Spotting Scopes vs Binoculars - Birding
June 30, 2015
For an avid birder, his outdoor equipment can make the difference between a hit and a miss; a breathtakingly beautiful sight or a missed golden moment that can never be recreated! Small wonder then that spotting scopes are fast gaining popularity among regular outdoors enthusiasts. The spotting scope is a compact telescope designed largely for terrestrial observing and is used in applications that involve magnifications beyond the range of a typical binocular. Compact and powerful, these optical instruments ensure that you are spot on - always!
There are many instances when a pair of usual 7x to 10x binoculars can be inadequate either because of lack of magnification or clarity. This is where a spotting scope comes in handy. Spotting scopes offer more magnification than binoculars and can help you locate targets at extreme distances that can be missed by observers with binoculars. Generally sold with zoom type eyepieces in either 15-45x or 20-60x magnifications and used with a tripod for stability, these will allow you to identify or observe birds at distances beyond the reach of your binoculars.
Uses of spotting scopes
Spotting scopes are perfectly suited for activities like long distance bird watching and nature study, telephotography, hunting, scenic observing, long distance microscopy, beginning astronomy and surveillance. Depending on the type and design of the spotting scope, the magnification can range from about 10X to 250X, using either fixed or zoom eyepieces. Whether you use it to identify a trophy buck at long range, observe migrating crane in the winters or spot bullet groups at the range, a spotting scope will augment your pleasure in the outdoors.
Types of spotting scopes
In addition to magnification, spotting scopes can also vary depending upon their design. There are two basic body designs - straight and angled. With straight scopes, the barrel and the eyepiece are parallel, while in angled scopes the eyepiece is 45º from the barrel axis so as to bend the light path. Each design has its own pros and cons and the choice of scope boils down to how you want to use it. Here are the advantages of each design:
Angled Spotting Scope
- Easier to share with a group
- Higher eye point means you can use a shorter tripod
- Better for spotting soaring or nestled birds
Straight Spotting Scope
- Easier to aim for beginners
- Easier for viewing birds on the ground or water or below a cliff
- Less strain on your neck for level viewing
Advantages of using spotting scopes
Though there are many advantages of spotting scopes over binoculars, one of the primary one is that a scope allows you to observe sensitive species such as cranes and eagles from friendly distances. As more and more people take to the field, it is becoming increasingly important to watch in ways that are minimally disruptive and stressful to wildlife. The magnification of spotting scopes allows you to do that and makes scopes ideal for any nature activity in wild!
Finding a bird in a large flock
Imagine locating a Curlew Sandpiper just coming into breeding plumage among thousands of birds in the wild or the Spotted Redshank nestled among thousands of Yellowlegs, Dowitchers, and other shorebirds! Finding it using binoculars is can be a trying task, and there's no guarantee that you might finally be able to see it at all. But with a spotting scope, simply by virtue of its higher magnification, you can easily spot the elusive bird. Chasing rarities with these scopes is a pleasure!
Locate a bird in its hiding place
Some birds visit certain places only for a few hours or days in a year and are often on the move. Never staying still they are constantly pushing ardent bird watchers to the edge. Equipped with spotting scopes, you can spot a movement on the ground or air, from even as far as 200-300 yards away, and capture that mysterious bird in your scope, before it flies away, never to be seen for a long time.
Distinguish between similar species
The simplest way to spot different species of birds in the wild is by some color distinctions. However on a dark, overcast day, when the colors are nonexistent, poor lighting means that you will be not be able to spot the differences without close proximity. A spotting scope with its clarity and magnification can make this assignment successful and memorable. You can observe the birds without getting too close to scare them away!
Identifying look-alike birds
Distinguishing between look-alike birds can be a daunting task, especially for newer birders. Sometimes different species have such similar coloration and patterns that's it is absolutely essential to zoom to the closest possible frame to make the distinction. And once again, spotting scopes have a definite edge over binoculars. With unbelievable clarity, scopes offer much better results than binoculars!
In other words, spotting scopes can help you spot a bird in a large flock, trace where it is hiding, spot distant birds, distinguish between similar species, and identify look-alike birds. In addition, spotting scopes can also be used for recording images and not just plain viewing. One of the most popular uses of spotting scopes in addition to spotting is telephotography.
We all love bright, high-contrast images with true-to-life colors. To capture your sightings for years, nowadays most models of spotting scopes offer the capability to use the spotting scope lens as a telephoto lens. The optical design and configuration of the scope and the available accessories determine its performance and effectiveness for this purpose. As opposed to a camera telephoto lens, spotting scopes usually operate at much higher magnifications and at a fixed aperture or f/number, and need more stability and a higher speed film plus slower shutter speed options for correct exposure.
Imagine capturing wildlife in its purest form, and being able to save it for later viewing! Now you can - digiscoping is here. Defined as a spotting scope with a digital imaging system, this remarkable spotting scope has a built-in imaging system and optical beam splitter for simultaneous visual and electronic monitoring. All images are output to a standard RGB signal that lets you view images on a TV, camcorder, computer, LCD viewing screen or a digital camera in amazing detail. Simply put, digiscoping is perfect for recording list birds or tracking the trophy elk you've been pursuing for years.
Though spotting scopes have many advantages over binoculars, yet some birders avoid spotting scopes because they find these more complex to use than binoculars. Scopes do offer a higher magnification but at the cost of the field of view. Plus, the discomfort of one-eyed observing can make them a little difficult to use at first. But with a little practice all these obstacles can be mastered. Any birder who can use binoculars can learn to use a spotting scope and trust us, the views will be worth it!
TIP: Generally, the best way to use a spotting scope while birding is as a back up to your binoculars. Use the binoculars to find the bird, and the scope to identify what you've found but cant make out clearly. Try not to use your scope as your primary glassing tool since this may tire you out too soon, especially if you are a novice. Remember when using your scope, it's much easier to initially find things in the image by turning the power down to its lowest point and using the widest possible field of view.
Picking the right spotting scope
A spotting scope is a sure way to open new birding opportunities for you. Whether you observe in the great wide open or locally at your city park, a spotting scope will add a new dimension to your birding. If you anticipate any field use of the scope, investing in a waterproof scope would save you a lot of hassle. Hardcore birders also appreciate strong construction and preferably nitrogen filled optics so they won't fog up.
Plus, always remember that usability is equally important in spotting scopes. A good birding scope should live up to the elements but it shouldn't be too heavy to carry. Furthermore, it should be easy to focus and usable on a car window mount, for those times when you dare not step out of the vehicle and disturb the natural world. Built-in, slide-out sunshades and easy-to-use lens caps will also help a lot. Last but not least, a good scope needs a good tripod to help you keep steady.
There is no doubt that with spotting scopes, magnifying is perfected. Spotting scopes have mastered the task of bringing distant objects closer and even storing them as photographs or digital images. Not only do they range widely in capability and price, but also offer more steadiness and clarity than a binocular with the style of a telescope. Here's wishing you lots of amazing and extraordinary sightings with yours!