Spotting Scope vs Binoculars: Choosing The Right Glass

As a long-range shooter, hunter, or competition shooter, you know that your success depends on your ability to see your target clearly.

That’s why spotting scopes and binoculars are essential tools for any serious shooter.

With the right spotting scope, you can easily identify your target and make precise adjustments to your shot. But with so many options available, how do you choose the best one for your needs?

In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the best spotting scopes and binoculars for long-range shooting, hunting, target shooting, and general observation to help you make an informed decision.

Spotting Scope vs Binoculars: Choosing The Right Glass
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Understanding Spotting Scopes and Binoculars

Spotting Scopes

If you enjoy outdoor activities, spotting scopes can be an excellent tool to have. When it comes to choosing between a spotting scope and binoculars, spotting scopes are the better option if you want an optical device that is both easy to carry and has great magnification capabilities.

While spotting scopes are versatile and can be used for various outdoor activities, they can be heavier and more cumbersome compared to other optical devices like binoculars. Spotting scopes come in different sizes, but they usually need a tripod and a stable platform to produce the best visual results.

The great magnification and outstanding visual quality that spotting scopes offer often come with a higher price tag. However, many outdoor enthusiasts and professionals are willing to pay extra for the higher quality and better results that spotting scopes provide.

Check out the following video for a great explanation on the differences between an angled vs straight spotting scope.

Spotting Scope Applications

Spotting scopes are great when you need to see something from a distance. They can provide high levels of magnification, commonly reaching up to 60x.

However, due to their high magnification, it’s best to use them on a tripod to keep them steady. Hand-holding them can cause a lot of image shake, which results in a blurry image.

Spotting scopes are ideal when you need to observe something from a fixed location for an extended period. On the other hand, binoculars are more suitable for covering a lot of ground due to their smaller size and weight.

But if you need to view something from a distance and still require high levels of magnification, then spotting scopes are still the best option.

These scopes are perfect for any situation where you want to observe without being noticed, such as hunting, wildlife watching, birding, surveillance, and more.

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When it comes to comparing spotting scopes and binoculars, nothing beats the portability of binoculars. They come in various sizes and magnification capabilities, and although they may not have the same powerful magnification as some spotting scopes, their smaller size makes them easier to carry.

However, binoculars also offer several advantages. Many people who enjoy outdoor activities prefer the fact that binoculars allow them to use both eyes, reducing eye fatigue during long viewing sessions. Since binoculars are shorter and lighter, they are excellent for tracking a moving subject on the go and do not require mounting on a tripod or stable platform to achieve high-quality visuals.

Binoculars are designed to withstand harsh outdoor conditions. They are built to be tough and are often made fog-proof, waterproof, and weather-proof to ensure they can handle any environment. Additionally, binoculars are often designed to be impact-resistant in case they are accidentally dropped, making them a reliable tool for any outdoor adventure.

Binocular Applications

Binoculars are versatile tools that can be used in a variety of situations. Their small size and portability make them easy to carry around, and they’re especially useful when you need a lightweight option. However, they’re not ideal for viewing subjects that are very far away, as they typically have magnification levels of 12x or less.

One of the strengths of binoculars is their wide field of view, which makes them great for watching moving targets. This makes them a popular choice for activities like hunting, sports games, concerts, and nature watching. But, they do have their limitations when it comes to range, so they may not be the best choice for very distant targets.

In some cases, binoculars can be used to spot a target before magnifying it with a spotting scope for greater detail. However, this requires carrying extra weight and incurring additional expenses, so it may not be the best option for everyone.

When it comes to durability, binoculars are often built to withstand rough environments and adverse weather conditions. While spotting scopes can also have features like water resistance and fog-proof lenses, binoculars are generally tougher overall.

Spotting Scopes vs Binoculars: A Comparison

To give you an at-a-glance view of the differences:

  • Spotting scopes are designed for viewing things at longer distances than binoculars, and one way they achieve this is by having larger objective lenses. These lenses are typically 80 millimeters in diameter and ensure that the image is detailed and clear, even at great distances.
  • Binoculars are generally more compact and portable compared to spotting scopes, and one reason for this is that they usually have lenses that are under 50 millimeters in diameter. While this smaller size makes them easier to carry around, it also means that the image quality they provide is not as high as that of spotting scopes.
  • Spotting scopes take things up a notch with their magnification capabilities, which typically range from 15x to 60x.
  • Binoculars typically have magnification capabilities that range from 1x to 12x.

Spotting Scope Lens and Magnification

In general, if the objective lens of a device is bigger, it will allow more light to enter and result in a clearer and more detailed image. This is great for improving the overall quality of the image, but there’s a catch. If the larger lens is of lower quality, then it won’t necessarily produce the same level of clarity and detail. So, just remember that bigger isn’t always better when it comes to lenses.

With that being said, when you’re comparing two lenses of equal quality, the one with the larger objective lens will generally produce a better image. For instance, spotting scopes often come with quite sizable objective lenses, which can range anywhere from 45mm to 100mm. However, more often than not, spotting scope lenses will typically fall within the range of 60mm to 80mm.

When you increase the magnification of your optics, you can see more detail on your subject, which is great. However, it’s important to note that higher magnification isn’t always the best choice. When you use higher magnification, you may also experience more image shake, which results in a blurry image. Additionally, atmospheric conditions, such as dust, heat waves, or air currents, can make it difficult to view at high magnification levels, even with high-quality optics.

Most spotting scopes have a magnification range of 15x to 60x. Above this range, it can be too challenging to view the subject clearly during the day due to atmospheric conditions. At 60x magnification, your subject will appear 60 times larger or closer than when viewed with the naked eye.

The field of view (FOV) refers to how much area you can see in the total image displayed by your device. In general, higher magnification means a smaller field of view. The FOV is typically measured at a distance of 1,000 yards and most spotting scopes have an FOV between 50-150 feet at that distance. This means that when viewing through your spotting scope, you’ll see an area between 50-150 feet wide, but remember, it will appear 15-60 times larger than it would with the naked eye.

Binocular Lens and Magnification

Binoculars come in a variety of lens sizes. Compact binoculars are designed to be portable and have lenses as small as 25 millimeters. The larger, all-purpose binoculars that you see most often are usually between 40-50 millimeters.

Binoculars typically have lower magnification levels than other optical devices. It’s uncommon to see binoculars with magnification levels higher than 12x. Most all-purpose binoculars will have 4x-10x magnification levels.

It’s important to keep in mind that higher magnification levels usually mean larger devices. If you’re looking for a more compact set that’s easier to carry, you may need to settle for a lower magnification level.

One area where binoculars excel is the field of view. As a general rule, as magnification increases, the field of view decreases. However, since binoculars don’t have super high levels of magnification, they often have a relatively wide field of view.

Higher-end binoculars typically have a field of view between 300 and 450 feet at a distance of 1,000 yards. This means that you’ll see a magnified area that’s about 300-450 feet wide when viewing through your binoculars at a distance of 1,000 yards.

Spotting Scopes and Binoculars: Top Picks

Best Spotting Scopes

Just like firearms, there are a plethora of spotting scopes available in the market that can provide you with excellent service and durability for a lifetime.

While big names such as Swarovski provide you with the absolute best glass, spending $3,000 on a spotting scope is not realistic for everyday people. Here are three options that are a bit more common man.

Vortex Optics Viper HD Spotting Scope

With a magnification range of 15x to 45x and an objective lens diameter of 65mm, the Vortex Optics Viper HD is an excellent choice for long-range shooting.

The scope is also equipped with high-density, extra-low dispersion glass that provides a sharp, clear image. The Viper HD is built to last, with a rugged, waterproof design.

Vortex Viper 65mm Spotting Scope Angled-HD V500

at EuroOptic
Prices accurate at time of writing

Also available at Sportsmans Warehouse and Amazon.

Leupold SX-4 Pro Guide HD Spotting Scope

The Leupold SX-4 Pro Guide HD is another excellent option for long-range shooters. With a magnification range of 20x to 60x and an objective lens diameter of 85mm, this scope offers excellent clarity and brightness.

The lens is also coated with DiamondCoat 2, which provides scratch resistance and increases light transmission.

Leupold SX-4 Pro Guide 20-60x85mm HD Angled Spotting Scope

at EuroOptic
Prices accurate at time of writing

Also available at Sportsmans Warehouse and Amazon.

Athlon Talos 20-60x80mm

If you’re looking to save some money, the Athlon Talos is a great choice for you.

You can easily spot your targets up to 800 yards away through the clear glass. However, observing hits on a splatter target is somewhat restricted and depends on the weather conditions, typically up to 300 yards.

The fully adjustable 45-degree eyepiece provides you with ample flexibility to position your spotting scope at the best possible spot. Whether you’re lying on the ground or sitting upright, you can get a clear and precise sight picture anytime you want.

Athlon Optics Talos 20-60×80 Spotter Scope

at Amazon
Prices accurate at time of writing

An additional perk of this spotting scope is that it comes with a spotting scope case and table-top tripod.

Best Binoculars

Vortex Optics Diamondback HD 10×42

The Vortex Optics Diamondback HD 10×42 is a great choice for those who want high-quality binoculars at a reasonable price.

These binoculars feature high-density, extra-low dispersion glass that provides a clear, sharp image, even in low-light conditions.

They are also waterproof, fog proof, and shockproof, making them durable enough to withstand harsh outdoor conditions.

Vortex Diamondback HD 10×42 Binoculars DB-215

at EuroOptic
Prices accurate at time of writing

Also available at Sportsmans Warehouse and Amazon.

Swarovski EL 8.5×42

If you’re looking for the ultimate image quality, the Swarovski EL 8.5×42 binoculars are an excellent choice.

These binoculars feature Swarovski’s proprietary lens coatings, which provide unparalleled image clarity and brightness.

They are also lightweight and comfortable to hold, making them ideal for extended periods of use.

Swarovski EL 8.5×42 Binoculars (Green)

at EuroOptic
Prices accurate at time of writing

Also available on Amazon.

Nikon Monarch 7 8×42

The Nikon Monarch 7 8×42 binoculars are a great all-around choice for those who want a good balance of image quality and affordability. These binoculars feature high-quality optics and coatings, as well as a durable, rubber-coated exterior that provides a comfortable grip.


at Amazon
Prices accurate at time of writing

Also available at EuroOptic and Sportsmans Warehouse.

Accessories For Spotting Scopes and Binoculars

Spotting Scope Window Mount

The Vortex spotting scope window mount is an excellent choice as it provides a quick and easy setup within seconds.

You can use any vehicle as a blind for viewing and get sturdy and compact support for your spotting scopes and binoculars.

Tripod For Spotting Scope

The Bushnell Advanced Tripod is an ideal choice for outdoor enthusiasts and photographers who want a sturdy and reliable tripod for their binoculars, spotting scopes, and cameras.

Made of durable aluminum, this heavy-duty tripod features adjustable legs and a center column that offers maximum versatility and stability on any terrain. Its non-slip feet provide a secure footing, ensuring that you won’t have to worry about it slipping or toppling over.

The smooth 3-way pan head comes with a quick-release plate that makes it easy to attach your camera or scope, and with a maximum height of 63 inches and a weight capacity of up to 11 pounds, you can set up your equipment exactly as you need it.

Spotting Scope Cover

The Vortex Padded Spotting Scope Case is an excellent choice for anyone who owns a Vortex 65mm or 85mm spotting scope, whether it’s straight or angled.

This case provides you with all the necessary transport and storage capabilities to keep your spotter safe and secure.

Vortex Padded Spotting Scope Case

at Sportsmans Warehouse
Prices accurate at time of writing

Other options are available on Amazon.

Binocular Tripod Adapter

The Staoptics Binocular Tripod Adapter is an excellent accessory that is both sturdy and durable, thanks to its high-quality aluminum construction. The quick connect or disconnect feature is an added advantage, allowing you to attach or remove the adapter from your binoculars with ease.

This tripod adapter is designed to fit all binoculars, thanks to its unique and versatile design. It comes with a standard 1/4-20 Inch Threading that allows you to install your binoculars onto your tripod or car window holder, providing you with stability and convenience when you need it most.

Staoptics Binocular Tripod Adapter Quick Release

at Amazon
Prices accurate at time of writing

Binocular Straps

This Binocular Strap is a fantastic solution that evenly distributes the weight of your binoculars across your shoulders, allowing for a more relaxed viewing experience.

This ingenious strap also keeps your binoculars, rangefinders, and even cameras from bouncing around as you walk, freeing up your hands to do other things. Plus, it keeps your binoculars close to your chest and out of the way, providing you with a more comfortable and secure way to carry them.

Vortex Binocular Harness Strap

at Amazon
Prices accurate at time of writing

Binocular Chest Pack

When you’re out in the field with your binoculars, it’s essential to have a way to protect them from the elements while keeping them easily accessible. The Vortex Optics GlassPak Binocular Harness is designed to do just that. This harness is perfect for a range of full-size binoculars, and it keeps them snug and secure.

The mesh side pockets provide convenient storage for calls, a lens pen, and other small items that you may need to access quickly. The tethers attached to your binoculars also prevent accidental drops, giving you peace of mind while you’re on the move. Plus, the rear zippered pocket is perfect for storing larger items like your cell phone.

With the Vortex Optics GlassPak Binocular Harness, you can house and protect your binoculars while keeping them within reach. It’s a must-have accessory for anyone who wants to enjoy their outdoor adventures without having to worry about the safety of their gear.

Vortex Optics GlassPak Binocular Harness

at Sportsmans Warehouse
Prices accurate at time of writing

Frequently Asked Questions

How far can I see with a spotting scope?

The distance you can see with a spotting scope depends on several factors, such as the magnification power, the objective lens diameter, and the quality of the optics. In general, a spotting scope can provide a clear view up to several hundred yards or even further, depending on these factors. Some higher-end spotting scopes have a range of up to 1,000 yards away.

Can spotting scope see further than binoculars?

Whether a spotting scope can see further than binoculars depends on various factors such as magnification power and objective lens diameter. Generally, spotting scopes have higher magnification power and larger objective lens diameter than binoculars, which makes them ideal for long-distance viewing.

What size spotting scope do I need for 100 yards?

To determine the appropriate size of a spotting scope for viewing at 100 yards, it’s important to consider the magnification power and the objective lens diameter. Generally, a spotting scope with a magnification power of 20x to 30x and an objective lens diameter of 60mm to 80mm is suitable for viewing at 100 yards.

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Now that you have a better understanding of the differences between spotting scopes and binoculars, you can choose which tool best suits your needs.

While they share many applications, their characteristics make them preferable at different times.

If you are on a lower budget, binoculars may be the way to go. A high-quality pair of binoculars can be obtained for less than an entry-level spotting scope.

Binoculars are also smaller and more portable, making them convenient to use anywhere. Additionally, their wider field of view can make it easier to spot targets.

However, when it comes to long-distance viewing, spotting scopes are the clear winner. With magnification levels up to 60x and large objective lenses for high-detail viewing, spotting scopes are perfect for seeing far-off subjects. Keep in mind, however, that they are larger, less portable, and far more expensive.

If budget is not an issue and you do not have to carry the tools far or do not mind the extra weight, it may be useful to employ both binoculars and spotting scopes. This will allow you to use the binoculars to spot and locate your targets and then switch to the spotting scope for the most detailed viewing.

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Table of Contents

  • Understanding Spotting Scopes and Binoculars
  • Spotting Scopes
  • Spotting Scope Applications
  • Binoculars
  • Binocular Applications
  • Spotting Scopes vs Binoculars: A Comparison
  • Spotting Scope Lens and Magnification
  • Binocular Lens and Magnification
  • Spotting Scopes and Binoculars: Top Picks
  • Best Spotting Scopes
  • Vortex Optics Viper HD Spotting Scope
  • Leupold SX-4 Pro Guide HD Spotting Scope
  • Athlon Talos 20-60x80mm
  • Best Binoculars
  • Vortex Optics Diamondback HD 10×42
  • Swarovski EL 8.5×42
  • Nikon Monarch 7 8×42
  • Accessories For Spotting Scopes and Binoculars
  • Spotting Scope Window Mount
  • Tripod For Spotting Scope
  • Spotting Scope Cover
  • Binocular Tripod Adapter
  • Binocular Straps
  • Binocular Chest Pack
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • How far can I see with a spotting scope?
  • Can spotting scope see further than binoculars?
  • What size spotting scope do I need for 100 yards?
  • Conclusion

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