Selecting A Spotting Scope and Why I Chose the Nikon Prostaff

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Video best spotting scope for backcountry hunting

This post is about how I decided to buy the Nikon Prostaff 16-48X65 spotting scope from a list of 43 spotting scopes that I found in the $200-$500 price range (Read my Nikon ProStaff spotting scope review).

I also explain why I eliminated many of the other spotting scopes and give my opinion on some of the side by side comparisons to the Nikon ProStaff spotting scope for the models I tested in person.

The Nikon Prostaff 3 and Prostaff 5 are now available, but I still use my Prostaff regularly and still love it. I’ve never been disappointed with Nikon optics.

I Needed a Lightweight Spotting Scope that is Easy to Pack

My requirements were for a light-weight scope and tripod that I could pack around in the mountains and it had to be waterproof, not just water resistant. When I wanted to scan a hillside, I could pull the scope and tripod out of the pack, set up and get comfortable and go to work. I have used many spotting scopes with both the straight and angled eye pieces and prefer to use the straight eye pieces when scanning hillsides while sitting or standing.

It was going to be hard to find a spotting scope that could provide same image quality as the Kowa 884 that I was used to using, but no use crying about it anymore, I had to leave the Kowa with the boss when I decided to move on to greener pastures. I was also on a fairly tight budget, since in addition to a spotting scope, I also needed to buy binoculars, range finder, gps unit and a digital camera. Yeah… Christmas is coming early this year, but I am Santa.

43 Spotting Scopes between $200 and $500

The current all size spotting scope comparison table from the previous post included a full range of sizes and magnifications and also varied a lot in length and weight. Since I wanted a spotting scope that I could pack, I was more interested in scopes in the 60-65 mm objective range instead of the 80-88 mm range because the mid-sized scopes would weight less, be shorter in length and width and also be less expensive.

The smaller scopes can also be supported by smaller, light-weight tripods and when your carrying everything on your back in rough country, every little bit of weight you can save helps. There are also compact spotting scopes in the 40 and 50 mm range that are even smaller and lighter, but points they gain for being small and light weight, they lose in light gathering ability and with smaller fields of view.

Just as a brainstorming exercise doesn’t throw out any ideas at first, I didn’t throw out any spotting scopes that were in my price range, but then I had to go through the list a pick the best spotting scope for what I needed.

I Eliminated Spotting Scopes that were Too Heavy, Too Long and had Short Eye Relief

Since weight and length were important considerations for packing a spotting scope, the first and simplest step was to eliminate the heaviest spotting scopes, so I immediately eliminated 11 spotting scopes that weighed over 3.5 lbs or 56 ounces (1,588 g). This removed all but one of the of the 90 and 100 mm spotting scopes.

Next, I eliminated six more spotting scopes that were longer than 16 inches (406 mm), leaving only three 80 mm spotting scopes remaining. I decided to reject two of the 80 mm scopes on the list, because I already knew those particular scopes didn’t have the image quality I wanted. I also rejected the last 80 mm spotting scope basically because it was the heaviest spotting scope that remained on the list. My list had already been whittled down to 23 spotting scopes.

The next elimination round was also simple. I wear glasses and prefer to keep them on when using a spotting scope, so I have learned from experience that I need a minimum of 14 mm of eye relief in order to see the entire field of view. That removed three more spotting scopes from consideration, but I did keep two spotting scopes on the list even though they did not report the eye relief distance.

One of the spotting scopes eliminated for short eye relief was the Bushnell ImageView, a combination spotting scope and digital camera. At first, I was intrigued by the ImageView, but in addition to the very short eye relief (11 mm), I decided I wasn’t interested because it is not waterproof. I can’t afford to have a scope that is “sunny day” use only, whether it can take pictures or not.

Now, you can get an adapter to attach your phone to your spotting scope.

After eliminating potential spotting scopes that I thought were too heavy or too long to pack and by removing spotting scopes that didn’t have enough eye relief for me to use with my glasses, I was left with 20 spotting scopes to test. These 20 spotting scopes were represented by 10 different manufacturers and included two models made by Barska, two Burris models, four Bushnell models, three Leupold models, the Nikon ProStaff, the Redfield Rampage, three Vanguard models, three models made by Vortex and the Weaver Classic spotting scope. I have updated the table below because spotting scope models come and go. Years ago, I chose a Nikon scope, but I think any of these models will do the job based on your price point.

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Spotting Scopes Comparison Table

Current Recommended Lightweight Spotting Scope Models

Model Mag & Obj Wt (oz) Len (in) Min Focus (ft) Eye Relief (mm) FOV (ft) at 1000 Yds Notes Spotting Scopes Priced $250 or Less* – *Be aware prices are approximate prices for comparison only and prices are subject to change Bushnell Trophy 20-60X65 42.3 13.4 32.8 na 110/35 Straight only Redfield Rampage 20-60X60 37.2 14.4 19.8 14 114/51 Straight only Spotting Scopes Priced Between $250 and $350* Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 15-45X60 40.4 11.1 18.0 20 140/23 Angled or straight Leupold SX-1 Ventana II 15-45X60 30.6 13.5 13.8 24 121/63 Angled or straight Minox MD 16-30X50 22.9 8.4 29.5 15 142/100 Angled Spotting Scopes Priced Between $350 and $450* Bushnell Elite 15-45X60 26.5 12.2 30.0 na 125-22 Straight only Leupold Goldring Compact 10-20X40 15.8 7.5 5.5 17.2 199/136 Angled or straight Vortex Diamondback 20-60X60 33.8 14.4 20.0 17 114/51 Angled or straight Scopes Priced $450 or More* Nikon ProStaff 16-48X65 31.7 11.5 13.1 15.2 126/62.3 Angled or straight, Realtree Camo Vortex Recon 15X50 15.2 7 12.0 16 215 Hand held Monocular, avail. ranging reticle Vortex Viper HD 15-45X65 50.1 15.8 16.0 18 140-65 Angled or straight, new HD price

Spotting Scope Selection Process

After compiling the table of spotting scopes above, I went to Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse and Dick’s Sporting Goods and to several other retail stores to test as many of the spotting scopes in the above table as possible. The first scope I tested was the Nikon ProStaff 16-48X65. I have used many Nikon binoculars and spotting scopes in the past and know that I can rely on them and the Nikon ProStaff was going to be my benchmark.

As expected, the Nikon ProStaff was very bright inside the store and very sharp when focused on the optics chart that Cabela’s has inside the store for that purpose. If you ask the salespeople, they will let you take the scopes and a tripod outside (they have to go with you of course) to use them in natural light and to test them at the distances you will actually be using them in the field. To compare the spotting scopes in low light conditions, I looked at some taxidermy mounts that were in a dark corner in the far side of the store that could be seen from the optics counter.

Leupold Goldring Compact Spotting Scopes

The next spotting scope I tested was the Leupold Goldring compact 15-30X50. At only 21 ounces and a compact 11 inches long, the compact Goldrings are contenders for packable spotting scopes. The images through the Leuopold Goldring were also very sharp and clear, but the 50mm objective didn’t have the same field of view or light gathering ability I wanted. This is a very nice, compact spotting scope, but at about the same price as the ProStaff, it did not bump the ProStaff from contention.

I did not test the smaller Leupold Goldring (10-20X40) since I had decided the field of view was too small and light gathering ability of the 50 mm spotting scopes was less than I wanted. At that point, I decided to only look at the remaining 60 – 70 mm spotting scopes, except for the fixed magnification Vortex Recon Scope (15X50), which left 17 spotting scopes on my list.

Burris Landmark, Bushnell Trophy, Redfield Rampage and Vanguard High Plains 561 Spotting Scopes

These four spotting scopes were the least expensive scopes left on my list, the Burris Landmark (15-45X60), Bushnell Trophy (20-60X65), the Redfield Rampage (20-60X60) and the Vanguard High Plans 561 (15-45X60). In my opinion, they were all similar in feel and optical quality to each other, with a slight edge going to the 65mm Bushnell Trophy, but neither were as clear or as bright as the Nikon.

The Bushnell Trophy, the Redfield Rampage and the Vanguard High Plains were all considerably heavier than the Nikon ProStaff and the Bushnell Trophy and the Redfield Rampage were both at least two inches longer, while the Burris Landmark was actually lighter in weight than the ProStaff .

All four of these spotting scopes cost over $100 less than the Nikon ProStaff, and for a short time, the Burris Landmark was actually selling for less than $170. The Vanguard High Plains spotting scope comes with an inexpensive range tripod. If my budget was limited to the low $200 range, either of these spotting scopes would be good options. My list had been whittled down to 13 spotting scopes ranging in price between $245 and $500.

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Barska Naturescape ED, Burris XTS-2575 and Weaver Classic Spotting Scopes

Neither Cabela’s or Sportsman’s Warehouse carried these models of the Barska, Burris or Weaver spotting scopes. They are available at many online stores at very reasonable prices and the Barska scopes are supposed to be available at Sears and Walmart, but after several tries, I was not able to see any of the Barska Naturescape (the 60 or 65 mm) spotting scopes first hand.

Sears had the Barska Naturescape 20-60X65 listed at $426 ($100 higher than the price listed online) and the Naturescape 20-60X60 listed at $369 (also $100 higher than online). The two Barska Naturescape ED, Burris XTX-2575 and the Weaver Classic spotting scopes were eliminated from my list simply because they were too hard to find. If I ever see any one of these spotting scopes in person, I will check them out and update this section.

Bushnell Legend Ultra HD and Bushnell Elite Spotting Scopes

Before going to test spotting scopes, I already knew I could buy the Bushnell Ultra HD spotting scope online for over $100 less than what is was listed in the stores and the Bushnell Elite spotting scope was available for about the same price as the Nikon Pro Staff, but was surprised that neither Cabela’s or Sportsman’s Warehouse had either one of them in stock (or online).

I found a Bushnell Legend at Walmart, but was only able to look through it inside the brightly lit store. You know that Walmart may have good prices on many things, but don’t expect their salespeople to have much knowledge. After I got home and looked at the picture of the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD spotting scope at the Bushnell website, I don’t think the model they showed me at Walmart was the HD version with high density glass.

I really wanted to test both of these Bushnell spotting scopes, but I was not able to find the Bushnell Elite spotting at all, so I withhold judgment of both of these Bushnell spotting scopes until I can actually test them. The Bushnell Legend Ultra HD may have been a spotting scope for me to consider, except one negative for me is that it is only available in the angled version. Again, the Bushnell Ultra HD spotting scope is one that I would like to see in person, and if so, I will update this section. Trying to find and test spotting scopes is starting to be a lot like work.

Leupold Spotting Scopes

The Leupold SX-1 Ventana (replaced by the SX-1 #2 model) 15-45X60 weighs only 30.6 oz. which is slightly lighter than the Nikon ProStaff, but it is two inches longer. The image quality of the Leupold Ventana was bright and clear, but I had to give a slight edge to the Nikon ProStaff for image detail, especially in low light conditions, probably due more to the slightly larger objective of the ProStaff than to glass, coatings or construction quality. At the time, the Ventana was listed about $75 cheaper than the ProStaff. In some ways, this was a tough call. If I were not already such a Nikon fan, and if the Leupold Ventana were a couple of inches shorter, this might have been my choice, but in the end, the choice was more about getting the best small sized optics I could get for less than $500 and not about saving $75. The Ventana could not bump the ProStaff from top place.

Vanguard Endeavor and Signature Plus Spotting Scopes

Again, the Vanguard Endeavor16-48X65 spotting scope was one I really wanted to test in person, but I couldn’t find either Vanguard model at any of my local stores. Later, I learned the Endeavor model was available at Sears, but I think it was only available on-line, or at least it wasn’t at the Sears that I visited. I hope to get to test the Endeavor model and if I get to do so, I will also update this section.

Vortex Diamondback Spotting Scope

I can vouch for the quality of Vortex optics and I actually chose a pair of the Vortex Diamondback binoculars (read my review of the Vortex Diamondback Binoculars) over the Nikon Monarchs, so I was curious to see how Vortex spotting scopes would stack up against the Nikon ProStaff. My list had narrowed to four spotting scopes and three Vortex spotting scopes were all that remain to be tested.

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The Vortex Diamondback 20-60X60 also compares well against the Nikon ProStaff and the Leupold Goldrings and Ventana spotting scopes. It has a bright clear image at the lower magnification, which is higher than the Nikon minimum magnification of 16X. The Vortex has a maximum magnification of 60X, which is considerably higher than the Nikon Prostaff (48X) is there to use if you wanted it. In my opinion, the Nikon ProStaff seems to be slightly brighter at similar magnifications, probably due to the slightly larger objective lens as much as anything else.

Also compared directly to the Nikon ProStaff and my search for a light-weight compact scope, the Vortex Nomad is over 3 oz. heavier and 2.5 inches longer. At the time, the price for the ProStaff and the Vortex were nearly identical, so with the slight edge going to the Nikon for a brighter image, a slight edge going to the Vortex for a higher maximum magnification, and a slight edge going to the Nikon for both length and weight, I stayed with the Nikon Prostaff again. It was after I already made the buying decision that I learned about the Vortex VIP warranty, which is a big plus for considering Vortex optics.

Vortex Viper and Vortex Recon Mountain Spotting Scopes

Unfortunately, Cabela’s did not have the 65 mm version of the Vortex Viper spotting scope and they did not have the Vortex Recon Mountain scope at all. Sportsman’s Warehouse also had neither, so I was not able to compare them. The current price tag for both of these models is right at $450, which is $75 more than the Nikon ProStaff, so it is unlikely that I would have spent the extra money for the heavier and longer Viper.

I am intrigued with the idea of a hand held recon scope. At 15.2 oz. the Vortex Recon Mountain scope is definitely packable and at only 7 inches long, it is almost “pocketable”. It is designed to use with a hand strap, so no need to pack around a tripod, though the Recon Mountain scope can be attached to a tripod if needed.

I have often thought about the possibility of using a high powered monocular instead of a spotting scope. Monoculars are inexpensive to produce compared to binoculars and we use the low magnification range of our spotting scopes most of the time anyway, so we should be able to get very good quality optics for a reasonable price. The only negative I can see is for those time you wanted more than 15X magnification, you would not have it. And for that reason, I decided to buy the Nikon ProStaff spotting scope this time. But who knows… If the knees hold out and I can still climb those ridges in the future, my next scope may be a Recon Mountain scope.

I Compared Eight Spotting Scopes to the Nikon ProStaff Spotting Scope

In my search for a spotting scope, I started out with the intention of testing 20 spotting scopes. After making two trips to the city, burning many gallons of gas and using up many hours of my time, I actually got to hold and test nine of the 20 spotting scopes on my list. I had planned to make another trip to another store in another city to see if I could find and test more spotting scopes, but time was running short and I needed to get some scouting done. I decided to buy the Nikon ProStaff, since none of the other spotting scopes I had tested could beat it for image quality.

Since that time, I have been using my Nikon ProStaff for scouting, hunting and watching raptors. Here is my full review of features of the Nikon ProStaff 16-48X65.

Photo 1 was taken from an upstairs window in our house at about 3,200 yards with the Nikon Prostaff spotting scope.

The photo was digiscoped by holding a camera up to the spotting scope eye piece.

The elk are not in good focus because it was getting dark and I was loosing the light fast and trying to focus the camera and hold it to the spotting scope at the same time, but it gives you an idea of the capabilities of the Nikon Prostaff spotting scope. The view is also much better with your eye than trying to look through the camera.

There are exactly 200 elk in the original full-sized photo. For a reference of how far way the picture was taken, look at the box in Photo 2 taken from the same window (different day) with just the camera.

By the way, with the help of my hunting optics, I put an elk in the freezer again this year. Need info or encouragement for your DIY Elk Hunt?

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>