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Old 25th of September 2008 (Thu)   #1
badams
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Default Spotting Scopes

Since all of us here have our lenses to shoot birds with I'm not sure if too many people will be able to answer this question.

What do I need to look for when looking to buy a spotting scope? I know Swarovski is a very good brand but they are also really expensive. What length would be a decent length for birding?

I'm asking all of this cause my mom has came to the conclusion that she wants a spotting scope now after using one recently.

Thanks
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Old 26th of September 2008 (Fri)   #2
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Default Re: Spotting Scopes

No real specific advice but I would suggest deciding on the a specific scope after she has had some time in trying several differing models out.

The angle at which one views, the eyepoint view (glasses or not), the weight, the ease of use of tripod, is it using differing eyepieces for varying powers, is it a constant focus model (focus once and everything remains in sharp view throughout the depth of field, my Steiner Binoc's are like this and I wouldn't go back)) are just a few of the considerations she may want to make.

If you have a Cabela's or similar close by take mom and have her try several models out, the pricing on these can easily be in upper ranges that L glass reaches and it really makes sense for her to find one that fits her needs and expectations.

Also you might look to the local birders for the purchase of used equipment, I follow several birding lists to help locate subjects and there is often used scopes offered for sale, somethimes at real bargains. Hope this helps.
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Old 27th of September 2008 (Sat)   #3
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Default Re: Spotting Scopes

I agree with Brad's advice above, particularly the bit about trying before buying. Here in the UK some retailers do field days where they bring a selection of their optics to bird reserves for people to try. Don't know whether you have anything like that in the States, but if you do it's an ideal way to test and compare different makes and specifications.

When trying, look for things like sharpness of resolution, faithfulness of colour, colour fringing (chromatic abberation - best tested against sharp edges like a flagpole or a wire) - precisely the sort of things you'd consider with a photographic lens.

Another consideration will be whether to go for a straight eyepiece or an angled one. I've had both in my time. Angled eyepieces are easier on the neck, but I find it far easier to aim a scope that has a straight eyepiece.

As for zoom eyepieces versus fixed-magnification ones, this is another very personal thing. I've always gone for zoom eyepieces. Most of the time I've used them at the lowest magnification where they are brightest and sharpest, but I've always valued the ability to zoom in to be able to get at least some detail on really distant birds. However I rarely find myself using the very top end of the range. The downside of zoom eyepieces is that the field of view is narrow to begin with and gets worse as you zoom in. If you go for a fixed magnification eyepiece, you probably want to be looking at a wide-angle one in the 25-30x range. I wouldn't bother going above 40x (except with a zoom) because at near-to-medium ranges 30x is ample while at long range the extra reach you get with higher magnifications is only useful to a certain extent because, in summer at any rate, heat haze will just be magnified that much more.

I'd recommend a browse through the spotting scopes section of BirdForum http://www.birdforum.net/forumdisplay.php?f=286 (scroll down past the brand-specific sub-forums) where I'm sure your question has been asked many, many times.

Last edited by Jack Dawe : 27th of September 2008 (Sat) at 08:44.
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Old 27th of September 2008 (Sat)   #4
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Default Re: Spotting Scopes

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Originally Posted by badams View Post
What do I need to look for when looking to buy a spotting scope? I know Swarovski is a very good brand but they are also really expensive. What length would be a decent length for birding?
Scopes are nice. Every wildlife or nature enthusiast should have one, along with a good pair of binos.

To answer your question - with a scope, there are 2 main things:

1/ Size of the objective: 50mm or so are the ultracompact scopes, 60-65mm are the mid-sized scopes and 75-80mm are the full-sized scopes. Generally speaking, the full sized scopes, b/c of their large, light-gathering objectives, will let in the most amount of light but this is not going to be visible during the daytime - you'll only notice this in the first and last 15-30 min of light in a day. A larger objective will also let you use greater magnifications, but unless you are looking at shorebirds or something, this is not a huge deal (see point #2 below).

The tradeoff is that a larger objective = heavier, more expensive scope, which is also less portable.

Most birders who sit in one place or who do a lot of sea-watching or wader-watching use 77-80mm scopes, but those who travel/hike with their gear use 50-65mm scopes.

2/Magnification of the eyepiece: scopes typically come with 20-60x zooms, which cover a useful focal range. You can also get fixed eyepieces (20x, 30x, and so on). Virtually all beginners opt for the zoom, thinking that the flexibility of the zoom to be a great thing (although, to be fair, quite a few experienced birders also use zooms); however, fixed eyepieces provide a much greater field of view, which is very hard to give up if you get used to it. In practice, super high magnifications (say 50x or more) generally do not have very good resolution and also are affected by atmospheric degradation. And the resolution and brightness also drops as you reach the upper end of a zoom (above 45-50x), so while you may see the object bigger in the eyepiece, you dont necessarily see more detail.

There are exceptions - the zooms of the top brands are very good (but still suffer from a limited field of view compared to fixed eyepieces), and astro eyepieces paired with astro refractors (such as Televue) can give you stunning views at 100x. But most people rarely need anything more than 30x-40x. I usually have a 30x EP on my scope and a 20-60x eyepiece in my pocket and I have never needed to use the zoom in the last year or so.

There are other factors as well - ergonomics, ease and speed of the focussing knob, eye relief of the eyepieces, etc. These are fairly personal decisions. Best thing is to first narrow on a scope size and eyepiece size, and then go from there.

How to make a decision will depend on what mom wants to use the scope for.

- If she wants to digiscope with it as her prime usage - I *strongly* recommend an astro scope, such as the Televue 76 or Televue 85. Paired with the right adapters, you can get stunning high-res shots at 35mm equivalent of 3000-4000mm. The IQ far exceeds that of the typical digiscoping setup.

- If she will be doing a fair bit of walking or traveling with it - Nikon 50ED. This is a tiny scope - so small that it looks like a toy. But it is a very serious piece of optical kit. A lot of people with megabuck 80mm scopes find that the 50ED has become their prime scope, it is that good. Pair it with a 27x eyepiece and you have a super high-quality, light setup that will only lose out in the last 20 min of light, after the sun is down, or the first 10-15 min of dawn.

- If she wants a larger objective for low-light use, but still fairly portable - the Swarovski is very good, as is the Nikon Fieldscope III. I use a Pentax, which is not very good if paired with the Pentax "kit zoom", but superb with Pentax's high-end eyepieces or with relatively inexpensive 1.25" astro eyepieces (such as Orion Stratus or Baader Hyperion). It costs a fraction of the German glass, but provides perhaps 99% of the performance.

- In the full-size range, the best scope on the market is universally accepted to be the Kowa 88ED. Swarovski, Zeiss and Nikon are in the second tier - very close but just a bit behind. These are larger, heavier scopes and will provide the best view in extremely low light. They will also do better with higher-magnification eyepieces (60-75x), although I have used a 45x on my Pentax with great results.

Personally, I havent bothered with the big scopes b/c of the excellent results I have gotten with my Pentax.. I think I probably give up <10 min on either end, and those 10 minutes are not worth dealing with the size and weight of the big scopes, especially on long walks. I think the 65mm range is the best compromise between quality, size, weight and flexibility (although my Nikon 50ED is making me reconsider that, given that this is the scope I use the most).

BirdForum is a really good place to read up on scopes - nobody knows or obsesses about optics as much as birders...

Hope this helps.

Regards,
Vandit
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Last edited by vkalia : 27th of September 2008 (Sat) at 14:18.
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Old 6th of October 2008 (Mon)   #5
Lester Wareham
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Default Re: Spotting Scopes

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Originally Posted by BradM View Post
... is it a constant focus model (focus once and everything remains in sharp view throughout the depth of field, my Steiner Binoc's are like this and I wouldn't go back)) ...
Hi Brad

I am probably being a bit dim here, but I don't really understand what this feature is, can you explain further please.
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Old 6th of October 2008 (Mon)   #6
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Default Re: Spotting Scopes

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Originally Posted by Lester Wareham View Post
Hi Brad

I am probably being a bit dim here, but I don't really understand what this feature is, can you explain further please.
One focuses the binoculars once for their personal use and the lenses remain in focus for just about any point in the field of view. There is no need to re-adjust focus unless the binoc's are used by another person whose eyesight differs from the original user.

The limitations are for those subjects that are closer than few dozen feet, with the attached link which I grabbed to first of off of google it speaks to 20 yards. The model I have is an older set of 10x50mm mailitary/marine which seems to have a shorter distance but I have never measured it.

http://www.steiner-binoculars.com/ne...ator10x40.html
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Old 4th of November 2008 (Tue)   #7
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Default Re: Spotting Scopes

Well I still haven't been anywhere to look through them.

I have a chance to get a Bushnell 78-1800 Spacemaster, 60 mm, High Resolution, 20X wide angle eyepiece plus a Window Mount Tripod is included, still in the original box; for $165.

Has anyone heard anything (good or bad) about that one? I can't find any reviews of it on the net.
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Old 6th of November 2008 (Thu)   #8
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Default Re: Spotting Scopes

Lots of good advice here. I have a Leica 77 with a 20 -60 eye piece, excellent scope but heavy. Buy the best that you can afford. This is my third scope because the first two just couldn't meet my needs as my expectations increased. I would have saved a lot of money if I had bought a really good scope in the first place.
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Old 9th of November 2008 (Sun)   #9
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Default Re: Spotting Scopes

Well I think it all boils down to what you want to spend on your scope. I have the Nikon Fieldscope III 60ED, with a 20-60x eyepiece (you can get both the scope and the eyepiece for just under $900 bucks if I remember correctly), performance is super, after I bought I took it out on a very overcast day and it performed very well, its a great setup. Its also great for digiscoping distant birds. I don't know much about the Bushnell 78-1800 Spacemaster so I wont comment on it. But like I said its all about what you want to spend here.
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Old 4th of December 2008 (Thu)   #10
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Default Re: Spotting Scopes

Well we tried out some cheaper options during Black Friday and went with a Tasco 20x60-60 to hold us until we can afford a better one.
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