Telescopes | Astronomy | Cosmos

Bird Watching Spotting Scopes

For the serious birdwatcher, there are really only two visual aids that are remotely worth considering – binoculars and spotting scopes. For this article, we will be focusing on the latter.

Spotting scopes quite often get overlooked when the novice spotter is considering his first buy. Binoculars are the traditional instrument of choice for many birdwatchers, but a good spotting scope can provide just as much enjoyment and utility as a pair of binoculars.

A spotting scope is, in essence, a hand-portable telescope fitted with a large objective lens, used for long-distance bird watching and other terrestrial viewing work. Normally used in conjunction with a tripod, spotting scopes can also be fitted to a car window mount or in some cases can be used freely in the hand.

A spotting scope is generally classified into one of two broad categories - straight or angled – dependent on how the eyepiece fits to the main body of the scope.. Each of the two types has its own advantages, often dependent on the situation in which they are to be used. For example, a straight spotting scope is best suited for observing birds that are at or below eye level, or for use from inside a moving vehicle.

Angled scopes normally have the eyepiece fitted at a 45-degree angle to the body, and are best suited to observing objects that are above shoulder height, such as a bird in flight. Angled scopes produce far better results when mounted on a tripod, and are generally more stable as they allow the telescope to be supported closer to the floor.

There is also a third variety of spotting scopes that can be mounted on the operator’s shoulder, but these are far less common. The major advantage of these types of scope is that you do not need to use a tripod or other mount quite so often.

When choosing a spotting scope, a new buyer should take two things into account – the size of the objective lens, and the magnification. The larger the lens, the more light will be collected and the sharper the final image will be. However, large lenses also tend to lead to bulky telescopes, and can be less manageable. This particularly applies to straight scopes being used freehand.

The second priority is magnification and zoom – the higher the magnification, the better the distance, but the field of view also becomes more restricted, and the image may not be quite as clear as a lower magnification could provide. A high magnification is therefore not necessarily a better option.

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