Spotting Scope Recommendations

Stanford Guitar

Friend of Leo's
Feb 11, 2020
I'm looking to buy a zoom spotting scope for friends. Mainly to look out at the views of SF Bay from their incredible balcony and to use on hikes to see birds and wildlife in the distance, all on a tripod. I'm thinking a 20-60ish zoom? Looking to spend about $500.

Any recommendations?

Currently looking at Vortex, Celestron, Nikon and Vanguard.....
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Doctor of Teleocity
Mar 21, 2007
My mom's basement.
@Stanford Guitar A bicycle and fountain pen guy should have an "episcope".

I understand what you can buy new is not made in Germany. Boomers should remember them advertised in magazines like National Geographic or Popular Science. I had to get an original I saw on eBay while looking for same vintage pen and fly fishing stuff. The photo here is not mine.

Camera fans should also appreciate Arthur Seibert.



Poster Extraordinaire
Feb 28, 2006
Hotlanta, GA
Vortex offers good bang for the buck and the warranty is good as well.

Vanguard, Bushnell, and Meopta are optics brands that also provide a good value. I would not rule out Nikon, either, but they cut back on their optics offerings and I am not familiar with what they offer now.

A spending limit of $500.00 provides a fair amount of options.

Leica, Zeiss, Schmidt & Bender, Swarovski, Kahles, and Leupold are premium brands but have some less expensive lines. In my observation, the Vortex, Vanguard, and Meopta products at the lower price points generally offer more value that the lower end Leupy, etc. (but I admit that is not always true).


Silver Supporter
Mar 21, 2009
Portland Oregon
I have to put a plug in for our local company - they have a phenomenal lifetime warranty on all their optics (that I have used firsthand several times). Several options in your price range.



Poster Extraordinaire
Nov 3, 2019
Adirondack Coast, NY
Cabela's offers some branded optics that are a pretty good value. They are probably a bit out of your price range.

Keep in mind, with a spotting scope, the tripod is as important as the scope. A $3k scope works as well as a $300 scope on a wobbly tripod. Unfortunately, your budget is not going to yield quality results. At that price point, I would advise AGAINST a zoom of any sort. First, the optics of inexpensive zoom lenses are terrible. Once you start to zoom up, you begin to lose light and clarity, resulting in a large, muddy image. Secondly, any zoomed image on a wobbly tripod is useless.

My advice at that price point is a good pair of 10-12X50 binoculars. You don't NEED a tripod, so optics can be maximized. They tend to be more comfortable for extended viewing (both eyes open, binocular vision). You can use a tripod or monopod if needed, but leave that up to the users. Buy the best quality optics you can afford. Porro prism binoculars typically have better resolution than roof prism binoculars, but are usually heavier, bulkier, and not as "modern-looking".

But for any optical equipment, the objective lens size is important. The larger diameter (50 vs. 42mm for binoculars) allows for more light gathering which translates directly into usefulness in dim light (woods) and higher magnifications. But a larger diameter adds weight and cost. If you can get a decent pair of 12X50 binoculars, your friends should be happy. They will be hard to find at that price point, but if you go with a scope/tripod combination for the same price, the results won't be as good.
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