badams wrote in post #6378886
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.