Below you will find a spotting scopes comparison chart of 43 scopes under $500. As I mentioned in the post about Choosing Outdoor Gear, 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 the very inexpensive to the 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 some of 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. I found 43 spotting scopes (see table below) that were listed in that price range. I am sure that there are more spotting scopes in that price range, but I was tired of searching and 43 was probably too many spotting scopes to test anyway. (Later I added the Nikon Prostaff 5 after the price dropped below $500, so table now has 44 spotting scopes.)
The Spotting Scopes That Were Compared and Why Some Were Left Out
The 43 spotting scope models were made by 17 different manufacturers, including 1 Alpen model, 7 models made by Barska, 1 Brunton, 7 Bushnell, 1 Cabela’s, 2 Celestron, 1 Konus, 4 Leuopold, 1 Minox, 1 Nikon, 1 Redfield, 5 Vanguard, 4 Vortex, 1 Weaver, 1 Winchester, 1 Yukon and 1 model made by Zhumell. They 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).
You will notice that many very popular brand names are missing from the list of spotting scopes below. That’s because I did not find any spotting scopes made by Kowa, Leica, Pentax*, Swift*, Sworovski or Zeiss for less than $500.
*After this was published, I learned that both the Pentax Pentax PF-63 (20-50X63) and the Swift 943ED Premier (16-20X65) were available for less than $500. I also added the Nikon Prostaff 5 after the price dropped below $500, so the table now has 44 spotting scopes. Also note some spotting scopes have increased in price.
Spotting Scope Comparison Table of 44 Scopes Priced Between $200 and $500
|Model||Mag & Obj||Wt (oz)||Len (in)||Min Focus (ft)||Eye Relief (mm)||FOV (ft) at 1000 Yds||Min Price*||Notes|
|Alpen 788||20-60X80||56||17||20||18||113||$305||Angled or straight|
|Barska Blackhawk||20-60X80||52||19||27||15||105||$260||Angled or straight|
|Barska Blackhawk||22-67X100||73.6||21.5||27||15||95||$392||Angled or straight|
|Barska Gladiator||30-90X100||100.8||19||32.8||13.8||72||$260||Straight only|
|Barska NaturscapeED||15-45X60||51||14.5||16.4||18||147||$262||Straight only|
|Barska NaturscapeED||15-45X65||49.3||15.5||19.7||18||138||$322||Angled or straight|
|Barska NaturscapeED||20-60X80||68.6||18.8||13.1||18||110||$420||Angled or straight|
|Barska Spotter Pro||22-66X80||34.9||15.5||26||17.3||78||$300||Straight only, camo $329|
|Brunton Eterna||20-45X62||40.7||12.5||20||16||105||$599||Angled or straight, price increased|
|Burris Landmark||15-45X60||24||12.7||13||17||146||$200||Straight only|
|Burris Landmark||20-60X80||42||17.5||17||15||105||$220||Straight only|
|Burris XTS-2575||25-75X70||33||10||15||17||58||$207||Angled ony|
|Bushnell Elite||15-45X60||26.5||12.2||30||na||125||$387||Straight only|
|Bushnell ImageView||15-45X70||25.4||11.6||26||11||122||$260||Digital camera not waterproof|
|Bushnell Legend Ultra HD||12-36X50||36.3||10.5||15||17||179||$235||Angled or straight|
|Bushnell Legend Ultra HD||15-45X60||40.4||11.1||18||20||140||$299||Angled or straight|
|Bushnell Legend Ultra HD||20-60X80||80.1||16.5||35||18||110||$418||Angled or straight|
|Bushnell Spacemaster||15-45X60||43||12.7||30||11||126||$275||Straight only|
|Bushnell Trophy||20-60X65||42.3||13.4||32.8||na||110||$200||Straight only|
|Cabela’s Alpha||20-80X80||64||17.8||na||na||78||$300||Straight only|
|Celestron Regal 65F-ED||16-48X65||61||13||15||20||136||$365||Angled only|
|Celestron Ultima100||22-66X100||72||19||33||18||95||$260||Straight only|
|Konus Konusspot||20-60X100||85.7||19.2||na||12||99.5||$245||Angled only|
|Leupold Goldring Compact||10-20X40||15.8||7.5||5.5||17.2||199||$350||Angled or straight|
|Leupold Goldring Compact||20-30X50||21.5||11||13.5||17.1||136||$395||Angled or straight|
|Leupold SX-1 Ventana||15-45X60||30.6||13.5||13.8||24||121||$283||Angled or straight|
|Leupold SX-1 Ventana||20-60X80||37||17||24.9||24||100||$380||Angled or straight|
|Minox MD Compact||16-30X50||21.7||8.4||16.4||11||142||$260||Straight only|
|Nikon ProStaff||16-48X65||31.7||11.5||13.1||15.2||126||$375||Angled or straight, Realtree Camo|
|Nikon ProStaff5||16-48X60||33.6||11.4||13.1||16.5||136||$377||Angled or straight|
|Redfield Rampage||20-60X60||37.2||14.4||19.8||14||114||$210||Straight only|
|Vanguard Endeavor||16-48X65||47.1||14.2||14.8||19||105||$500||Angled or straight|
|Vanguard HighPlains 561||15-45X60||39.9||12.8||26.3||18||121||$200||Angled or straight|
|Vanguard HighPlains 581||20-60X80||55.9||16.1||42.7||16||85||$260||Angled or straight|
|Vanguard Signature Plus 661||15-45X60||40.7||13.3||23||18||102||$311||Angled or straight, tripod & case|
|Vanguard Signature Plus 681||20-60X80||53.6||16.5||39.4||18||78||$350||Angled or straight|
|Vortex Nomad||20-60X60||36.1||14||20||14||114||$339||Angled or straight|
|Vortex Recon||15X50||15.2||7||12||16||215||$550||Handheld monocular, price increased|
|Vortex Skyline||20-60X80||56||17.4||26||18||113||$430||Angled or straight|
|Vortex Viper||15-45X65||50.1||15.8||16||18||140||$450||Angled or straight|
|Weaver Classic||15-45X65||na||15.2||na||20.7||174||$245||Angled or straight|
|Yukon||25-100X 100||53||16.5||na||na||126||$400||Straight only, Water resistant|
* The price of the angled version of each spotting scope is usually higher than straight version. Note that prices change often, but were accurate when posted.
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 door, 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 we could easily find, touch and test each of the 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 only 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 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 also able to see two more of the spotting scopes on my list at the local shooting range. I find that people at the range are usually happy to show and talk about their spotting scopes if they aren’t pushed for time. The shooting range is also a good place to test spotting scopes in real outdoor conditions.
The Selection Process of Purchasing a Spotting Scope
In the next post, I go through the process I used to first, eliminating spotting scopes that didn’t fit my need for a light-weight, mid-sized spotting scope that I can pack in the mountains and then 2nd, eliminating spotting scopes I couldn’t find in local stores and 3rd, the side by side comparisons of the the models I tested in person. We have 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 and the different models, please let us know by using the comment form below.