The 11 Best Spotting Scopes for Bird Watching (2017)

Puffin with bird watching spotting scopeOwning a quality birding spotting scope is a necessity for most birders.

 

Here’s why:

 

While binoculars are easy to carry as they hang off your neck, their magnification can only get you so close to the action.

 

For example, the average bird watching binoculars have a zoom of 8x-10x. This is wonderful, until the bird you are trying to see is really far away on the other side of a lake and just looks like a “medium sized brown bird” through your binoculars.

 

A good spotting scope will solve this problem and help you see the fine details of birds that are out of reach of binoculars.

 


The 11 Best Birding Spotting Scopes (click to jump to that section)


But have you ever shopped for a spotting scope?

 

Shopping for a Birding Spotting ScopeIt can be very confusing and overwhelming!

 

This is because spotting scopes are made for many reasons OTHER than bird watching, like hunting and looking at stars.

 

I have personally found it hard to shop the hundreds of different models and dozens of different companies to find a scope that fits the unique needs of birders.

 

Today is your lucky day. I did an enormous amount of research to create a list of the best bird watching spotting scopes! Understandably, price is a huge concern for most of us. It was important to look at different pricing points and provide options for everyone!

 

Enjoy the 11 Best Spotting Scopes for Bird Watching!

 

I’m sorry, one last important note!

 

*To learn about the most important features for bird watching scopes and how this list was selected, click here to scroll to the bottom.*


Related Reading:


The Platinum Class (Over $2,500) :

The following 3 scopes are literally the best that money can buy! If your budget is unlimited then pick from one of these 3 and call it a day.

1. Swarvoski ATX 25-60×85

Best Spotting Scopes for Birding Swarvoski

Why You Should Buy:

As its high price tag suggests, this birding scope is one of the best available on the market.  Trust me, there will be jealous eyes when you pull out this optic on your next birding trip.

**Important Note** – Unlike most other spotting scopes, the objective lens and the angled zoom eyepiece are sold separately by Swarvoski. Some retailers bundle these two items together for one price (like BH Photo) and others sell them separately (like Amazon – Objective and eyepiece).

The reason this optic cost so much is because of the glass inside and the technology and engineering required to manufacture this amazing piece of equipment.

The image is outstanding, very bright and crisp. You will notice a big difference in the performance when there is low light, such as trying to spot ducks across the lake at sunset.

It’s also easy to use for digiscoping!

There is almost a 0% chance you won’t be happy with this scope on your next bird watching trip. A great company that produces outstanding products backed by a generous warranty!

 

Technical Specs:

  • Magnification: 25-60x

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 85mm

  • Angled body design

  • Field of View: 124-68 feet/1000 yards (41-23m)

  • Close Focus: Close focus: 11.8 feet (3.6m)

  • Weight: 67.4 oz ( 1910 g)

  • Length: 14.6 in (372mm)

  • Waterproof and Fog proof

 

Other Resources:


2. Nikon EDG Fieldscope 20-60 85mm (Angled Body)

Nikon EDG fieldscope for birding

Why You Should Buy:

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Nikon products. I am always impressed with their quality and I have never met anyone that has been disappointed with their product, whether that is a scope, binocular or camera.

The Nikon EDG scope is an amazing spotting scope. It’s perfectly suited for bird watching and no expense was spared in engineering or manufacturing.

The quality of the image is the reason birders are willing to shell out so much money for the EDG.

The EDG does not compromise ANYWHERE. The highest quality Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass that Nikon has available is used which delivers an incredible clear and bright image. This expensive glass is then polished and coated with their finest coatings to ensure as much light as possible reaches your eye.

It will be hard to be disappointed in this spotting scope. It fits the needs of birders and is one of the best scopes available from an amazing company!

Technical Specs:

  • Magnification: 20-60x

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 85mm

  • Angled body design

  • Field of View: 115-58 feet/1000 yards

  • Close Focus: Not available

  • Weight: 72 oz ( 2041 g)

  • Length: 14.9 in (378mm)

  • Waterproof and Fog proof

Other Resources:


3. Swarvoski ATS 20-60×80

Swarvoski ATS birding spotting scopeWhy You Should Buy:

If you are a fan of Swarvoski and want an amazing bird watching scope, but want something a bit lighter than the ATX above (both in weight and price), the Swarvoski ATS is an excellent choice!

Even though it’s approximately $1,000 less expensive than the ATX, the ATS is still considered one of the best birding scopes that money can buy.

Flouride lenses, exceptional coatings and phase corrected prisms ensure that the images are outstanding, with as much light, clarity and detail as possible reaching your eye. This scope will be your best friend when there is not much light available but you still want to see birds!

There is a reason that 2 of the top 3 bird watching scopes on this list are made by Swarvoski. Many of the top birders in the world use their products because they are the complete package; clear images, excellent engineering, durable and lightweight. Swarvoski’s reputation is justified.

If you can afford a Swarvoski, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

 

Technical Specs:

  • Magnification: 20-60x

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 80mm

  • Angled body design

  • Field of View: 108-60 feet/1000 yards (36-20m)

  • Close Focus: Close focus: 16.4 feet (5m)

  • Weight: 57.8 oz ( 1640 g)

  • Length: 15.8 in (400mm)

  • Waterproof and Fog proof

Other Resources:


The Gold Class ($1,000 – $2,499) :


4. Zeiss Conquest Gavia 30-60×85

Best Birding Spotting Scopes Zeiss GaviaWhy You Should Buy:

“The new ZEISS Conquest Gavia 85 spotting scope with angled view was specially developed to meet the needs of wildlife and nature observers.” ~Zeiss

This sentence was taken straight from the Zeiss website. That sure sounds like a great start when trying to choose a bird watching spotting scope!

If you have read other reviews on Bird Watching HQ, then you know that I am a huge fan of Zeiss and the products they manufacture. They have been a leader in the optics industry for decades and continue to innovate and provide outstanding quality.

The Conquest Gavia is a great spotting scope if you can’t quite justify spending $3,000-$4000 on the above Platinum Class scopes but still want one of the best on the market.

To be honest, to the untrained eye it’s hard to tell the difference between the Platinum Class and Gold Class scopes on this list. There are minor differences such as Field of View and Close Focus. Normally, the biggest difference you will see is the quality of the image in low light situations.

As with other Zeiss products, the Conquest Gavia has an ergonomic design, waterproof and backed by a great warranty.

Technical Specs:

  • Magnification: 30-60x

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 85mm

  • Angled body design

  • Field of View: 99-69 feet/1000 yards (33-23m)

  • Close Focus: Close focus: 10.8 feet (3.3m)

  • Weight: 60 oz ( 1700 g)

  • Length: 15.6 in (396mm)

  • Waterproof and Fog proof

Other Resources:


5. Vortex 27-60×85 Razor HD Spotting Scope

Vortex Razor Birding Spotting ScopeWhy You Should Buy:

The Razor HD is a favorite among many bird watchers and always receives high scores and positive reviews from its users.

And it’s easy to see why.

It delivers an impressive image that is sharp throughout the whole viewing area. It is fully coated with it’s patented XR™ coatings that ensure the maximum amount of light hits your eye to deliver as bright an image as possible.

One feature that I really like is the very wide Field of View, especially for this price range. This is always an important feature when looking for birds with a scope.

 

Technical Specs:

  • Magnification: 27-60x

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 85mm

  • Angled body design

  • Field of View: 117-68 feet/1000 yards (33-23m)

  • Close Focus: 16.4 feet (3.3m)

  • Weight: 65.6 oz ( 1916 g)

  • Length: 15.5 in (394mm)

  • Waterproof and Fog proof

Other Resources:


6. Nikon Monarch 20-60×82 ED Spotting Scope

Nikon MonarchWhy You Should Buy:

The Nikon Monarch spotting scope is one of the best combinations of price and performance on this list.

Here is what I mean:

The most expensive birding scopes on this list will run upwards of $4,000. This is a lot of money! As much as I want the Nikon EDG or Swarvoski ATX, I can’t justify putting off our daughter’s college education for a scope!

In my opinion, spotting scopes such as the Monarch hit a sweet spot.

The image quality is outstanding and is very comparable to the Nikong EDG, but it’s less than half the price. It’s not cheap, but the cost is within reach for many more people. And most birders probably could not tell the difference between the two unless they were birding in a low light situation.

Exceptional ED glass. Nikon’s outstanding lens and prism coatings. Fast focusing and waterproof for any occasion. The Monarch fieldscope is a great addition to any bird watchers arsenal.

Technical Specs:

  • Magnification: 20-60x

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 82mm

  • Angled body design

  • Field of View: 111-51 feet/1000 yards

  • Close Focus: 16.4 feet (3.3m)

  • Weight: 57.8 oz ( 1638 g)

  • Length: 14.3 inches (363 mm)

  • Waterproof and Fog proof

Other Resources:


The Silver Class ($500 – $999) :

These next 3 spotting scopes fall into the most popular price range for bird watching.

Here’s why:

They are an excellent combination between PRICE and QUALITY. This price range is very affordable but you still get a scope that should not disappoint in the field.

Any of the below scopes would make an excellent purchase.

7. Celestron Regal M2 80ED Spotting Scope (20-60x)

Regal M2 by Celestron Birding Spotting ScopeWhy You Should Buy:

A favorite among many birders! This is because it includes many features that the top spotting scopes have but at a fraction of the price.

It includes ED glass, Celestron’s proprietary XLT coatings, and a light magnesium alloy body. All for an affordable price of around $700.

Celestron also has a lot of nice accessories available for the Regal on their website, such as a tripod and adapters for digiscoping.

Technical Specs:

  • Magnification: 20-60x

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 80mm

  • Angled body design

  • Field of View: 110-52 feet/1000 yards (37-17m)

  • Close Focus: 21.3 feet (6.5m)

  • Weight: 56.7 oz (1607 g)

  • Length: 16.6 inches (421 mm)

  • Waterproof and Fog proof

Other Resources:

 

8. Nikon PROSTAFF 5 20-60x82mm

Nikon Prostaff 5 Birding Spotting ScopeWhy You Should Buy:

 

Have you noticed a theme so far?

I am a big fan of Nikon products for birding! No matter your price range, there should be a quality Nikon spotting scope available.

The Prostaff 5 is a great choice if the Monarch and EDG are just too expensive. You still get many great features, such as a lightweight design and fully multicoated lenses.

One feature that the Nikon Prostaff 5 lacks is ED (Extra-low dispersion) glass.

Technical Specs:

  • Magnification: 20-60x

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 82mm

  • Angled body design

  • Field of View: 109 feet (1000/yards and 20x zoom)

  • Close Focus: Not available

  • Weight: 34 oz (960 g)

  • Length: 15.4 inches (421 mm)

  • Waterproof and Fog proof

 

Other Resources:

 

9. Vanguard Endeavor HD 20-60x82mm Spotting Scope

Vanguard Spotting ScopeWhy You Should Buy:

I have never had much experience with the Vanguard products until I came across the Endeavor HD spotting scope.

I am now a fan and think that this scope is great for bird watching!

First, I was impressed that the Endeavor HD includes ED glass, especially at this price point. Even Nikon couldn’t include ED glass on the Prostaff 5 above.

The rest of the features are perfect for any birder: Waterproof and fog proof, built in sunshield, fully multi coated optics for maximum light transmission, and a sturdy design.

An overall great optic for the money!

Technical Specs:

  • Magnification: 20-60x

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 82mm

  • Angled body design

  • Field of View: 110 – 52 feet / 1000 yards

  • Close Focus: 19.7 feet (6 m)

  • Weight: 63.8 oz ( 1808 g)

  • Length: 15 inches (380 mm)

  • Waterproof and Fog proof

Other Resources:

 


The Bronze Class (Under $500) :

As you can see below, Celestron dominates the spotting scope market when it comes to affordability. They have a few options for bird watching scopes that won’t break the bank AND give decent performance in the field!

 

10. Celestron Trailseeker 20-60x80mm Spotting Scope

Celestron Trail Seeker Birding Spotting ScopeWhy You Should Buy:

Let’s be honest.

As great as the Platinum and Gold Class scopes are at the top of this list, they are very expensive! Personally, it’s hard to justify the cost, especially when I don’t even use a spotting scope on every birding trip.

I think the Celestron Trailseeker meets the needs of most birders. It’s rubber armored for durability and waterproof. It has Celestron’s XLT coatings on the glass surfaces and is fairly light.

And the image is pretty damn good! Especially if you don’t look for birds much at sunrise or sunset, the difference between the Trailseeker and some much higher priced scopes is minimal.

As far as bird watching scopes go, the Trailseeker is a steal!

Technical Specs:

  • Magnification: 20-60x

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 80mm

  • Angled body design

  • Field of View: 105 – 52 feet / 1000 yards (35-17 m / 1000 m)

  • Close Focus: 24.6 feet (7.5 m)

  • Weight: 54.6 oz ( 1548 g)

  • Length: 16 inches (406 mm)

  • Waterproof and Fog proof

Other Resources:

 

11. Celestron Ultima 20-60x80mm Spotting Scope

Celestron Ultima Spotting Scopes for watching birdsWhy You Should Buy:

It’s really hard to find a spotting scope for under $250. Most of the products at this pricing point are not worth the money. You will just end up frustrated when you can’t see birds and need to fork over more money for a higher quality optic.

The Celestron Ultima is an exception.

For it’s small price, Celestron tries to pack in as much value as possible. The image is pretty good and gets the job done. It’s perfect for someone who has never owned a scope before and wants to test if they would actually use it or someone who has a limited budget.

It’s also a great scope for birding guides or teachers that need to buy them in bulk to provide to a class. Nobody will be frustrated using the Ultima, which can be a problem if the scope is too cheap.

Technical Specs:

  • Magnification: 20-60x

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 80mm

  • Angled body design

  • Field of View: 105 – 52 feet / 1000 yards (35-17 m / 1000 m)

  • Close Focus: 26.2 feet (8 m)

  • Weight: 57 oz ( 1616 g)

  • Waterproof and Fog proof

Other Resources:


Related Reading:


How Were the Best Spotting Scopes for Birding Selected?

 

There are hundreds of different scopes on the market! To create a small but manageable list of the best bird watching scopes, I used some of the features and specifications below to help narrow down the choices.

 

From there, the final scopes were selected by comparing them against each other in the same price range. Performance, durability, design, company reputation and warranties were all taken into consideration.

Magnification:

I recommend a spotting scope have an adjustable magnification between 20x – 60x. This seems like the sweet spot for bird watching.

Anything below 20x and a binocular normally can get the job done. Anything above 60x means the scope keeps getting heavier and the field of view gets very narrow.

Objective Lens Diameter:

All of the birding scopes on this list have close to a 80mm objective lens diameter. This is the size of the larger end of the spotting scope. The bigger the lens diameter, the more light that enters which means clearer and brighter images. Since we are aiming for a 20x-60x magnification, a 80mm objective lens is a great counterpart.

Angled Body:

Spotting scopes come in two styles, an angled body or straight body. It’s a matter of preference for each birder of how they like to look through the scope.

I prefer an angled body and find it more comfortable to use for long periods of time. If you do prefer a straight body viewing experience, all the birding scopes on this list have that option available.

Price vs. Overall Performance:

The overall cost of your birding spotting scope is usually the #1 factor to consider.

If you had no budget, the decision is easy. Just find the most expensive Swarvoski or Nikon product and you will be very happy!

But, most of us are on some sort of budget and have to find a combination of price and performance that makes us happy. I am confident that all the scopes on this list give a great value for your dollar.

Optics are a very competitive industry, so the old axiom that “you get what you pay for” holds very true. My biggest advice is to spend time thinking how much you can afford on a spotting scope for birding. Once you have that number, it narrows this list down quickly and you can make your selection.


 

Hopefully you were able to find a scope that fit your price range and need.

 

If not, I would like to know why? Or is there a scope you love that I didn’t include?

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Scott

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