Are Spotting Scopes Better Than Binoculars?


Spotting Scopes vs. Binoculars: When less is actually more?

Humans have proved that there is basically nothing we can’t do. If we can’t accomplish something right now, give us a few decades and watch us nailing the task. But for better or not, we are still biological creatures, and our physical capabilities are limited. We cannot breathe underwater, but we can build submarines to explore the marine world. We cannot fly like birds, but we can build planes to traverse unimaginable distances within a couple of hours. We cannot see as far as eagles, but we can use magnifying devices to get closer while staying away. That is the true power of humanity. Creativity.

Both spotting scopes and binoculars were designed for the same purpose: to let people see further without the need to approach the object we are observing. A passerby might think that binoculars are undoubtedly superior to spotting scopes, which have only half as many lenses. In the world of optics, more is not always better. This goes for the number of lenses and even for the magnification power. Both of those devices will serve you well, but an informed decision is always better than a spontaneous one, at least in the world of shopping. To help you make this informed decision, we will pick a spotting scope and a pair of binoculars apart and describe when one is better than another.

What is a Spotting Scope?

A spotting scope is your minor-scale terrestrial version of the Hubble. It is a compact but high-power optical enhancement device designed specifically for outdoor activities. Externally, a spotting scope is a single tube that can come in a variety of sizes. It can have a straight or an angled body, where the eyepiece is angled at 45o. The eyepiece itself can be either fixed or interchangeable. As opposed to the majority of binoculars, which have a fixed magnification, spotting scopes have a magnification range that can begin at as low as 10x and go up to as high as 90x. The greater the magnification range, the pricier the scope. Quite often spotting scopes need to be mounted on a tripod for the best performance, but a few more compact ones can be easily operated with a single hand. 

What are Binoculars?

That is not a real question, everybody knows what binoculars are. But, as the saying goes, in for a penny, in for a pound. The main thing that distinguishes binoculars from spotting scopes is the number of tubes and lenses: binoculars comprise two of those, one for each eye. The lenses are mounted side-by-side and are aligned to point in the same direction, allowing the viewer to look with both eyes at once. Binoculars also come in many sizes, so you can find one that will fit in your pocket and one that will make for a great anchor should you go underwater with it. Because of their relatively smaller sizes, binoculars have much lower magnification than spotting scopes. Binoculars are more compact, though, and there is no way for you to wear your spotting scope on your neck.

Now that we are more or less acquainted with both devices, we can compare them. They are advantageous in different situations, that’s why it is important to determine the activity they will be involved in.


We will begin with an activity where both devices can shine equally bright. Spotting scopes provide you with better visuals at longer distances, whereas binoculars allow for higher mobility.

Wild animals have senses that are way sharper than humans’. That’s why staying silent is of vital importance for every hunter. Setting up a tripod to mount your spotting scope might not only draw unnecessary attention but take away the precious time to make a shot. In situations like these, binoculars will be more handy, as they are quicker and simpler to use. If you are moving a lot in difficult terrain and having a portable device is one of your top priorities, binoculars will be the best choice. On the other hand, if you are hunting in wide-open areas and have plenty of time to set up a tripod and wait for your game to come closer, a spotting scope will ensure unmatchable image quality.

So, to put it simply, it all depends on your manner of hunting. If you move around the forest a lot, searching for your prey, binoculars will be more beneficial. If you are predominantly stationary and planning on shooting from a long distance, a spotting scope will make for a great companion.

Target Shooting

This is another outdoor activity, which optical devices can make much easier for you. Target shooting involves scoring distant non-living targets and is performed from a stationary position. Having read the previous part, you might have already guessed that this situation will allow spotting scope to show what it’s made of. Tripods are by no means exclusive to spotters only, binoculars can be mounted on them as well. But what binoculars for target shooting lack is the magnification power, that’s why, depending on the distance, they might be of little help. 

Nature Observing

Not all outdoor activities are about chasing or shooting. Some people prefer to witness the beauty of nature rather than actively participate in its circle of life. Be it forest expanses, mountain ranges, separate birds, or a starry sky, nature observers will benefit immensely from owning an optical device. If we talk about stars, things are unambiguous here. You will hardly see more through a pair of binoculars than with your own eyes. Meanwhile, magnification ranges of best spotting scopes are comparable with telescopes’. A good spotter will open new horizons of night sky watching. As for birds, it all depends on which kind of watching you prefer. For spotting birds from your backyard or while walking in a park, regular binoculars should suffice. If you prefer forest getaways to enjoy the birds that are rare flyers in a city area, even a budget spotting scope will give you a more detailed image that will allow you to fully appreciate the bird’s plumage.


To summarize it all, there is no definite answer to a ‘spotting scope or binoculars’ question. It is like asking a marathon runner to compete in sprinting. We’ve tried to give you a brief guide on choosing the right tool for the right activity. Spotting scopes offer greater magnification while being less portable and requiring a tripod to show their full potential. Binoculars, on the other hand, are more compact and easy to carry around, even though their zooming ability cannot compete with spotting scopes’. The great thing about choosing is that you don’t need to impose any imaginary restrictions on yourself. If you cannot decide which one to choose, get both. Then you will be equipped for any situation when zooming is needed.

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