Enter the spotting scope for photography—a game-changer in the realm of capturing distant subjects.
In this article, I’ll delve deep into top-rated spotting scopes in 2023, drawing from my journey with spotting scopes, and sharing spotting scope reviews from my hands-on experiences.
Moreover, I’ll reveal the best brands in the spotting scope world for photography and discuss the spotting scope tripods that have helped me capture the most outstanding pictures with a spotting scope.
Whether you’re a seasoned photographer or just starting, understanding the nuances of spotting scopes can be a game-changer. Let’s dive in!
My Top Picks:
- Vortex Razor HD 27-60×85
- Kowa TSN-884 Spotting Scope
Can You Take Pictures With A Spotting Scope?
My adventure into the world of spotting scopes began a few years ago. I was always intrigued by the allure of distant subjects and the quest for the perfect shot.
So, the simple answer to the question is a resounding “Yes!” Spotting scopes, traditionally used by birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts to get a closer view of distant objects, have found a significant place in the world of photography.
In my previous article, I guided achieving outstanding photo shoots using a spotting scope. Check out How to Use a Spotting Scope for Photography? for a detailed guide.
Plus, with the right setup, a spotting scope can act as a telephoto lens, magnifying distant subjects and bringing them into sharp focus.
Another advantage of using a spotting scope for photography is the incredible magnification it offers. While a standard telephoto lens might offer up to 400mm or 600mm zoom, a spotting scope can provide magnification up to 60x or even 75x. This means that subjects that are miles away can be captured in stunning detail.
2023’s Top-Rated Spotting Scopes for Photography (Tested and Reviewed)
In my journey, I’ve tested numerous spotting scopes. Here are the top picks that stood out, especially when considering photography:
1. Swarovski ATX 85
The clarity and sharpness of the Swarovski ATX 85 are unparalleled. Its compact design makes it my go-to for hunting expeditions, and the scope’s compatibility with a range of cameras ensures crisp shots every time.
- Optical Brilliance: Exceptional optical performance with rich color reproduction.
- Modular Design: Allows for flexibility and customization based on the shooting scenario.
- Zoom Range: Broad zoom range ensures versatility in capturing subjects both near and far.
2. Celestron Regal M2 80ED
Its lightweight design combined with top-notch optical performance makes it a favorite. The XLT optical coatings ensure maximum light transmission, producing brighter images.
- ED Objective Lens: Minimizes chromatic aberration, ensuring clearer images.
- Build a Durable magnesium alloy body that’s built to last.
- Waterproof Design: Ensures the scope is protected against the elements.
3. Vortex Razor HD 27-60×85
The expansive field of view ensures I never miss a moment. Whether capturing birds in flight or distant landscapes, this scope delivers consistently stunning results.
- HD Optics: Provides crisp, clear, and high-definition views.
- Helical Focus: Allows for faster and finer adjustments.
- Build a Rugged construction that’s waterproof and fog-proof.
4. Leupold GR 20-60×80 Gold Ring
The robust build of the Leupold, combined with its impeccable clarity, makes it a reliable companion for my outdoor shoots. The zoom range allows for versatile shooting, capturing subjects both near and far.
- Twilight Max HD System: Enhances brightness, clarity, and contrast.
- Build a Shockproof design that can withstand rough use.
- Guard-Ion Lens Coating: Repels water, dirt, and fingerprints.
5. Zeiss Victory Harpia 95
The Zeiss Victory Harpia offers a seamless viewing experience with its Dual-Speed focus and wide zoom range.
- FL Glass: Ensures images are free from chromatic aberration.
- LotuTec Coating: Provides clear vision in any weather by repelling water.
- Field Flattener: Delivers sharp focus across the entire field of view.
6. Kowa TSN-884 Spotting Scope
The Kowa TSN-884 Spotting Scope, crafted with a pure fluorite crystal objective lens, offers unparalleled clarity in imaging. While it’s an investment, the quality of shots I achieve with this scope makes it worth every penny.
- Dual Focus: Features both quick and fine focusing mechanisms for precise adjustments.
- Durability: Constructed with a lightweight magnesium alloy body, it’s not only durable but also resistant to corrosion.
- Waterproof: The scope is waterproof up to JIS protection class 7 and is nitrogen-filled to prevent lens fogging.
7. Nikon Monarch Fieldscope 82ED-A
Nikon’s reputation in optics is well-deserved. This scope, with its ED glass and multilayer coating, consistently delivers sharp, clear images, making it a staple in my gear.
- ED Glass: Delivers high-contrast images with true color fidelity.
- Multilayer Coating: Enhances light transmission.
- Wide Field of View: Captures expansive landscapes with ease.
8. Bushnell Legend T-Series 15-45×60
The Bushnell Legend T-Series offers exceptional value without compromising on quality. It’s a testament to quality optics at an affordable price point.
- Rain Guard HD Coating: Ensures clear vision in any weather.
- ED Prime Glass: Delivers sharp, colorful images.
- Long Eye Relief: Provides comfortable viewing, especially for eyeglass wearers.
9. Pentax PF-80ED
The Pentax PF-80ED strikes a balance between performance and affordability. Its ED glass elements ensure that my images are free from chromatic aberration, delivering clarity and sharpness.
- ED Glass: Reduces chromatic aberration for clearer visuals.
- Lightweight Design: Makes it easy to carry and handle.
- Waterproof Construction: Ensures durability in various conditions.
Each of these spotting scopes offers a unique set of features tailored to different needs and preferences. Whether you’re a professional photographer or an enthusiast, this list provides a comprehensive guide to help you make an informed decision.
My Trusted Brands for Spotting Scopes
Over the years, I’ve developed trust in certain brands due to their consistent performance and quality.
· Zeiss Spotting Scope
Known for their durability, Zeiss scopes like the Conquest Gavia have never let me down.
· Kowa Spotting Scope
With their advanced lens system, Kowa scopes, especially the TSN-884, deliver sharp images every time.
· Vortex Spotting Scope
Vortex is renowned for its high-quality optics and durable build. Their scopes, such as the Razor HD series, consistently provide clear and bright images, making them a favorite among many outdoor enthusiasts.
Long-Range Spotting Scope Experiences
For those looking to capture subjects from a great distance, long-range spotting scopes are a boon.
From my experience, the top 3 are Swarovski ATX 95, Celestron Regal M2 100ED, and Vortex Razor HD 27-60×85.
Their powerful magnification, clarity, and large objective lenses make them ideal for long-range photography.
Features to Consider:
- Objective Lens Size: Larger lenses gather more light, crucial for distant viewing.
- Magnification: High magnification without compromising clarity.
- Weather Resistance: For unpredictable outdoor conditions.
Best Spotting Scope for Birding: My Experience
Bird photography requires patience and the right equipment.
The Zeiss Victory Harpia 95 and Kowa TSN-884 have been my go-to for their wide field of view and sharp focus, capturing birds in all their glory.
Features to Consider:
- Field of View: Wider views to track moving birds.
- Close Focus: Ability to focus on nearby subjects for detailed birdwatching.
- Eye Relief: Comfortable viewing, especially with eyeglasses.
Digiscoping Adventures: Best Spotting Scope for Digiscoping
It’s a technique I’ve grown fond of, especially with the Leupold GR 20-60×80 Gold Ring and Nikon Monarch Fieldscope 82ED-A, known for their adaptability and clarity.
Features to Consider:
- Camera Compatibility: Seamless integration with various camera models.
- Optical Quality: Ensures the captured image is sharp and clear.
- Stability: A stable scope ensures blur-free digiscoping.
Key Considerations When Choosing a Spotting Scope
When selecting a spotting scope for photography, I consider the following to get the most suitable spotting scope for my photography shoot.
By considering the following factors, you can find a scope that aligns with your needs and elevates your photographic journey.
A spotting scope’s size plays a pivotal role, especially if you’re on the move. A compact and lightweight design is ideal for hunting, trekking, and birdwatching, allowing for easy transportation and setup.
However, if you’re setting up in a fixed location, a larger scope might offer better stability and optics.
· Camera Compatibility
Not all spotting scopes are created equal when it comes to camera compatibility. Ensure the scope you choose can seamlessly align with your camera, whether you’re using a DSLR, mirrorless, or even a smartphone.
Some scopes come with dedicated digiscoping adapters, making the connection process smoother.
While it might be tempting to go for the highest magnification available, it’s essential to strike a balance. Higher magnification can sometimes compromise clarity, especially in unstable conditions.
My Tip: Look for a scope that offers a range of magnification options, allowing you to adapt to different subjects and distances.
If you’re a traveling photographer, weight can be a significant factor. A lighter spotting scope makes it easier to carry on long treks or hikes.
My Tip: Ensure that the reduction in weight doesn’t compromise the build quality or stability of the scope.
· Types of Spotting Scopes
There are primarily two types: straight and angled.
Straight scopes are intuitive and quicker to target, while angled scopes can be more comfortable for extended viewing and are often preferred for birdwatching.
· Brand Loyalties
Brands like Vortex, SWAROVSKI OPTIK, and Celestron have built a reputation in the optics world. While the brand isn’t everything, sticking to renowned names can often guarantee a certain level of quality and after-sales service.
· Distance Capabilities
Consider how far you want to view or photograph. Some scopes excel in short to mid-range distances, while others are built for long-range observations.
My Tip: Ensure the scope you choose aligns with your primary photography subjects.
· Field of View
A broader field of view allows you to observe a larger area, especially useful for tracking moving subjects like birds or wildlife.
However, a wider field might sometimes compromise on magnification, so find a scope that offers a good balance.
Lastly, ensure you’re getting value for money. While it’s essential to invest in a good quality spotting scope, it doesn’t always mean opting for the most expensive one.
Set a budget, compare features, and read reviews to make an informed decision.
The Unsung Hero: The Spotting Scope Tripod
Spotting scopes, with their high magnification and precision optics, demand stability. Even the slightest movement can result in a blurry image or missed opportunity.
This is where the tripod, often overlooked, becomes the unsung hero of the spotting scope setup.
Features to Look for in a Spotting Scope Tripod
At high magnifications, even minor vibrations can disrupt your view. A sturdy tripod ensures that your spotting scope remains stable, allowing for clear, sharp images.
A good tripod allows for smooth panning and tilting, essential when tracking moving subjects like birds or wildlife.
Outdoor photography often exposes equipment to the elements. A well-built tripod can withstand wind, rain, and rough terrains, ensuring your spotting scope remains safe and secure.
Extended viewing sessions can be tiring. An ergonomic tripod design, with adjustable height and angles, ensures comfortable viewing, reducing strain on your neck and back.
The Best Spotting Scope Tripod in 2023
1. Manfrotto MT055XPRO3
Manfrotto’s reputation in the tripod world is well-deserved. The MT055XPRO3 offers incredible stability, with its aluminum build ensuring durability. The Quick Power Lock system allows me for fast setup, and its 90-degree center column provides versatility in shooting angles.
- 3-section legs
- Bubble level
- Easy link attachment
2. Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB 100
The Vanguard Alta Pro stands out for its unmatched flexibility. Its Multi-Angle Central Column system allows for almost any angle of viewing. Combined with its sturdy build, it’s a reliable companion for my spotting scope.
- Instant swivel stop-n-lock system
- Hexagon-shaped central column
- Slip-resistant rubber feet
3. Gitzo GT3543LS Systematic Tripod
Gitzo tripods are synonymous with quality, and the GT3543LS is no exception. I love its modular design, combined with carbon eXact tubes, which ensures stability even under heavy loads. It’s an investment, but the performance justifies the price.
- G-lock ultra twist locks
- Large leg angle selectors
- Removable feet
Spotting scopes have truly revolutionized the way we capture distant subjects, bringing them closer with impeccable clarity.
From the Swarovski ATX 95’s brilliance to the Nikon Monarch Fieldscope’s adaptability, the right scope can elevate your shots to new heights. My journey with brands like Swarovski, Zeiss, and Nikon has been nothing short of transformative. Paired with a sturdy tripod, it’s a game-changer.
As we venture further into 2023, ensure you’re equipped with the best. So, the right spotting scope can be your gateway to unparalleled photographic adventures. Dive in, and let the world see your vision.
Justin Parker is a professional photographer and has been in the industry since 2007. He attended the University of Georgia. Justin combines his passion for photography and his interest in writing to give life to this blog which talks about photography in order to help and inspire young photographers.