If you are asking if it’s possible to handhold a birding spotting scope, then it’s likely you are trying to save the expense, effort and energy of including a tripod in your birding kit. It’s a valid concern, because all these things add up.
The key consideration is this: how much will handholding a spotting scope without a tripod compromise the images that you see through it?
Unlike binoculars, spotting scopes are generally used with a tripod. Put simply, spotting scopes have a magnification too high to handhold steady enough for a good view.
But depending on the size of your spotting scope, it may be possible to appreciate satisfyingly sharp images of birds without a tripod. There are some models of spotting scope designed specifically to be hand held.
High magnification requires stability
In general, spotting scopes tend to be of a magnification in excess of 15x or 20x. At this high power, any tiny movement in the spotting scope translates into blurriness in the image.
So you have a fantastic instrument that magnifies to a strong degree. But the actual image is unsatisfactory unless the spotting scope itself is held completely still.
Let’s examine in more detail why it’s best to use a tripod for a spotting scope. We will also consider the different situations when it might be possible to hand hold a spotting scope.
How image shake affects handheld spotting scopes
Spotting scopes are typically mounted on tripods for stability. Their high power allows viewers to see things up close with amazing clarity because of their high magnification.
But any movement of the instrument can cause blurriness of the image. This is called image shake.
Image shake results from the small natural movement of your body. Breathing and heartbeats can be so inconvenient when you’re trying to hold your optics still!
No matter how hard we try to remain motionless, our bodies make very slight movements. These movements are accentuated by the magnification of your spotting scope.
Not only do these movements blur the view, but they can cause our eyes to get fatigued more quickly. This tiredness arises from the eyes’ constant need to readjust focus.
More magnification > more image shake
It’s not something we are aware of with our ordinary vision, but the higher the magnification of the optics, the more you will notice the movement through the lens. This can make it hard to see anything clearly at a very high magnification unless the scope is totally still.
As with all optics, the steadier the instrument, the sharper the image. Even small movements make an image blurry.
Adding a tripod (provided it’s a decent one, fit for purpose!) will always add stability and therefore lead to better views.
High magnification spotting scopes are so sensitive that they pick up atmospheric conditions as well. So heat waves, for example, can also impact the clarity of the image seen.
Handhold a scope – Is portability your priority?
In particular situations, though, a tripod just isn’t practical for some people. Do you anticipate wanting to use a spotting scope without a tripod?
If so, the birding experience will be better if you look out for an appropriate spotting scope designed to be hand held.
What to do when using a tripod with a scope is not practical
For birders who travel more extensively or people who hike a long way over difficult terrain, portability and compactness might be priorities. In this case, it could be worth considering one of the compact spotting scopes on the market.
Some of these models, especially those with lower power and premium optical components, have the potential to be hand held.
Angled scopes can be more suitable to hand hold
The design of an angled spotting scope means that it is more suitable for hand holding than a straight one. That is why most of the models featured in our list of compact scopes have angled bodies.
Its shorter body and angled viewing eyepiece means the weight is centered better. This extra balance makes it easier to keep stable in the hands. In this sense gravity is your friend!
How to stabilize a spotting scope without a tripod
To use a spotting scope freehand without a tripod, look for things in the environment to stabilize it. For example, you could use a branch, fence, wall, picnic table, car roof… Even balancing a scope on your pack is an option to make it easier to hold still.
Consider using a monopod
If the main consideration for using a spotting scope without a tripod is to save weight, have you thought about using a monopod instead? For those who are determined to find a solution that does not involve using a tripod, then the monopod could present a compromise.
It will offer more stability than just free hand holding, but without being as large, bulky or heavy as a tripod. A monopod is also easier to set up.
In this article, we sum up all the pros and cons so feel free to move on to this related topic: Can I use a monopod with my spotting scope?
Handholding a spotting scope without a tripod – final thoughts
It’s understandable that using a tripod with a spotting scope seems like an extra layer of complication. This is without mentioning the expense of buying and the effort of setting it up each time.
Simplifying the process as much as possible makes sense. That is, as long as you can still get maximum enjoyment from your bird watching and the optics that you’ve bought to access it.
If you prefer to find a solution to birding with a spotting scope that doesn’t need a tripod, then it is possible with a model of scope designed to be hand held. To compare the specifications and main features, we have some reviews here
To appreciate the full potential of a spotting scope, though, it’s usually a good idea to use a tripod.
With a tripod it is easier to keep your scope aimed steadily at the same subject for a long period of time. It’s also more straightforward to share the view with fellow birders.
So whether you are going to share your scope or enjoy all the views yourself, read on to find out what to consider when choosing the best tripod for your spotting scope.
If on the other hand you are looking for a more limited amount of magnification, then there are optics called monoculars which might be appropriate. We compare how monoculars match up to spotting scopes in this article.
- 1 How image shake affects handheld spotting scopes
- 2 More magnification > more image shake
- 3 What to do when using a tripod with a scope is not practical
- 4 Angled scopes can be more suitable to hand hold
- 5 How to stabilize a spotting scope without a tripod
- 6 Handholding a spotting scope without a tripod – final thoughts