6 Best Spotting Scopes [2019]: Range & Hunting

Not sure if you need a spotting scope?

We usually don’t hesitate when getting a new scope or red dot…but we lag on getting a spotting scope.

Tested Spotting Scopes
Tested Spotting Scopes

We’ll cover what to look for in a spotting scope and a couple choices spanning all budgets.  Complete with view-throughs of our tested ones.

By the end you’ll know if you even need one…and also which one to get.

What to Look For in a Spotting Scope

Magnification

All those numbers you see in the catalogs are important to understand.

When you see the following in a catalog “20-60×80” it means…

  • the scope has zoom magnification from 20 power to 60 power
  • the objective lens (the lens in front) is 80 millimeters in diameter

That gives you a lot of magnification as well as a big lens to gather more light and make your image brighter during those all-important first light and last light glassing periods.

The scope you buy will depend on your most frequent use or targeted use.

Use

If you are a dedicated long range shooter you may opt for a scope with a larger objective lens and higher magnification.

But that extra glass means more weight and more dollars.

The same scope may be not necessary if your passion is mountain hunting.

Chasing critters like sheep and goats in the far north usually means an investment in glass that allows you to determine if an animal is worth leaving the mountain you are glassing from and descending thousands of feet and climbing up the next ridge.

The weight of that big scope can save you many miles and thousands of vertical feet.

A good spotter will allow you check a bull like this from a long distance.
A good spotter will allow you to check a bull like this from a long distance.

Eye Piece

Spotting scopes can be found with either a straight view eyepiece or with an angled eyepiece.  For many of us, it is much easier to find our target or critter with a straight view scope.

However, if multiple folks are going to be looking through the scope, it’s a little more difficult to get the tripod height just right.

With an angled eyepiece you can lock in on the target object and folks just look down through the scope.

The other part of the eyepiece that is critical is the exit pupil.

If you hold a rifle scope or spotting scope at arms length and line it up to look through it you will see a little white disk of light.

Exit Pupil on spotting scope
Exit Pupil on a spotting scope

The diameter of that disk is the exit pupil diameter.  The exit pupil should be approximately the same as the diameter of the pupil of your eye.

This will allow a bit of flexibility as to how close your eye must be to the eyepiece of the spotting scope to have a full view through the scope.

Generally, the larger the exit pupil, the more eye relief you will have.

Weather Proofness

Be sure the scope you choose is weatherproof.

I say weather because it’s not just rain and snow that cause issues with optics.  Be sure the scope is sealed against dust as well.

If you’ve ever laid out prone in a prairie dog town in the Wyoming wind you know why dust proof is critical.  Somehow dust gets on and in everything you own.

Bad weather american
We can only hope our spotting scopes are as weatherproof as this dude.

You need to be sure the scope tube is properly purged and free of as much moisture and oxygen as possible. 

If not you may experience the internal glass fogging if you take the scope from cold outdoor temperatures to a warm tent or cabin, then back out again.

The fog will dissipate over time, but it’s a hassle to deal with.

Best Spotting Scopes

Like guns, there are dozens of spotting scopes out there that will serve you well and last a lifetime.

dozens of us
Dozens of Us

Of course, the Big Three; Leica, Zeiss, and Swarovski all will provide you with ultra clear glass, smooth zooms and easy focusing.

But do you really need $2000-$3000 glass for your shooting and hunting endeavors?

Probably not.

Let’s start with some spotting scopes for us mere mortals…

1. Celestron 52250

From our editor, here’s his pick of the best bang-for-the-buck for something that will do it’s job of telling you hits and misses.

Celestron 55250
Celestron 55250

The Celestron 55250 ($149) gets you out of the ultra-budget zone into spotting scopes with decent glass to see with 20-60x magnification.

It’s hard to get proper photos through a spotting scope…but we brought all the ones we tested to our local 600 yard range.

The area we’re going to look at is in the red oval.

600 Yards at Angeles Range, Marked
600 Yards at Angeles Range, Marked

Attached our spotting scopes to a tripod (more on those at the end).

Mounted Celestron Spotting Scope
Mounted Celestron Spotting Scope

This one of the Celestron at 20x looking at 500 and 600 yard targets.

Celestron Spotting Scope 20x
Celestron Spotting Scope 20x

Note…it will definitely look better through your own eyeballs…and you’ll get the full circle view too.  It’s just very hard with a camera!

And here it is at 60x.  Pay special attention to the red circle target since we’ll be using that as our barometer of glass quality.

Celestron Spotting Scope 60x
Celestron Spotting Scope 60x

And an attempt at getting footage from our PSA 6.5 Creedmoor Review.

Plenty enough to see what you need to at this range.

Once you use your own eyes and 60x…you can go up to 1000+ yards.

The 45 degree angle works well and adjustment on the eyepiece and focus are very usable.

Celestron 55250, Rear
Celestron 55250, Rear

Our solid recommendation for a great starter spotting scope that’s around $150.

Celestron Spotting Scope
Celestron Spotting Scope

And is likely to live a cushy life to and from the range.

Editor's Pick
149
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

What’s your take on the Celestron?

Readers' Ratings

4.95/5 (110)

Your Rating?

If you’re looking to take in on some more rough and tumble adventures…you might want the next up.

2. Vortex Diamondback 20-60x80mm

Vortex Optics have a reputation for being clear and precise at prices that don’t seem possible.

Vortex Diamondback Spotting Scope 20-60x
Vortex Diamondback Spotting Scope 20-60x

Take the Vortex Diamondback 20-60x80mm Spotting Scope.

Here we have their entry-level scope offering a great range of magnification as well as a big 80mm objective lens to help us at last light when that big mule deer buck is just sneaking out of the timber for a bite to eat.

Diamondback Spotting Scope Mounted
Diamondback Spotting Scope Mounted

The Diamondback is nearly 15 inches long and weighs 47 ounces, so it is by no means a compact or lightweight scope. 

It does feel light-years more durable and quality compared to the Celestron even though they are the same weight.

It’s also waterproof and fog-proof and comes with a view-through carry case so your scope is always protected in the field.

Here it is at 20x.

Diamondback Spotting Scope, 20x
Diamondback Spotting Scope, 20x

And at 60x…don’t worry we’ll have these side-by-side in a little bit.

Diamondback Spotting Scope, 60x
Diamondback Spotting Scope, 60x

The scope is available with either straight or angled eyepieces.

As with all Vortex products you are covered with the transferable Lifetime Warranty should you ever need service.  All in all a quality option for the more vigorous shooter or hunter.

3. Vortex Viper HD 20-60x85mm

We step it up a little in Vortex’s spotting scope line with the Viper HD 20-60×85.

Vortex Viper Spotting Scope 20-60x
Vortex Viper Spotting Scope 20-60x

The objective lens is a little bigger at 85mm which lets in more light.  But it’s much heftier at 76 oz compared to the 47 oz of the Diamondback

It also comes with a built-in sunshade plus you don’t have to use a little dial to focus anymore…it’s that ribbed center of the main body.

Viper Spotting Scope, Mounted
Viper Spotting Scope, Mounted

And boy does it feel silky-smooth too.

Here it is at 20x.

Viper Spotting Scope, 20x
Viper Spotting Scope, 20x

And at 60x.

Viper Spotting Scope, 60x
Viper Spotting Scope, 60x

You can definitely see more definition of the hits on the red target.

What I recommend if you want to reach to a mile and beyond…or if you really plan on putting your glass through some abuse.

4. Vortex Razor HD 27-60x85mm

Let’s really step it up to Vortex’s highest line…the Razor HD 27-60×85.

Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope 27-60x
Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope 27-60x

Again it has the larger 85mm objective lens to let in more light.

And if it’s like the Razor series of rifle scopes…it’s top notch glass from Japan.  It’s also surprisingly lighter than the Viper at 66 oz.

But the real difference is looking through it!

Razor Spotting Scope, Mounted
Razor Spotting Scope, Mounted

We mounted this bad boy and set it to 27x.

Razor Spotting Scope, 27x
Razor Spotting Scope, 27x

It also has the built-in sunshade and super smooth focus dial.

Razor Sun Shade
Razor Sun Shade

Drumroll…here it is at 60x.

Razor Spotting Scope, 60x
Razor Spotting Scope, 60x

You can see taste the extra…”furriness” of the hits on target.

But is it worth basically double the Viper?

Maybe…if you’re really into quality glass and need that extra clarity for super long range hits.

Now…do you have even more money to burn?

5. Leica APO-Televid 82

If I were to pick any scope out there and know that it is likely the best glass and engineering available I’d head straight to the counter where they display the big scopes with the little red circle…Leica.

The APO-Televid 82 will do anything you need a spotting scope to do and do it with class and perfection.

The APO is 25-50x82mm and has an angled or straight eyepiece that is interchangeable. A nice feature of the eyepiece is that is a wide angle design so you have a better peripheral view even at high magnification.

If you need more than 50 power you can add a 1.8x multiplier to the scope and have a nice 40-90 power spotter. The scope is heavy at 51.82 ounces so a quality tripod and head are in order.

The 25-50 eyepiece will run you another $879. So for the scope and eyepiece, you’ll need to write a check for $3,578.

And don’t forget your tripod.

6. Minox MD 50 W

My personal spotting scope for years that lives in the range bag and my pack when I’m headed deep into the wilderness for elk or deer is the Minox MD 50 W.

This little scope is only 8.39 inches long and weighs just 22 oz.  About half of both for the Celestron and intro-Vortex.

The eyepiece is a respectable 16-30 zoom.

While this is no Leica or Zeiss it is compact and clear enough to do what I need it to do.  I can see and call shots at the 1000 yard range and tell if the buck is legal from a long way off.

Minox spotter with straight eyepiece - looking for shed antlers.
Minox Spotter with a Straight Eyepiece

The scope is waterproof and dust-proof and is rubber armored.

It is light enough that you can get by with a compact, lightweight tripod as well. F or those looking for a great backpacking spotter, you can put this on your packing list for under $200.

195
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

You Need a Tripod

If you have a 20 or 25 power scope on your long range rig, how often do shoot offhand when cranked all the way up?

Not very.

It is nearly impossible to hold still enough to do any good at that magnification.

Now try to hold your 60 power scope still.

Can’t be done.

The good thing is that even a basic tripod is enough unless you went all-out with a huge spotting scope.

24
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

If you’re looking for something top-of-the-line…check out Manfrotto tripods (it’s what we use for photography/videography).

And…we’re done!

Final Thoughts

Spotting scopes are often one of those items that you really get what you pay for with regards to quality.

Spotting Scopes Glass
Spotting Scopes Glass

Here’s all the tested spotting scopes at 60x on the red target.

4 Spotting Scopes, 60x at 600 Yards
4 Spotting Scopes, 60x at 600 Yards

I you’re simply starting out long-range shooting at the range…get the Celestron.

Editor's Pick
149
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

It’s pretty similar in view quality to the Vortex Diamondback 20-60x, which is triple the price and probably not triple the build quality.

But if you want to upgrade a little get the Vortex Viper HD 20-60x.  You get better glass, a larger objective lens, built-in sunshade, better focus dial, and better eye relief.

And if you just love really great quality optics…the Razor HD 27-60x.

And if you’re rucking your spotting scope…get the Minox MD 50 W.

195
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Let us know what kind of spotters you are using and why.  And if you need a great scope for your rifle, don’t forget to take a look at our Best Scopes & Optics article!

A Couple AR-15 Optics
A Couple AR-15 Optics

15 Leave a Reply

  • rimfirejunky

    I have had Kowa in the past and am going back to Kowa. The clarity and quality are superior compared to other units on the market. This is a birder's scope, they have an eye for detail and plumage colors at any range. The unit I bought over 20 years ago was over a grand and I could see tree bark at 600 yards easy and tell what kind of tree it was by the bark and foliage. At closer ranges of 200-300 yards, I could see ants and bugs crawling around and be able to identify the type of bugs on the targets. Save up your change and buy the Kowa.

    1 second ago
  • Bull o' the Woods

    Some years back (say, 2007-2008) Jim Owens at JarHeadTop was touting the Konus 7120B 20x-60x80mm spotting scope as a worthy successor to the Kowa TSN-821 for about half the price (~US$250 for the Konus vs. ~US$600 for the Kowa at that time). I bought a Konus from him back in the day and it has been adequate for my needs. Today, the Konus has disappeared from his website and he sells only Kowa, specifically the TSN-82SV for ~US$800. Owens's readers are primarily competitive high power rifle shooters out to 1,000 yards. I do not know whether Owens has any special relationship with Kowa (doubtful, given his background), but if the Kowa is good enough for him it should be good enough for me, particularly since the Kowa sells for half the price of the Vortex scopes and one-third the price of the Leica listed above. You can go broke buying a spotting scope. Kowa seems to have the best price/performance ratio.

    4 weeks ago
  • Bill

    Though not cheap, the Kowa TSN-884 with the TE-11WZ eyepiece is certainly one of the best in the world. It's surprising to me how often this one gets left out of the discussion of the ultra high end spotters. I've compared it with a Zeiss Diascope 85 mm. The Zeiss is excellent but the Kowa TSN-884 is even better, and imo, by a considerable margin.

    4 weeks ago
  • Austin

    Nice review with brands and availability common to most big box retailers for folks to put their hands and eyes on... that's exactly what I did next. However, this is where changed course from what I fulley expected to purchase prior to walking through the sliding doors. I compared both vortex options in this review and a leupold with a scope and company I had not caught wind of prior to this experience. it was a recommendation of the associate to bring the Vanguard Endeavor HD outside as well for comparison. I walked in and back out with the Vanguard and couldn't believe the change of heart of value this glass offers. We all have super subjective opinions with glass, but I'd being my fellow enthusiasts a disservice if I don't put this on their radar as it passed my eye test and exceeded the others in the same lighting conditions.

    1 month ago
    • john

      I concur and will second this comment - Vanguard - great tripods. spotters and bino's aaannnnddd - scopes with the enhanced glass for about $400 I just bought one 3 x 18 44 30 mm tube - excellent. I also have a tripod MAK and a small set of binos 10x25 and they are excellent

      1 month ago
  • george collins

    You should look at Konus for moderate price and Kowa for higher price. High power shooters recommended Konus and side by side with Kowa I could only see a small difference at the very edge of the field of view. I bought the Konus 20-60x80.

    1 month ago
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks George, we'll check them out in the update!

      1 month ago
      • L.L.

        I have a Konus and it works well.

        4 weeks ago
  • Mr. Gray

    I have been an optical instrument technician for 28 years. I own two companies which DAILY deal with scientific, medical and research optical instruments. One of my companies is ISO accredited. I am thoroughly familiar with all the big names in optics. All I do is maintenance, repair and calibration of optical instruments - day in and day out. I strongly recommend staying far, FAR away from Leica optical instruments. While they deliver a fine image out-of-the-box, the problem with Leica is that it is not as durable an instrument as other brands. My option would be a brand that is not covered in this post - a Nikon. Nikon’s manufacturing standards are far and away higher than Leica’s or the other brands mentioned here. As I said before, Leica - and probably the other brands reviewed here - will deliver a fine image. That’s not the problem. The problem is that the manipulatives, such as focus mechanisms and the like, are nowhere near as durable as “top end” names such as Nikon. After a couple of years’ service, you’ll find that your “bargain” instrument will begin to have not optical problems but mechanical problems. In this professional optical instrument technician’s opinion, you should do yourself a favor and invest in a top-name brand.

    1 month ago
    • Bill

      Mr. Gray, What do you think of Kowa's durability in the Prominar line? I own a TSN-884 with a TE-11WZ zoom eyepiece and its optics are essentially perfect, or nearly so. So your opinion regarding its expected mechanical durability would be appreciated. By the way, I've used Nikon Labophot 2 or Optiphot 2 microscopes for over 25 years at work. The optical quality is unsurpassed for that generation of microscopes, at least in the CFN apochromatic series. That said, there are some known issues with the focus knob and the condenser knob that have led to the creation of aftermarket replacements (helpful to have since Nikon no longer makes parts for the Labophot 2/Optiphot 2 series of microscopes). Years ago (~1994-1995) I looked at Nikon binoculars and the Leicas (Trinovid 10x50 BA) were considerably better optically, albeit more expensive. So my second question to you would be this: Are the OPTICS of the highest end Nikon spotting scopes as good as those of something like a flagship model Kowa or Swarovski, in your opinion?

      4 weeks ago
    • Mike Mc

      I could not agree more with this post. I have a Nikon Fieldscope 13-75x82 ED Spotting Scope (Angled Viewing) and it's built like a tank. I've had it in the rain, +110 degree and -10 degree temps, desert, high desert, woods, wetlands and it won't give up on you. I paid a bit over $1k for it (in 2011) and it's worth every penny. I, too, would have liked to see a Nikon in this review lineup.

      4 weeks ago
  • Tom Hall

    Liking your recommendation on the Celestron 52250 20x60-80. I target shoot at 100 yards to make sure my scope is on before I go moose hunting. I do this maybe 2 to 3 times prior to the hunt. With this scope will I see the bullet holes at 100 yards? Thank you Tom

    2 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      You should be fine even on normal paper, however, the use of Shoot-N-See targets really help out for seeing bullet holes.

      2 months ago
  • Kalman

    Hey Randy, I agree with you. Celestron 52250 spotting scope is really cool. Thanks for nice sharing!

    6 months ago
  • Jeff

    I've been using a Redfield Rampage 20x60 spotting scope and own several Manfrotto tripods from my SLR days. The Redfield 20x60 scope works very well out to 200 yards (that's as far as my range goes) and my Manfrotto tripods are simply the best out there. They have a great selection of heads for many applications.

    1 year ago
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