||Buying a Spotting Scope|
Many serious birders own a spotting "scope"
(birders don't say "telescope")
in addition to binoculars. Binoculars offer
magnification of 7X, 8X or 10X, while scopes
range from 20X to 50X. See our discussion
of binoculars to learn about magnification.
Scopes are used most frequently for observing
distant birds (about 100 yards or more away)
standing in open fields, perched on distant
trees, or swimming on bodies of water. Tracking
flying birds with a scope is difficult and
requires practice to master.
When buying a scope, most times
buy 3 components separately:
- Scope body - As with binoculars, a larger lens means
a larger, brighter image. Durable,
construction is an important
feature as is
weatherproofing that keeps
the scope from
- Eyepiece - Fixed magnification eyepieces are generally
about 32X. Zoom eyepieces let you adjust
between roughly 20X and 50X so that you can
pan an area at low power, then zoom in when
you find the bird. Less expensive zooms sometimes
have problems with image clarity, so be cautious
in what you buy. High magnification makes
image distortion due to air turbulence (like
heat shimmer) more obvious.
- Tripod - A stable tripod is essential to minimizing
wind-induced shaking. Unfortunately, more
stability comes at the price of added weight.
The tripod should permit adjusting the height
of the scope easily. You may have users of
different heights, or need to compensate
for uneven terrain.
There are two principal styles
- Straight eyepiece. Your eye, the eyepiece
and the lens are aligned with each other.
- Angled eyepiece. The eyepiece points into
the top of the scope. This is a better setup
if the scope is to be used by more than one
person in the field. If you set the height
of the scope to suit the shortest user, the
taller folks find it easier to lean forward
towards an angled eyepiece than to crouch
for a straight one. Learning to aim this
type of scope takes practice, but is not
Before buying, see if you can carry the complete
scope and tripod package comfortably in the
field. There's no use getting one so heavy
that you'll soon tire of using it. A quality
compact scope with a 60mm lens will weigh
about 3 pounds. A good tripod
will be perhaps
an additional 7 pounds. If you
take your scope and tripod on
a plane, compactness
and weight are even greater considerations.
Never put your optics in checked