Gear Guy

Can you recommend some bombproof spotting scopes?

After straining our eyes for years (and believe me, the years have gotten to me) my wife and I have decided to consider a spotting scope for our field trips. I new to scopes and confused at to the benefits between a straight versus angled lens and as to what optical power is most beneficial for nature viewing. Can you recommend a few bombproof spotting scopes (we take our fair share of spills and falls on the trail) with quality optics to view and appreciate nature with. Mr. Magoo Galveston, Texas

A: Glad to help. The first part of the question—regarding straight-through versus dogleg-style scopes—is an easy one. By "folding" the optics, a scope maker can fit more power in a shorter package. There are no advantages in terms of optical quality; it's simply that a straight-through model of equal power will be longer.

The power question really is a matter of your intended purpose. Most spotting scopes have zoom lenses, rather than the fixed-focal length lenses of most binoculars. For typical nature viewing—bird-watching, scenic vistas, climbers on a Yosemite wall, that sort of thing—anything from 15-30x to 20-60x range should be more than adequate (15-45x is very common). The smaller and more distant the object, the more power you want. Keep in mind that higher-power scopes also will magnify any shake in the system, so get a solid tripod to go with it.

You can spend as much or as little as you want. Bushnell makes a perfectly adequate scope called the Sportview Zoom 15-45x, which sells for about $100. A step up might be the Leupold Wind River 15-45x, which offers a little brighter viewing then the Sportview, sharper optics, and better protection against bumps for about $275. Or, take a look at Bausch & Lomb's Elite 15-45x for about $750. A very nice scope, with bright viewing and excellent sharpness.

Bausch & Lomb's Master Tripod ($70) would stabilize any of these scopes nicely, as would the Slik Mini-Pro Tripod ($70).