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15 Best Spotting Scopes for Bird Photography in 2022

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Spotting scopes give you extra reach beyond your standard 8×40 or 10×50 binoculars. They let you spot distant birds and admire their plumage in detail. Kowa, Swarovski, or Leica make the very best spotting scopes, but there are plenty of less expensive alternatives made by companies like Celestron, Maven, or Vortex.

In this article, we look at the 15 best spotting scopes for bird photography.

Lilac-breasted roller as an example of bird photography
Lilac-breasted roller. Ⓒ Nick Dale

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The 15 Best Spotting Scopes for Bird Photography

Here’s our selection of the best spotting scopes. The ones at the top of the list tend to be the most expensive, so you get what you pay for!

It might help to understand some numerology. Spotting scope listings generally have three numbers. When you see a 20-60×80 scope, it means the following:

  • The scope can zoom from 20-60 times magnification.
  • The objective lens has a diameter of 80mm.

Go to the end of the list for what to look for in a spotting scope (terminology).

15. Vortex Diamondback 20-60x85mm Spotting Scope (Straight or Angled)

  • Magnification: 20-60x
  • Objective diameter: 85mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 32m at 20x, 15.5m at 60x
  • Eyepiece: Straight or angled
  • Closest focusing distance: 6.6m
  • Eye relief: 20-16.5mm
  • Weight: 1320g
  • Length: 390mm

The Vortex Diamondback is an entry-level scope. But the new 85mm version still has a wide aperture for low-light situations and an extended magnification range to allow scanning and detailed observation. It comes with either a straight or angled body and a handy view-through case. Plus, it has a lifetime warranty offering free repair or replacement, whatever the cause!

Strengths:

  • Multi-coated glass and dielectric prism coatings for improved brightness
  • Waterproof due to O-ring seals
  • Fog-proof nitrogen-purged design
  • Built-in sunshade
  • Adjustable eyecups
  • Rotating tripod ring for sideways viewing angle
  • ArmorTek scratch-resistant coating
  • Durable
  • View-through carry case
  • Vortex VIP Warranty

Weaknesses:

  • Not the greatest optics

Vortex Diamondback with an angled spotting scope for bird photographers

14. Vortex Razor HD 27-60x85mm Spotting Scope

  • Magnification: 27-60x
  • Objective diameter: 85mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 35.7m at 27x, 20.7m at 60x
  • Eyepiece: Angled or straight
  • Closest focusing distance: 5m
  • Eye relief: 17-16.7mm
  • Weight: 1860g
  • Length: 394mm

The Razor HD is Vortex’s top-end scope that comes at twice the price of the Viper. But it boasts a large 85mm aperture to guarantee brightness and extra-low dispersion (ED) glass for clarity and index-matched lenses for color correction. The glass also has an anti-reflective coating to boost light transmission in low-light conditions.

Strengths:

  • O-ring seals for waterproof and dustproof design
  • Argon gas purging prevents fogging
  • Built-in sunshade
  • Smooth focus dial
  • Rotating tripod ring compatible with Arca-Swiss tripod heads for flexible viewing angle
  • ArmorTek scratch-resistant coating
  • It comes with a neoprene fitted cover
  • Vortex VIP Warranty

Weaknesses:

  • Expensive

Vortex Razor spottng spotting scope for bird photographers

13. Sig Sauer Oscar 8 Spotting Scope

  • Magnification: 27-55x
  • Objective diameter: 80mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 35m at 27x, 24.3m at 55x
  • Eyepiece: Angled
  • Closest focusing distance: 5m
  • Eye relief: 17-16mm
  • Weight: 1900g
  • Length: 381mm

Sig Sauer is probably better known for their guns than their spotting scopes. But the Oscar 8 offers excellent optical standards in a solidly built device that feels good in your hands. It’s designed for tripod viewing, so it doesn’t have the Oscar 3’s image stabilization. But the payoff is that the ED and HT glass offer excellent imaging quality, even up to 650 yards.

Strengths:

  • Extra-low dispersion (ED) and high transmittance (HT) glass
  • Waterproof and fog proof
  • Removable eyepiece
  • Incredible clarity
  • Smooth focusing
  • It comes with a neoprene fitted cover

Weaknesses:

  • Heavy
  • No straight eyepiece is available

Sig Sauer Oscar 8 spotting scope

12. Maven S.2 12-27x56mm Spotting Scope

  • Magnification: 27-60x
  • Objective diameter: 85mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 35.7m at 27x, 20.7m at 60x
  • Eyepiece: Straight
  • Closest focusing distance: 5m
  • Eye relief: 17-16.7mm
  • Weight: 1860g
  • Length: 394mm

The Maven S.2 is a rugged but modern-looking straight line scope. It has edge-to-edge clarity and smooth focusing—even when wearing gloves. It doesn’t have the wide aperture or magnification range of other scopes. But it makes up for that with multi-coated fluorite glass for reduced chromatic aberration and weight. Plus, it has a no-questions-asked warranty! It’s also good value. Maven once cut out the middleman by selling directly to the consumer. But it’s now available through Amazon for easier shipping.

Strengths:

  • Fluorite glass and multi-coated lenses for sharpness and high-contrast images
  • O-ring sealed and nitrogen-filled to prevent internal fogging
  • Smooth and user-friendly magnification and focus dials
  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • A Custom Optics Builder and engraving option lets you customize the look

Weaknesses:

  • Low magnification
  • No angled eyepiece is available

Maven S.2 spotting spotting scope for bird photography

11. Athlon Talos 20-60x80mm Spotter Scope

  • Magnification: 20-60x
  • Objective diameter: 80mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 25.3m at 20x, 14.6m at 60x
  • Eyepiece: Angled
  • Closest focusing distance: 6m
  • Eye relief: 17.8-15.2mm
  • Weight: 1091g
  • Length: 419mm

The Athlon is a budget spotting scope that offers a wide objective lens and a good magnification range. It competes with Vortex but at a lower price point. And this is the cheapest model in their line-up. However, the resolution, brightness, and color rendition are excellent, with only slight color fringing visible at 60x.

Strengths:

  • Multi-coated lenses and silver-coated K9 prisms for clarity and brightness
  • Waterproof and nitrogen-purged to prevent internal fogging and improve thermal stability
  • Built-in sunshade
  • Telescoping eyecup
  • Rotating (removable) eyepiece for flexible viewing angle
  • Butter-smooth focusing ring
  • The magnification wheel turns smoothly and allows easy digiscoping as the eyepiece itself stays still
  • Lightweight
  • Comes with carrying bag, bench-height tripod
  • Vibrant colors

Weaknesses:

  • Not rugged enough for backcountry hiking
  • Slight color fringing
  • Eye relief may not be enough at higher magnifications if you wear glasses
  • No straight eyepiece is available

Athlon Talos spotting scope for bird photographers

10. Celestron Ultima 80 Spotting Scope (Straight or Angled)

  • Magnification: 20-60x
  • Objective diameter: 80mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 35m at 20x, 18m at 60x
  • Eyepiece: Straight or Angled
  • Closest focusing distance: 8m
  • Eye relief: 18-15mm
  • Weight: 1616g
  • Length: 490mm

The Celestron is a feature-rich scope despite the low price. It has a large objective lens, wide-zoom range, waterproof housing, and a soft view-through carrying case that comes with it. The step-up in aperture from the 65mm Ultima 65 offers a 50% brighter image. But the absence of ED glass elements leads to an annoying lack of clarity and obvious chromatic aberration at higher zoom levels. That makes this unsuitable for bird photography or wildlife photography.

Strengths:

Weaknesses:

  • Color fringing and poor clarity at higher magnifications
  • Color fringing
  • Eye relief may not be enough at higher magnifications if you wear glasses

Celestron Ultima 80 spotting scope

 9. Gosky 20-60×80 BAK 4 Spotting Scope

  • Magnification: 20-60x
  • Objective diameter: 80mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 35m at 20x, 18m at 60x
  • Eyepiece: Angled
  • Closest focusing distance: 8m
  • Eye relief: 18-15mm
  • Weight: 2410g
  • Length: 490mm

The Gosky is a good-value scope that ticks all the boxes regarding aperture, magnification range and build quality. It also comes with a digiscoping adapter that lets you take pictures with your smartphone. The only problem is the degradation in visual quality at maximum zoom. But that’s not surprising at this price point.

Strengths:

  • Great value
  • Smartphone adapter
  • Waterproof

Weaknesses:

  • Chromatic aberration and softness at 60x
  • No straight eyepiece is available

Gosky BAK 4 spotting scope for bird photography

 8. Bushnell Trophy Extreme 20-60×65 Spotting Scope

  • Magnification: 20-60x
  • Objective diameter: 65mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 50m at 20x, 17m at 60x
  • Eyepiece: Angled
  • Closest focusing distance: 6.1m
  • Eye relief: 18mm
  • Weight: 1034g
  • Length: 381mm

It’s an updated version of the Bushnell prime scope. The slightly smaller objective lens on the Bushnell means it’s pretty light. But that comes at a price. You don’t get the same sharpness as more expensive scopes. However, the magnification range is good, and it comes with a rotating mount that locks with a thumbscrew to give you a choice of viewing angles.

Strengths:

  • Waterproof and all-weather construction with an O-ring sealing
  • Anti-reflective coating for bright and high-contrast images
  • Built-in sunshade
  • Rotating mount for flexible viewing angle
  • Rugged build with black rubber armor
  • Lightweight
  • Includes travel tripod and bag

Weaknesses:

  • Lacks sharpness

Bushnell Trophy Extreme 20-60x65 Spotting Scope for bird photographers

7. Celestron Regal M2 20-60x80ED Spottig Scope

  • Magnification: 16-48x
  • Objective diameter: 80mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 43m at 16x, 23m at 48x
  • Eyepiece: Angled
  • Closest focusing distance: 6.5m
  • Eye relief: 20mm
  • Weight: 1607g
  • Length: 422mm

This fully-featured scope is also available with a 65mm or 100mm aperture. It contains ED glass to improve imaging quality (resolution, contrast, and color fidelity. And it has a BaK4 roof prism to gather more light and add clarity. It also uses the same coatings as Celestron’s observatory-grade telescopes to maximize light transmission and sharpness.

The eye relief is generous if you wear glasses, and the dual-focus system is convenient if you’re photographing birds. The magnesium alloy body means it’s 14% lighter than the previous model. But it’s still too heavy to use without a tripod—which you’ll have to buy yourself!

Strengths:

  • XLT multi-coated optics to maximize light transmission
  • Extra-low dispersion (ED) glass for reduced chromatic aberration
  • Waterproof and nitrogen-purged for anti-fogging
  • Adjustable lens shade
  • Twist-up eyecup
  • Compatible with standard 1.25″ astronomical eyepieces for observing the planets
  • 2x faster dual-focus mechanism
  • Rotating mount for flexible viewing angle
  • Integrated tripod mount
  • T-mount adapter for DSLR
  • View-through case
  • Durable

Weaknesses:

  • Too heavy to use without a tripod
  • No tripod included
  • No straight eyepiece is available
  • Basic warranty doesn’t cover loss, theft, or cosmetic damage

Celestron Regal spotting scope for bird photographers

6 . Vortex Viper HD 20-60×85 Spotting Scope (Straight or Angled)

  • Magnification: 20-60x
  • Objective diameter: 85mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 32m at 20x, 15m at 60x
  • Eyepiece: Straight or angled
  • Closest focusing distance: 10.97m
  • Eye relief: 19.6-17.8mm
  • Weight: 2172g
  • Length: 485mm

The Vortex Viper is among the heaviest spotting scopes on this list. But the brighter and larger objective lens and HD glass elements provide excellent color rendition, low-light performance, and edge-to-edge sharpness—even when spotting subjects up to a mile away. Focusing is convenient as the ring is part of the scope’s body (like on a camera lens).

Strengths:

  • HD glass elements for clarity and contrast
  • Fogproof and waterproof
  • Built-in sunshade
  • Rugged build
  • Rubberized AmorTek coating makes it grippy
  • Vortex VIP Warranty

Weaknesses:

  • Heavy
  • Bulky
Vortex Viper spotting scope for bird photography
Angled

5 . Celestron Ultima 100 Spotting Scope (Straight or Angled)

  • Magnification: 22-66x
  • Objective diameter: 100mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 94m at 22x, 52m at 66x
  • Eyepiece: Straight or angled
  • Closest focusing distance: 10m
  • Eye relief: 18-15mm
  • Weight: 2kg
  • Length: ‎559mm

The weight of this versatile scope might be too much for some. But the payoff is that you get a bright 100mm aperture with a maximum magnification of 66x—both ideal for stargazing as well as bird watching. It also offers 50% more brightness than the 80mm model. That makes it much more useful in low-light conditions. But the image quality deteriorates at maximum magnification, as you might expect.

Strengths:

  • Large aperture
  • Multi-coated optics
  • Portable
  • Durable
  • Includes soft carrying case

Weaknesses:

  • Heavy
  • Bulky
  • Poor close focus distance
Celestron Ultima 100 spotting scope for bird photography
Angled

4 . Nikon Fieldscope ED50 (Straight or Angled)

  • Magnification: Depends on the eyepiece
  • Objective diameter: 50mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 52m at 13x
  • Eyepiece: Straight or Angled
  • Closest focusing distance: 3m
  • Eye relief: 14.1mm at 13x
  • Weight: 455g
  • Length: 209mm

This model from Nikon doesn’t have the largest aperture. But it’s a very compact and portable spotting scope that boasts comprehensive weatherproofing. However, sometimes it doesn’t include an eyepiece. The magnification will depend on where you decide to buy it.

Amazon only sells a straight scope and doesn’t include an eyepiece. You will have to look at a 13-40x/20-60x/25-75x zoom eyepiece that almost doubles the price of the scope! Otherwise, B&H provides 13-30x zoom eyepieces.

Strengths:

  • Extra-low Dispersion glass elements to reduce chromatic aberration
  • Waterproof (up to one meter for five minutes)
  • Nitrogen-filled to prevent fogging
  • Multi-coated lens to improve resolution and transmission of light
  • Light and small enough to be used handheld

Weaknesses:

  • Small aperture
  • A falloff in brightness and clarity above 30x magnification
  • The eyepiece may not be included
Nikon ED50 fiedscope for bird photography
Straight

3 . Leica APO-Televid 82 Spotting Scope (Body Only)

  • Magnification: 25-50x eyepiece (sold separately)
  • Objective diameter: 82mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 40m at 25x, 26m at 50x
  • Eyepiece: Angled
  • Closest focusing distance: 3.8m
  • Eye relief: 18mm
  • Weight: 1520g
  • Length: 313mm

If you’re a photographer, then you probably know Leica’s reputation for producing high-quality glass—at a price. This scope lives up to that reputation with crystal-clear imaging. The scope has an angled body and a wide-angle design that gives better peripheral vision even at high magnifications. The zoom range is slightly shortened not to compromise the imaging quality. But a 1.8x multiplier is available if you need the extra reach.

Strengths:

  • Apochromatic glass for correcting chromatic and spherical aberration
  • Nitrogen-filled to prevent fogging
  • Large field of view
  • Adjustable eyecups for viewing with/without glasses
  • Fluoride coating improves the transmission of light by 6%
  • Razor-sharp
  • Two knobs for rough and fine focusing
  • 1.8x multiplier available
  • Good in low light
  • AquaDura lens coating repels water and dirt
  • Extendable lens hood
  • Durable

Weaknesses:

  • Expensive
  • Heavy enough to need a sturdy tripod
  • Bulky
  • You need to buy the eyepiece separately

Leica APO-Televid 82 spotting scope

2 . Swarovski A/STS-80 HD Spotting Scope (Straight or Angled)

  • Magnification: 20-60x eyepiece
  • Objective diameter: 80mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 20m at 60x
  • Eyepiece: Straight or angled
  • Closest focusing distance: 3m
  • Eye relief: 17mm
  • Weight: 1370g
  • Length: 400mm

Swarovski is one of the top brands for binoculars and spotting scopes, and this model doesn’t disappoint. It offers bright, crystal-clear imaging from edge to edge with natural color rendition. It’s very lightweight due to its magnesium alloy construction. Plus, it’s easy-to-use for bird photography and wildlife photography. You can also buy a 25-50x eyepiece as well.

Strengths:

  • Waterproof to 4m
  • Sharp imaging
  • Smooth helical focusing
  • Well-built
  • Light
  • Shockproof
  • Easy to use for digiscoping
  • Natural color

Weaknesses:

  • It needs major refocusing when zooming
Picture of a Swarovski ATS-80 spotting scope for bird photography
Angled

1. Kowa TSN-883/4 Prominar Fluorite Spotting Scope (Straight or Angled – Body Only)

  • Magnification: Depends on eyepiece (25-60x wide zoom, 30x wide, or 25x long eye relief)
  • Objective diameter: 88mm
  • Field of view at 1000m: 38.4m at 20x, 19.3m at 60x
  • Eyepiece: Straight or angled
  • Closest focusing distance: 5m
  • Eye relief: 17-16.5mm (for 20-60x eyepiece)
  • Weight: 1520g
  • Length: 343mm

You might expect Swarovski or Leica to offer the best spotting scope on the market, but we think it’s Kowa instead! The TSN-883/4 is an optical masterpiece. It’s a high-quality spotting scope with ultra-low dispersion, pure fluorite crystal glass. It guarantees exceptionally bright, contrasty, pin-sharp viewing with minimal chromatic aberration.

Strengths:

  • XD lenses for clarity and minimal chromatic aberration
  • Waterproof
  • Dry nitrogen-filled to prevent fogging
  • Sharp across the entire field of view
  • 99% light transmission leads to outstanding low-light performance
  • Twist-up eyecups
  • Built-in lens hood
  • Protective filter
  • Smooth dual-focus system
  • Good close focus
  • Excellent color rendition
  • Rotating mount for flexible viewing angle
  • View-through case
  • Bird photography is possible with Micro Four Thirds and smartphone adapters

Weaknesses:

  • Slight color fringing

Kowa TSN-883 as the best spotting scope for bird photography

What to Look for in Spotting Scopes (Terminology)

Here are some factors to consider when choosing the best spotting scope:

  • Magnification range—20-40x probably provides the best field of view and brightness for bird watching. But 20-60x spotting scopes are typical. Make sure the optical quality doesn’t degrade too much at higher magnifications.
  • Closest focusing distance—The closest distance you can focus on your subject. It can be just as crucial for spotting scopes as for camera lenses. For instance, you might want to get a close-up view of a bird’s feathers to identify the species. However, there is a trade-off with magnification, so be sure to check both.
  • Glass and coatings—Spotting scopes with ED (extra-low dispersion), FL (fluorite), HD (high density), and APO (apochromatic) glass produce clearer, sharper images. It, in turn, reduces eyestrain.
  • Field of view—This shows the width visible at 1,000 yards (or meters). A wide field of view is better for scanning the scene or for fast-moving birds, but you obviously won’t get the same level of magnification.
  • Focus mechanism—Most scopes have a single focus knob. But Leicas have one for coarse focus and one for more precise tuning. Nikon and Swarovski scopes have a helical focusing system with a rubberized band on the actual barrel or eyepiece. The latter’s reduced “travel” is less accurate. But that makes it faster to switch from close to distant subjects or keep the focus on fast-moving birds.
  • Straight or angled spotting scope—Straight scopes have a more familiar feel. But an angled scope is better for looking at the stars or sitting down and sharing!
  • Eyepieces—Some spotting scopes come with multiple eyepieces. The idea is you can use the lower-magnification ones with a broader field of view to scan the scene. Then you can switch to a higher-magnification eyepiece to examine your subject in detail. Alternatively, you could just zoom in using the same eyepiece.
  • Objective lens size—Normally 50-80mm. A bigger front lens (or “aperture”) gathers more light. And so, the latter produces more clarity and detail and a brighter image.
  • Exit pupil size—This measures the image’s brightness and should be at least 1.3mm (or the diameter of your pupil. It’s the objective lens diameter divided by the magnification. So a 20-60x scope with an 80mm objective lens would have an exit pupil of 1.33mm at 60x—which is fine.
  • Eye relief—The ideal distance between your eye and the eyepiece. It should be at least 16mm if you wear glasses.
  • Weather sealing—Fog, rain, snow, dust, heat, and cold can all be problematic. So look for waterproof and anti-fog (nitrogen- or dry-gas-filled) models with rubber coatings.
  • Weight—Higher-magnification scopes are generally heavier. But they may save you hours of hiking—so it’s a trade-off!
  • Price—Obviously…

Spotting Scope Accessories

All these scopes are powerful, so you might want a tripod to hold them steady—unless you spend a lot of time in a jeep on safari! It doesn’t have to be that sophisticated or expensive, though.

If you want to take pictures or videos of what you can see (called “digiscoping”), you could also invest in a Tactacam Spotter LR. It is a camera attachment that fits onto the eyepiece. It boasts one-touch 4K recording capability (plus live streaming), slow-motion features, and durable rubber housing.

European bee-eater
European bee-eater. Ⓒ Nick Dale

Conclusion

The best spotting scope is generally the best you can afford! There’s a price to be paid for the very best optical quality offered by Kowa, Swarovski, or Leica. But all the angled scopes and straight scopes on this list are packed with helpful features:

  • high magnification
  • low-light ability
  • a choice of eyepieces
  • rotating tripod mounts
  • weatherproofing

They also come with useful accessories such as tripods, T-ring adapters for digiscoping, and a view-through carrying bag. The choice is yours… what’s the best spotting scope?

Try out our Wonderful Wildlife e-book to test out your new spotting scope!

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