AS WITH binoculars, there are a number of optical and design stand standards to keep in mind when you're considering buying a spotting scope. You should read the section on Choosing Binoculars in the Help Topics as well this section.
Spotting scopes are ideally suited for such activities as long distance birdwatching and nature study, telephotography, scenic observing, long distance microscopy, beginners’ astronomy and surveillance.
As an example binoculars are best for close-up birding, but for distant birds, a spotting scope makes a marked difference. Scopes allow you to distinguish marks on distant objects like a red kite that cannot be seen with binoculars. And at closer ranges, you’ll admire intricate plumage details you never saw before.
Astronomy telescopes are much more powerful, but usually do not gather enough light for observing and are not robust enough for use in the field.
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A spotting scope is a compact telescope designed primarily for terrestrial observing and is used in applications which require magnifications beyond the range of a typical binocular usually with a magnification power between 15x and 250x. Ideally, the objective lens should be at least 60 mm in diameter to provide a bright image.
To change magnification, scopes have interchangeable fixed-length eyepieces or a single zoom eyepiece.
With a spotting scope the observer can start with a low power magnification (eyepiece or the lowest setting on a zoom eyepiece e.g. in the 20x to 30x range). Once you’ve spotted the target you can then switch to a higher power.
Eyepieces have a bayonet fixing for a quick change and scopes have good focusing techniques to adjust the target. As an example the best all-round eyepiece for a birding scope is 20x to 30x.
Zoom lenses change magnification power from 20x to as high as 60x with a single, simple adjustment. Like binoculars though, scopes suffer from less light, narrower field of view, and more vibration as magnification increases.
Nowadays, many mid-priced scopes have excellent zoom lenses giving sharpness and clear image indistinguishable from that at low magnification.
The best policy if you are a nature observe is to but the highest-quality scope you can afford.
The old scopes with a zoom lens showed an the image which was too dark to see much detail as you move toward 60x, and viewing at dawn or dusk or poor light was frustrating.
Top spotting scope lenses are made with fluorite-coated, HD (high density), or ED (extra-low dispersion) glass. The difference in brightness and image clarity between these high-quality scopes and those made by the same manufacturers using standard glass is particularly noticeable in low-light viewing conditions and at high power.
The larger the objective lens at the end the end of the scope the brighter the images because a large lens gathers more light. It also makes the binoculars heavier, this is why weight is included in Specifications and you should consider it before buying a scope.
In spotting scopes, there are two methods for focusing. A grip around the scope barrel can be turned for rapid focusing or a knob which is turned and is slower but can be more accurate.
You may not want to use one but serious spotters always have a tripod and reap the many rewards from it. Images will be more stable in outdoor conditions. You will often return to the same spot for observing and a scope supported on a tripod is all set and ready to go when your target arrives. So get a mid-weight tripod with as few leg adjustments as possible and a flip-lock design for a secure mount.
Straight-through or 45° angled Scope
Advantages of an angled telescope are that the observer is in a more relaxed position when looking through the scope and the tripod can be set at a lower position making it easier for tall and short people.
So if you are taking friends or children with you to observe, a straight-through scope and no tripod ends up like a pass-the-parcel game.
The distance between the eye lens and the point where the pupil is positioned for full field of view and varies from eyepiece to eyepiece. Check that this within the right length if you wear spectacles so you can obtain the full field of view