Birding FAQ

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Birding Scopes
Angled or Straight?

by Michael and Diane Porter

Diane PorterMichael PorterWe don't mind expressng strong preference on the question. We think that for a birder, an angled scope is almost always better than a straight one.

With a straight-through scope, you face in the direction of the thing you're looking at, just as you do when using binoculars.

With an angled scope, you look down into the eyepiece at about a 45° angle. It's a personal choice, but we think the angled scopes have the advantage for birding.
Angled scope
Straight scope
Angled Scope

Straight-through Scope

Here's why we prefer an angled scope:

1) An angled scope can be rotated in its mount, allowing a person to look down into it, or to look into it from the side. The image looks right side up no matter from what angle you look into the scope.

It lets people of different heights see a bird without moving the scope. You don't have to readjust the legs or the height of the scope. You just rotate the scope to one side. That means you don't lose the bird you were all aimed at when someone else (shorter than you) asked for a look. You just turn the scope in its collar, and the bird is still there. If it's not, it's because the bird flew, not because you can't find it in the scope any more.

2) Angled scopes make it easier to look up. With a straight scope, you have to get down on your knees to look up through a scope that's just been pointed at the top of nearby tree. But with the angled scope you just bend your head a little bit more, and there's your bird.

3) It's easier to look down, too. No climbing up on a chair to look into a scope that's pointing down. No shortening the legs and losing your aim. Just point the scope and then rotate it to the side if the eyepiece is now higher than your eye.

4) An angled scope can be mounted lower and therefore produce a steadier, better image. Less shaking in the wind. A straight scope must be mounted at the height of your eye. An angled scope will work with a shorter, lighter-weight tripod.

5) Angled works better from a car. It has a larger arc of use. For example, on a car window mount, it lets you see further ahead and behind the car. With a straight scope, you have to cram your head up in the windshield to see to the rear of the car. And you have to put your head practically in the back seat to see far ahead. But with an angled scope, you can swing the scope to any position and then rotate the scope so that the eyepiece is convenient for your eye.


Now, we have run into one situation in which a straight scope did sound like it made a lot of sense. One of our customers was going to Yellowstone Park to count the wolves in winter. He ordered a straight Swarovski STS 80HD scope because he thought it would catch less snow on the eyepiece. And he was probably right.

But if you're not planning doing most of your birding in driving snow, we think you'll find an angled scope more usable and versatile.

---Copyright 2005-2007, Michael and Diane Porter

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