Spotting scopes are fantastic optics for bird watching, hunting and enjoying views, but proper viewing through them requires a stable platform. Due to this, it’s vital that you pair your spotting scope with a quality tripod that can hold the weight and size of the spotting scope and provide a sturdy platform to keep the spotting scope still whilst you’re observing. In addition, some giant binoculars with high magnifications also need to be mounted on a tripod to keep them stable. But what is a high quality tripod and what makes the best tripod for use with a spotting scope or large binoculars? Let’s take a look at the features that make for good performance and consider what makes an excellent tripod for use with your sports optics.
Recognising a High-Quality Tripod
When it comes to choosing a good tripod for your spotting scope there are a few key features that the best professional tripods have that you should look for. In this buying guide we’ll take a look at those so you’re equiped with the knowledge you need to make an informed choice.
When it comes to buying a tripod there’s some general considerations that every user needs to consider - weight, stability, load capacity and price. These things are largely governed by the material that the tripod is made from.
Tripods have been traditionally made from aluminium. Aluminium is relatively affordable and it can be relied upon to ensure stability as it can take a fair bit of weight. Due to this, it’s often considered a great option for tripods for spotting scopes, however it does have a few negatives too. Firstly, it can be affected by the environment it’s used in and it heats up in the sun and cools down in the cold. In addition, it can rust in damp environments. Despite the benefit of its strength, aluminium is also fairly heavy, so if you are looking for a tripod for your spotting scope when you’re hunting then you’ll need to decide if you want to carry the weight of an aluminium option. Aluminium tripods are a fantastic option for holding spotting scopes that are rarely moved.
In an attempt to offer a more light weight tripod option, many brands have carbon fibre tripods which are considered some of the best tripods on the market. If you’re happy to spend a little more so you can carry a little less weight, carbon fibre models are a great choice. Compared to aluminium models, carbon fibre tripods are much more lightweight and are also resistant to temperature change and rusting. Another benefit is that they transmit less vibrations so make for a more enjoyable view. It’s important to note that carbon fibre is more delicate and more susceptible to fracturing than aluminium so great care must be taken when transporting it. If you’re looking for a tripod that’s easily packed and light enough for hunting or birding where portability is really important, then carbon fibre is the way to go.
Load Capacity and Stability
Load capacity is arguably one of the most important factors to consider when choosing the right tripod for your spotting scope. Load capacity refers to the amount of weight that the head of the tripod can safely take before it breaks or flops or becomes unstable and potentially destroys your spotting scope. Working out what load capacity you need is easy. Simply check the weight of your tripod and then choose a tripod with a load capacity that’s higher than that.
When purchasing a tripod for your spotting scope it’s vital to keep in mind what you plan on using it for. For hunting it’s likely that you’ll be needing to carry your spotting scope, tripod, rifle, scope, pack and more with you for long distances. Due to this, opting for a tripod that’s as portable as possible will help cut out weight. On the other hand, if your spotting scope will be permanently situated in your lounge to enjoy the view, then whether or not it’s portable is insignificant. If you need portability, then it’s worth spending the extra dollars on a carbon fibre tripod. If not, then a trusty aluminium tripod will be a great option. In addition, you should consider what head design you opt for. You can read more about this below.
Generally, tripods come in two main height brackets - full sized or table top. Table top tripods are good if you plan to be seated when using your optics, or if you’re lying prone at the range whilst target shooting. For most other situations, a full sized tripod will be the best option as they offer more stability and can be used whilst standing, or, if you choose a more compact full sized model, they can also be used when sitting on the floor. The main thing to take in to account when choosing the height of your tripod is the activity you plan on using your optic for, how portable you need it to be, and how tall you are. If you plan on using it to support your spotting scope whilst target shooting, then a table top tripod might be useful. If you’re hunting and will likely be using the spotting scope whilst crouching down in the bush, then a full sized model that can fold down smaller than other full sized models would be good. However, if you’re a tall person and you plan on using the tripod with your spotting scope when you’re standing, then you’ll need to opt for a full size tripod that has a maximum height that will bring your optic up as high as possible so it’s close to your eye. All of our tripods have their maximum and minimum height provided in their specifications. To make sure that a tripod measures up to the height you need, take into account your height and also the height of your spotting scope when considering which one will work best for you.
Tripods can be adjusted in two main ways; their height, and the direction that your optic is pointing in. The adjustment of height is governed by adjustments to the legs of a tripod and the centre column. By either extending or retracting those elements you can move the tripod up or down to suit your needs. Adjustments to the head of the tripod allow you to move the optic around so it’s pointing in different directions. We’ll consider this in more detail below when we discuss tripod heads.
In order to make tripods as portable as possible and also to allow them to be set up on uneven ground, their legs can be extended and retracted independently. This means that you can fold the legs away, into themselves to transport them, then extended them out to put the tripod to full height. If you’re on a hill, you can make some of the legs longer than others to account for the slope. A key feature of adjustable legs is the locks that are used to ensure that the legs stay in the right position once you’ve moved them. That’s where leg locks come in. Leg locks can either be flip locks (sometimes known as lever locks) or twist locks and each have their pros and cons.
Whether you opt for twist of flip locks generally comes down to personal preference, with some seasoned tripod users having very strong opinions on which is best. In practice, twist locks are usually included on some of the higher end tripod models so are generally associated with being better quality. That being said, both models do the job and when it comes to choosing a tripod for your spotting scope we wouldn’t advise basing your decision on which lock they use.
There are a range of different tripod heads on the market, each with their pros and cons for different activities. Whether you opt for a pan or ball head, the main thing to consider first is the weight that it’s designed to take. Be sure to double check that whichever head you choose, it’s got a safety payload weight that’s more than your spotting scope. Now, let’s take a look at the different setups to choose between.
Ball heads allow you to move your optic in any direction you choose (up, down, left right) by simply releasing one handle or knob and moving the spotting scope with your hand. This allows for really quick and easy adjustments to the direction that your spotting scope is pointing in. Ball head tripods are generally more compact and lighter weight than other heads, but they can be a bit unwieldily and are harder to adjust precisely. Once unlocked, the scope moves in any direction and you can quickly loose what you’re aiming at.
Pan heads come with two or three handles that twist and untwist individually allowing you to make precise adjustments to the orientation of your spotting scope. The handles twist, either locking or unlocking the orientation for that handle and either pan around to the left or right or tilt left or right or tilt on the forward and back axis. Although pan heads are usually heavier and bulkier than ball heads, many spotting scope users prefer to have more accurate control and reduce the risk of their spotting scope moving around all over the place.
Tripods either come with or without a centre column. Centre columns are a useful way to easily add an additional bit of height to your tripod without having to take the time to adjust each leg. However it’s important to remember that using the centre column at full height can reduce the stability of a tripod, so only use it to make small adjustments to the height and instead make sure to opt for a tripod that’s got legs that make it as tall as you need it.
Quick Release Plate
Most quality spotting scopes on the market today come with an industry standard pre-drilled ¼ inch hole in them which allows for them to be easily connected to any tripod by an included screw. Many tripods come with a quick release plate. This plate connects to your spotting scope and stays there on a permanent basis so you can just attach the scope quickly to the tripod (via the plate) every time rather than having to screw it in each time. If you want to remove the scope, you leave the plate attached and then use the quick release mechanism on the tripod. This a great way to make mounting your spotting scope to your tripod as quick and easy as possible.
As with optics like your spotting scope, we always suggest spending as much as you can on a tripod. After all, if you’ve already invested a lot in to a good quality spotting scope then it’s vital that the platform it’s mounted on doesn’t let it down. Some entry level spotting scopes come as a bundle with a table top tripod but they’re usually pretty flimsy so it’s always worth upgrading to a better quality option when you can.
Browse Our Wide Selection Of High-Quality Tripods
We hope that our tripod buying guide has provided you with the key factors to consider when buying a tripod. In short, spend as much as you can and choose a tripod to suit your activity. If you have any questions at all then we’d love to hear from you. We’re sure you’ll find something useful from Bushnell, Velbon or Manfrotto’s line of tripods.