot on the outermost (tenth) primary of the large gull swimming 400 to 500m away? Is it a Yellow-legged Gull or a Caspian Gull after all? Perhaps, when preening, it lifts one leg out of the water and you can see whether it is pale yellow or a more intense yellow. Is the head is pure white or has it dark streaks? Modern optics, with coated lenses, allow you to solve problems which used to be unresolvable.
The beauty of observing with a spotting scope is also that you do not have to disturb the animals, as you can stay a long way away from them. Observing rare birds of prey (such as White-tailed Eagles, Golden Eagles or Peregrine Falcons) at the eyrie would be irresponsible if you were equipped only with a traditional pair of binoculars. From a longer distance away (> 1000 m) you will not disturb them and will also be able to share in the family life of these fascinating large birds and can observe their comings and goings at the nest in detail. observe their comings and goings at the nest in detail.
You will typically see two numbers on your spotting scope, such as '40 x 62' or '15 x 50'. The first figure is always the magnification, and the second the diameter of the lens in millimetres. So a scope with the specification 40 x 62 magnifies by 40X and the lens (the aperture of the scope) is 62 millimetres in diameter. The magnification factor of 40X means that you will see a bird that is 40 meters away from you as if it were just one metre away.
A magnification of 30X is typical with a fixed magnification , while zoom magnifications are usually in the range of 15-60X.
You can locate an object more easily using a low magnification, and then observe it more closely at a higher magnification.
An important criterion when buying a spotting scope is its light gathering power. The main indicator for this in an instrument is the diameter of the lens, i.e. the second number in the scope's specification. If you intend using your scope under various lighting conditions, you should opt for a spotting scope with an objective lens diameter of at least 80mm. The larger the objective lens is, the more light will enter the scope.
But the light gathering power is also dependent on the quality of the glass and its coating, but above all on the magnification magnification you choose. Higher magnifications 'cost' light, i.e. the image will appear darker as you increase the magnification factor.
The same principle applies here as for any other technically sophisticated instrument: If you want top quality you should not be afraid to pay for it - by investing in a high-end brand name spotting scope , such as Zeiss or Swarovski for example. Such instruments cost from 1500 to well over 2000 Euros, but they will also last a lifetime. Many manufacturers offer a 30 year warranty. If you know that you will be using your spotting scope outdoors in all weather conditions, you would be well advised to not try any false economy when purchasing.
For beginners, who still do not know whether or not bird watching will become a lifelong passion, it is sufficient to purchase a medium-quality instrument, which provides an excellent image during the day, in sunshine, but which still supplies a good to satisfactory image in overcast weather. Such scopes are available in a price range between around 200 and 500 Euros ( e.g. the Bresser 20-60 x 80 with multi-coated optics and waterproof housing).
At the time of purchase it is very important to consider just how, when and how often you will be using your spotting scope. You can think about this by comparing it to driving: a sales rep who can clock up over 100,000 km a year will, for good reason, certainly invest more in his vehicle than someone who is only occasionally on the road and who maybe decides to buy a cheaper car which is still technically fully developed and reliable, but which would not perhaps be the model of choice for long distance drivers.
Most people are able to hold steady binoculars with magnifications of 10 or even 12. For a spotting scope, with its much higher magnification, this question does not, of course, arise. Here you will require a tripod, on which to mount the spotting scope, so that it is can be moved in any direction. Whether you prefer a more technically demanding ball-head mount or a pan/tilt head mount , is secondary here. It is best to try out both and opt for the system with which you get along with the best.
Of course, both systems provide the option of locking the spotting scope at a particular orientation. This is very convenient if you want to watch an interesting bird over a prolonged period or to show it to a fellow bird watcher ("Have a look through my scope, I've put it on the Red-necked Grebe for you!"). In most cases a simple hand movement is sufficient to disengage the locking device and again be able to swivel the spotting scope around, for example if the waterfowl you are observing suddenly flies or simply swims 'out of the picture'. There are good metal three-legged tripods starting at around 50 Euros; ball or tilt heads cost between 30 and 50 Euros.
Another important factor is the weight. Wooden tripods are very rigid, but heavy. They are mainly suitable for stationary use, even in the water. Metal, especially aluminium, combines low weight with high rigidity (important when it's windy!). Everyone who has to carry a spotting scope plus tripod over longer distances is certainly extremely grateful for every gram of weight they can save. Carbon fibre tripods are the ultimate in this respect, although they are more expensive.
Not really: the intended purpose of a spotting scope is different from that of binoculars. Keen observers will therefore often take both with them. Binoculars, with their relatively large fields of view, are suitable for scanning the sky or, for example, for having a look around a forest edge or a lake to see what interesting birds are around. They are used to see what is where. At shorter distances or in closed environments (forest, bush), a pair of binoculars is often quite sufficient.
However, on discovering an interesting object to observe, especially in an open landscape, it can be very rewarding to be able bring this closer with a spotting scope and to look at in more detail.
Of course, you can also follow moving birds with a spotting scope. This, however, does take some practice due to the smaller field of view. It is not easy to keep a bird that is flying rapidly in view when following it in a spotting scope. However, your ability to find a bird in the sky or in 'nailing' a flying bird will improve the more often you attempt it, because your familiarity with the handling of mount will improve with time and become almost automatic (similar to driving a car: a learner looks down at the gear stick when changing gear and 'searches for' the correct gear, a veteran does this automatically). Please see also our FAQs for bird watching.
The quality of a spotting scope depends on many aspects. In addition to the number of lenses used, the surface coatings, the lens mountings, the housing material and the construction of the eyepieces, the type of glass used is also an important factor. High quality spotting scopes use often fluoride-containing special glass with special refractive properties. These types of glass are expensive to produce and difficult to work with, but deliver significantly better results than optics made of normal glass in terms of colour and field correction.
Spotting scopes made from ordinary types of glass have blue fringes visible at 30X magnification, while optics made with special glass usually provide accurate colour up to 60X. The brands in the high end segment such as Zeiss, Swarovski, Leica, Optolyth and Kowa-Prominar often employ special glass without mentioning this. But also manufacturers producing middle-range scopes such as Leupold, Omegon, Meopta, Minox, Celestron, Meade, Vixen, Nikon and some other manufacturers have started making spotting scopes with special glass.
To differentiate models from those variants using normal glass, manufacturers often use the abbreviation HD for high definition glass and ED for extra low dispersion glass. Optics with ED/HD glass provide significantly better quality, but are also much more expensive.