Spotting scopes are used mainly in hunting and bird watching activities. Basically, a spotting scope is a small, very portable telescope with an easy to carry design and added optics to produce an upright image. These instruments have more powerful magnification capability than conventional binoculars and are usually optimized for observing terrestrial objects.
The technical aspects of spotting scopes are ample and varied. Firstly, most spotting scopes are usually identified by three numbers. The first numbers denote the magnification capability and the last number is the size of the objective lens in millimeters. For instance, 20-60X60 indicates that the scope magnifies target objects 20 to 60 times and the diameter of the objective lens is 60 millimeters.
Spotting scopes generally have a magnification on the range of 20X to 60X. The higher magnifications provided by these devices enable a user to view wildlife, birds, scenery and other distant objects that are far beyond the reach of a traditional binocular. Nonetheless, there are some limits to the spotting scope magnification, usually determined by the atmosphere, and the optical system itself.
Spotting scopes come in different sizes of objective lens. The bigger the objective lens, the better image quality the spotting scope delivers and the further detail a user can see, particularly at superior magnifications. However, a big lens of average quality, regardless of how big, can never equal the functionality of a much smaller, quality lens.
There are also two types of lens used in spotting scopes, namely the refractor and the catadioptric lens. The refractor type uses glass to capture light. It is usually durable, requires little maintenance and has shorter focal length. The catadioptric type of lens uses mirrors; has an extended focal length, high magnification power and is good for the long-distance viewing.
Additionally, these scopes have light gathering capacity that is normally determined by the width of the objective lens. This width usually ranges from 55 to 80 mm. For a superior quality spotting scope and of course a higher price, it is best to select a bigger objective lens. When uncertain though, it is always important to go for quality, not size.
Other features noticeable on most models of spotting scopes include a touch rubber exterior built for long-lasting touch usage. There is also an attached lens cap, a focus control knob and a variety of eyepieces which have diverse magnifications. Many people purchase the eyepiece separately in order to get the range of magnification they are looking for.
Basically, there are three body styles of spotting scopes:
In this style, the eyepiece of the spotting scope is situated on the same axis as the optical path. This straight eyepiece arrangement works well, particularly when viewing downwards from a high platform, like a deck, hillside or patio. This was traditionally the initial style and has been the most popular of the three styles. It is easier to mount and to get on the target object, but a taller tripod is often needed and more adjustment is required for many users of varied height.
These are spotting scopes whose eyepieces are angled at about 45 degrees to the light path. The design is unusual, but highly optimized for long-term observation, especially in birding. In addition, these scopes tend to be easier to use for taller users, who can observe objects at elevated heights from unchanged position without having to use a taller tripod.
Shoulder mounted design
Shoulder-mounted scopes are not really a third kind of spotting scope, but rather spotting scopes fitted with a strap that enables the user to brace them on the shoulder. They provide the same stability as that of a tripod mount, but do not entail the tedious disassembly and setting up, when shifting from one location to another.
Areas of application
There are massive areas of application for spotting scopes. The most popular purposes are for wildlife viewing, bird watching, hunting, sporting shooters and also astronomy. Many birding enthusiasts make use of these devices not only to study bird species from a distance but also to take stationary images of them. This is currently a well-known hobby called digiscoping. Besides hunting and birding, spotting scopes are also used in surveillance, archery and ships ranges.
As is noticeable, spotting scopes have many uses. The improved magnification of these scopes can take you far beyond the capabilities of standard binoculars. It is always best to purchase the right design and type of spotting scope that is most functional for all sorts of viewing activities.