Spotting Scopes Comparison: 41 Scopes Priced Between $200 – $500 – Updated for 2018

Below you will find a spotting scopes comparison chart of 41 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.

In my original search, 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. (I have updated the table to new scopes and have removed scopes that are no longer available so the number of scopes in the table has varied from 40 to 46, but is back to 41 spotting scopes.)

The Spotting Scopes That Were Compared and Why Some Were Left Out

The 41 spotting scope models were made by 17 different manufacturers and now includes 7 models made by Barska, 1 Brunton, 2 Burris, 7 Bushnell, 2 Celestron, 1 Konus, 4 Leuopold, 1 Minox, 2 Nikon, 1 Redfield, 5 Vanguard, 4 Vortex, 1 Weaver, 1 Winchester, 1 Yukon and 1 model made by Zhumell.

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).

You will notice that many of the most 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.

*Note: After this posts was published, 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. Also note some prices for spotting scopes have increased, while others have decreased, even below the original $200 minimum price to be considered. Discontinued models have been removed from the original table and some newer models have been added.

Spotting Scope Comparison Table of 43 Scopes Priced Between $200 and $500

Model Mag & Obj Wt (oz) Len (in) Min Focus (ft) Eye Relief (mm) FOV (ft) at 1000 Yds Notes
Spotting Scopes Priced $250 or Less* – *Be aware prices are approximate prices for comparison only and prices are subject to change See more scopes less than $250
Barska Gladiator 30-90X100 100.8  19  32.8  13.8   72 Straight only
Burris Landmark 15-45X60  24  12.7  13  17  146 Straight only
Burris Landmark 20-60X80  42  17.5  17  15  105 Straight only
Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 12-36X50  36.3  10.5  15  17  179 Angled or straight
Bushnell Trophy 20-60X65  42.3  13.4  32.8  na  110 Straight only
Leupold SX-1 Ventana 15-45X60  30.6  13.5  13.8  24  121 Angled or straight
Minox MD 16-30X50 22.9 8.4 29.5 15 142 Angled
Redfield Rampage Kit 20-60X60  37.2  14.4  19.8  14  114 Straight only
Vanguard HighPlains 460 15-45X60  39.9  12.8  26.3  18  121 Angled or straight
Weaver Classic 15-45X65  na  15.2  na  20.7  174 Angled or straight
Zhumell 22-68X90  na  22  36  15   na Angled only
Spotting Scopes Priced Between $250 and $350*
Barska Blackhawk 20-60X80  52  19  27  15  105 Angled or straight
Barska Naturscape ED 15-45X60  51  14.5  16.4  18  147 Straight only
Barska Naturscape ED 15-45X65  49.3  15.5  19.7  18  138 Angled or straight
Barska Spotter Pro 22-66X80  34.9  15.5  26  17.3   78 Straight only, camo $329
Bushnell Elite 15-45X60 26.5 12.2 30 na 125 Straight only
Bushnell ImageView 15-45X70  25.4  11.6  26  11  122 Digital camera not waterproof
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
Leupold Goldring Compact 10-20X40  15.8   7.5   5.5  17.2  199 Angled or straight
Vanguard High Plains 581 20-60X80  55.9  16.1  42.7  16   85 Angled or straight
Vanguard Signature Plus 661 15-45X60  40.7  13.3  23  18  102 Angled or straight, tripod & case
Vanguard Signature Plus 681 20-60X80  53.6  16.5  39.4  18   78 Angled or straight
Winchester 20-60X80  53.7  15.8  na  na   89 Straight only
Spotting Scopes Priced Between $350 and $450*
Barska Blackhawk 25-75X100  77.6  18  32  16.5   88 Angled
Barska NaturscapeED 20-60X80  68.6  18.8  13.1  18  110 Angled or straight
Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 20-60X80  80.1  16.5  35  18  110 Angled or straight
Celestron Regal M2 65ED 16-48X65  46.8  13.1  16.4  20  131 Angled only
Leupold Goldring Compact 20-30X50  21.5  11  13.5  17.1  136 Angled or straight
Leupold SX-1 Ventana 20-60X80  37  17  24.9  24  100 Angled or straight
Nikon ProStaff 16-48X65  31.7  11.5  13.1  15.2  126 Angled or straight, camo
Nikon ProStaff5 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
Yukon 25-100X 100  53  16.5  na  na  126 Straight only, Water resistant
Spotting Scopes Priced More than $450*
Bushnell Legend T-Series FLP  15-45X60  37  11.0  35  30  180  Straight, Mil Hash reticle, Picatinny rail mounts
Brunton Eterna 20-45X62  40.7  12.5  20  16  105 Angled or straight, price increased
Vanguard Endeavor XF 16-48X65  47.1  14.2  14.8  19  105 Angled or straight
Vortex Recon 15X50  15.2   7  12  16  215 Handheld monocular, price increased
Vortex Diamondback 20-60X80  47.1  15.7  22  20  105 Angled or straight
Vortex Viper HD 15-45X65  50.1  15.8  16  18  140 Angled or straight, HD price


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 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. 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 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.

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