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With the dozens and dozens of spotting scopes in the market, how do you decide which is the best spotting scope for the money?
I like to look at which ones seem to be the most popular based on ownership and reviews.
I’ve come up with these 3 scopes.
Update: Since this review was first written, Vortex Optics has changed their offerings (at Amazon) slightly. You can still find similar Razor and Diamondback spotting scopes, but either the zoom power or the magnification may have changed a little. All the basic features will still be there – perhaps you’ll even see more goodness!
If you’re in a hurry and just want to check the pricing and availability of each at Amazon, you can click (tap) the links in the list below.
It looks like the Vortex Optics brand and the 20-60×80 size are popular choices. These three spotting scopes give you a wide range in price point, though. Let’s take a quick look at each to see why they might be the best scope for the money in their respective classes.
If you want to jump to a particular section of the review, you can click (tap) a link in the box below. Otherwise, you can simply keep scrolling (swiping) and reading as usual.
Vortex Razor 20-60×85 Spotting Scope
“Simply one of the finest spotting scopes you can buy.”
That’s not an owner giving you his opinion of the Vortex Razor. That’s Vortex tooting their own horn.
Are they boasting without having the goods to back it up? Let’s see.
The Vortex Razor scope comes in two configurations – straight and angled. The only real difference between the two is the location of the eyepiece lens.
The straight Razor is only about half an inch longer than the angled Razor, so the overall length probably won’t matter to you when you’re trying to pick one over the other.
What is more likely to matter is how you intend to use the Razor 20-60×80 scope. Generally speaking, only birders and wildlife watchers care about this. Some like to use their spotting scope on a tripod and prefer the angled version. Others like to observe from their vehicle and thus want the straight edition. If that’s you, you’ll might want to also get a window mount for stability, because this is a rather large spotting scope.
As for the other features of the Vortex Razor, you can find most of them in the table down below.
One owner raves about his Razor like this.
“It doesn’t get much better than this for the money! This could easily compete with scopes that cost twice as much.”
Check out more testimonials to the Vortex Razor in this video.
Here’s an introduction to the Razor from Eagle Optics.
Vortex Diamondback 20-60×80
The Vortex Diamondback is very similar to the Razor. The only noticeable difference is the size of the objective lens which is 80 millimeters in diameter instead of the 85 millimeters you get in the Razor.
Theoretically, this allows a little less light into the tube, but this may not matter much due to other features of the scope and the quality of the glass itself.
The Diamondback, like the Razor, comes in both straight and angled versions, so the decisions you have to make that I noted above will apply here as well.
A Diamondback owner did some comparing of his own here.
“Compared it to the $2200 Vortex, and of course there was differences, but if you just can’t justify spending over 2 grand for a spotting scope, then this one is just fine.”
And that’s what this review is all about – trying to get the most value for your money.
In this video, Vortex gives you an overview of the Diamondback 20-60×80 spotting scope.
Again, for more details on the other features, see the table and comments below.
Celestron Ultima Zoom 80mm Spotting Scope
The Celestron Ultima has the same zooming capability as the two Vortex scopes above. It varies from 20x to 60x.
It is this zoom feature, specifically at the higher end of the magnification where some users find fault with the Ultima. They say that the quality degrades quickly as you zoom in on your target.
By “quality” I believe they mean the brightness and the clarity of the picture.
That said, here is one owner’s take on his Celestron Ultima Zoom.
“This is a good scope for the money, and much better than the other ones I looked at.”
You may not need to worry about the zoom degradation at the high end, because you may never go there. Even 20x magnification at the low end is pretty powerful. Many users never go above 40x or so.
For an overview of the Celestron Ultima, check out this video.
How Do the Vortex and Celestron Spotting Scopes Compare?
Here is the table I promised above. (But see Update above.)
|Field of View @ 1000 yds.||117-60 ft.||105-51 ft.||105-52 ft.|
|Close Focus (ft.)||16.4||22||26.2|
|Eye Relief (mm)||20-18||20-16.5||18|
|Coatings||Fully Multi-coated||Fully Multi-coated||Multi-coated|
|Fogproof||Yes (argon)||Yes (nitrogen)||Yes (nitrogen)|
|Straight / Angled||Both||Both||Both|
As you probably expected and can see with a quick glance at the table, there isn’t much difference among these three spotting scopes. I think that’s part of the reason these are the most popular spotting scopes available today.
The field of view is a little greater for the Vortex Razor, but it’s nearly identical for the Diamondback and the Ultima. You should be able to zero in on your target quite easily with any of these instruments.
Close focus is normally not a significant factor with a spotting scope. You normally get one of these to see things far away, not up close.
Eye relief is about the same for each and is generous. If you must wear eyeglasses while using the scope, you should be able to see through it just fine.
The measurements given for length are for the straight (not angled lens) version of each scope. When you look at that figure and the weight of each, it seems the Diamondback is the “winner”. It is significantly shorter and therefore lighter than the other two.
That said, you will want a sturdy tripod no matter which one you choose. This is not a unit that you can hold in your hands for any reasonable amount of time. Even if you could, you wouldn’t be able to hold it steady enough to see your target.
I wasn’t able to find if the Celestron Ultima has “fully” multi-coated glass. The Vortex instruments both do, meaning they have the best coating on all surfaces. If the Ultima does not, that may contribute to the degradation mentioned earlier.
Other features in the table are virtually the same across all these scopes. If one feature really matters to you, that may help you decide which one to choose.
Conclusions about the 3 Best Spotting Scopes
It’s really hard to pick an overall “winner” here. That’s part of the reason I grouped these three together though.
They are all very good spotting scopes for your money.
It may come down to how much you actually want to spend.
Once you have decided which one you like best, your next step may be to pick a tripod to go with it.