Spot On - Spotting Scopes

The Same Only Different

While the concept is the same as a telescope, the spotting scope has been altered in order to be used in a variety of ways.  Rather than giving the classical astronomical view - upside down or reversed (which is okay for astronomy but not so great for regular viewing) - spotting scopes produce an image that is upright.  The smaller size of spotting scopes makes them portable and since they're not normally used to see the stars, their magnification is much lower than a telescope.  Daytime atmosphere does not allow for higher magnification either and spotting scopes are considered a daytime viewing item.  Spotting scopes are fog proof and waterproof and usually mounted on an ordinary photo tripod, unlike most telescopes.

Use Spotting Scopes When...

When there is a need for more magnification than can be provided by a binocular, spotting scopes come into play.  They have a wide variety of uses including bird watching, surveillance, viewing landscape, wildlife, sea activity and hunting.  They do have some limited astronomy applications and of course, can be found on a number of cameras for long distance pictures.  Shooters use them for target scoring on rifle, pistol and archery ranges as well.  Commonly, spotting scopes have 50mm to 80mm objective lens and the magnification can be anywhere from 15x to 60x, but there are more powerful scopes available as well with much a higher magnification and larger object lens.

There's A Limit To Everything

Limits of the higher magnification offered by a spotting scope are determined by a couple of different things.  The first is atmosphere.  Visibility conditions must be considered when using a spotting scope.  Mirage or heat waves, haze, sun glare, dust, humidity, and air movement all affect the viewing.  Couple higher magnification with any of these considerations and you've got a large reduction in the quality of the image.  There will be good days when the atmosphere is clear and viewing is great, and then there can be days when everything looks like mud.  Depending upon the weather and atmospheric conditions, even a very expensive, high powered spotting scope can be rendered useless as detail can often be affected.  Keep things in perspective - spotting scopes have a specific function and work best in certain conditions - they are not "magic glasses".

There is another limiting factor in magnification on spotting scopes and that is the optical system itself.   The more magnification used, the higher the potential for distortion in the image.  Design and size have some impact on this, but it is most often quality that determines clarity.  The old adage that you get what you pay for rings very true in this instance.  A quality scope will make a huge difference in the sharpness of the target and if you're looking for something that will give you viewing that is as clear at 60x as it is at 20x, then be prepared to spend some serious money as you choose from a small number of specialized scopes.