Friday, April 27, 2007

Is a cheap scope worth it?

After birding with just binoculars for three years, I wondered if it was time to buy a spotting scope. I wanted to expand my birding by watching more gulls, shorebirds, and water birds. Having a spotting scope would be very helpful in these situations.

As I started to gather information about spotting scopes, I came to the conclusion that I would probably have to spend over a $1,000 to buy a good one. This was not in the budget for the time being. I decided to buy the least expensive scope I could find, knowing that I would eventually want a good one anyway. The question is-Was it worth it for me to buy this
$150 Alpen 15-45x45 Spotting scope? I would say that it does serve a purpose for me. I use it occasionally to get a closer look at waterbirds. I have used it to take a quick look at shorebirds from convenient locations. I have also used it to spot a mystery bird on the ground or in a tree. I often balance it against my truck window and use it to make a quick i.d. I can also stuff it in my vest pocket so I can use it in a pinch.

How well does it work? In terms of actually viewing a bird for the purpose of identification, it works pretty well. If lighting conditions are low, I don't bother using it. If it is windy, I don't bother using it. I have it mounted on my wife's old video camera tripod right now. I know this is just plain wong.
My next step would be to spend a little money on getting a more stable tripod that I might be able to use on a better scope down the road.

I have had the chance to look through several high end scopes. One major difference between my budget scope and one of the better ones is actually something that I hadn't considered--the size of the eyepiece. My scope has a small eyepiece. Looking though a larger eyepiece makes a huge difference! Imagine watching birds in your back yard through a paper towel tube. Now compare this to watching them through a nice clean picture window-you get the idea.

To sum it up:

  • It was worth the money- but it doesn't provide a joyful viewing experience.
  • I haven't tried to use it for digi-scoping yet.
  • A good tripod is very important. That would be my next move.
  • I hate carrying around scopes -if I had the money I would not only get a better scope, but would also hire a scope caddy (like golfers have).
  • I wish that I had tried to find one with a bigger eyepiece.
  • I'm going to upgrade my binoculars before I get a new scope.

Do you enjoy using a spotting scope to view birds or do you prefer birding with binoculars? What type of birds do you most enjoy viewing through a scope?


Cathy said...

I use to drag a scope around. But as I've aged I've grown to 'rely on the kindness of strangers' :0)

There are always nice people like you who will let me take a peek through their scopes when there's something special out there.

Betsy True said...

I love my scope and recently upgraded from my "cheap" $200 Bushnell to a Swarovski. One thing that drove me was digiscoping. The narrow eyepiece on the Bushnell made it EXTREMELY difficult to get good digiscopes (for me anyway) and the new wider eyepiece on the Swarovski makes it almost trivally easy to do, no matter what camera I'm using. Food for thought.

LauraHinNJ said...

I'm with you on needing a scope caddy!

I agree that you can always share someone else's and I think (after having spent $$$ on a Leica scope) that it makes more sense to get better bins if you have to choose between the two. It also depends on the type of birding you like to do - if you're really into gulls and shorebirds then it makes sense to get the scope sooner, I think.

Larry said...

Cathy-I've found people who own scopes usually are kind enough to share but if you are by yourself the sharing method doesn't work as well.
Betsy-I'm with you on the better scope-some day.
Laura-At this point,the birding I prefer to do usually doesn't require a scope.

Jayne said...

LOL Larry... a scope caddy! I love that idea! I've got one, but rarely use it as most of my birding is done in the backyard and my binos work just fine for that. The one my husband bought years ago is really heavy and cumbersome to me.

Anonymous said...

Until recently I had a cheap scope but found I was missing a lot. I recently bought a Bushnell Elite ED 20-60X80 and have been thrilled. It may not be a Kowa, Leica or other top end scope, but for under $700 it givesa lot of bang for the buck! I found the best price was at Eagle Optics.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, Larry. I can't stand carrying a scope around. Of course, I didn't realize this until after I had invested in a Swarovski, which spends most of the time in a closet rather than out in the field!