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Moved to a seaside area: Need to get a spotting scope (1 Viewer)


Northern Ireland
Hi folks,

I'm from an farming, hedgerow region where I've enjoyed farmland bird species for most of my life. However, I've been living near a tidal bay for the last few years, and I really need to get myself a spotting scope. It's time.

I have 8x40 binoculars, but I simply can't get great viewing of the birds when they are on the middle of the mudflats. I would imagine they can be about 600-900m out.

The thing is, despite reading around scopes...it is pretty off putting as there is so much to look over. Binoculars are so much simpler. Every time I research it, I just give up with a sigh....my brain is already exhausted from work, and then this finishes me off.

60 or 80?
straight vs angled?
Brand? This one seems to be much debated
Price....the range is just bewildering...
zoom eyepieces???

I think what I'm looking for is an angled scope, offering good views in dull weather, (Northern Ireland) , with a zoom eyepiece going to x60 ish ? Some threads mention Nikon Fieldscope ed3, but then I see they are discontinued.

I'm not sure weight is a factor as I'm not travelling far. I have no idea why there are fixed eyepieces, for the life f me I can't see why that's a thing. Surely zooming in and out is preferable and offers more flexibility?

Where to buy? Failing any online leads, I guess NI club meets or stores in Dublin or Belfast.

Lastly, what's going on with prices.... they really range from a couple of hundred to thousands. What are people looking at that costs thousands?

Species I'm looking at include: Curlew, Egret, Wigeon, Teal, Redshank, Greenshank, Godwit, Brent, Greenshank, Dunlin, Plover, Osprey, Shelduck, ....plus maybe a few others..

Any advice from more experienced folk would be greatly appreciated. I also am grateful as I know this is probably a tired question. I have been birdwatching all my life, and avoided scopes, but I think it is probably the right time to seriously consider getting something. Budget ?...I have no idea....nothing of poor quality that looks like a duck, but doesn't quack.....but nothing that I need to sit in for the next year to cover to the cost.
Hi and welcome.

Fixed eyepieces may have wider fields than zooms.

Being near the sea means that salt may be a problem, so a waterproof scope seems sensible and also wipe off any salt water.

I am not a spotting scope specialist but secondhand Nikon Fieldscopes seem popular here.

Hi and welcome.

Fixed eyepieces may have wider fields than zooms.

Being near the sea means that salt may be a problem, so a waterproof scope seems sensible and also wipe off any salt water.

I am not a spotting scope specialist but secondhand Nikon Fieldscopes seem popular here.

Thanks for the reply :)
Hi Callows and a warm welcome to you from all the Staff and Moderators. Is there a nature reserve near you that sells optics? They will usually allow you to "test drive" a couple that you're interested in. So maybe try out angled/straight and zoom/fixed. So you can see for yourself which might best work for you. I have a zoom lens which I must admit is used most of the time; but the view is not so bright on full zoom.

I'm sure you will enjoy it here and I look forward to hearing your news.
The Nikon monarch 82ED has a good following, the Opticron MM60ED too for smaller and lighter. The svbony 406p has some followers at the cheaper end. If you have more money to spend then the swaro/zeiss are very nice options used by many.

If you’re walking about then a lighter scope is easier to carry, though some people use the scopack backpack to carry the scope and tripod together. I just fold the tripod up and sling them over my shoulder for quick deployment.
Fixed eyepieces give wider views, you’ll do most of your viewing in a narrow range of magnifications, dropping down to find things or upping the power to get more (dimmer) detail. Zooms are compromises, but are convenient and do t require carrying multiple eyepieces or having to change them.
Trying before buying would be good, more to understand the size and weight, as bigger and heavier will also add to the tripod requirements, one reason I dropped back to a 60mm recently which is much easier to lug about.

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Hi, and welcome to Birdforum.

First of all it's important to understand that the resolution potential of a scope is related to its objective diameter. That's true of binoculars too and many of them fall far short of this potential, but it's not noticed because of their relatively low magnifications.However, for a scope to realize this potential, more complexity in optical design, use of ED glass or fluorite crystal and precision of manufacture is required, so unfortunately there are no cheap but good scopes. I have even seen a few rather poor examples of the now superceded Zeiss Diascope 85 with a mushy image at 60x.

The bigger the scope, the greater its versatility as regards magnification. A minimum of around 20-25x makes sense and can be useful in finding the bird and a 90 mm scope at 60x still has an exit pupil of 1,5 mm, which is usable for many in good light and stable air. The use of a zoom eyepiece on small scopes is just fulfilling a perceived need IMO. On a 50 mm scope the useful magnification range would only be something like 20-33x, so a fixed focal length wide angle eyepiece offering about 25x would be a better solution.

Straight scopes are initially easier to use but demand taller, heavier and more expensive tripods to achieve adequate stability. At the coast strong winds can severely compromise viewing comfort, even at the lower magnifications. Read some of the posts on the Tripods & Heads" subforum and don't be wooed by load capacities that might appear adequate.

Makes to look at are Swarovski, Kowa, Meopta and Nikon. Leica are IMO overpriced, Zeiss have taken a very unconventional approach with the Harpia and the Gavia is by all accounts mediocre. If the budget is limited then look for used examples, make comparisons and buy the example you have tested, as there are sample variations even amongst the best models.

What are people looking at that costs thousands?
If you try an example on either end you'll answer this fairly quickly. Sharpness, brightness, color, width of view, mechanical quality, consistency of manufacture, etc... People who try a really good scope for the first time tend to say "wow".

Mid-range scopes worth considering are Nikon Monarch 82ED (highly reviewed here, read the "Perfect Ten" thread) and Meopta S2, which offers a 20-70x zoom eyepiece -- you may appreciate 70x for your seaside views. The Meopta costs more now than a few years ago for some reason, but does still go on sale at least in the US (I got one then). 82mm is a good size for a scope you don't mean to lug around a lot.
Ideally you get to try before you buy. Else buy from some place that allows easy returns. Join a birding club/society in your area (or an organized birdwatching tour/walk), you may get to test-drive a few scopes.

Simple rules of thumb:

1. ED glass
Better colour correction, essential for 40x and higher, optional at 30x and below. Don't buy a scope without ED glass unless it's bargain basement cheap (below $200), and be prepared that you may want to upgrade soon.

2. 65mm vs 80mm
Weight/cost vs resolution/max power. Bigger scope needs heavier tripod too.

3. Straight vs Angled
Straight easier to aim, angled easier to share the view and can use shorter (therefore lighter) tripod. I use an angled scope, easier to share with my partner. For aiming I use a cable tie (discussed in other threads here on BF).

4. Brand
Mostly you get what you pay for.

Highest priced group $3k+ (Zeiss, Kowa, Leica, Swarovski) = highest performers.

Mid-price $1-2k+ (Nikon, Meopta, Vortex Razor) also considered excellent.

Budget winner $300-600 (Svbony SV406P, Pentax). Still very good. I have a Svbony SV406P, you can see my digiscoped pictures in threads discussing the SV406P. This scope (as well as the Pentax) takes standard 1.25" astronomy eyepieces so you have many eyepiece choices if you want to experiment with wider FOV, different powers etc. Or if you already have a telescope you can reuse those eyepieces in the scope.

Prices move around but that's the general range.

5. Zoom vs fixed
Zoom is convenient, fixed has wider FOV. 98% of scopes sold with zoom. A retailer mentioned here on BF the ratio was 50:1.

For 65mm scope, fixed 25-30x is a good match. For 80mm scope consider fixed 35-40x. Else go with 15-45x/20-60x zoom.

Expensive scopes usually come with better zooms (wider FOV especially at low power). Cheap zoom can give "tunnel vision" feeling at low power.

6. Tripod and head
Lighter tripod = less stable = image shakes. Carbon fibre ($$$) lighter and dampens vibrations better than aluminum. Gitzo/Manfrotto more expensive, Sirui/Leofoto cheaper. All well-regarded, with long warranties (5-10 years).

Fluid head vs ball head: Fluid head costs more, allows easy X-Y aiming. Ballhead cheaper but needs the ball to be placed on the side (poor man's gimbal). However, scope weight then becomes off-centre and panning may become stiff, unless you get a large/expensive ballhead... which would cost as much as a fluid head. Manfrotto, Benro, Sirui etc make fluid heads.

I use a Sirui VA-5 for my 80mm scope. 1kg counterweight helps keep the scope balanced, Arca Swiss plate allows easy on/off.

7. Used vs New
A used last-generation premium scope might sell for the price of a new mid-range scope. Users of premium scopes usually take good care of them, and if you don't like it you can sell it for about what you paid. Check the classifieds, also optics retailers like Clifton, LCE, CleySpy etc.
Some excellent advice here so far, dont forget a good tripod however, a decent scope on a substandard mount will not deliver satisfactory views.

The sales thread on here is worth checking too, for example there is a cherry Nikon ED82 at a great price... ;)
Attaching a clip to the top of a tripod and hanging your bag off it can help add a hit of stability when needed.
My local group trips seem to have a mix of medium sized Swarovski and Opticron, though there are some who don’t bring a scope or take a camera along instead.
At the seaside I’d probably bring a short seat to use a short tripod to help aid stability with the winds that tend to blow around.
Secondhand from one of the specialist retailers noted should be almost good as new, I got one recently that came with full manufacturers warranty.

thanks so much everyone. That is a LOT of info. I'll get busying through the forum threads as suggested too. Out again for a Saturday morning visit, so I'm sure I'll be mulling it over as I view our visitors using x8 binoculars.
I've recently got into spotting scopes, too. They're an amazing addition to your optics kit!

I did some research, and am very happy with my choice: Vortex Razor 27-60x85 Gen II on a Gitzo 1545T. The visual quality, build and performance is very good indeed, and I think the Razor holds its own rather well against some top-end products like the Swaro ATX or Zeiss Gavia. The RRP is about £1300, but I've seen them for sale in good condition on eBay for as little as £750. Vortex products also come with a fully transferrable lifetime warranty - another big plus!

That said, I'd never buy anything without trying it first, as well as its closest competitors.

first of all, welcome to birdforum!

Much good advice has already been given - my advice would be to try before you buy - or be able to return it no questions asked - sample variation does happen even with alpha brand scopes!

For distances of 600-900 I would want a scope that works well at 50-60x in your usual light conditions - that probably means a good example of a full size (around 80mm) scope with ED glass and a stable tripod and head. Add a scopac or mulepack for easier carrying.

As for zoom vs fixed, zooming in on a bird you already have been watching at low mag does happen surprisingly seldom in my experience. Reasons might be how smooth the zoom action is (usually not smooth enough to do so without causing an ever so tiny movement which moves the bird out of the field of view) and whether one needs to refocus after zooming (few zoom EPs are truly parfocal - that is have the same focus point at all magnifications).
Many here with angled spotters use the cable tie trick which allows to aim a scope at high mag at some bird you found before with your bins with some practice.

One last word - avoid old Leica Televids 77 or 62 - they were quite unpopular for coastal birding back in the days as at least some early examples had coatings which were quickly destroyed by salt water...

The WWT reserve at Castle Espie runs regular optics demo events. It might be worth having a look there. They are closed at the moment due to Avian Influenza but it is always good to try things out before buying.
The WWT reserve at Castle Espie runs regular optics demo events. It might be worth having a look there. They are closed at the moment due to Avian Influenza but it is always good to try things out before buying.
yes, on my list next. Thanks :)
I don't know whether there are many reasonably popular reserves near you, but the vast majority of birders will be happy for you to try their scopes if you ask.
Having recently gone through the process, you might find this of interest:

I am admittedly, still a rank amateur re scopes, with very limited experience. I am though very happy with this purchase and the utility a scope has added to birding where I do, often in open, over water places.

In fact Im shocked by how useful it is!

So far I find the variable X quite useful. It was a feature I never used with riflescopes, but find I use it often on these, using lower X to get on the bird, then turning to higher to see details... I cant imagine one fixed eyepiece X that'll allow that utility where I bird, given the variable distances from my vantage point. Maybe the point is if one birds mostly in the same places, a nice working compromise of a single X works fine. As we bird among several venues, so far I appreciate the variable X.

I alluded to a spread sheet I made down in among those posts, just above my final. Like a lot of written specs that static, data oriented approach only goes so far. The Opticorn MM4 60 vs 77 is a case in point. Looking at the array of 4 scopes this dealer was kind enough to set up, the size (and weight) of the 60, compared with the 77, the other 2, (Swaro 65 regrettably not available), the 60's weight/size advantage shrunk almost to irrelevance. Once you step back and consider the task that is coming - that is carrying the blasted combination of scope plus tripod around, how you carry, how you set it up, become aware theres now a thing you have to think about to avoid knocking it over, how quickly you get on the target seemed and still seems the more important consideration. The relative size and a few ounces of weight of just the scope seems not so important. I voted for the optical benefits of the larger objective.
I don't know whether there are many reasonably popular reserves near you, but the vast majority of birders will be happy for you to try their scopes if you ask.
That was true for me, however did not work so well to suggest what was to come, after my purchase. Admittedly I was OK to look, but reluctant to mess with their scopes eye relief and focus adjustments, so only got a vague idea of the utility of a scope. I get you could argue that was just me.
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