When it comes to Astronomy, there are several different types of telescopes and equipment with different uses. All of them have their own justification for being in an astronomer’s toolkit.
Today, we will review the best spotting scopes available and give you the right information so you can choose the best spotting scope based on your own preferences, needs and of course, budget.
There are many things that you need to consider when looking at spotting scopes, but we will go through all of these to ensure you get the right spotting scope for you.
IF YOU ARE SHORT OF TIME THESE ARE THE TOP 5 PICKS
What Are Spotting Scopes?
Spotting Scopes are essentially small and portable telescopes. They were designed with extra optics which allow you to observe with an erect image. They are primarily used for terrestrial (land) observations and for endeavors like scenic observing, bird-watching and hunting but prove to be excellent astronomical devices for observing the night sky. As such a range of astronomical equipment manufactures, like Celetron and Orion, have released their own models that are more practical for sky-viewing.
Spotting Scopes are designed to provide range, sensitivity, and power that outperform regular binoculars and inferior telescopes.
There are two distinct types of spotting scope to consider: Angled and Straight.
Straight Spotting Scopes are typically easier to use and are primarily sought after by beginners and those looking for terrestrial (land) observations.
Angled Spotting Scopes are better suited for astronomy due to the fact that they automatically point skyward. They are also easier to mount.
The spotting scopes covered in this article will therefore primarily be angled, however some of the models offer a straight equivalent.
Spotting Scopes are very practical and affordable, which is why they have exploded in popularity of late. Beyond these, they provide great optics in an easily transportable and lightweight form. As such, you’ll often see recommendations to purchase a spotting scope over a finderscope or even binoculars.
How much light and resolution a spotting scope can provide is dictated by the the diameter of the objective lens (although typical models range between 50-80 mm (2/3.1″). The larger the objective, the more light collected and resolution provided, but larger the scope and final cost.
Spotting scopes also come with an interchangeable eyepiece that can either be altered or swapped so that you can observe at different magnifications; some even provide a single variable “zoom”. Certain designs will also include an attachment so that you can mount the scope on a tripod, others may have a central knob for focus control.
Why Use A Spotting Scope for Astronomy?
Spotting scopes are typically used and often designed for terrestrial observations and for use during the day, but when you consider the design of the glass in a spotting scope its very similar to that of a Refractor telescope. For a lot of reasons, a spotting scope can be good investment if you are looking to stargaze and peruse in basic astronomy. The benefit being that you can use your spotting scope for terrestrial viewing too! (like bird watching)
A spotting scope with the right specification will enable you to observe planets like Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and its larger moons, as well as galaxies, open clusters and objects like Mizar and the Pleiades.
However, its important to consider that if astronomy is your ultimate goal, you’re going to require a spotting scope with certain specification. There are a lot of spotting scopes on the market that will be inferior for astronomy; and primarily useful for terrestrial observations.
The options included in the list below meet such specification criteria. Due to their relative weight and size, the maximum spotting scope power you can expect to find will equal a 4-5″ Aperture regular telescope (Newtonian/Dobsonion etc). If you are looking for more power, in the 6″-8″ Aperture + range, then I’ve actually documented a comprehensive buyers guide of the best telescopes for viewing planets and galaxies that are currently available; comparing specification, outlining what all the specification means and so on.
That being said, if you are looking for a scope that you can use for multiple purposes; be it astronomy, bird watching, wildlife watching, hiking, camping, scenery etc, a spotting scope is the most versatile options and what you will be looking to get.
What To Expect From Spotting Scopes
By now you will have a good idea of the features and the characteristics of spotting scopes.
Spotting Scopes mostly provide a simple, portable design that is easy to use and budget friendly. They are great for beginners, and a good alternative to more complicated, yet powerful telescopes so they act as a good entry point to astronomical observations. They may come in at a slightly higher price point to astronomical binoculars but can afford more power and get you used to the design and feel of a telescope. Here is a brief overview of the advantages and disadvantages of Spotting Scopes:
Benefits of Spotting Scopes:
- Lightweight compact design with little to no maintenance,
- Collimation and alignment of optics is not required,
- Provide more contrast than Reflector Telescopes,
- Ideal for casual observations of the Planets, Moon, Galaxies and Terrestrial viewing.
Disadvantages of Spotting Scopes:
- Higher cost that astronomical binoculars,
- Inferior in power to 6/8″ Aperture Telescopes and above,
- May require a Tripod due to weight.
How to Choose a Spotting Scope
There are certain elements of specification that you will want to take a look at to ensure you get the best spotting scope for you:
When looking at different spotting scopes its important to first consider the magnification it provides. A lot of spotting scope product titles will have reference to its magnification power in its name. If you see numbers like 20x60mm or 20-60×80 the magnification is being referenced. The magnification is always the first number before the x.
If the number is a single number like the 20 then this indicated it has a fixed magnification. If the number is a range, like 20-60×80 the scope will have variable magnification. All other specification being the same, a variable scope provides you with more options.
When it comes to deciding on the magnification power you require, consider that for astronomy you wil likely need as much as you can get. If you did want to use it for terrestrial observations aswell then you may be able to get away with, or it may suit you, to have a lower powered spotting scope. I suggest 60x+ for astronomy if I use a fixed power.
The size of the objective lens dictates how much light the spotting scope is able to collect. With all types of viewing devices – more light = better. It also means that the scope will be able to work better in low light conditions, such as during the night.
The second number in the examples I have provided above refers to the actual size of the objective lens.
A scope with a larger objective lens also has a larger field of view. This means you will be able to see a broader image which is always preferable.
When it comes to the objective lenses you want the largest you can possibly afford but you also want to make sure that the lens is made of high-quality material.
Spotting scopes lenses generally come with a type of special coating. These are added to the lenses to limit light glare and improve the amount of light the scope can collect. It follows that the better scopes improve your ability to see, even in low-light conditions, compared to just using your eyes.
There are four main types of coating:
- Coated (least expensive, lowest quality)
- Fully Coated,
- Fully Multi-Coated (most expensive, best quality_
Spotting scopes should have coated lenses as standard, but the better models and options will come with multi or fully multi-coated lenses.
Eye relief refers to the amount of space that you can leave between your eye and the eyepiece and still get a fill field of view. It is typically considered that an Eye relief any lower than 15mm is harder to use at an angle as you’ll struggle to get your head into the right position.
Another thing to consider is if you wear glasses. You’ll need a higher Eye Relief to be able to observe comfortably and effectively.
Best Spotting Scope For Astronomy – The Top 5
The following are the top recommendations based on angled design (preferable for astronomy), specification, customer experiences, reviews, cost, and other factors:
1. Celestron Regal M2 100ED (Editors Choice)
The Celestron Regal M2 100ED 3 is widely considered the best choice for a variety of reasons. It is built with Fully-Multicoated ED Objective Lenses meaning it has reduced chromatic aberration (failure to focus), higher accuracy color reproduction and has increased resolution and contrast. This compliments the 100mm (3.94″ Aperture) and 22 – 67x Magnification that this powerful spotting scope provides.
One of the other standout features of the Regal M2 is the Magnesium Alloy Body which is strong and durable, and lighter weight than traditional aluminum alloy housings.
It is also fully waterproof and fogproof and has an ergonomic dual speed focusing mechanism.
Plus a range of additional accessories are included: padded view-through case, objective cover, eyepiece cover, storage covers for eyepiece and eyepiece port, T-mount adapter and a cleaning cloth.
This is the standout winner and if you can afford it, this is the scope to get. It is in many ways a superb telescope in its own right. This is the spotting scope I decided to purchase and now own (picture above) and I can only thoroughly recommend it.
2. Orion Apex 127mm
The Orion Apex offers fantastic multi-coated optics and high power – it is ideal for astronomical observations. With a 5″ aperture, this Maksutov-Cassegrain Spotting Scope can gather a lot of light and with the 62x magnification you can uncover a lot of fantastic views. During the night you can expect to see clear and detailed views of the Moon, planets including: Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn as well as open and globular star clusters and cloudy nebulas.
Due to its higher power this is quite a heavy spotting scope (8.6 lbs) and it does require an Alt-Azimuth Tripod (sold separately). So it is not the most portable but it is definitely the best powered scope on the list.
You also get a 25mm Sirius Plossl 1.25″ eyepiece, 6×30 finder scope, 45-degree correct-image diagonal, soft carry case and Starry Night astronomy software.
3. Celestron C90 Mak
The Celestron C90 Mak is one of the more affordable spotting scopes. It offers great magnification that you can scale to your choice and preference (between 20-60x). It is compact and portable, weighing only 4.6 lbs which is half the amount of some of the other scopes cited here on the list.
The feature that stands out the most is the built-in T-Adapter that enables you to attach an DSLR Camera effortlessly. Unfortunately not all spotting scopes offer this luxury. You also get a 32mm eyepiece, 45° Erect Image Diagonal and 8×21 Erect Image Finderscope and a backpack included.
You can trust the Celestron C90 Mak for clear views with its multi-coated optics, and get all this at a really reasonable and affordable price over at Amazon.
4. Gosky 20-60×80
Regardless of whether you have heard of them, Gosky have become quite a well regarded brand in the astronomy optics world. Much like Celestron they are providing high-quality optics at a price that should cost hundred more than what they actually charge.
The BAK4 prisms in the Gosky 20-60×80 are fully multi-coated ensuring maximum light transmission for brighter and clear views. Using the variable 20x-60x magnification system is also effortless as their is an easy to use dynamic lens focusing system which is ideal for quickly honing in on new objects that come across your sites.
This spotting scope is also fully Nitrogen filled which means it is entirely waterproof and fog-proof. The framework is durable and the Rubber Armor provides a non-slip grip, shock-proof grip make it very comfortable and easy to work with.
5. Celestron 100mm Ultima Zoom
Another Celestron to make the list, the 100mm Ultima Zoom is in many ways the budget-friendly equivalent to the M2 Regal discussed above.
It provides a 22-66x varied magnification and zoom giving you utmost flexibility on what and how you want to observe.
This is the largest aperture scope in the Ultima line, compared to the lower and less astronomy friendly 60/80 versions. This refractor includes fully multi-coated optics and is housed in a portable and durable nitrogen purged framework design.
The Ultima series was designed to perform well in a range of viewing situations, it is completely waterproof so you can feel at ease even when using in the most extremes weather.
Which Spotting Scope Should You Choose?
Spotting Scopes are quite varied when it comes to power and design, with a real range in cost, optic quality and durability.
Overall, the Celestron Regal M2 is our top recommendation out of the best spotting scopes for astronomy. It is designed with the highest quality components, is very comfortable and easy to use and provides the best quality optics for reduced chromatic aberration and increased visibility. The Orion Apex is a closer runner up, thanks to its large aperture and magnification.
The Gosky 20-60×80 is the best budget option. You get fully multi-coated optics and a table top tripod included in your purchase. For the best overall value, we recommend the Celestron C90 Mak, offering an erect image system in a compact and portable design.
These are all great options for observing the wonders of the universe. Before buying, be sure to consider any extras that you may need, such as a tripod or any additional eyepieces.