Spotting scopes have many different uses, with the top three being wildlife viewing, hunting, and birding. However, there are so many scopes on the market today it can be difficult to find a high-quality, affordable scope.
In my own search for the best spotting scopes under $1000, I discovered there are some key factors to consider. These include the individual components of each product, as well as whether you need a spotting scope or binoculars.
Spotting Scope Considerations
When considering a spotting scope, each part plays an important role. Even obscure seemingly unimportant pieces of a scope should be of the highest quality if you want to enjoy using it. Remember, this type of product is the sum of all of its parts. Present below are some factors to keep in mind on your search.
The objective lens is the lens furthest from your eye, and refers to the amount of light a spotting scope can gather. The larger the objective lens, the clearer the image. This makes the product heavier and larger. Keep that in mind if you plan on traveling or hiking with your spotting scope.
Most objective lenses are between 50 mm and 100 mm. For birding, the Audubon Society recommends a size range between 50 mm and 80 mm. For most other activities, less than 60mm won’t provide a bright enough image.
There are two different high-quality lens coatings used by manufacturers today. Those are High Density (HD) and Extra-Low Dispersion (ED). The best spotting scopes feature one of these two coverings. If you plan on viewing in low-light or on high power, either HD or ED is a necessity.
The magnification of most spotting scopes ranges between 15x and 60x. Unlike binoculars, this visual aid is not described by its power. This is due to the fact that the magnification changes with eyepieces.
There are two different kinds of eyepieces: fixed and zoom. Fixed pieces are interchangeable, which means you can remove them. Zoom eyepieces are permanently attached.
No matter what type you use, scan the area with a low power to locate your object. We recommend between 20x and 30x magnification. Then, switch to a higher power to see all the beautiful details.
If you need to move between the two quickly, zoom lenses offer the fastest transition. This is extremely helpful if you plan to use your spotting scope for birdwatching, wildlife viewing, or animal stalking.
If you wear eyeglasses, you need to pay extra attention to eye relief. A longer number is better for those that wear glasses. The relief makes up for the difference by allowing the user to see the complete field of view. Between 12 and 15 millimeters is good for most wearers.
If you don’t wear glasses, you will want to remove the rubber eyecup from inside. Not all models have this feature, but if you wear glasses you want to look for it.
Straight or Angled
This refers to the placement of the eyepiece. A straight eyepiece is intuitive and allows quick and easy viewing. However, bird and wildlife watchers especially can benefit from the angled eyepiece. The 45-degrees allows for a shorter, more stable tripod, as well as better views above the skyline.
Focusing is usually done by adjusting a knob on the scope’s barrel. Some more advanced models have two rings, and the extra allows for finer tuning. Focusing close up can be helpful for hunters, researchers, and wildlife lovers alike! For birdwatching, find a focus down to at least 20 feet, but the lower the number the details you can see.
Some spotting scopes have been created to brave the elements. Some are waterproof, dustproof, and/or shockproof. If you plan on using your viewing tool in the rain, in the desert, on fishing trip, or on a safari, or you simply have butterfingers, these protections are worth looking into.
Tripods are usually sold separately from the spotting scope. If a tripod is included, it is typically lower quality. When deciding on the best tripod, choose one that is strong and sturdy with very few leg adjustments. To account for uneven ground, look for a product with flip locks.
Some types of optical aids include a rangefinder. We cover these more fully in Spotting Scope with Build in Rangefinder.
3 Best Spotting Scopes Under $1000
Best for Hunting – Vortex Razor
If you plan to hunt, we recommend the Vortex Razor for your next outing. Included with the Razor is an eyepiece cap, objective lens cover, and see through carrying case. These all help keep your spotting scope in tip-top shape no matter what the conditions.
In terms of lens quality, this Vortex features premium HD glass with extra-low dispersion. This, paired with the XRPlus full multi-coat, helps create a high-resolution image of the animals you are observing. Additionally, the anti-reflective coating on all air-on-glass lens surfaces allows for a bright picture so you can keep an eye on even the most well-camouflaged prey.
This scope is angled. However, there is a straight version available. The whole thing weighs 6.6 pounds, the objective lens zooms from 48mm to 65mm, and the magnification is 16x. The beauty of the Vortex Razor is the ability to attach it to your rifle with four, T-15 Torx cap screws.
Best for Wildlife Viewing – Geoma 5891 ED 82-S
If you are interested in watching wildlife, the Geoma 5891 is a good option for you. It is waterproof, so it works well for taking out to your backyard or across the world on a safari. It only weighs 2.9 pounds, so it is easy to take on your travels or hikes. This spotting scope takes it a step further with a nitrogen sealed body for total waterproofing.
The lenses feature a multi-coating and ED glass for a clear, multi-dimensional experience. Like the Vortex Ranger, this spotting scope also features air-to-glass surface protection for a detailed picture. There is also a dual focus system, so you can see the nitty-gritty details.
This spotting scope features straight-through watching, as well as a tripod adaptor block that rotates for a wide range of viewing. The objective lens is 82mm, and long eye relief is offered by the GLH-48 (magnification) zoom telescoping eyepiece. If you are interested in higher magnification, this brand’s eyepieces are interchangeable.
Best for Birding – Vortex Optics Viper HD
The Vortex Optics Viper HD is a spotting scope made with bird watching in mind. Through rain or fog, you will be able to take your viewing optic outside due to the argon purged, O-ring sealed body. If your adventures take you on an adventure, this trim, packable scope can fit easily in a backpack.
The HD lenses on this vortex are coated with XR anti-reflective coating. This keeps the views clear in lower light. Not only that, but there is a built-in sunshade to reduce glare even further. To protect the lenses from scratches, an Armortex coating keeps out dirt and dust while increasing grip.
Although an angled spotting scope, you can also purchase the Viper in a straight model for a few dollars less. The magnification is 20x, and the objective lens zooms between 60mm and 85mm. If you are a glasses wearer, you will be happy to know there are a multi-position eyecup and a locking collar for even easier use.
Spotting Scopes Versus Binoculars
Before you drop $1000 on a spotting scope, make sure you need one. Sometimes, binoculars can give you all the range you need at a lower cost. However, both have their benefits, so it’s worth considering the differences.
Both products can be invaluable. However, brush and short distance hunting, viewing, and birdwatching are perfect for the lower power of binoculars. They also work well in the swamp, brush, and old logging trails.
If you plan to do most of your viewing in hills, ridges, mountains, and prairies, spotting scopes are by far the best option. They are also great for spotting and stalking animals at a longer range due to their overall greater power. They also often have adjustable eye-cups for use with sunglasses.
If viewing wildlife, including birds, spotting scopes can focus on the gorgeous details of the animal. Since these models are so heavy, they require a stand and are best for sitting back and watching.
For more active watchers, binoculars are easier to handle due to their lighter weight. Additionally, the wider field of view makes them perfect for tracking bird’s movements. Best Binoculars Under $1000 offers a more in-depth review.
How to Use a Spotting Scope
Never used a spotting scope before? It can seem daunting. Fortunately, the process isn’t too bad! I found it’s just a matter of practice. No one uses a spotting scope perfectly the first time, but you can come close by following these instructions!
Step 1: Get into Position
Whether you are hunting or viewing for research or pleasure, it is important to get into a good position. Depending on your purpose, you might be in the same position for a long while. If that’s the case, you will want to take a sitting position. However, you can also stand.
Step 2: Mount
Now, it’s time to mount your product to the tripod. Since scopes have such precise power, any movement by the user will greatly affect the image. This even applies to the lowest power on the cheapest spotting scope.
Step 3: Adjust Distance
Now, decide where you want to place the tripod. Whether you sit or stand, it should be in a position that feels comfortable to use. The longer you are in that position, the more you will appreciate wisely placing your viewing tool.
Step 4: Adjust Magnification
Once the viewing tool is in position and mounted, adjust the magnification. The picture should be relatively clear without having yet fixed the focus.
Step 5: Adjust Focus
The final step is adjusting the focus. You do this by finding what you want to look at in detail. Then, set the optic to see your target. At first, this proved difficult for me, However, it is important to have the clearest picture possible to reduce eye strain.
For you visual learners, check out this video from the experts at MossBack:
One Final Word on Spotting Scopes
Choosing a high-quality, affordable spotting scope can be difficult. However, it doesn’t have to be impossible. Just remember to choose your viewing aid based on how and where you plan to use it. Whether hunting, birdwatching, or wildlife viewing, the products reviewed are all top options.
What inexpensive spotting scope do you use? Is there a fantastic product we left off the list? Let us know in the comments below. And don’t forget to like, comment, and share!