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Spotting Scopes Explained in a Nutshell

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Spotting scopes are compact telesocpes designed and optimized for land (or terrestrial) viewing. You may think of a spotting scope as a 'hybrid' of sorts - placed somewhere between a binoculars and a telescope. They are generally more powerful than binoculars, so binocular enthusiasts may add a spotting scope to their collection should they want a scope with powerful magnification. Spotting Scopes are generally used for viewing boats in far distances (while sitting at your deck for example!), surveillance or hunting.

There are some key distinguishing features of Spotting Scopes that differentiate them from astronomical telescopes:
  • A built in variable zoom eyepiece - variable zoom eyepieces allow you to zoom in and out on an image, much like you would with a camera. These eyepieces don't come standard with astronomy scopes, and typically cost about $200.

  • Multi-coat lenses - these coatings are for land-viewing. They boost "land colours", such as blues and greens, for a better viewing experience. If your spotting scope comes with what's called an "ED Coating", which stands for "Extra-Low Dispersion", this means that you've got an excellent scope. ED glass does away with what's called chromatic abberration - a distortion in the image when looking at very bright images, where lines are blurred with small spectrums of light. Astronomy scopes do not have coatings on their lenses - this is because they need to capture as much light as possible, and the coatings block out some light to protect your eyes during day-time viewing.

  • Spotting Scopes are also usually more durable than astronomical telescopes. They are designed for portability and are built to be hardy enough to withstand the wear and tear during camping, hunting trips. They are also commonly waterproof / fogproof, adding to their robust capacity.

  • Spotting Scopes are usually Refractor or Reflector scopes - their optics are constructed so that you see images the right side up.


Tripods for Spotting Scopes

Spotting scopes have been designed so that they fit unverisal tripod stands. They can definitely use a standard camera tripod if you so choose, but just be wary that most spotting scopes are quite heavy, so do select one that can withstand the weight of your Spotting Scope! Typically, spotting scopes do not come with a tripod.

How far can i see with my spotting scope?

This is a common question beginner users ask that we possibly may have no answer to! It is like asking "how far can I see with my eye?". Distance viewing really depends on how much clarity and visibility you would like to observe. A more accurate way to describing (and understanding) distance with spotting scopes is by it's Field of View.

Field of View (FoV) refers to the width of the observable world you're able to see through your telescope. Your FoV changes whenever you change the power (or magnification) of your spotting scope's eyepiece.

Let's take for example a Celestron Ultima 80, 20-60x80 Spotting Scope, the linear FoV at 1000 yards (914m) is 105ft (32m) @ 20x magnification, and 53ft (16m) @ 60x magnification. Refer to the diagram below to better understand what we're talking about here:
Example of distance through a Celestron Ultima 80


This is a diagram to outline how Field of View functions to tell you how far you will be able to see with a set magnification on your spotting scope. The Ultima 80 20-60x80 Spotting Scope has a 20x - 60x magnification, and an 80mm aperture. This diagram shows you the Field of View at 20x, 40x, and 80x.

Assuming that one car is 4.5m long -
You'll be able to see about 7 cars (32m) at 1000 yards (914m) with the scope set to 20x magnification,
You'll be able to see about 4 cars (24m) at 1000 yards (914m) with the scope set to 40x magnification, and
You'll be able to see about 2 cars (16m) at 1000 yards (914m) with the scope set to 60x magnification.