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What is a Spotting Scope and How to Use It

You used binoculars but realized they aren’t suitable for long-distance observation. It’s time to take the next step, which is where a spotting scope comes into play. This device allows seeing terrestrial objects from far away.

This guide discusses the basics of spotting scopes and how to use them. You’ll learn about the main features and factors to choosing a suitable device. The article also mentions the maintenance process and other details about these units. Here is everything you should know about these magnifying products! 

An Overview of Spotting Scopes

You can describe spotting scopes as telescopes. These devices have a similar working process. The difference is they serve for terrestrial observation. Instead of pointing them to the sky, you observe objects in your vicinity. The actual distance depends on the product selected.

Another specific characteristic of spotting units is that they are mobile. You can carry them around easily. If you change locations frequently, you’ll appreciate these lightweight devices.

When Are Spotting Scopes Better Than Binoculars?

The experts point out the spotters to use these devices when binoculars can’t achieve the desired distance. Although they use similar mechanisms, spotting units can see farther. If you have a reason to observe objects at large distances, this product is a better choice.

Here are some applications for spotting scopes:

  • Birding. You can observe birds in their nests from far away. There’s no chance to disturb them from a large distance. The product will also deliver the best possible view of these magnificent creatures.
  • Observing nature. Why stop at observing birds? You can watch wildlife and landscape. Spotting scopes allow you to see the top of the mountain without climbing it.
  • Surveillance. Professionals use these devices for surveillance. Amateurs can also watch ships that come from afar, distant buildings, etc.
  • Hunting. This is among the most frequent uses of these products. A hunting spotting scope is useful for finding your prey.
  • Digiscoping. If you are a photographer, you can take impressive photos. This application requires using a camera with the scope.

How Far Can You See with Spotting Scopes?

The capabilities depend on the unit chosen. The general rule is that spotting scopes serve for observing at distances higher than 100 yards. You can use binoculars for lower ranges.

If you are a beginner, a basic unit that reaches up to 200 yards is enough. Advanced devices are capable of going up to 500 yards. Some products can reach more than 1,000 yards, but amateurs rarely resort to using them. They are more suitable for snipers, police marksmen, and even judging air currents.

How Do You Use Spotting Scopes?

Spotting scopes are powerful devices if adjusted properly. If you lack previous experience, there’ll be a small learning curve for setting the unit. Once you master the available options, it’ll be easy to fit the product to your preference.

The Main Components of Spotting Scopes

Before setting up the unit, it’s vital to understand its parts. Here is a basic overview of an average scope’s components:

  • Ocular lens. You use it to observe the surroundings. It’s a crucial component you need to keep clean and free from damage.
  • Objective. This is another lens, but it’s at the opposite section of the ocular unit. It serves to show the direction of the desired object.
  • Focus ring. You can adjust this component to focus on the observed structures.
  • Magnification adjustments. Many call this the zoom option. It serves to magnify or lower the magnification during observation.
  • Eyecups. These components keep the lenses at the desired distance from your eyes. They ensure you can observe the environment even if wearing glasses.
  • Sunshade. The manufacturers apply this for sun protection. It helps to deliver better image quality.
  • Lens caps. You only apply this when not using the lenses. They help to protect them from damage.

It’s strongly advisable to use a tripod with spotting scopes. This accessory is a stand that secures the product’s stability. That’s imperative when observing at large distances since even the slightest movement can make the image shaky. Many tripods are foldable to make their storage easier.

Before beginning, it’s vital to understand each scope is unique. The guide below is general and applies to most units. You should check the instruction manual for anything specific related to your device.

Step 1: Placing the Tripod

You need a reliable spotting scope tripod for hunting and other uses. This accessory will usually come in a box or case. Once you find the desired position for your product, unfold it. You’ll notice leg levers that you should unclip or unlock.

Did you position the tripod at the desired height? If yes, it’s time to lock the levers in that place. Please note that you can pick different lengths, especially if an uneven terrain. Make sure the tripod is stable. If necessary, use a rock or another item to keep it in position.

Step 2: Mounting the Scope on the Tripod

The two products should be compatible. If you find spotting scopes for sale, make sure they fit the tripod. Alternatively, you can purchase the base after acquiring an observation unit.

You’ll notice an adapter or a mounting plate on the tripod. It should be removable, so connect it to the scope. You need to ensure the scope’s placement is tight so it doesn’t drop on the ground. You do this by using the tightening mechanism offered. It’s possible to do this by hand, and you probably won’t need any tools.

It’s now time to return the adapter or plate with the scope to the tripod. The usual mechanism is sliding it inside until it locks into position. You should check for other available locking mechanisms. The goal is to ensure the scope sits tight.

PRO TIP: Does the height seem inadequate? Your tripod could have a central extension system. Check out its neck and see if you can extend it. A couple of twists should ensure you reach the target position.

Step 3: Maneuvering the Scope

The tripod will have pan and tilt locks for moving your spotting scope. Most units have locks and levers for performing these actions. Modern accessories will feature a locking system on the handle. If you untwist the handle, you release the tension and can move the scope. A simple twist allows locking the system into the desired position again.

It’s now time to use the scope. If there are lens caps or other protective components, remove them now.

PRO TIP: You should only move the scope with the handle. If you try to move the product itself, you could cause damage. That can compromise the device’s usability and longevity. 

Step 4: Finding the Perfect Position for Yourself

If you plan on observing the woods, there’s no point in sitting toward the field on the opposite side. What if you want to watch another zone in the area? If necessary, don’t hesitate to adjust your position when setting the scope.

The position contributes to the comfort of bird watchers, photographers, and other observers. It can be crucial for hunters since an optimal place will ensure your shots are at the expected level.

PRO TIP: The chair should be tight, so make sure it doesn’t wobble even for a second. You can also lie down on the ground. If it’s cold or dusty, use a mat.

Step 5: Starting to Observe

Each scope has multiple magnification levels. Your task is to find an optimal adjustment, but the experts suggest starting with low settings. That means you should pick the first zooming option since it secures the highest field of view. 

You start by getting your eye to the ocular lens and observing through it. Use the focus option to ensure you see everything clearly. The image should also be sharp. Spotting scopes are capable of delivering visuals of exceptional quality. If you feel like you need additional relief, adjust the eyecups. This will depend on whether you use glasses.

Are you having problems seeing clearly because of the sunlight? If yes, use a sunshade to cover the objective lens. This integrated feature is useful and helps when the sun is at an unfavorable angle.

Step 6: Scanning the Environment

The idea is to find the desired object to observe. It could be a bird’s nest, your hunting prey, or a building. You start with the widest field of view and the lowest magnification. As you find the desired zone, you can magnify the area to identify the target. You can adjust the focus at any moment to ensure there’s no blurriness.

PRO TIP: You can use binoculars to observe the area first. It will require taking another device with you but can make the scanning more effective. Once you identify the target, use spotting scopes to observe them from up close.

Step 7: Enjoy Using the Scope!

The basics of using a scope come down to observing the environment to find a target. You adjust the image quality with focus and magnification. The essentials are simple, but it takes practice. The experts suggest spending some time testing your device. That way, you’ll know how sensitive the control buttons and handles are. As time passes, you’ll become better at locating targets.

Tips for Using a Spotting Scope

You can buy the best spotting scope for birding, but it doesn’t guarantee the ultimate observation experience. It’s vital to adjust it properly and know how to maximize its potential. Here are the expert tips that can help to make the most out of your device:

  • Get to know the environment first. You don’t want to use your scope immediately. Instead, analyze the terrain. What are the most tempting areas for observation and other relevant considerations? Learning more about the area will help to find targets easier.
  • Don’t forget to rest your eyes. If you plan on observing the surroundings for hours, breaks become imperative. Watching through the scope is like using glasses without prescription and necessity. Make sure to pause for at least 30 seconds between the observation sessions.
  • The atmosphere affects the distance. The weather conditions can reduce the observation range. They can worsen the image at large magnifications. The extreme environmental factors include fog, humidity, and heatwaves.
  • Take impressive photos with cameras. This will require using a camera compatible with your scope. You’ll need an adapter for attaching the product. While you are observing, use the camera to take fantastic pictures. This is convenient for bird watchers and professional photographers. It will look like you are at the scene, but you’ll be shooting from a large distance.
  • Be persistent in using the scope. It takes practice to master the device. Once you invest time and effort, you’ll notice you become better at scanning and observing the environment.

What to Consider When Choosing Spotting Scopes

These scopes feature advanced optics and features. There are numerous factors to analyze, so you can find the guide below helpful.

Main Types of Spotting Scopes

The telescopes belong to two different categories – refractors and reflectors. You won’t find many reflecting units in the market of spotting scopes.

As for refracting units, they all come with a prism. Its purpose is to deliver an optimal image quality while turning the image to the proper sides. Two different categories are available:

  • Porro prism. The manufacturers find it easy and cheap to make, and the users appreciate the affordable price. That’s why this design is at the peak of its popularity now. Most brands use BAK-4 glass, although BK7 might be available in low-quality units.
  • Roof prisms. These products might be smaller and slimmer. The downside is they often lack the same image quality as Porro prisms. Many also miss features like camera adapters, alternative eyepieces, etc.

Should You Pick Angled or Straight Spotting Scopes?

This won’t affect the actual use. It’s a matter of personal preference. If you use a tripod, straight scopes could be a better option. That’s because you adjust the product to your eye level. It ensures optimal comfort even when observing for hours.

If you need to share the scope, an angled body is the recommended choice. It has a 45-degree angle, which ensures optimal observation through the eyepiece.

Magnification

All spotting scopes come with many magnification options. The manufacturers mention the maximum settings. The description might say “40x,” which means the product magnifies up to 40 times.

Most units are below 60x, but that’s enough for most users. If you are a beginner, it’s smart to start with lower settings. You’ll have better control and a wider field of view at 20x magnification. If you found the object to observe, you can increase the adjustment.

Objective Lens

This is a critical component of spotting scopes since it ensures optimal image quality and detail. The manufacturers use different glasses for this part. The experts suggest going with ED (extra-low dispersion), HD (high-density), or fluorite-coated options. They deliver the highest image clarity and brightness. Even if you need to pay a little more, they’ll deliver maximum value for the money.

Each objective lens will have a different capacity for gathering light. This part’s size directly affects how good the product is in collecting illumination. The units vary from 50mm to 100mm. You can expect better clarity and brightness with a big lens. The downside is that glass is heavier, which adds to the weight of carrying the product.

Eyepieces

You use this component for observation. Some eyepieces have fixed optics, which means there’s no zooming feature. This option could deliver better optics, but it misses versatility. That’s why amateurs prefer going with a zoom eyepiece.

The zooming feature allows you to adjust the magnification. Whether you don’t see clearly or the conditions change, this is useful. Some eyepieces are even removable and interchangeable. Most manufacturers won’t deliver more than a single component. Purchasing other pieces will be an additional expense to improve your viewing experience.

Focusing Mechanism

Focus serves to ensure optimal image sharpness. The market offers two options:

  • Knob. You can find it in the scope’s upper section. A knob offers more freedom and precision when adjusting the focus. The downside is the required dexterity and ensuring the knob is compatible with your hand’s size.
  • Collar. A rubberized or knurled scope’s barrel allows you to focus the image. As you twist the barrel, the image sharpens.

Weight and Size

The total scope’s size shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. The only thing to consider is it fits well in your hand and on your tripod. That ensures you can observe the environment by using both available methods.

The experts suggest focusing on weight. If you are outside and carrying everything alone, each ounce matters. You might find a scope too heavy after an hour. That’s why the lightest possible option is the smart choice.

Which Features Can Improve the Use of Spotting Scopes?

The scope’s performance depends on your skill. The available features and accessories can affect the experience. Check out these factors to ensure better viewing:

  • A close focus. Once you identify the object, you can use this feature to achieve the perfect image. It focuses on up to 20 feet, and it’s useful for photographers.
  • Lens coatings. These components deliver optimal light transmission. The minimum required includes a fully-coated lens, although multiple coatings are also welcome.
  • Waterproof rating. Most scopes come with a low water resistance rating. If you plan to use it in severe rain, you might need better waterproofing. Another convenient thing is that these seals protect the housing from dirt and other particles.
  • Cases and bags. These make it more convenient to carry the scope around. It also contributes to the overall device’s lifespan.

Can You Hold Spotting Scopes?

It’s possible to hold the scope in your hand. Most users resort to this when they need to use the device quickly. If you notice the prey or an impressive view is nearby, there’s no time to set the tripod. 

The downside of not using the stand is shakiness. It’s impossible to maintain a perfectly steady image, especially at large distances. That could be a problem for photographers.

All spotting scopes support mounting on tripods or observing while holding them in your hands. It’s up to you to pick the desired observation method.

How to Clean and Maintain Spotting Scopes

Optical components are long-term solutions and expensive investments. They provide excellent value for money and consistent performance. If you want your scope to deliver the best image quality, cleaning and maintenance are imperative.

Here is how to handle the entire process with your scope:

  • Don’t let dirt remain on the lenses. It’s normal for glass surfaces to collect debris while in use. If outdoors, you’ll notice various particles on lenses. Before storing them, you can blow away the dirt. You can use an air blower at the lowest setting or let the air outside to the job. You shouldn’t use your lungs since you risk getting the glass wet.
  • Clean the lenses. Some manufacturers deliver a special pen with their scopes. You use it for cleaning the glass surfaces by wiping them down gently. The edges are particularly sensitive since that’s where the debris can get stuck.
  • Use a cleaning solution. You’ll need a specialized product, so don’t use generic formulas. These cleaners minimize the risk of scratching the glass. A microfiber cloth can help to dry the lenses and clean the product from inside.
  • Don’t forget the scope’s inner sections. The housing isn’t airtight, and debris might get inside. You should clean it occasionally, but be careful and gentle.

It’s vital to store your scope properly. If you aren’t using the lenses, apply the cups for protection. Did you finish observing? Place the product inside the case to keep it safe from dust and sunlight. Once you get home, you want a place away from moisture and harsh environmental conditions.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are a newbie bird observer or a passionate hunter, you’ll find a spotting scope useful. It offers a higher range than binoculars while ensuring fantastic image quality. Any moment invested in learning how the device works will be worth the amazing pictures it delivers. The only remaining thing is to choose a unit that suits your expectation. Make sure to give it a shot and completely change your experience of observing the environment!