The Scopes Advisor
by Michael and Diane Porter
Q. Which spotting scope is the best at any price?
A. There are several incredibly good scopes out there now. To choose among them, you need to prioritize what scope qualities you care most about. Here are the ones we consider the best scopes in the world. Click on the links for more details about each scope.
For the maximum magnification and superb optical quality, we recommend the new Zeiss DiaScope 85T*FL, with 20-75x zoom eyepiece. Unsurpassed. Everyone else is going to have to catch up to this one. See our review.
If you are looking for a 20-60x scope with the greatest resolving power, it's the 88mm Kowa Prominar. In our many and varied tests, we always saw finer details through the Kowa than any other full-sized scope. The other scopes were sharp, but not as sharp as the 88mm Kowa. See our review.
However, an extra wide field of view also contributes a lot to the pleasure of looking through a scope. Another scope with great optical resolution is the new 82mm Leica APO Televid, but it also has an astonishingly wide field of view. It also focuses closer (12.5 ft) than any other scope we've found. Taking field of view and close focus into account, we credit the Leica with the best overall image quality. See our review.
For sheer beauty of design and ergonomics, we picked the Swarovski ATM-80 HD. It was the smoothest scope we've ever zoomed and focused with. It has the most ergonomic and graceful lines we've ever seen, and the best balance. It also had great optics and an exceptionally wide field of view. And a great peep sight for aiming. See our review.
Since we wrote this review, Swarovski has come out with a new scope system, which is even better than the one reviewed. The new Swarovski is the ATX Modular Scope System. See our extended description.
Q. What is the best buy under $2000?
A. Among the highest-quality scopes, one stands out for value. It's the 85mm Vortex Razor HD. It's in league with the Kowa, Leica, and Swarovski for optical quality and ergonomics, but it costs about half as much. We have found no other scope that makes it into the high-end category for quality while selling for such a moderate price. See our review
Q. What's the best buy under $1000?
A. Hands down, it's the Vortex Viper HD 20-60x Angled scope. When we tested it, we were amazed at how good it was. OK, the Vortex Razor HD does beat it out at far distances, but the Viper HD is a worthy competitor. We recommend it.
Q. What's the best buy under $500?
A. We believe it's the Alpen 788. This is an amazing scope. We tested it against other mid-priced scopes in March of 2009 for the Mid-priced Scopes Round-up, for Bird Watcher's Digest. See the review of the Alpen 788.
Q. What's the best lightweight scope for travel?
A. If you want a scope that is almost pocketable, check out the Nikon 50mm ED Fieldscope. This one is a little gem. We reviewed for it the March of 2009 issue of Bird Watcher's Digest. (See our review in the Mid-priced Scopes Round-up), and it took top honors as the best small scope.
Another fine small scope, though not so small as the Nikon 50mm, is the Swarovski ATM-65 HD. It gives you top quality, and its 65mm lens makes it brighter in dawn-and-dusk light levels than the Nikon.
Copyright 2012 by Michael and Diane Porter.