Choosing Between Spotting Scopes And Telescopes
by: OZScopes - The Australian Telescope Experts

Trying to figure out the differences between a spotting scope and telescope is not always an easy thing and can quite easily become a very confusing process. This guide is aimed at helping readers use a simple rule for deciding which one to purchase and outlining what the main differences are between the two. Enjoy!

Use the 80/20 Rule
The simple rule everyone should apply when choosing between a telescope and spotting scope is the 80/20 rule! The 80/20 rule revolves around one question you can ask yourself when purchasing a new scope. Will you be doing 80% of your viewing in the sky or on land objects? And as a result will only 20% of your time be spent on land viewing or night sky objects? Answering this simple question will give you a fair idea of what sort of scope you should purchase. If your 80% is spent on land viewing then a spotting scope is the more appropriate choice, while 80% spent on sky viewing will be best suited by purchasing a telescope.

Difference 1 : Image Orientation

One of the main differences between a spotting scope and telescope is the image orientation. Image orientation refers to the image coming out of the scope and whether it is the right way up (some telescopes produce an upside down image) or back to front.

For example a reflector telescope, which is fantastic for astronomy, will always produce an upside down image which would be very unsuitable for land viewing. A refractor telescope is also good for astronomy but normally produces a backwards from left to right image (a mirror image) which again makes it unsuitable for land viewing.

Spotting scopes on the other hand creates a right way up and right way round image. You generally get a clear crisp image for land viewing including objects such as mountains, trees, birds, animals and even yachts. For more on Image Orientation you can read our guide to Telescope Image Orientation

Difference 2 : Portability and Sturdiness

A great benefit of spotting scopes is that they are far more portable than telescopes and have a more rugged exterior. Suited for land viewing where portability is important, spotting scopes are easily carried in your arms or in a medium bag or case. This gives users the flexibility of transporting the scope for land viewing in their desired spots.

Spotting scopes also tend to have a more rugged exterior to complement its portability. Some spotting scopes even have a rubber armour which allows for a nice firm grip and added protection in case of knocks.

These features stand in comparison to telescopes. Most telescopes are very fragile and are difficult to transport. They tend to be large and bulky and very unsuitable for moving around. As you can imagine it would not be advisable to bring a large telescope to a forest or beach front for land viewing.

Difference 3 : In built Zoom features

Probably the most significant difference that any spotting scope user will identify is their ability to zoom in and out on an object. Telescopes usually come with a set of standard eyepieces that do not have a variable zoom. This means that you have maybe 2 or 3 eyepieces that have a specific zoom each. If you wanted to zoom in and out you would need to keep swapping your eyepieces. Of course you can purchase a variable zoom eyepiece but this adds to the cost of the telescope itself.

Spotting Scopes on the other hand normally come standard with a variable zoom eyepiece. When looking at spotting scopes you will notice that they have a set of numbers in their name. For example it could read 20-60x60. The first 2 number mean that the spotting scope can zoom from a 20x magnification to a 60x magnification. The last number refers to the size of the lens itself.

As you can see, spotting scopes greatly enhance a users viewing experience. Imagine watching a yacht or bird and having to keep swapping eyepieces to zoom in and out? Not very fun. Spotting scopes help to alleviate that problem and make land viewing simple and much more convenient.