There were no clear winners in this year’s spotting scope test, but the following optics warrant extra attention from big-game hunters and shooters.
Leupold SX-5 Santiam HD
Wearing the same rugged armor and aggressive styling as Leupold’s Santiam line of binoculars, this angled-eyepiece spotter (a straight eyepiece is also available) meets all your expectations of a full-size spotter. Its controls are tight, the aluminum chassis is durable, and the center-barrel focus is precise. And because the eyepiece is permanently attached to the body, the scope is impervious to dust and moisture.
The Santiam’s good glass is improved by Leupold’s proprietary coatings, including the Twilight Max system that minimizes glare and enhances the blue and violet wavelengths that predominate in low-light conditions. We suggest adding a sighting tube to enable target acquisition at high magnifications.
The spotter is heavy—a little over 4.25 pounds—but because the rotating tripod mount sits aft of the objective lens barrel, it balances well and maintains a low profile.
Maven’s answer to a tripodless spotter brilliantly bridges the gap between a 10×42 binocular and a 65mm spotting scope. To be clear, a threaded receptor on the S.2’s base will mate to a tripod, but to save weight, you can also wedge the rubberized chassis in the crotch of a tree or frame of a backpack to stabilize the image, even at higher magnifications.
The idea of weight-saving is central to the S.2’s appeal. The 11-inch optic weighs just over 2 pounds and slips neatly in the side pocket of a backpack. The magnesium-polymer chassis is rigid and, well, light. And the center-barrel focus and power-changing dial are both tight and precise. We noticed a bit of peripheral distortion at the lowest power, but at higher magnifications, the excellent fluorite glass in the objective lens keeps images both bright and sharp.
Meopta MeoPro HD
We’ve seen this spotter before: An angled-eyepiece version won our Editor’s Choice award back in 2016. New this year is a nondetachable straight eyepiece. By fixing the eyepiece permanently to the body, the Meopta gains durability as it loses versatility, because the eyepiece can’t be traded out for a different magnification. The center-barrel focus is very responsive, and we liked the retractable eyecup and the elegant lines of the Meopta. The scope is only 14 inches long, thanks to a compact porro-prism design.
Nikon Monarch 82ED-A FieldScope
Another update to a venerable spotting scope, the normal eyepiece that pairs with the 82mm FieldScope is a 20X–60X zoom. But Nikon is offering the spotter with a fixed 30X eyepiece that contains a milliradian reticle with 16 mils of reference on both the horizontal and vertical axes. A smaller milling scale in the image allows shooters to make detailed measurements of targets. An MOA-based reticle is also available. The removable eyepieces sell for $450 and are useful for spotting, but the fixed power limits their potential.
Read Next: How We Test Hunting Optics
Sightmark Latitude XD
Like Nikon’s FieldScope, the Latitude has a ranging reticle built into its eyepiece. Unlike the Nikon, however, the Sightmark’s reticle is in the first image plane, meaning it maintains its references regardless of magnification. That’s a wonderfully useful tool for anyone spotting for a shooter. Unfortunately, the Latitude’s glass is underwhelming, and the focus and power-changing dials are both imprecise. With an upgrade in optics, this otherwise smart and useful spotter would be a great companion for long-distance precision shooters.
For this price, you get not only a full-size spotting scope, but also a tabletop tripod and a zippered soft case. That’s a true bargain, and one that allows a shooter of modest means to step up to a powerful optic. The test team was happy to see the Tasco brand back in the mix, but we questioned the durability of this very lightweight and flimsy scope. It finished last in image resolution and low-light testing. At magnifications over about 30X, the image gets insufferably dark and grainy.
Vanguard Vesta 350A
Another entry-level optic, this extremely compact, 21-ounce spotter features an aluminum-alloy chassis and a 45-degree angled eyepiece that houses both the focus and magnification controls. Vesta is a new line by Vanguard that’s being marketed to beginner hunters and birders. This scope ships with a tabletop tripod and carry bag. Testers gave it high marks for value but lower marks for durability, image quality, and construction, and they questioned its field-worthiness. “Like the light weight, but feels plasticky,” wrote one.