How to Choose a Spotting Scope for Birding

If you are looking to take your birding experience a notch higher and wondering how to choose a spotting scope for birding, you have come to the right place. In this article, we will show you how to choose the best spotting scope for bird watching and take you through all the top factors you should consider in your decision-making process.

Spotting scopes are one of the most versatile sighting instruments available in the optics world. They are excellent sighting tool for birding, hunting, astronomy, wildlife viewing, ocean viewing and so many more. If you are ready to invest in one and add it in your collection of optics, being more specific about the kind of application you will be using it for helps with making the right purchase.

For birding applications, spotting scopes have long been a favorite among most avid birders. The broad zoom power in spotting scopes makes them the ideal tool for observing the birds at a distance. You will also have the added advantage of seeing the plumage that is hard to see through binoculars. monocular and any other optics. Besides, some spotting scopes allow for Digiscoping when you attach your smartphone or digital camera on the eyepiece.

Like any other optics, the market of spotting scope is so diverse. For this reason, you need to factor in your individual birding needs when looking for the right model for your expeditions.

Let’s start by taking a look at the types of spotting scopes available on the market today.

Types of Spotting Scopes

There are two basic designs of spotting scopes: angled and straight. Both models have their advantages, disadvantages and the applications they are best suited for.

Generally, an angled spotting scope has the eyepiece at an angle with the ocular lens. As such, you will be peering down the eyepiece during use. On the other hand, straight spotting scopes have the eyepiece in line with the ocular use. During use, you will be looking straight ahead to see the targets.

For bird watching excursions, a spotting scope with an angular eyepiece design is better than a straight one because of the following reasons:

  • Ease of Use. Angled spotting scopes are easier to use particularly during extended glassing periods. They are much more comfortable both on the neck and eyes
  • Ease of Sharing. A spotting scope with an angular eyepiece design is more convenient to share among users of different heights. If you set it at certain height, more people will be able to look through the eyepiece without the need to make regular adjustments
  • Digiscoping-ready. It is significantly easier to use an angled spotting scope for Digiscoping compared to the straight counterparts. Besides, some models come with all the accessories you need to start Digiscoping immediately you receive your scope

How to Choose a Spotting Scope for Digiscoping: Key Things to Consider

A spotting scope for birding is a big investment. It is therefore important to buy the right scope the first time and avoid the pain of having to go back to the market to look for another better unit. Below is a list of the most important factors you need to consider before you decide to settle on any specific unit.

Magnification Power

Every spotting scope for birding has a set of numbers in its configuration. The first set of numbers represent the magnification range/zoom power. Typically, magnification can be hard to get right especially for the beginners in birding.

Most of the people think that the higher the magnification a spotting scope has, the better. This isn’t always the case. For birding, we recommend that you get a unit whose magnification power ranges anywhere from 15x to 60x.

Such spotting scopes are ideal for watching the birds at close and long-ranges. On top of that, they strike a perfect balance between field of view and closer focus.

Objective Lens

The second number in a spotting scope’s configuration represents objective lens diameter. Too big of a lens makes the spotting scope big and cumbersome to carry. On the other hand, too small of a lens and you will have a difficult time having bright image views in the less ideal lighting conditions.

Most of the modern spotting scopes have an objective lens range between 50mm and 80mm. This range is more than sufficient for most birding excursions.


Build quality is the other important thing to consider when trying to figure out how to choose a spotting scope for birding. A spotting scope is meant to be a long-term investment. It is therefore important to find a unit that is crafted with durability and longevity in mind. The housing should be from the most durable materials preferably aluminum alloy. Over and above that, the body should have a rubber armor which is responsible for providing extra shield from shock and elements.

Quality of the Optics

Next, look at the quality of the optics the spotting scope has. Some models will yield better, bright and clear images than others depending on the glass used. Other factors that also affect the image quality include size of the aperture and the coating process on the lenses.

Spotting scopes with fully multi-coated lenses allow for greater light collection capacity. As a result, the images produced are bright and rich in clarity. With optics, models with either ED or HD are the most outstanding. They maximize resolution and color accuracy both of which are vital for birding.

Eye Relief

If you are new in the field of optics and wondering how to choose a spotting scope for birding, eye relief is another critical thing to take into account. This is the distance you have to put your eye the furthest from the scope’s eyepiece and still see a clear image.

Eye relief is measured in mm and varies from one spotting scope to the other. We recommend that you get a unit that has at least 15mm eye relief if you don’t wear eyeglasses and 18mm and above if you wear eyeglasses.

Weatherproof Construction

In most cases, bird watching takes place outdoors. Whenever you are outdoor, your scope is predisposed to elements more so when you use it in extreme weather conditions. As such, features like waterproof and fog proof protection are desirable.

Proper sealing of the optical tube makes a spotting scope waterproof and dust proof. The scope should also be filled with an inert gas to prevent fog from building up inside the optics when you move it to an area with a significantly higher humidity/temperature gradient.

Read Also

Do I Need a Tripod for My Spotting Scope?

Yes, you do. For bird watching, investing in a spotting scope tripod is essential if you want to make your glassing sessions more comfortable. A tripod takes the weight of the spotting scope off your hands and keeps it stable even in the highest magnification setting. As a result, you get to enjoy your glassing sessions as well as use the spotting scope fully.

Parting Shots

Hopefully, you have found this post on how to choose a spotting scope for birding to be of great help. Whatever you do, make sure that you find a spotting scope that you won’t regret purchasing. After you get your scope, make sure to take good care of it so it lasts for a long period of time.