If you’re short on time, you can just grab the Vortex Optics Razor HD Angled Spotting Scope 16-48x65, which is the best overall spotting scope. Some assume that a spotting scope isn’t really essential equipment, after all, a rifle scope or binoculars work just as well, right?Not quite.
Spotting scopes typically have two advantages over binoculars and rifle scopes:
- Higher magnification.
- Clearer glass.
So a spotting scope helps you see further and more clearly than you could with most other optics.
Why Do I Need A Spotting Scope?
Zeroing your rifle scope.
Seeing a target that’s several hundred yards away is one thing, but seeing a bullet hole in a target that’s several hundred yards away requires next level image clarity and magnification.
Seeing that bullet hole clearly enough that you can make adjustments to your scope mandates an even more powerful optic, like a spotting scope.
For long range competition shooters, a spotting scope is absolutely mandatory for building an accurate range card, spotting shots during competition, and finding the best ammunition for their rifle.
Scanning for game.
If you hunt from a static position, you spend a lot of time scanning your field of view for animals. This can mean hours spent looking through your optic. A spotting scope is much more comfortable than a rifle scope for this purpose, and higher magnification means better game identification and size approximation.
Any other outdoor sporting.
Since it’s not mounted on a scope, a spotting scope also doubles as binoculars for things like bird watching. Additionally, a spotting scope can be attached to a camera for long range photography. This is called digiscoping.
Overall, a spotting scope is both more powerful and more versatile than a rifle scope, and enhances the capabilities of your rifle-mounted optics.
That brings us to the next bit:
How to Choose the Right Spotting Scope
Spotting scopes have many attributes that are similar to rifle scopes, and a few things that are different but still important to how well a spotting scope will work for you. Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll want to evaluate when choosing a spotting scope:
Spotting scopes come in two different body styles:
- Angled body.
- Straight body.
In terms of optical performance, both body styles perform well. However, each body style has advantages when it comes to positioning.
An angled body spotting scope is more comfortable to look through when the scope is level, or you’re looking uphill. On the other hand, a straight body scope is easier to look downhill, or use from an elevated position.
Those that hunt from an elevated hide, or who prefer ridgetop positions may want to consider a straight body scope. Those who often find themselves working on even ground with their target, or at the bottom of the slope should look into an angled body spotting scope.
There are three types of lens coatings:
- Fully coated.
- Fully multi-coated.
Fully multi-coated is the best type of lens coating. Given the high magnifications of spotting scopes, a quality spotting scope will be fully multi-coated. It’s wise to only purchase a fully multi-coated spotting scope.
The prism refers to the configuration of the magnifying mirrors in the spotting scope. There are two prism types:
- Roof prism.
- Porro prism.
Each prism type has its pros and cons. Roof prisms are more durable, but sometimes offer lower image quality because the light is reflected six times.
Porro prisms present higher image quality, but are often less durable, and can more easily be knocked out of alignment.
Those who value durability should consider a roof prism spotting scope. If you prioritize image quality, a porro prism may be best.
It should be noted that high end roof prisms present very nearly the same image quality as porro prisms, so those with a higher budget can get durability and image quality.
Lastly, those who plan to use their spotting scope for surveillance or photography will want camera adaptability. Hunters will value this less, but it can be useful for those who use game cameras to scout hunting areas.
Now that you have an idea of what to look for, here are the scopes to look at:
The Best Spotting Scopes of 2018 Reviews
These spotting scope reviews are arranged from most expensive to least expensive.
Best Spotting Scope For Digiscoping
Kowa TSN-880 Series
This scope is more for photographers than hunters or long range shooters. However, anyone would be happy with a Kowa spotting scope like this one. The Kowa TSN-880 Series Angled Body High Performance Spotting Scope is undoubtedly one of the best on the market.
The TSN-880 has incredible glass and a huge 88mm objective lens. For additional image sharpness, the porro prism is constructed from fluorite crystal. The image clarity and light collection of the TSN-880 make it optimal for photography or surveillance in any light conditions.
Kowa offers three eyepieces for the TSN-880:
- 25-60x, wide
- 30x, wide
- 20x, LER (Long Eye Relief)
This means that you potentially can get three different power spotting scopes in a single piece of gear. However, only one eyepiece is included with the scope, so budget accordingly.
As you would expect from a scope at this price point, the TSN-880 has fully multi-coated lenses, and is waterproof and fogproof.
This is definitely a photographer’s spotting scope, and is easily the best spotting scope for birding, though hunters and long range shooters could easily make good use of it.
Best Spotting Scope Under $1000
Vortex Optics Razor
You can’t really go wrong with a Vortex spotting scope. Vortex produces exceptionally clear glass, and features outstanding durability. The Vortex Optics Razor HD Angled Spotting Scope 16-48x65 uses much of the same technology that makes Vortex rifle scopes so popular.
The Razor HD uses an incredibly wide objective lens, and high-density, low dispersion glass to produce high definition images at all magnifications. There’s no degradation in resolution or color dilution at long ranges. This means the Razor HD is excellent for hunters or photographers that need the best performance in low light or low contrast environments.
Additionally, the Razor HD uses triple apochromatic lenses for the most vivid color, so photographers will also find this spotting scope excellent for digiscoping.
Vortex didn’t make the Razor HD the highest magnification spotting scope on the market. However, the Razor HD is more powerful than most rifle scopes, and higher magnification often suffers from image degradation caused by atmospheric conditions.
The Razor HD features full multi-coating on all the glass surfaces, even the internal mirrors, to maximize light transmission through the scope. So this scope will perform well for low light photography and hunting.
The Razor HD uses a porro prism for superior image quality. However, Vortex made the Razor HD waterproof and fogproof as well, to mitigate the durability concerns of porro prisms.
Most users will find the 20mm eye relief to be comfortable, however those with glasses may find that it’s a tad short.
Overall, the Razor HD will be excellent for any shooter who shoots in low light conditions, and photographers who want excellent image quality.
Best Value Spotting Scope Under $1000
Nikon 20-60x83 Prostaff 5
Nikon’s specialty is cameras. However, all the lens and mirror technology in a camera is the same as a spotting scope. So, it stands to reason that a Nikon spotting scope would be a great piece of gear. For the price, the Nikon 20-60x82 Prostaff 5 Angled Body Fieldscope is tough to beat.
The first thing to note is Nikon’s glass quality. The Prostaff 5 has clear enough glass that the image is exceptionally clear even at maximum magnification. Nikon supports the glass quality with solid specs. The objective lens is 82mm, which is larger than most scopes in this price range.
Additionally, the Prostaff 5 is fully multi-coated, which is excellent for anyone who plans to use this scope in low light or low contrast environments. The light transmission and image clarity is enough to get an excellent color spectrum even in fading dawn and dusk light.
The Prostaff 5 magnification goes from 20 all the way up to 60, which is excellent for long range shooting and bird watching. The high magnification works perfectly with Nikon’s high quality lenses and full multi-coating. There’s no noticeable distortion or color dilution at long ranges, using maximum magnification.
Nikon utilized a porro prism for superior image quality. The Prostaff 5 is waterproof and fogproof to offset any durability issues with the porro prism. This means that this is an excellent spotting scope for those who want an outstanding image in bad weather.
The Prostaff 5 includes a removable eyepiece with long enough eye relief that it should be fine for those with glasses.
But, the real value of the Prostaff 5 is that Nikon offers complete packages with this spotting scope. The Prostaff 5 can be purchased with everything you need—tripod, vehicle mount, phone accessories—so you can get started without making too many budget adjustments.
The optional packages make the Prostaff 5 the best spotting scope for the money in this article, since all you need is a camera. However, hunters and long range target shooters will find this spotting scope to be an outstanding purchase as well.
Best Spotting Scope Under $500
Leupold SX-1 Ventana
Leupold was once the preferred optic of the U.S. military because they grind extremely clear lenses and produce exceptionally durable equipment. So, a Leupold spotting scope is a good buy. The Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 20-60x80 is built to the same standards that make Leupold scopes such a good value.
As far as light gathering goes, the SX-1 has a nice wide 60mm objective lens. This is coupled with Leupold’s extremely high glass quality, so the image is exceptionally sharp at extreme long ranges.
It should be noted that, even though the glass is exceptionally clear, at the highest magnifications, it’s possible that you’ll try to focus on things that are too far away to get a clear picture through the dust and gases in the atmosphere.
That brings us to magnification. The SX-1 goes from 20-60x, which is much higher than most rifle scopes, so the SX-1 is ideal for those looking to supplement their shooting optics. However, the low end magnification won’t be great for those that want to focus on objectives at very short distances.
Leupold also has some of the most durable and high-performing lens coatings available, so they provide exceptional light transmission. Additionally, their lens coatings are hardened to improve the scratch resistance of their lenses.
The SX-1 has a removable eyepiece that is included with the scope, so you can fine tune the magnification and image clarity of the spotting scope.
For extreme long range shooters, the SX-1 is an excellent option for spotting shots. Hunters will find that the SX-1 does everything they need and more. All in all, the SX-1 is an excellent scope for almost any context.
Best Spotting Scope Under $200
Bushnell Trophy Xtreme
Bushnell is a household name when it comes to outdoor sporting optics, and many hunters have a Bushnell spotting scope in their garage. The Bushnell Trophy Xtreme Spotting Scope is probably the best spotting scope for the money, and easily the best spotting scope for hunting in this article.
Bushnell produces excellent glass for the price ranges they target, and the Trophy Extreme sports clear enough glass that any hunter or competition shooter will be able to pick up game and targets at maximum range.
The Trophy Xtreme comes in two specification packages:
Bushnell smartly paired the higher magnification option with a wider, 65mm objective lens for brighter images in low light and better image clarity in all conditions.
Hunters will probably be happy with the 16-48x50 model, while extreme long range shooters looking for the best spotting scope for 1000 yard shots should pick up the 20-60x65 version.
The Trophy Xtreme comes with fully multi-coated lenses, and is waterproof and fogproof to protect the porro prism design. Bushnell adds even more value with an included tripod.
Overall, the Trophy Xtreme is perfect for hunters and long range shooters, though photographers may find it less than ideal for digiscoping.
OUR TOP CHOICES
For most applications, a quality 20-60x spotting scope will be ideal. However, the high magnification of most spotting scopes means that you should invest in the best spotting scope tripod your budget will allow, especially if you plan on digiscoping.
Also, if you’re looking at a spotting scope with a removable eyepiece, remember to plan for the cost of additional eyepieces.
Vortex Optics Razor HD Angled Spotting Scope
The Vortex Optics Razor HD Angled Spotting Scope 16-48x65 is the overall best spotting scope for hunting, surveillance, or photography.
Bushnell Trophy Xtreme Spotting Scope
The Bushnell Trophy Xtreme Spotting Scope is the best spotting scope for hunting.
Leupold SX-1 Ventana
The Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 20-60x80 is the best spotting scope for target shooting.
Now that you know which spotting scope will work best for you, get out there and look at some stuff!