When binoculars just won’t cut it, what you need is one of the best spotting scopes for birding. In this article, we look at the top spotting scopes on the market for those who enjoy birdwatching.
Our spotting scope reviews will look at the top-quality spotting scopes on the market for different budgets and lifestyles. So, strap in and come find out which scope is the best for you in 2020.
Top 10 Best Birdwatching Spotting Scope Reviews for 2020
As we get into the meat of this article, we’ll give you additional details about the different types of scopes, information about point of view, and offer help with magnification options. However, all of our recommendations are based on quality, value for the money, and how well received each of these scopes has been in the birdwatching community.
Here are the best spotting scopes for birding 2020:
- Our Top Pick: Kowa TSN-883
- Runner-Up: Swarovski Optik ATS 80 HD
- Third Best: Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85
- Best Entry-Level: Celestron Ultima 80
- Best Beginner’s: Roxant Blackbird
- Best Value: Vortex Diamondback 20-60×80
- Runner-Up Best Value: Vanguard Endeavor HD 82A
- Best Mid-Range: Celestron Regal M2 80ED
- Runner-Up Best Mid-Range: Vortex Razor HD 20-60×85
- Best Waterproof: Gosky 20-60×80
Our Top Pick: Kowa TSN-883
This spotting scope for birdwatching is made of lightweight, strong materials and offers a high-performance 88mm spotting scope. It is filled with dry nitrogen gas to prevent lens fogging and offers JIS class 7 waterproof protection. The concave lens of ultra-low dispersion pure fluorite crystal ensures sharp images without image fuzziness or color fringing.
- Features a dual focus mechanism for both fine and quick focus.
- Manufacturer offers a lifetime product warranty.
- Offers a rugged construction with high-end specifications.
- Price for the birdwatching scope may be too high for some.
Our verdict is that this scope is the best you can get on the market today. The fact that it has dual focus and comes with three eyepieces sets it above all other scopes you could purchase. It is the best scope you can buy.
Runner-Up: Swarovski Optik ATS 80 HD
This spotting scope is one of the pricier options on the market, but there’s a good reason for that. It offers a high-definition aluminum spotting scope with an 80mm objective lens diameter. Even in low light and at high magnifications, you can expect to enjoy great light transmission. The scope includes 20x to 60x eyepieces with eyecups that can easily be twisted in.
- Features a high-quality multi-coated lens.
- Is waterproof, fog proof, and shock-resistant.
- Offers a lightweight aluminum housing with an armored rubber casing.
- May be a bit too expensive for most of the birdwatchers out there.
Our verdict is that if you have extra money to burn, you couldn’t do much better than choosing this scope. It has all the extras you want when you need the best possible optics in the field.
Third Best: Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85
This spotting scope is a great choice for those who want a premium option with all the features you could want. The scope is waterproof, has an ergonomic design, and offers a great warranty. The scope features a magnification of 30x to 60x with an objective lens diameter of 85mm. This is a spotting shop that is both fog proof and waterproof with a lightweight design.
- Compact and lightweight design is perfect for spotting wildlife.
- Wide-angle field of view and 60x magnification makes identification simple.
- Comes with a universal tripod base and can use various digiscoping accessories.
- Price is more expensive than many other bird spotting scopes.
Our verdict is that this is a premium scope that will offer the identification options you need when birdwatching. The field of view and close focus make this a contender for the best scope on the market.
Best Entry-Level: Celestron Ultima 80
This birding scope is one of the most recommended for those on a budget. It offers a refractor style scope with an 80mm lens and a zoom from 20x to 60x. For an entry-level scope, this is a choice you won’t regret. It comes in both angled and straight designs. The biggest drawback is that this budget option doesn’t come with an expensive glass to prevent blue fringing at a high magnification level.
- Super lightweight at only 3.6 pounds.
- Waterproof and includes multi-coated optics.
- Includes padded carrying case that doesn’t have to be removed for use.
- Can be blurred or grainy when birdwatching at far distances.
The verdict for this scope is that it does the job well for any beginner. However, it may not have all the bells and whistles for an experienced bird watcher.
Best Beginner’s: Roxant Blackbird
Those who want a value-priced beginner’s bird scope are going to appreciate this option. It comes with the scope, tripod, lens cap, and a carrying case, so everything you need is available right away.
The optics used Bak4 prism and are multi-coated for brightness and light transmission in all applications. On top of that, the spotting scope offers a lifetime replacement guarantee.
- Rubber armor construction is rugged and non-slip.
- Comes with additional accessories to start started fast.
- Offers high definition military-grade optics for the best viewing.
- Field of view might not be as good as more expensive models.
The verdict we’ve come to is that this is a nice little scope, especially for someone on a budget. The birdwatching scope is easy to use and can be used with or without glasses.
Best Value: Vortex Diamondback 20-60×80
Those who may want something more impressive than the beginner’s scope but don’t want to pay too much can enjoy the Diamondback scope. The scope comes in angled and straight models with 60 and 80mm lens sizes. Some of the features included are scratch-resistant coating, multi-coated optics, and prism coatings for brightness.
- Nitrogen purged and O-ring sealed to prevent fog and avoid water.
- Dielectric prism coatings offer top brightness.
- Features ArmorTek coating for scratch resistance.
- May not offer the fine detail some desire.
The verdict for this spotting scope is that it makes a fine option for those on a budget who don’t mind not having every feature of a scope that is twice as expensive. It is an easy to use and convenient scope with a simple to use focus wheel and powerful zoom eyepiece.
Runner-Up Best Value: Vanguard Endeavor HD 82A
For those who want to pay less than $500 but get a great birdwatching scope, this is an excellent choice. The scope offers a detachable eyepiece with 20x to 60x zoom with up to 20mm of eye relief.
The dispersion glass used helps prevent color fringing while the multi-coated optical system provides a high light transmission rate. A digiscoping adapter is also available.
- Offers high resolution through phase-coated Bak4 prisms.
- Comes with a deluxe scope coat and eyepiece.
- Lightweight and durable with rubber armored magnesium housing.
- May be hard to focus and offers mediocre optics compared to others.
The verdict on this spotting scope is that it offers a great value for those on a budget. It has a lot of top features that you might expect from more expensive versions.
Best Mid-Range: Celestron Regal M2 80ED
Anyone looking for a birdwatching scope that has a few extra features will appreciate this birding scope. It offers an ED objective lens which offers accurate colors, high resolution and contrast, and minimizes chromatic aberration.
It comes with a tripod mount that rotates for the best orientation of the eyepiece. The dual focus mechanism lets you focus on birds 2x quicker while the extra-low dispersion gives you the best resolution and contrast when birdwatching.
- Features a magnesium alloy body that is strong but lightweight.
- Proprietary XLT lens coating provides sharp, bright images.
- Comes with a T-adapter and T-ring for digiscoping purposes.
- Many experience the scope being heavy on the back end.
Our verdict here is that for a mid-range birdwatching scope, you can’t do much better. The new magnesium alloy body is also 14% less heavy when compared to the previous version.
Runner-Up Best Mid-Range: Vortex Razor HD 20-60×85
This angled spotting scope offers high-quality components for the best bird watching possible. It’s also an excellent value for a scope in this price range. The spotter is fog-proof due to being argon gas purged and includes O-ring sealed optics to make the scope waterproof and keep out debris and dust. It offers ArmorTek hard coating lenses for protection.
- Reduces chromatic aberration using an apochromatic triplet lens.
- Offers color accurate, bright, clear images through dielectric prism coatings.
- Porro prism provides the best possible image quality and performance.
- Loose-fitting knobs can create image movement.
Our verdict is that this scope is one of the best for the money. It comes with a scope, eyepiece cap, lens cover, and carrying case. The scope is decently priced, simple to use, and offers a bright and clear view.
Best Waterproof: Gosky 20-60×80
Those who are looking for a best-selling waterproof birdwatching scope will enjoy this one which offers a multi-coated 80mm green film objective lens. The magnification can range from 20x to 60x and there is a dynamic focusing system so you can easily zoom in on a bird. The waterproof design keeps things sealed up to prevent moisture getting inside of the scope.
- Features a dynamic lens focusing system and variable magnification.
- Offers rubber armor and a durable framework to withstand any weather.
- Comes with both a digiscoping adapter and a metal tablet tripod.
- Image may not be as crisp as expected and distance can be lacking.
The verdict for this top-rated birding scope is that it fits the bill for anyone who wants a waterproof option to take out in any conditions. It’s easy to set up and use even for a beginner.
Guide to Buying a Birdwatching Spotting Scope
Having visual aids can help you more easily see birds from farther away. Anyone who has a love for birds is likely going to get a pair of binoculars pretty quickly. Those who just want to look at birds in a backyard or park, that may be all that you need.
However, those who want to see waterfowl out across a lake, watch hawks perched in precarious positions, or want to look at shorebirds on a mudflat are going to need more than binoculars.
A spotting scope can make it much simpler to enjoy and identify the birds around you. Not only will it allow you to identify birds easily, but it will also give you insight into details you otherwise would never see.
Understanding Scope Numbers
One of the numbers you will see on binoculars is something like “5x” which explains the level of magnification. With a spotting scope, this isn’t always the case since magnification is related to the eyepiece you use. Most of the time, the major number you are going to see is the diameter of the front lens in millimeter form.
Popular birding scopes on the market often have lenses of around 50 to 80mm. The larger the lens, the more light comes in. However, larger lenses also weigh more and can be bulky.
Fixed vs. Zoom Eyepieces
In some cases, a scope comes with an eyepiece that is attached permanently while others have eyepieces that are detachable to give you additional choices. If you choose to purchase a fixed eyepiece, you also shouldn’t assume that the higher magnifications are automatically better.
In most cases, those looking for birds will find a 20x or 30x eyepiece is effective. Vibrations and heat shimmer can obscure the view when using higher magnifications.
A zoom eyepiece might be the best choice you can make. Some of the most popular include 20x to 40x, 20x to 60x, and 25x to 50x. The lowest power can be used to find and center on a bird before you zoom in to study it more closely.
Quality of Glass
The glass quality of a scope is very important since it determines the image quality that you get. You want to look at the manufacturer’s specifications to make sure you are getting a great lens for the price you pay.
Any good lens on the market is going to be coated and most of them are multi-coated, which is considered the top standard for birdwatching scopes.
With typical ordinary glass, a certain amount of light is going to pass through it. With the newest lens coatings, light transmission is improved. That means more light gets through and your image is going to be brighter.
A lens of low quality is more likely to create chromatic aberrations. This means you might get a fringe of color around and object based on lens dispersion. What happens is that colors of various wavelengths pass through the glass at an unequal manner and focus on different points.
The best optics use ED glass to prevent this, also called “extra-low dispersion.” When all of the colors are focused at the same point, this makes the image much sharper.
The problem is that not every optics maker is going to use the exact same terminology, so choosing glass can be challenging. For instance, some manufacturers call their low-dispersion lenses HD, while others call them APO or XD.
You want to do a bit of research to determine what the brand uses as their term or speak with an optics dealer who can give you more information about the type of lenses that are used.
While a good-quality lens is going to increase the price of a scope, the investment is worth it. If you are looking at the difference between a higher power or a higher-quality lens, you should always go with the better lens since it will create the clearest and sharpest images for the best experience.
Angled or Straight Scope Models
Many of the most popular scope models out there are going to be available in two different configurations: either angled or straight. For those who bird alone and who have a tall and sturdy tripod, a straight scope model might be the best choice. The tripod can place the scope at eye level and long periods of scanning will be a breeze.
If you are someone who prefers to go birding with other people, an angled scope is the best option for sharing. The height can be set for the shortest person in a group and taller individuals will just have to lean over a bit more. This type of eyepiece is also useful when looking at birds overhead.
Focusing and Close Focusing
In most cases, you turn a knob or ring on the barrel of the scope to focus it and create a sharper picture. There are some models with two-step focusing, which means one knob is used to shift from close-up to far away and the other makes smaller adjustments to fine-tune the experience. It really depends on the person, whether a single or double knob is preferred.
While it might seem strange, the ability to focus on close up items can be crucial. You aren’t always going to be looking at birds that are specks far away, sometimes you might be looking for extra details on a bird nearby.
A lot of the manufacturers now make it clear what the minimum focusing distance is in the specifications. You are likely going to want a scope that can focus at 20 feet or even closer.
Compact vs. Full-Size Models
You also want to be aware that spotting scopes come in many lengths and weights. A high-powered model can let you see farther, but that means more bulk and weight.
Many find that compact versions of spotting scopes do the job just as well as a full-size model and you don’t have to lug around as much weight from your home or car to your favorite birdwatching location.
Lens Caps and Cases
Most of the telescopes you’ll see come with a lens cap, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dig a bit deeper. The best lens caps are going to attach firmly and feel solid in your hand.
What can be an issue is not losing these while you are outside looking at birds. One of the systems birders use is to put the lens cap in a pocket while it is not in use and then immediately putting it back on the scope when the session is over.
There are also many manufacturers out there who offer a heavy canvas cover to be used on the scope when it is not out and being used. In some cases, these cases can even be left on the scope while you are actually using it. The ends just open up so you can continue use. This type of case can be useful since it protects the scope from random accidents or blowing dust in the wind.
Remember to Factor in a Tripod
When you are spending time considering your budget for a birdwatching scope, you want to remember that part of that cash should go into a high-quality tripod.
While you don’t need a tripod quite as solid as one you would use for photography, you still want to be sure that the tripod you choose stays steady even when it’s windy outside.
You also want to look at how far the tripod will extend to be sure that it’s at a comfortable height when you’re going to spend a long session watching birds.
Putting It All Together
Now that you know what the best spotting scopes through our birding scope reviews and how you are aware of how to look for the right one for you, you should be ready to go.
You can go through your options and choose something that fits your specific needs. Before you know it, you will be ready to start homing in on all those birds you love and learning much more about them.