Not sure if you need a spotting scope?
We usually don’t hesitate when getting a new scope or red dot…but we lag on getting a spotting scope.
We’ll cover what to look for in a spotting scope and a couple choices spanning all budgets. Complete with view-throughs of our tested ones.
By the end you’ll know if you even need one…and also which one to get.
What to Look For in a Spotting Scope
All those numbers you see in the catalogs are important to understand.
When you see the following in a catalog “20-60×80” it means…
- the scope has zoom magnification from 20 power to 60 power
- the objective lens (the lens in front) is 80 millimeters in diameter
That gives you a lot of magnification as well as a big lens to gather more light and make your image brighter during those all-important first light and last light glassing periods.
The scope you buy will depend on your most frequent use or targeted use.
If you are a dedicated long range shooter you may opt for a scope with a larger objective lens and higher magnification.
But that extra glass means more weight and more dollars.
The same scope may be not necessary if your passion is mountain hunting.
Chasing critters like sheep and goats in the far north usually means an investment in glass that allows you to determine if an animal is worth leaving the mountain you are glassing from and descending thousands of feet and climbing up the next ridge.
The weight of that big scope can save you many miles and thousands of vertical feet.
Spotting scopes can be found with either a straight view eyepiece or with an angled eyepiece. For many of us, it is much easier to find our target or critter with a straight view scope.
However, if multiple folks are going to be looking through the scope, it’s a little more difficult to get the tripod height just right.
With an angled eyepiece you can lock in on the target object and folks just look down through the scope.
The other part of the eyepiece that is critical is the exit pupil.
If you hold a rifle scope or spotting scope at arms length and line it up to look through it you will see a little white disk of light.
The diameter of that disk is the exit pupil diameter. The exit pupil should be approximately the same as the diameter of the pupil of your eye.
This will allow a bit of flexibility as to how close your eye must be to the eyepiece of the spotting scope to have a full view through the scope.
Generally, the larger the exit pupil, the more eye relief you will have.
Be sure the scope you choose is weatherproof.
I say weather because it’s not just rain and snow that cause issues with optics. Be sure the scope is sealed against dust as well.
If you’ve ever laid out prone in a prairie dog town in the Wyoming wind you know why dust proof is critical. Somehow dust gets on and in everything you own.
You need to be sure the scope tube is properly purged and free of as much moisture and oxygen as possible.
If not you may experience the internal glass fogging if you take the scope from cold outdoor temperatures to a warm tent or cabin, then back out again.
The fog will dissipate over time, but it’s a hassle to deal with.
Best Spotting Scopes
Like guns, there are dozens of spotting scopes out there that will serve you well and last a lifetime.
Of course, the Big Three; Leica, Zeiss, and Swarovski all will provide you with ultra clear glass, smooth zooms and easy focusing.
But do you really need $2000-$3000 glass for your shooting and hunting endeavors?
Let’s start with some spotting scopes for us mere mortals…
1. Celestron 52250
From our editor, here’s his pick of the best bang-for-the-buck for something that will do it’s job of telling you hits and misses.
The Celestron 55250 ($149) gets you out of the ultra-budget zone into spotting scopes with decent glass to see with 20-60x magnification.
It’s hard to get proper photos through a spotting scope…but we brought all the ones we tested to our local 600 yard range.
The area we’re going to look at is in the red oval.
Attached our spotting scopes to a tripod (more on those at the end).
This one of the Celestron at 20x looking at 500 and 600 yard targets.
Note…it will definitely look better through your own eyeballs…and you’ll get the full circle view too. It’s just very hard with a camera!
And here it is at 60x. Pay special attention to the red circle target since we’ll be using that as our barometer of glass quality.
And an attempt at getting footage from our PSA 6.5 Creedmoor Review.
Plenty enough to see what you need to at this range.
Once you use your own eyes and 60x…you can go up to 1000+ yards.
The 45 degree angle works well and adjustment on the eyepiece and focus are very usable.
Our solid recommendation for a great starter spotting scope that’s around $150.
And is likely to live a cushy life to and from the range.
What’s your take on the Celestron?
If you’re looking to take in on some more rough and tumble adventures…you might want the next up.
2. Vortex Diamondback 20-60x80mm
Vortex Optics have a reputation for being clear and precise at prices that don’t seem possible.
Take the Vortex Diamondback 20-60x80mm Spotting Scope.
Here we have their entry-level scope offering a great range of magnification as well as a big 80mm objective lens to help us at last light when that big mule deer buck is just sneaking out of the timber for a bite to eat.
The Diamondback is nearly 15 inches long and weighs 47 ounces, so it is by no means a compact or lightweight scope.
It does feel light-years more durable and quality compared to the Celestron even though they are the same weight.
It’s also waterproof and fog-proof and comes with a view-through carry case so your scope is always protected in the field.
Here it is at 20x.
And at 60x…don’t worry we’ll have these side-by-side in a little bit.
The scope is available with either straight or angled eyepieces.
As with all Vortex products you are covered with the transferable Lifetime Warranty should you ever need service. All in all a quality option for the more vigorous shooter or hunter.
3. Vortex Viper HD 20-60x85mm
We step it up a little in Vortex’s spotting scope line with the Viper HD 20-60×85.
The objective lens is a little bigger at 85mm which lets in more light. But it’s much heftier at 76 oz compared to the 47 oz of the Diamondback
It also comes with a built-in sunshade plus you don’t have to use a little dial to focus anymore…it’s that ribbed center of the main body.
And boy does it feel silky-smooth too.
Here it is at 20x.
And at 60x.
You can definitely see more definition of the hits on the red target.
What I recommend if you want to reach to a mile and beyond…or if you really plan on putting your glass through some abuse.
4. Vortex Razor HD 27-60x85mm
Let’s really step it up to Vortex’s highest line…the Razor HD 27-60×85.
Again it has the larger 85mm objective lens to let in more light.
And if it’s like the Razor series of rifle scopes…it’s top notch glass from Japan. It’s also surprisingly lighter than the Viper at 66 oz.
But the real difference is looking through it!
We mounted this bad boy and set it to 27x.
It also has the built-in sunshade and super smooth focus dial.
Drumroll…here it is at 60x.
You can see taste the extra…”furriness” of the hits on target.
But is it worth basically double the Viper?
Maybe…if you’re really into quality glass and need that extra clarity for super long range hits.
Now…do you have even more money to burn?
5. Leica APO-Televid 82
If I were to pick any scope out there and know that it is likely the best glass and engineering available I’d head straight to the counter where they display the big scopes with the little red circle…Leica.
The APO-Televid 82 will do anything you need a spotting scope to do and do it with class and perfection.
The APO is 25-50x82mm and has an angled or straight eyepiece that is interchangeable. A nice feature of the eyepiece is that is a wide angle design so you have a better peripheral view even at high magnification.
If you need more than 50 power you can add a 1.8x multiplier to the scope and have a nice 40-90 power spotter. The scope is heavy at 51.82 ounces so a quality tripod and head are in order.
The 25-50 eyepiece will run you another $879. So for the scope and eyepiece, you’ll need to write a check for $3,578.
And don’t forget your tripod.
6. Minox MD 50 W
My personal spotting scope for years that lives in the range bag and my pack when I’m headed deep into the wilderness for elk or deer is the Minox MD 50 W.
This little scope is only 8.39 inches long and weighs just 22 oz. About half of both for the Celestron and intro-Vortex.
The eyepiece is a respectable 16-30 zoom.
While this is no Leica or Zeiss it is compact and clear enough to do what I need it to do. I can see and call shots at the 1000 yard range and tell if the buck is legal from a long way off.
The scope is waterproof and dust-proof and is rubber armored.
It is light enough that you can get by with a compact, lightweight tripod as well. F or those looking for a great backpacking spotter, you can put this on your packing list for under $200.
You Need a Tripod
If you have a 20 or 25 power scope on your long range rig, how often do shoot offhand when cranked all the way up?
It is nearly impossible to hold still enough to do any good at that magnification.
Now try to hold your 60 power scope still.
Can’t be done.
The good thing is that even a basic tripod is enough unless you went all-out with a huge spotting scope.
If you’re looking for something top-of-the-line…check out Manfrotto tripods (it’s what we use for photography/videography).
Spotting scopes are often one of those items that you really get what you pay for with regards to quality.
Here’s all the tested spotting scopes at 60x on the red target.
I you’re simply starting out long-range shooting at the range…get the Celestron.
It’s pretty similar in view quality to the Vortex Diamondback 20-60x, which is triple the price and probably not triple the build quality.
But if you want to upgrade a little get the Vortex Viper HD 20-60x. You get better glass, a larger objective lens, built-in sunshade, better focus dial, and better eye relief.
And if you just love really great quality optics…the Razor HD 27-60x.
And if you’re rucking your spotting scope…get the Minox MD 50 W.
Let us know what kind of spotters you are using and why. And if you need a great scope for your rifle, don’t forget to take a look at our Best Scopes & Optics article!