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Spotting Scope vs Binoculars – How to Choose

Last Updated: 06.12.21


Whether you’re new to observation optics or you’ve already gained some experience and knowledge in this field, you know or will soon find out that two tools enjoy dominion here and they include spotting scopes and binoculars. If you’re inclined to use binoculars and you want to check some popular models, you can find out more here.

However, if you’re still not sure about which optics tool to choose, this post might be of help. Since both of them ensure a long-range vision and magnified optics, it might be a bit difficult to make a choice yet there are various factors that will help you make an informed decision. Find them detailed below.

Binoculars – what you need to know

Binoculars, just as the name suggests, feature two eyepieces and thus two lenses and are often chosen for their portability. Although usually lightweight and compact, binoculars do provide a long-distance view that will enable you to see distant objects vividly.

It’s true that their magnification is generally limited and fixed yet today’s market also offers models that come with a varying magnifying power to help you cover more needs. Such items are usually somewhere within the 8-16X range but some high-end binoculars may get you even more.

What makes them a popular choice is their design and portability. If you engage in outdoor activities that will limit the weight of the gear you carry with you, then opting for binoculars might be an inspired thing to do as they are light and small and can be used in an offhand manner, which means that you won’t need a bipod or a tripod.

The price, magnification, and quality provided by the binoculars available for sale these days range greatly, which means that it shouldn’t be difficult to find models engineered to suit most outdoor tasks.


Spotting scopes – features

When the activities you engage in involve the observation or identification of objects or animals that are far away, then a spotting scope will help you see your target or object of interest in detail even when it is at a great distance from you. Spotting scopes stand out through their magnifying power, which in some cases can reach levels of up to 100X.

That’s why spotting scopes are employed for a wider variety of activities including celestial viewing. Some of them are camera-adaptable so you can use them for digiscoping even when on the fly.

While you’ll be able to see animals or herds from two miles away when using binoculars, you won’t get the magnification power needed to actually distinguish different species of large animals, for example.

Here is where a spotting scope is needed. This tool will provide you with the extra details required to make such differences. The high magnification power offered will also help you get a clearer image of your target. Such features come at a price, though, and affect the compactness of a spotting scope. These items are usually bigger and heavier than binoculars and require setup.

Plus, many models call for extra accessories such as a tripod, which adds to the final price. However, the market also offers compact spotting scopes that are as large as standard binoculars.

Choosing between spotting scopes and binoculars based on your tasks

There are many factors that will help you decide what gets added to your shopping cart. It’s true that your budget counts a lot as well. Spotting scopes are usually more expensive, given their features and, if your budget is limited, you might have to do with binoculars.

However, when there are no money-related restrictions, the type of activities you intend to engage in will help you make the right decision. If you’re passionate about observing wildlife and nature in general, both of these items will help you with that yet the way you want to observe nature, be it on the go or from a specific place, will enable you to decide with greater ease.

If you love to explore natural parks and you want to get a closer look at animals and birds that are far away, then you might want to opt for binoculars or a portable and compact spotting scope that you can use without a tripod. By doing so, you will be able to get the unit in position quickly and catch a glimpse even of some fleeting bird.

In case you want to observe wildlife from one specific spot, then a spotting scope is worth using. You can use a tripod to set it in place as long as you don’t have to move. The fine details such a tool will get you are superior to what even high-end binoculars provide.

It’s almost the same when it comes to hunting. If you plan to sit in a stand for a longer time, a spotting scope is ideal as it will enable you to see animals that are at a great distance from you. Still, you must be careful when using a spotting scope for hunting as it may make you feel that you can shoot a target from a greater distance than you are prepared to do.

That’s why it is best to practice before going for serious hunting. In case you are a hunter on the move and carrying too much equipment is not an option, then the only choice left is to go for binoculars. Plus, setting a tripod for a spotting scope may make noise and thus scare the target. Binoculars can be quickly employed when scanning an area for animals that move fast.

Hikers usually use binoculars since they weigh less and don’t require setup. Hiking means that you’re on the move and the optics unit you use isn’t the only gear you take with you. Therefore, opting for a compact and lightweight unit is a reasonable choice as it won’t add too much to your equipment.

If you’re into celestial photography, then the answer is obvious. A spotting scope is your best choice. The high magnifying power provided by such a product will enable you to take great pictures of the celestial bodies in our solar system.

One thing you should keep in mind, though, regards the chromatic aberration. Make sure that, if your budget allows it, you get a high-end spotting scope that has little chromatic aberration for stunning results. A quality tripod is also required as, in order to enjoy such results, both the camera and the tripod should be very still.

To sum up

The main factors that will help you choose between spotting scopes and binoculars regard the magnification and portability required by your specific activities. One thing is clear – binoculars are great when it comes to observing animals and things while on the go. They are lightweight, compact, and easy to carry.

Spotting scopes do a great job when you remain in the same place for a longer time and you need to see things and animals in greater detail. While binoculars will provide you with a better field of view and portability, spotting scopes will get you the extra details you might need to identify your target. Therefore, consider these factors before making your purchase.

Of course, there is also the financial factor that holds great importance. Luckily, the market now offers a rich variety of both binoculars and spotting scopes at prices to suit many budgets. It’s true that high-end units that come with extra features or a higher magnification power and more durable materials will cost more.

Using the right piece of equipment will have a huge impact on your overall outdoor experience, though. Therefore, spending more on a spotting scope or a binocular, especially if you often go outdoors to engage in activities that require the frequent use of such instruments, is an investment you won’t regret.



Ioana Moldovan

Ioana’s professional experience in the optics field has helped her understand the value of passing her knowledge forward. Her curious personality helps her gather useful information for her readers and her goal is to make technical information fun and accessible to everyone.

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