Every good birder should have a spotting scope. As there are two different types of this incredibly use piece of kit, how do you decide which is best, angled or straight scope?
There is huge debate over this question. Although there are a lot of reasons why we are slightly swaying towards angled spotting scopes being better for birding, a lot of it comes down to personal preference.
In the interests of playing fair, therefore, we thought we would offer our two cents on the debate and take a comprehensive look at the pros and cons of each. It’s always a best to look at the good and the bad, when you are buying anything and that is no different when it comes to spotting scopes.
Straight Spotting Scopes
With spotting scopes, as the name suggested, the eyepiece is in line with the scope body and the objective lens. There are some variations, as some will feature the eyepiece completely horizontal with the body, whereas with others, the eyepiece is positioned a little higher than the body, while maintaining a straight and horizontal design.
Intuitive and Very Easy to Use
There is no real fiddling around involved when using a straight spotting scope. You simply need to point it in the general direction of the target you are trying to spot and hey presto! It works.
Quicker Target Acquisition
Following nicely from the above, it is much quicker to find your target with a straight scope. You are facing the same way as your scope, so you can quickly switch between your naked eye and the scope, without keeping your sights set on the target.
Eyepiece is More Protected Against the Elements
Due to the shape of its design, the eyepiece of a straight spotting scope is better protected against the weather. Rain, snow, dust and other debris tend to collect in the eyepiece of an angled scope because of it pointing upwards. However, a straight scope does not have the same problem as the eyepiece itself is always sitting at a vertical position, which makes it very difficult for anything to collect up inside it and over it.
No Need to Change the Tripod Height If Switching Between Binoculars and Spotting Scope
It is often handy when birding to use binoculars to get your bearings and give a general sweep of the area thanks to the larger field of view they offer and then to switch to a scope for a more focused and closer look. When you are using an angled scope, you would need to either to adjust the height of the tripod every time you make the switch, whereas with a straight scope, you don’t have this problem.
Less Hassle to Pack
The straight shape of this kind of scope has obvious advantages compared to an angled scope when it comes to packing your bag for the day, weekend or however long you are off birding for.
Not as Convenient to Share With Others
Compared to an angled spotting scope, as we will discuss later, it is less convenient and easy to share your views with others when using a straight scope, because the height always must be adjusted, if it’s on a tripod.
Always Needs to Be Set to Eye Level Height On a Tripod
When you are using a tripod with a spotting scope, a straight scope has a major disadvantage as it always needs to be set to match your eye level height. The more you extend and increase the height a tripod is set to, the less stable you make it.
Uncomfortable to View High Angles
A straight scope’s design is perfect when you don’t need to adjust your viewing angle too much. However, if you are looking up to the top of a hill or trees and need to maintain that position, it can get uncomfortable after a while.
DON’T MISS: We’ve recommended our favourite spotting scopes here.
Angled Spotting Scopes
Angled spotting scopes, again as the self-explanatory name suggests, are normally designed with the eyepiece positioned at somewhere between a 45 to 90-degrees angle from the objective lens and scope body. Generally, you don’t get much choice about the angle of the eyepiece, but as you can rotate it in many models, you have a measure of versatility.
Much Easier to Use Comfortably When Looking Upwards
Due to its design, when you are using an angled spotting scope you are normally looking downwards into it, so it does not feel such a strain or as uncomfortable to tilt it upwards to view birds on higher plains or in the sky.
Much Easier to Share Views With Others
Compared to when using a straight scope, it is a lot easier to share the views you are experiencing with an angled spotting scope with others with a tripod. You have the same experience as a traditional telescope and you simply just need to bend over and look into it, whereas if you were using a straight scope, the other people with you may find it hard to get into the right position without wanting to adjust either the scope itself or the tripod.
Don’t Need to Be Set Up as High on a Tripod
Thanks to their unique design, you can use angled scopes to view higher targets and birds from lower tripod heights than with straight scopes. As well as increasing the tripod stability, this also means you may be able to get away with using a smaller and more compact tripod.
Less Uncomfortable For Longer Viewing Periods
The optimum position for using an angled scope with your head bent forwards is more comfortable when you are viewing targets over a longer period, especially as you can be seated for the duration. Compared to the strain you can put on your neck when trying to maintain the same position for a long period of time using a straight scope.
More Experience Required
Angled scopes, due to their design and the need to adjust various settings to get the best position, are not quite as easy to use for a complete novice. Even if you are familiar with using straight scopes, it may take a little getting used to if you switched to angled.
More Features, More Complicated
Following on with a similar point to the above, but expanding on it a little, because there are more settings and features with an angled scope. If you are not interested in tinkering and just want to get out there and spot some birds, a straight scope is (forgive the turn of phrase) a more straightforward tool to use.
Can be More Expensive
Thanks to the more intricate and complex design, you will often find that angled spotting scopes are pricier than their straight counterparts. While the price should not be your focus, if you are looking for something on a tight budget, it will be something you will need to consider.
Greater Exposure to the Natural Elements
As noted in the pros of straight scopes, angled scopes are at a distinct advantage as they are more exposed to the natural elements. As the eyepiece is in a horizontal position and you look down into it, if it is raining, snowing or windy, water, snow, ice, dust and debris can collect up on the eyepiece. Even if this does not ruin it, it can still be an inconvenience you want to avoid.
Our Final Thoughts
To summarize, there are clearly pros and cons of each. As noted at the outset, the choice of spotting scope will come down to personal preference. There is no real difference in the power of the lens used or any of the technical specifications, it is more about the user experience.
Hopefully, with our look at the plus points and negatives, you have a better idea of which is going to suit you in your birding adventures. Clearly, whatever you decide, you will have a much easier and more rewarding experience using a spotting scope of any kind than doing so without.