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Old Monday 4th February 2008, 23:28   #1
birdwife
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Spotting Scope under $500

Hello! I am a first time spotting scope buyer. I am so confused by everything out there! Can you pros help me select:

angled
lightweight
waterproof
under $500

Thanks so much!!!
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Old Monday 4th February 2008, 23:41   #2
Jim M.
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Hi birdwife,

Welcome to the forum. The Vortex Skyline scope was recently chosen by one well- respected review site as the best scope under $500. I suggest you look at it.

This topic has been the subject of a number of recent threads. You might want to look at this thread (especially the links in my first two posts in that thread):

http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=106157

Hope this helps,
Jim
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Old Monday 4th February 2008, 23:44   #3
birdwife
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Thanks Jim! I've noticed this one being pitche don the forum. Do you think 3.5 lbs is heavy for a scope? We do lots of hiking and are into conserving weight.
Lynn
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Old Tuesday 5th February 2008, 01:39   #4
Jim M.
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Thanks Jim! I've noticed this one being pitche don the forum. Do you think 3.5 lbs is heavy for a scope? We do lots of hiking and are into conserving weight.
Lynn
Hi Lynn,

3.5 pounds is light for a full-sized 80 mm scope. It felt light to me when I had mine. But I would try to get a tripod/head combo that was under 5 pounds or so. It probably would be a bit of a stretch for backpacking, but I would not hesitate to set out on a hike of several miles with it. If you want to backpack there is also the vortex nomad -- a 60 mm scope. It is supposed to be decent, but not really usable at the higher magnifications of its zoom range.

By the way, since you used the term "pitched" I should make clear I have no connection with Vortex or the optics industry. (I actually use a ridiculously expensive Kowa scope myself now). I just like the company and its products (and many of their products are relatively new and a lot of people have not heard of them, so I guess I feel it is useful to make people aware of them). If I recall correctly, the company was started by husband and wife birders who learned a lot about optics and discovered that they could make a quality product for considerably less than what the big companies were charging, and still make an adequate profit. It is the type of company that you or I might start. I think they really try to do right by their customers.

Just my take,
Jim
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Old Tuesday 5th February 2008, 01:54   #5
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Lynn,

Please see my comments regarding the non-ED version of this scope in this thread:

http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=104588

Overall the scope works fine for its price point. But I've essentially outgrown it in less than a year of use. It works fine for me as a basic spotting scope but falls short at higher zooms and is not the best for digiscoping. While the eyepiece can be removed (since it is threaded), Vortex makes no alternative eyepieces for their scopes and tech support does not know if eyepieces from other manufacturers will work with their scope (most likely not).

I would not want to backpack with this scope. It's not that heavy but it is big and bulky like most 80mm scopes. I do carry it in a backpack along with my tripod on short 1-3 mile hikes around my main local birding area. But that gets tiring after a while.

Please let me know if you have any other questions I haven't answered.
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Old Tuesday 5th February 2008, 02:33   #6
Jim M.
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Overall the scope works fine for its price point. But I've essentially outgrown it in less than a year of use. It works fine for me as a basic spotting scope but falls short at higher zooms and is not the best for digiscoping. While the eyepiece can be removed (since it is threaded), Vortex makes no alternative eyepieces for their scopes and tech support does not know if eyepieces from other manufacturers will work with their scope (most likely not).

I would not want to backpack with this scope. It's not that heavy but it is big and bulky like most 80mm scopes. I do carry it in a backpack along with my tripod on short 1-3 mile hikes around my main local birding area. But that gets tiring after a while.
Hi John,

I just wanted to elaborate on some of your comments, so they are put in a fuller context.

The first paragraph is generally accurate, but also accurately describes pretty much every scope under $1000, so you are describing the shortfalls of scopes generally rather than the skyline -- except for the eyepiece issue. However, I have been birding for over 40 years; I have never had the slightest desire to have anything but a zoom eyepiece, and could not imagine birding without a zoom eyepiece. But if you are big into digiscoping (I am not), that is another issue.

As for the second paragraph, I agree it would not be good for backpacking. But you do not say how heavy your tripod is. Since tripods are actually heavier than scopes, that is really the more important figure in determining the total weight burden. Also, the burden of carrying a scope varies depending on how you carry it. I believe that, generally speaking, the least burdensome way to carry a scope is to leave it attached to the tripod, grasp it in some fashion around the tripod head, and carry it upside down by your side. For variety, you can also rest the whole thing perpendicular to your body on top of your shoulder (but you should buy a tripod with built-in padding on the legs, or install foam padding yourself). I would think placing the scope and tripod in an ordinary day pack -- which is what I assume you are doing -- would be prone to cause shoulder soreness even over a short hike. So I personally would try to avoid that. But no matter how you cut it, pretty much any scope and tripod -- even a 60 mm scope -- is going to be somewhat awkward to carry and something of a burden over a long hike. But I do not think saving a few ounces by getting a somewhat lighter scope makes all that much difference.

By the way, I think you might appreciate the vortex more if you spent some time with the other sub-$500 scopes on the market. ;-)

Jim
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Old Tuesday 5th February 2008, 08:49   #7
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I had a few additional thoughts. At this point, it would probably be best for Lynn to clarify her needs. The original post simply requested advice on scopes under $500, from which I assumed that the purpose was general birding. I think we need to know how the scope will primarily be used, whether she has significant interest in digiscoping, whether she wears glasses, and what she means by wanting to hike with the scope.

I ask the last question because there are different kinds of hiking. There is hiking on easy trails for the purpose of birding/sightseeing. There is also hiking on rough and challenging trails where you will want your hands free and most everything in your backpack, so you can have good balance. (I enjoy these kinds of trails also, but generally would leave my scope at home if this type of hiking was my goal). If you want a scope suitable for the latter type of hiking, then you are not really looking for the best general scope under $500, you are looking for the best light and compact scope under $500. There are a couple of other recent threads discussing this issue. In addition to the vortex nomad, Kowa (500 and 600 series), and Nikon make some scopes worth considering in this range, though some by those manufacturers break through the $500 barrier.

And finally, John is right to point out that any scope in this price range will involve significant optical compromises. Though in truth, every spotting scope made involves optical compromises to some degree.

Best,
Jim
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Old Tuesday 5th February 2008, 14:11   #8
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Jim & Lynn,

The Vortex is my first and only scope...so my experience & exposure to other scopes is limited to occasional views through the scopes other birders are using when I'm in a group.

I do love to digiscope and the Vortex actually works quite well at this. I've made my own adapter and have taken some pretty decent bird photos. I've even been able to use the zoom while digiscoping, sometimes up to full 60X. The image quality suffers due to less light reaching the camera lens but you can still get good photos in good lighting situations.

However, I do get chromatic aberration (CA) with this scope in certain conditions as can be seen in the photo of the bald eagle that is referenced in the link above. ED glass would probably help or eliminate the CA in this scope. I elected not to buy the ED version of the Skyline in order to meet my budget at the time.

I would like the flexibility of using a different single power wide-angle eyepiece for digiscoping. But the Vortex Skyline only has a single zoom eyepiece available.

If I had to choose between zoom and fixed, I'd choose zoom every time. I like the ability to get in close on a bird and see detail. Not just for identification purposes but just to see what the bird is all about. A zoom eyepiece is a great tool for general birding, as you say.

Regarding hiking with this scope. I've done my fair share both carry the scope and a Bogen 055V/701RC2 tripod plus other odds and ends in a very good technical daypack. It's reasonably comfortable and I can hike many miles on flat trails and rolling hill trails. I've also hand carried the scope either over my shoulder or by my side in the manner you've described. It works but is tiring after a while. You need your hands free for difficult trails so packing the scope is a necessity in those situations. I agree that I would probably leave my scope at home on longer or more technical hikes or when backpacking. The alternative, as you point out, is to get a compact scope that is lighter and packs smaller. The Nikon ED50 gets great reviews. I haven't seen much discussion about other compact scopes that are available here in the US. Leopold does make a compact scope that may be worth considering.

In summary, I have been very pleased with my Vortex Skyline 80 and have received many positive comments on its image quality from those that have looked through it after looking through other scopes (Leica, Swaro, Pentax, etc.) being used in groups I was birding with. I recommend it.
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Old Tuesday 5th February 2008, 14:37   #9
Jim M.
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Regarding hiking with this scope. I've done my fair share both carry the scope and a Bogen 055V/701RC2 tripod plus other odds and ends in a very good technical daypack.
That is what I suspected. Your tripod/head combo weighs 6.7 pounds! In contrast, the one I use weighs 4.5 pounds (Velbon CF630 & Bogen 700 RC2 head). So even though I have a heavier scope (64 ounces versus 60 ounces), my total package weighs over 2 pounds less than yours! Your heavier tripod and head are good for digiscoping, but they would certainly be a burden on long hikes.

Fully agree with the rest of your post.

Best,
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Old Tuesday 5th February 2008, 14:45   #10
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Thanks Jim.

We haven't heard from Lynn for a while. I hope this discourse has helped you somewhat in assessing merits the spotting scopes on the market that are suitable for your needs.
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Old Tuesday 5th February 2008, 15:21   #11
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John & Jim,

Thanks for lively debate! Jim, I did not mean "pitch" in the negative sense, wrong choice of words.

John, you are right in clarifying that I am looking for the best "light and compact" scope. We do many levels of hiking, and some mountain climbing, so weight and size is important. The Nikon Fieldscope looks great, but seems to be ~700-1200. I will definitely look more into the Vortex as I like the idea of 80mm, but I may have to sacrifice that for the portability.

Further thoughts?

Lynn
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Old Tuesday 5th February 2008, 15:39   #12
Jim M.
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Further thoughts?
It is always best to try out a scope before you buy. You might want to call around to places in the San Diego area to see if you can find one that will let you try out various scopes.

Jim
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Old Tuesday 5th February 2008, 21:37   #13
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For about $200 more there is always the Nikon 50ED, very light wt.
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