A Word About Spotting Scope Reviews – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

I read many reviews online about the Nikon ProStaff and all of the other 20 spotting scopes that made my final list. After two months of using the the Nikon ProStaff in the field, I went back and read some of them again to see if I agreed with them or not.

I found that I do not agree with many of them and not just because I am right and they are wrong. In my opinion, most of the online reviews about spotting scopes seem to fall into four main categories.

  1. The review is too generic to be useful
  2. The review is overly enthusiastic because of inexperience using spotting scopes
  3. The review is overly harsh because of unrealistic expectations (probably inexperience)
  4. The review is useful because it answers real questions

Generic Scope Reviews

Maybe I shouldn’t complain about unsolicited reviews, but reviews such as “Best optics for the money” or “Easy set up, great scope”, just don’t give us much information. Best for the money compared to which other scopes? That’s what I want to know.

Easy to set up? What’s to set up? A tripod?

Many of these reviews probably fit into the overly enthusiastic category, but they just don’t give us enough information to be sure. I hope they are unsolicited reviews and not made up by the companies themselves.

Overly Enthusiastic Reviews spotting scope reviews 5 stars !!!

There are many examples of reviews that were too enthusiastic about their new spotting scopes. I am surprised at how many reviewers seem to be very impressed that they could see .22 holes at 100 yards or that they could focus on something at 300 yards away.

Don’t be impressed. My $49 Trekker spotting scope can see .22 holes at 100 yards and can focus on raptors or deer at 300 yards. So if that is all you want, you don’t need to spend $400 or $500. If they can see .223 holes at 300 yards, now that is a different story.

There are also a few 4 and 5 star reviews by people that haven’t even used their spotting scopes yet.

Unrealistic Expectations

looking at antlers thru spotting scope

Why Can’t I See This 2 Miles Away?!

As an example of a reviewer that were unrealistic, one guy wrote that he could see a deer at almost 2 miles away, but since he couldn’t tell how many points were on the antlers, he returned the scope. He obviously knew what he wanted before he bought the scope, but was disappointed that a smaller sized, mid priced spotting scope couldn’t do the job for for him. At two miles, the heat waves could prevent even the best spotting scopes from focusing clearly.

Yes, the “big boy/big dollar” spotting scopes can focus clearly enough to see antlers at two miles (in bright light and if the heat waves aren’t to bad), but don’t expect to buy them for $400 and don’t expect them to be small enough to throw in your backpack and head up the mountain.

Other reviewers that were too unrealistic seemed to be surprised that images were “shaky” or unclear at the highest magnification.

That goes with the territory. High magnification automatically means small field of view, lower light and also automatically means the image is hard to hold still. At 60X, unless you have a professional grade tripod, a very slight wind will constantly cause the image to shake. Some people actually get nauseous, like sea sickness looking through a spotting scope.

Unless you are watching something close, like your bird feeder, do not expect to be looking through the highest magnification most of the time with any spotting scope. They are made to be variable magnification for a reason. Low power and wide field of view to find your targets and high power and low field of view to zoom in and see detail you need to identify your bird or your trophy buck.

When you purchase products from our links, we earn commissions from qualifying purchases

You must be looking for a spotting scope. I recommend These:

A Hint about Focusing Scopes on High Power

A hint that might help when looking at something through high magnification, is to constantly roll the focus knob slightly back and forth. Your eye (actually your brain) will pickup the detail as it slowly changes with the focus adjustment. This technique is often more useful than staring for a long time at an image that you can’t seem to pull into clear focus, and like most things, it takes practice.

Won’t Focus? May be your Eye, Not the Spotting Scope

I suspect that many of the reviewers that complain about unclear images at high magnification need glasses. I have had spotting scopes set up on birds or wildlife at high power and low light before and tried to show them to people that just couldn’t focus clearly on them.

In low light conditions, the ability of our eyes to focus starts to come into play more than in bright light. In bright light, our pupils constrict, which forces most of the light rays to enter the eye almost completely parallel, which helps focus the image on the retina. In low light conditions, our pupils dilate which allows light rays that are not so parallel to enter our eyes, which can cause unfocused images.

Test yourself by using the old pin-hole glasses trick. In a dark room, look at something like a digital clock from across the room. If you can’t see it clearly, make a pin-hole in a piece of paper or make a small hole with your two index fingers and thumbs and look at the clock again. If the image becomes clear after looking through the hole, then that proves your eyes need a little help focusing.

I wear glasses when using a spotting scope because I see more clearly. I can take them off and using the focus adjustment can see fairly well in bright light and at low power, but not so well in low light, and especially not well at low light and at high power.

Comments, Opinions, Questions?