First of all, we would like to remind you that spotting scopes are not an essential part of a birdwatcher’s equipment, particularly for beginners. Despite giving great help in the identification of species by offering bigger magnification, in the beginning, it can be more of a burden than a helper. Each person should start by focusing on studying guides and practising in the field, getting familiar with the common species and basic identification techniques.
Nonetheless, we believe that it may be very tempting to have a scope, as it is very popular among birdwatchers. So, let’s go through some things that we should take into account before doing a purchase.
A couple doing some birding using a telescope.
1. Understand your needs
Before jumping into this investment, understand where you’d like to birdwatch the most and figure out your needs and whether or not a scope would be essential.
It is possible that the way you enjoy birdwatching is not compatible with the use of a telescope. For example, if someone likes to combine birdwatching with hiking it might not be practical. Or, if one enjoys birdwatching in forests, it is likely to be very hard to spot birds there using a telescope. So, this is to say that you may be able to live years enjoying birdwatching without needing a scope.
On the other hand, if one prefers spotting birds in a wetland, lake or open field, a scope is probably an enormous help.
2. Define how much to spend
Once you figure out your needs, it is important to establish a budget for your purchase. Here, it is not only important to think about the telescope itself, i.e. the body, but also about the other crucial components such as the eyepiece, the head, and the tripod.
Regardless of your experience and frequency of use, please do not buy a cheap spotting scope, meaning something under 200 euros. It won’t do you any good, both to your eyes and birding experience.
Consider spending some time searching for information and reading opinions and reviews. Or, possibly better, ask a friend or acquaintance that is already in practice or simply go through some forums or social media groups to get some feedback.
A group of three birdwatchers doing sea birdwatching with a telescope.
3. Decide on size, weight and magnification
After, or even while, deciding your budget the size, weight and magnification are some of the next points to take into consideration.
The size of the spotting scope can be important considering the way you would like to store it or carry it.
In terms of weight, it is important to have in mind the weight that the head and tripod may add to the overall piece of gear. So, despite being more expensive, you might want to consider carbon tripods, for example.
For general use, consider a compact 60 mm telescope with a wide-angled 20x eyepiece, and if you think you’d need higher power, choose a 30x or 40x eyepiece in addition to the general one. But, the larger 75-80 mm telescopes are, on the other hand, ideal for use in low light or from a fixed position such as a hide.
4. Straight or angled form
Nowadays, most of the spotting scopes in the market come in either “straight” or “angled” forms. Basically, on the straight type, the eyepiece follows the light path from the objective lens, so both body and eyepiece are aligned. On the angled type, the eyepiece is at a 45° angle to the telescope body. The second is vulgarly the most common, but the first type is getting more and more popular.
It is important to say that the form of the telescope is rather a personal preference and it does not affect the performance of the scope.
Let’s look at some advantages of both forms:
- Straight form:
- easier to find what you are looking for
- better to use when sitting down in hides
- possibly cheaper
- Angled form:
- easier to follow moving birds
- often avoids straining the neck
- easier to watch birds in treetops and in the sky
- easier for tall people to look through it on a tripod
- the tripod does not have to be erected so high, making the scope more stable.
Angled form Swaroski 65 with 20x-60x.
5. Digiscoping, yes or no?
Our final piece of advice goes to the relatively new way of recording birds, the digiscoping. It call also be known as photoscoping. Essentially, this is a technique that consists in taking photographs of birds through a spotting scope. A few years ago, people would have to place their cameras or phones against the eyepiece and patiently manage a photograph of a bird. Nowadays, there are many options that make this practice easier.
Thus, if that’s something you would like to do or you believe it would help you identify bird species, you should consider the options available. But, please consider that, no matter how good the technology is improving in this subject, the scopes are ultimately designed to look through and not for taking photographs. Meaning, do not expect results as good as the ones a proper camera and lens would give.
Nonetheless, in the market, you can find scopes with eyepieces adapted for the placement of a camera, or pieces of accessories to place and stabilize your camera on the eyepiece of the scope. In our opinion, if this is something you are indeed considering, you should either opt for the adapted eyepieces or, instead, look for larger objective telescopes and good tripods that will offer you more light and stability, respectively.
A man doing birdwatching near a lake with a telescope and his Birdwatching Journal :D
Finally, we would like to leave here some suggestions from some of the best options currently in the market. They are listed from the cheapest to the most expensive:
- Celestron 80mm Ultima Zoom
- Nikon Fieldscope ED50
- Vanguard Endeavor HD 20-60x65mm
- Vortex Diamondback 20-60x80
- Vortex 20-60x85 Razor HD
- Kowa TSN-880 Series Prominar Pure Fluorite
- Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85
- Swarovski ATX Interior 25-60x85mm
We hope you found this article useful. Let us know which model of telescope you have and tell us which feature you consider the best.