It’s likely that you are consulting this article because you’re considering buying a spotting scope that combines easy portability with quality viewing. With all the compact spotting scopes available, it is important to know how to differentiate one from another.
We will take a two-step approach to equip you with the knowledge and understanding of how to choose the best compact spotting scope for your birding needs.
To help you understand what to be aware of when buying a compact spotting scope for birdwatching, we’ll look first at:
- how the compact spotting scopes differ from full-sized scopes. There are some compromises worth considering to avoid disappointment.
- the best criteria to use when comparing one smaller, lightweight spotting scope against another within this compact category.
How is a compact spotting scope different from a full-size scope?
With a smaller diameter of the objective lens, the compact spotting scope measures a little less widthwise and lengthwise. At the very smallest end of the compact scopes, some manufacturers make 40mm objectives.
Around the middle of the range of travel-sized scopes are the 50mm lenses. There are some excellent choices in this configuration.
When searching for a compact scope, a 60mm to 65mm sized objective lens is at the upper range of what we would call ‘compact’. This discounts scopes of the 80mm+ size as they will just be too big.
Full size scopes are more bulky, not only length and widthwise, but heavier as well. They would also require an even more sturdy tripod and be more expensive.
The most important optical difference between a compact spotting scope and a full size spotting scope is their performance in dim light. In lower light conditions, there is likely to be a compromise, due to the smaller objective lens.
By decreasing the size of the objective in order to reduce weight and dimensions, a smaller diameter gathers less light. The difference will be most noticeable at either end of the day, when the sun is lower to the horizon.
Why do you want a compact spotting scope?
A compact spotting scope is ideal for situations where you need to move around quickly and easily. The type of situations where a compact spotting scope might be a priority:
If you are making the extra space in your luggage for the scope and carrying the additional weight (within an airline weight allowance too), then it’s important that the quality of viewing makes it worth the effort.
Hiking or backpacking
When backpacking, you’re likely to be carrying the binoculars for longer periods of time and be limited for space in your bag. With a scope, of course, you’ll probably need to allow for a tripod as well.
A compact scope helps enormously if you are moving around a lot. It counts especially when moving over hilly or mountainous terrain.
Smaller dimensions also help when you need to manoeuvre through thick woodland or dense rainforests.
A light, compact sized scope will be more comfortable and practical, as well as adding to your enjoyment of being immersed in the natural environment.
Practical, set-up considerations
When setting up a spotting scope on a hill, it might be more practical to consider using a tripod that allows you to sit down. This is particularly applicable if you anticipate spending extended periods of viewing in the same location.
With this in mind, it may be more practical in this instance to choose a straight scope rather than an angled one. A straight scope tends to be more compatible for use on a tripod from a seated position.
Main criteria for choosing a compact spotting scope
In choosing the best compact spotting scope for these purposes, we are assessing them against our main criteria of:
- Image quality
- Portability – size and weight
- Durability – weatherproof and shockproof
The quality of the glass and the optical component go a long way to providing a topnotch image.
At the compact end of the market, there are not so many premium brands. They prefer to focus on the large spotting scopes.
However, there are still good quality scopes to be found. Those worth the money have ED, HD or BAK-4 glass, APO lenses and dielectric prism coatings.
To fit into a backpack, along with the rest of your kit and provisions, the size of the scope is a priority. The smaller it is, the better.
This is of course in relation to the size of the objective, as long as it doesn’t compromise the image quality with too small an objective lens.
Weightwise, the spotting scope would be ideally less than 40 ounces.
Durability – weatherproof and shockproof
It’s also key for a spotting scope to be able to cope with all sorts of weather conditions. So this means waterproofing is essential. This is generally a minimum requirement for a spotting scope in any case.
In addition, we would be looking for maximum durability – if not bounceability!
This means a tough, shockproof coating to withstand knocks and scrapes.
An outer body that has an easy-to-grip coating minimizes chances of the instrument slipping and falling.
Choosing a compact spotting scope: next steps
Like all optics, compact spotting scopes have advantages and disadvantages in comparison to their full-sized counterparts. Despite the benefits of smaller scopes, it is only fair to bear in mind the compromises included in a reduction in size, especially of the objective lens.
But if you intend to carry your scope over long distances then a lighter, more compact one is preferable.
Ounces always seem to get heavier the longer they are lugged along in one’s backpack, so it is worth taking the time (and perhaps upping the budget) to find a spotting scope that is big on views yet little on size.
Hopefully through the process of this guide we have helped show you how to weigh up what to consider.
There are some other articles on this site that may also assist you as you work towards finding the best choice of spotting scope for your requirements.
We would also like to point you towards this article, which suggests some options to consider when transporting your scope while bird watching.
- 1 How is a compact spotting scope different from a full-size scope?
- 2 Why do you want a compact spotting scope?
- 3 Main criteria for choosing a compact spotting scope
- 4 Choosing a compact spotting scope: next steps