Saturday, March 15, 2008

Spotting Scopes

You’ve been birding for some time and developed a degree of expertise. You may have built a good life list. Now you want to expand that list and ensure quality sightings at the same time. Binoculars served you well at closer ranges, but what about the birds across the water or on the mud flats, or farther across the prairie, or high in the sky? You are ready for new gear: a spotting scope.

As it is with binoculars, so it is with scopes. One can spend any amount. Often, manufacturers try to accomplish being inexpensive and being lightweight at the same time. Sometimes, this leads to scopes which are not well proofed for water or fog and are not as rugged. Still, recent trends have brought down the price to more affordable levels. Consequently, spotting scopes are not only for the elite, but are becoming both essential and accessible equipment for the avid birder.

The first decision is the eye piece, also know as the ocular. Really, this is two decisions in one. First do you want it configured straight through sited (ST) or angular (AN)? Straight through may make it easier to find birds because it works just like your binoculars. Angular appeals to some because it may be less a strain on the back and neck. If you are the sole user of the scope, ST may be the way to go. If you tend to share with several people when birding, you may wish to consider AN. Secondly, you have a choice of a fixed or variable magnification. Many believe it best to stick with a fixed magnification of 20x or 30x--the larger the magnification the greater the light distortion. Variable magnifications typically are 15x-45x or 20x-60x. You should use the smaller magnification in the range to locate the bird and ramp up to gain more detail. As you ramp up, less light will be let in accompanied by a narrower field of view.

The next decision is the objective lens. These define the field of view and are best if at least 60 mm. Larger objective lenses gather more light as well as allowing a greater field of view. The material used for the lens is important, too. The more expensive scopes have a special type of glass in them call ED, which stands for extra-low dispersion. ED enhances light gathering and corrects for chromatic aberration.

Finally, don’t neglect the support for your scope. Rigid, mid-weight tripods are best. Tripods need to be sturdy and easily adjustable. Consider a tripod with flip locks for secure and quick adjustments.

The acquisition of a quality spotting scope will enhance your experience and enjoyment of the great outdoors.


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