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Tracking down your targets and taking the perfect shot is all good and fun, but that process doesn’t come easy if you can’t locate and properly spot your targets first!
Imagine having a portable lightweight high powered telescope at your disposal to scan over hundreds of acres?
No more sitting in wait, take a peep through your spotting scope and identify your next meal, possible landmarks, vantage points, birds, etc!
In this guide, we’ll be discussing everything there is to know about spotting scopes, how they work, when to use them, what to look for, and finally where to spot the best deals on the best spotting scopes!
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As always, you’ll need to plan ahead and match your expectations with your budget as the price tag on the spotting scope you’re interested in can get out of hand fairly quickly.
Leica Televid 82
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Leupold Mark 4 MK4
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Vortex Optics Diamondback
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Vortex Optics Razor HD
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How to Choose a Spotting Scope
If you’re unfamiliar with optics or spotting scopes terminology, I definitely recommend giving this section a read.
Understanding the Numbers and Magnification
Alrighty, time for some number crunching but don’t worry, there won’t be any difficult math equations to solve, just a few numbers that give us the information we need to choose the right spotting scope for the activity we think we’ll be using it for!
When checking out a fancy new spotting scope you will inevitably see something that looks like 20x, 20-30x, or 20-30x 50mm. In these examples, the first number tells us the magnification power. At 20x magnification, objects viewed through the scope will appear 20 times closer.
A pair of numbers with a dash in between them signifies a range of magnification power, insinuating that the spotting scope has variable magnification. This means that particular scope is capable of being tuned by the user and in our previous example, you’ll be able to select magnification of 20x, 30x, or somewhere in between.
The last part, the 50mm in our example, signifies the size of the objective lens. I mentioned this before in the guide but just to recap, the size of the objective lens determines the amount of light that the scope can use to create its sight picture. A 50mm objective lens is a pretty hefty lens that should allow an ample amount of light for most situations. Bigger is typically better, but after a certain point the gains become marginal and the weight of the glass starts to offset the benefits gained from having a larger lens.
If you’re buying a spotting scope to go hunting with, you likely wouldn’t want a heavy and cumbersome unit, so getting a smaller objective lens may be a priority, especially if you’re lugging other gear with you. If you know you’ll be stationary, such as at a shooting range, a large objective lens may really make a huge impact on how well you see the vapor trail of the bullet and the impact of the bullet, since it’ll allow tons of light to be used in the creation of the sight picture.
A few final notes on magnification, you must always remember that the conditions of the environment will drastically impact the visibility of your picture at high magnification levels. A high magnification, like 60x, may look fantastic on a perfectly clear day with no air pollution, heat mirages, humidity, etc, but on a day that is less than ideal, you might have to dial back your magnification if your scope allows for a lower level of magnification to get a sight picture worth using. With this said, I don’t typically recommend a spotting scope that isn’t capable of zooming at less than 60x, since you may really need a lower level to achieve an adequate picture quality.
Magnification levels in cheap scopes are not the same as magnification levels on expensive scopes even if they have the same numbers in their descriptions. Understand this, please, because people sometimes buy a $100 60x scope thinking it’s going to perform the same as a $1200 60x scope. The truth is, the cheap scope might be able to magnify up to 60x, but the clarity becomes a major issue. If you want a scope that is as clear at 20x as it is at 60x, you must spend some serious cash, there are no cheap scopes that provide excellent quality at massive amounts of magnification.
Close Focus Capabilities
Many people when shopping and researching for a shiny new spotting scope are focused on the magnification levels on the higher side, ensuring they have enough optical power to achieve Superman-like vision, however, close up capabilities are also something you may want to consider, especially if your activity involves finding targets that are at various distances that are unknown prior to setting up.
Let’s say you’re hunting and while you’re scanning for something hundreds of yards out with your spotting scope, you hear something relatively close in the bushes. If your spotting scope is only capable of focusing on objects that are really far away, you may not be able to focus on a potential meal that’s been sneaking up on you.
Some low-quality spotting scopes simply do not possess any close-up capabilities and will only work well at distances over a couple of hundred feet. That’s no good if you don’t previously know what distances you’ll be needing optical vision at. My only advice here is to be aware of your activity and your needs and plan accordingly. If you don’t know, it’s better to get something that has an array of close and far distance capabilities so that all your basis are covered. This may mean you need to spend a little more, but that’s life, you get what you pay for!
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Angled Versus Straight Spotting Scopes
In the world of spotting scopes, you get to choose between two primary platforms when it comes to your angle of viewing – Angled or straight tubed. The two can be used interchangeably in most situations, so choosing one or the other isn’t a make or break decision, limiting you to what you can and cannot do with your scope, but they will have an impact on long term comfort and one may have some distinct advantages over the other in a specific activity.
A straight tube design simply means that when holding or using the spotting scope from a mounted position, you’ll be looking straight through the tube at your target, meaning you could point a laser from your eyeball to the thing you’re looking at.
In angled spotting scopes, you’ll be looking down into the scopes magnifier which then shows you an image that is angled from your original vision contact with the scope itself, not allowing for a laser to come from your eyeball to the target. The angles used for these are almost always found in either 45 degrees or 90 degrees.
Which one should you buy? Well, I’d argue the answer to that question is directly related to how you plan on using your spotting scope. I can’t give you a definite answer but I can run over some of the more popular activities I think my readers would be using a spotting scope for and recommend one or the either.
So, for straight tubed spotting scopes, I’d recommend them if you’re hunting, using the scope from a moving vehicle, using the scope in an area cramped or that limits your ability to move about, if you’re tracking targets that move often and quickly, or to view objects that are below you, such as looking down from a tree stand.
For angled spotting scopes, I’d recommend them if you’re using them for astronomy, viewing something that does not move often, are able to fully mount the scope on a tripod, and are looking at things above you.
Those quick recommendations don’t fully encompass everything and you should really think about how you’re going to be utilizing your spotting scope out in the field. If you know you’ll be lying on the ground spotting for a shooter, how does having an angled spotting scope make any sense? You’ll have to lift your head up and tilt it at an angle to use an angled spotting scope, obviously a horrendously uncomfortable position to hold your head in for any length of time.
If you know you’ll be watching birds high up in the trees, you wouldn’t want to have your head tilted upwards the entire time, so angled spotting scopes would help alleviate the need for a harsh upward angle.
Many of the most popular models can be found in either straight or angled configurations, so if you can’t choose, get both! Just make sure when you pull the trigger on a purchase you’ve selected the right option. Some spotting scopes even have attachments for either configuration, although that is rare. As I said before, you can probably use either one for most things but choosing the right configuration could mean the difference between a sore neck and a headache and a regular low-stress day out in the field.
Compact or Full Size?
The two are a bit subjective but size certainly does matter and I wouldn’t want you getting something delivered to your door that is far too big and too heavy to lug around with you on your trek en route to that hidden sweet spot miles out from where you park. On the flip side, I wouldn’t want you sitting at the range squinting into your compact spotting scope and damning yourself for not getting something larger that offers more magnification and clarity.
Since sizing is a bit subjective, it’s tough to say where the dividing line is, but in all reality, we should be taking into consideration the weight and size of any gear we purchase.
If you’re planning on driving right up to the spot you’ll be operating, and you know you’ll be shooting fairly long ranges, such as 500m or more, it’s probably a good idea to find something that has a long tube with a large objective lens to ensure you can visualize everything you need with absolute clarity. Large spotting scopes can be a major asset to any spotter and, in general, the larger the scope, the more power, clarity, and features it may contain.
If you know you have a bit of a trek ahead of you, buying a large spotting scope may be more of a hindrance than of helpfulness. Remember, glass weighs a lot and if you choose a spotting scope with a massive objective lens and a long tube, it might not fit in your pack, forcing you to carry it in your hand. Obviously, you’ll probably want hiking poles, your rifle, a water bottle, whatever else in your hands instead. Furthermore, if you’ve got a spotting scope, chances are you’ve got a bunch of other gear too, which may all be rather lightweight on its own but once packed up together, every ounce makes trekking significantly more strenuous and uncomfortable. Choosing a smaller unit may result in some sacrifice in total range and clarity but hey, at least you can actually bring it with you and deploy it with reasonable effort!
In many cases, larger spotting scopes aren’t more expensive just because they’re larger. Yes, large and high-quality lenses tend to be more expensive, but some of the compact spotting scopes can also run the bill up due to precision engineering and machining to get all of that optical greatness into as small of a package as possible. Think smartphones, smaller and thinner isn’t always less expensive and sometimes can actually be more expensive!
The Relationship Between Spotting Scope and Tripod
When using a spotting scope, you’ll probably be trying to utilize really high levels of magnification. Basically, in the world of spotting scopes, anything over 30x is considered relatively powerful and if you get a quality scope, you might have 60x magnification at your disposal.
60x magnification sounds great in theory and it is, but not in your hands. The truth is, if you want to get the most out of your spotting scope and achieve decent results with high levels of magnification, you have to buy and equip a tripod in tandem with your spotting scope.
You may have some magical hands that are more steady than a surgeon, but I promise, they aren’t perfectly steady and at high levels of magnification, there will be some movement. At something small, like 5x, a little hand motion isn’t going to hurt, but at 60x, the slightest sway or jitters will render the image completely unusable. Magnification is multiplying the ability to see detail at far distances, but that also multiplies how badly movement impacts your image quality.
At 60x, you won’t see much, if anything at all if you’re simply holding a spotting scope, even if you paid top dollar for a top-notch scope. The only thing you can do is set it on a flat surface or bring along a tripod with you. In most cases, spotting scopes are going to be used in activities that are rather physical and may require movement and constant adjustments of the scope. It’s much easier and more effective to set up your tripod and only have hand contact with the adjustments on the scope instead of trying to hold it still.
I know, you probably just spent or will spend tons of money to get yourself a good quality spotting scope and the last thing you wanted was for me to tell you to spend more money, but please trust me, if you don’t buy one now, you’ll end up at the range wishing you had and cursing yourself for not spending a little extra money so you can use your scope to its full potential.
So now that you are prepared to spend some more money, what should you look for in a tripod that is good for a spotting scope?
Choosing a Tripod
First things first, many tripods will work for many devices and if you have a solid unit that you’ve been using for something like a camera, that may actually work for your spotting scope too. Just remember, spotting scopes can be large and have a lot of surface area that catches in the wind fairly easily. If your tripod is lightweight or built from low-quality materials, it may allow the scope to sway in the breeze, resulting in horrible image quality.
If your idea was to go compact and as light as possible, you might get away with a lightweight tripod as well, but that’s a sacrifice you’ll need to decide upon on your own. I prefer a heavy-duty tripod that really is heavy, for the sole purpose of ensuring my spotting scope is all but cemented to the ground and not prone to any movement whatsoever.
When searching for a tripod, you have to make sure you have a compatible mount. Most optical devices and cameras have an easy to use screw-on attachment that most tripods come equipped to handle, but make sure yours doesn’t need some proprietary mount or uses some specialized add-on mounting hardware.
Furthermore, you’ll likely want a tripod that has multiple available adjustments so that you can change your sight picture on the mount/tripod instead of having your hand on the spotting scope itself. This is for both comfort and actual usability and many high-quality tripods allow for
I recommend either of these tripods because I know they’re solid and do well with spotting scopes as they are primarily designed specifically for them. Of course, these aren’t the only tripods you could use and actually, there are hundreds of options out there. The spotting scope community doesn’t really agree on a specific tripod and I think that’s probably because it comes down to your specific circumstances and personal preference.
I like the Vortex Optics Pro GT Tripod and Vanguard Alta Pro Tripod because they’re both constructed of high-quality aluminum that makes them light enough to carry on the go but sturdy and durable enough to use in rugged and more demanding environments. These two tripods can take a beating and maintain their form quite well and both of them offer 3-way head adjustments, quick detach options, multi-point leg adjustments, padded legs, and excellent endpoints that are rubberized for use outdoors.
If you currently have a nice tripod system that works for you, let us know about it in the comments section and don’t be afraid to post up some pictures of your setup in action!
Spotting Scope Reviews Section
It’s time to put the spotlight on the best spotting scopes we can get our hands on! Remember, these are scopes that I have found to be of exceptional quality within their respective price ranges. I’ve done my best to fill this list with companies that not only provide a good spotting scope but have long-standing reputations in crafting optical systems that are of high quality and good value to the consumer.
I cannot possibly review each and every spotting scope on the market today, there are simply too many to choose from and it seems like every outdoor brand is releasing spotting scopes as fast as they can.
If I have missed something capable of helping your buddy shoot the wings off a fly at a thousand meters, please let me know of my horrendous misconduct in the comments section down below and I’ll do my absolute best to review it for you and our audiences viewing pleasure! If you picked one of these scopes up because I recommended it, let us know how it stacks up and don’t be a stranger!
Here Are the Best Spotting Scopes for the Money
1. Leica Televid 82 (Best Overall)
My review: In most cases, defining the best product in a specific category can be fairly difficult and usually always controversial, but it is to my knowledge that most people with a lot of experience in spotting can roughly agree that the Leica Televid series is the big man on top.
Leica uses specialized APO glass that probably makes up the majority of that massive price tag in tandem with either a 65mm or 82mm objective lens to achieve crystal clear image quality and is available in either angular or straight configurations.
The Televid optics system is simply the best out there. They have pulled absolutely no punches in the materials or engineering design behind this scope and will likely continue to be the top player in the game for many years to come. It is said that they achieve 6% more light transmission than the next top system, which certainly makes sense as this scope provides by far the best light transmission and image fidelity, even at high levels of magnifications than any other scope on the market.
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The body of the scope is the benchmark-setting magnesium alloy body coated in rubber armor. The lens hood is retractable and the scope itself is completely sealed, surviving full submersion up to 16 feet.
This scope is compatible with Digiscoping, which is essentially the attachment of an adapter to use a Leica D-Lux 4 camera in tandem with the scope.
The Lecia is designed specifically to produce the absolute highest fidelity image quality possible and as such, they have opted to end the range of magnification at 50x with a range of 20-50x. Although the industry standard of 60x isn’t met here, the image quality and ultra-wide field of view more than makeup for the lack of 60x magnification.
- This is the best spotting scope on the market at the time of writing this
- 20-50x magnification range with a fluorite crystal objective lens of either 65mm or 82mm
- Magnesium alloy body coated with rubber armor paired with the AquaDura coatings create a flawless all-weather resistance and 16ft submersion rating
2. Leupold Mark 4 MK4 (Used by Marines)
My review: If you want to rock and roll like a Marine, you’ll get your hands on a Leupold Mark 4. These are the tactical spotting scopes used by our boys in the field and although we all are all well too familiar with the Marines getting the short end of the stick when it comes to getting cool toys, the MK4 doesn’t disappoint.
I don’t want to talk too much about the price, but let’s just say it’s a bit out of control and probably not practical for most people, but hey, you came here to see the best spotting scopes so I’m going to cover scopes at all price points!
The MK4 is a 12-40x capable magnifier with a specialized knack for finding bullet impacts so that we ensure our training is of the highest efficiency and caliber. No Marine finishes their training without weapons qualifications and this is the scope watching your every mistake, and watch it does with its big 60mm objective lens.
Where to start with its impressively long list of features and accolades is beyond me, but I’ll give it a shot! The Xtended Twilight lens system allows for complete optimization of the available light, even in dusk and dawn settings to allow the scope to provide clear picture quality in less than ideal lighting situations.
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Every lens surface is coated completely in several top tier lens coatings including the DiamondCoat 2 to ensure ionization-assisted light transmission and scratch-proof lens protection.
What really sets this device apart from the others is its ability to fine-tune its adjustments. When shooting long range, it cant be pretty difficult to get your sight picture to line up with the bullet trail, but with the MK4 that job is an absolute breeze.
There are many additional features like foldable eyecups, incredible eye relief, premium BAK 4 prisms, etc that I could talk about but I’m sure you want to get on with your life and learn about civilian level gear so we’ll go ahead and get to that!
- Tried, trusted, and abused by the US Marines
- 12-40x magnification with a fully multi-coated 60mm objective lens
- One of the most shockproof and overall durable spotting scopes on the market and is coated with rubber armoring
3. Vortex Optics Diamondback (Best Under $500)
My review: Oh I love reviewing Vortex Optics products because they always seem to over impress, even though I’m well aware of their quality and capabilities! In this particular instance, the Diamondback is available in four different options! Can’t choose between angled or straight? Get them both for only a thousand bucks!
Yeah, okay, you probably won’t buy both, but at least there’s a Diamondback for everybody. To make matters even better, you get to choose between a 20-60x 60mm package or a 20-60x 80mm package, both of which are extremely powerful and provide excellent image quality due to their XR fully multi-coated systems and downright massive objective lenses.
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Whether you get the large or extra-large version, angled or straight version, you get an O-Ring singled nitrogen purged high strength heavy-duty aluminum package that is both waterproof and fog proof. The shell also has some hefty rubberized bumpers attached ensuring it can survive a little abuse. And close focus? 22 feet is pretty dang close, I’d say that’s rather impressive for when things get up close and personal.
- The Diamondback is available in four options: Angled or straight in objective lens sizes of 60mm or 80mm
- All lenses are fully multi-coated with the Vortex Optics XR coating package and come with a retractable built-in sunshade
- Nitrogen purged rubber-armored shell that is both fog and waterproof
4. Vortex Optics Razor HD (Best for the Money)
Note: You can also find the Vortex Razor HD 16-48×65 here.
My review: The Razor HD by Vortex is a spotting scope you’ve probably seen a lot if you follow any hunting channels on YouTube, and although it might be a tad bit expensive to the average Joe, if you can get one, it’s surely worth the price.
We haven’t broken a grand yet, so maybe you won’t have to tell your wife about this one? For eight hundred, you get a high-density low dispersion glass capable of 16-48x magnification coupled with a rather intense 65mm objective lens.
The money, though, is in the APO system, which is essentially a technology that utilizes triplet apochromatic lenses combined with the HD stuff we know and love to create insane color accuracy and crispy clear imaging even at its maximum levels of magnification. You’re in the realm of the big boys now where scopes are actually capable of being used at their top end, which is nice because if you spend this much, you deserve to use all levels of its available magnification!
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Furthermore, all the glass has taken a bath in anti-reflective awesomeness, ensuring you stay covert and hidden, as well as not blinding your buddies at the range, considering that massive 65mm objective lens would probably reflect tons of light without anti-reflection attributes!
The Razor HD is available in several different options encompassing units in both angled and straight designs. You can find them with objective lenses at 50mm, 65mm, and 85mm and various different ranges of magnification.
- HD and APO equipped lens system sporting a 65mm anti-reflective objective lens
- The 16-48x magnification that is fully utilizable and provides excellent color accuracy throughout the entire range
- XR fully multi-coated system ensures light fidelity and maximum picture brightness
5. Roxant Blackbird (Best Under $100 for Birding)
My review: Roxant probably isn’t the first name that pops in your head when considering optics and as a matter of fact, probably isn’t even a known name at all among most people. With that said, and now that you do know it, I’d say that as far as budget optics go, this is an absolute steal. No, it isn’t Leica or Leupold quality, but for under a hundred bucks, what you get here is seriously a great value and worth checking out if you don’t need top-end optical clarity.
Roxant knew they couldn’t compete in the realm of 60x so instead of trying and doing a horrible job like most other budget spotting scope brands, they just cut it short at what they knew they could achieve, which is a very healthy 12-36x magnification using the BAK4 Porro prism setup. For a lot of people, 36x is more than enough and since this package isn’t even a hundred bucks but still manages to provide clear quality at its max magnification, I can safely recommend it as a great little cheap spotting scope.
The objective lens is 50mm which is a great medium size in my opinion and makes for a rather lightweight little unit that’s easy to pack away in a backpack and carry with you through the woods. All the glass in this bad boy is multi-coated for anti-reflection and increased light transmission which seems to be very well done despite its low cost.
They managed to pack all of the optical goodies inside a very nice aluminum shell that’s been rubberized for that tough and durable look and feel. The scope is surprisingly well built and extremely weatherproof, something I expect all spotting scope manufacturers to do decently, but they do it great. All in all, the scope does make sacrifices in overall magnification power and its ability to use ambient light due to the smaller 50mm objective lens, but that’s a very well-received tradeoff for price and portability.
To make the deal sweeter, they went ahead and hooked you up with everything you need right out of the box. You’ll be getting a nice little tripod, carry case, lens caps, and the 45-degree angled eyepiece. Of course, the extra goodies aren’t of insane quality, but they are usable and are a great place to start for someone on a budget. The tripod does have a nice handle and the scope mounts to it via a steel mounting screw which I thought was a nice touch as many of the scopes in this price range use plastic mounting hardware.
- A 12-36x magnification achieved with the popular BAK4 Porro prism setup and a 50mm multi-coated objective lens
- A very well designed and sleek aluminum body with a rugged rubberized finish
- The package includes an angled eyepiece, carry case, handle equipped tripod, and lens caps
6. Barska Colorado (Best Under $100 for Shooting and Hunting)
My review: Barska is such an underrated brand in my opinion and that’s probably just because they don’t produce top of the line type gear. Instead, they focus on giving the majority of consumers what they want, which is modern features that are dependable for a reasonable price. In many cases, Barska actually offers quality that tops more expensive competitors!
The Colorado spotting scope is a Barska product that falls in line with what I mentioned about them! You’ll be getting a 60mm objective lens with a magnification range of 20-60x, all housed in a very rugged and waterproof tube that feels durable and set for the occasion.
20-60x is a fantastic magnification range for such a low priced spotting scope. I wouldn’t say it performs great at either end, as close up focus is pretty rough and its 60x max is hardly usable, but anything in between appears crisp and is actually much better than what I would expect for the cheapest scope on the list. At the time of writing this, I believe a straight tube design is the only option available but I wouldn’t be surprised to see an angled version released in the future as many people really do love this spotting scope and they would certainly have the demand for it.
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Of course, as I mentioned in the guide, many budget scopes are capable of 60x but fall short in clarity, making 60x more of a novelty than a usable feature. With that said, this scope is plenty capable of tracking shots past 500m and is especially excellent for surveying an open field and spotting your next meal.
Also mentioned in the guide is the concept of using a high-quality tripod. What I’m linking you to is actually a package deal created by Barska that includes a pan-head tripod and a carrying case to store it all. The tripod it comes with is bare-bones and doesn’t have a whole lot of fancy features, but it is rather sturdy for what I’d consider a bonus item. The tripod is good enough to use, but in my opinion, I’d probably opt for a better quality tripod if you plan to use the scope a lot as it’s not very heavy and doesn’t provide mind-blowing stability or functionality.
- 20-60x magnification with a multi-coated 60mm objective lens sporting a BK-7 Porro prism configuration
- A straight tubed design encompassing a very rugged and waterproof housing
- The package deal includes the scope, carry case, tripod, and neck strap
7. Celestron Ultima Zoom (Best Under $200)
My review: Celestron has done away with its astronomy roots with this scope and has gone full-on tactical on us with the Ultima. This scope is an absolute steal at under two Benjamins and sports an array of options that should fit just about anyone looking for a spotting scope.
Celestron really went out of there way to enable as many options as possible with the Ultima. You can find objective lenses from 65mm all the way up to 100mm in either straight or angular tubed designs. Every one of the options comes with BAK 4 Porro prisms and multi-coated lenses and a zoom capable eyepiece.
The magnification of the unit depends on the unit you choose, but it can be capable of magnification up to 189x, which is absolutely insane and probably not great for anything but astronomy uses. If you’re looking for a hunting scope, I’d choose the smaller models, but hey, 189x could have its benefits too! The smaller 60mm objective lens model has a magnification range of 20-60x, which I must say at this price range it achieves effectively!
This scope is huge, even in its smallest configuration. This is not something you would throw in a backpack and take on a long trek but more so something you would deploy from your vehicle in a fixed position. To be perfectly honest, any scope, including this one at this price point will suffer from chromatic aberration at high levels of magnification. If expert level photographic quality is what you need, you’ll need to shell out at least a few hundred bucks more.
There is another version of this scope called the Ultima ED which was designed to cut down on false color and chromatic aberration but of course, it’s more expensive and for some odd reason is a bit difficult to find, which is why I didn’t give that scope its own review in this guide. If you find one, let me know in the comments as I’m interested to hear about it!
- An array of options for objective lenses and magnification levels: 65mm, 80mm, and 100mm
- All sizes are available in either straight or angled configurations
- The shell is waterproof and the BAK-4 equipped optics are fully multi-coated
8. Kowa Prominar
My review: This is an incredibly popular green monster crafted by the Japanese and no, I’m not talking about Godzilla, I’m talking about the Kowa Prominar! By far one of the most coveted spotting scopes in all of the spotting scope world, the Kowa Prominar is a legend among spotters and hunters alike.
It comes in only one flavor, angled, and encased inside that beautiful green magnesium alloy and polycarbonate body is a 66mm objective lens using PROMINAR XD lens technology and a concave lens system that mends together a beautiful extra-low dispersion sight picture absent of chromatic aberrations to its fullest extent. Each glass surface is multi-coated with XD and anti-reflective coatings and that body we mentioned before is sealed up tight and pumped full of good old nitrogen gas, ensuring this puppy stays watertight and fog-resistant.
The green monster utilizes a range of a 20-60x magnification and of course, unlike its cheap and inferior competitors, the full range of magnification appears beautifully with plenty of light being captured by the massive 66mm objective lens and the entire system working at full capacity to provide nearly unlimited color accuracy and light transmission.
This is the scope to have, this is the scope every hunter has on his/her Christmas list. It is one of the most complete packages you’ll ever find, topped off with ultra-low weight materials that bring the weight of this 30cm beast to less than a kilogram. If you can find one for sale, at a price you can afford, and you need the utmost fine optical crafting from those in Japan that do it best, grab one of these and have no regrets!
- Fully spectrum 20-60x magnification
- 66mm objective lens covered in multiple coatings ensuring image fidelity and light transmission
- An integrated sunshade and purged with nitrogen to ensure weather proofing and durability
9. Pentax PF-80ED
My review: Pentax is a sweet name, but that tag price isn’t so sweet, at least not until you hear what they’re packing under that sexy flat black magnesium alloy body.
Oh, and an 82mm objective lens? Dang, that’s a lot of glass to pay for, but is it worth it?
Well, if you enjoy the upmost quality in image fidelity and image brightness that nearly blinds you, heck yeah it’s worth it! For a grand, you’re getting some of the best technology in the spotting scope business. That 82mm objective lens is full extra-low dispersion (ED) glass with the Pentax SMC multi-coating process, which basically amplifies the low dispersion effect of ED glass and provides incredible delineation for high contrast and high brightness image quality.
Pentax really focused in on creating large pictures even at high levels of magnification. Their 1.25” eyepiece with a focal length of 518mm is specifically designed to compact and reflect light in the least amount as possible, ensuring as much light as possible is used in the final production of imagery and that the image itself is as large and detailed as possible. With that said, you can actually use other top tier eyepieces too, like the ones from Celestron, Vixen, Meade, etc.
Related Article: 20 Best Compact Binoculars (Ranked by a Marine)
Of course, for a thousand bucks, you’ll be getting some good protection for your scope as well. Implemented seamlessly into the design is a retractable sliding shield that helps manage light and enable usability in rain or snow. Furthermore, the entire unit is O-Ring sealed and nitrogen purged to ensure no water or fog is going to ruin your day out. This particular scope has a waterproof rating of JIS Class 6.
The Pentax PF-80ED is no joke and certainly isn’t compact by any stretch of the imagination. Hulking this thing on a long trek sounds like a nightmare, so I’d recommend buying this with the intent of setting it up on a hefty tripod and leaving it alone, letting it do what it does best from a fixed position!
- An 82mm objective lens coated with the Pentax SMC multi-coating system
- 20-60x magnification achieved with an advanced ED optical solution
- Angled style spotting scope that accepts 1.25” astronomy eyepieces and 82mm filters
10. Nikon Prostaff 5 Proscope Series
My review: Nikon is likely the first optical manufacturer that pops into your head when discussing pretty much anything optical and outdoors related. They have an extremely long and well respected reputation and the Prostaff line just extenuates that ten fold by offering an incredible optical package at what I would consider the cut off price for amateur versus professional spotting scopes.
Large objective lenses are fantastic for light transmission, there is simply no amount of lens coating and special technology available today that acts as a substitute and Nikon is fully aware of this. That’s why you get a massive 82mm objective lens on the Prostaff 5 that is fully multi-coated and capable of true color production all the way through 60x. That’s a big statement as most optics have picture failure anywhere near 60x, but with a massive objective lens it is possible!
Nikon took the extra care and detail and although you won’t see it, there is actually a special textured coating inside the tube that allows for minimal reflective light loss, which is pretty cool and not something found in most spotting scopes.
Of course, Nikon has you covered with some good old fashion water and fog proofing and, as they always do, they took the extra mile and provided a handy dandy retractable sunshade.
Although the unit is comprised of a massive objective lens and is a little on the heavy side, I’d say this spotting scope is good for both fixed position spotting and for long strolls in the woods for some good meal gathering fun. This is an excellent all-rounder kind of device that is a rarity in the spotting scope world. If you can afford it, this scope is a fantastic investment and won’t let you down no matter what activity tickles your fancy.
There’s a smaller version of this unit that comes with a 48x zoom and 60mm objective lens, but come on, if you’re spending this kind of cheese, you go with the cream of the crop!
- A massive fully multi-coated 82mm objective lens
- Internal light transmission aids and textures to ensure light efficiency and color accuracy
- A full-fledged 20-60x magnification package stuffed into a lightweight, nitrogen purged, and ergonomic shell
11. Leupold Gold Ring Compact
My review: Compact optical solutions are getting better every year and I am amazed at where new-age technology has managed to bring to us. Now, Leupold has never shied away from implementing cutting edge technology in their high-end scopes and the Gold Ring Compact is a good example of this.
The scope itself is a 15-30x capable monster with a 50mm objective lens, stats that I wouldn’t expect to see on a “compact” system, but here we are! How do they ensure quality at such great magnification levels, though? They fancy technology like the Twilight Management system that greatly improves light transmission and they use folded light path technology, which basically ensures image quality at high powered magnification levels.
Of course, and this has been the case with Leupold for a while now, they have “proprietary” multi-coating systems on their lenses, which I normally dislike as proprietary doesn’t tell us much, but if you read my comments on lens coatings in the guide, then you know that it doesn’t really matter what fancy marketing jargon they put in front of it anyways!
Of course, it’s waterproof, nitrogen purged and thus fog proof, and fairly lightweight at only 20oz. This is an excellent scope to take with you on a hunting trip and fairs well being stuffed into a backpack. Leupold is also famous for their lifetime guarantee which is great since this unit will run you half a grand to get your hands on it.
By the way, they’re made in the USA and they’re constructed of the fancy tactical carbon fiber.
- Made in the USA 15-30x magnifier with fully multi-coated lenses
- Carbon fiber constructed body purpose-built to be extremely lightweight
- 50mm objective lens with the Twilight management system and folded light path technology
12. Bushnell Legend Ultra HD
My review: The Bushnell legend may not actually be a legend like Leica, but it is a rather great deal for a very formidable spotting scope and make no mistake, Bushnell is excellent at creating products in reasonable price ranges that simply get the job done and provide great value.
The Legend Ultra HD is a 20-60x magnified scope achieving this with the widely loved BAK-4 prism setup. The glass is implemented with an End Prime Low Dispersion system, which basically just helps keep picture quality at high levels of magnification and boy does it work well. For under $500, I am thoroughly impressed with what you get here.
Of course, the unit itself is waterproof but at this price point, you also get some cool lens goodies like the Rain Guard HD water-repelling coating. That coating is applied to a very large and ominous looking 80mm objective lens which I think is one of the best lenses Bushnell has developed to date. It’s massive, it’s heavy (80oz), and it spots anything and everything within its range at any one of its magnification levels.
This particular unit is angled and I thought I had seen it before in a straight tube design but I think the angled ones are more widely available.
If you’re looking for a professional-grade spotting scope at a reasonable enthusiast-level price tag, this is the scope for you! Keep in mind, this is not a scope you’d be trudging through the sticks with, this is a scope you’d mount on a high-quality tripod and use all day at the range in a fixed position. A thousand yards is no problem for this scope and luckily the range doesn’t equal the price tag!
- A low dispersion 80mm objective lens equipped with Rain Guard HD
- 20-60x fully multi-coated magnification range that is actually usable at all levels
- Stacked dual-focus controls and dual-speed focus control with a 24-degree eyepiece
13. Celestron Regal M2 65ED
My review: Celestron makes some serious optics all the way from telescopes to mini binoculars so it’s no wonder why I’ve decided to recommend several of their products. Simply put, Celestron has been in the optics game for quite some time and has proven time and time again that magnification power is their forte.
The Regal M2 aims to be a mid-range scope in terms of price but a top-end performer. Can they do it? I’d say yes as they’ve managed to pack in an ED equipped 65mm objective lens, 16-48x magnification power, and specialized XLT fully multi-coated optics into a very sleek and tactical looking magnesium alloy shell.
48x does seem a bit low considering the massive 65mm objective lens but let’s be real, anything under $500 or so doesn’t do well at magnification levels above that, and Celestron is well aware of this, so they kept it real with you and provided a magnification range that justifiably matches the price range.
The Regal M2 comes equipped with a rotating tripod mount complete with detents and the eyepiece comes in at 45-degrees. If that 65mm objective lens wasn’t enough for you, you could opt for the larger M2 80ED or even larger, the M2 100ED, however, for most things that I would use it for, the M2 65ED is plenty!
- Available in three sizes: 65mm, 80mm, and 100mm
- Optics are encased inside a very durable magnesium alloy body
- 16-48x magnification power through ED multi-coated lenses and a 1.25” angular eyepiece
14. Bushnell Trophy XLT
My review: Bushnell is a long favorite in terms of medium-priced but high quality outdoor gear. It seems like they have something for everything nowadays and they have so many different products that it’s hard for a newcomer to choose one!
This is one of the cheaper Bushnell spotting scopes that I’d recommend but don’t the word cheap fool you, this is a serious range spotter that deserves its accolades. For a tad over two hundred bucks, you’ll be getting your hands on a 20-60x magnified monstrosity that would require a bodybuilder to hold up steady for any long duration of time.
Yeah, it’s heavy at over 42 ounces, but it’s also got a massive 65mm objective lens that ensures crystal clear and ultra-bright image production and with its HD multi-coating, this scope is a serious contender for more expensive scopes in the market today.
This isn’t a scope you’d ever want to lug through the forest, but it is a beast at the range. Set it up on a high-quality tripod and it’ll impress. The rugged rubber armor shell can ensure it’ll withstand a beating and of course, it’s airtight and waterproof.
The Trophy XLT is unapologetically massive and heavy. It’s also a great price for a fixed position range spotting scope and although it actually comes with a little tabletop tripod, I’d seriously consider flexing the credit card a bit further and getting one of the tripods I recommended above as a tabletop tripod doesn’t completely do this spotting scope justice.
- A fully multi-coated straight designed optical system offering 20-60x magnification
- Massive 65mm objective lens that provides a ton of light transmission
- A package deal that includes a handled tabletop tripod and a hard carry case
15. Minox MD 50 W
My review: Two hundred bucks a few years ago didn’t get you much in terms of a spotting scope, but nowadays is a different story and Minox is here to tell that story.
This spotting scope features 16-30x magnification with an HD Minox exclusive M-coated objective lens for some pretty incredible light transmission. This unit is super compact and very light, but you wouldn’t know it just seeing the quality images it can produce for such a cheap price.
It’s so light, in fact, that it only weighs 615 grams which if you don’t know, is pretty dang light when it comes to optics that have 30x magnification power. The 50mm eyepiece is set at a 45-degree angle for you angle scope lovers and is fully adjustable between the 16-30x magnification levels.
It’s powerful, compact, and cheap, but is it rugged? Yes! This bad boy is so waterproof that you can use it 16 feet under the surface, although I’m not recommending nor saying that it would be a good experience! It’s nitrogen purged too, which means it won’t fog up like cheap scopes do.
Overall, this is an excellent spotting scope for a hiker or hunter that relies on something compact to fit in a backpack. It really is incredibly tiny and its performance I think will surprise you at this price and size.
- An extremely light spotting scope that weighs only 615 grams
- 16-30x magnification power with M-coated high-resolution lenses
- An adjustable angled 50mm eyepiece
16. Celestron C70 Mini Mak
My review: Celestron is that brand you may know from astral viewing products and for good reason, they have many years of experience helping people look at planets from their porch. If a company that creates good products for planetary viewing comes out with a spotting scope, you better bet it peaks my interest!
Celestron actually has several spotting scopes and I’ve added a few to this list so make sure you check them all out as they have units at various price points with a bunch of different sets of hardware.
This spotting scope didn’t try to be cute with ruggedization or tactical looking attributes but instead embraces the embodiment of Celestron and their history with astronomical viewing pleasure. This little thing looks like a hand telescope, which I actually think is pretty awesome!
This is the Mini Mak, and it sure is mini. This thing is almost small enough to fit in your pocket! Celestron purpose-built this unit to be as compact and as portable as possible while still achieving their incredibly high and clear magnification levels.
The spotting scope is a 25-75x magnifier utilizing Maksutov-Cassegrain optics that are fully multi-coated for maximum light transmission. The unit itself is designed for angled eyepieces and can be fitted with an array of different 1.25″ eyepieces, some that even allow astronomical viewing as well as impeccable mini-performance in the field.
This is by far one of the best mini portable spotting scopes you can get for under a hundred bucks and if portability is your main concern, I’d say this is a definite go. To sweeten the deal, they’ve gone on to include a tabletop tripod that is good but not great, a very neat view-through carry case, and a built-in zoom 45-degree eyepiece.
Of course, this thing has a tiny objective lens and as such, isn’t great at high magnification levels without perfect light conditions. In buying this, you are willingly accepting a scope that has significantly lower levels of performance for the tradeoff of incredible portability. I’m not saying it’s a bad scope, I just want you to understand the tradeoff between size and performance!
- A 45-degree angled 25-75x magnification capable spotting scope
- The coveted Maksutov-Cassegrain astronomy capable optics enhanced with multi-coating
- A tabletop slow motion capable tripod, carry case, and 1.25” eyepiece is included in the deal
More Information on Spotting Scopes
What Is A Spotting Scope?
As I mentioned before, a spotting scope is basically a miniature telescope that is easily made portable by a small and slim form factor that is purpose-built for outdoor usage. These scopes are monocular in nature as opposed to binoculars and offer many different attributes and advantages over binoculars that we’ll talk about more in-depth later.
Spotting scopes are a popular piece of tactical gear used by outdoorsmen across many different disciplines and activities, such as camping, hunting, long-range marksmanship, golfing, watching sports, bird watching, hiking and even in maritime scenarios. Spotting scopes are quite popular due to their ability to provide a very clear picture even at high powered magnification levels, making them perfect for gathering crucial information in fine detail, such as making scope adjustments or target discrimination at extreme distances.
Spotting scopes are high powered optical devices, usually offering magnification levels well in excess of 20x but rarely over a magnification power of 60x. The science of magnification will be explained later in the guide but it’s important to note that out of all-optical gear, spotting scopes are generally the cheapest way to attain incredible sight pictures over long distances.
A spotting scope allows the user to carry on his/her person a powerful tool to see over great distances.
A Rundown On The Hardware
Like most optical gear we’ve reviewed on Marine Approved, spotting scopes consist of a tube that houses an objective lens, eyepiece, and an image magnifier.
The objective lens is the big piece of glass facing away from you. The larger this lens is, the more light the spotting scope can attain in creating your image. More light will bring to your eyes more detail and better imagery at extreme distances and in odd light situations, such as dusk or a rainy day. A large objective lens may be the difference between getting a picture and getting no usable picture at all.
The magnifier is located inside the spotting scope, protected usually by a purged tube that is completely enclosed and sealed tightly. Since most spotting scopes are sealed up tightly, it’s fairly common to have a decent level of overall water resistance. Magnification is achieved by refraction via image erecting prisms or relay lens systems.
Some magnifying prisms are called Porro prisms, which can be configured as a single prism or a double prism set up. The prisms are geometric right-angled triangular in shape and work by allowing light to enter through the rectangular face of the prism and then reflecting the light off of the sloping surfaces. These prisms are not dispersive, meaning they cannot change the frequency of the light waves themselves, maintaining their original form.
Other spotting scopes may use a roof prism to magnify the image. These prisms consist of two faces that come together to form a 90-degree angle that flips the image laterally over its axis. Roof prisms are usually found in more expensive units while Porro prisms are typically used inside of cheaper optical equipment.
The eyepiece of a spotting scope is usually interchangeable and is the part of the spotting scope that allows for the adjustment of magnification. Some people call this the zoom or magnifier, even though technically the eyepiece is just adjusting the magnification and not actually responsible for the magnification itself.
Types Of Glass
I told you earlier that you have to spend some serious money to get a scope that performs well in the upper echelons of magnification, and that’s true, but what I didn’t tell you was that the difference, even if the magnification levels are the same, is in the glass quality itself.
Not all glass is created equally and this stands true for any optical system you come across, whether that be a rifle scope or a pair of binoculars, the actual physical glass itself will vary in quality and clarity and will make a massive difference in the spotting scopes performance. Glass is so important that I would recommend making a buying decision based on glass quality over anything else, even magnification power.
A high magnification scope means nothing if the image is too blurry or filled with optical artifacts to make out what you need to see. I think I’ve pounded this idea into your head enough, but I haven’t talked about how to find a good quality set of glass.
Well, finding good glass for the simpleton is as easy as pulling out your credit card and maxing it out. The main price determination of a spotting scope, as is with most optical systems, is going to be the quality of glass.
For those of you looking for a more in-depth explanation, we can talk about different glass types. I wish this was easy and I could explain it in a few sentences and send you on your way to finding the perfect scope, but unfortunately for us, marketing teams in the industry have made this incredibly confusing. Even cheap scopes say their glass is amazing and they use jargon like HD glass, High Resolution, Ultra clear, whatever, you get the point. No one is going to willingly tell you their glass sucks.
The best we can do is decipher some of these terms and hope that the brand we are dealing with is being honest in what is actually being provided. Sometimes the ad copy can be misleading, calling HD glass HD without it actually fitting the real definition of HD glass. Is that lying? I’m not here to judge, at least not until we get to the reviews section so hang tight for some fire-spitting.
A quick note before jumping into the glass world, not all glass under a specific term is created the same. In other words, one company’s ED glass may be of different quality and maybe even encompass different characteristics than another company’s ED glass. The only way to really figure this out, honestly, is to look through a bunch of different glass and train your eyes. If you can’t access an entire arsenal of spotting scopes for some good old fashioned side by side comparisons, then you’ll just have to take my word or other reputable reviewer’s words on what is good and what isn’t so great.
HD stands for high definition, just like what you’d expect to see on an advertisement for a TV or computer monitor. The problem is, nowadays, everyone calls their products HD and there is no HD police running around keeping the fakers at bay. Real HD glass was designed as a step up from standard glass with the intent on providing optimum clarity. That’s pretty much the only definition you get, though, because HD can really mean anything that’s not garbage, and even then, it can mean garbage if the manufacturer lies to you, so there’s not much that HD glass actually tells us.
ED can be two things as if these glass acronyms weren’t already confusing as is. ED stands for low dispersion or extra-low dispersion and can also be a form of HD glass. ED glass is sometimes infused with (spoiler alert) fluorite, which acts as a buffer to chromatic aberrations and glare, meaning you get a much higher quality picture quality without junk in the way of the prize.
I spoiled it in the ED section, but any glass that is claimed to be FL is supposed to contain fluorite. FL glass can be ED glass and ED glass can be FL glass, I know, it’s insane. Fluorite essentially cuts down on portions of the light spectrum that are unnecessary, allowing for the optical system to rid the sight picture of glare and aberrations. Although ED glass can be called FL glass, usually, FL glass is the name used in the top tier brands with the absolute highest quality spotting scopes on the market. Of course, that doesn’t always hold true, but for the most part, if you’re looking at obtaining the absolute best spotting scope, I’m fairly confident it’ll be sold as an FL equipped spotting scope.
Was the glass section of this guide a bit confusing? Yeah? Okay, I apologize for that, but the industry has forced my hand so don’t blame me! Unfortunately, it actually gets worse with lens coatings.
Now, don’t take this the wrong way, lens coatings are extremely important and have the possibility of making or breaking a spotting scope. Lens coatings perform many duties such as protection of the lens from damage, repelling water and sometimes even oil such as what’s on your nasty fingers, they can increase light transmission, reduce both optical glare and the glare that comes off the scope itself, and they can change how the scope performs in certain light and weather conditions.
That sounds great and this should be super easy to explain, right? A “light transmission” coating simply makes the scope better at gathering and using light, right? Oh no. This is as equally as a mess as the little acronyms used with glass quality. The marketers behind optical gear take things way too far and they all think they’re special.
One coating might be called “Spectracoat” while another might be called “UltraLight”. They both have the same job, to increase light transmission, but does that mean they’re equal in performance? It’s impossible to tell. I know, I’m supposed to make things easier to understand instead of more confusing, but that’s not how this market works and instead, it’s important to know what you’re up against.
Even though both of the aforementioned coatings are said to increase light transmission, they may perform differently because of the scope they are applied to. For example, Spectracoat is something found on Sig Sauer branded products and as we all are well aware, so long as you’re willing to fit the hefty bill, Sig Sauer makes some pretty amazing products. Does that mean Spectracoat by default is better for light transmission than another coating whose role is the same? It’s hard to tell because you won’t find two of the same models of scope with different light transmission coatings.
Okay, you get the point, I hope. Coatings are special and ultra-useful, but the actual terminology used in describing their names and what they do can be confusing and have little to no weight attached to the actual names.
Making things even more complicated, you have an assortment of coatings all applied at once, usually dubbed “multi-coated” or “fully multi-coated” or “fully coated”. These can all mean different things and they don’t have industry standards or anything that holds them accountable, so pretty much as long as the manufacturer has applied more than one coating, of any quality and/or types, they can use any of those terms in their marketing copy. More coatings are usually a good sign, but that on its own isn’t enough information to determine the actual quality or value that you’ll be receiving from a specific spotting scope.
Just like glass, you’ll probably be reduced to having two options. Testing several scopes personally to figure out which scopes with their fancy named optical coatings are worth buying or simply reading reviews online and hoping for the best.
And of course, it goes without saying but I’ll make sure I say it anyway, you pay for what you get in terms of coatings too. I highly doubt a cheap scope with special coatings will have as high of quality coatings as an expensive scope. I can’t test that hypothesis as I can’t remove the coatings and swap them across multiple lenses to see which is the best, but after you’ve used scopes of different price ranges you’ll see what I mean. The whole package has to work together to perform well and, as with everything in life, the more you spend, the more you get.
Make sure the scope you buy does have coated lenses, though. A scope that’s super cheap and doesn’t have any coatings on its lenses will most certainly provide an awful sight picture and will likely be prone to damage as well. To me, protective scratch-resistant coatings are a must since I have a tendency to throw all my gear together in one bag but I expect my gear to last along time.
Choosing A Reticle
Some spotting scopes may not come with a reticle at all and these are probably more suitable for people using a spotting scope for enjoying the scenery, photography, bird watching, etc. If you’re hunting or spotting for a shooter, though, you may want some type of reticle that helps you and your shooter communicate information.
Spotting scopes that do contain a reticle are often called a ranging spotting scope and just like a scope on a rifle, these use many different reticles to give the spotter similar information that a rifle scope would give. Reticles come in all sorts of different configurations and some offer different metrics of information.
If you’re buying a spotting scope specifically to be used in long-range shooting, it’s probably a good idea to try and match the reticle of your spotting scope to the one used in your rifle scope, that way you can easily communicate scope adjustments like windage, range, and elevation changes to the shooter.
There are tons of different reticle types, probably over 25 different variations you may come across. Choosing the right reticle may be a bit difficult considering budget, size, magnification, etc. It’s just one more feature you have to match up perfectly to get the most out of your spotting scope, which is why buying spotting scopes can certainly be difficult and frustrating!
Furthermore, a reticle inside your spotting scope may help you find distances and coordinate your stroll through the woods. Many reticles, like the BDC crosshair style, utilize notches, bubbles, or some type of mark to indicate different levels of distance. These are extremely important when it comes to long-range shooting because they can aid the shooter in elevation and extreme distance compensation. MIL-Dot reticles also use a similar design to BDC but instead of using Minute Of Angle for compensation adjustments like BDC does, they use Miliradians, which basically means that for every notch in the reticle, you’re adjusting for 3.6” at 100 yards.
I won’t go into extreme detail here as I have detailed out reticles in some of my other optic pages.
As always, feel free to leave questions or comments below!