Spotting Scope vs. Telescope: Which Do I Need?

spotting scope vs telescope

Spotting scopes and telescopes are great equipment for anyone who loves to gaze; however, it can be difficult to choose the right one depending on your needs. 

If you are interested in any kind of gazing, purchasing either one of these devices will help you unlock a new level of enthusiasm. You may have heard other gazers refer to them but are unsure which is right for you. These two pieces of equipment have some differences that make each one stand out. 

This article will analyze the differences between a telescope and a spotting scope, what each one is best for, and what results to expect when using a spotting scope vs  telescope. 

Spotting Scopes 

man using spotting scope

Spotting scopes are small, portable, high-definition monocular scopes designed to view faraway objects. They are great for terrestrial use, which makes them a top choice if you love to gaze at wildlife and birds. 

Spotting scopes can be handheld or mounted on a tripod and are simple to use. Spotting scopes have fewer features than telescopes, so they are a great option for beginners. 

There are straight, compact, and angled spotting scopes.

Spotting scopes can also be used to view the night sky. If you want a device that allows you to catch a meteor shower occasionally, but mostly need something for viewing boats in the sea from your deck, a spotting scope will come in handy.


kids using telescope

Telescopes are advanced equipment for night viewing of the sky. They tend to have higher definition and magnification power than spotting scopes and feature interchangeable pieces that allow you to explore different angles. 

They are made for elevated nighttime viewing and come with a wider range of features, making them more challenging to use. If you want deep nighttime sky viewing, an astronomical telescope is the best way to get detailed and clear views. 

There are various types of telescopes, including refracting telescopes and reflecting telescopes, and they reflect different lights such as optical, radio, X-ray, and Gamma rays. 

Differences Between a Spotting Scope and a Telescope 

The choice between a spotting scope and a telescope solely depends on the purpose you intend for the equipment. To identify which one suits you better, you need to understand the key differences. 

Here are the key differences between a spotting scope and a telescope: 


Most spotting scopes have a maximum zoom eyepiece range of 60x, which is about 3000mm on a camera. However, telescopes are designed for viewing deep-sky objects, so they have a greater range of magnifications. 

This magnification quality can make it harder to target specific objects, but most telescopes also have a finder scope to create sharper focus. However, some spotting scopes can also be used with standard telescope sizes for greater magnification. 


Spotting scopes are sturdy; they are waterproof and fog proof, and they can tolerate some shock on impact. On the other hand, telescopes are usually precision devices that are meant to be stationed. As a result, they are usually delicate and won’t withstand being bumped against. 


man using a spotting scope

Spotting scopes are usually light and compact, and they can be affixed to guns during hunting, handheld, or mounted on a tripod, so they are extremely portable, and you can take them on camping trips with ease. 

However, telescopes are precision devices. They are weighty and have several features, which makes them a bit harder to carry around. Although there are portable telescopes, they are not as lightweight as portable spotting scopes.

Close Focus 

Telescopes are meant to look at far objects, and they do this excellently well. Often, they also have finder scopes that allow you to get amazingly clear views of celestial objects. However, it’s not the best device to get details about a faraway object, especially if terrestrial. 

On the other hand, a spotting scope has a sharp focus and a prism that flips images to suit the human vision. Depending on the optical quality of the setting scope, you can even get details of a butterfly feeding on a flower. 

Light Gathering Capacity

Spotting scopes have a lesser light-gathering capacity, which makes it harder to spot objects with them at night. This can be a downer, especially deep viewing the night sky. 

However, telescopes have powerful light-gathering qualities held in their weight. They have more powerful diameter optical tube assemblies, and even home reflector telescopes can have better light-gathering capacity than the setting scopes with larger diameters. 


A spotting scope usually produces upright and erect images because they have prisms that flip the received image before relaying it to the eyes. 

Telescopes don’t have this quality, meaning that images viewed through them are flipped. However, this is not significant when looking at the moon and stars. In addition, some people add erecting diagonal prisms to flip the images in telescopes, which may affect the image quality. 


The price of both a telescope and a spotting scope will depend on your budget. You can find cheap pre-used telescopes as well as very expensive setting scopes. 

It mostly depends on what you’re willing to spend, but in general, a high-end telescope is still likely to cost more than a high-end quality spotting scope. 

Field of Use

star gazing

A spotting scope is great for target shooting, hunting, wildlife observing, archery, surveillance, photography, etc. A telescope is great for astronomy, especially star gazing

However, you can also use a spotting scope for astronomy, especially if you only do it once a while to build interest. But a telescope won’t work for terrestrial focus, making a setting scope a much more versatile device. 

Image Stability 

Spotting scopes tend to be more stable, which allows for better focus. This is because they don’t always need to be set up on a tripod. It can be easier to get stabilized images when holding a device. 

The greater magnification quality of telescopes corresponds to less image stability. However, setting scopes may also produce less stable images as they often come with lesser quality tripods or mounts. 


Most spotting scopes have two viewing methods: straight and angled. You will most likely prefer angled scopes if you are a casual user. However, hunters and shooters who have to lie down may prefer the straight view. 

Telescopes, on the other hand, have a completely different viewing method: right-angled or upward. However, most telescopes cannot be moved to work for terrestrial viewing. Instead, they are pointed upwards towards the sky for their specific purpose. 

Shooting Scope vs. Telescope: Which Can I Digiscope With? 

You can digiscope with a shooting scope and a telescope because both types of equipment now come with configuration techniques. This allows you to configure your smartphone or modern camera with the equipment to get clear and vivid shots. 

Digiscoping is the new trend. You may want to share your space findings with the world, and digital photography helps you do so. This improves space documenting, your gazing enthusiasm, and experience, and you can also sell your digiscope shots as NFT

Newer devices have uncomplicated digiscoping abilities, while older devices may require adapters and accessories to become compatible.

Spotting Scope vs Telescope: Which is Easier to Use? 

A spotting scope is generally easier to use. Spotting scopes tend to have fewer features, which means less distraction for a novice gazer. Also, they usually have zoom-in features that can help you view more distant objects, so it can be easy to use them for the intended purpose. 

Technically, neither of the two pieces of equipment are hard to use in their most basic form. However, telescopes usually have more features and different eyepieces that may need to be switched out to get different magnification and angles, which can be complicated. It also makes telescopes more difficult to move around. 

Key Advantages of a Setting Scope

  • It is one piece and lightweight, which makes it easier to carry around.
  • It can observe moving objects at shorter distances. 
  • It is usually more affordable, even if it’s high-end. 

Key Advantages of a Telescope 

  • It is less likely to get damaged since it is usually mounted in a spot. 
  • It has maximum light exposure. 
  • It has higher magnification power for celestial gazing. 
  • It can close in on extremely distant objects. 

Final Thoughts 

Deciding on a spotting scope versus a telescope can be challenging, but the most important thing is to know what you need the equipment for so you can select the equipment that will best suit your needs. 

If you are starting to build your interest in sky gazing but have other hobbies, such as archery or sea gazing, you may enjoy using a setting scope more. But if you are sure of your interest in sky gazing and need equipment solely for this purpose, a telescope will give you a better range and image quality. 

Also, you should determine if you have stable accommodation or are constantly moving. If you like to travel or have a job that requires you to be on the move constantly, a setting scope’s portability will come in handy. 

Once you identify your needs, choosing between the two pieces of equipment becomes easier. 


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