Remarkably, astronomy is such a vast and varied hobby that you do not even need to get a telescope to participate. Instead, you can grab yourself a dual purpose spotting scope that allows you to have the full benefits of both a telescope and a terrestrial scope all in one. This allows the versatile astronomer to have access to an entire toolbox’s worth of options with a single tool. Whether you are a hunter who likes to look at the stars at night after a long day or an astronomer who likes to go birdwatching on the weekends, spotting scopes have a lot of potential to be well rounded tools of the trade.
IN A HURRY? HERE’S OUR TOP PICKS…
If you have never considered looking into spotting scopes instead of telescopes, now is a great time to look into them. Outdoor sports and activities are only growing more and more popular and depending on your goals and preferences, a spotting scope could be the best choice for you and your family.
Spotting Scope vs. Telescope
What is the difference between a spotting scope and a telescope? Why would you consider one over another?
The main difference between a typical spotting scope and your average telescope is slight. In fact, many spotting scopes have similar designs to the most popular telescopes. They both are optical tubes that are made to give you excellent images during magnification.
The main difference is in the overall power and the imaging process. Spotting scopes are designed to be used primarily on terrestrial things. That typically means lower magnification levels, closer distance for focusing, and integrated image diagonals which keeps images upright. Telescopes are generally much more powerful, bigger and have a farther distance of optimal focus.
It all depends on what you are trying to use the scope for.
An Astronomy Spotting Scope
What you are going to get out of a spotting scope aimed at the astronomer is a powerful terrestrial scope that can effectively double as a telescope. If you are looking for a scope that simply does the night sky, you are going to want to just go with a standard telescope. That is what they are for.
Spotting scopes are, in this capacity, dual natured by design. That means we are going to be looking at spotting scopes that can also be used as effective night sky telescopes in addition to being an Earth-bound spotter.
But remember that spotting scopes are not designed to be telescopes. They are designed for outdoor daylight activities first, astronomy second. This is an important distinction to keep in mind as we go forward.
This means we are going to be looking at spotting scopes with characteristics that are similar to that of a telescope. The typical markers we use to judge a telescope will be used here as well including, aperture size, focal length, optical quality, and coated glass. If it sounds like it would make a good telescope, it probably will.
That being said, here are our favorite spotting scopes that can be used for astronomy on the market today.
Best: Celestron – Ultima 100 Angled Spotting Scope
The best spotting scope on our list is the Celestron Ultima 100 Angled Scope. If you thought Celestron only made quality telescopes, I’m here to tell you that they also bang out excellent spotting scopes and individual optics as well. This scope has it all in terms of both general viewing and the things that make for a great dual purpose scope.
The optics on this scope are powerful. With 100mm of objective lens, you have ample power to really dial in on your favorite sights, either skyward or earthbound. At 100mm, the objective lens on this scope is larger than most budget level telescopes meaning it has more than enough power to show you the sights you want to see in the night sky.
Celestron has included fully multi-coated lenses which improve the image quality dramatically. You will not suffer from blurred or fuzzy images with the excellent quality glass used here.
The forty-five degree viewing angle is both practical and comfortable allowing you to seamlessly switch from astronomy to hunting and back with ease.
But the optics aren’t the only thing that this scope has that sets it above the rest.
The Ultima 100 Angled Scope also features a large and powerful focus dial. This dial is always within reach of your fingertips and allows for quick and easy adjustments on the fly. Images, no matter the distance, will come into laser sharp focus in seconds. It really is a joy to use. You won’t have any worry or frustration when it comes to simply focus adjustments.
This comes in handy when using the scope to do things such as birdwatching, hunting, and scouting. Small distant objects can come into crystal clear focus in a few turns of this excellent dial.
You won’t have to worry about using this scope outside either because the whole thing is designed to be waterproof and fog proof. That means no foggy lenses, no smudgy mirrors, and no worries about condensation. You can confidently take this scope with you out into the woods knowing that it was designed to take any punishment that nature can throw at it.
In addition, you also receive a whole host of accessories that flesh out this purchase quite nicely. This scope comes with an extended tripod mounting plate, zoom eyepiece with integrated T-adapter, carrying case, eyepiece lens cap, eyepiece port cover, eyepiece pouch, lens cloth, and instruction manual. All of these things add a level of value and completeness rarely seen in spotting scopes.
All in all, this is one of the best values on the market in terms of optical quality, flexibility and included extras. It will be difficult to find anything on the market that can match Celestron’s design mastery and durability in this area.Check Latest Price
Best Orion: Orion 9823 Apex 102mm Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope
While Celestron is certainly one of the best manufacturers in the market today, we would be remiss if we did not mention their closest competitor, Orion. Orion also has a strong pedigree when it comes to creating quality telescopes and optics. Their Apex 102mm Telescope is one such entry.
This is a telescope that can seamlessly be used for terrestrial viewing or astronomy. It is a powerful Maksutov-Cassegrain design with a beefy 102mm primary aperture. This gives you enough power to comfortably view the moon, stars, and planets without any issue at night while also giving you a compact scope for daytime use as well.
The Maksutov-Cassegrain design means this telescope remains small and compact for easy transport and adjustments. It measures less than two feet in length and comes in just a hair over five pounds. That means it will not take up a ton of space or hurt or back if you want to take it out to your favorite dark sky spot out in the wild.
This telescope is exceedingly simple to operate making it perfect for the on the fly astronomer or the person new to the hobby. It is easy to focus, does not require much in the way of calibration or adjustments, and is very durable. You will not have any of the frustrations that you get with a fragile reflector telescope of a similar size that needs a lot in the way of focusing and collimation.
One of the only real downsides is that it does not come with a tripod or mount meaning you will have to get that separately or use one that you already have. Despite the lack of a tripod it does come with a 25mm Sirius Plossl 1.25″ eyepiece, 6×26 correct-image finder scope, 45-degree correct-image diagonal, soft carry case, and free Starry Night software.
Orion has really hit a home run with their Apex Telescope and it deserves ample consideration when searching for your next scope.Check Latest Price
Best Budget: CREATIVE XP Spotting Scope with Tripod 20-60x80mm
If you are looking for a spotting scope, telescope combo that won’t break the bank you are going to want to look at the CREATIVE XP Spotting Scope. This scope comes in at about half the price of the name brand scopes on this list but still offers a lot in terms of both power and flexibility.
It boasts fully multi-coated glass lenses, a large 80mm objective lens, and a dual knob focuser. This allows you to pick up some truly special sights with this scope. In terms of overall quality, it is almost up to the level of the name brand scopes but without the pedigree and warranty. For the price, not much else on the market is offering as much as this scope is.
It is waterproof and fog proof meaning it can be taken outside without any worry or hassle. It can be easily used for birdwatching, plane spotting, vista watching, and astronomy equally well. With an ideal zoom level of 60x, you get enough power to see the moon and Jupiter as well as a distant bobcat stalking around on the far off treeline.
This scope also comes with an included tripod, carrying case, and cellphone adapter. The phone adapter allows you to drop your smartphone into the adjustable phone tray and align your camera up so that you can take pictures of the sights you are picking up in the eyepiece. This allows you to take stunning photos of both nature on Earth and the wonders of the cosmos above.
If you are on a budget or are looking to try out a dual purpose spotting scope at a reasonable price, there is no scope on the market offering as much as this one for the same cost. It is a truly great value if you want to go that route.Check Latest Price
Honorable Mention: Celestron 52268 C90 Mak Spotting Scope
The Celestron C90 Mak Spotting Scope is an excellent scope for both land viewing and astronomy. The 90mm objective lens is strong enough to capture great images during the day and at night.
This scope is fitted with a T-adapter right out of the box that allows you to hook up your favorite DSLR or SLR camera right to the lens creating a massive 1250mm addition to your collection. This accessory makes this scope perfect for the amateur or professional photographer out there looking to capture amazing panoramic pictures of the land or sky.
The biggest downside to the C90 Mak is the fact that it is not waterproof or fog proof. This means you just have to be a little more careful than some of the other scopes if you are going to be out in the morning hours or plan on taking this scope on a hiking trip.
Overall, Celestron’s design philosophy and pedigree are on full display here with yet another quality optical offering for the spotting scope market. This is a perfect middle ground between the budget scope and the higher end scopes. You still get the name brand polish without having to pay quite as much and still get some truly great optics.
If you are interested in reading more about the Celestron C90 Mak check out our full-length review right here on the site.Check Latest Price
Spotting scopes have a ton of awesome uses. Whether you are a busy outdoorsman who likes to hunt as much as you like to stargaze or someone just looking to get started with telescopes spotting scopes can fill a lot of uses. They are lightweight, durable, and flexible allowing you to whale watch as easily as take a glance at Saturn.
There are many spotting scopes out there that can act as both a telescope and an excellent terrestrial scope but these are some of the best available. In terms of overall quality, features offered, price, and reputation these scopes easily take top billing all around.
If you are apprehensive about getting into astronomy, take a look at getting a dual purpose spotting scope. They are easy to use, easy to learn, and a great way to get into the wider world of powerful optical scopes.