Owning one of the best spotting scopes is a necessity for people that enjoy birding and watching birds.

 

Here’s why:

 

Even though binoculars are easy to carry around your neck, their magnification can only get you so close to the action.


Quick Links: The 11 Best Bird Watching Scopes


For example, most bird watching binoculars have a zoom of around 8x to 10x. This is wonderful until the bird you want to see is on the other side of a large lake. Through your binoculars, the best description you can come up with is a “medium-sized brown bird“.

 

A proper spotting scope will solve this problem. It will allow you to see the fine details of birds that are out of reach of binoculars.

 

But have you ever shopped for a birding spotting scope?

 

I have personally found it challenging to find a scope that fits the unique needs of birders.

 

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

 

But this post will help you find a spotting scope perfect for watching birds, regardless of your budget.


Related Reading:


The Platinum Class (Over $2,500):

 

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

 


1. Swarovski ATX 25-60x (85mm)

Best Spotting Scopes for Birding Swarvoski

Why You Should Buy:

 

As its high price tag suggests, this spotting 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.

 

Compare Prices!

ProductRetailerPrice
ATX 85mm Objective LensAmazon~$1,750
ATX 85mm Objective LensAdorama~$1,750
ATX Angled EyepieceAmazon~$2,400
ATX Angled EyepieceAdorama~$2,400

**Important Note** – Unlike most other spotting scopes, the objective lens and the angled zoom eyepiece of the ATX are sold separately by Swarovski

 

Some reasons for the high cost of this scope is because of the exceptional glass inside and the technology and engineering required to manufacture this fantastic piece of equipment.

 

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

 

Whether you are watching birds in your backyard or heading out on an adventure, there is almost a 100% chance you will be happy with this scope. The ATX is made by 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. Zeiss Victory Harpia 23-70x (95mm)

 

zeiss harpia spotting scopes

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Harpia Spotting ScopeAmazon   /   BH Photo

Zeiss Victory Vario EyepieceAmazon   /   BH Photo

*You must purchase the scope and eyepiece separately!*

 

Why You Should Buy:

 

The BEST spotting scope that Zeiss makes, which is saying a lot for a company as well respected as Zeiss. The 95mm objective lens diameter ensures that enough light is drawn in to even the most challenging environments.

 

The first thing that stuck out at me was the incredible field of view (176 feet at 23x), which gives fantastic views of your terrain.

 

The price is not for the faint of heart, especially when you consider that the eyepiece must be purchased separately from the scope. But the image is outstanding with sharp, crisp images and brilliant colors at all magnifications.

 

If you look at the picture above, Zeiss has relocated the magnification ring to the spotting scope body, which is right next to the focus wheel. Now both of your adjustments are right next to each other and can be adjusted using one hand. The focus wheel also has automatic switch between fast and fine focusing drive.

 

Technical Specs:

  • Magnification: 23-70x

  • Objective Lens Diameter: 95mm

  • Angled body design

  • Field of View: 176 to 58.5 feet/1000 yards

  • Close Focus: 14.8′ / 4.5 m

  • Weight: 73.3 oz ( 1078 g)

  • Length: 16.1 in (40.9 cm)

  • Extra-Low Dispersion Fluoride Glass
  • Waterproof and Fog proof

  • Download the Zeiss Victory Harpia brochure HERE. 

 


3. Swarovski ATS 20-60x (80mm)

Swarvoski ATS birding spotting scope

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Why You Should Buy:

 

If you are a fan of Swarovski and want an incredible bird watching scope, but need something a bit lighter than the ATX above (both in weight and price), the Swarovski 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 Swarovski makes 2 of the top 3 bird watching scopes on this list. Many of the top birders in the world use their products because they offer the complete package; clear images, excellent engineering, durable and lightweight.

 

If you can afford a Swarovski, 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 30-60x (85mm)

 

Best Birding Spotting Scopes Zeiss Gavia

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Why 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 the best spotting scopes for watching birds.

 

The Conquest Gavia is an excellent choice if you want a quality scope, but can’t justify spending $3,000-$4000 on one of the above Platinum Class options.

 

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. Usually, the most significant difference you will see is the image quality in low light situations.

 

Lastly, as with other Zeiss products, the Conquest Gavia has an ergonomic design, waterproofed, 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 Razor HD 27-60x (85mm)

Vortex Razor Birding Spotting Scope

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Why 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 like is the wide Field of View, especially for this price range. Field of View 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 ED 20-60x (82mm)

Nikon Monarch

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Why 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 Swarovski 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 Nikon EDG, but it’s less than half the price. It’s not cheap, but the cost is within reach for many people. And most birders probably could not tell the difference between the two unless they were comparing in a low light situation.

 

Exceptional ED glass. Nikon’s outstanding lens and prism coatings. Fast focusing and waterproof for any occasion. The Nikon Monarch is an excellent 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 three spotting scopes fall into a popular price range for bird watching.

 

All of the options below provide excellent combinations of PRICE and QUALITY. The price is affordable, but you still get a scope that should not disappoint in the field.

 


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

Regal M2 by Celestron Birding Spotting Scope

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Why 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 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 20-60x (82mm)

Nikon Prostaff 5 Birding Spotting Scope

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Why You Should Buy:

 

The Prostaff 5 is an excellent choice if you want a Nikon product, but the Monarch scope above is just too expensive.

 

You still get many great features, such as a lightweight design and fully multicoated lenses at less than half the cost.

 

One feature that the Nikon Prostaff 5 lacks that the Monarch provides 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)

  • Weight: 34 oz (960 g)

  • Length: 15.4 inches (421 mm)

  • Waterproof and Fog proof

 


9. Vanguard Endeavor HD 20-60x (82mm)

best spotting scopes for bird watching

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Why You Should Buy:

 

Until I came across the Endeavor HD spotting scope, I had never experience with a Vanguard product.

 

But after checking it out, I am now a fan and think this scope is perfect for watching birds!

 

I am 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 sun shield, 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 20-60x (80mm)

Celestron Trail Seeker Birding Spotting Scope

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Why 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 costly!

 

I know it can be hard to justify the price of an expensive spotting scope, especially when they are typically not used 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 relatively light.

 

And the image is pretty darn 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.

 

In my opinion, 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 20-60x (80mm)

Celestron Ultima Spotting Scopes for watching birds

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Why You Should Buy:

 

Finding a useful spotting scope for under $250 is tough. Most of the products at this pricing point are not worth the money and you will just end up frustrated when you can’t see birds clearly.

 

The Celestron Ultima is an exception.

 

For its 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 an excellent scope for birding guides or teachers that need to buy them in bulk to provide to a classroom. Nobody should 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:


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 typically can get the job done. Anything above 60x means the scope keeps getting more massive, and the field of view gets more narrow.

 

Objective Lens Diameter:

All of the birding scopes on this list have close to an 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, an 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. 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 Swarovski or Nikon product, and you will be pleased!

But, most of us are on some 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 great value for your dollar.

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

 


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

 

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

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Scott

4 responses to “The 11 Best Spotting Scopes for Bird Watching (2019)”

  1. Mark Strong says:

    No Kowa ???

    Why not ?

    • Scott says:

      Hey Mark. I have not had a ton of experience using Kowa products. I have never owned one and friends of mine have not either. So I have never really gotten to test their products fully, just a little bit at my local optics stores. I am going to be updating my spotting scope list shortly and would love your input. Which Kowa scope do you recommend I take a closer look at? Thanks for commenting!

      • david pennebaker says:

        i have 2 kowas tsn-2 straight with 30x wide and a 820 with 20×60 zoom these were both craiglist deals at reduced prices as i grew up using a bushnell spacemaster straight i prefer the straight design but i like my scopes as budget dictates what someone can purchase these both feel solid in the field, but if you choose to test a kowa in the future you will have to decide what price range which i think you have done well giving different budgets

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