In a bubble, with little information to go on, there is little meaning to the spotting scope vs binoculars debate. After all, one has two scopes while the other has one. What’s there to argue over? Fortunately, we don’t live in a bubble, and there is more to go on than just the number of eyepieces.
Binoculars are incredibly useful, even if they lack the magnification levels of high-end binoculars. They still enable you to clearly see objects from a distance. Spotting scopes, however, have long been underappreciated by hunters and outdoor enthusiasts.
There are a lot of similarities between the two—namely the ability to see distant objects and the all-important portability factor of both. For whatever reason, binoculars simply took the public imagination rather than spotting scopes. But which one is truly better?
Spotting Scope vs Binoculars
Believe it or not, there are some key differences between the two, besides the obvious one-eye-piece versus two.
Binoculars, regardless of how powerful they are, only provide you with magnification at a single level. If it’s a 7x magnification binocular, that’s all you’re ever going to get out of it. A spotting scope, on the other hand, can adjust magnification on the fly.
Binoculars are typically sold between 3x and 30x magnification. Spotting scopes can come with a low 10x magnification and a high 80x magnification. The level of adjustment in magnification sets the spotting scope apart.
There’s little doubt that both are highly portable. However, once again, the spotting scope takes the trophy. After all, it’s half the size of a set of binoculars. That makes it the more portable option by a long shot.
Fixed vs moving objects
Spotting scopes are perfect for hunting—scanning across fixed landscapes, trees, and perhaps a deer or a turkey along the way. Unfortunately, they are terrible for moving objects, especially at events like football games. A spotting scope is more likely to give you a migraine in those situations.
Binoculars are much better when watching moving objects, especially if you’re going to spend a good deal of time with your eyes on the lenses.
For bird watchers, hunters, and wildlife watchers in general, a spotting scope is a preferred device. It’s far easier to spot stationary objects, locate wildlife that isn’t moving around all over the place, and catch sudden movement.
Binoculars have their own uses for watching wildlife and hunting as well, they just don’t match a good spotting scope for the same.
The spotting scope reigns supreme here as well. Again, for the very same reason. You’re looking at a stationary target with the only change being the bullet hole or arrow that appears in the target. It’s easier to focus and maintain visual clarity on a stationary target with a spotting scope.
When to Use Each
Anytime you are dealing with a lot of movement, especially on a broad scale, binoculars are the way to go. They are better at mimicking natural depth perception and won’t give you a huge headache or produce a lot of eyestrain.
Binoculars are also better when you have to scan vertically or horizontally a lot while looking through the eyepieces. Spotting scopes are better situated for stationary viewing when things are nice and calm, and everything is still.
Plus, spotting scopes have far superior magnification. You’re not getting into mid-range or premium telescope level, but a good spotting scope will help you pick out tiny details on the surface of the moon. You can even see planets with a really good spotting scope.
How far can you see with each?
Spotting scopes can reach up to 100x magnification, which is approaching beginners’ telescope levels. Better yet, you can adjust that magnification level on the fly, going lower or higher as you please.
Binoculars typically come in 3x to 30x magnification. However, whatever magnification it comes with is the one you’re stuck with. Looking at the moon with two eyes is always more comfortable, but you’re never going to see the details you can get with a good spotting scope.
Spotting scopes are designed for extremely long-distance viewing. In fact, many of them are manufactured just like telescopes, with mounting systems and interior hardware similar to that of a telescope. For instance, the Celestron Ultima 80 Straight Spotting Scope is basically a landscape telescope.
Whether you choose binoculars or a spotting scope, the difference between the two is wide and undeniable. They each have their uses. For pure viewing pleasure, it’s hard to beat the spotting scope. They do for landscape, wildlife, and hunter viewing what telescopes do for space viewing.
Binoculars have a place in your bag as well. They’re great for getting a more depth-like view, and they’re the only choice when you’re looking at a lot of movement. If you’re sitting in the nosebleed section at a football game, pick up the binoculars.
If you want to see down to the end of a power line run on the side of the mountain, looking for deer, reach for the spotting scope.
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