The Best Spotting Scope for Wildlife Viewing in 2023: A Complete Guide

If you’re wondering what spotting scope to choose when you want to view wildlife from a distance, this guide is here to help you figure things out.  

For many nature fans, getting hold of the strongest spotting scope you can afford opens up a whole new world of wildlife and birdwatching opportunities. On our trips around US national parks, seeing wildlife is a high priority, and we’ve found a spotting scope the best thing to use for great quality images. 

Once you get used to handling yours, spotting scope photography is also possible as long as you line up the eyepiece and camera lens very carefully. This may mean you can achieve your dream of becoming an accomplished amateur wildlife photographer!

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Whether you want a spotting scope for 1,000 yards, the best 50mm spotting scope or one with a larger observational lens, this guide can help you track the right one down. We have tested products by leading manufacturers such as Swarovski, Burris and Vortex, as well as a few impressive budget options and are here to share our findings with you. 

Continue reading to find out all about choosing your product. There’s a table for making quick spotting scope comparisons plus a series of frequently asked questions that will help you pinpoint what to look out for.  Do you know what a spotting scope with a mil dot reticle does, for example? 

These sections are followed by the best products we tested and reviewed – plus a selection of other items you may need. First, though, let’s take a look at our top pick overall. 


The Best Spotting Scope For Wildlife Viewing Overall 

The Swarovski ATS 80 is the top pick overall. View it here. 

Why buy the Swarovski Optik ATS 80? 

As a national park expert and avid wildlife watcher, I spent a long time trying out my options and looking for the perfect spotting scope.  After much research and trial and error, I settled on this one as my top pick.

One of the standout features of this spotting scope is the impressive 80mm lens size. This larger lens size allows for a wider field of view and brighter, clearer images, even in low light conditions. The HD optical system ensures that the images are sharp and true to color, making it easier to identify even the smallest details on distant birds or wildlife.

Another key feature of this scope is its weatherproofing. The HD-ATS-80 is fully waterproof, and nitrogen purged to prevent internal fogging, so it’s great in all weather conditions. I was caught in a downpour when using it and it was totally fine.

The clarity of the image produced by this spotting scope is also great. The ED glass provides minimal chromatic aberration, which is essential for producing high-quality images. The high-resolution optics also allow for a sharp and clear image at higher magnification levels. Even when I used 60x magnification, the image was still crystal clear and sharp, and I could easily see fine details.

The Swarovski HD-ATS-80 is also built to last. The scope is incredibly strong and robust, making it ideal for use in rugged environments. The magnesium alloy body is both lightweight and durable, providing a great balance between strength and portability. I must admit I didn’t treat it too roughly, but it easily handled natural bumps as I carried with me.

The angled body design is also a great feature. I used it for a couple of hours watching wolves in Yellowstone and the angled body was very comfortable the whole time.

Overall, I am extremely impressed with the Swarovski Optik ATS 80 Spotting. The combination of its impressive lens size, weatherproofing, clarity of image, strength, and angled body design makes it the perfect choice for any serious wildlife watcher.

The only downside is its high price, but I believe that the quality of this spotting scope justifies the investment. In my opinion, this is a top-of-the-line spotting scope that is worth every penny.

close up of a wolf in yellowstone
The Swarovski HD-ATS-80 has great image quality

>> Click here to see this Swarovski spotting scope


Best Spotting Scopes For Wildlife Viewing Comparison Table 

This spotting scope comparison table lets you see the options at a glance. This focuses on the size of the lens, each scope’s key features and whether the body is straight or angled.

NameImageSizeAngled or
Straight
Key FeaturesImage Quality
(/5)
Durability
(/5)
Price
Vortex Razor

N/A

85mmBothGood colors
Very clear images
Scratch & weather resistant
4.44.2CHECK HERE
Nikon
Fieldscope AD50


N/A

50mmBothCompact & lightweight
Case & strap
Fog & water proof
4.34.2CHECK HERE
Swarovski
ATS 80


N/A

80mmAngledLifetime warranty
Crystal clear images
Waterproof to 13ft
4.84.6CHECK HERE
Swarovski
Objective Module


N/A

65 or 115mmBothUltra sharp images
Flexible modular design
Top brand
4.94.3CHECK HERE
Vortex Viper

N/A

65 or 85mmBothArmaTek coating
3D imaging
Wide or deep fields of view
4.64.3CHECK HERE
Leupold SX-2 Alpine

N/A

60mmAngledMade in the US
Lightweight & compact
Great value price
4.04.0CHECK HERE
Burris Signature HD

N/A

85mmAngledArmored body
Soft & hard cases
Protective sunshade
4.14.5CHECK HERE
Barska Blackhawk

N/A

100mmAngledIncludes folding tripod
2 cases supplied
Shockproof body
4.04.5CHECK HERE


The Top Spotting Scopes Based on Our Tests and Reviews 

Vortex Razor 

As an avid wildlife watcher, I recently had the opportunity to test out the Vortex Optics Razor HD Spotting Scope 27-60×85 – angled, and it definitely belongs in any list of the top 10 spotting scopes

The first thing that impressed me about this spotting scope is the 85mm objective lens. The larger size of the lens allows for excellent light transmission and results in bright, clear, and sharp images, even in low light conditions.

The lens is also coated with high-quality anti-reflective coatings, which helps to reduce glare and improve image contrast, making it easier to identify wildlife.

The 27-60x zoom range is perfect for both short and long-range viewing, providing enough magnification to identify targets at a distance. The zoom mechanism is smooth and easy to operate, and the focus wheel is precise and responsive.

Another great feature of this spotting scope is its weatherproofing. The body is O-ring sealed and purged with argon gas, which makes it both waterproof and fog proof. I don’t have to worry about damaging the scope or losing sight of a target due to harsh weather conditions.

In terms of build quality, the Vortex Optics Razor HD Spotting Scope feels robust and well-made. It is built to withstand rugged outdoor conditions, and I feel confident using it in any environment.

The angled body design is comfortable for extended viewing sessions, and the eyepiece can be adjusted to the user’s preferred angle. The scope also comes with a built-in sunshade, which helps to reduce glare and improve image clarity.

Overall, I highly recommend the Vortex Optics Razor HD Spotting Scope 27-60×85 – angled to any serious hunter or birder. Its exceptional image quality, weatherproofing, and sturdy construction make it a reliable and versatile tool for identifying wildlife in any environment.

>> Click here to view on ALS
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon

Pros:

  • Large 85mm objective lens provides bright, clear, and sharp images, even in low light conditions
  • High-quality anti-reflective coatings on the lens reduce glare and improve image contrast
  • 27-60x zoom range is suitable for short and long-range viewing
  • Smooth and easy to operate zoom and focus mechanisms
  • Weatherproof design with O-ring sealing and argon gas purging makes it waterproof and fog proof
  • Sturdy and well-made construction ensures durability and longevity
  • Has angled or straight versions. The angled body design provides comfortable viewing for extended periods of time
  • Comes with a built-in sunshade to reduce glare and improve image clarity

Cons:

  • Large and heavy design can be cumbersome to carry over long distances
  • We found the eyepiece and lens caps to be fiddly, especially when wearing glasses
  • No tripod is included
  • Maximum magnification of 60x may not be sufficient for long-range viewing in some situations.

Who is it perfect for?

It’s is a top-of-the-line spotting scope that’s perfect for anyone who is serious about wildlife observation. Its high-quality optics and weatherproof construction make it suitable for use in a wide range of outdoor environments. I recommend using it with a tripod/ mount.

>> Click here to view on ALS
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon


Nikon Fieldscope ED50 

I tested out the Nikon Fieldscope ED50 recently, and I have to say, I was thoroughly impressed.  It’s one of the best wildlife spotting scopes around.

One of the first things I noticed about this spotting scope is its compact size and lightweight construction. Weighing in at just over a pound, it’s incredibly portable and easy to carry with me on my outdoor adventures. Despite its small size, however, this spotting scope packs a punch when it comes to image quality.

The 50mm objective lens provides excellent light transmission, even in low light conditions, resulting in bright, clear, and vivid images. The lens is also coated with high-quality anti-reflective coatings, which helps to reduce glare and improve image contrast, making it easier to identify birds and other wildlife.

In terms of magnification, the 13-30x zoom range is more than enough for my wildlife watching needs. I particularly appreciate the ability to zoom in and out quickly, which is essential when trying to track birds in flight. The zoom mechanism is smooth and easy to operate, and the focus wheel is precise and responsive.

Another feature that I really appreciate about this spotting scope from one of the top spotting scope brands is its weatherproofing. The body is nitrogen purged and fully sealed, which means that it is resistant to both water and fog so the lens doesn’t mist up. I don’t have to worry about damaging the scope or losing sight of a bird or animal due to a sudden rain shower or change in temperature.

In terms of build quality, the 13-30x50mm FieldScope ED 50 Straight Body Spotting Scope feels sturdy and well-made. The body is constructed from high-quality materials that feel durable and robust. I feel confident using this spotting scope in rugged outdoor environments, knowing that it can withstand a few bumps and knocks.

While the straight body design may not be as comfortable for extended viewing sessions as an angled body design, it does offer its own advantages. The straight body design allows for quick and easy sighting of birds and other wildlife, making it ideal for situations where quick identification is necessary.

>> Click here to view on REI
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon

Pros: 

  • Compact and lightweight design makes it easy to carry
  • Excellent image quality thanks to the 50mm objective lens and high-quality coatings
  • Zoom range of 13-30x provides enough magnification for most wildlife viewing needs
  • Smooth zoom and focus mechanisms make it easy to adjust on the fly
  • Nitrogen purged and fully sealed body provides excellent weatherproofing
  • Sturdy and well-made construction
  • Straight body design allows for quick and easy sighting of birds and other wildlife

Cons:

  • Straight body design may not be as comfortable for extended viewing sessions as an angled body design
  • Zoom range may not be enough if you need higher magnification for long-range viewing
  • No tripod is included
  • Eyepiece was not as comfortable when I wore glasses, although it is adjustable

Who is it perfect for?

This is great for anyone looking for a compact, portable, and high-quality spotting scope for bird watching or other outdoor activities. Its small size and lightweight construction make it easy to take with you on your adventures.

These are some of the best fogproof binoculars for wildlife viewing, so it’s great if you’re going to be out in all weather conditions.

>> Click here to view on REI
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon


Swarovski Optik ATS80

If you have more cash to splash when choosing what spotting scope to buy, it’s well worth taking a look at this Swarovski spotting scope. The 80mm objective lens diameter ensures crystal clear detail, just as you might expect from this premium Austrian brand. 

We found that even when lighting is low or when we were trying to make out tiny details, this Swarovski scope produces images with realistic coloring and great transmission of light.

With a minimum focusing distance of 5 yards, this waterproof model might well be the best spotting scope for 1,000 yards or more. You can submerge it in water at depths of up to 13 feet and it comes with a lifetime warranty. 

Is this the best high end spotting scope around? Yes, this is my top pick.

>> Click here to view on ALS
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon

Pros:

  • Large 80mm lens size provides a wider field of view and brighter, crystal clear images, even in low light conditions.
  • Fully weatherproof and nitrogen purged, making it suitable for use in all weather conditions.
  • High-quality optics produce sharp and true-to-color images, with minimal chromatic aberration even at high magnification levels.
  • Withstands some pretty tough conditions
  • Angled body design allows for comfortable viewing, especially during extended observation periods.
  • Waterproof to 13 feet 

Cons:

  • Is heavier than some other spotting scopes listed here, which can make it less portable if you’re hiking far with it.
  • 60x magnification may not be necessary or suitable for all situations.
  • It’s on the expensive side, which may not be necessary if you’re a beginner or casual wildlife watcher or birder who doesn’t the quality that comes with the price.

Who is it perfect for?

It’s perfect for serious wildlife observers and bird watchers. Its larger 80mm lens size, weatherproofing, clarity of image, strength, and angled body design make it ideal for use in all kinds of environments, from dense forests to open fields. The higher price tag comes with a commensurate level of quality that you’ll appreciate if you’re a serious nature enthusiast.

These are some of the best binoculars for night time wildlife viewing, so they’re also perfect of you’re looking for nocturnal animals. 

>> Click here to view on ALS
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon


Swarovski Objective Module 

If you’re in the market for a Swarovski product, this one is only a fraction more costly than the Optik ATS80 detailed above, and is very impressive.

The 115mm objective lens size provides a super clear image with plenty of detail in even the most challenging lighting conditions. The lens is coated with SWAROVSKI’s proprietary SWAROTOP and SWARODUR coatings, which ensure maximum light transmission and a crystal-clear image.

The objective module is also completely waterproof, so it’s great to use in any outdoor environment. The construction is strong and durable, able to withstand the wear and tear of regular use.

The angled body design and precision mechanics of the module make it easy and comfortable to use for extended periods of time. The design is sleek and modern, with a high-end finish that adds to its overall appeal.

The modular design also means you can switch up the objective lens to match the viewing situation you’re in.  I tested it in poor light and I was thoroughly impressed by how well the objective module performed. It was able to deliver clear and detailed images even in low light conditions, which is crucial for wildlife observation.

>> Click here to view on ALS
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon

Pros:

  • Large 115mm objective lens size provides unparalleled clarity and detail in even the most challenging lighting conditions.
  • Superior optics with proprietary coatings ensure maximum light transmission and a crystal-clear image.
  • Completely waterproof construction makes it suitable for use in any outdoor environment.
  • Strong and durable construction is able to withstand regular use and wear and tear.
  • Angled body design and precision mechanics make it comfortable and easy to use for extended periods of time.
  • Sleek and modern design with high-end finish adds to its overall appeal.

Cons:

  • High-end features and advanced capabilities come with a higher price tag, so it’s best for serious wildlife enthusiasts who are looking for a serious investment.
  • The large objective lens size also means that it is heavier and bulkier compared to other objective modules, which can make it less portable and more cumbersome to use in the field.
  • The module is only compatible with specific models of SWAROVSKI spotting scopes (ATX/STX/BTX), limiting its versatility across different brands or models.

Who is it perfect for?

This is perfect for anyone who’s looking for the highest level of quality in their spotting scope and who are willing to invest in the best. Its combination of superior optics, durability, and ease of use make it a must-have for any serious wildlife enthusiast. It is especially suitable for those who frequently observe wildlife in challenging lighting conditions, such as early morning or late evening.

>> Click here to view on ALS
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon


Vortex Viper HD 

If you’re looking for he best spotting scope for under 1,000 dollars, the Vortex Viper is a great option. It’s available as a 20-60×85 or 15-45×65 model. You can also pick between straight and angled versions. 

As an avid wildlife watcher, I’ve tried countless spotting scopes over the years, and the Vortex Optics Viper HD Spotting Scope stands out from the crowd in this price range. The image quality isn’t quite what you’ll get in more expensive models, but this is a very solid choice.

For one thing, the image quality is very good. The 85mm objective lens provides a bright and clear image, even in low light conditions. When we tested it, we found that the HD optical system provided high resolution images with lifelike colors.

The field of view on this spotting scope is also impressive, with a wide-angle view at 20x magnification and a narrower view at 60x magnification. This allows you to easily locate your subject and then zoom in for a closer look.

The style of the Viper HD is sleek and modern, with a durable magnesium alloy body that feels solid in your hands. The rubber armor provides a secure grip and protects against bumps and scrapes. I didn’t do anything too hardcore, but it easily stood up to natural usage.

I also liked that the angled model allows you to mount it lower down. This means you can use a smaller tripod, and also offers superior stability.

One of the features that I particularly appreciate is the adjustable eyecup. The eyecup twists up and down, so you can adjust it for your comfort and to block out stray light, even when wearing eyeglasses. This is especially helpful when observing wildlife for extended periods of time.

The 3D effect is also noteworthy, providing a lifelike viewing experience that truly brings your subject to life. This feature makes it easier to track moving animals and really immerse yourself in the wildlife watching experience.

>> Click here to view on ALS
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon

Pros:

  • Exceptional image quality with bright and clear images, even in low light conditions
  • Wide field of view at low magnification and narrow view at high magnification
  • Sleek and modern design with a durable magnesium alloy body
  • Adjustable eyecup for comfortable and customizable viewing
  • 3D effect for lifelike viewing experience
  • Comes with a lifetime warranty

Cons:

  • Slightly heavy and bulky compared to some other spotting scopes
  • No included carrying case or tripod, which need to be purchased separately

Who is this perfect for?

This is a great choice for any serious wildlife watcher looking for a mid-range model. It’s a durable and reliable spotting scope that delivers exceptional image quality, a wide field of view, and a host of other features that make it a pleasure to use.

>> Click here to view on ALS
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon


Leupold SX-2 Alpine 

No spotting scope guide would be complete without a great budget option or two. The first contender as best spotting scope for under $500 is the impressive Leupold SX-2 Alpine.  

If you don’t want to spend a huge amount of money on a telescope for wildlife viewing, then this is a great choice.

The image quality is good for a spotting scope in this price range. The HD lens system and 60mm objective lens work together to produce bright and clear images, even in low light conditions. I was able to easily identify and observe wildlife from a distance, and the 20-60x zoom allowed me to switch between a wider field of view and more detailed observations at higher magnifications.

Durability is also a major selling point for the Leupold SX-2 Alpine HD. The scope is constructed from rugged, lightweight materials that can withstand the elements and rough handling in the field. The armor coating adds an extra layer of protection against scratches and impacts.

The scope is advertised as waterproof and fog proof, which was especially useful during early morning and late evening observations when the air was humid. Through I tried it out in the early morning when the air was humid and although I was impressed with the quality of the images for the price, the lens fogged up a bit in the early morning.

Despite this drawback, if you want the best spotting scope for long distance viewing and don’t want to spend too much, this Leupold spotting scope is a solid choice.

>> Click here to view on Sportsman’s Warehouse
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon

Pros:

  • Great value for money: the HD lens system and 60mm objective lens provide good image quality for the money
  • Lightweight & compact make it a good choice for longer trips, especially if you’re hiking
  • Rugged and durable construction with armor coating
  • Made in the U.S.

Cons:

  • Expect minor color fringing 
  • Lens not fully fog proof 
  • Tripod included with scope is basic and not as stable as higher-end options

Who is this perfect for?

This is a great option for someone who doesn’t want to spend too much.  It’s best if you’ll be in dry conditions.

>> Click here to view on Sportsman’s Warehouse
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon


Burris Signature HD 

I took this out on a winter hike to try it out and although it was bit heavy for our hike, it did great with glare of the snow.

The image quality was great, delivering clear images even when it was very cold. The color reproduction is accurate, and the details are sharp even at maximum zoom. I was especially pleased with the low-light performance, which made it possible to spot wildlife in dimly lit environments.

It’s one of the largest spotting scope options listed here and features an armored, die-cast body that makes it very durable. The body is made of sturdy materials that can withstand the rigors of outdoor use. The lens is coated with a special material that protects it from scratches and other damages. Even after using it on several trips, I didn’t notice any signs of wear and tear, which is a testament to its durability.

Another notable feature of the Burris Signature HD Spotting Scope is the eyecups, which are adjustable to accommodate eyeglass wearers.

The integral sunshade is also a nice touch, as it reduces glare and makes it easier to use the scope in bright sunlight and also helps guard the lens against rain or snow.

The rotating tripod that comes with the scope is also sturdy and provides a stable base for the scope.

>> Click here to view on Sportsman’s Warehouse 
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon

Pros:

  • Die-cast, armored body 
  • Hard shell & neoprene cases 
  • Good in extreme temperatures 
  • Excellent image and color quality, even at maximum zoom
  • Low-light performance is impressive
  • Durable body and scratch-resistant lens coating
  • Adjustable eyecups for eyeglass wearers
  • Sunshade reduces glare in bright sunlight
  • Sturdy tripod provides a stable base

Cons:

  • Heavier & bulkier than some others making it unsuitable if you’re hiking with it.
  • The focusing mechanism is a bit stiff at times. 

Who is this perfect for?

Budget-conscious wildlife viewers who will be in high glare situations, e.g. around water or snow BUT won’t need to hike and carry it very far.

>> Click here to view on Sportsman’s Warehouse 
 
>> Click here to see on Amazon 


Barska Blackhawk

For bird and wildlife watching on a budget, the Barska Blackhawk is one of the best zoom spotting scope for the money. 

We tested it in different lights and over several distances.  It’s fitted with a 100mm objective lens, so it performed well during dawn or dusk when there are lower levels of natural lighting, as you’d expect.  The image was less clear over long distances, but given the price, this is a good spotting scope for 1,000 yards or less.

The scope’s durability is also noteworthy, as it’s built to withstand harsh outdoor conditions. The waterproof and fog-proof construction ensures that it’s always ready for use, regardless of the weather. The sunshade is also a welcome addition, as it reduces glare and makes it easy to use in bright sunlight as well as offering extra protection for the lens.

It comes complete with a folding mini tripod, which provides a stable base for the scope, ensuring that it doesn’t wobble or shake during use. The cases that come with the scope are also handy, as they make it easy to transport and protect the scope during travel.

>> Click here to see on Amazon

Pros:

  • Comes with handy hard and soft cases for transport and protection and shockproof, armored casing
  • Foldable mini tripod supplied 
  • The sunshade helps protect against glare in bright sunlight and provides protection for the lens

Cons:

  • The size and weight are a pain if you’re hiking with it. Most suitable if you’re just setting up beside your vehicle. 
  • the image is not as clear as more expensive models, so it’s better for shorter distances (under 1,000 yards). 

Who is this perfect for?

This is a great choice if you have an eye on your budget, aren’t taking it hiking (or need to carry it long distances) and will be focusing on animals or birds less than 1,000 yards away.

>> Click here to see on Amazon


Viewing Scopes: Other Things You’ll Need 

Spotting Scope Covers

While many spotting scope covers are brand-specific, there is a decent, versatile option available. This is the Hazard 4 Optics case, which can carry all sorts of spotting and photography equipment and accessories. The spotting scope cover has removable padded inserts, a daisy chain and outer pocket, plus a long strap for carrying.  

Click here to view this spotting scope cover


Spotting Scope Mount

You may also need a spotting scope mount for your vehicle. If you’re out looking for dangerous wildlife, this allows you to see bison, bears or other large creatures from the safety of your car. A Vortex Optics mount is a reliable choice from a big brand, and has been built to last the distance. 

Click here to see this spotting scope mount 


Spotting Scope Carrying Bag

If you’d like a more conventional carry bag than the sling pack detailed above, there’s one specially designed for spotting scopes and small telescopes. While it’s compact, most spotting scopes will fit inside. There are also larger telescope bags available for bigger models. 

Click here to view this spotting scope carry bag 


Spotting Scope Lenses

Investing in a telephoto lens system can help you take top quality pictures more easily when using it with your spotting scope. The Swarovski one, for example, works with their ATX and STX scopes and is covered by a two-year limited warranty. Once set up, this is very simple and effective.

Click here to see this spotting scope lens 


Things to Consider when Buying a Spotting Scope for Wildlife ? 

Magnification

A higher magnification is useful when watching animals further away, but it can also lead to image instability (think ‘wobble’ – this is where a mount can really help) and reduced brightness. A spotting scope with a variable magnification allows for greater flexibility and versatility.

Objective lens size

The size of the objective lens determines the amount of light that enters the spotting scope and, consequently, the brightness and clarity of the image produced.

Larger objective lenses provide brighter and clearer images, but they also tend to be heavier and more expensive. I recommend choosing a lens with a diameter of 50mm or more. An objective lens of this size should provide you with clear, well-lit images.  

Quality of optics

High-quality optics produce sharper, clearer, and more vibrant images, with minimal chromatic aberration and distortion. The higher the quality of the optics, the higher the price.

Build quality and durability

A spotting scope that is durable and tough is essential, especially if it is going to be used in rugged environments. A spotting scope made from high-quality materials, such as magnesium alloy or polycarbonate, is likely to be more durable and long-lasting.

Weather resistance

Look out for weatherproofing too, so you can use it outdoors during all conditions. If you plan to use your spotting scope in all weather conditions, you should consider a model that is fully weatherproof and nitrogen purged to prevent internal fogging.

Comfort

A spotting scope should be comfortable and easy to use, especially if it will be used for extended periods. An angled body design allows for more comfortable viewing, while a rubberized grip and lightweight materials make it easier to carry and use.

Price

The price of a spotting scope can vary widely, from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. It’s important to consider your budget and choose a spotting scope that provides the best value for your money, based on your needs and requirements. I’ve included a range prices here, so you can choose the best option for your budget.

Close focus distance

If you’re going to be looking at wildlife up close, for example butterflies or birds, then you’ll want a spotting scope with a close focus distance of 10-15 feet or less.

Image quality in low light conditions

Since wildlife is often most active during dawn and dusk, it’s important to choose a spotting scope that provides high-quality images in low light conditions. Look for a spotting scope with a larger objective lens size and high-quality coatings to maximize light transmission.

Portability

Wildlife observation often involves hiking and moving around, so choose a spotting scope that is lightweight and portable, without sacrificing image quality or durability.

Field of view

A spotting scope with a larger objective lens and lower magnification provides a wider field of view, making it easier to track animals as they move.

Durability

Shock and scratch resistance are also practical features. You may find yourself in rugged environments, so choose a spotting scope that is durable and tough enough to withstand the elements. A case can also be useful for protection and transportation.

Eye relief

A spotting scope with good eye relief is essential for wildlife observation, as it allows you to view the entire image without squinting or straining your eyes.

Image stabilization

Some spotting scopes come with image stabilization technology, which can be useful when viewing wildlife from a distance or in windy conditions. This technology helps to reduce image shake and produce clearer, more stable images.


Choosing Top Rated Spotting Scopes – Frequently Asked Questions 

Should I use a spotting scope or a telescope? 

The first thing to think about is this. Do you really need – or want – a spotting scope? If you’re just getting started with wildlife viewing and it’s not yet a major interest, then you may be okay using a pair of binoculars instead.  
Check out this guide to buying the best binoculars for wildlife viewing for more info about binoculars.  

How about a straight vs an angled spotting scope? 

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether to go for an angled or a straight spotting scope. So, what’s the deal with a spotting scope – straight vs angled?  
An angled spotting scope can often be placed on a lower tripod. This gives added stability. The angle can also make it easier to look through.  
Some people prefer the straight models, though. These can be simpler to pack and carry, as they’re more streamlined. As with many items, the choice really comes down to personal preference.  

What about a spotting scope vs. a telescope? 

A spotting scope is more portable, easier to use and often more robust than a telescope. If you’re zooming in on wildlife rather than the night skies, a spotting scope is ideal.  
For getting a closer look at animals, birds or plants from a distance, a spotting scope is the best choice. It’s also a much more compact and lightweight option than a long, bulky telescope.  

Should I buy a spotting scope with a reticle? 

So, what’s a reticle? This is the grid-like lines you sometimes see on an optical device. Such as when a sniper is focusing on their target in a movie or game.  
While they can help you focus on an object, they’re not necessary for wildlife viewing. For shooting or military use, however, a spotting scope with a mil reticle is ideal.  

How does a spotting scope work? 

A spotting scope is like a more advanced version of a set of binoculars, though it has one lens rather than two. As you look through this lens, a prism is used to divide light up, creating two images.  
These pictures are then transformed into one clear, viewable image. You’ll need a tripod when using a spotting scope for stability. You can then swivel the lens around as you like.  

Can you take photographs with a spotting scope? 

Yes, you can.  If you’re wondering how to use a spotting scope for taking pictures, it’s simply a matter of lining up the lends and the eyepiece correctly. Adapters are available if you need assistance.  
Practice can also make perfect when it comes to snapping great shots when using a spotter scope in conjunction with your camera! 

What about a bluetooth spotting scope?

You can buy WiFi spotting scope cameras to use with your spotting scope. They will allow you to see images displayed on your phone screen. The pictures are transmitted via bluetooth.  


Which Is The Best Wildlife Viewing Scope For You? 

Hopefully this guide has helped you decide whether or not to invest in a spotting scope. Buying a good quality one really can open up your world of wildlife viewing, which is ideal when you head out to national parks.  

Interested in binoculars? Then why not check out our guides to the best binoculars under $100, $200 or $300? 

Good luck wildlife viewing!   

Do you have another pick for the best spotting scopes?  I’d love to hear what it is.  Join my private Facebook group National Parks Collectors and comment and let me know (you can also pick up extra planning tips, share your photos and stories with other national park lovers and more).   

If you liked this post about spotting scopes, please share the love and Pin It to your Outdoor Gear board!   

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About the Reviewer

James Ian Yosemite

James Ian is a national park, camping and hiking expert.

He has dedicated his life to travel, visiting more than 80 countries, all 7 continents and all of the main national parks in the United States. With over 35 years experience in the travel industry, James has worked on cruise ships, at resorts and hotels, and as a travel planner who’s helped hundreds of people plan successful trips to US national parks. 

Based on his experience visiting our national parks multiple times, in-depth research and expertise as a travel planner, James has published detailed itineraries for most of the major national parks in the US. These itineraries, as well as in-depth park guides, comprehensive camping and hiking gear reviews and buying guides, and helpful packing lists and gift guides will help you have your own incredible trip to US national parks without stress and hassle.

As a national park expert, James has contributed to many publications, including Time Business News, Savoteur, Best Trip, and Wired.

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