Whether you decide to invest in a spotting scope or a pair of binoculars is a matter of personal choice. Both these optical devices are used by hunters, target shooters, wildlife viewers, sporting events participants, and nature lovers.
Here we will differentiate both so you get to pick the right device based on your intended application.
Spotting scopes mainly are smaller and more versatile versions of telescopes. But they aren’t so incredible like telescopes since they’re not designed for looking at distant objects like the stars.
Also, unlike telescopes, spotting scopes are used for daytime viewing. You’ll need one if you need to view something that’s far away. These types of scopes have high magnifying capacities and are heavier and bigger than most binoculars.
Binoculars are two little telescopes mounted together so you put your eyes, one on each. The lenses on each side magnifies anything you see and lets you view as you typically would but with a zoomed view.
Binoculars usually are lightweight and portable. They can be hung around your neck with a strap so you can reach them whenever you need.
Different Types of Binoculars
a) Porro Prism
The Porro Prism optical framework was created by Ignazio Porro, an Italian optician in 1854. It was later upgraded by other binoculars producers, for example Carl Zeiss. These types have an orientation that looks like a ‘Z’ that gives better clarity and depth. But they’re delicate and often require a realignment process named “collimation.”
b) Roof Prism
These types of prisms are mostly used in compact and narrow binoculars for decreasing light transmission that results in higher magnification. Binoculars of these specific types are known for their streamlined design.
Being the oldest of all, Galilean optics are made of a convex objective lens and a concave eyepiece. The old Galilean models are actually sought by relic collectors. Both the magnification range and the field of view are often poor.
Binoculars vs Spotting Scopes – Key Differences
1. Lens and Prism
Generally, a bigger objective lens allows for a greater amount of light to come in and provide an image with greater clarity that helps enhance the picture quality. Yet, larger objective lenses that are low on quality won’t give a similar degree of picture quality. In terms of lenses, bigger is not always better.
If you’re looking at several lenses with similar quality, the bigger ones will have a superior image quality. Spotting scopes, in general, have large lenses that can range from 45-100 mm. However, most fall into the 60-80mm range.
Small binos usually have lenses as small as 25 mm while the bigger ones with more complex applications are between 40-50 mm.
Some special-purpose binoculars even have 100mm lenses but they’re for stargazing and not usable in broad daylight or for regular outdoor activities.
BAK-4 or BK-7: Which Prism Glasses to Choose?
Usually, both these types are used in spotting scopes. Bak-4 was originated by a well-known German opticas maker named Schott AG. ‘BAK’ represents BaritleichKron – Barium Crown in German. It carries a greater refractive record than the BK-7 glass, which means that more light gets past the prism and enters into the eyepieces of the device.
BK-7 is less expensive and less alluring than the BAK-4, yet it’s better for certain applications, astrophotography for example. BAK-4 is more preferable than BK-7 in terms of quality and applications.
2. Magnification Power
Spotting scopes usually range from about 15x-60x. Anything above that 60x mark usually is influenced by surrounding elements like air flows, dust particles, and heat waves. All these can turn your visual experience into a bizarre one.
So, it’s safe to say that spotting scopes provide the best visual in that 15x-60x magnification range. Nevertheless, 60x in itself is huge. That means, with the 60x magnification, the object you’re looking at will appear 60x bigger than usual.
Binoculars usually cover a wide magnification range but they’re all on the lower end of the scale. It is highly unlikely for binos to have more than 12x magnification. Generally, the most common variant has 4x-10x magnification.
Do remember that more elevated levels of magnification mean bigger devices. A pair of binoculars with 12x magnification will be much larger than a set with 4x magnification. So, if you’re planning on getting lightweight and portable binos, you’ll have no option left but to go for a set that has lower magnification.
3. Field of View
The field of view resembles how much of an area is shown by an optical device. Naturally, the higher the magnification, the lesser the field of view.
FOV is estimated at a specific distance at 1000 yards or so. Most of today’s spotting scopes have a 50 to150 feet FOV. Do remember that you’ll be seeing it as 15-60 times bigger than its original size.
Binoculars win the race here. Generally, an increase in magnification causes the FOV to decrease. However, binoculars don’t have high magnification ranges and that’s why they often have a wide FOV.
The high-end binos usually work best in an FOV between 300-450 feet at 1000 yards. This implies that you’ll be able to see a magnified area around 300-450 feet wide at around 1000 yards away from where you’re seeing.
4. Image Stability
Since binoculars are hand-held gadgets, the more it’s zoomed, the more you’re likely to shake your hands compared to when you’re holding something still.
On the off chance that you try out the magnification of 10-12x without a mount, your hands should be steady or you’ll end up with a shaky and blurred image.
Since binoculars are intended to be lightweight and portable, they usually max out at 10-12x magnifications. This means that a spotting scope mounted on a tripod is likely to be better than hand-held binoculars in terms of image stability.
5. Close Focus
Close focus refers to the minimum amount of distance required between your optical device and your object for a clear focus. Both of the types of optics are mainly intended to see distant objects. But there are some applications like bird watching, where you might need to focus on something that is just 6 feet away from you.
Generally, if you increase the magnification level, you’ll also increase the closest focal point. Since binoculars have a magnification level that’s lower than the spotting scopes, they’ll likewise have a closer focus point.
6. Portability and Weight
In terms of portability and weight, binoculars will always be way ahead of spotting scopes. In fact, spotting scopes could be really heavy depending on the model and its purpose. Usually, spotting scopes require a tripod or something similar to mount on. This makes it even harder to carry a spotting scope around.
Which One’s Better for You?
If you’re short on cash, stick to binoculars.You might get a great pair of binos for the price of a basic spotting scope.
Binoculars are easy to carry around due to their small size. Their more extensive FOV also makes it simpler to detect an object since you can cover a larger area. Hunters, hikers, campers, and concert attendees will especially need binoculars.
Spotting scopes are the clear winner in the game of distance. In case you want to see far away objects in greater details, you’ll need a spotting scope. These optics have magnification levels up to 60x with big objective lenses to cover long distances.
But spotting scopes are less movable and undeniably on the costly side. You’ll need one if you’re a birdwatcher, competitive target shooter or a terrestrial/celestial photographer.
If you don’t care about the budget or the extra weight and you don’t need to carry these devices all by yourself for long, you can try out both. This way, you can use your binos to locate what you’re searching for and then switch to the powerful spotting scope for the best viewing experience.
Q. 1: Can you use binoculars as a spotting scope?
Ans. Unlike spotting scope, binoculars aren’t built with the high magnification range though both are made for watching things from a distance. But they might do the job if the object is in it’s range.