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Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars: What to Choose for Outdoor Activities

A person new to outdoor optics can find it hard to choose when comparing spotting scopes vs. binoculars. After all, both items have the same task of magnifying objects. I’d like to tell you about the differences between these items.

Both of these items will be useful to you for active sports. Binoculars are considered the more portable items, easy to keep on hand, and used immediately when needed. But it has a lower degree of magnification. A spotting scope provides a more precise image but often requires using a tripod, which is not always possible.

How to Choose a Spotting Scope or Binoculars:
  1. Determine what you will use the device for.
  2. You will be in motion or static.
  3. What degree of magnification is required.
  4. Understand if you will be able to mount a tripod.
  5. Is it convenient to carry the tripod bag.
  6. Make your choice.

two sporting scopes in the field

What Are Spotting Scopes?

A spotting scope is a kind of telescope for observing objects on the ground and in the sky. They can zoom in on objects at a great distance by several times. Optical telescopes work well in low-light conditions. They provide the best possible image quality with all the details. That is why spotting scopes are often used for hunting, bird watching, and even stargazing. Spotting scopes are monocular, using one eye to observe.

What Are Binoculars?

Binoculars are a kind of optics for watching objects with both eyes. It makes the image appear more three-dimensional. Binoculars are also compact and easier to hold in your hands. The device is held with both hands, allowing a stable image. Binoculars are used for hunting, fishing, hiking, racing, shooting, and more.

Spotting Scopes vs. Binoculars: Applications

Some active sports require the necessary optics. Let’s consider popular activities involving optical tools and which are best for each typical case.

Target shooting

This activity involves shooting at immovable targets such as bottles, cans, etc. Unlike game hunting, you will not be in motion yourself. In this case, you can use a spotting scope pre-installed on a tripod. Using binoculars makes your eyes less tired.

Hunting

The scope is good for spotting games at long distances because it can zoom in on an object more than binoculars. But you may need a tripod for using a telescopic sight, which is unacceptable for hunting. The best solution is to use binoculars with high magnification. It is convenient to carry, your eyes will be less tired, and it is easier to lurk with binoculars than with scope sights.

​​Birdwatching

Comparing spotting scope vs. binoculars for bird watching, you may find both devices are suitable for this purpose.

Binoculars at 8-10x magnification provide a good view and enough magnification to see individual birds or moving flocks of birds. If you are observing in a park or the woods in constant motion, it is best to use binoculars for birdwatching. It is also convenient to carry in a bag or around your neck.

For more professional recognition of individual bird species or stationary observation with the ability to take high-quality pictures, a birdwatching spotting scope is a better choice.

observing a duck through the eyepiece

Wildlife & astronomy viewing

To watch animals or observe the stars, you don’t have to make a lot of movements. Therefore, a spotting scope can help you see all objects in detail. You can set it on a tripod and quietly observe the thing caught in your objective lens. Both are successful in watching the night sky and comparing spotting scope vs. binoculars in astronomy. Spotting scopes for stargazing are more compact than telescopes for this activity.

Spectator sports viewing

Some sporting events sometimes have to be watched from a distance because there is simply no way to get closer. In this case, a spotting scope would come in handy to look at the events from a long distance. But long observation with one eye can lead to fatigue and headache. Therefore, using binoculars with a wide spectrum of magnification is better.

Binoculars vs. Spotting Scopes: Both Have Their Place in Your Gear

Usually, an active person does not limit himself to one activity. Today, you look at the stars through a telescope. Later you decide to go on a safari to Africa to do some predator and birdwatching, and you just need binoculars. The scope of these devices is quite broad, so I don’t think you’ll regret having both items.

Binoculars vs. Spotting Scope: Key Differences in Features

In this section, I want to present a brief comparison of both devices, and then we will focus on each item in more detail.

Difference between a spotting scope and binoculars

 BinocularSpotting Scope
LensesSize up to 50 mmSize up to 80 mm
PriceFrom 50 $From 100 $
ProsConvenient to use on the moveHigh-quality image
ConsLow magnificationNot convenient to use on the move
MagnificationFrom 4x till 25xFrom 11x till 100 x
PortabilityCompact, easier to carryHas more weight and dimensions due to the tripod

Binoculars vs. spotting scope: lenses

Spotting scopes help to observe objects at greater distances. They need large lenses to provide clear and detailed images, so they often have 80-millimeter lenses. Binoculars have a somewhat simplified task. Their size is compact and portable, so the lens size can be in the range of 50 millimeters.

Binoculars vs. spotting scope: price

Typically, spotting scopes cost more than binoculars. The price of the device will depend on the quality. You can buy simple binoculars for $50 or more. A budget version of the scope might also cost you just under $100. More professional optical devices can cost about $500 and even several thousand dollars.

Binoculars vs. spotting scope: pros and cons

Spotting scopes are more suitable for professionals and binoculars for amateurs. But if we talk specifically about their advantages and disadvantages, a scope allows you to observe objects at a greater distance. In addition, you get a clearer image and can even take pictures. But this device is not suitable if you are on the move all the time, for example, in the car and you cannot set up a tripod.

Binoculars are more versatile, but their degree of proximity is less, and you can’t always see the thing in great detail.

Spotting scope vs. binoculars: glass

I cannot say that a particular spotting scope has better glass than binoculars or vice versa. This characteristic depends on the price. A mid-priced binocular may have better glass than a budget scope.

Spotting scope vs. binoculars: magnification

A spotting scope can have a magnification ranging from 11x to 80x to 100x. Binoculars have a slightly lower magnification — from 4 to 25 times.

Besides, binoculars have fixed magnification optics. You cannot zoom in to get close to the object. Spotting scopes are adjustable and powerful optics, so you can zoom in and out and increase or decrease magnification.

scope on a tripod in front of the sea

Spotting scope vs. binoculars: portability

The standard scope has larger dimensions and weight than binoculars. It is not convenient to hold it in your hands for a long time. Scopes are set on a tripod, but this is not always possible. In this case, binoculars will win. Binoculars are good if the object you are looking at is in motion. Binoculars are easy to hold with both hands, and their compact size makes them easy to carry in a bag or hang around your neck.

Wearable vs. packing

Binoculars are easy to carry around your neck, on your belt, or in a small bag. You will always have it handy and ready to use. A scope requires a bag or backpack and a tripod. If you need to change locations while observing, the tripod should be assembled and disassembled to stow it back in the backpack.

Binoculars vs. Spotting Scope: Which Should You Buy?

So, let’s summarize the fundamental differences between binoculars and spotting scopes.

1. Zoom power

Binoculars have fixed magnification. The spotting scope has adjustable magnification power, and it’s a great advantage. It gives you more options in observing animals or birds.

2. Long-distance glassing

The beginning of the magnification degree for a scope is usually the limit for binoculars. With binoculars, you can see an animal in the distance, but you cannot see it in detail. A spotting scope is better at this task.

3. When it’s not safe to approach

You may need to get close enough to get a detailed look at an animal through binoculars. The animal may either hear your movement and run away or attack if it is a predator. With a spotting scope, you can see the animal perfectly from a safe distance.

Watching wild deer through the scope

4. Quit walking to the target

Binoculars can be handy for judging the hit on a target if it is not too far from you. Otherwise, binoculars will not allow you to see the accuracy of your shots. Using a scope will help you assess the situation objectively.

5. Portability

Binoculars are lighter, always kept at hand, and quickly retrieved when needed. Scopes are usually heavier because of the tripod. You also need time and a suitable place to set it up.

6. Compactness

Binoculars are usually smaller in size compared to scopes. But for those who want excellent image quality using a small device, there are more modern and compact models of spotting scopes.

7. Low light

In this case, the scope’s capabilities are usually much greater than those of binoculars. Because of the larger lens size, they collect more light and allow you to see objects well in low light conditions. However, there are decent binoculars for adults with night vision and day.

Choosing the Right Optic for Your Outdoor Activity

Now that you know each device’s features, it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to choose between binoculars and scopes. There is no one right decision, as it all depends on your preferences. But if you still have doubts about your decision, both of these devices will find their purpose in your outdoor activities.

FAQ About Сhosing Binoculars or Spotting Scope

We have detailed the differences between the two optical devices, and I invite you to read more information in the following section.

What is a spotting scope used for instead of binoculars?

The spotting scope is used at long distances where binoculars cannot provide a clear image. You can use the observation tube for any activity such as hunting, birdwatching, etc. The tubes are more convenient to use with a tripod, so it is necessary to have the conditions for its setup.

Can you view stars with a spotting scope?

Scopes provide a fairly high degree of magnification. A good quality spotting scope can be used to observe giant planets or star clusters. So, this monocular may be a good alternative if you don’t already own a telescope.

binoculars on a fallen tree in woods

Is a spotting scope better than binoculars?

One of the devices cannot be claimed to be better or worse overall. Each is good in a specific area. For example, you use binoculars for hunting and a scope for observing the night sky.

Spotting scope vs. binoculars: when and where you’ll need each

Binoculars are used to observe targets when a person is on the move. The spotting scope helps you get closer to the object if it is very far away. You can also use a scope to take good-quality photographs.

Is a spotting scope good for astronomy?

Yes, you don’t always need a professional telescope to observe the stars. A good quality spotting scope will allow you to use it in astronomy.

High power binoculars vs. spotting scope: what is the difference?

If you need a clear image but can’t mount a tripod, you can use binoculars with a higher magnification. For example, when you are on safari.

It Is Time to Make Your Choice!

So, to summarize the information above, I would like to say that the choice between binoculars and a spotting scope is not difficult. To determine which instrument is better, you should evaluate several essential parameters — whether you will be in movement or stationary while you are observing, whether you need more magnification, whether you will be able to mount the device on a tripod, and what degree of magnification you need.

What devices do you use for outdoor activities? What guided your choice? Please, share your experience in the comments below.

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