With a vast range of spotting scope aimed at pleasing birders, it might be difficult to make a shortlist. Or even a long list!
Our aim in this article is to provide choices that meet a number of requirements common to many bird watchers. These vary across considerations such as budget, usage, size and weight, and the time of day that you do most of your birding.
First we’ll take a look at the top picks in each category. Then we’ll go into more detail about how we judged the selections, and review how the main features of each scope meet these criteria.
Quick comparison: best spotting scopes for birding
Vortex Viper HD 20-60×85 spotting scope
One of the best options for a spotting scope – durable and ergonomically pleasing with edge-to-edge sharpness all the way to top power.
Best overall spotting scope for birding (available as angled or straight)
Gosky 20-60×80 spotting scope
A well constructed, fully multi-coated instrument that represents a good entry point into birding through a spotting scope.
Best value spotting scope for birding
Swarovski Optik HD ATS 80 spotting scope
This Swarovski scope offers solid reliability and a clear, bright image whatever the conditions, and at whichever magnification you are working.
Best spotting scope for birding if money is no object
Vortex Optics Razor HD 11-33×50 spotting scope
A compact, high-quality gem for comfortable use when you want to travel light.
Best compact spotting scope for birding (available as angled or straight)
Meopta MeoPro 20-60×80 HD spotting scope
This MeoPro compares favorably with the really high-end brands in terms of brightness and quality, but with a slightly lower price tag.
Best spotting scope for birding in low light
Reviews: best spotting scopes for birding
Main Features of the Vortex Viper HD 20-60×85 spotting scope
The Vortex Viper HD 20-60×85 spotting scope offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- ED glass
- Lockable, rotating collar
- Fully waterproof and fogproof
- Anti-reflective objective lens
- Helical focus ring
Magnification 20 to 60x
Objective lens 85 mm
Field of view at 1000 yards (depends on zoom)20x: 101 ft; 60x: 50 ft
Close focus distance36 ft
Eye relief 19.6 to 17.8 mm
Weight 4.8 pounds
- Edge-to-edge sharpness due to ED glass
- Adaptable with its rotatable collar
- Durability and lifetime warranty
- Comfortable eyecups
- On the heavy side
- Will require a sturdy tripod
Vortex Viper HD 20-60×85 spotting scope Overview
The Vortex Viper HD is available as a straight scope, at a slightly lower price point, but here we consider the angled version. Either is a solid choice for glasses wearers to use in challenging light conditions as well as throughout the daytime.
The Viper HD has eye relief between 17.8mm and 19.6mm. The pleasingly soft and comfortable eyecup is adjustable according to whether or not you are wearing glasses at the time.
Crisp, bright images
Image-wise, you are looking at edge-to-edge sharpness thanks to the ED glass. The large anti-reflective objective lens of the 20-60×85 scope comes into its own at dusk and dawn. You can crank it up to the 60x power and still benefit from crisp, bright views.
The smooth-turning helical focus ring is large and grippable. The focus ring sits flush to the body and is placed towards the midpoint of the scope. Its aluminum body measures 17.5 inches and weighs 76.6 ounces.
This is worth keeping in mind for carrying purposes. Also, the tripod will need to be able to bear this weight. The spotting scope has a plate to attach to the tripod.
You can release a lockable collar on the scope and rotate it on its axis for adaptable viewing. This feature tends to be more helpful for this angled version than the straight scope. It makes it more versatile, comfortable and easily adaptable for users of different heights.
Guarded against weather and accidental bumps
Vortex does a great job of making their optical products feel durable and ergonomically pleasing. This is due not only to their solid structure but the waterproof armor that they add for use in all weathers. This feels secure and non-slip already, but there is also a neoprene stay-on cover for added protection.
The unit is argon-purged and O-ring sealed to keep it fogproof internally. Lenses feature exterior coatings to protect them from scratches.
The objective lens has a cap that is fully detachable and an extendable sunshade.
Vortex’s Viper HD spotting scope is also available in the 15-45×65 size, both straight and angled.
Best value angled spotting scope
Main Features of the Gosky 20-60×80 spotting scope
The Gosky 20-60×80 spotting scope offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Variable zoom with 20x to 60x magnification range
- Fully multi-coated green film eyepiece lens; BAK4 optics
- Waterproof, fogproof and shockproof
- Dynamic focus system makes it easy to zoom in quickly
- Retractable sunshade
Magnification 20 to 60x
Objective lens 80 mm
Field of view at 1000 yards (depends on zoom)115.2 ft to 57.6 ft
Close focus distance17 ft
Eye relief 17-13.5 mm
Weight 2.7 pounds
- Sound entry-level choice
- Popular zoom range
- Great light-gathering capabilities at high power
- Dual-focus for fine tuning
- Eyepiece can be rotated
- Image may lose clarity at highest magnification
- Totally detachable lens caps could be accidentally lost
Gosky 20-60×80 spotting scope Overview
This offering from Gosky could be a good entry point into the world of birdig using spotting scopes. For a budget-oriented scope, it’s well constructed and includes fully multi coated optics with ED glass and high-quality BAK-4 prisms.
With a magnification going from 20x to 60x you have the most common zoom range. This is paired with the 80mm objective lens, which is also a popular diameter for a full size spotting scope.
At maximum zoom, the image quality degrades somewhat and gets fuzzy. But if you’re primarily using the scope at the lower magnification, then it’s highly satisfactory. Despite the ED glass, you can detect chromatic aberration.
Nifty dual focus feature
For focusing, there is a small dual dial for both coarse and fine tuning. You can view nearby targets pretty well, with a close focus distance of just 17 feet.
Eye relief is up to 17 mm. This eye relief makes it suitable for use when you are wearing spectacles or sunglasses. Also it’s a sound option for digiscoping.
Includes digiscoping adapters
One of these adapters in the package is for a smartphone, and the other is for a normal camera – good if you are keen to try digiscoping. Having these mounts included saves a bit of money, plus it avoids any hassle of trying to shop for them separately.
Size-wise, the length is just under 20 inches. The outside is coated in rubber armor which does well on the non-slip factor, even in damp conditions.
Both lens caps detach completely, so it’s best to have a specific place to stow these safely as they could get easily misplaced. The sunshade extends over the objective lens. There’s a rather flimsy carry case, along with a couple of adapters.
Change angles via the rotatable collar
While the scope is mounted on a tripod, the collar loosens. In this way, the scope can be rotated side to side along its axis to change the viewing angle. As an extra bonus, it’s possible to get a package where Gosky includes a tripod.
With all the included extras, Gosky is offering a solid entry-level choice. Unless you are set on using this angled scope at max power for a lot of your viewing time, then overall the value offered by this scope is high.
Best angled spotting scope if money is no object
Main Features of the Swarovski Optik HD ATS 80 spotting scope
The Swarovski Optik HD ATS 80 spotting scope offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Very high quality optical coating and apochromatic HD Fluoride glass
- Lightweight aluminum body and rubber coating
- Waterproof and fogproof
- Integrated collar to attach to tripod
Magnification 20 to 60x
Objective lens 80 mm
Field of view at 1000 yards (depends on zoom)108 to 60 ft
Close focus distance16.4 ft
Eye relief 17 mm
Weight 3.6 pounds
- Great ergonomics, including large focus wheel
- Easy to set up and operate
- Helpful sighting aid
- Highly compatible for digiscoping
- Good option for digiscoping in low light
- With no expense spared, it’s difficult to find fault with this product! But a little more eye relief could be good…
Swarovski Optik HD ATS 80 spotting scope Overview
This scope’s eye relief is listed at 17mm and in practice we found the 20-60x eyepiece extra forgiving for glasses wearers. Its large ocular lens is also good for digiscoping at low light.
If there’s no limit on your budget, this Swarovski spotting scope is well worth considering. Even if it’s not within your price range, it can help to understand how the best of the best optics excel in some areas.
What you’re getting is solid reliability and a clear, bright image whatever the conditions, and at whichever magnification you are working.
And when looking for a spotting scope to excel at low light, a good measurement to take notice of is the exit pupil. This spotting scope has an exit pupil diameter of 3.3 to 1.1mm. Field of view is from 60 to 108 feet at 1000 yards.
Perfectly smooth moving parts
Altering the magnification via the eyepiece is a pleasure with this smooth easy-turning ring. The focus collar is also easy to manoeuver and fits flat against the body of the scope for a sleek profile.
Another nice feature is the peep sight on the right side of the scope. That helps you to line up the angled scope quickly and effectively, with a straight view directly towards the target.
With the 80mm objective lens you are getting a short focus distance of 16.4 feet. The field of view is from 60 feet to 108 feet at 1000 yards.
There’s a lens cap for both lenses and a retractable sunshade to protect the objective lens from glare or dust and dirt. The shockproof and dustproof spotting scope can be rotated on its axis when mounted on a tripod.
Different formats to suit your birding
The Swarovski ATS is a modular optical system, so it is available to buy in various formats. You can get the straight or angled body only, either 65mm or 80mm, or with an eyepiece included.
The eyepieces on offer are the standard 20-60x or the wide angle zoom at 25-50x.
Within this modular system, there is also an ATX body that offers even more eye relief, at 20mm. Since this really is an even bigger step up, pricewise, we are sticking with the ATS.
For a major splurge on the very best of the best, if that’s what you fancy, take a look at the ATX modular scope. In that range there is a wider choice of objective sizes: 65mm, 85mm, 95mm or 115mm.
Best lightweight compact angled spotting scope for birding
Main Features of the Vortex Optics Razor HD 11-33×50 spotting scope
The Vortex Optics Razor HD 11-33×50 spotting scope offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Dual focus with fine and coarse controls
- Dielectric coated Porro prism system
- Fully water- and fogproof
- Magnesium body
- Tripod mount included
Magnification 11 to 33x
Objective lens 50 mm
Field of view at 1000 yards (depends on zoom)11x: 191 ft; 33x: 96 ft
Close focus distance6.6 ft
Eye relief 16-19 mm
Weight 1.6 pounds
- Great minimum close focus distance for close encounters
- Lightweight due to its magnesium frame
- Fine tuning possible with the dual focus system
- Rubber armoring is easy to grip and feels durable
- Eyepiece is attached, so cannot be switched for a different zoom range
- No sunshade incorporated
Vortex Optics Razor HD 11-33×50 spotting scope Overview
This scope is our top pick for compact spotting scopes. Available either in an angled or a straight format, this scope is very light. Conveniently, it also offers long eye relief.
The eye relief specification that Vortex gives puts the measurement between 16mm and 19mm. The 16-19mm depends on whether the eyecup on the eyepiece is fully extended.
The extendable eyecup moves the eye further from the ocular lens. It means that the scope can be adapted for people who do not wear glasses.
This scope has an eyepiece that is permanently attached, meaning that you cannot swap this zoom for another one. That is the downside.
(Minor point: the eyepiece cap is flimsy to fix on and could be improved to stay in place better.)
The upside is that the zoom range that you do have matches the expectation that we would have for this high-end optic from Vortex. The zoom’s range runs from 11x up to 33x, using the magnification adjustment ring. Otherwise, the image is crystal clear across its whole width.
Ability to fine-tune focus with dual control
The dual focus knob allows you to fine-tune the focus. First adjust the focus quickly at a macro level after initially finding the bird, then use the micro dial to get the crispest possible image.
It’s also easier on the eye to see the sharpest possible view.
The objective lens is 50mm wide. The glass used has every benefit that we would include on the wish list – APO lens, ED glass, dielectric phase coatings… All this adds up to excellent clarity.
The scope’s performance in low light is due to these anti-reflective components and coatings. You’ll like the brightness and resolution of color.
Because the spotting scope has a narrowed objective lens, you can pack it into a small space. The angled scope is a gem for comfortable use.
It is easy to mount low and stable on a tripod. But even better, this scope is possible to hand hold. What a great option to be able to leave the tripod behind and travel really, really light.
Field of view runs from 96 feet to 191 feet at 1000 yards, depending on where the scope is set on the magnification range.
The Razor excels in open countryside
The Vortex Razor performs especially well in open terrain. But the near focus range is also great at six and a half feet if you’re anticipating close encounters.
The Vortex Razor delivers on durability, with rubber armoring and easy grippability. As expected, the scope is fully waterproof and fogproof, being Argon purged and O-ring sealed.
ArmorTek coated lenses, but no sunshade
The feature of the sunshade that Vortex includes on the larger scope is not on this model. It saves weight but it leaves the objective lens a little exposed.
To compensate for this, the lenses are coated with ArmorTek protection which guards against scratches.
Elsewhere, we also have suggestions for smaller spotting scopes that are most portable, tailored to people with glasses, so check out these articles too.
Best spotting scope for birding in low light
Main Features of the Meopta MeoPro 20-60×80 HD spotting scope
The Meopta MeoPro 20-60×80 HD spotting scope offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Central helical focus ring
- Rotatable body
- Fully waterproof and sealed against fogging
- HD Fluoride extra-low dispersion glass
- Built-in sunshade
Magnification 20 to 60x
Objective lens 80 mm
Field of view at 1000 yards (depends on zoom)20x: 107.6 ft; 60x: 65.7 ft
Close focus distance19.7 ft
Eye relief 18.5 mm
Weight 4.2 pounds
- Sleek and lightweight magnesium body
- Bright images and color/contrast at dawn and dusk
- Eye relief is forgiving for bird watchers wearing eyeglasses or sunglasses
- Competes well at its price point
- Eyepiece is built in and therefore cannot be changed
- Only available in this angled format, not straight-bodied option
Meopta MeoPro 20-60×80 HD spotting scope Overview
With 18.5mm eye relief, the scope is very forgiving for bird watchers wearing eyeglasses or sunglasses. This Meopta scope compares very favorably with the really high-end brands in terms of quality, but with a slightly lower price tag.
The 80mm objective lens is of an amazing quality. The entire scope incorporates topnotch optical components and full multi coatings.
Consequently, its light-gathering capabilities make it our top pick for glasses wearers to use in low light.
The HD fluoride glass is extra-low dispersion. This contributes significantly to the amount of light that reaches the eye.
It maintains a bright image at the crucial low-light times of the day – dawn and dusk. Color and contrast are also impressive.
Versatile and sleek design
The magnesium body means it is comparatively light for the size of its objective lens. Not only does it weigh less but it also has a pleasingly sleek appearance.
The eyepiece is built-in and features a zoom range running from 20x to 60x. The eyecup can be twisted up for use without eyeglasses.
This scope is only available in the angled body design. However it is possible to release the scope’s fixed position and rotate the whole scope. This adds versatility to be able to change the angle of viewing when the spotting scope is on the tripod.
Simple access to focus ring
The helical focus ring is positioned at the central point of the body for easy access. At this location the focus is notably simple to use, even when wearing gloves.
It is easy to grip securely, thanks to the rubber armoring.
The built-in sunshade extends to protect the objective lens and reduce glare in strong sunlight. It is fully waterproof and sealed against internal fogging.
Best spotting scope for glasses wearers or digiscoping
Main Features of the Vanguard Endeavor HD 82A spotting scope
The Vanguard Endeavor HD 82A spotting scope offers impressive features. Here are a few of them, just to spark your interest!
- Fully multi-coated, with extra low dispersion glass
- Nitrogen filled to make it fully fogproof and waterproof
- Magnesium body with rubber armor coating
- Built-in tripod mount
- Built-in sunshade
Magnification 20 to 60x
Objective lens 82 mm
Field of view at 1000 yards (depends on zoom)20x: 330 ft; 60x: 156 ft
Close focus distance19.7 ft
Eye relief 19-20 mm
Weight 4 pounds
- Detachable eyepiece offers flexibility to change magnification
- Focus control is convenient to reach and operate
- Good color performance
- Vanguard offers digiscoping accessories
- Generous eye relief for eyeglasses wearers and digiscopers
- For optimum performance stick within intermediate range
- The rubber coating does not protect all of the body
Vanguard Endeavor HD 82A spotting scope Overview
With 19mm of eye relief this is another angled spotting scope that will serve glasses wearers well. Lengthy eye relief is also a prerequisite for digiscoping.
With the Vanguard accessories, you can attach your image-capture device, whether it is a phone or a DSLR camera. While we can single out the Vanguard Endeavor as performing well on both the long eye relief and the digiscoping criteria, though, it is a great all-rounder.
While this is not in the premium price range, it competes well with the more expensive optics out there. We’ve included it due to its quality to price ratio.
Plus it scores highly on the versatility front, with an Endeavor ED 15-45×65 also available if you prefer a smaller size and weight.
Standard zoom range, with the option to switch
In combination with the 82mm objective lens, the zoom range is 20x to 60x. While this range meets the requirements of most birders, there is still the option to switch the detachable eyepiece for another in the Vanguard range.
The 82mm will take you right from one end of the day to the other with a really bright picture. Adjustment to the magnification is made via the ring on the eyepiece. Its best performance is at intermediate range.
Adaptable for use with or without glasses
Both coarse and fine focus is available using the dual control knob. This is situated on the top of the scope and can be operated with one or two fingers. The eyecup twists up smoothly for use without eyeglasses.
Vanguard uses magnesium alloy for the body, which lends both lightness and longevity. It weighs 63.8 ounces. Weatherwise, it’s sealed against rain and fogging.
The phase-coated prisms are made of BAK-4 glass. The lens system benefits from Hoya extra-low dispersion (ED) glass.
Both these upgrades boost the transmission through the scope, minimizing loss of light and chromatic aberration. Color performance is excellent, both contrast and accurate rendition.
Easy attachment, with special support for digiscoping
On the base of the scope the universal quarter/twenty threading makes it easy to attach to a sturdy tripod head. Once you have mounted the scope on the tripod, it’s simple to change the angle of the scope via the neck lock.
By unlocking the lever on the side of the scope, the collar loosens. Then the whole scope rotates smoothly along its axis.
On the digiscoping front, Vanguard is a top manufacturer. Products from their PA range of adapters for scopes are compatible with both the straight and the angled models.
The PA-202 digiscoping adaptor works with the spotting scopes sized at 65mm and 82mm in the Endeavor HD series, plus the 60mm and 80mm scopes in the Endeavor XF range.
Main criteria: best spotting scopes for birding
There’s a helpful article here on how to choose the best spotting scope that will suit your style of birding. This goes into details about which features are important, with explanations of the different terminology related to scopes >>> How to choose a spotting scope for birding
Summary: Which spotting scope is best for you?
So after a quick overview of the best spotting scopes in each category, we have also looked at the best criteria to use as you choose a spotting scope for birding.
With these key features in mind, you’ve had access to our reviews. In these we evaluate how well each spotting scope meets requirements such as ease of use, portability, image quality and overall value.
Have any of these spotting scopes compelled you to make a purchase yet?
If these comparisons have prompted you to do further exploration before buying, these closely linked articles may also be of interest.
Here we present in detail the main details to be aware when setting up spotting scopes to take on your bird-watching adventures: How to use a spotting scope for birding
While an angled spotting scope is a very popular choice, straight spotting scopes can be more intuitive and easier to use from a vehicle. Consider the different perspectives in our discussion here: Angled vs straight spotting scopes: which is best for birding?
- 1 Quick comparison: best spotting scopes for birding
- 2 Reviews: best spotting scopes for birding
- 3 Best value angled spotting scope
- 4 Best angled spotting scope if money is no object
- 5 Best lightweight compact angled spotting scope for birding
- 6 Best spotting scope for birding in low light
- 7 Best spotting scope for glasses wearers or digiscoping
- 8 Main criteria: best spotting scopes for birding
- 9 Summary: Which spotting scope is best for you?