Buying Guide Telescopes & Spotting Scopes

Buying Guide Telescopes & Spotting Scopes

What is a Telescope vs Spotting Scope?

In its simplest form both a telescope and a spotting scope are optical devices designed to make distant objects appear closer. The former is typically referred to when talking astronomy or skies and the latter land viewing. Many people don’t realise that a spotting scope can be a great alternative to a telescope, it all comes down to the intended usage.

Telescopes are exceptional when it comes to viewing the skies, there is a variety of Telescopes types available which means they cover from entry level (kids/amateurs) to professionals and astrophotographers. Some Telescopes use an arrangement of lenses, while others use a combination of curved mirrors and lenses. Most telescopes are less potable, durable and difficult to use.

Spotting scopes are far more adaptable and durable for terrestrial (land) viewing. They are ideal for bird, boat and whale watching (if you have the luxury of living by the sea!) and can be used for some astronomical viewing.

The biggest difference between the two is the image, telescopes (in most part) are inverted (that is upside-down and back-to-front), this of course can be corrected with an erecting diagonal prism (purchased separately). This is because when looking at objects in the sky, direction doesn’t really matter. A spotting scope on the other hand is true to view i.e. correct, the way you would see with your naked eye, making it ideal for land based objects where direction does matter, however you can also use your spotting scope for sky viewing where direction is not an issue! This makes a spotting scope a great entry into astronomy for beginners but also a recreational scope for land based viewing.

No matter the type of Scope, the ultimate aim remains the same, it is an instrument designed to help improve your view of things that are far away.

The following is a basic table, this is an ‘on average’ summary, which means there may be some models that offer additional benefits than stated, please use this as a guide not a rule.


Spotting Scope

Superior astronomical viewing

Versatile terrestrial viewing (some astronomical)

Less Portable

More portable

Less Durable

More durable

More difficult

Simple to use

More Types available

2 types available

Greater magnification Power

Capped magnification possibilities

Better Light Gathering (larger apertures)

Typically less light gathering

Image inverted

Image true

Plenty accessory options available

Fewer accessory options available

 What are Telescopes used for?

Telescopes can be used to look at things in space, such as stars, planets, and even other galaxies. With an erect image diagonal, they can also be used for viewing terrestrial objects that are distant from you such as mountains, boats at sea, or birds in a tree etc.

 What are Spotting scopes used for?

Spotting scopes can be used for terrestrial viewing in the distance such as mountains, boats or whales at sea, or birds in a tree etc. They can also be used for some astronomical viewing such as moon, and some planets (weather and astronomical calendar dependent).

 What are the different types of telescopes available?

There are 4 types of telescope.

The two main types of telescopes are refractors and reflectors. Refractors use lenses to magnify distant objects, whereas reflectors use curved mirrors.

Another type known as a catadioptric, or Cassegrain, telescope which uses a combination of lenses and mirrors. Cassegrain telescopes combine the best qualities of refractors and reflectors in a compact design so are highly capable and portable.

Lastly there is a type known as a Dobsonian. A Dobsonian is an Alt-azimuth-mounted newtonian refractor. They are typically larger in size, portable and lower cost also a great telescope for amateurs and children! They are stable and sturdy, no tripod legs means less chance to bump! Table top versions are great for young Children. 

What are the different types of Spotting Scopes available?

There are two types of spotting scope, straight or angled. Most popular are the angled spotters as these are favoured for observing birds, whales, boats and casual users, the angle makes it easier to look down into especially when on a table or tripod. A straight version is typically used by hunters/shooters as it enables them to lay flat on the ground making it easier to track their target.

Does size of my telescope matter?

The diameter of a telescope is a key factor to be considered when buying a telescope, as the bigger the aperture, the more light the telescope will be able to collect and therefore the clearer the image. However, you should also consider other factors such as ease of use, portability, and technology.

  • Having a telescope that is computerised and motorised makes finding and tracking objects in space much easier.
  • Having a compact telescope that can be easily assembled and disassembled makes it easy to transport.
  • Having a telescope with the latest Wi-Fi technology allows you to control the telescope with a smart phone or tablet.

It’s the combination of these factors that should be used to determine which telescope you should buy.

Spotting scopes then to be of the more compact variety this is what makes them more versatile, that does mean they are limited in their light gathering ability and images can be less clear (especially at night or in low light)

What is Aperture?

Aperture is the diameter of the main lens or mirror of the telescope. The bigger the aperture, the more light that is collected and the brighter and sharper the image will be. 

What are computerised Telescopes?

A computerised telescope is a telescope that has an inbuilt computer to help simplify the finding of objects in space. Computerised telescopes are generally also motorised. These motors move your telescope to aim at the object in space, and then working with the onboard computer help track the object so that it remains in view. Computerised telescopes typically require firmware updates.

What is the difference between mount types?

  • Alt-Azimuth (AZ): this is a simple mount, this mount has an altitude axis, which means you can move it up and down, and an azimuth axis, which means you can move it from left to right. These are great for observing the sky but not suitable for longer exposure photography.
  • Equatorial (EQ): this mount compensates for the Earth’s rotation by having one rotational axis parallel to the Earth. An Equatorial mount takes more effort to set up and get it right but the outcome is that this is ideal when tracking or taking long exposure deep space photography (especially when using a motorised version!).

Which Telescope is right for me?

  • Land Viewing

A spotting scope is the best option for terrestrial viewing.
A refracting telescope can also be used for viewing terrestrial objects such as distant mountains, or boats at sea. Reflectors use a couple of mirrors at different angles, so the image can be turned upside-down and back-to-front, this can be overcome with an erect image diagonal. If you plan on using your telescope for land viewing, make sure that the telescope has “erect image optics”, to ensure your view appears the right way up and the right way around.

  • Astronomy – Beginner/Suitable for Children

Aim of a telescope for children is to retain their interest in astronomy, and let’s face it science in general for years to come. A 60mm or 70mm telescope is a great starting point, however, a larger aperture telescope such as the 130mm may also be a good choice for those who are super eager or already have some knowledge.
You can choose from a table top version like a firstscope or a tripod version like a powerseeker or starsense.
Spotting scopes are also a great option, as they can be used for both astronomy and land viewing.

  • Astronomy – Advanced

If you’re ready to take the next step and further your astronomy experience, look for large aperture telescope such as 8” or greater. Many larger telescopes with computerised controls, Wi-Fi control, inbuilt/add-on battery packs, and have more superior optics that are great for observing deep space objects. They also are more expensive, but in the long run you are investing in your future and entertainment!

Do I need any accessories?

It is strongly recommended that you purchase a good selection of eyepieces beyond what is supplied with a telescope. Eyepieces allow you to change magnification from a wide field of view to a more “zoomed in” view. Other accessories that are helpful are the Wi-Fi adaptors that convert computerised telescopes into Wi-Fi controlled telescopes, and DSLR camera accessories, Mobile phone accessories (for all those Instagram worthy photos!) and so on.

An unwritten rule of thumb is to invest in accessories approximately 25% of your telescopes value, to really get the most out of it. After all you want something that will engage and inspire not collect dust as an ornamental feature.

What can go wrong?

It goes without saying to take care of your telescope/spotting scope, do not leave it outside as dew/moisture can damage the lenses and any moving part. Keep the dust covers on when not in use, to avoid getting dust on your mirrors as this will ruin your viewing quality and it’s not recommended you clean the mirrors to avoid scratches. Pack it away or store out of traffic flow, tripods can be trip hazards, and naturally we’re concerned for anyone who falls, but they can also damage your telescope/spotting scope.

Telescopes can be uncollimated by being dropped or knocked, Uncollimated telescopes/spotting scopes show double or overlapped vision and that is because the light is no longer parallel due to misalignment/shifting of the prisms/lenses.

Note: Uncollimated telescopes/spotting scopes are not covered by warranty unless they arrive that way, we highly recommended that as soon as you receive your telescope/spotting scope you open it up and have a look through to make sure there is nothing wrong with the vision, then immediately contact us with any issues and we'll happily rectify.

Tip: you can set them up and try during the day, just remember telescopes image will be inverted!

  • Firmware updates – computerised telescopes something have errors on the hand controller, this is usually easy to rectify with a firmware update. Calling the distributor will help guide you through if your update isn’t working.
  • Missing/damaged parts - check everything is included and intact when you receive your order, if anything looks odd or is not there contact us (include clear photos and descriptions where possible to speed up the process)

WARNING – when using any magnifying device during the day especially a high magnification item such as a Telescope or Spotting Scope NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN, this can cause permanent damage or blindness. Always supervise children when using a telescope/spotting scope, especially during the day.

Take a peek at our range Telescopes & Spotting Scopes, plus if you have any further questions get in touch!