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Before buying scopes


Whether buying a first scope, or upgrading to something special, we could all use help from those in the know. Our staff members are birders, and collectively have amassed a wealth of information on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of optics purchasing. We offer here some advice to help ensure you get what you want, and what will work best for you.

1. Not every spotting scope is suited to birding. There are lots of spotting scopes on the market and not all are ideal for birding. For instance, the close focus point may be farther than your backyard feeder, and the focusing knob may seemingly take forever to go from near to far. There is much to consider here but, if you see a spotting scope included in our inventory, you have, at the very least, the assurance that it performs well for birding.

2. Establish your needs and set your priorities . There is no scope that works best for all people. Everyone has certain objectives, priorities, concerns, and constraints that help to define their particular needs and the instrument that meets those needs. If you travel a lot, weight and compact size might be a consideration; conversely, if you wish to take photos through your scope (digiscoping), then a larger (heavier) objective lens will offer vastly superior potential.

If you bird in cold climates, a scope with a barrel focus system that can be operated with a mittened hand may be easier to use than scopes offering a smaller, top or side focus system.

3. Angled or straight scopes. Most scopes offer two basic design options - those with angled eyepieces (so users peer downward) and those with eyepieces in line with the barrel (so users peer straight ahead). The advantages of angled scopes include a more comfortable viewing position, the scope may be used by individuals of different height without alteration to the tripod, objects high overhead are easier to study (though often harder to first locate), and the tripod can be set lower, offering a more stable viewing environment.

The advantages of scopes with straight eyepieces include a slightly higher viewing position which occasionally allows for clear viewing over potential obstructions, rain is less likely to fall directly onto the eyepiece, they are easier to use from vehicles with a window clamp, and they can be easier to aim – especially at a high or moving object.

Angled scopes have become so popular among birdwatchers, that we no longer keep straight scopes in stock. However, they are still generally available from our suppliers and we are always happy to order these upon request.

4. A basic optic package versus high density (HD or ED), fluorite, or APO glass. Many high performance optical lines offer two grades of glass: Basic and High Performance. For the most part, the only material or design difference is in the optical quality or the design of the objective lens. The more expensive models do offer a modestly brighter, sharper, and color-accurate image. Nearly all scopes look good at the lowest magnification but, with non-ED glass, chromatic aberration becomes increasingly noticeable above 30X magnification. If you plan on digiscoping, you almost have to buy the better ED glass, because today's high megapixel cameras are much more sensitive than our eyes.

5. Fixed power eyepieces versus zoom or variable eyepieces. Most makes and models offer eyepieces with a fixed magnification (20x, 30x, 40x etc...) as well as an eyepiece whose magnification is adjusted between low power and high--a "zoom" eyepiece. With fixed eyepieces the size of the image, depth of field, and field of view never change. With zoom eyepieces, the magnification can be increased with the result that the image appears larger, but depth of field and field of view diminish. Though it was not always the case, today, the optical quality of zoom and fixed lenses are comparable. In general, fixed lenses (very commonly offered as ‘wide angle’) are more user friendly because they offer a larger field of view than zoom eyepieces set at the same magnification, making it easier to get on target and work through flocks of birds. In contrast, zoom eyepieces offering a smaller field of view are versatile and really show their merit when subjects are backlit by harsh sunlight. With less peripheral light surrounding the target, the pupils of your eye expand, allowing you to perceive more detail.

6. Tripods. One of the most important considerations involving the purchase of a scope is the very foundation upon which higher magnification functions. DO NOT CUT CORNERS ON THE TRIPOD; it is an essential part of the enjoyment of your scope. As with optics, scopes come in a range of designs for a range of purposes, so be sure to choose one that is going to provide what you ask of it. Considerations include height (based on your own height), weight (lightweight for traveling versus heavy for stability in exposed locations) and versatility (just for birding, or for photography use also).

As with the optics we sell, we only offer tripod brands and designs that we feel function well for birding and offer good quality at a good price.

7. Durability and dependability. The importance of these qualities are paramount; equipment designed to be taken and used outdoors must be designed to take whatever Ma Nature is dishing out and this includes the occasional fall. There has never been a spotting scope that is impervious to gravity and it should be rugged enough to shrug off a tumble to the ground, whether the cause is wind, a malfunctioning tripod head, or a bumbling friend. Think about how and where you might use your scope and be sure that you pick one that can take what you intend (or don’t intend!) to subject it to.

8. Warranty. Bridging the gap between durability and mechanical performance is the company’s warranty; scopes that come with a no fault clause (it breaks, they fix it for nothing, no questions asked) certainly build that into the price but in the long run such a promise is something to prize. The details of warranty are always worth checking when comparing prices of different scopes. Again, you get what you pay for.

9. The little things. In a world of equals and near equals (because all of the scopes in our lineup are high quality and high performance) it is often the little, sometimes subjective things, that commend one scope over the other to a buyer; some scopes focus closer or quicker than others; some offer richer, truer colors; some change eyepieces with greater ease; and some just plain have more curbside appeal.

10. Not all scopes are created equal. Even among quality scopes of the same make and model there can be variation in overall performance. We test and examine every optic we sell and we back this up with a simple, honest and iron-clad return policy. Send it back in the condition it was sent to you, along with all packaging and materials and we'll replace it or refund your money.

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