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7 Best Spotting Scopes for Every Use

Whether you’re stalking game or stargazing, these precision field optics bring you close to the action.

best spotting scopes
Staff, Courtesy of Nikon

You certainly know about binoculars and telescopes for magnifying faraway objects. But consider their in-between sibling, spotting scopes. They’re the sweet spot of specialty optics, letting you zoom in on wildlife, stars, targets, birds, and more—so you can see in detail what your eyes can’t achieve on their own.

Some hunters—especially those searching for their quarry across vast distances up to several miles—use spotting scopes to see where their trusty binoculars can’t. Birders use them to get visually close without physically disturbing animals. Casual stargazers make up another category of spotting scope user since they can get many of the benefits of a telescope without the bulk and weight, plus additional terrestrial viewing uses out of it. Target shooters—who often cross over with the hunting crowd—also need spotting scopes for practicing at distances much beyond 50 yards. For all of them, a spotting scope can be a vital addition to the field kit. Here are seven of our favorites at a variety of budgets, and how to pick the one that’s right for you.

What to Consider


Whether you pick a spotting scope or binoculars depends on what range you want. Most spotting scopes pick up where binoculars leave off and tend to fall somewhere in the 12–80 power-magnification range. They also almost always are “zooms,” meaning they offer a range of magnifications—say, 20–60x—rather than a fixed setting.

If you mostly need magnification below 15x, you’re better off with binoculars, which are easier to use and generally lighter and more portable, though they can be pricier for quality glass since the manufacturers have to fit the optics in a smaller, doubled package.

While 10x42 (magnification power by objective lens diameter) has long been a standard binocular size, especially for hunters, higher magnifications around 15x are becoming more popular as are larger diameters around 50mm. If you aren’t sure if you need a spotting scope, consider using more powerful binoculars that may let you see a little farther without having to cart around an entirely separate piece of glass.

Objective Lens Diameter

Objective lens diameter is essentially the size of the viewing field you get out of your spotting scope. Lightweight backpacking spotting scopes might be as small as 40mm, while larger stargazing scopes will be around 100mm. Bigger is generally better because larger glass lets in more light, but that usually ups the cost and the weight of your spotting scope. Knowing how you intend to use the scope (and spending some time using scopes of different sizes, if you can) will help you figure out how to balance those factors to find the scope that’s right for you.

I personally find that any scopes smaller than about 50mm are too small a field to be worth using. Squinting one eye to try and clearly see something miles away is hard enough in oversize scopes; binoculars may be a better choice. If you’re buying a scope for mostly stationary use and don’t have to worry about weight, I recommend getting the largest diameter you can afford.


For some people—hunters who mostly use their spotting scope from a vehicle, or day hikers who carry basic supplies—weight is a minor concern. For others, it’s a major factor. If you’re hiking miles to a remote mountaintop to stargaze away from light pollution or climbing 14,000-foot peaks to hunt bighorn sheep, a lighter, smaller scope may be your best option.

So what’s “light''? Spotting scopes marketed as lighter-weight options are usually three pounds or less, while standard ones are around five pounds or more. Keep in mind that you’ll also need a tripod to stabilize your spotter, so count on an additional 3 to 5 pounds of pack weight. Even the lightweight carbon-fiber Vortex Ridgeview Tripod weighs 3 pounds, and most cheaper tripods will weigh four or more.

Straight or Angled View?

Many models of spotting scopes come in two distinct versions: straight or angled. This refers to the eyepiece orientation. While you can learn to effectively use either proficiently, the way you use a spotting scope may suggest a preferred option.

Angled eyepieces are generally considered more comfortable to use. The angled eyepiece lets you move the eyepiece around and look down onto it without craning your neck, which is useful for stargazing. It also keeps your tripod lower and more stable. When shooting from a prone position, you can simply set the scope up to one side of where your rifle is, whether target shooting or long-range hunting.

Maven Spotting Scope

Straight eyepieces are a bit more intuitive to use, although you’ll eventually get used to either. If you’ve spotted something in your binoculars and want to see more detail using your spotting scope, it’s a bit easier to aim the straight spotting scope and zero in on it. It also means you won’t have to move a tripod head to swap between binoculars (two straight eyepieces) and a straight eyepiece spotting scope.

Straight scopes also are better when looking downhill, since using an angled scope when looking downhill means rotating the eyepiece or trying to get above your scope at an unnatural angle. Hunters who use a car window mount to scan country from a vehicle generally prefer straight scopes since it’s easier to get your eye in the right position when seated and you have limited options for moving your body and the scope.


At anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars, a spotting scope is a luxury item for most people. I have used scopes up and down the spectrum and while it’s impossible for me to say for you if it is “worth it” to spend $3,000 on a spotting scope, I can tell you that it is probably not worth it to spend less than $100 on one. The lowest-tier scopes can be frustrating to use, and the image quality tends to deteriorate so badly at higher magnifications that you often aren’t getting what you bought a spotting scope for in the first place. Instead, we’ve included several mid-price picks here.

It’s hard to quantify what you get for your money with a spotting scope since, while there are lots of specs, it’s difficult to judge something as subjective as optical quality; there’s no universal quality standard for easy comparison. As well, you get increasingly marginal gains in quality as price goes up.

If your budget doesn’t allow you to spend at least a few hundred bucks, consider putting that money towards a higher-end pair of binoculars instead, which can often be enough for most hunters and wildlife spotters and will often perform as well or better (when used on a tripod) than a cheap spotting scope. They’re also easier on your eyes and intuitive to use.

How We Evaluated

My selections here were based on conversations with optics brand representatives, small-shop owners, other hunters, and salespeople in big-chain outdoors stores. As a lifelong hunter who has chased elk around the Rocky Mountains for the past decade, I also have experience using spotting scopes in a variety of terrain in the Mountain West, and I spend a lot of time at the shooting range where I consider a spotting scope essential equipment beyond 50 yards. I tested scopes hands-on in the field and at optics dealers to compare performance side-by-side and in real-world conditions.

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Best Overall
Vortex Optics Viper HD Spotting Scope 15-45x65

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 65mm
  • Magnification Range: 15–45x
  • Weight: 58.8 oz. (straight)

Optics from this family-owned American brand are ubiquitous in hunting, because they offer quality performance at lower prices than most high-end brands. While the Viper scope (and the whole Vortex line) is aimed at hunters, this is a high-performance scope at a mid-tier price. The compromise 65-millimeter objective lens size makes the scope small enough to be packable but big enough to be comfortable to use in the field or at the range. It weighs just over three pounds, which is about as light as you can hope for at this size and with quality glass. There are certainly better, more expensive scopes available (Vortex’s Razor line and plenty of other ultra-high-end options from brands), but for most buyers, the marginal improvements aren’t worth the hundreds, if not thousands, of extra dollars required.

Vortex is respected for its no-questions-asked VIP Warranty. While several other optics brands now offer similar guarantees, Vortex has decades of history of standing behind its warranties. The scope retails for just over $1,000 MSRP but can almost always be found online or at a dealer for much less.

  • Sub-$1,000 price point
  • Decent clarity throughout zoom range
  • Lifetime warranty

  • Some image distortion away from center
Best Budget
Celestron Ultima 80 20–60x80mm Spotting Scope

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 80mm
  • Magnification Range: 20–60x
  • Weight: 57 oz. 

If you’re going to go cheap, go big. While more expensive spotting scopes can improve light transmission with fancy coatings and prism technology, there’s no substitute for a bigger objective lens when it comes to bringing in more light. The 80-millimeter objective lens on the Ultima from Celestron makes for a heavy scope, but it offers much of the function (if not quality) of mid-tier scopes at a fraction of the price.

While this is a budget option, Celestron is a California-based company that is well-known for its stargazing telescopes. And while it may not be on-par with the quality of more expensive glass, it shares most of the same tech and features such as multi-coated lenses to maximize light, waterproofing, and even an integrated adapter to attach a camera for digiscoping, if desired.

  • Affordable

  • Clarity degrades quickly at higher magnification
Best High-End
Leica APO Televid 25-50x82mm Watertight Spotting Scope

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 82mm
  • Magnification Range: 20–50x
  • Weight: 48 oz.

Photographers know German optics brand Leica for its renowned lenses, and if you spend much time comparing spotting scopes, you’ll eventually hear Leica’s name mentioned as the Rolls Royce of sport optics as well. You’ll pay for it, too: It’s over $3,000, and it comes in only angle viewfinder configuration, but what you get with the APO televid is a lightweight spotter that delivers the gold standard in optical quality throughout the viewing area and across the zoom range.

The zoom range of 20–50x seems short compared to the fairly common 20–60x, but many fail to deliver clarity across the full range. Leica cut the range slightly short rather than compromise on image quality. The other benefit of spending top dollar on this scope is that you get a massive 82mm objective lens at a weight (just over three pounds) that’s comparable to most of the compact mid-tier scopes, making it a viable option to take farther afield.

  • Top-of-the-line glass
  • Lightweight

  • Expensive
  • Smaller zoom range
Best for Wildlife Viewing
Nikon Monarch Fieldscope 20–60x82mm
$1,396.95 (13% off)

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 82mm
  • Magnification Range: 20–60x
  • Weight: 57.8 oz.

Hunters care about image quality in their scopes, but they may not be as fussy about color accuracy and chromatic aberration—things that photographers obsess over in their lenses. Nikon takes its pedigree for quality glass in camera lenses to the Monarch series of spotting scopes to deliver sharp, high-contrast imagery with accurate color. The Monarch Fieldscope, like most high-end spotters, utilizes an apochromatic lens system along with multi-coated surfaces to deliver color fidelity and maximize light transmission.

The focusing system also offers non-linear adjustments that allow you to turn the focus ring normally at higher magnifications to achieve precise focus that would be difficult if the focusing system remained consistent through its range. The eyepiece uses a camera lens-mount type of interface that allows not only swapping of eyepieces but mounting of cameras for digiscoping, making this scope a great option for wildlife photographers as well as viewers.

  • Color accuracy
  • Precision focusing

  • Expensive
  • Heavy
Best for Long-Range Shooting
Leupold Mark 4 20–60x80mm

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 80mm
  • Magnification Range: 20–60x
  • Weight: 61.8 oz.

The Mark 4 line of spotters has served the U.S. military—and sniper teams, specifically—for years, and this tactical spotting scope line is a great choice for both the range and the field for hunters. This is a larger scope with a straight eyepiece only. It has an 80mm objective lens for capturing light and a wide field of view for finding your target, but with Leupold’s Folded Light Path system, overall bulk is just under four pounds and length 18.5 inches.

The Mark 4 is available with two different reticle systems similar to those on tactical scopes to assist long-range hunters and shooters. The magnesium body offers a rugged build that’s backed by Leupold’s comprehensive lifetime warranty (which includes check-ups and maintenance and is fully transferable without proof of purchase). The biggest downside to this scope is the high cost, but it truly is a lifetime purchase.

  • Rugged build
  • Clear image at high magnification
  • Lifetime warranty and care

  • Expensive
  • Heavy
Best Lightweight
Maven S.2 12–27x56mm

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 56mm
  • Magnification Range: 12–27x
  • Weight: 34.4 oz.

The S.2 from Wyoming-based optics newcomer Maven fills a specific need for backcountry hunters who want to extend the range of their binoculars but are cautious about adding pounds to a pack they have to haul up thousands of vertical feet. The compact S.2 stands out foremost for weighing just over two pounds and measuring 11 inches long. The straight-viewer shape is also much easier to stow in a day pack. Maven is direct-to-consumer only in an effort to provide quality Japanese components at a lower cost. (You can spend a little extra to customize up to eight individual components of the scope with custom colors and camo patterns to create a personalized spotter.)

The other important feature is the relatively low zoom range. The scope starts at 12x—right about where most binoculars leave off—and it tops out at 27x. This zoom range is enough to seek out details about a target in the field such as antler size or an animal’s sex, but it isn’t the right tool for picking apart mountainsides miles away. It’s also of limited utility at the shooting range where, beyond 100 yards, you’ll lack the magnification to pick up target impacts effectively. This is a purpose-built tool for the backcountry hunter who occasionally needs a spotter to follow up on intel gathered with binoculars but doesn’t want to lug around a massive high-zoom spotter.

  • Ultralight
  • High image quality

  • Limited use range
Best for Stargazing
Celestron Ultima 100 22–66x100mm

Key Specs

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 100mm
  • Magnification Range: 22–66x
  • Weight: 72 oz.

At about 4.5 pounds and with a 100mm diameter, this monster scope from Celestron isn’t ideal for carting around, but if you do most of your stargazing from home, it’s a relatively affordable option that gives you decent optical quality in a light-grabbing, 100mm objective lens that also makes it easier to use with the wider field of vision. Image quality in the 22-66x zoom will deteriorate at maximum magnification like any scope in this price range, but the middle sweet spot is enough to enjoy astronomical details up close.

The angled eyepiece is a great choice for when you’re mostly looking up, but it is also easier to use generally, which makes this a valid option for the shooting range as well. If you’re a serious astrophotographer, you’ll want to spend more to get improved optical quality or consider a proper telescope instead. But if you value a versatile spotter for wildlife, shooting, and other stationary spotting besides just stargazing, it’s a good option.

  • Affordable
  • Large objective lens

  • Poor image quality at high magnifications
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