Birdwatching And Wildlifing Spotting Scope Guide



BEFORE we get too carried away and literally zoom right into an unwise purchase of a piece of bird-watching equipment that looks great on paper, but, err, what does it do again?

Maybe it is time for some plain speaking, in our basic Birdwatching And Wildlife Spotting Scope Guide, Beach Baby debunks all the doublespeak to help explain the technical terms involved in optics.

birdwatching spotting scope buying guide

But firstly, what is a spotting scope, and why do you need one? Perhaps you feel that binoculars alone are enough.

However, a spotting scope really brings you closer to the birds and other animals than an excellent pair of binoculars alone can do.

In short, if you want to see in fine detail, you need a spotting scope. These may take a little more work than a pair of binoculars to adjust, and you have the thorny dilemma of an angled scope versus a straight scope to battle out as well.

Scopes are generally heavier than binoculars, and may require mounting on a tripod, which could be a consideration for those thinking about carrying them long distances.

However, for a truly up close and personal experience, they are a must have. And of course, they can also be used for looking at the night sky – although they will not offer the same vision that a telescope would.

spotting scope and wildlifing buying guide

Here is our Bird And Wildlife Spotting Scope Guide.


Vortex Optics Razor HD Angled Spotting Scope review

This is a scope that has the eyepiece at an angle of maybe 45 or 90 degrees from the barrel. Perhaps, for the novice scoper, it is a little harder to use, but once you have cracked it, the advantages are manifold – especially if you are on the taller side, because you won’t need to set the tripod so high. It is also better for looking into the sky if you wish to use your spotting scope for more celestial pursuits.


Visionking 25-75x70 Maksutov 100% Waterproof Bak4 Spotting scope w Tripod review

 This BA-K4 prism is generally considered to be superior to the alternative type of prism, the BK-7, which is usually found on the lower end of the optics spectrum. 

But even within products labeled BAK-4, it is thought that there can be some variation, and it has been suggested that some of the lower priced Chinese items marked as BAK-4, are not a barium crown as the name is meant to imply, but a phosphate one.


USCAMEL Bird Watching Waterproof Spotting Scope - 20-60x60 Zoom Monocular Telescope

More likely to be found on the more economical models, the BAK-7 prisms are still perfectly serviceable, as long as you know what you are getting for your $.


Vixen Optics 11485 HR 6x21 ED Monocular review

The highest quality prisms, which help prevent reflections distorting the image.


Referring to the density of glass, basically giving an idea to how much the item will weigh and often, how much it will cost.


In short, it is about the ‘real feel’ of the image that is being magnified. Put simply, as the magnification goes up, the depth of field decreases. This is the distance between the nearest and furthest objects which are in sharp focus.



This is a unit of measurement which measures the strength of a lens.


An eyepiece focusing tool, found on binoculars, to help adjust each side individually.


exit pupil optics

This is the amount that light rays enter the objective lens and then leaves through the ocular lens.

If you hold the scope or binoculars approximately 30 cm away, with the objective lens pointing towards the light, this is small spot of light you can see on them. The wider this bright spot is, the brighter the viewfield is.


extra low dispersion glass ed

This stands for extra low dispersion glass.  Found on the higher end of optics lens, it helps control chromatic aberration, and basically, cleans up and sharpens your image.



Most likely made of rubber, these can usually be rolled up or down, as preferred by the wearer, for personal comfort. The repeated rolling action sometimes causes them to break.  Other types of eyecups are available too., There are ‘sliding’ eye cups, which some people think are too easy to fall out of place. A third type are ‘twist up’ or helicoid eye cups, which are thought of as superior because the wearer can adjust them to a custom fit.


This is the distance between your eye and the lens. This can be a consideration for eye glass wearers.  


The width of the image that can be seen. Sometimes this may be given as an angle or in feet.


A longer focal length means a higher magnification and narrower angle of view. A shorter focal length results in the opposite… and a wider angle of view with lower magnification.


The optical barrel is filled with nitrogen or argon gas. It works because the oxygen has been removed, which may cause misting to occur under humid conditions.


Also known as “twist up”, see Eyecups.


This is a coating applied to the lens to prevent reflections in the image. Most spotting scopes will have this.


lens fungus

  If exposed to moist conditions, tiny fungi that can grow inside your binoculars or spotting scope. This can be prevented by treating them with nitrogen (ie fogproofed) 


This is how the scope or binoculars are made fogproof (see fogproofing).


This is the lens that is closest to the subject matter, and the furthest from the eye.


This is the lens that is closest to the eye.



These correct the inverted image of the scope or binocular. There are two main types, Roof Prism and Porro Prism.

Porro prisms were commonplace until the 60′ when roof prisms gradually came into usage.

To put it simply, the Porro prisms are jagged in appearance, and jut out from the main barrel, whereas the roof prisms are straight through .

As to which is best, the choice is yours although experts feel that in the lower end of the price range, Porro prisms may offer a better view.


celestron ultima 80 20 straight through scope

The major advantage for this scope is the ease of use for the novice….simple and quick! However, some people feel that it may be less comfortable to carry over prolonged periods of usage. Also, it may be less easy to view the sky.


Emarth 20-60x60AE Waterproof Angled Spotting Scope with Tripod

As the name implies, these have been waterproofed by internal sealing with O rings, to prevent any moisture getting into the body of the scope or binocular. ‘Waterproofed’ does not necessarily mean ‘fog-proofed’ and vice versa, although often, scopes will have both.

Some experts feel that waterproofing is not strictly necessary, for the casual spotting scope user, unless you really are out in the sea getting lots of spray, or determined to go bird watching in a downpour. Most modern scopes have some degree of protection against light rain, and small amounts of moisture. Just make sure you don’t drop it in the sea and you should be fine!


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About the author: Sandor is a former stock broker and current tour guide and treasure hunter, travelling far and wide seeking buried treasure.  He has found some very interesting artifacts in his searches.  He is also an avid bird watcher and is an advocate for rare and endangered birds.