Home / Elk / Choices, Choices, Choices: Picking the Right Spotting Scope!

Choices, Choices, Choices: Picking the Right Spotting Scope!


Some call me crazy, others just call me a backpack hunter. This past fall I harvested a 6×6 bull six miles into the backcountry where it turned out my partner and I were the only ones hunting the area on foot. All of the other hunters we ran into were riding horses, allowing them the amenities of wall tents and camps that had more luxuries than we could carry on our backs.

Weight was a commodity that we couldn’t afford, so picking the right spotting scope for the season was an absolute must. Several years ago I was shopping for a spotting scope and ended up choosing an 80mm model that was quite a bit heavier than I would have liked but I thought I needed that much glass. Truth be told, I did need that much glass, but only some of the time.

A spotting scope like the Zeiss DiaScope 85 FL has it’s place and that is on hunts where weight isn’t a premium. Here is the kicker, mornings and evenings when the gray light glassing sessions are longer, this scope will outperform its smaller counterparts. From October 15th on, these conditions last longer during the day as well. Picking out a bull elk across the canyon with the big glass in the waning hours of daylight won’t be a problem with this model.

Because weight was a premium for me this season on my elk hunt, I needed something a bit lighter than the 85 FL so I chose the 2lb.-15.3 oz 18-45×65 Zeiss Dialyt. Weighing a full pound and a half less than it’s bigger cousin, the choice was made easier. Cutting weight for a backpack hunt happens in every area of necessary gear and a spotting scope that cut more than a pound off of my pack was incredibly important for this season.

The Dialyt did well in the low light conditions, but the 85’s ability to draw in light from the bigger piece of high-quality glass would have been nice for the long distance low light conditions in some of the basins I got to know very well this past fall. The DiaScope 85 can reach out to great distances with it’s 75 power zoom which would have been nice judging inches on elk antlers in low light conditions.

In the early season bow hunt and late September’s Wyoming mule deer hunt, the Dialyt performed perfectly. However, if I needed a middle of the road, between distance, lighter weight and of course a clear spotting scope that could give me clarity at longer distances than the Dialyt, I would reach for the 3 lb. 8.6oz 65 FL. Because it can zoom out to 56x this scope would meet my needs for longer distances without paying the bigger weight penalty of the 85 mm scopes. This scope would be a great option to bridge early season and late due to it’s ability to meet the needs of hunts across many light conditions

All in all though, most of us will only be able to buy one high-end spotting scope in our lifetime. “Buy once, cry once”, as the old adage goes. Take a hard look at the season dates that you will be hunting and evaluate how much glass you need. Also, look at your objectives for overall pack weight if backpack hunting is what you prefer. After a critical look at your needs and light conditions, it won’t be hard to pick out the right spotting scope.


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  1. I have a Swarovski STS 80 HD and love it. I compared all high end brands before my purchase and I think most of the high end brands will provide spectacular results. I just happened to find the Swarovski best for my eyes. It was the same conclusion I reached when I decided on binos, going with Swarovski 10X50’s- not for everyone. I don’t mind the extra weight if it results in exceptional clarity.

  2. Ive found that the nikon e d 50 13×30 is a great lightweight spotter for backpacking when weight is a concern

    • I second that! I have the Nikon ED50 13×30 Field Scope and Compact Tripod. I actually was able to find big pronghorn and bull elk faster than my buddy using his Meopta 65 Spotting Scope.

  3. I have a Swarovski STS 80 HD that I love. I also have a Swarvski 10 X 50 Binos. They have the light gathering when you really need them. Clear as a bell. Extra weight gives me extra clarity.

  4. I recently bought the 85 angled ziess. I LOVE It but am wanting something smaller to pack with. This article got me thinking about trading it in for something a little smaller. I’m going to try out the 65 and see if that’s the middle ground. I sure do love this scope. It’s just a trade off

  5. I have the vortex razor 11-33×50 HD.. Its a decent little spotter BUT for what you gain on its size you lose on some performance. I’m considering the Leica APO 65mm spotter at 40oz’s its not to heavy and will perform were my vortex falls short

  6. I just ordered this scope from Cabelas and am happy you feel favorable about this scope.

  7. I bought a Vortex scope. It was garbage, and dealing with their customer service was a nightmare. That company is all “marketing glitz” and their products are poorly made imitations of real products. Did I mention that their warranty and repair policy turned out to be worth less than the paper it was printed on. I stop watching any show that has or highlights their equipment because I know they don’t hunt with that garbage in real life.

    • I have been considering a pair of 20x Vortex Kaibab binos… what model of theirs were you disappointed with?

    • I’ve always gotten a headache after looking through their glass. I bought three different binos going to the razors. I had to sell all of them and settled on the Swarovski 10×42. I’m just glad there’s another out there who feels the same way! I’m always looked at funny when telling my story to others with the Vortex glass.

    • I always tell people to buy the best glass they can afford – and then spend a little more. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago when money was tight, I failed to follow my own advice and – in a fit of “penny-pinching” bought a Vortex Viper 15-48. The scope doesn’t totally suck, but I’d never buy it again. It just doesn’t hold a candle to the better quality spotting scopes. When it comes to optics you really do get what you pay for….

  8. Hawke Optics beat out every brand I have tried!

  9. Just wondering what the 500 dollar leupold is like compared to a Zeiss or Swarovski. I am a young hunter in the sense of spotting scopes. Is it that much clearer and gather that much more light at 800 yards.

    • Zack,

      The lower price spotters lose clarity at long distances and especially around the edges .. If your considering 500.00 spotter save up a little more .. checkout cameralandny.com . They have good savings on demos and you can probably find a vortex 65mm for around 800 to 900 or the 50mm for around 499 which are both better then the 500 leupold but to answer your question the high dollar euro spotters are the cream of crop for long range and long hrs sitting behind the eye piece

  10. I have the zeiss.Even in the heat of the day it performs for me.the front focus takes a little bit of time like anything else.Rubber mounted,my choices,had the big ones for truck hunts. Larry

  11. Zack asked about Leupold. On a sheep hunt we had a top of the line leupold as well as others but I think this leupold was more than $500. It was a very good spotting scope and i would have rated it number two out of the four or five brands we had on the hunt. It was not quite as clear as the Swarovski but pretty close.

  12. ok so here is the problem. I have the Zeiss 85, but I cant help but wonder in the big spotters category if I made the right choice. Several of my friends say the big Swarovski is better & I have one that swears his top of the line Kowa is better than all of them. all of these are in the several thousand dollar range, so truly one must outshine the rest? For me I’m just not blown away with my Zeiss, any suggestions on one vs the other? (and I have trouble finding very much feedback on the Kowa spotters)

  13. I have a red field rampage spotting scope I love it! It is very clear and not too heavy!

  14. Brady Stockton

    Looking at buying the Vortex Razor 11×33 HD. It’s super light weight, but is the field of view adequate?

  15. I have swarvoski spotting scope and have the 10-42 and I love them you pay for the glass and Clarity

    • Still looking for people that can compare the Zeiss model to the Swarovski & Kowa. With the camera unit I have about 4k invested in this thing

      • Mike, I want that comparison too, but I’m not sure I want to trust another guy’s opinion (valid though it may be) to putting 3k in to what I expect to be the last big optics purchase of my lifetime. Are there any major retailers out there who are willing to set the top 6-8 options up side by side at an outdoor expo anywhere? Then I would know for myself. Of course, myself and 50 other guys would want to have access for the last 20 minutes of light. There has to be a way to simulate that experience- other than letting me look at an eye chart 95 yards away indoors- that won’t cut it. Am I really going to have to put Cabelas/Bass Pro/BHPhoto or whoever through the “premeditated return cycle” ringer, or do these outdoor demo days exist anywhere?

  16. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for the info on the Zeiss scopes. Sorry, but I haven’t read all your other articles, so I have to ask…Have you compared these to those of any other manufacturer – maybe some of the other ones mentioned in previous comments? If so, do Zeiss come out on top for you?

    I really wish I could get my hands on a spotting scope myself. I’m not really a hunter (should I even mention that here?) but there are times I sure could use one.

    • Avatar photo
      Scott Reekers

      Gary, scroll through the blog here and we have reviewed Vortex, Zeiss, and Sig optics. We will also have a few more coming by the end of the summer.

  17. Pleasant to discover you can leave at certain times have fun with america. Beneficial filming…
    Appreciate it….

  18. My friend have swarvoski spotting scope and have the 10-42.
    Sometimes I use it and I love them you pay for the glass and Clarity.

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