Angled vs. Straight Spotting Scope | Your Guide to Buying the Perfect Scope

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Spotting scopes are a phenomenal tool for birding. In fact, many birders prefer using a scope over using a pair of binoculars.

Spotting scopes allow birders to get a closer look at birds that would otherwise be too far away even to notice.

They offer more magnification than the average pair of binoculars, and many models are compatible with smartphones or digital cameras.

That means you can take incredible pictures of the birds you find! There are two main types of spotting scopes designs: straight and angled.

Let’s look at the differences between these two designs and figure out which one is best for you!

How a Spotting Scope Works

A spotting scope is basically a small telescope.

When you use a scope, you look through a single eyepiece, which is also called the ocular lens. Light passes through the objective lens at the other end of the scope, then travels through a series of prisms.

The job of the prisms within the telescope is to lengthen the distance that the scope can cover.

The larger the objective lens, the brighter the image will be. An objective lens that is smaller in diameter will keep the scope lighter in weight, but it will also reduce the brightness and clarity of what you see.

A large-diameter objective lens will give you incredible views, but the scope will be quite heavy. Using a tall tripod will give you even an incredible view. 

Important note: spotting scopes are not meant to be handheld like a pair of binoculars. Because you are looking at something much farther away, you need the stability that comes from a tripod.

Whether you are using a tripod set up on the ground or even mounted onto the window of your car, you need this accessory to view items at a distance through a scope.

Differences Between a Straight and Angled Spotting Scope

When you pick up a spotting scope–or even just look at one–you will know immediately if it is a straight or angled design. Unlike a prism, which is an internal mechanism you can’t see, the shape of the scope is an external feature.

The difference in design is clear: a straight scope extends directly from the eyepiece to the objective lens, and an angled scope bends just past the eyepiece before extending to the objective lens.

Benefits of a Straight Scope

A straight scope is very easy to use, especially if you are new to scoping. It’s quite easy to look through the eyepiece and line up the scope with the objects or animals you are looking at.

Additionally:

  • The eyepiece is well protected from the elements while in use
  • A straight scope is easy to pack in any universal carrying case

Drawbacks of a Straight Scope

Once you get a straight scope set up, it’s pretty much set up for just one person to use. It’s not easy to trade the straight scope back and forth between users because they will need to change the set-up based on their height.

Another issue is reduced stability. The eyepiece must be positioned at eye level, and the rest of the scope must extend along the same plane. This means the whole scope has to be higher than an angled scope.

The higher the tripod has to go, the less stability you will have for getting great views or pictures. Ensure tripod stability on the vehicle window mount, especially for a shorter person. 

Finally, many straight-scope users report neck discomfort as they have to strain to line up with the eyepiece. This is especially likely if you are looking up toward a target.

Benefits of an Angled Scope

Angled scopes have a great reputation for providing a more comfortable viewing experience, especially for birds above eye level. Additionally, they tend to have a great range of visibility.

Typically, these scopes have more options for features.

Drawbacks of an Angled Scope

The handful of drawbacks are usually pretty easy to overcome:

  • They are more expensive than straight scopes
  • There is a learning curve for new users
  • The eyepiece, which angles upward, is exposed to the elements and may become damaged by wind, rain, snow, or other environmental concerns

Is an Angled or Straight Spotting Scope Better?

angled vs straight spotting scope

There isn’t a straightforward answer to this question! It really comes down to personal preference.

Some of the things you should consider when deciding which one is the include optical performance, optical design, and rotating color. 

If you want to learn more about options that are currently on the market, check out our recent guide to 7 Great Scopes!

There are more factors that will influence your decision than just the shape of the scope. You also want to consider the following:

  • Size
  • Weight
  • Magnification power
  • Durability
  • Price
  • Portability
  • Accessories like tripods and phone mounts

What Spotting Scope Does Steven Rinella Use?

Steven Rinella is the host of MeatEater on Netflix. As an outdoorsman and conservationist, he frequently uses a spotting scope.

In an interview, Rinella discussed his preference for Vortex Optics. Specifically, he uses the straight scope Razor HD with a 65mm objective lens.

Vortex Optics Razor HD Gen III 1-10x24 First Focal Plane Riflescope - EBR-9 Reticle (MOA)
  • The Razor HD Gen III 1-10x24 first focal plane scope provides accurate holdovers through the entire magnification range from...
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Last update on 2023-02-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

He explains, “Lately, I’ve been using the 65 mm Razor HD with a straight eyepiece. I own several other models, but this one fits nicely with my style of hunting, where I’m seeking a compromise between packability and power.

I prefer an angled eye-piece for long glassing sessions, but the straight eyepiece allows me to bounce back and forth between binos and a spotting scope on my tripod without changing my physical position.

With optics, there are constant trade-offs. I’m always tweaking my system to find the right way of doing things. ”

What Size Spotting Scope Do I Need for 1000 Yards?

When you buy a spotting scope, look at the magnification numbers. They will look a bit different than the magnification you’re used to seeing listed on a pair of binoculars. That is because scopes zoom in and out.

On a pair of binoculars, you will see two numbers that are arranged like this: Number x Number.

That first number marks how much magnification the binoculars offer, and the second is the size of the objective lens. Binoculars that magnify 12 x and have a 50 mm objective lens will look like this: 12×55.

But a scope’s magnification numbers will look something like this: 25-60×65.

The first number (25-60) represents the range of magnification, and the second number is still the objective lens diameter. A 25-60×65 scope ranges from 25-60x magnification, and the objective lens is 65 mm wide.

Pay attention to that magnification range to find a scope that will allow you to see up to 1000 yards away.

You will need, at minimum, 20-60x magnification for objects that are 1000 yards away.

Don’t Forget About Brightness

If you see high magnification numbers but a small objective lens size, you can see pretty far away, but the image will be dim. On a bright, sunny day, you may be able to see the bird you’ve spotted.

But if conditions are in any way cloudy or it’s the wrong time of day, you’re unlikely to get a crisp, bright image.

What Spotting Scope Does the Military Use?

Scopes are not used exclusively for birding, of course.

Additional purposes include:

  • Hunting
  • Sharpshooting
  • Stargazing
  • Surveillance
  • Military use

The military uses spotting scopes in the field to view targets from great distances. Whenever there is a need for precise, tactical engagement on the ground, you will find a spotting scope in use.

These scopes must be portable, durable, and incredibly precise.

The M151 Spotting Scope meets those requirements. Its features include:

  • 12-40x magnification
  • 60mm objective lens
  • Leupold Mil Dot reticle
  • Weather resistance
  • Fogproof coatings
  • Aluminum tactical tripod
  • Laser filter and anti-reflective device
  • Nightvision adaptor

Which Scope Is Right for You?

Choosing the right scope doesn’t have to be a big headache!

I know what it’s like to pore over my options for a big purchase and feel like I just can’t decide. There are reviews to look at, specs to consider, and a budget to figure out.

The good news is that whatever spotting scope you choose will improve your birding experience! You can definitely see more with a spotting scope than you can with the naked eye.

Spotting scopes also have great re-sale value within the first five years of purchase, so you can always switch to something else if your first scope doesn’t meet all of your needs.

Whatever scope you choose, whether it is angled or straight, I hope you end up spotting some great birds that you would never have been able to see without the scope!

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Liz Ranfeld

Liz Boltz Ranfeld is an independent educator and writer from Indiana. She lives on the edge of the woods with her husband, 2 kids, dogs, chickens, and hedgehog. One of the best things of living in rural Indiana is spotting hawks, pileated woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and other wild creatures. She enjoys hiking, canoeing, and gardening, and one of her personal heroes is the conservationist and birdwatcher Rosalie Barrow Edge, who paved the way for the protection of birds around the globe.