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Cheap craigslist spotting scope (1 Viewer)

cdbird19

Member
I'm interested in getting a spotting scope but I have no personal experience with any of them. I've been looking on craigslist for deals, everything seems to fall into two categories. There are Zeiss and Swarovskis in the $1500+ category and the sub $100 Bushnells and Tascos. The low end stuff seems to be oriented for target shooting. Does that make a difference with birding? I can't figure out if that's just what they're used for or if there are any significant feature differences. The high end stuff isn't happening, is the low end stuff worth it as a trial and something that can bounce around in the car without worry, or should I just throw $100 in the garbage for the same effect and move on with my life?

I'd like to stay under $200, are there any brands that stand out at that range? Audubon seems to like the Celestron Trailseeker, https://www.audubon.org/news/good-value their review scored it better than some scopes that cost 2-4x as much. I may just end up buying new. Is their cheaper stuff (Ultima or Landscout)a similar value?

Thanks for any insight.
 

jring

Well-known member
Hi,

first of all, welcome to birdforum!

In general, great deals can be had with used optics (and spotters even more than binoculars since they're a more niche product and thus more likely to be sold when not needed any more vs. kept for the next holidays). But before buying used it would be helpful to know how a good plain glass or ED scope should perform optically and mechanically. Cosmetic problems on the body are expected and I don't care.

Also I would not consider buying optics via mail from craigslist et al. - only after being able to try in person, cash and carry. Or from a store only if a no questions asked return policy exists. Sample variation in spotting scopes does happen even with the alpha brands...

That being said, with a budget of 200 USD, I would be trying to get a older plain glass scope with a fixed 30x wide EP.
Likely big brand candidates to be found in the price range would be the following:

- older Kowa TSN models with model number ending in 1 (plain glass angled) or 2 (plain glass straight). Of course 3 (ED or fluorite angled) or 4 (ED or fluorite straight) would be even better and might support higher magnifications - just beware of the old 20-60x zoom with the rubber eyecup - it is awful ad should be replaced asap. The modern 20-60x zoom with the twist up execup is ok.

- older Nikon fieldscope non-ed models - most probably the older 60 and 78mm variants - again with a fixed wide angle EP around 30x. The existing zoom EPs are all quite sharp but also quite narrow and not really suited for use with glasses due to short eye relief. ED models are probably not in budget. There is a potential pitfall of the very old Fieldscope I series (which is only labelled fieldscope) - they are not bad per se but only can take a limited number of older eypeieces which makes it even more important to get the right one with the scope. But in any case, with the given budget you'll probably not being able to get another EP besides the scope anyways.

- All models from the teutonic trinity (Leica, Swaro, Zeiss) are quite probably quite a bit out of budget even used.

- There are a lot of resellers of scopes made in China (nowadays) or in Japan (20 years ago). Good deals can be had for those who know what to look for, but there is also a lot of junk out there - every scope with a list price of 100 USD or below new is probably not great.

TLDR: go to a store to check out a few scopes in different price ranges to get a feel what is good and what not so - don't assume that the big names must be best. Then try to find a used one inside budget which is 90% as good as a good example from the store...

PS: since you asked about scopes aimed as shooters - the better ones of those usually have a 20 or 25x LER (long eye relief) eyepiece which is great to use with protective googles or really big glasses, but usually offers a narrow field - just like most zoom EPs at low magnification.

PPS: No optical instrument should be bouncing around in the car. I might consider having a cheaper pair of bins in the glovebox or under a seat with some some working gloves or a warn vest so it cannot bounce around a lot or a scope on an extended tripod across the trunk against the back seat, so it cannot move.

Joachim
 
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lmans66

Out Birding....
Supporter
United States
Hi,

first of all, welcome to birdforum!

In general, great deals can be had with used optics (and spotters even more than binoculars since they're a more niche product and thus more likely to be sold when not needed any more vs. kept for the next holidays). But before buying used it would be helpful to know how a good plain glass or ED scope should perform optically and mechanically. Cosmetic problems on the body are expected and I don't care.

Also I would not consider buying optics via mail from craigslist et al. - only after being able to try in person, cash and carry. Or from a store only if a no questions asked return policy exists. Sample variation in spotting scopes does happen even with the alpha brands...

That being said, with a budget of 200 USD, I would be trying to get a older plain glass scope with a fixed 30x wide EP.
Likely big brand candidates to be found in the price range would be the following:

- older Kowa TSN models with model number ending in 1 (plain glass angled) or 2 (plain glass straight). Of course 3 (ED or fluorite angled) or 4 (ED or fluorite straight) would be even better and might support higher magnifications - just beware of the old 20-60x zoom with the rubber eyecup - it is awful ad should be replaced asap. The modern 20-60x zoom with the twist up execup is ok.

- older Nikon fieldscope non-ed models - most probably the older 60 and 78mm variants - again with a fixed wide angle EP around 30x. The existing zoom EPs are all quite sharp but also quite narrow and not really suited for use with glasses due to short eye relief. ED models are probably not in budget. There is a potential pitfall of the very old Fieldscope I series (which is only labelled fieldscope) - they are not bad per se but only can take a limited number of older eypeieces which makes it even more important to get the right one with the scope. But in any case, with the given budget you'll probably not being able to get another EP besides the scope anyways.

- All models from the teutonic trinity (Leica, Swaro, Zeiss) are quite probably quite a bit out of budget even used.

- There are a lot of resellers of scopes made in China (nowadays) or in Japan (20 years ago). Good deals can be had for those who know what to look for, but there is also a lot of junk out there - everything scope with a list price of 100 USD or below new is probably not great.

TLDR: go to a store to check out a few scopes in different price ranges to get a feel what is good and what not so - don't assume that the big names must be best. Then try to find a used one inside budget which is 90% as good as a good example from the store...

PS: since you asked about scopes aimed as shooters - the better ones of those usually have a 20 or 25x LER (long eye relief) eyepiece which is great to use with protective googles or really big glasses, but usually offers a narrow field - just like most zoom EPs at low magnification.

PPS: No optical instrument should be bouncing in around in the car. I might consider having a cheaper pair of bins in the glovebox or under a seat with some some working gloves or a warn vest so it cannot bounce around a lot or a scope on an extended tripod across the trunk against the back seat, so it cannot move.

Joachim

Ditto....a lot to consider.....what are you going to do with the scope? ....Just look and if so, at what type of birds are you considering ? (Shorebirds or passerines or raptors or? ). Are you Digital-scoping or just viewing thru the scope? That might make a difference on whether to get a small or large scope.

Lots of solid scopes in the mid-priced range (not craigslist as you never know what they did to their optics), and you should go up out of the Tasco type $ price range.
 

Alexis Powell

Natural history enthusiast
United States
Another vote for the Nikon 60 mm Fieldscopes II or III. In the past year, I purchased two of these (one angled, one straight), each including 30x WF eyepiece, each for ~$230 (no bidding, but rather "buy it now" or accepted offer pricing), and each in pristine condition. The ones I got were the EDII version, which is much better than the nonED (even the nonEDIII) at powers over 30x. I was especially interested in acquiring the 30x WF eyepieces, but if you prefer the optically excellent but narrow FOV 20-60x zoom, you should find them even easier to come by. I don't think these scopes can be beat in the 60 mm class for price, durability, and optical performance.

--AP
 

marcsantacurz

Well-known member
Remember to include budget for a tripod. If you have a camera tripod, it should be fine, though you likely want a pan-tilt head not a ball head. Most people also like a quick-release style head rather than a screw-on head. For the lighter 50mm-60mm scopes around 30x most any tripod should more-or-less work.

Marc
 

cdbird19

Member
Hi,

first of all, welcome to birdforum!

TLDR: go to a store to check out a few scopes in different price ranges to get a feel what is good and what not so - don't assume that the big names must be best. Then try to find a used one inside budget which is 90% as good as a good example from the store...

PPS: No optical instrument should be bouncing in around in the car. I might consider having a cheaper pair of bins in the glovebox or under a seat with some some working gloves or a warn vest so it cannot bounce around a lot or a scope on an extended tripod across the trunk against the back seat, so it cannot move.

Joachim

Thanks for the welcome and the info, I'll have to read through it a few times to absorb it all. Trying some out either in store or craigslist is particularly difficult lately, but I'm in no rush so we'll see.

I have a set of $15 craigslist bushnell 10x24 binoculars that live in my car for the occasional pit stop when I'm not terribly excited about going in to the office and a set of Nikon Prostaff 7s 10x42s that stay at home unless I'm going out specifically for hiking or birding. My main thought is if I get a cheap scope to get used to it, it could also live in the car once I upgrade to something nicer as a just in case I decide to stop by a pond on my way to work.
 
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cdbird19

Member
Ditto....a lot to consider.....what are you going to do with the scope? ....Just look and if so, at what type of birds are you considering ? (Shorebirds or passerines or raptors or? ). Are you Digital-scoping or just viewing thru the scope? That might make a difference on whether to get a small or large scope.

Lots of solid scopes in the mid-priced range (not craigslist as you never know what they did to their optics), and you should go up out of the Tasco type $ price range.

Those are good questions.....

Probably just shore birds and waterfowl mostly. It seems easier to use the aforementioned binoculars for the more active and closer stuff. And I'd like to involve the short people that live in my house (currently 5 years old) and it seems like this may be easier with a phone mount so everyone can see at the same time, but I use my phone so Ebird so maybe that won't work very well. I'll need to figure out the tripod height, angled/straight etc. for that to work well, but that's another discussion.
 

jring

Well-known member
I'll need to figure out the tripod height, angled/straight etc. for that to work well, but that's another discussion.

Hi,

for use with more than one person, angled scopes are really preferred as it's quite easy to bend your head down a bit to look through an angled scope which is a bit too low.
Ok, in case of 5 year old kids, you'll probably have to kneel too...

For a straight scope to work well it has to be exactly at eye level of the user and since you cannot really change your eye level a lot (and standing tiptoed for more than a few seconds is neither comfortable nor very stable), you'll end up changing the tripod height all the time and loosing the bird every single time.

Joachim
 
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marcsantacurz

Well-known member
For angled scopes, you can also rotate the eye piece and a shorter person can look at it mode sideways than top-down. That way, you can keep focus on exactly the same spot while adjusting for observer height.

I think the main use for straight scopes is vehicle use, though personally I use an angled scope with a rotating collar in my truck.

Marc
 

Alexis Powell

Natural history enthusiast
United States
...I think the main use for straight scopes is vehicle use...

Straight scopes also work much better when following moving things. They allow maintaining line-of-sight contact with a flying/swimming/running bird and then simply inserting the scope for magnified view, just as is possible with binoculars. Angled scopes require looking away from the target to see through the scope and vice-versa. I also like straight better when conducting surveys because it doesn't force me to spend time looking at the ground at my feet. Rather, my vision can always be upward and outward; it is even possible to look through the scope at the target bird with one eye and keep the other eye open to catch sight of other birds of possible interest.

--AP
 
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jring

Well-known member
Hi,

I would probably pass on that one. Just from the technical data on this site:

https://www.midwayusa.com/product/1009822510

TFOV (true field of view) of 63ft at 1000yds at the high magnification end of 45x makes 1.2 degrees (divide by 52.5) and this at 45x gives roughly an AFOV (apparent field of view) of 54 degrees (TFOV in deg times magnification)
TFOV of 131ft at 1000yds at the low end of 15x makes 2.5 degrees and thus an AFOV of 37 degrees.

This zoom is quite narrow at lower magnifications and looking through it will feel like looking through a soda straw. (it has to be said that most non wide angle zooms are fairly narrow at the low mag end). The high mag end is quite a bit narrower than what is common, 65-70 degrees would be good.

Unfortunately you will not be able to use the higher magnifications in this instrument with their less terrible AFOV due to:

"The image starts getting slightly blurry at 40-45x magnification for longer range" or "It did nor focus well at that range set on 45x"
from the reviews you posted.
This part of the result is expected btw, plain glass scopes like this tend to get blurry beyond 35 or 40x.

Touting a 16.5mm eye relief (at best, goes down to 13mm at the unusable 45x end and will probably be 14-15mm in the middle) with fold down rubber eyecup as "Long eye relief and roll down eyecups make these scopes comfortable to use for extended periods even with glasses." is also an interesting opinion. My expectation for this claim would have been 18mm ER and a twist up eyecup.

Joachim
 

marcsantacurz

Well-known member
Straight scopes also work much better when following moving things. They allow maintaining line-of-sight contact with a flying/swimming/running bird and then simply inserting the scope for magnified view, just as is possible with binoculars. Angled scopes require looking away from the target to see through the scope and vice-versa. I also like straight better when conducting surveys because it doesn't force me to spend time looking at the ground at my feet. Rather, my vision can always be upward and outward; it is even possible to look through the scope at the target bird with one eye and keep the other eye open to catch sight of other birds of possible interest.

--AP

Also on a raised elevation, like a cliff, looking down, I have sometimes wished for a straight scope. You can do it with an angled, but then you're looking sideways or really hunched over. I usually don't stay in one place for long, but if I had a stool and were sitting using a scope, a straight would probably work better.

Clearly, I should have said "for me, ..." in my comment about straight scopes.

Marc
 

cdbird19

Member
Hi,

I would probably pass on that one. Just from the technical data on this site:

https://www.midwayusa.com/product/1009822510

TFOV (true field of view) of 63ft at 1000yds at the high magnification end of 45x makes 1.2 degrees (divide by 52.5) and this at 45x gives roughly an AFOV (apparent field of view) of 54 degrees (TFOV in deg times magnification)
TFOV of 131ft at 1000yds at the low end of 15x makes 2.5 degrees and thus an AFOV of 37 degrees.

This zoom is quite narrow at lower magnifications and looking through it will feel like looking through a soda straw. (it has to be said that most non wide angle zooms are fairly narrow at the low mag end). The high mag end is quite a bit narrower than what is common, 65-70 degrees would be good.

Unfortunately you will not be able to use the higher magnifications in this instrument with their less terrible AFOV due to:

"The image starts getting slightly blurry at 40-45x magnification for longer range" or "It did nor focus well at that range set on 45x"
from the reviews you posted.
This part of the result is expected btw, plain glass scopes like this tend to get blurry beyond 35 or 40x.

Touting a 16.5mm eye relief (at best, goes down to 13mm at the unusable 45x end and will probably be 14-15mm in the middle) with fold down rubber eyecup as "Long eye relief and roll down eyecups make these scopes comfortable to use for extended periods even with glasses." is also an interesting opinion. My expectation for this claim would have been 18mm ER and a twist up eyecup.

Joachim

Thanks for the assessment. What would you say is a passable field of view?
 

jring

Well-known member
Hi,

an AFOV of 60 degrees or more in considered wide angle - that is nice. For astro scopes there are also very expensive eyepieces with 80 degrees (you don't see a black rim around the image) and even 100 or 120 degrees (you need to move your eye around to see the whole field).

The 54 degrees would have been acceptable if they were available at a magnification that is usable in the scope. So if this scope had a magnification of 10-30x or maybe 12-36x and would perform like an ok plain glass scope and thus be usable at the top end maganifcation, that would have been ok.

But since 30x is somewhere in the middle of the zoom range, the AFOV will also be somewhere between 54 and 37 degrees - and fourty-something is still tunnel vision...

Joachim
 
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cdbird19

Member
A little follow up. Just had a birthday and this seemed like a good opportunity. I wasn't comfortable asking for something even in the $200 range. I ended up getting a Celestron Landscout 12x36. I like that it's decently compact and simple. Obviously no where near as powerful as the 60x scopes but it gets the job done and a way to learn more about it without much investment. I got the phone attachment as well and it seems to do a decent enough job.

got some pictures of a fly catcher that kept hanging out on the same branch, but this isn't a great example as it was really close. I had to back up to be able to focus properly.

Thanks for your help, hopefully this doesn't disappoint anyone with the choice after all the discussion, I'm not disappointed with the scope for sure.
 

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jring

Well-known member
Hi,

cannot talk about the quality without testing, but Celestron is a well known astro brand (owned by chinese Synta Optics, who also trade as Skaywatcher) and they usually tend to deliver ok optics or better...

Also they seem to know the limitations of their achromatic doublet objective lens and have limited magnification to 12-36x on a 60mm body... not great for marketing dept who would have loved to boast 60x but very good for the user as he gets a useful 36x on the wide end of the zoom EP (which could be wider than its 49 deg afov, but hey, it was 100 bucks or so).

On the flip side, they seem to have reached this goal by shortening objective focal length (probably around 300mm with an 8-24mm zoom) so the focal ratio is a bit faster than normal at f5 (usually spotting scopes have f5.5 up to f7). This might make the plain glass doublet show more aberrations and CA.

Also from the specs I found no way to remove the EP and use a 1.25" astro EP (which would have been a great way to get a 30x wide angle view).

Please let us know if you get a well defined focus point at 36x on a cool morning and/or do a star test...

Joachim
 

cdbird19

Member
Hi,

cannot talk about the quality without testing, but Celestron is a well known astro brand (owned by chinese Synta Optics, who also trade as Skaywatcher) and they usually tend to deliver ok optics or better...

Also they seem to know the limitations of their achromatic doublet objective lens and have limited magnification to 12-36x on a 60mm body... not great for marketing dept who would have loved to boast 60x but very good for the user as he gets a useful 36x on the wide end of the zoom EP (which could be wider than its 49 deg afov, but hey, it was 100 bucks or so).

On the flip side, they seem to have reached this goal by shortening objective focal length (probably around 300mm with an 8-24mm zoom) so the focal ratio is a bit faster than normal at f5 (usually spotting scopes have f5.5 up to f7). This might make the plain glass doublet show more aberrations and CA.

Also from the specs I found no way to remove the EP and use a 1.25" astro EP (which would have been a great way to get a 30x wide angle view).

Please let us know if you get a well defined focus point at 36x on a cool morning and/or do a star test...

Joachim

The EP is indeed fixed so no swapping that out. But I'm going for simple no fuss and that would likely double the overall investment anyway.

As for that last line, does this thread cover it well enough or is there more to add? https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=386338&highlight=star+test I know almost nothing about optics. Thanks for helping me learn.
 

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