Why get a spotting scope?
Whether it’s birds or boats you are looking at, a spotting scope opens up a whole new world. With a scope you can see things that are nearly impossible to see with binoculars alone. (I’m always amazed at what people tell me they have seen with their scopes but we won’t go there!!) More than 20 years ago I went to Alaska with my friend Brian Wheeler. He brought along an old Bushnell Spacemaster scope. I had so much fun with that scope that I bought one for myself as soon as I got home! I actually still have that scope and use it along with others as rentals and free loaners in case someone needs one to use if theirs is out for repair etc. That Spacemaster scope has changed little since then and actually still sells for not much more than I paid for it way back then.
Luckily choosing a scope is a lot easier than choosing a binocular, there are far fewer models to choose from so for the most part and it will mostly depend on how much you are willing to spend. So here are a few of the characteristics you should look for:
For the most part there are two sizes to choose from, 60-65mm scopes and 77-82mm scopes. This refers to the diameter of the front objective in millimeters. Not too long ago 60mm was the standard, then along came 77mm scopes. It doesn’t sound like too much of a difference but an 80mm will gather about 65% more light than a 60mm and that can make a big difference especially when viewing at high powers and under low light. In general, larger scopes outperform similar smaller ones but you will have to decide for yourself if the added size and weight are worth it.
Most scopes are available with zoom or fixed power eyepieces which range from 15X to 60X. Zooms have gotten much better in recent years than they used to be making them a popular choice for many birders. It easier to find your subject at low power and then zoom in to suit your needs. I would also have to add though that looking through a good scope with a fixed wide angle eyepiece is a joy! Even though zooms are optically very sharp they have a narrower field of view. If you put two scopes together, one with a 20-60 zoom set at 30X and the other with a 30X wide angle eyepiece the difference is striking. You will actually get a wider field in the 30X than you will with the zoom even at 20X! I have long been a fan of zooms for their added power but after a recent birding trip in Mexico where we used a Leica with a 32X wide angle eyepiece exclusively, I may have been converted, but the choice is personal.
Include w aterproof scopes and those with high performance glass. Each manufacturer has its own designation for them such as ED, APO, HD etc. In a nutshell what this special glass does is bring all the colors in focus on the same plane. Normal multi-coated scopes are excellent, these are just a bit better for those with an especially discriminating eye or those who have digiscoping photography in mind. Speaking of photography, there are adapters that turn your scope into a 800mm telephoto lens that works with most 35mm cameras plus adapters to hook your digital point and shoot camera to it.
People are also now using their digital cameras with no adapters. They shoot right through the eyepiece of their scopes with surprisingly good results. Of course there is some practice involved like anything else. This is referred to as “digiscoping”. Ann Cook from Canada does some amazing photography with her spotting scope and a Nikon Coolpix digital camera. Check out her work at www.birdsofmanitoba.com if you'd like to see what is possible.
Angled or Straight?
Some spotting scopes come in both straight and angled models and t his is strictly a personal choice. Straight scopes used to be the norm but angled scopes are have taken over for 90+% of scope buysers. Groups or couples especially like them because they accommodate people of different heights better and they seem to be easier to use for digiscoping. Anyway you go, a scope will open up a whole new world!
We carry a wide selection of scopes from Swarovski, Lecia, Vortex, Pentax, Stokes, Audubon, and Bushnell.