What Is a Spotting Scope, and What Are Its Uses?

A spotting scope is a long, high powered telescope with a large eyepiece that is generally used during hunting, photography, bird watching and astrophotography.

Spotting scopes can be used with binoculars, cameras, or telephoto lenses to raise the magnification of any one or several of these devices (with the same optical zoom). The spotting scope’s eyepiece will then magnify the entire field of view as if it was a single lens with a magnification.

The eyepiece magnifies objects many times their normal size. It is highly effective in low light and functions well during daytime hours when lighting conditions allow, making it a versatile magnification tool and an all-around useful optical tool for any outdoorsman.

A spotting scope’s greatest asset is its ability to zoom in on objects far from you. This is why it’s so popular at sporting events such as target shooting, race tracks and golf tournaments.

Most spotting scopes will have clear, sharp images even in the lowest light conditions and achieve higher magnifications than a standard camera.

Many models have an attached tripod to make it even easier to view objects at a great distance. Most models are equipped with the option to view both horizontally and vertically without much adjustment or without having to switch out parts like you would with a telescope.

What Do You Use a Spotting Scope For?

Spotting scope

Spotting scopes are commonly used in the field of optics, which provide a better visual when performing outdoor activities by viewing them through the scope’s magnifying eyepiece.

They are very common in a tactical or hunting setting, typically used for shooting game and hunting small animals.

However, you can use a spotting scope for anything. You can use it to obtain perspectives for photography or videography as well as to acquire sights for hunting and bird watching. You can also use it for performing surveillance or verifying a shot when target shooting clay pigeons or paper targets from long distances. The high magnification ability means spotting scopes are excellent when capturing images of things far away from you, such as large buildings or distant objects.

Astronomers and naturalists have also used spotting scopes to view distant celestial objects with ease and accuracy.

Some spotting scopes can even double as a microscope or magnifier for studying small insects, rocks and other hard to reach items.

There are many different styles and models of spotting scopes on the market, but they all serve the same purpose of allowing you to get an exceptional view at a distance.

What Are The Different Types Of Spotting Scopes?

Angled spotting scope

There are two basic types of spotting scopes: a mono-ocular and a bi-ocular. Both work the same way, and both are “spotting scopes” with a large single eyepiece.

The difference is that in the mono-ocular, the angle between the eyes is 90 degrees, while in the bi-ocular, it’s slightly less than 90 degrees so that both eyes can see through a single lens.

The mono-ocular is what the majority of the world uses.

The bi-ocular is more comfortable if you wear glasses, while the monocular works better with bifocals.

Also, some may come with a porro prism system for magnification, while others use a roof prism. Each has its own pros and cons.

Straight Spotting Scopes

Straight spotting scopes have a one-piece lens and eyepiece assembly. They have no separate eyepiece, so the user’s eye is very close to the centre of the eyepiece. This allows for greater magnification while viewing distant objects because you can get a wider field of view without having to use binoculars or your camera’s lens.

One major advantage of straight spotting scopes is that they are easy to carry since there is no separate eyepiece, just one complete unit with one large objective lens and an eyepiece.

Angled Spotting Scope

Angled spotting scopes are great viewing devices that are angled at an appropriate angle to make viewing the image easier when using both eyes. Angled spotting scopes can also be used with a camera lens or binoculars for more magnification.

The angled scope offers a wider field of view than the straight-through version and gives better eye relief to those who wear glasses while allowing more room between your face and the eyepiece. The downside of this is that it’s heavier and harder to carry around.

How Do I Use a Spotting Scope?

The easiest way to setup and use a spotting scope is to remove it from its case and place it on a tripod or hold it towards the object you are trying to view. Try to use a tripod if possible, especially if you’re posted in a stationary position, as they’re great for reduced image shake.

Once you’re in place, look through the eyepiece until the desired magnification is achieved. You can get close-up views of distant objects on some models by simply pushing the zoom eyepiece in and out, which is called diopter adjustment – you’ll need to adjust this manually on most models.

What Is The Difference Between a Spotting Scope And a Telescope?

Telescope at night viewing stars

Both telescopes and spotting scopes use the same basic principle of high magnification.

A telescope and a spotting scope both use lenses to magnify an image. The shape of the objective (or eyepiece lens) is the same because it is used in both.

However, a telescope also has a tubular main body that supports the outer tube housing and motorized parts, to hold the tube in position. A scope does not have this part, so it is lighter, smaller and less expensive.

What’s Better a Spotting Scope Or Binoculars?

Binoculars vs spotting scopes

Spotting scopes work like binoculars, except they’re much more powerful and can reach much higher magnification levels, which means more detail when it comes to the long-distance shot.

A high-quality pair of binoculars can be great for short distances, but if you want to view something far away, you’ll need a spotting scope because it will be more powerful.

High-quality binoculars tend to have twice the magnification power as a budget spotting scope, but they don’t have anywhere near the same field of vision. This is important if you are hunting large game or tracking wild birds in flight as you need to see in all directions at once. A spotting scope will give you a much broader field of vision, which is very important when hunting.

Spotting scopes also give you other advantages over binoculars, such as intense magnification and clarity in high-end models, extra light transmission capability, larger objective lenses and overall quality compared to less expensive binoculars.

How Much Can Spotting Scopes Magnify?

Spotting scopes can easily magnify an object by 15X to 250X. The size of the objective lens determines different magnifications in millimetres or how wide the lens is.

For example, a 50mm objective lens will magnify an object 50 times its original size, while a 15mm one will magnify it 15 times its original size. As you can see, a larger lens also means higher magnification.

Some spotting scopes may come without a zoom eyepiece but with a number of interchangeable eyepieces for different magnification levels.

Can I Use a Spotting Scope On My Camera?

Yes, a spotting scope can be used on a camera to obtain a ‘close up’ view of an object. You will need an adaptor to do this. You will also need a specific adapter for your camera.

A spotting scope can be used with a video recorder as well. You will need a specific adaptor for this.

Can You Look At Stars With a Spotting Scope?

Using a telescope for star gazing

Yes. Good quality roof prism equipped spotting scopes with fully multi-coated glass will allow you to view stars at night. However, for serious astronomy and supreme image quality while star gazing, you will need a telescope.

Generally, telescopes are great for night viewing, while spotting scopes are great for daytime viewing. For example, if you look at the moon with a spotting scope at night, you will clearly see its craters and other features. However, if you look at stars with a spotting scope, they will be blurred. This is because stars are too far away to be magnified by spotting scopes.

Spotting Scopes For Hunting

Target practice spotting

A spotter’s scope allows you to see targets much more clearly than with the naked eye, which comes in handy while hunting when it’s too dark to see with your eyes alone. These devices are an essential item for any hunter since they allow you to see things that would otherwise be invisible to your naked eye.

The best spotting scopes are designed with the hunter in mind, and they often have several features that other types of telescopes lack. They often come with a soft carry case for easy convenience. They can be outfitted with close range riflescopes, night vision flashlights, or even thermal imaging devices to hunt prey amid darkness or to find animals in broad daylight.

Certain models can also be made portable so hunters can enjoy their hobby while travelling in different habitats like forests where there’s likely constant movement from wildlife. They are often made from aircraft-grade aluminium or stainless steel, and are less prone to heat waves and atmospheric conditions, as they’re usually waterproof, fog proof and weather resistant. Spotting scopes come in many different sizes for any kind of hunting.

For long-distance and quick target acquisition, spotting scopes with a long focal length is the best choice. These are often the most powerful too, sometimes with zoom factors of 15 to 20 or more. For shorter distances like 100 yards or less, a scope with less magnification will suffice since you don’t need it to be so powerful for small game like prairie dogs, grouse or rabbits.

Since a hunting spotting scopes are designed for long-range shooting, it needs to have an extremely wide field of view. It can be challenging to find one with a 90-degree field of view, but these are very beneficial when shooting targets straight up or down, such as at waterfowl birds.

Some models have crosshairs integrated into the side of the eyepiece, which can help hunters find their target even if they can’t see it clearly through the scope’s viewfinder. The rangefinder is often used by hunters to determine distance when there is little or no light out or with low visibility.

A spotter’s scope is an excellent accessory for any hunter, but it is especially helpful for those who enjoy hunting in different habitats. Its simple design and many available accessories allow you to use one scope for many other activities, making them a valuable tool.

Spotting scopes are versatile and can be used in any location and season. Finding the right model may take some time, but you’ll find one that fits your needs with a little research.

If you are interested in getting a decent scope, there are many different kinds and models to choose from. Most of them are made to be easy to carry around, so they can easily fit in the trunk or backseat of a vehicle.

How Much Should I Expect To Pay?

The price for a high-quality spotting scope can vary from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, depending on your needs and what features are important to you.

As a general rule, if you simply need a tool for bird watching, then any quality spotting scope will fit your needs. 

However, if you plan on using it for hunting in low light situations, then plan to spend at least $500-$800, but expect to pay closer to $1000 or more for really high-end scopes.

Also, aside from the features that define the device, look out for extras that may be useful or unnecessary depending on your needs. For example, some come with a soft carrying case, or tripod, car window mount, or a number of other adapters.


From astronomy to photography, and from assisting wildlife watchers to anything which involves shooting, spotting scopes have changed the way we see the world around us.

Now you can easily get a quality scope for your outdoor adventures and wildlife observations so you can view things that are too far away from your regular binoculars.

Additional Resources

Sources and References

  1. What Are You Having: Roof Prism or Porro Prism Binoculars? – howstuffworks.com
  2. What Do All The Numbers Mean on Spotting Scopes? – birdwatchingbuzz.com

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