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Birdwatching Spotting Scopes

General features

Birdwatching or as some people call it birding, is often a group activity that involves larger groups of people participating at the same time.

Even though some people practice observing birds with naked eye or binoculars, real enthusiasts use spotting scopes as their prime accessory.

Optics for observing birds are among biggest and heaviest comparing to other categories of spotting scopes.

Since the size of a device proportionally increases with the objective lens diameter, their objective lens diameter can measure up to 95mm or even 100mm. As it goes for the magnification, it normally varies from 20x to 70x.

Why are angled scopes more suitable for watching birds

Since scopes for observing birds are among the heaviest and most robust, their stability is best provided with a tripod. When it comes to the choice of angled or straight spotting scopes, angled are without a doubt more appropriate for watching birds.

The reason lies in adjusting the tripod. The tripod height is adjusted to the smallest person in the group. The taller participants have to bend forward a bit, and there is no need to change the tripod height. 


The focusing mechanism

Same as the other scopes, the ones for watching birds have either one rotating knob or two-piece focusing knob mechanism.

Models with one rotating knob for focusing have the knob located on the top of the body. Some more expensive models feature two-piece focusing knob mechanism.

Spotting scopes with the two-piece focusing knob mechanism

  • the first part is for fast and rough settings

  • the second part is for finer adjustments and therefore focuses on lower speed.

On some spotting scopes focusing is done with a unique ring that goes around the entire body

Swarovski is a prime example of this approach. These focusing rings have a bigger diameter. A more prominent knob enables finer adjustments at a constant speed.

Even though choosing a focusing mechanism depends on a personal choice of each individual, a single knob mechanism is usually not the best option for bird-watchers.   


A lot of people love to take pictures of landscapes or birds they are observing. In order to do that, their phones or cameras need to connect with their device.

While angled spotting scopes are preferred choice among birders, straight ones take the first place in digiscoping.

Most of the spotting scopes manufacturers also produce digiscoping equipment for both straight and angled scopes. For the stability of the whole digiscoping setup, special supporting rails are used.

Since the rails for angled spotting scopes are shorter and less bulky, is important to note that straight models do require more supporting rails and therefore bigger and heavier equipment. But regardless of the size and weight of the mounting, straight spotting scopes remain the first choice among photographers.

Birding spotting scope for digiscoping



Most of the spotting scopes are waterproof and filled with either nitrogen or argon. The only weakness is the bayonet mount for the interchangeable eyepiece, which is a part of the most premium angled spotting scopes.

More affordable optics have a fixed eyepiece, which ensures even better protection against water intrusion. Even if the scope comes with an eyepiece as a separate part, it remains waterproofed when assembled.

The connection between the eyepiece and the body is well sealed.

Both eyepiece and the spotting scope body are waterproof as standalone units of optics

  • There is no permanent damage if the water comes in the middle space.

  • The water can be dried, and there is no permanent damage.

  • The problem occurs when the eyepiece is removed and exposed to rain. This way, the water could come in the space between the body and the eyepiece.

  • The water intrusion can cause unclear images.

The recommendation is to fix the eyepiece somewhere in a dry space and then leave it until the end of use.

Best Scopes for watching Birds

When talking about spotting scopes it is also important to point out the leading brands in this area of expertise. While Swarovski, Leica and Zeiss are the leading brands in optics in general, Kowa represents the biggest competition in the field of spotting scopes.

It is very advanced and equivalent to all three European manufacturers.

While all the brands want to offer the best products for their customers, Swarovski and Zeiss are the only two, who offer 95mm spotting scopes on the market. Models Swarovski ATX and Zeiss Harpia are top of the top at the moment, as well as most expensive.

Regardless of their differences, each brand has its pros and cons as well as their own fan groups.

Swarovski ATX Zeiss Hartia

Swarovski ATX and Zeiss Harpia 

short presentation is available here.

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