Difference Between Traditional and Modern Spotting Scopes

Whether you’re looking for a birding scope or a hunting spotting scope, here’s why you should consider upgrading your dated spotting scope to a brand new model from one of the world leading brands that we represent. Below we’ll consider all of the main features of spotting scopes to help you choose the best compact or long range spotting scope for your next outdoor adventure.

Optics for gaining a closer and clearer view have been around for decades. However, it’s only in recent years that manufacturing developments have allowed the quality and construction of sporting optics such as spotting scopes to improve drastically. Is, if your spotting scope is over 20 years old then it’s time to start thinking about getting yourself a new one.

Let’s take a look at the difference between old fashioned and modern spotting scopes and find out why the more recently constructed, up to date spotting scopes allow for a more enjoyable observing experience.


Spotting scopes come in a range of sizes, with their objective lenses varying from a compact 50mm or 60mm in diameter, through to 80mm or 85mm or occasionally 100mm. The size of a spotting scope lens has a strong correlation with the amount of light that it can let in. Larger lenses allow for more light to reach your eye, making the images brighter and clearer. This means that spotting scopes with larger objective lenses are good for use in low light situations such as dusk and dawn. The body size of any spotting scope is governed by the size of the objective lens, but the overall design of the spotting scope also has an effect. As technology and manufacturing has improved over time, so has the size of spotting scopes, with manufacturers doing everything they can to reduce the overall size and weight to make them as compact as possible. When it comes to choosing the right sized spotting scope for you, it’s important to consider what you want to look at and where you’ll be observing from. If you need a spotting scope for hunting, then you’ll need to strike a balance between having a large objective lens that will perform well in low light, and a smaller model that is easier to carry. For hunting we always consider a 60mm objective lens a great balance. If you want an extra compact spotting scope then a 50mm option will be best for you. For birding or enjoying views from your home then a larger, 80mm lens will be a great option as it’s likely you’ll be stationary.


Spotting scopes vary in weight depending on the size of their objective lens. As a rule of thumb, the larger the lens, the heavier they will be. The only time this isn’t true is when you’re comparing older, more traditional spotting scopes with a spotting scope with the same size lens but has a more modern, recent construction. Or, a cheaper model with a more expensive spotting scope model. In these situations, the newer, more expensive model will be more lightweight. When it comes to choosing the best size spotting scope, it’s vital you consider where you plan on using it. If you’re planning on carrying your spotting scope for long distances on a hunting or nature watching trip then you may want to opt for a compact, hand held 50mm spotting scope, or a mid sized 60mm spotting scope. If your spotting scope will mainly stay in the same location, then a spotting scope with an 80mm lens always offers a great field of view and also a long range spotting scope eyepiece that allows you to see things closer up and in more detail.


The magnification of a spotting scope impacts how far you can see with it. The higher the magnification of the spotting scope eyepiece, the further you can see. Many years ago, spotting scopes often had a fixed magnification eyepiece, allowing you to see at only one set magnification. Luckily, over the last thirty years the design of spotting scopes has seen major improvements and modern spotting scopes usually have a zoom eyepiece that allows you to zoom in and out through a whole range of magnifications. Spotting scopes generally come in a couple of common magnification ranges; 15-45x and 20-60x. This means that they allow you to see your view in a range of magnifications, starting at 15x that of your naked eye, through to 45x that of your naked eye, or 20x the naked eye and 60x the naked eye. The higher the magnification, the more closely you’ll see your subject, but also the smaller the field of view. This means that the higher you crank up the magnification, the less of the landscape you’ll be able to see at one time. If you need a really close up view for identifying birds, or ships or such like, then a 20-60x zoom may be the best option for you. 20-60x zooms are usually accompanied by an 80mm lens in the very popular spotting scope configuration of 20-60x80. If you want a more compact spotting scope and can cope with less magnification, then a spotting scope with specifications like 15-45x60 will offer a more lightweight option.

Lenses and image quality

When it comes to spotting scopes, the most important factor in governing the quality of the images they produce is the quality of their lenses. Luckily, one of the major spotting scope manufacturing advancements of the last ten to twenty years is the quality of these lenses, so scopes built with more up to date lenses will usually be of better quality. They only time that this may not be the case is if you were comparing an older, but very high quality, top end spotting scope with a more modern but cheaper spotting scope model. In this situation then the older model may actually offer clearer, crisper, brighter views. So, what should you look for when it comes to spotting scope lenses? The most important factor is the lens coatings. Lens coatings are used to increase the amount of light that can easily pass through the lenses and meet your eyes. Generally speaking, the better the quality of the lens coatings, and the higher the amount of them, the better the images the spotting scope will produce. Always look for a spotting scope with fully multicoated optical lenses, and when possible look for one that has lenses that are classed as high definition or extra low dispersion (HD or XD). Thanks to optical advancements, spotting scopes with HD lenses are becoming much more affordable and are well worth spending a bit more on. Some brands such as Vortex and Bushnell also offer features such as scratch resistant lenses, or water repelling lenses which are fantastic options for when you’re out in the bush.


The materials used to build spotting scopes have to offer a fine balance between strength, durability and weight. This is an ongoing driver for the many different spotting scope brands on the market to constantly improve their spotting scope designs to ensure that they offer the lightest weight whilst being able to withstand the great New Zealand outdoors. We always advise looking for a spotting scope that has a rubber armoured chassis and that is nitrogen purged to ensure that it is waterproof.

Prism Types

In general, sports optics such as binoculars and spotting scopes are designed with either a roof or porro prism. When it comes to spotting scopes, the most popular prism used in their construction is the porro prism as it’s easier and cheaper to manufacture and it’s the most efficient in producing the best images. Some ultra compact spotting scopes may have a roof design but more often than not, it will be a porro configuration. The main factor to consider when it comes to prisms is their glass quality. Most scopes use Bak-4 glass as it’s of a higher quality. Some incredibly cheap spotting scopes use BK7 glass for their prisms but we usually suggest steering clear of them due to their low quality.


Spotting scopes are generally designed in two design configurations; angled or straight. We often get asked ‘Is it better to have a straight or angled spotting scope?’ but this all comes down to personal preference. Do you want to look straight through the spotting scope eyepiece or do you want to lean over it and look down in to it? Angled scopes are most popular as being able to look down in to the eyepiece makes it much easier to share the scope with other people. Straight through models are more popular for use at target shooting ranges where the user will be lying down.

Camera Adapters

Taking close up, high definition photographs of animals, birds, landscapes and more through a spotting scope is great fun and you can achieve some pretty epic images. Digiscoping with a SLR camera has been popular for many years through higher end spotting scopes, and in more recent years the invention of smart phones has opened digiscoping up to a much wider audience. Some spotting scope brands such as Kowa have a huge range of special adapters to use with their spotting scopes that allow you to connect your specific camera, and there are also more universal camera adapters on the market too. Smart phone adapters such as this universal smart phone adapter from Carson allow you to easily connect almost any phone to almost any spotting scope so that you can capture images through your spotting scope.

Browse Our Selection of Modern Spotting Scopes 

Thanks to modern technology and manufacturing developments, spotting scopes have come a long way over the years. Now that we’ve taken a look at the key features to consider when buying a spotting scope its time to explore our selection of spotting scopes to find the best spotting scope for your activity and budget.

Browse our spotting scopes now

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