We asked a team of experienced birdwatchers to test nine pocket-size spotting scopes and found a clear winner and one big surprise
Published: December 26, 2008
|Small is not a word that comes to mind when we think about spotting scopes. Recently, however, birders have begun using scopes produced for hunters that are anything but long, large, bulky, and expensive - the more common adjectives associated with scopes. |
Mini spotting scopes weigh less than three pounds, measure 8-10 inches long, and in most cases can fit in a pocket. But do they provide the crisp, bright views birders expect? We decided to find out. Nine manufacturers loaned us their scopes, and we tested them with members of the Riveredge Bird Club in southeastern Wisconsin on a rainy Saturday morning last September.
Our 10 testers are all experienced birders who own their own traditional spotting scopes, and none had used a miniscope previously. We asked them to rate each model's image quality, ease of use, and other factors. The results are summarized on the next two pages.
The best of the bunch, according to our testers, was the Nikon Fieldscope ED50. Its extra-low dispersion (ED) glass produces a bright, wide field of view, and its $700 price tag didn't deter a few birders who said they'd like to buy one.
We also uncovered a great bargain: Celestron's Mini Zoom, which outperformed almost every other scope. It lists for only $131 and is available online for $80 to $90. Noel Cutright, founder of the Riveredge Bird Club, called it the "best buy" for its overall quality and low price.
- Matt Mendenhall, Associate Editor
How they rated
Our reviewers liked the Nikon Fieldscope the most and the Vortex Impact the least and named the Celestron Mini Zoom a best buy. Models were scored on a scale from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent).
Nikon Fieldscope ED50, 4.7
Brunton Eterna angled, 4.1
Celestron Mini Zoom, 3.8
Minox MD 50 W, 3.8
Bushnell Spacemaster Collapsible, 3.5
Kowa TS-501, 3.2
Barska Tactical, 2.8
Burris XTS-2575, 2.5
Vortex Impact, 2.4
What we tested
Click to enlarge
First, we had our reviewers judge brightness, sharpness, contrast, and color for each model at its lowest power of magnification. Then we asked them to judge the scope again at its highest useful power. Evaluators were instructed to rate each criterion on a scale ranging from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent). Numbers in green columns show the reviewers' average response.
Next we instructed reviewers to assess finish and appearance, ease of focus and handling, and eyeglass comfort, using the same scale (1-5). Numbers in green columns show the reviewers' average response. Numbers in the yellow column are averages of ratings in green columns.
We also asked our testers to sum up their appraisal of each model. We did so with four questions: Would you consider using this scope window-mounted in a car? Would you consider taking this scope when traveling by plane? Would you consider using this scope for observing birds at backyard feeders? And would you consider buying this scope as a second spotting scope? Numbers in orange columns show how many of our 10 reviewers answered yes to each question.
Note: Street prices were obtained from Amazon.com, Binoculars.com, Eagle Optics, and Optics Planet. You may find the same models available for sale from other vendors at different prices.
|The editors thank reviewers Bob Benning, Noel Cutright, Ginny Helland, Jim Helland, Chris Jost, Dennis Kuecherer, Helen Mullison, Bob Raffel, Joan Sommer, and Tom Uttech and the staff of the beautiful Riveredge Nature Center in Newburg, Wisconsin, for their expertise and assistance. |
Riveredge Nature Center