Although two incredibly similar tools, binoculars and spotting scopes are completely different in uses and goals. Binoculars are considered the most versatile optics that are specifically designed for hand-held use with both eyes and are meant to be easily portable. Modern binoculars come with a wide range of features, magnification ranges and uses.
Spotting scopes, on the other hand, are high magnification meant to be used with one eye, and they’re typically tripod mounted. The eyepieces on spotting scopes are sometimes straight and sometimes angled. These tools are generally a class above binoculars when it comes to magnification power, and are a class below telescopes. That being said, there are many differences to consider when buying shooting optics that will either sway you towards choosing one or the other.
Most spotting scopes will top out at 60x magnification. Due to the fact that they’re designed to be used throughout the day for viewing objects in the distance, anything above 60x magnification will be impacted by ambient conditions in the atmosphere. Dust particles, air currents and heatwaves can all turn that much magnification into a blur, making it difficult to see anything. 60x magnification power basically means the image is 60 times the size of what the naked eye sees.
On the other hand, binoculars meant for general use range anywhere from 1x to 12x magnification. However, there are specialist binoculars that have a magnification power of anywhere between 15x and 100x. These are typically designed to be tripod mounted, and the 60x-100x magnification binoculars are used at night for things such as astronomy.
The obvious winner in this category is spotting scopes. While binoculars may come with more magnification power, the average spotting scope is much more powerful than the average binocular.
Since you have to hold binoculars in your hand, the more you magnify the image, the more you magnify the movement of your hand. If you try to use binoculars with 12x magnification without having them something to rest against like a tripod, you better make sure your hands are steady, otherwise, you’ll only see a shaky image. Since binoculars are designed to be portable, their magnification power tops at 10x-12x (specialist tripod-mounted binoculars are an exception).
That being said, there’s no clear winner in this category, and both binoculars and spotting scopes will provide a stable image if their base is stable, i.e a tripod is used. That being said, make sure to stabilise your shooting optics properly when in use.
Weight and Portability
A decent pair of binoculars can weigh the same as a spotting scope of similar quality. So, there isn’t a clear winner in this regard. However, binoculars are spotting optics specifically designed to be portable. You can wear them around your neck, and there are even models that can be pocketed. While smaller, compact binoculars won’t have as much magnifying power as spotting scopes, they’re easier to carry around even if you have a spotting scope case.
Field of View
The field of view represents how much you can actually see through the spotting optic. A larger field of view means you can see more, simple as that. However, the higher the magnification power, the smaller the field of view becomes. Since spotting scopes come with more magnification power than binocular, they have a smaller field of view. Furthermore, binoculars are available with ultra-wide-angle design eyepieces that make it easier to follow moving targets and objects and provide much more view. As a result, binoculars are the obvious winners in this category.
Binoculars are straight, so you just point them where you want to take a look and look straight into them. On the other hand, spotting scopes can be either angled or straight. While there are binoculars that come with angled observation eyepieces, they aren’t all that common. While it mostly comes down to personal preference, there are reasons to get an angled spotting scope over a binocular, particularly if you’ve got the scope mounted to a tripod it’s going to be much easier to bend down and look through the angled eyepiece instead of lower your entire body to the level of the scope. Having said that, spotting scopes are more versatile and thus, the winner in this category.
Versatility – Styles, Features and Choice
You can get compact, pocketable binoculars or a standard binocular. There are also wide-angle models for taking in more scenery. Additionally, binoculars can also be zoom or fixed magnification, and they can be waterproof and armoured when you need to use them in harsh weather.
Spotting scopes are more or less all the same in style and features. You can find some models with wide-angle eyepieces, but the biggest choice you’ll have to make when purchasing a spotting scope is whether you want an angled or a straight view one. That being said, binoculars are the clear winners in this category, as there’s a large range of models that are built to suit virtually any application.