The Best Spotting Scopes of 2024, Tested and Reviewed

We tested the top spotters from premium glass to dependable budget options
Testing the best spotting scopes side by side.

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Spotting scopes represent one of the largest investments a hunter or shooter makes, so it’s natural that we spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy researching different brands, models, designs, and sizes before we make a buying decision.

That same deliberate attention to performance and value defines every category of Outdoor Life’s optics test, but especially spotters, since we know—as hunters, shooters, and wildlife-watchers ourselves—how few opportunities most of us have for side-by-side-by-side comparisons of these expensive instruments. Plus, consumers are starved for objective, reliable information, as marketers blur the definitions of glass quality and often exaggerate specifications such as field of view and actual magnification.

That’s where Outdoor Life’s optics test can save you hundreds of dollars and years of literal headache from squinty glass. We are not obligated to any brand or advertiser, and our testers aim to squeeze the very best performance from every submission. As we discuss below, in the How We Test section, you won’t see our extensive 10-point evaluation elsewhere.

Because manufacturers don’t release new spotting scopes every year, we don’t always include a spotter evaluation in our optics test. This year, though, we invited a handful of new introductions along with models that have been on the market for a few years in order to compare the rookies with the veterans, all in an effort to help you decide which spotter is the best for your needs and budget.

We had so much response that we divided the spotting scope field into two sub-categories. We tested nine of the most popular full-size spotters, which sport 80mm or larger objective lenses and magnification ranges anywhere from 27-55x to 20-70-power. And in one of the most exciting categories of the test, we evaluated five compact spotters, those with 50-to-56mm objective lenses and magnification ranges in the 13-39x and 15-30x powers. These sub-compacts, which easily fit in a backpack and weigh in the 2-pound range, are an important new category of sports optics for backcountry hunters and traveling bird-watchers. Find the best spotting scopes in compact and full-size from our extensive optics test below.

Full-Size Spotting Scopes

Compact Spotting Scopes

How We Tested the Best Spotting Scopes

Testers evaluate scopes in low light conditions.
Testers wrote down the time each spotting scope lost its ability to see the difference between the white and black lines on the low-light target. Scott Einsmann

We invite manufacturers to submit any new spotting scopes introduced from mid-2022 through 2023. Because this particular category of sports optics is expensive to manufacture, and because the market isn’t nearly as dynamic as rifle scopes or binoculars—after all, once you’ve purchased a spotting scope, you’re unlikely to be in the market for another—we test spotters only every two or three years.

Optical Resolution 

We measured the optical resolution of the best spotting scopes using a resolution target developed by the Air Force.
We measured the optical resolution of the best spotting scopes using a resolution target developed by the Air Force. Scott Einsmann

We put all submissions, whether full-size or super-compact, through the same criteria. First, we measure optical resolution, using the diminishing black-and-white lines of a 1951 Air Force Resolution Target to score the optical performance of each submission. 

Low-Light Performance

Man holds the low light wheel.
The black and white resolution target used for low light testing. Scott Einsmann

We also measure the low-light performance of each submission by mounting them to tripods and focusing them at 200 yards at a black-and-white resolution target at twilight, all in order to measure the brightness of the glass.

The scope that can “see” the longest into the gathering darkness gets top marks. The scope that loses its night-vision earliest gets the lowest score. Scopes in the middle receive scores somewhere between those two poles.

How We Score and Grade Optics

We break our 10-point scoring into four general categories: optical performance, mechanical performance, design, and value. The average of these categories is the basis of our grades, detailed below.

Optical performance includes the resolution and low-light tests plus the more subjective assessments of image quality and brightness. Mechanical performance assesses the durability of the submission along with its controls: focus and zoom, eyecups and barrel rotation. Design considers the exterior finish, interior blacking, tripod mount, and its innovation and versatility along with its comfort. We ask testers to evaluate this critical question: how long could you glass with this spotter?

And then our price/value score rates how much optic—along with warranty and amenities such as carrying case, additional eyepieces, or field cover—you’re getting for your money. The spotter that gets the highest overall score wins our Editor’s Choice award for the best in the category; the optic with the highest price/value score wins our Great Buy recognition.

Grading 

Our 10-point evaluation adds up to a total numeric score, but we translate those to grades for each submission. Our Optical Performance grade combines the scores from resolution, low-light, image, and brightness. Our Mechanical Performance grade aggregates the mechanics and durability score. The Design grade considers Construction, Innovation, Versatility, and Comfort. And then the Price/Value grade is our value grade.

To earn an “Excellent” grade, the average of that category must be 9 or higher, which is extremely hard to achieve. “Very Good” is an average score of 7 to 9. A “Good” grade is 5 to 7. Our “Fair” grade is 3 to 25, and “Poor” is anything under 3.

The Best Spotting Scopes: Full Size

Best Overall: Meopta MeoStar S2 82 20-70×82

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Score Card

  • Optical Performance: Excellent
  • Mechanical Performance: Very Good
  • Design: Very Good
  • Price/Value: Good

Key Features

  • 82mm objective lens diameter
  • Angled eyepiece
  • Removable 20-70x eyepiece; 30-60x wide-angle eyepiece available
  • Center-barrel focus
  • Retractable sunshade
  • Premium extra-low-dispersion glass
  • Magnesium chassis
  • Lifetime warranty

Pros

  • Best-in-class optical resolution and image quality
  • Extremely tactile focus and power-changing controls
  • Excellent internal coatings and blackening
  • Sharp edge-to-edge clarity
  • Vivid color and contrast
  • Price is about $1,000 below premium European peers

Cons

  • Body and eyepieces sold separately
  • At nearly 4 pounds with eyepiece, it’s heavy
  • Tripod foot could be beefier
  • Warranty response is slow and erratic

How did we lose sight of this remarkable spotter? Introduced in 2020, about the same time that Zeiss introduced its flagship Harpia line of spotters and Swarovski wowed the world with its modular ATX/STX/BTX (they stand for angled, straight, and binocular) lines, Meopta produced this world-class optic. It’s one that we overlooked in previous spotting scope tests, though it remains a hot seller for the Czech company.

Tester looks through the overall best spotting scope.
The MeoStar has a smooth focus wheel and magnification adjustment. Scott Einsmann

The price—the real-world street price is around $3,000 for both the body and the 20-70-power eyepiece—is about $1,000 lower than its European peers, but you get the same vivid image, the stunning edge-to-edge clarity, and the velvety controls. In short, the MeoStar is an investment-grade spotting scope that is a relative bargain when considered against its competitors.

The Meopta easily won our low-light test, and topped the field in optical resolution. The test team especially liked the long-range detail it produced, even at higher magnifications. “Easy to focus and not-too-narrow depth of field,” noted one tester. “A great scope for someone who wants excellent optics but can’t afford a Swaro.”

Spotted bears during spotting scope test.
Two grizzly bears at 1,300 yards as seen through the Meopta MeoStar S2. Scott Einsmann

From about 20- to 40-power, the image delivered by the MeoStar is wide and luscious; from about 50- to 70-power, the image gets relatively dark and grainy, but we had a real-world spotting challenge that showed off the Meopta’s talents. In the sunny morning—with rising solar mirages—four grizzly bears emerged from a timbered creek valley to feed on an open slope about 1,300 yards from our cabin. While the image degraded at high powers with other full-size spotters on hand, the Meopta delivered reasonably bright and sharp images of these remarkable bears, rendering enough detail to see that one of the griz had a notched ear, maybe from a fight with other bears or evidence of a missing eartag placed there by bear managers.

Great Buy: Athlon Cronus G2 20-60×86

Great Buy

Athlon Cronos G2 20-60×86

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Score Card

  • Optical Performance: Good
  • Mechanical Performance: Very Good
  • Design: Good
  • Price/Value: Very Good

Key Features

  • 86mm objective lens, largest in the field
  • Non-removable eyepiece
  • Angled eyepiece
  • Center-barrel focus
  • Magnesium chassis
  • Retractable sunshade
  • Pebbled texturing

Pros

  • Ships with nylon field case
  • Fairly good glass
  • Street price under $1,000
  • Big 86mm objective lens
  • Good close focus
  • Excellent warranty

Cons

  • Some play in power ring and sunshade
  • Some peripheral distortion
  • UHD glass designation is questionable
  • Average clarity at higher powers

With a real-world street price at a cool $1,000, there’s a ton of value in this big 86mm spotter. It delivers a bright, sharp image at lower powers, it has very nice controls and a tight, robust build, and it has a cast-iron transferable lifetime warranty. Testers gave it the highest score in our Price/Value category, and it must be said that no other full-size spotter was even close.

It’s worth observing, though, that testers also noted that both brightness and optical clarity degrade at about 48-power. This is a fairly common shortcoming among price-point spotters. They tend to deliver pretty good images at lower magnifications but fall apart as the exit pupil—this is the small bright spot that is inversely proportional to magnification—gets smaller. That’s a function of glass. A big 80mm-class objective lens takes a lot of premium glass, and Athlon isn’t the only brand to throw out meaningless terms to define the class of glass that they use.

Athlon calls their objective-lens glass “ultra-high-definition” or UHD. That’s a marketing term, and not a particularly worthwhile optical definition. It might indicate the spotter has some fluorite in its composition—that’s a material used to correct chromatic aberrations, or color fringing and flaring—or it might have some higher-quality glass in the objective lens than is used in internal lenses. Either way, the fairly pedestrian grade of glass in the Cronus is responsible for causing the image to break down at higher magnifications and in lower light conditions.

We tested the Athlon spotting scope.
The Athlon Cronos’ focus wheel isn’t as refined as more expensive spotters. Scott Einsmann

But the Athlon brings so many other talents to the game: nice texturing, well-rendered internal blacking, and decent focus and zoom controls. Testers noted a bit of slop in both the focus and power-changing wheels, but not enough to downgrade their value assessment.

If you’re in the market for a serious full-sized spotter at a very approachable price point, you should get years of excellent performance from this big unit that has better glass than most of its price-point peers.

Maven S.1A 25-50×80

Maven S.1A 25-50×80

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Score Card

  • Optical Performance: Good
  • Mechanical Performance: Very Good
  • Design: Excellent
  • Price/Value: Very Good

Key Features

  • 80m objective lens
  • Angled eyepiece
  • Center-barrel focus
  • Distinctive orange/black/gray exterior styling
  • Non-removable eyepiece
  • Retractable sunshade
  • Magnesium/polymer chassis
  • Direct-to-consumer retail model

Pros

  • Premium high-definition fluorite glass in objective lens
  • Responsive controls
  • Aggressive diamond-cut texturing on exterior surfaces
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Excellent price for level of performance

Cons

  • Disappointing low-light performance
  • Grainy image at highest magnifications
  • Fixed eyepiece

A ravishing beauty, the Maven easily won our informal “eye-candy” award as the handsomest spotter in the field. That’s to be expected from a brand that has adorned the generic black tubes that characterize most optics with color accents and stylistic flourishes.

Testers appreciated Maven's grippy controls.
Testers appreciated Maven’s grippy controls. Scott Einsmann

But the Maven isn’t just for looks. Testers rated its velvety controls, including a very tactile center-focus ring, as among the most pleasing and precise in the field, and its grippy texturing makes the 4-pound spotting scope easy to handle, even while wearing gloves.

The image is decent, and testers especially noted the edge-to-edge clarity. But overall, the optical performance placed the Maven in the middle of the field. That might be a product of its glass. The S.1A features premium fluorite glass in its objective lens, but internal lens elements are standard optical glass.

Because Maven, as a direct-to-consumer retailer, posts its pricing on its website, it isn’t subject to the usual MSRP mark-up that makes optical pricing inconsistent. At the time of our test, the S.1A was selling for $2,200, a price that testers thought was more than fair for the performance. Check back with Maven for pricing updates, but at the time of publication, the price had dropped to $1,950. That’s a screaming deal on one of the best spotting scopes, especially when you consider the excellent warranty and quality of the build.

Revic Acura S80a 27-55×80

Revic Acura S80a 27-55×80

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Score Card

  • Optical Performance: Good
  • Mechanical Performance: Very Good
  • Design: Good
  • Price/Value: Very Good

Key Features

  • 80mm objective lens
  • Angled eyepiece
  • Center-barrel focus
  • Includes 27-55-power and fixed 22-power eyepiece with reticle
  • Retractable sunshade
  • Extra-low-dispersion glass
  • Composite and aluminum chassis
  • Ships in custom EPP foam carry case
  • Includes neoprene field cover

Pros

  • Excellent long-distance range spotter
  • Reticle has both MOA and MIL references and ranging scale
  • Reticle features spotting grid
  • Precise controls
  • Compatible with PhoneSkope eyepiece for digiscoping
  • Family includes Acura riflescope and rangefinders

Cons

  • Slight optical aberration
  • Image washes out in bright light
  • Disappointing low-light performance

A newcomer to the premium spotting scope space, the Acura S80a is produced by the optical arm of Gunwerks, the long-range shooting and hunting brand that manufactures premium long-range rifles and integrated riflescopes. Given its precision-shooting DNA, the Acura’s configurations as a range spotter make a lot of sense, and provide a ton of utility for shooters.

The Revic Reticle features both MOA and MIL.
The Revic Reticle features both MOA and MIL. Revic

The most noteworthy attribute is its fixed 22-power eyepiece—included with the 27-55-power eyepiece—that contains a ranging reticle that has references for both MOA and MIL shooters. The feature essentially allows a target spotter to call shots using the same references as the shooter, cutting down on time and solving common communication problems between teams of shooters.

The 22-power eyepiece has an impressively wide field of view and excellent clarity. We used it to walk in long shots to test the reticle reach of some of the long range rifle scopes in our test. The 27-55-power zooming eyepiece has no reticle, but serves as a very capable game and target spotter.

Overall, testers liked the responsive controls and overall handling of the Revic. A few noted some edge distortion and a distracting halo around the periphery of the image at most magnifications. And we were surprised that the 80mm scope didn’t perform better in our low-light test.

But the optical resolution of the Acura was the second-best among full-size spotters, and the comfort factor also boosted its overall score. Many testers said they could spot all day with this scope, switching out eyepieces to meet specific needs. The molded foam carry case is also an extremely nice touch, and along with the second eyepiece, adds a ton of value to this excellent newcomer.

Nikon Monarch Fieldscope 82ED-A 20-60×82

Nikon Monarch Fieldscope 82ED-A 20-60×82

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Score Card

  • Optical Performance: Very Good
  • Mechanical Performance: Good
  • Design: Very Good
  • Price/Value: Good

Key Features

  • 82mm objective lens
  • Angled eyepiece
  • Center-barrel fast focus wheel
  • Aluminum-alloy chassis
  • Removable eyepiece
  • Reverse tripod foot
  • Field-flattener lens system
  • Extra-low-dispersion glass

Pros

  • Excellent color fidelity
  • Reverse tripod foot promotes balanced mounting
  • Infinitely adjustable eyecup
  • Pebbly texturing resists dust and scratches
  • Ships with ballistic nylon field case

Cons

  • Offset eyepiece distracted some testers
  • No numeric magnification indexing
  • Very shallow depth of field

One of the “legacy” submissions to this year’s test, the Fieldscope was introduced in 2019, but it remains a strong seller for Nikon. Many of the spotter’s features will be familiar to users of Nikon’s DSLR cameras, including the lens mounting system and the extremely velvety focus and magnification controls. The fast-focus feature is useful, especially for birders who often must ramp up the power from a close-in finch to a distant egret (or whatever variety of bird you prefer).

Testing the Nikon.
The Nikon’s offset eyepiece. Scott Einsmann

It’s a funky-looking scope, for sure, with its backward-facing tripod mount and its offset eyepiece. But the Nikon is packed with features, including a field-flattener lens system that delivers sharpness way out to the edges, and coatings and ED glass that tame color fringing and boost contrast. Optically, the Fieldscope placed in the upper third of full-size spotters, and testers gave high marks for design and overall value.

With its short overall length (13 inches), fairly light weight (3.6 pounds) and lovely balance, this is a very field-worthy spotter worth every bit of consideration that you’d give a brand new scope.

Sig Sauer OSCAR8 27-55×80

Sig Sauer OSCAR8 27-55×80

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Score Card

  • Optical Performance: Good
  • Mechanical Performance: Very Good
  • Design: Very Good
  • Price/Value: Good

Key Features

  • 80mm objective lens
  • Extra-low-dispersion glass
  • Aluminum chassis
  • Non-slip rubberized armor
  • Angled eyepiece
  • Center-barrel focus
  • Retractable sunshade
  • Distinctive flat dark earth color

Pros

  • Premium glass
  • Includes fitted neoprene field cover
  • Excellent warranty
  • Durable
  • High-contrast image

Cons

  • Image didn’t wow testers
  • Middling low-light performance

While the OSCAR8 has been on the market for four years, it remains a solid seller for Sig Sauer, and also represents a rare cross-over spotter, appealing to both hunters as well as long-range shooters. Built around two varieties of premium glass, it’s also one of Sig’s most optically ambitious products.

Specifically, the 80mm spotter sports extra-low-dispersion glass in the objective lens. That’s not uncommon for premium brands, as that class of glass corrects chromatic aberrations, which we see as color fringing and jags of multi-colored light, before they enter the optic. But the Sig is unique in using high-transmission glass on its internal lenses. That glass boosts light transmission and generally improves image resolution.

We tested the Sig Sauer scope.
Testing the Oscar 8 for its low light capabilities. Scott Einsmann

Indeed, the Sig posted a good resolution score, though we were disappointed in its low-light performance, which placed it in the very middle of the pack of nine full-size spotters. But its bomb-proof build and aggressive controls that are a cinch to turn with cold or gloved hands made it a team favorite for both durability and comfort. With a very approachable real-world street price of under $1,700, it’s a good buy for quality glass and a durable build.

Tract Toric UHD 27-55×80

Tract Toric UHD 27-55×80

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Score Card

  • Optical Performance: Good
  • Mechanical Performance: Good
  • Design: Very Good
  • Price/Value: Very Good

Key Features

  • 80mm objective lens
  • Angled eyepiece
  • Center-barrel focus
  • Aluminum/polycarbonate chassis
  • Removable eyepiece
  • Retractable sunshade
  • Interchangeable eyepieces
  • Direct-to-consumer brand

Pros

  • Features Schott high-transmission glass in objective lens
  • Ships with nylon field case
  • Accepts 22x and 30x eyepieces with either MOA or MIL reticle
  • Positive, smooth controls
  • Four-position eyecup

Cons

  • Magnification ring turns hard
  • Zoom range is limited

The only spotting scope—so far—in the growing product line from this direct-to-consumer brand, the Toric UHD is a solid, no-frills optic for wildlife viewing and most distant target games. But the addition of interchangeable eyepieces with reticles elevate this to a very useful aid for any competition shooter.

The 22-power fixed eyepiece ($294) has a MRAD PRS reticle, and the 30-power eyepiece ($344) contains an ELR reticle tuned to MRAD references. Both reticles are offset from the field of view, so they don’t obscure targets while still enabling precise target measurement and follow-up shot corrections.

The balance of the scope is a field-worthy blend of form and function. The premium high-transmission glass boosted the Tract’s resolution score, and while we were disappointed with its low-light brightness, the image quality scores were consistently high. Testers also liked the solid construction, though they complained that the power-changing ring was a bear to turn. The focus wheel, by contrast, was buttery smooth and very precise, allowing for easy one-finger operation.

Testers also appreciated the approachable price and responsive customer service from the brand.

Leupold SX-5 Santiam HD 27-55×80

Leupold SX-5 Santiam HD 27-55×80

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Score Card

  • Optical Performance: Good
  • Mechanical Performance: Very Good
  • Design: Good
  • Price/Value: Good

Key Features

  • 80mm objective lens
  • Angled eyepiece
  • Center-barrel focus
  • Aluminum chassis
  • Retractable sunshade
  • Oversized eyepiece

Pros

  • Glare-reducing coatings
  • Exterior lenses treated with DiamondCoat 2 scratch-resistant coating
  • Oversized twist-up eyecup
  • Rugged, easy-gripping armor
  • Ships with fitted neoprene field cover

Cons

  • Mediocre optics
  • Loose sunshade

Leupold’s flagship full-size spotting scope has been on the market since 2018, but it remains a strong seller and field favorite due to its hard-wearing durability and drama-free operation. It simply works in most conditions.

Testers were a bit disappointed in low-light performance, but the Santiam posted a decent resolution score, and in most conditions testers praised its overall brightness and edge-to-edge clarity. Its fully transferable warranty and Leupold’s legendary customer service also boosted its price/value score.

The Leupold spotting scope has aggressively textured controls.
Leupold’s SX-5 Santiam features textured controls and a generous eyecup for comfortable spotting. Scott Einsmann

The spotter is also very comfortable, thanks to the oversized eyepiece and big, generous eyecup that lets your face sink into the optic and the aggressively textured focus and zoom controls that turn with authority and precision. We’d like to see this product built around a better grade of glass, which might elevate it from pretty good to outstanding.

Compact Spotting Scopes 

Compact spotting scopes are easier to pack than their full-size counterparts.

Best Overall: Swarovski ATC 17-40×56

Best Compact Spotter

Swarovski ATC 17-40×56

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Score Card

  • Optical Performance: Excellent
  • Mechanical Performance: Excellent
  • Design: Excellent
  • Price/Value: Good

Key Features

  • 56mm objective lens
  • Angled eyepiece
  • Center-barrel focus
  • Polycarbonate chassis
  • Removable foot
  • Non-removable eyepiece
  • Burnt-orange coloration

Pros

  • Exceptional glass
  • Just over 2 pounds
  • Very portable and packable
  • Removable half-shell for non-tripod viewing
  • Digiscope friendly

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Limited utility
  • Limited focus ring access when tripod-mounted

This compact spotter, clad in distinctive orange armor, simply stunned the test team. It is extremely bright, crisp, and the image it delivers is full of color and contrast. In short, it’s a world-class optic. That said, the team noted that, at $2,500, it will have a limited audience.

“This checks all the boxes for a premium compact spotter, but I don’t think most people want to spend over $2,000 for a mini-spotter,” says tester and OL gear editor Scott Einsmann. “I see this as an aspirational item rather than a replacement for a full-size spotter.”

Tester must reach over the scope to make adjustments.
The Swar’s “shoe” feature allows it be used without a tripod and doesn’t interfere with the focus wheel. Scott Einsmann

Fair enough, but the Swaro, which is the mini version of the brand’s modular ATC/BTX line of spotters, has plenty of field chops to go along with its aspiration. Its graceful lines, for which Swarovski could win industrial design awards, easily fit in a pack, and nicely balance the 2-pound heft. Mounted on a tripod, the center-barrel focus ring can be hard to access, forcing users to reach over the top to turn the dial with fingertips. But the ATC’s smart and useful “shoe” screws into the tripod receiver and gives the scope’s round body a flat surface on which to deploy it. Picture slapping the scope (with the half-shell shoe) on top of a wooden post or pickup tailgate, sans tripod. The focus ring is unencumbered by the shoe, which stabilizes the scope in any number of situations.

This is clearly not a scope for everyone or for every purpose. But it would be our choice for slinging in a pack for those times when you don’t want to carry a full- or mid-sized spotter and a tripod. As for all those other times when you’re not looking through it, the Swarovski ATC is mighty pretty to simply look at.

Best Value: Hawke Nature-Trek 13-39×56

Best Value

Hawke Nature-Trek 13-39×56

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Score Card

  • Optical Performance: Good
  • Mechanical Performance: Good
  • Design: Good
  • Price/Value: Very Good

Key Features

  • 56mm objective lens
  • Angled dog-leg design
  • Center-barrel focus
  • Aluminum alloy chassis
  • Non-removable eyepiece
  • Ships with window mount and neoprene field cover

Pros

  • Super compact porro prism design
  • Just over 2 pounds
  • Handy window mount
  • Responsive controls

Cons

  • Mediocre optics
  • Some internal dust

The consensus pick for our best value in the compact spotting scope category, this little marvel has a length of just over 9 inches and weighs 2 pounds. Introduced earlier this year, the Nature-Trek ships with a handy window mount and a fitted neoprene field cover, further boosting its value.

Tester compares compact spotting scopes.
Testing the Nature-Trek and ATC side-by-side. Scott Einsmann

We were unimpressed with the optical performance, at least compared with the class-leading Swarovski and Maven, but that’s to be expected in a unit that costs a cool third of the latter two submissions. The image, delivered by standard glass, is adequate for most purposes, and the Nature-Trek held its own in both our low-light and resolution tests.

We’d like to see the same Arca-Swiss foot that Vortex employs on its Razor HD, and some testers noted a bit of dust and debris inside the Hawke, evidence of sub-optimal construction. But the unit’s focus and magnification controls turned with precision, and the 14-foot close focus makes it a handy optic for birders and butterfly enthusiasts.

Supported by a tabletop tripod, this would make an excellent range scope. And, at just over $300, it’s a bargain for an extremely packable compact spotter.

Vortex Razor HD 13-39×56

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Score Card

  • Optical Performance: Excellent
  • Mechanical Performance: Good
  • Design: Very Good
  • Price/Value: Good

Key Features

  • 56mm objective lens
  • Angled eyepiece
  • Center-barrel focus
  • Magnesium chassis
  • Arca-Swiss compatible tripod mount
  • Removable eyepiece

Pros

  • Premium glass
  • New size in Razor line
  • Ships with neoprene field cover
  • Excellent controls
  • Simple tripod mount

Cons

  • Eyepiece attachment is jinky
  • Barrel doesn’t rotate
The integrated arca-Swiss mount on the Razor HD.
The integrated arca-Swiss mount on the Razor HD. Scott Einsmann

A smart and capable newcomer to Vortex’s excellent Razor HD line, this wee spotter delivers an image much larger than its stature. Its premium glass tames color flaring and other optical aberrations, and the combination of coatings and glass quality elevated the Razor HD to the top low-light performer of the compact scope category. It finished just behind the excellent Swarovski in resolution, as well.

If only the spotter’s mechanics matched its glass. The eyepiece attachment gave the test team fits, easily cross-threading with no clear indication of when the attachment is properly seated. A metal collet that protects the threads further came loose, exposing the optic’s interior to dust and moisture. Testers also recorded that the focus and magnification ring were distractingly stiff.

The Vortex Razor HD compact spotting scope is light and packable.
The Razor HD was the best performer in low light testing. Andrew McKean

But the Razor HD has enough other talents to offset those mechanical deficiencies. We love the tripod mount, compatible with Arca-Swiss tripod heads. This simple design enables direct mounting, without messing with a separate mounting plate. The pebbly exterior is easy to grip and resists dust and scratching, and the balance is among the best in the class. Plus, testers noted Vortex’s excellent warranty and accessible price, especially consideri

Maven S.2

Maven S.2

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Score Card

  • Optical Performance: Very Good
  • Mechanical Performance: Very Good
  • Design: Very Good
  • Price/Value: Very Good

Key Features

  • 56mm objective lens
  • Straight-barrel design
  • Center-barrel focus
  • Magnesium/polymer chassis
  • Non-removable eyepiece

Pros

  • Extremely tactile texturing on controls
  • Distinctive gray/black/orange accents
  • Twist-up eyecup
  • Rugged, easy-gripping armor
  • Premium fluorite glass in objective lens
  • Straight design easy to pack

Cons

  • Slight edge distortion
  • Shallow focal length

One of the shortcomings of compact spotters with angled eyepieces is that they don’t normally rotate. That means that you can’t change the orientation of the optic to your eye, a major hindrance if you’re glassing from a window mount or trying to share the optic with a partner on a sidehill. Happily, the straight-barrel Maven doesn’t have that problem. What you see, literally, is what you get with the design.

That’s only one plus of this handy, bright, and extremely packable spotter. The other, of course, is that the 11-inch tube slips easily in a backpack pocket, making it—along with Leupold’s Gold Ring—the most portable of the class. The glass is excellent, leading with premium fluorite glass in the objective lens and fully multi-coated lenses inside. The controls are positive without being overly resistant, meaning they turn with casual authority. And the looks, orange accents above the gray-and-black exterior, are head-turning.

The S.2 was introduced way back in 2019, but if it now is considered a legacy submission, it was years ahead of its time, since it now conforms easily to the new sub-compact category of spotters. In all, it’s a bright, capable optic that bridges the gap between binoculars and full-size spotters.

Leupold Gold Ring Compact 15-30×50

Leupold Gold Ring Compact 15-30×50

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Score Card

  • Optical Performance: Good
  • Mechanical Performance: Poor
  • Design: Fair
  • Price/Value: Good

Key Features

  • 50mm objective lens
  • Angled dog-leg design
  • Side focus
  • Magnesium chassis
  • Non-removable eyepiece
  • Ultra-compact design

Pros

  • 21.5 ounces, lightest in the test
  • 11 inches long
  • Extremely packable
  • Ships with fitted neoprene field cover
  • Distinctive shadow-gray color
  • Useful without tripod

Cons

  • Unstable tripod mount
  • Power ring turns hard
  • Right-side focus awkward for lefties

The test team badly wanted to love this scope. It descends from spotting-scope royalty, Leupold’s excellent Gold Ring and Mark 4 lines. But a couple of demerits knocked this ultra-compact version into the realm of good, but not great, spotters. The main problem we had was the wobbly connection to a tripod, a situation that left us unable to achieve precise spotting at any distance. The problem stems from a plastic-on-plastic interface between the scope’s body and the tripod adaptor. Once we shimmed the adapter and found imaginative ways to tighten the connection, the unit performed well enough to keep it in the test.

The glass is good, but not quite on par with the premium scopes in this year’s test, but the 50mm objective lens, much smaller than its 56mm peers, kept it toward the bottom of our low-light test. Other testers complained that the reverse porro-prism design—Leupold calls this its “Folded Light Path”—doesn’t point instinctively and was hard to get on target.

Those deficiencies out of the way, this is among the most packable scopes in the compact field. Weighing only 21 ounces and measuring only 11 inches, it goes everywhere. Plus, the design is intended to be used without a tripod, by wedging the scope in a tree branch or pack frame. That helps explain why the tripod mount isn’t a deal-breaker. The size, magnification range, and overall handling make this a good alternative to a 15-power binocular and a useful companion on a backcountry hunt.

How to Choose a Spotting Scope

We compared full-size spotting scopes to compact versions.
Tester compares the best value compact scope, the Hawke Nature-Trek (left), to the best overall full-size spotting scope, the Meopta MeoStar S2 (right). Scott Einsmann

Since even good budget spotters average over $1,000 and premium optics can cost up to $4,000, spotting scopes are among the most price-prohibitive pieces of outdoors gear. That means you want to be sure you’re buying the best scope for your use.

Full-size units start at 80mm objective lenses and can go up to 90 and even 95mm. That’s a lot of glass. Make sure you’re going to get the most out of it by investing in a stout tripod that will stabilize the scope. Second, really consider whether you need a full-size unit, or whether a 65mm or even a compact 56mm spotter is more your speed. For most of us who carry spotting scopes for miles over rough country, the smaller versions are preferable over the super-sized ones.

Next, consider whether you want an angled or a straight-body scope. I prefer angled scopes because of their versatility. I can easily deploy one on a steep hill, and by rotating the barrel, I can share the scope with a buddy sitting beside me without ever moving the scope.

Other considerations: center-barrel focus or fingertip focus close to the eyepiece. Also magnification range. Most full-size scopes have 20- to about 60-power magnification zoom ranges that cover most practical glassing purposes, but if you need more magnification, you’ll probably pay for it.

Look for spotters that have fully transferable lifetime warranties, good customer service, and solid reputations. After all, you’re going to be laying out a lot of cash for this spotter, and you want to make sure the company stands behind their product.

Final Thoughts on the Best Spotting Scopes

This was the first year we tested the best spotting scopes that have been on the market for a few years against new-for-’23 products, and we were both surprised and delighted to see the oldies pull their weight. That’s an indication that optics built with premium components and durable construction retain their value, and for buyers it means that you might find some very good deals on scopes that are being discontinued.

Testers were also interested in seeing how many spotters are relative clones of one another. We had three or four submissions that likely originated in the same factory, with only coatings and armor—and sometimes, a different grade of glass—differentiating them.

Full-Size Spotting Scopes

Compact Spotting Scopes

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Andrew McKean Avatar

Andrew McKean

Hunting and Conservation Editor

Andrew McKean is Outdoor Life’s hunting and conservation editor, drilling into issues that affect wildlife, wild lands, and the people who care about them. He’s also OL’s optics editor, helping readers to make informed buying decisions. He lives outside Glasgow, Montana, where he hunts every day and season he can.

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