The Beginner’s Guide to Using a Spotting Scope

So you want to get a much closer view of the world around you and you’ve decided that the best way to do it is with the help of a spotting scope? Great decision! A spotting scope is a fantastic optic for a variety of uses, from detailed bird watching and nature observation to hunting or simply enjoying views, so if you plan to use a spotting scope for one of those applications then you’ll have a very enjoyable experience. But how do you observe through a spotting scope and how do you use it? Let’s take a look in our helpful spotting scope guide for beginners.

What is a Spotting Scope?

A spotting scope is a sports optic that allows you to get a closer view of the world around you by using optics to magnify that view. A spotting scope looks a bit like a telescope as it has one large optical tube, however it’s designed for land viewing, and is actually most closely linked in design to a monocular. Unlike telescopes that are primarily designed for use at night to view celestial objects, spotting scopes are designed for close up, highly magnified viewing of land objects such as birds or animals in the day light and their lenses are coated in special finishes to allow them to produce images with the right colour, contrast and clarity for this type of viewing. Like a binocular or monocular, spotting scopes come in a range of different magnifications which vary depending on the model you choose. Most spotters offer a zoom magnification of either 15-45x or 20-60x which is significantly higher than those offered by binoculars. Alongside their high magnifications, spotting scopes can also have a much higher price tag than other small optics such as binoculars or monoculars. If this is the first time you’re looking to purchase birding optics or hunting optics then we’d suggest that you first get a decent pair or binoculars then look to upgrade to a spotting scope if you’re keen to get a more highly magnified view.

When to Use a Spotting Scope?

Spotting scopes have a range of uses with many people using spotting scopes to view birds and other wildlife in detail, or others using them to enjoy views from their homes. Indeed, if there’s a situation where you want to get a much closer view of things of interest at a distance then a spotting scope is a great way to zoom in and get up close. Let’s take a look at how a spotting scope may be a great optic to consider for popular pursuits.

Wildlife and birdwatching

If you’re just getting started in wildlife watching or observing birds, then we’d first suggest getting a good pair of quality binoculars to get a magnified view. But if you’ve been birding a while and have developed a passion for watching and identifying birds and want to get a closer view of them, then a spotting scope will help you do just that. Watching birds and animals through a spotting scope will blow your mind! Birds that you would usually only make out in the distance and see as a brown blob against trees or the muddy shoreline of a lake will all of a sudden be seen in incredible detail with the help of a spotting scope. You’ll see their feathers, eyes and even be able to read identification bands on their legs in the right conditions. A spotting scope will completely change your bird watching experience for the better.

Target shooting

If you’re a mid to long range target shooter and don’t own a spotting scope then it’s time to consider why not? A spotting scope is a perfect addition to add to your shooting equipment, as the high magnification range will allow you to get an ultra close up view of where you hit your target so you can improve your shot next time. After every shot, the zoom magnification of a spotting scope will allow you to focus right in on your target to consider your shot placement and make the appropriate windage and elevation adjustments to your riflescope for your next shot. If you’re considering a spotting scope for the range then we’d suggest opting for a straight viewing model to make it easier to use whilst lying down.


Many hunters forget the benefit of having a spotting scope as part of their hunting kit, and struggle to see what role a spotting scope will play in their hunting and shooting. Pro hunters on the other hand understand that having a highly magnified piece of equipment like a spotting scope is key to ensuring that hunting shots are safe, legal and on target. It’s simple really; use your binoculars to pan the landscape for animals, then use your spotting scope to zoom in on them to ensure that they’re the right sex, age and species before you commit to your shot. Spotting scopes with a 60mm or 50mm objective lens are ideal for hunting as they have a more compact size and weigh less than larger models. Rangefinders are then a great final piece of the puzzle, helping you to establish how far away your target is.


If you’re looking for a scope that’s purely for astronomy then we’d always advise opting for a telescope as these are designed for night time viewing. However, if you want more of an all round scope that will mainly be used for land observations but can also be used for occasional astronomy, then a spotting scope can do just that.

Pros and Cons of Using a Spotting Scope 

As with any sports optic, spotting scopes have their benefits and drawbacks for every activity. What can be a benefit for one activity may be a con for another.

Benefits of using a spotting scope

  • Provide high magnifications not offered by binoculars, riflescopes, rangefinders or a monocular
  • Have a zoom eyepiece which makes it easier than ever to spot something of interest and then zoom in on it
  • Come in a range of lens sizes to suit your activity
  • Have large lenses which allow them to let a lot of light in for brighter, clearer views even at dawn and dusk

Cons of using a spotting scope

  • Need to be used with a tripod at all times to secure the spotting scope on a stable platform and prevent image shake from ruining the view
  • More costly than binoculars and monoculars
  • Heaviest sports optic available due to the size of their objective lens so you won’t want to carry them too far

Spotting Scope Key Features

If you’re trying to choose a new spotting scope then there are a range of features that it’s important to consider to ensure that you choose the right scope for your activity. We’ll take a look at the most important features below, but for more information then why not check out our spotting scope buying guide.


Spotting scopes use a zoom magnification eyepiece that allows you to pan the landscape to find something of interest, then zoom in on it to see it in more detail. The zoom magnification offered by the most common spotters on the market are generally 15-45x or 20-60x. Think carefully about the distance that you plan on observing at before choosing your magnification range. In addition, the magnification on offer is closely linked to the objective lens size, so if you need a lightweight scope then by default you’ll need a lower magnification.

Objective lens size

Common objective lens sizes for spotting scopes are around 50mm, 60mm or 80mm. Some models even go up to 100mm. In general, the larger the lens, the more light the scope will let in. If you plan on carrying your spotting scope a long way then choose a scope with a smaller lens. If it’s going to be permanently mounted on a tripod to take in the view from your home then the bigger the better!

Lens quality

As with all sports optics, there are a range of different quality spotting scopes on the market. The quality of an optic effects the quality of glass that’s used in their construction. Low quality optics will be more affordable but it’s always worth spending as much as you possibly can on your spotting scope to achieve higher quality glass with superior coatings and finishings so that your spotting scope produces bright, clear and colour accurate images. This means that when you’re observing birds or animals you can see them in the sharpest of details and enjoy their wonderful colours. 

Angled vs straight construction

Spotting scopes are available in two standard body configurations; angled or straight. With angled models the eyepiece is positioned at an angle and you look down in to it, whereas a straight view model has an eye piece right at the very end and you look straight through it. In general, angled models are better for birding and hunting as it’s easier to get in the right position for comfortable viewing. Angled models are also a great option for a spotting scope that’s going to get used by a lot of different people. Straight models are more popular with target shooters who are going to be using their spotting scope whilst lying down in a prone position at the range. In this case they need to be able to move from looking through their riflescope, straight to looking through their spotting scope without moving, so a straight option is the easiest way to do this. Have a think about what you plan on using your spotting scope for and buy accordingly.

Eye relief

The eye relief of an optic is provided in a distance in mm. It tells you how far away from the scope you can position your eye and still be able to see properly, without any black circles obscuring your view. If you wear glasses it’s important to consider what eye relief is offered by each spotting scope you’re planning on buying and to opt for a scope with at least 16mm of eye relief but preferably more. 


Sports optics are designed for use in the great outdoors which means they need to be durable and be able to withstand damp, cold and warm conditions. To do this, most spotting scopes are waterproof and fogproof which means that their optics won’t become misted up inside if they’re exposed to the rain or other damp conditions. Unfortunately not all spotting scopes are waterproof, with some of the lower end models not having this feature. If you are planning on using your spotter outside then be sure to check that it’s waterproof rated.


Spotting scopes are large optics that offer highly magnified views. Due to this, all but the most compact spotting scope models are much heavier than other optics such as binoculars, monoculars and rangefinders and need to be used with a sturdy tripod to keep them steady. Some of the cheaper spotting scopes in our collection come with a table top tripod as part of the package, however most spotting scopes will require the purchase of an additional tripod. If you’re not sure which tripod you’ll need then you can check out our handy tripod buying guide here.

How to Use a Spotting Scope

Using spotting scopes can feel a bit daunting to begin with but our simple spotting scope user guide will help get your started. Once you’ve mastered the art of using spotting scope eyepieces to zoom in and out on things of interest, and using the focus knob to get a clearer view, you’ll be able to enjoy hours of enjoyable viewing. Before we go any further, please note that the instructions below are generic and have been developed based on some of our most popular spotting scope designs. Your spotting scope will come with instructions about how to mount and use that particular model so it’s always best to follow those instructions for model-specific information.

Mount the Scope

Get your tripod out of its bag and unlock its legs. Extend your tripod legs to the desired height and then lock the legs in place. Make sure that all of the clips are closed properly to prevent the legs from giving way once the spotting scope is connected. Depending on where you’re viewing, your tripod legs may need to all be the same height for level viewing, or if you’re on an incline or rocky or unstable ground some of the legs may need to be shorter than others.

Get your spotting scope out of its box or bag. If it has a stay on case to keep it protected when it’s in use then you can leave that on.

Almost all spotting scopes come with a quick release plate or mechanism of some sort which makes fitting your scope to a tripod super quick and simple. Locate the quick release plate that accompanied your spotting scope and use the screw on top of the tripod to attach the quick release plate. Once this is fitted it can stay on your tripod and you’ll simply need to slide the mounting plate of your spotting scope on to it when you want to use it. Quick release plates are great as they only require you to be dealing with screws for the first set up and then you can use the quick release mechanism for future attachments.

Once your quick release plate is attached and secure, slide the mounting plate of your spotting scope on to the quick release plate on your tripod and click it in place. Some models have additional locks too so use these to ensure that it’s firmly connected if they have them.

If your mounted scope is a bit lower than expected then use the neck extension of your tripod to get the extra height you need. Unlock it, adjust and then lock it in place.

Set Up the Scope

Setting up a spotting scope is a simple procedure. Decide what you want to look at and where and position your tripod and spotting scope. Once it’s attached to your tripod simple take off it’s objective and eyepiece lens covers and you’re ready to go!

Tilt and Pan the Scope

Once you’re in position it’s time to find your targets, be they birds, animals or boats. To do this you’ll need to be able to use your low magnification setting and to move your spotting scope around smoothly to pan the landscape until you find what you’re looking for. To do this you’ll need to use the tilt and pan control handles on your tripod. To begin panning the landscape or tilting up and down, unlock the levers by twisting them, use them to slowly rotate your scope on the tripod and when you’ve got the spotting scope where you want it, twist them to lock them again. Be sure to use the handles to move your spotting scope and not the spotting scope itself as it can damage the connection between the spotter and the tripod.

Adjust the Focus

Whether you’re panning the landscape at low magnification or zooming in for some more close up viewing, you’ll need to get in focus for some detailed observing.

If you wear eyeglasses, you’ll need to either twist or fold down the eyepiece cover to give yourself the adequate eye relief.

Next, move the focus dials to until the image through your spotting scope is clear and sharp. Some spotting scopes just have one focus dial whereas other, higher quality ones have two; one for corse focusing and then one for fine focusing.

Whenever you adjust the zoom of your spotting scope you’ll need to readjust the focus.

Adjust for Atmospheric Conditions

All optics are affected by conditions such as heat and humidity, so it’s important to take this into account when focusing your spotting scope. There’s little you can do to control these thermal factors however you may notice that your spotting scope produces crisper views in some conditions over others. Typically, heat will make the view through a spotting scope slightly more blurry than that same view would be on a cooler day, so if you think your spotting scope’s not performing as it should do one day then be sure to take into account the weather before worrying that there’s something wrong with it!

Try Digiscoping

Enjoying views and detailed observing through your spotting scope can bring hours of fun and open up a whole new world of animal and bird life that you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing before. Capturing images of these views will mean that you can enjoy them for years to come and share them with friends and family.

If you’re an avid outdoors person and being able to capture images of rare birds or beautiful mountains sounds like your dream come true then, then you need to get yourself some digiscoping equipment.

Digiscoping can be done with a smart phone, a point and shoot camera, or a DSLR camera and the camera adapter you need will depend on the device you are planning to use.

Scope camera adapters come in all shapes and sizes, with specific models for a certain spotting scope or phone or camera. Some spotting scopes are camera adaptable with adapters that are especially for that model of spotter. They’ll then have specific phone holders or adapter rings that attach to your photo taking equipment. Other spotting scopes aren’t designed with digiscoping in mind and don’t have brand-specific parts that you can purchase, but they do usually still work with a universal adapter such as these ones from Carson or Vanguard. In this case, you simply use the size guide to check that the adapter will work with your spotter and phone and off you go!

Don’t Forget to Rest Your Eyes

If you're anything like us, when you get in front of your spotting scope and start glassing, you’ll be mesmerised by what you see and time will pass at record speed. Looking through scopes of any sort can be tiring on the eyes so be sure to take regular breaks to prevent eye strain.

Highest Quality Spotting Scopes From ScopeUout

We hope that our spotting scope user guide for beginners has been helpful in explaining how to use a spotting scope like a pro. If you’re reading this before purchasing your first spotting scope then don’t forget our key take aways for buying a spotting scope. Always buy the best quality spotting scope that your budget can afford so that you can get the most enjoyment from your scope. Ready to purchase your new spotting scope? Check out our range today.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Explore more