Thursday, May 31, 2007

Spotting Scopes for Birding

Life is full of different types of progression. My son's school sends progress reports between quarterly grade reports. A student of karate will progress through different belt colors until they reach the black belt level. Every parent's nightmare--a toy with "some assembly required" will lead one through a progression of sometimes frustrating directions. Thankfully, the Eagle Optics staff is much better than the "some assembly required" type of directions when helping our customers take the next step in their optics choices. Since I've worked at Eagle Optics, I have seen first hand the trend of birders as they steadily progress from binoculars to the addition of a spotting scope. It seems to be a natural evolution as the desire for even greater detail grows over time. Whether our customer is ready to take the plunge and purchase a high end spotting scope or wants to start slowly, we have many different sizes and price ranges to fit your progression to this next level of sport optics.

As with all sport optics, we have to compare spotting scopes for birding in their respective price categories. For the birder wanting to enhance their birding experiences but not break the bank, we have options that will certainly fill the bill. Many of you may already be familiar with our Eagle Optics Raven Straight Scope. With its 20-60x78mm size, this scope is especially popular among birders watching or digiscoping pictures of hawk's or eagle's nests. It's $199.99 cost makes this an entry level sport optic with much better performance than any other scope at this price. Other favorites under $500 would be the Vortex Nomad 20-60x60 Spotting Scope and the Stokes Sandpiper 15-45x65 Spotting Scope. I like the somewhat extra brightness of the Stokes Sandpiper---a natural occurrence with the larger objective lens and lower magnification. Both of these scopes are easily portable while offering good performance. They are ruggedly constructed for a lifetime of use with waterproofing, fogproofing and the great Vortex VIP Warranty. Currently, Eagle Optics is offering a free Stokes Birding Series Full Size Tripod Kit with the purchase of the Stokes Sandpiper Spotting Scope, which (with free UPS Ground Delivery) helps to keep your initial investment under $350.Kate scope2.jpg

Many of our customers have had very pleasing results with mid-priced spotting scopes. In the $500 to $1000 category, the staff has many favorites. For a great value which includes the extra feature of ED glass combined with a 20-60 zoom eyepiece, take a look at the Bushnell Elite and Vortex's new Skyline ED. (The Skyline is also available without ED glass.) Both the Bushnell Elite and Skyline ED offer the 80mm objective lens for optimal light gathering and make these attractive scopes to use for digiscoping. When a company packages the zoom eyepiece with a scope, it will usually save money over buying the scope body and eyepiece separately. However, some of you don't always need the zoom feature and would prefer the wider field of view offered by a fixed eyepiece. Nice options to achieve this would be the Pentax PF ED 65mm scope combined with the Pentax XW 20 Eyepiece giving you a 183 ft. field of view. This Pentax scope also comes packaged with the 20-60 XF zoom offering a field of view of 111-51 ft. field of view. Quite a difference if your birding habits require a wide field of view as opposed to the 60 power magnification.

Moving forward in performance and price level, the $1000 to $2000 priced scopes offer numerous choices. At slightly over $1000 is the Leupold Golden Ring 12-40x60 HD and the Pentax PF 80 ED w/21-63x Zoom. We had the Leupold Golden Ring HD out for a customer this week, and I found the size, wide field of view and true colors a winning combination. Right now it comes only in a straight style. I hope Leupold has an angled version in mind. If you want additional light gathering ability, the Pentax PF 80 ED is a great choice. Even at the highest magnification, I found it still provides a bright, sharp view. The extra light gathering is important if you are considering digiscoping in the future. The Nikon Fieldscope ED 25-75x85 provides the classic Nikon brightness with the option of fixed wide angle eyepieces and three Nikon Fieldscope Digiscoping Eyepieces for digiscoping with their Coolpix Digital Camera. For a standout in this grouping while staying under $2000, definitely consider the Zeiss Diascope 85mm Spotting Scope. This scope easily competes in the upper class of spotting scopes.

Finally, we are all tempted by the elite spotting scopes such as the Kowa TSN 883 Prominar Spotting Scope, Leica Televid 77mm APO Spotting, Scope, and the Swarovski HD 80mm Spotting Scope. Performance of all these scopes falls in the excellent category and really comes down to personal preference. It is always interesting to have a customer drive (often times from out of state) to the showroom and spend several hours comparing the different high end scopes. They take a lot of time discerning the minute differences in edge to edge sharpness and color resolution. After enough time, they will find the most comfortable scope from their optical perspective and in body styling. For example-do you like the warm, gold toned optics or the cooler blues and grays offered by some scopes? Do you like a smaller focus wheel such as Leica's or the large helical focus ring found on Swarovski? Call us at 1-800-289-1132 and we are happy to share our observations and those of our customers. Talking with you helps us target the scope with the most desirable features based on your preferences.

Admittedly, this subject was triggered by my own desire to start using a spotting scope. Not quite ready to take the plunge myself, I have the great luxury of having many terrific scopes to work with. As I continue to analyze the choices, I look forward to your calls with questions or observations to share. We can help you with your progression to this next level. And, we promise to be easily available when you reach the "some assembly required" part of your purchase.


Eagle Optics Staff

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  1. [...] zoom eyepiece from Eagle Optics. You can read a bit about it on Eagle Optics’ blog entry: Spotting Scopes for Birding. For the digital camera, I have been using Mary’s Casio Exilim EX-S500. It’s not the [...]

  2. What is the difference between the Votex nomad 20-60x 60 and sandpiper 15-45x 65. I know you said you like the extra light in the sandpiper but are there other plus and minuses? Thanks

  3. Dear Julian,
    The Sandpiper Scope has been discontinued. The Nomad is still a nice scope in its price range. The Celestron Regal would be another option under $500. If you'd like to call Eagle Optics, any of the friendly salespeople would be happy to recommend a spotting scope in your price range. Thanks for writing! ~Nina


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