How Far Can You See With a Spotting Scope: Facts and Figures

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During the 1600s, in the Renaissance period in Europe, Galileo Galilei shocked that world with his claim that the Sun was the center of the universe and not the planet Earth. That claim irked the Pope and eventually sent Galileo to jail. Galileo used a simple telescope, primitive by today’s standards, to view the heavens.

Since then, the concept of magnifying objects using telescopes has evolved into the different shapes and forms we see today such as binoculars and spotting scopes. Though some come in small sizes, the magnification of today’s modern scopes is relatively powerful.  To answer the question, “How far can you see with a spotting scope?” we need to understand what it is first.

What is a spotting scope? A spotting scope is a type of telescope that is relatively smaller, portable, and lightweight. Its optics are made of high-quality glass, carefully placed inside a cylindrical body to present an image from afar and bring it into magnification.

It looks like a telescope; however, the spotting scope is used primarily for terrestrial viewing. Some spotting scopes can be used to view the stars and moon at night, but it performs best during the daytime as it was built primarily for that purpose.

How Far Can You See With A Spotting Scope?

Spotting scopes are used to view target objects that even binoculars can’t detect. Most binoculars have lesser magnification capabilities than a spotting scope. Therefore, for object targets at 100 yards and above, a spotting scope is the best tool to use. These scopes are ideal for hunting, bird watching, target shooting, or general sightseeing.

Spotting scopes are best used during the daytime on terrestrial objects, which is why this device is very popular as a hunting tool. Birdwatchers/ornithologists also find these tools extremely useful as spotting scopes allow them to view crystal clear images of birds perched on nests from over great distances. Finally, military and police marksmen and snipers also use this device for their training in target shooting especially for distances over 1000 yards.

Scope magnification can usually be divided into five categories. The simplest and most basic can see up to 100 yards, while the rest can see over 100, 300, 400, and over 500 respectively, the last of which is normally used more for judging air currents than scoring.

Factors to Consider When Choosing And Using Your Scope

Choosing the right spotting scope requires careful research and study. The budget will always be the biggest factor. However, cheaper and affordable options to choose from are becoming more and more available today. There are two other main features to consider:

Form and Function

There are two types of spotting scope body configurations. One is the straight body configuration where the cylinder body and eyepiece flows in one straight line. Another is the angled body spotting scope where the cylinder body and eyepiece have an angle of 45 degrees. There is not much difference between the two regarding weight or visibility. As to physical appearance, a straight spotter is usually just a bit longer.

The advantages and disadvantages of each lie in the effortlessness of setup, support it provides, glassing speed, and general ease of use. For example, an angled spotting scope is more comfortable to use and easier on the neck in long glassing situations. A straight spotting scope meanwhile, can mean faster target acquisition.

Weight and Dimension

Depending on the purpose the device will be used, the longer the distance to cover, the bigger the lenses and the bulkier the body will be. For general sightseeing purposes, a small and compact scope can be sufficient. For research or observational purposes, a mid-sized scope is adequate. Since target shooting and hunting require visibility over extremely long distances, the spotting scope needs to have high magnification capabilities; hence the biggest scopes are recommended.


Magnification details of the spotting scope come in three sets of numbers as 25x60x70. The first two numerical sets refer to the magnification or the zooming capability of the scope. In this case, it can zoom in/magnify an object by 25 times up to 60 times. The last numerical set is the diameter size of the front lens itself and is measured in millimeters. Using our example, this spotting scope can magnify an object from 25 times up to 65 times with a 70mm lens diameter.

As good as the numbers appear to be, the higher numbers do not necessarily give you the best magnification. There are other aspects that will affect your perfect viewing experience.

Stable Leveling

If you use your hands, the image will be shaky and grainy. Even on a parked car, if the situation is windy, the vibrations of the vehicle will show you an out-of-focus object. Viewing objects from a distance of 500 yards or more can be tricky if you are on a moving, unstable platform. The solution is to use a stable tripod and position it in a perfect level platform.


Humidity, heat, glare, and dust will directly affect your viewing quality and experience. The high magnification will be of little use if the dust obstructs your object. Similarly, a mirage-like effect from afar will make the focus of your scope unclear and grainy.


Good quality spotting scopes are waterproof.  It is used by adventurers in shooting ranges, parks, mountains, beaches, and deserts. But wet lenses will deliver poor quality images.  When using spotting lens in rainy conditions, consider protecting the lens from attracting water. The lens must be protected by an awning or canopy that protrudes ahead of the lens to protect against raindrops.


The spotting scope is prone to fogging. Premium quality spotting scopes should be tightly sealed, waterproof, and fog proof. Manufacturers use particular types of gas like Nitrogen or Argon sealed with rubber O-Rings to prevent the lens and body from moisture build-up and fogging.

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