Spotting Scopes Comparison: 22 Scopes Priced under – $550 – Updated for Christmas 2018

Below you will find a spotting scopes comparison chart of 41 scopes under $500. As I mentioned in the post about Choosing Outdoor Optics, I found myself without a spotting scope with the hunting season fast approaching.

I have been using spotting scopes for observing raptors and wildlife for both fun and for work for more than 30 years.

I have used a variety of spotting scopes over that period of time from cheap to very expensive, top quality scopes and have mostly used the large, full-sized 80-88 mm spotting scopes as well as some of the smaller, mid-sized 60-65 mm spotting scopes, but had little experience with the newer compact spotting scopes (40-50 mm).

I started my search for a new spotting scope by spending many hours researching online before going to the stores to test them in person. I knew the brands I wanted to test first, but also wanted to see what new brands and spotting scope models were on the market. I compiled a list of all spotting scopes that I found that would fit my budget; the $200 – $500 range.

My original research found 43 spotting scopes (see table below) that were listed in my price range. I am sure that there are more spotting scopes in that price range, but I was tired of searching and 43 was a ridiculous number of spotting scopes to test anyway.

Since then, I have updated the tables and added new scopes and removed scopes that are no longer available so the number of scopes in the table varied from 40 to 46.

Now, I have limited the number of scopes in each price category to five or six (but may add or subtract one at any time) based that I would consider using myself for mobile hunting, wildlife and bird watching. I have also bumped the max. price up to $550.

You will notice that many of the most popular brand names are missing from the spotting scopes table.

That’s because the highest quality spotting scopes made by Kowa (Kowa now makes a small affordable scope), Leica, Pentax*, Sworovski and Zeiss are not available for less than $550.

The best brands with models less than $550 is dominated by Vortex, Bushnell and Celestron, but includes a few Nikon, Vanguard, Leupold and even Kowa models.

Recommended Spotting Scopes – 22 Scopes Priced Between $200 and $550

Spotting Scopes Priced between $450 – $550*

Model Mag & Obj W t (oz) Len (in) Min Focus (ft) Eye Relief (mm) FOV (ft) at 1000 Yds Notes
Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 20-60X80 80.1 16.5 35 18 110 Angled or straight
Vanguard Endeaver Kit 20-60X82 63.8 14.4 19.7 19 110 Angled; kit includes case and tripod
Vortex Viper HD 15-45X65 50.1 15.8 16 18 140 Angled or straight, HD
Vortex Recon (Monocular) 15X50 15.2 7 12 16 215 Handheld monocular, price increased

Spotting Scopes Priced Between $350 and $450*

Model Mag & Obj Wt (oz) Len (in) Min Focus (ft) Eye Relief (mm) FOV (ft) at 1000 Yds Notes
Bushnell Legend T-Series FLP 15-45X60 37 11.0 35 30 180 Straight, Mil Hash reticle, Picatinny rail mounts
Vanguard Endeavor XF 16-48X65 47.1 14.2 14.8 19 105 Angled or straight
Celestron Regal M2 65ED 16-48X65 46.8 13.1 16.4 20 131 Angled only
Leupold SX-1 Ventana 2 15-45X60 30.6 13.5 13.8 20 121 Angled or straight
Nikon ProStaff 5 16-48X60 33.6 11.4 13.1 16.5 136 Angled or straight
Vortex Diamondback 20-60X60 33.8 14 20 17 114 Angled or straight

Spotting Scopes Priced $250 – $350

Model Mag & Obj Wt (oz) Len (in) Min Focus (ft) Eye Relief (mm) FOV (ft) at 1000 Yds Notes
Barska Blackhawk 20-60X80 52 19 27 15 105 Angled or straight
Kowa TSN-501 20-40X50 14.1 9.4 8.4 14 120 Angled or straight see here
Bushnell Elite 15-45X60 26.5 12.2 30 na 125 Straight only
Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 15-45X60 40.4 11.1 18 20 140 Angled or straight
Celestron Ultima 100 22-66X100 72 19 33 18 95 Straight only
Konus 7122 20-60X100 84.6 18.8 na 18 88 Angled only
Weaver Classic 15-45X65 na 15.2 na 20.7 174 Angled or straight

Spotting Scopes Priced Less than 250*

*Be aware prices are approximate prices for comparison only and prices are subject to change

Model Mag & Obj Wt (oz) Len (in) Min Focus (ft) Eye Relief (mm) FOV (ft) at 1000 Yds Notes
Bushnell Trophy 20-60X65 42.3 13.4 32.8 na 110 Straight only
Minox MD 16-30X50 22.9 8.4 29.5 15 142 Angled
Redfield Rampage 20-60X60 37.2 14.4 19.8 14 114 Straight only
Celestron 52250 80mm Ultima 20-60X80 52.8 16.0 27.0 18 105 Straight & angled
Celestron 52252 100mm Ultima 22-66X100 72 19.0 33.0 18  95 Straight & angled


Spotting Scope Comparisons; Why Some Scopes Left Out

The scopes range in magnification between 6X and 100X and range in objective lens size between 40 and 100mm, so all sizes between full-sized, mid-sized and compact models are represented. The spotting scopes range in weight from a very light 15.2 to over 100 ounces (431-2,858 g) and vary in length from 7 to 22 inches (178-559 mm).

All Mid-priced Spotting Scopes are not Created Equal

With all the differences in size and weight, not all spotting scopes in the spotting scopes comparison chart above are designed for the same purpose. And though the $200-$500 range is only a small section of the total price range one could pay for one of the best spotting scopes, we should expect that there can be a big difference in quality between the $200 scopes and one that costs $500.

But with all the competition between the optics manufacturers and the ability for almost everyone to buy on-line, there can be a huge difference between a manufacturers suggested retail price and the actual price. I found one spotting scope that originally listed for over $1,000, but now sells for less than $400, while other newer models are still listed at their suggested retail price.

Trouble Finding Spotting Scopes at Local Stores

We live at a time when there are many models of spotting scopes to choose from and with the internet, we can find and buy every model that is produced and have it delivered directly to our front doors, but many of us still have limited opportunities to test many of the spotting scope models in person before buying them.

How many of you live close to enough sporting goods stores that you could easily find, touch and test each of the original 43 models of spotting scopes in the table above? I only found 14 of the 43 of the above spotting scopes at Cabela’s. I found two more spotting scopes at Sportsman’s Warehouse and five more spotting scopes at Dick’s Sporting Goods for a total of 21 of the 43 on my original list. But I had to drive to three different cities, all of which were at least an hour’s drive from my house. I also went to Walmart and Sears, but didn’t find any new spotting scopes on the list.

I was able to see two more of the spotting scopes on my list at the local shooting range. The shooting range is also a good place to test spotting scopes in real outdoor conditions, but 100 yards is not a good test of a good scope. Most cheap scopes can let you see holes in targets at 100 yards.

My Selection Process for Purchasing a Spotting Scope

I went through the process I used to eliminate spotting scopes that didn’t fit my needs (a light-weight, mid-sized spotting scope that I can pack in the mountains). Then I had to eliminate spotting scopes I simply couldn’t find in local stores. Then I did side by side comparisons of the the models I tested in person.

We reviewed the Nikon Prostaff by itself, have given general tips about spotting scope reviews and my personal selection process of why I chose the Nikon Prostaff 16-48×65 spotting scope in other articles under Gear Reviews.

If you have have questions about our spotting scope comparison or about the different models, please let us know by using the comment form below.

Comments

  1. dave stephens says:

    Other than the pro staff, what did you consider in a scope? I would be using it at the range only. Please reply. Thanks D.Stephens

    • Hi Dave: If you plan to use the scope only at the range, then small size is not important and you could probably get by with a less expensive model. You don’t need great optics to see holes at 100 yards, but 200 yards and up is a different matter. You could also consider fixed magnification for use at the range.

      For my purposes, I actually tested the Nikon ProStaff against the Leupold SX-1 Ventana, Leupold Goldring, Bushnell Elite & Bushnell Legend. At the time, I did not have a chance to look at any of the Vortex scopes.

      All of these are good scopes for the money, but I wanted light weight, which eliminated the Legend and I decided I needed at least 60 mm objective, which eliminated the Goldring. For me, the eye relief eliminated the Ventana. I am happy with the Nikon.

  2. Thanks,
    Very good & interesting information

  3. Very interesting article. I am getting a new DSLR camera and would like suggestions for a moderately priced scope for birdwatching which would be able to handle a camera. Never owned a spotting scope, but always eagerly take a look through anyone’s scope that I meet on nature trails. Thanks for any suggestions.

  4. I am interested in a scope for birdwatching. My budget is even a bit higher than 500$ though can’t afford the “big boy” scopes. So, is your recommendation to go with Nikon pro 5? What about Celestron regal M2? Any other suggestions?
    Thanks

    • I have never been disappointed with Nikon or Vortex. The Nikon Prostaff 5 or the Vortex Viper HD are good options. I have never owned or used a Celestron spotting scope, but this version of the Celestron Regal M2 has lots of good reviews.

      Each company makes a wide range of models in different price ranges and qualities. The prices should reflect the quality of the materials and the difficulty in manufacturing.
      Comparable priced scopes should be comparable in quality and function.

      Since you know your price range, you should make sure to get the options that work best for birdwatching based on how you will be using the scope.

      Some people watch birds in their yards and at a bird feeder. Others go to stationary migration or nesting sites, while others hike long distances to see birds or nest sites.

      The largest objective lens you can afford is a good place to start (100 mm vs 80 mm vs 65 mm), but large size equals large weight and bulk.

      I loved the 88 mm Kowa I used out of the truck as a state wildlife biologist, but I bought a 65 mm Nikon to pack when I go hunting or birdwatching.

      Variable magnification can be very useful, but in the end, the upper limit of magnification is not that useful because it may not be very sharp, especially in low light unless you spend lots of money. So consider what you need very carefully.

      Here are two very good posts that explain How to Choose a Bird Watching Spotting Scope. The first post is mostly about how scopes work and the second part is about options you will want to consider.

      Good Luck and Enjoy your new toy.

  5. Thank you so much for the many interesting articles. I think I will need your advice and help. So I am looking for a good quality spotting scope (my spending budget is between $500-$1000) for the main purpose of observing and studying golden eagles during the reproduction season.

    I am basically torn if to buy the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 20-60 x80 or a Nikon Prostaff 5 82-A for the mid-budget price, or instead make a sacrifice in terms of money and aim for a Bushnell Elite 20-60×80 or a Pentax PR 80EDA ZOOM 8-24 XL.

    I have to say that I am quite impressed of the characteristics of the Bushnell Elite 20-60×80. I read in your other article that you never had the chance to test it. But overall what optics you think is the best for my purpose?

    I am looking to receiving and reading your comment. Thank you in advance.

    Mike

    • Very interesting… My own Master’s work was with behavioral development Golden Eagles and as a raptor biologist for a state wildlife agency, I’ve observed and climbed into my share of eagle nests.

      Michael, if anyone really needs the best scope (and tripod) they can afford, it is you. If you are just checking for occupancy, you can get away with smaller objectives and less powerful magnification, but if you are trying to observe behaviors in the nest, you will need the “biggest and the best”.

      Unless you will be going into a blind long before Sunrise, you will have to be at least a half mile away from the nest otherwise you will disturb the adults. Hard to see much from that distance without the best optics, plus at those distances, heat waves bother all optics, good and bad.

      Obviously I don’t know the specs of your study, but I would think with today’s technology, hidden cameras in or near the nest would be more useful than optics used at great distance.

      I am assuming you are attached to a University or a Govt agency for this study. They should already have some very nice equipment you can use.

      That said, I am just trying to save a few bucks for what I assume to be a “starving student”.

      To your question, you have to get the best you can afford. Especially if you are going to spend long hours looking through the scope. And you will not be happy without a very sturdy tripod (or window mount) to go with it. Links are examples.

      I also liked the characteristics of the Bushnell Elite, but I was thinking more for a backpack-able spotting scope for hunting. I think you need more magnification power and a larger objective lens like the other scopes you mentioned;
      Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 20-60×80 or the
      Nikon Prostaff 5 20-60×82 mm.

      You should also look at the Vortex Viper HD spotting scope.

      Yes, the 80+mm objective scopes are expensive, but based on what you’ve told me that is the way you need to go. Hopefully you can get the “project” to fund your scope and tripod or you can borrow them for the duration of your project.

      While we are dreaming… My favorite scope to date for observing wildlife at great distances was the Kowa TSN-880 ( with the additional eye piece.

      Also keep in mind that spotting scopes can be interfaced with smartphones.

      Good luck with your project and send me some info about your project from time to time.

  6. John A Carter says:

    Your best choice is good but 48 power is a little short for me.
    I really need the 60 power stuff for what I do.
    However, I need a scope with nothing bigger than a 65 lens and as light as possible.
    Predicated your research, what would you pick.

    • Hi John…
      Sorry for slow reply, but I have been (and still am) hunting.
      60 power and nothing bigger than 65mm objective for a price under $500?

      There are many scopes that advertise 60X and cheap prices (less than $200), but they will not be clear even in the brightest conditions.

      What would make them clearer? Highest quality glass, highest quality coatings, extremely close construction tolerances and larger objective lens, but those things are expensive.

      I used a Kowa TNS 884 with 25-60 zoom eye piece for many years. This spotting scope has an 88 mm objective and even then max magnification was a stretch; even without considering the heat waves and other atmospheric conditions at long distance, and you better have a great tripod or you can’t pretend to take advantage of high magnification.

      Examples of another high end 65 mm objective spotting scope is the Swarovski ATS 65 20-60X. Many high end scopes limit magnification to 48 power.

      If you want to try a good scope in the 60 mm objective range and with up to 60 power magnification, with the idea that 30x – 40x will be used most of the time and 50x – 60X will occasionally be useful, then take a look at a spotting scope like the Vortex Optics Diamondback.

      There are very few spotting scope options for small size (less than 80 mm objective) and high magnification (greater than 48X) for good reason.

      Good luck.

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