Spotting Scope vs Telescope – Which Is The Best?

Many new hunters debate between purchasing a spotting scope or telescope to observe wild game from long distances. However, it is not so easy to pick the right device. There are pros and cons to using both scopes & there is no choice that fits everyone’s needs. In this article, we’ll teach you how to decide between purchasing a spotting scope vs telescope for your specific needs.

Which Should You Choose: Spotting Scope vs Telescope?

image of a telescope compared to a spotting scope

If you didn’t already know what a spotting scope is, its essentially a type of telescope. They have a few design differences that make them optimal for different applications. The right scope for your depends on your specific use case.

  • Spotting Scope – Best for observing far away objects, such as birds, deer, elk, bears, etc. Engineered for use in daylight conditions. There are straight or angled spotting scopes, making them better for viewing targets on the horizon.
  • Telescope – Best for observing deep-sky objects, such as stars and planets. A telescope’s angled eyepiece is designed for viewing objects higher up above the horizon. Engineered for viewing objects in low light conditions in the night sky.

Your specific preferences and final use case will determine how you choose between a spotting scope vs telescope.

To state things plainly, if you plan on viewing planets, stars, and other objects in the nighttime sky, use a telescope. If you plan on viewing targets off in the horizon during the daytime, use a spotting scope.

How To Choose

Although telescopes and spotting scopes are similar from a high level, they also have many differences. Here are how these two scopes stack up in several different categories.

Durable In All Conditions

How do you plan on using your spotting scope or telescope? Will you be hiking through mountain ranges to view a target far off in the distance? Or will you have a stationary setup where you observe long-distance objects?

These questions are important to ask yourself. Telescopes are larger, heavier, and not designed to be handled roughly. Spotting scopes are designed to be packed & lugged around during travel and hiking excursions. If you plan on taking your scope somewhere it could potentially be dropped…use a spotting scope.

Winner: Spotting Scopes

Equipment Portability

Anyone who has ever tried to lug a telescope around can attest to the fact that they are not exactly light or compact. In contrast, spotting scopes are much more portable, making them ideal for birdwatching, stargazing, and other forms of nature study on a hunting or hiking trip.

Winner: Spotting Scopes

Ease of Use

To put things simply, spotting scopes are easier to use. Telescopes are complex with interchangeable eyepieces and high magnification settings. They are designed for stargazing and are optimized for looking at distant objects in the night sky. Telescopes are more complex to set up and align, and require a bit more knowledge to use effectively.

Winner: Spotting Scopes

Magnification Range

In general, however, telescopes have a higher magnification than spotting scopes. In fact, magnification power is one of the main telescopes advantages. They are designed to observe distant objects out in the sky. Astronomical telescopes typically have a larger objective lens and can gather more light and produce a clearer image. Telescopes are engineered for high-powered magnification. If you have a spotting scope, check out the best Scope Magnification for 1000 Yards.

Winner: Telescopes

Short Distances

Most all spotting scopes are equipped with a variable zoom eyepiece. This means the user can easily zoom in & out to view targets at different distances. Telescopes usually have a very high magnification and produce great image quality from long range. But they have a single power eyepiece & cannot easily change the magnification power to target closer targets.

Winner: Spotting Scopes

Low Light Conditions

A spotting scope is basically a reflector telescope that has a curved objective lens. A straight and angled spotting scope is specifically designed for use in daylight conditions. On the other hand, telescopes are engineered to view objects far away in the night sky. So even though spotting scopes are basically more compact telescopes, they perform differently in low light conditions.

Winner: Telescope

Which Is More Expensive

When comparing the price of spotting scopes vs telescopes, its basically a wash. You can find spotting scopes & telescopes that are extremely expensive. And you can find models which are much more affordable. You can find spotting scopes and telescopes that fit just about any budget.

Winner: Tie

Bigger Field of View

A spotting scope typically has a wider field of view than a telescope. This makes them much better suited for tracking moving objects like deer or birds. Spotting scopes are generally smaller and more portable. Telescopes are generally set up to observe specific stationary targets. They have a smaller field of view that alls for precise terrestrial viewing. A larger field of view is one of the primary spotter scopes advantages.

Winner: Spotting Scopes

Where To Buy

When it comes to shopping for spotting scopes, online is usually the way to go. There are many brands that make quality scopes. We tested dozens of scopes to create our list of the Best Spotter Scope for 1000 Yards. Take a look and see which scope meets your specific needs and budget constraints.

Who Uses Spotting Scopes

1) Hunters

Hunters almost exclusively use spotting scopes. Hunters use them to quickly target game far off in the distance. Oftentimes, a hunter’s target is moving. The large field of view from a spotting scope is ideal for observing an animal out in the distance.

2) Military Sniper Applications

Military snipers are almost always accompanied by a spotter. It should be no surprise that they most commonly use a spotting scope for their missions. They need to acquire and observe targets far off on the horizon, making spotting scopes their best choice.

3) Performing Surveillance

It depends on what you are observing. If you want to observe celestial bodies far away in the dark sky, use a telescope. However, a telescope would not be great for viewing a target off on the horizon during the day. Many telescopes have 90-degree eyepieces making them only practical to view objects up in the sky.

Who Uses Telescopes

1) Astronomers

If you are trying to view Saturn’s rings, don’t expect to have much success with a spotting scope. Astronomical telescopes are designed to view basic night sky objects.

Which Is The Best Value For Your Money: Telescopes vs Spotting Scopes?

Spotting scopes are better value for your money due to their overall versatility and broader range of use cases. Spotting scopes are designed to provide clear and detailed images of distant objects, making them ideal for various outdoor activities such as bird watching, wildlife observation, and target shooting. Spotting scopes can even be used for basic stargazing & amateur astrology.

Telescopes are primarily dedicated to astronomy and celestial observation, making them almost exclusively focused on  astrological objects like stars, planets, and galaxies. Their limited used cases beyond astronomy might not justify their cost for those seeking a multi-functional optic tool.

Spotting scopes can be used for a wide array of interests and hobbies & offer a more compelling value proposition for hunters looking for a versatile outdoor tools.

FAQs – Spotting Scopes

Can a spotting scope be used as a telescope?

The short answer is yes. Spotting scopes are a more mobile version of the telescope that is specifically designed for daytime use. Certain high magnification spotting scopes can be used as a telescope in better lighting conditions.

Can you see planets with a spotting scope?

Spotting scopes can be used to view basic astronomy. Don't get it confused, an astronomical telescope is far better for observing objects in the night sky. But most spotting scopes can be used for viewing planets with high magnification.

Can you use a spotting scope to see the Moon?

Although a telescope is optimal for observing any deep sky objects, certain spotting scopes can also be effective to observe the moon. Magnification of 60-70x should be enough to view the moon with your spotting scope.

Can you use a telescope to look at wildlife?

You can use a telescope to look at many different types of wildlife. However, spotting scopes are superior for wildlife observation. They provide a crystal clear image when sighting targets from a medium range. Whereas, telescopes are designed more to observe distant objects & deep sky objects.

Is spotting scope better than binoculars?

Spotting scopes are better in just about all situations. They are used for birdwatching, hunting, and other outdoor activities where you need to see objects at a distance. They provide much more magnification than binoculars, and have a wider field of view. This makes them better suited for looking at objects that are far away.

The Bottom Line

Now you know the difference between telescopes and spotting scopes. Although both scopes are very similar, they are best used in different situations. Generally speaking, use a telescope to view objects up in the sky at night. And use a spotting scope to observe objects off on the horizon in the daytime. Use these tips to effectively choose between a spotting scope vs telescope!

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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