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Spotting Scope vs Binocular for Birding – Which is Your Choice?

Binoculars and spotting scopes serve almost the same function. This makes it difficult for most people to decide the ideal choice for birding. For an avid birder, the right optical equipment is everything. These two optical devices can excel in bird watching. However, sometimes it becomes difficult for one to decide on the best.

There are instances where a pair of binoculars works perfectly for birding watching while others requires a spotting scope. Both tools will excel in different areas, hence the need to decide carefully. Let’s consider the suitability of these two optical devices under different categories


Since you’re into bird watching, the portability of the optical device is quite important. Spotting scopes feature a single lens and single eyepiece. Binoculars on the other hand feature two lenses and two eyepieces. When it comes to size, spotting scopes are longer than binoculars. The scopes are also wider and taller compared to binoculars which are more compact.

If you watching birds in different places, then a binocular is the best choice. It is highly portable hence easy to carry around. However, if watching birds from the same spot, then a spotting scope is a great choice. So, if portability is your biggest consideration, then choose a binocular over a spotting scope. With a spotting scope, sometimes you might need a tripod stand for stable viewing.


Spotting scopes tend to have a bigger and better magnification than binoculars. They are a great choice when watching birds at a long distance. This means you can get pretty close and fine details using a spotting scope. However, the field of view is usually reduced under spotting scopes making it difficult to track birds.

Binoculars have a large field of view and easily allow for faster focusing. They are a great choice when birds are flying helping you focus faster. Most birding binoculars have a magnification ranging from 7X to 10X. This works perfectly at watching birds at closer distances. However, this can get adequate when looking to watch birds at a long distance. This is where spotting scopes come in handy since they come with zoom devices. You can get zoom devices with a magnification of 15-45X or 20-60X.

Spotting scopes allow birders to watch birds beyond distances that binoculars will not see.

Field of view

This is the area size you can view through your optical device at 100 yards. The field of view is measured in feet at distances of 1000 yards. It is basically the horizontal view from the optical devices. When you have a large field of view, you get to see more details and a better view. Following the movement of the bird also becomes easier with a large field of view. Birds rarely stay in the same place for long, this means tracking them take off, fly and land. You need a large field of view when the bird is moving.

Binoculars offer a large field of view than spotting scopes due to their small magnification. So, for those looking for a wide field of view, binoculars are the best choice for bird watching.

Advantages of using a spotting scope for birding

Spotting scopes are a perfect choice for long-distance bird watching. They have better magnifications hence a larger image of the bird is seen. Below, we look at some of the advantages of birding of using a spotting scope for bird watching:

  • Observe sensitive species: Some bird species are quite sensitive to disruptions and will escape at the slightest presence of human presence. This means getting ways to watch the birds from far distances without any disturbances. This is where spotting scopes come in handy and help watch some type of birds.
  • Spotting scopes can help you identify rare birds in a large flock by virtue of the higher magnification
  • They also allow for the identification of birds with similar colors and patterns but different species. Such birds require the closest zoom possible to differentiate the color and patterns.
  • Spotting scopes can also locate birds in hidden places. There are some rare birds known to visit specific places for a few hours a day. You need a spotting scope to spot and track their movement from as far as 200 yards.

Drawbacks of spotting scopes for birding

  • Some of the best spotting scopes are quite pricey compared to binoculars.
  • There are extra costs incurred at buying extra accessories
  • Can be heavy and difficult to carry
  • Sometimes they require setup and a tripod stand

Advantages of using binoculars for birding

  • Wider field of view hence easy tracking of birds
  • Compact binoculars for birding are extremely portable and easy to carry around
  • Bright and clear images at short distances
  • Easy to use without any setup
  • Binoculars can track birds or wildlife that move quickly
  • Cheaper compared to spotting scopes

Cons of binoculars for birding

  • Not suitable for long-distance birding due to small magnifications
  • Requires one to get a little closer to birds

The bottom line: Which is the better choice for birding?

As you can see, there is no obvious winner and it all comes down to what works for you. If you’re looking for a rare bird species, then a spotting scope is a great choice. However, for general birding, a binocular is the best choice. It is portable, compact and easy to carry around. You can carry it around the neck and view birds with ease.

A spotting scope is also great when looking for those fine details. However, it is a little expensive and heavier to carry around.

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