One of the best ways to get up close and personal with nature and wildlife while still remaining at a safe distance, is with a quality spotting scope. With the addition of digiscoping, not only can you simply watch the wildlife, but you can photograph it and record it. In this article we’ll take a look at 5 of the best spotting scopes for wildlife viewing.
We’re also gonna go over the main things to consider when purchasing a spotting scope such as magnification, lens size, choosing angled or straight, and getting a good tripod.
Don’t want to read the article? Here are my 2 top picks!
Best Spotting Scopes for Wildlife Viewing
1. Razor Optics Vortex HD
Best Premium Spotting Scope
For the wildlife enthusiast who demands nothing but the very best, Razor optics spotting scopes are the best choice. It comes in three different sizes, and each size is made in both straight and angled versions.
The smallest size, 33×50, includes a focus wheel that’s divided into macro and micro adjustments for precision control, with a close focus of 6.6 feet. Go one size up to the 48×65 and you’ll get a locking collar and a built in sunshade with a close in focus of 26.2 feet. Finally, the largest size is the 60×85, which has all the same features as the 48×65, but with a close in focus of 16.4 feet.
- Multiple sizes- and each size has two styles
- Triple Apochromatic Lens
- Built in Sunshades
- Adjustable eye cup
Choosing the angled design generally promotes a more comfortable viewing experience, although some do prefer the straight scope. No matter which size you get, the Razor Vortex comes with triple apochromatic lenses that give you remarkable resolution and true-to-life colors.
Choosing which size is best for you depends largely on the field of view you want. The smallest scope has the largest field of view, while the biggest scope has the smallest field of view. These scopes buy Razor are just about the best you can get, and you’ll definitely be satisfied with your purchase. Premium quality comes at a premium price, though, and it may not be the best choice for beginners. Experts and experienced spotters, though, will really appreciate the quality durability of these scopes.
2. Emarth Spotting Scope
If you don’t feel like spending a big chunk of change on a spotting scope, consider this budget-friendly model from Emarth. It will lack some of the premium features of the Vortex, but it will get the job done and for a lot less money.
- 20x to 60x magnification
- Multi-coated Lenses
- Built-in sunshade
This scope from Emarth delivers a lot of performance in a very affordable package. With adjustable zoom from 20x up to 60x, you get a lot of magnification, much more than you’d expect at this price point. The multi-coating on the lens along with the BAK4 prism give high-constrast views so every detail is visible.
The Emarth is the cheapest scope on this list, but it doesn’t sacrifice any of the features that make for a great spotting scope. It won’t quite match the quality of the Vortex, but for less than $100, it’s pretty hard to complain.
3. Gosky 20 – 60×80
Best Budget Spotting Scope
- Smartphone adapter included
- Tabletop Tripod included
- Non-slip, shock proof grip
The Gosky scope comes with a lot of features, such as a smartphone adapter that makes taking photos and video through the scope dead simple. A tabletop tripod is also included and, while it’s not quite as nice as a full size tripod, it’s still a lot better than nothing.
Digiscopers will love this scope for its built-in smartphone compatibility, and all wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy the quality viewing experience. This spotting scope has the right price, the right feature-set, and comes with some accessories to get you started. An overall great choice!
4. Landove 20 – 60×80
- Smartphone adapter included
- 20x-60x Magnification
- Multi-coated green film lens
With a lot of the same features as the Gosky, at a very similar price, choosing between the two is difficult. Their lenses, accessories, and overall function are almost indistinguishable. The Landove does has a smaller size available that costs about $40 less, so that can save you a good bit of money.
In terms of performance, the Landove and the Gosky are, once again, pretty much identical. They aren’t the cheapest scopes on the list, but they’re also not the most expensive, and they’re highly rated by those who use them.
5. Celestron Ultima
- 8 different sizes/styles available
- 100mm lens
- 22x-66x magnification
The Celestron offers slightly better magnification than it’s competitors (with a max of 66x instead of 60x). The biggest selling point is the wide variety of different styles and sizes. They likely have an option that’s tailored to most people’s specific needs.
You can choose to buy one with a smart phone adapter included, angled or straight eye pieces, and there are three different lens sizes to choose from, with the largest measuring a whopping 100mm.
Celestron is one of the bigger names in optics today for a reason, so you know that you can expect quality from them whenever you purchase one of their products.
What to look for when choosing a spotting scope
Spotting scopes are used for target shooting, hunting, and wildlife viewing. For wildlife viewing, the most important attributes of the scope may be a bit different from what you’d look for if you were buying a scope for other uses.
You want to be able to start off at relatively low magnification (20x or so) as you scan for wildlife, and then zoom in once you spot something. The ability to change magnification without swapping out lenses is crucial- it’s also pretty much the standard these days, so it shouldn’t be hard to find scopes that do this.
The size of the lens affects the scopes ability to gather light, which affects resolution and image quality. Larger lenses provide brighter images, but they also add a lot off weight to the scope which can make it difficult to carry. Smaller scopes are much more portable, although the image quality may suffer.
Straight vs angled. Straight eyepieces seem more natural and can make it easier to spot and follow an animal, but angled eyepieces make it easier to look up, above the horizon. That makes angled eyepieces especially popular with bird watchers. Angled eyepieces lend themselves to shorter tripods, too, which are more stable.
Digiscoping is pairing your smartphone with your scope, and it’s becoming increasingly popular. You can also use a digital camera, but the idea is to essentially use your scope as a telephoto lens. For this to work, you need a very bright image, and therefore at least an 85mm lens.
You really want a tripod to stabilize your scope. Some scopes come with a small tabletop tripod included. These need a flat, stable surface, whereas most full size tripods can be used on uneven ground.
Here are some great tripods for wildlife viewing with spotting scopes, or wildlife photography with DSLR cameras.
Spotting Scope FAQ
Can spotting scopes be used for astronomy?
Scopes with an angled eyepiece can see Jupiter, Saturn, and other planets and their larger moons. It may not be as suited to the purpose as true telescopes, but it works well enough.
How far can spotting scopes see?
It depends on your scope. Some are only good for spotting objects 100 yards away, while others can see out to 1000 yards.
Are spotting scopes better than binoculars?
Spotting scopes are better for detailed viewing at longer distances. They magnify better, and give better images. However, they are heavier, bulkier, and require a tripod, so there are situations in which binoculars are better. If you’re going to be moving around a lot, binoculars beat scopes. If you’re staying in one spot, scopes win, hands down.
Which is better, angled or straight spotting scopes?
Angled scopes are better for birding, and they also use a lower tripod which tends to give better stability. Straight scopes are faster for locating and tracking animals. It just depends on your preferences. Angled scopes are probably a little more popular, but a lot of expert wildlife spotters prefer the straight scopes.
How much magnification does a spotting scope need?
60x is the most you need, and magnification as low as 15x can be useful for locating the wildlife you want to watch. It’s always good to start off at low magnification, since that has a bigger field of view, and then zoom in once you’ve spotted something. It would be very unusual for 60x to be insufficient for your spotting needs.
Are spotting scopes good for birding?
Angled spotting scopes are one of the best birding tools you can buy. The high-contrast, detailed images make spotting all species of birds much easier. They also allow you to spot them from much farther away, so you’re less likely to disturb them.
All of these scopes are excellent choices and each offers their own advantages. You’ll note that all of them have similar magnification, similar lens sizes, and even many of the same accessories, which makes choosing between them somewhat difficult.
That said, it’s hard to beat the Razor Optics Vortex Scopes. The quality and functionality of those scopes is unmatched, and they’re worth every penny of the higher price-point. If you can’t stomach the price of the Vortex scope, the Gosky Spotting Scope is still a quality beginner spotting scope, and at a much lower price.
For the other scopes we listed, each one is just a little different from the next and have been tested by thousands of people in the field. They all have similar features, similar performance, and even similar prices aside from the Celestron which is priced middle-of-the-road because of the well known brand name. They’re all highly rated scopes, so none would be a bad choice. However if this is your first spotting scope purchase, none of them may stand out to you since they all have similar features.
All that being said, I say that if you can afford it and want one of the best spotting scopes for wildlife viewing, go with the Vortex Razor HD. However if you want to save some money and still get a solid scope, choose the Gosky. Bare in mind though, the other 3 scopes on this list are solid choices as well so you’re sure to be satisfied with your purchase regardless!
Thanks for reading!