What is a Spotting Scope?

A spotting scope is an optical device used for observing distant objects in better detail. Spotting scopes are typically mounted to a tripod and are used in a variety of outdoor activities hunting, target shooting, and scouting for game. In many ways, a spotting scope is basically a small, less powerful telescope. It uses the same types of lenses and prisms to gather light and magnify an image, but to a lesser degree than a telescope. 

Spotting scopes are much more powerful than binoculars and quite different in many ways. Hunters or target shooters rely heavily on the higher magnification and superior image quality in long range settings. They are not as portable as binoculars, but are much more capable than binoculars at providing users with the ability to view objects with clarity from significant distances. 

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about spotting scopes and how they can be a useful part of an outdoor enthusiast’s gear inventory. 

Uses of Spotting Scopes

Birdwatching and Wildlife Viewing

Spotting scopes are essential tools in birdwatching and wildlife viewing. They enable wildlife enthusiasts to observe animals closely, often from great distances, without disturbing them. Spotting scopes are particularly valuable to birdwatchers. Their powerful magnification and image clarity provides users with the ability to discern intricate feather patterns and behaviors, aiding in accurate identification of bird species. 

Spotting scopes produce sharp, detailed images from a distance, making them perfect for spotting shy or rare species. These devices make it much easier for users to view and capture the behaviors of wildlife in their natural habitats without encroaching on them. Spotting scopes are a reliable tool in observing the most elusive animals and can be a valuable investment for any wildlife enthusiast. 


Spotting scopes are an invaluable tool for hunters. They allow hunters to identify game animals from long distances well beyond the capability of standard binoculars. A hunter can use a spotting scope to carefully and quietly scan the landscape around them and be aware of the presence of their prey without spooking wildlife. 

Spotting scopes make it easy to observe the behavior of game animals and track their movements from a remote location. This gives hunters the advantage of being able to strategize and plan their approach for a shot with minimal chance of alerting their target. Having the ability to observe from afar ensures hunters can make ethical decisions about when and how to take a shot. They aid hunters in accomplishing both a successful and responsible hunt. 

Long Range Shooting & Archery

Spotting scopes are indispensable gear items for long-range shooting and archery. They enable shooters to view shot groupings on distant targets and allow for immediate feedback in shooting accuracy, as well as adjustments that need to be made in any subsequent shots. Long range target shooters rely on spotting scopes to view the subtle effects of wind and calculate accurate shots based on their observations. 

Archery is another activity in which spotting scopes provide distinct advantages. These devices provide users with a clear view of arrow groupings on targets, but they also assist shooters in tournament settings. Archers can utilize spotting scopes to gain a clear view of kill zones on the target and adjust their aim for a higher score. 

Astronomy & Stargazing

Spotting scopes can also be a viable alternative to telescopes when it comes to astronomy and stargazing. Their magnification is not as powerful as standard telescopes, but spotting scopes can be used to enjoy a more detailed view of the moon, the rings of Saturn and other planets, as well as bright stars and nearby astronomical objects. 

Many astronomy enthusiasts view spotting scopes as a handy tool for beginners to become acquainted with observing the night sky. A spotting scope is typically much easier to set up and adjust compared to standard telescopes, which require users to select correct lenses and be more precise in setting up their tripod. 

Outdoor Sports

Spotting scopes are a great item to have for enjoying a host of different outdoor sports or activities. Many people prefer using spotting scopes at overlooks near the mountains or coastal areas. They can be a vital tool for anyone’s emergency/survival kit as the powerful magnification will be helpful in spotting important resources, as well as aiding in search and rescue efforts. 

Adding a spotting scope to the other gear in your backpack is a great idea for day hikes or overnight backcountry camping trips. Having a spotting scope in these settings will allow users to enjoy viewing nature and wildlife during the day, and a sharper picture of objects in the night sky, far away from light pollution. 

Key Features of Spotting Scopes

Magnification and Lens Size

Spotting scopes typically feature magnification ranges from 15x to 60x. The objective lens size, or diameter, usually varies between 50mm to 80mm. The size of the objective lens determines the scope’s light gathering capabilities. Larger lenses produce brighter images but are heavier and increase the overall weight and size of the scope. 

It’s important to strike a balance between a spotting scope’s magnification and stability. Scopes with higher magnifications should be used with a steady mount or tripod for better stability and to prevent image blur when zooming in on faraway objects. 

Angled vs Straight Body Design

Spotting scopes come in two basic design types: angled and straight body. Angled spotting scopes are made with the eyepiece at a 45-degree angle to the lens, which makes it easier to use when standing for extended periods, and sharing the scope with users of different heights. Angled scopes are ideal for birdwatching or general viewing. 

Straight body scopes align the eyepiece and lens directly. This type of scope allows for quick target acquisition and is preferable for hunters and target shooters lying prone or looking downward. Angled designs are more ergonomic for long observation periods while straight scopes offer simplicity and speed in spotting targets.

Zoom vs Fixed Power

Spotting scopes that offer variable zoom allow users to adjust the magnification level to suit different viewing conditions. However, fixed power scopes offer a single magnification level, and often provide better clarity and light transmission due to simpler lens construction. Users can expect enhanced image brightness and detail in fixed spotting scope models.

Eyepiece Options

Spotting scope models with retractable eyecups adapt to users with or without glasses. Wide-angle eyepieces provide a broader field of view (FOV), enhancing the viewing experience and making it easier to track moving subjects. 

Shop Spotting Scopes from Optics Force

If you’re ready to magnify your performance in the outdoors, check out our selections of spotting scopes and their accessories

Some of our most popular spotting scopes include:

Our experts are ready and willing to provide you with buying guidance and resources, as well as our own outdoor optic expertise to help recommend some of the makes and models that would be an ideal fit for your next adventure. 

Spotting Scope FAQs

How do I properly mount my spotting scope?

To properly mount a spotting scope, use a sturdy tripod with a fluid head. This will allow for smooth adjustments while minimizing wobble when viewing objects at long distance. A window mount is recommended for viewing from a vehicle. The window mount will secure the scope to the car window and provide a much more steady viewing experience. 

What magnification do I really need?

The magnification you need depends on the type of activity and distance to the subject. For general use, a range of 20x to 40x offers good versatility that will allow you to cover distances up to a few miles with clear visibility. Higher magnifications offer detailed views, but require greater stability to counteract image tremors and atmospheric distortions. FInding the right balance between magnification power and stability is key. 

Do I need an angled or straight spotting scope

Selecting the best spotting scope design depends on the type of activity in which it will be used. An angled scope is better for casual viewing in which users can stand up, and makes it much easier to share the scope with users of differing heights. Straight scopes are better suited for activities like hunting when users tend to be lying prone or kneeling. Straight models will also provide better visual quality. 

How do phone adapters work with spotting scopes?

Phone adapters make it possible for users to attach smartphones to spotting scope eyepieces, allowing the scope’s view to be captured on the phone's camera. These devices typically clamp around the scope’s eyepiece, securing the phone in place for photography or video recording. While they may slightly reduce image quality compared to dedicated cameras, phone adapters offer impressive results. Removable eyepieces are often required for compatibility with phone adapters.


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