We’ve Entered the Era of Ultralight Spotting Scopes
The new Maven S.2 isn't much heavier than a pair of binoculars so you can take more magnification into the backcountry
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I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with spotting scopes. Sure, the massive amount of magnification and light gathering they offer creates the best-possible wildlife viewing experience, but they’ve always been so big, so heavy, and so awkward that using them anywhere but right outside your truck has been virtually impossible. And then I got my hands on the new Maven S.2 spotter. At just 34 ounces, it has completely changed the way I look at wild animals.
What Is It?
The S.2 offers a 12-27x magnification range in a package that’s just 11 inches long. A 56 millimeter objective lens combines with the Abbe-Koenig roof prism to maximize light-gathering abilities from the compact package. Despite its compact size, and relatively affordable $950 price tag, Maven has managed to avoid compromising the quality of the S.2’s glass, construction, and features, delivering an exceptionally clear, bright picture that defies the scope’s size and weight.
Take that prism for example: it’s responsible for righting the inverted image created by the objective lens, and also helps create a more compact overall package by shortening the optical path. Most compact optics employ a Schmidt-Pecan roof prism design, which is cheaper to produce and more compact, but transmits less light. It’s impressive then that Maven was able to deliver an Abbe-Koenig design in a scope of this size, at a sub $1,000 price.
The S.2 also employs an objective lens made from fluorite glass. Not only does fluorite feature low chromatic aberration (read: better edge-to-edge clarity), but it’s lighter than other types of glass, too. You’ll find fluorite glass employed to create the highest quality telephoto camera lenses for that reason.
All the above is housed in a magnesium-polymer frame that’s also very light and very strong. That helps make the total package rugged, adding to its suitability as something you can carry into the field and use in challenging conditions.
Who Is It for?
Spotting scopes are used for wildlife observation. They’re professional tools for scientists and wildlife managers and are employed by nature enthusiasts, bird watchers, and hunters who need more magnification than that that offered by a pair of binoculars.
By dramatically slashing size, weight, and cost with the S.2, Maven is enabling more people to benefit from a high-quality spotting scope’s extreme magnification in a more diverse array of environments. Any of the above people who operate out of a backpack will benefit. Heck, even using this thing from inside your vehicle is way easier than trying to manipulate the bulk of a traditional spotter in that confined environment.
I’ve been using the S.2 since July for general wildlife viewing here in Montana, and now for elk hunting. It enables me to bring better-than-binoculars magnification into the backcountry, where most animals tend to live. And its size and weight make it quicker to setup and easier to get on-target—meaning I’m able to use it more frequently, during the kind of fleeting encounters that so often define opportunities to see animals.
A Scope Is Only as Good as Its Tripod
In order to take advantage of the S.2’s high-end magnification (or that of any other optics), you’re going to need to mount it to as stable a platform as possible. But unlike using a camera, you don’t hold a spotting scope still. That creates unique demands for a tripod.
I’ve been using the S.2 in conjunction with an Outdoorsmans Compact Tripod fitted with the brand’s Pan Head. Made from machined aluminum, and fitted with brass bushings and field-serviceable steel hardware, not only is this tripod extremely light (47.3 ounces), but also incredibly robust. With the legs compressed, the tripod folds into a package that’s just 13.5 inches long. Extended, it creates a maximum height of 36 inches. That’s perfect for seated glassing; by sacrificing the ability to use this thing while standing, I’m also saving a ton of weight and packed size.
But it’s not just the size and stability that make this tripod uniquely suitable to the S.2. Unlike a typical ball head, that Pan Head can individually lock out rotation or tilt, allowing you to precisely move the scope in fractional increments with total smoothness. So, not only are you viewing a stable picture through the scope when it’s mounted to this tripod, but while searching for animals you can cycle the optic through a perfect grid pattern, leaving no square inch of terrain untouched. Particularly when looking for animals that are really, really good at hiding (a mule deer comes to mind), this allows you to totally scour their habitat and find even the smallest sign of their presence.
Of course, a specialty product made to the tightest possible tolerances at the lowest weight is not going to be cheap. Together, the Compact Tripod and Pan Head add up to $900. For serious users, there is nothing better.
- The S.2’s magnification and focus dials run flawlessly smooth.
- The image provided by the S.2 is clearer, with better edge-to-edge clarity and more brightness than larger scopes that cost twice as much.
- It’s incredibly robust—nothing here is going to break if you drop it.
- A 12-27x range allows you a huge field of view at low magnification, yet impressive reach at the highest setting.
- The total system weight as described is just 5 pounds even. That’s the weight of a large spotting scope on its own.
- You’ve never experienced a tripod as stable as the Outdoorsmans. It utterly eliminates shake as you move the optic, and totally cuts the wind’s impacts when you lock down the adjusters.
- The S.2’s eyepiece cap is a simple piece of cheap plastic that you’ll drop and lose the first time you use the scope. At this price, a rubber cap on a leash should be expected.
- There are some situations where 27x magnification may not be enough: glassing more than a mile in distance, or trying to discern the details of an animal that far away will leave you wishing you’d hauled the 60x with you.
- It’ll outlast you, but man is the Outdoormans tripod system a serious investment.
Should You Buy One?
I haven’t used my $2,000 60x spotting scope since the S.2 arrived. What I give up in outright magnification with the smaller optic, I make up for with portability, ease of use, and quality of image. Seriously, this thing lacks for nothing when it comes to quality. I also find that, with this system, I’m carrying a real spotting scope and tripod along on the kind of trips that previously I’ve only brought binoculars on. And that’s giving me the ability to find more animals quickly, and to observe them in more detail. If there’s one product that’s improved my enjoyment of the outdoors this year the most, this is it.