Binoculars vs spotting scope

There is often much debate over which optic is the best to use in which situation. Hunters, wildlife observers and target shooters each have their own opinion on which is best for each activity and why. But, is there really a definitive answer?

In this article, we’ll be exploring what each of these devices offers and when it’s best to use each.

Binoculars

Person crouching with binoculars

Binoculars are something that many of us will be familiar with. Whether you admire the local wildlife or admire the local ‘birds’ (something we don’t condone, mind you...), they are a useful piece of equipment for the aforementioned activities of hunting and target shooting.

Their mechanics are fairly straightforward, requiring focusing whenever you look through the lenses, typically using a central dial. Depending on the model you choose, they may also offer variable zoom, allowing you to closely control how much detail you see your target in.

Typically, binoculars are smaller, lighter and generally more portable than spotting scopes, which is why they are so popular. However, as a general rule, the magnification ability isn’t quite as powerful as a spotting scope.

Spotting Scope

Spotting scope on tripod

For those unfamiliar with a spotting scope, they are essentially more condensed telescopes which allow one eye to see through the viewing lens, rather than two. Spotting scopes generally become the front runner when considering magnification capability, as most will offer a greater zoom distance and quality than binoculars.

One of the main downsides with a spotting scope is that for a high-quality viewing experience, you’ll almost always require a tripod to steady the scope, as when you begin to magnify your target, the device will be much more sensitive to hand movements. When travelling long distances for trekking, hunting or wildlife viewing, this can become a little more cumbersome.

What are the Costs Involved?

As with many things in life, often, price is directly linked to quality. Spotting scopes can range from more budget options of sub £100 to much more luxury devices exceeding £1000, so the price range is pretty large. For your first scope, we’d suggest looking towards the more budget end so you can get a good feel of the equipment and ensure that what you have bought matches the requirements.

Similarly, binoculars can be equally as costly, although for top-grade equipment, generally, you can grab some for a little less than a top-tier spotting scope. The best binoculars may also come with electronic features, such as image stabilisation, something that spotting scopes don’t come with.

Generally speaking, it’s possible to get a half-decent one of either of these devices for under £200 while still being able to magnify with good quality.

Person looking through spotting scope

Which Optic is Right For Your Outdoor Activity?

Target Shooting

If you want to exercise your shooting muscles using targets or clay pigeons, then you may need a spotting scope or binoculars for longer distance shots. Naturally, many long distance rifles will have an attached scope, but their zoom and quality may not match that of a dedicated optical device.

As some target shooting activities will be carried out in a stationary position, such as the prone position or crouched down, using an optical device with a tripod will be your best bet. Although this does more naturally lend itself to spotting scopes, if there’s a chance you’ll need to move as well, you may want to consider using binoculars and adding a binocular tripod adapter to your kit.

Hunting

Hunting is a tricky one as it can take many forms. If you’re using a stationary position, much like in target shooting, having a stable spotting scope set up on a tripod may be your perfect option.

Unfortunately, many hunting techniques require the hunter to be stealthy, quiet and to be able to move at will, making the setting up and dismantling of a tripod not an ideal activity. For this one, we think binoculars will be your best bet as they can be looked through quickly without the need for setting up your equipment first.

If you’re choosing binoculars for hunting, consider their build quality and specifications. Some binoculars are built for facing up to the elements and will be completely water-resistant, while others may have been built to withstand knocks and drops.

Wildlife and Astronomy

Person walking in woods

Binoculars have long been the wildlife spectators favoured companion, but is this the right choice? Like other activities we’ve listed, it very much depends on the scenario; however, we would personally recommend a spotting scope over binoculars for both of these activities.

Bird and nature watching, along with astronomy, doesn’t require the need to move very often, meaning that setting up a stable tripod and having your spotting scope focussed on your target will likely provide the best viewing experience. Although, only having one lens can be something of a turn off for people and can cause eye fatigue, which is something to be aware of.

Outdoor activities such as hunting also require you to have a high-quality kit, such as waterproof boots, warm layers of clothing and a precision air rifle. Our personal recommendation for this would be something from the Daystate Red Wolf range, such as the Hi-Lite Midnight Laminate .177 PCP.

For more information on rifles, hunting and survival, check out our blog here!