New Spotting Scopes: OL Reviews and Ranks the 7 Best New Scopes of 2013

Conventional thinking in the optics industry used to be that most hunters will own only one or two spotting scopes in their lifetime. That's the reason you see spotters configured for the middle of the utility spectrum--20X to 60X eyepieces, and objective lenses ranging from 60 to 80mm. Those sizes suit most hunting purposes, and they double as sighters at the rifle range or for observing birds in the backyard.

But just as the growth of specialized disciplines has created a market for riflescopes configured for specific shooting situations and binoculars for niche hunting scenarios, so, too, have spotting scopes adapted to some fairly narrow uses.

That evolution was expressed this year with Bushnell's tough Elite Tactical LMSS ($1,700), featuring a first-plane Horus ranging reticle designed to be used as a spotter for long-­distance shooters.

And we saw it with Vortex's pint-size Razor HD ($699), a 50mm backpack spotter that occupies the space between a binocular and a full-size spotting scope. Swarovski's $6,500 ATX/STX system (right) is the fullest expression of this niche marketing.

But there's still plenty of room in the spotting scope market for mass appeal. Cabela's Euro HD (below) is probably the best example of an all-around hunting spotter. Vanguard's new Endeavor HD ($689) is a handsome 82mm scope with two-speed focus. Both Nikon and Redfield submitted price-point spotters. Nikon's lightweight ProStaff 3 ($330) produced a dark, fatiguing image at 30X and above. The Redfield Rampage ($324) was optically unimpressive.

The number of spotting scopes you need depends on your purpose and your budget, but it's hard to go wrong with a hard-wearing, higher-end scope that can perform a number of tasks equally well.

Swarovski ATX/STX

Swarovski has raised the bar on nature observation with this modular spotting scope system that features three interchangeable bodies and two eyepieces.

At $6,500 for the complete set (components can be purchased separately), this certainly is not an optical system for everyone. But neither should it be considered an unattainable luxury item, especially when you consider the price of a stand-alone Swarovski spotter.

The eyepieces mate with bodies that range in size from a 65mm to a stunning 95mm.

The broad utility and the shockingly clear, bright image it delivers make the case that this is a serious optic for the right combination of conditions and household income.

Configuration: 25-60/30-70X65/85/95
Price: $6,504
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: A+
Perceived Image: A+
Performance: A+
Design/Durability: A
Price/Value: B+
Verdict: Crazy-good, crazy-expensive modular scope system lets you swap eyepieces and barrels.

Cabela's Euro

When is a $2,200 optic a great buy? When it's a big, durable, stunning spotting scope that competes with other European optics costing nearly twice as much.

We struggled with bestowing our value award on an optic priced out of reach of many hunters, but the test team kept returning to the Cabela's performance--it won our resolution test and placed second to the 95mm Swarovski in our low-light test. It wowed the team with its tight, precise controls, its hard-wearing magnesium chassis, and its comfortable, look-all-day eyebox.

Cabela's was smart to partner with Czech optics maker Meopta on this unit, as well as Meopta's entire line of Euro optics. The Euro HD is available with either a straight or angled eyepiece, and it ships with Meopta's Meopix adapter for iPhones, allowing you to take telescopic pictures with your phone's camera.

Configuration: 20-70X80
Price: $2,199
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: A+
Perceived Image: A
Performance: A
Design/Durability: A
Price/Value: A-
Verdict: A first-rate scope. Wonderful glass in a durable housing. Generous eyebox lets you spot all day.

Bushnell Elite Tactical LMSS

Configuration: 8-40X60
Price: $1,700
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Optical Quality: B
Perceived Image: B-
Performance: B+
Design/Durability: A-
Price/Value: C+
Verdict: Like a riflescope without adjustments, this tough spotter features a tactical reticle.

Vortex Razor HD

Configuration: 11-33X50
Price: $699
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: B-
Perceived Image: B
Performance: B
Design/Durability: B+
Price/Value: B+
Verdict: This packable, sized-down spotter is light and bright, but we questioned its durability.

Vanguard Endeavor HD

Configuration: 20-60X82
Price: $689
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: B-
Perceived Image: B
Performance: B
Design/Durability: B+
Price/Value: B+
Verdict: A great price for a full-size, hard-wearing spotter. Its precision is great, its optics adequate.

Redfield Rampage

Configuration: 20-60X80
Price: $324
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: B
Perceived Image: B-
Performance: B-
Design/Durability: B
Price/Value: B+
Verdict: optically disappointing, this is a decent price for a full-size spotter

Nikon Prostaff 3

Configuration: 16-48X60
Price: $330
Overall Score: ★ ★ ★
Optical Quality: C
Perceived Image: B-
Performance: B
Design/Durability: B
Price/Value: B
Verdict: Light and nimble, this 1.4-pound spotter seems fragile and is optically underwhelming.