Spotting scopes: Angled vs. Straight – which design is best?
Every hunter has very specific gear preferences. Some like Brand X, others like Brand Y, and even further, some have preferences toward certain features. The decisions get even harder when you talk about expensive optics, especially spotting scopes.
A spotting scope serves several purposes on a hunt and purchasing one can be a very difficult decision. Besides for the magnification choice, the “angled or straight eyepiece” question comes up the most. I’ve used both angled and straight spotting scopes extensively. I feel they each have their place in the hands of someone that hunts a certain type of terrain. Below you’ll find some advantages and disadvantages to each spotting scope design, as well as some responses from hunters who spend a lot of time behind them.
Angled vs. straight spotting scopes
This decision is never taken lightly. A spotting scope can be one of the most expensive gear items you buy, but they also serve a very important purpose. Below are a few of the advantages and disadvantages of each system that I have encountered.
Is there a real difference in size and weight?
Vortex Razor HD spotting scope specs
|27-60x85 angled||27-60x85 straight|
|Field of view
|117-68' / 2.2-1.3°||117-68' / 2.2-1.3°|
|Weight||65.6 oz||65.6 oz|
In the table above I compared the Vortex 27-60x85 Razor HD angled and straight spotting scope. You'll see that the scope specifications do not change that much. The weight stays exactly the same, the visibility is exactly the same and the only difference is the straight spotter is 0.7" longer. Also, there is no price difference between the two.
Angled spotting scope
- Can use a shorter tripod.
- The shorter tripod means less chance for wind to affect your glassing.
- Also shorter tripods are lighter.
- Easier to support a digiscoping setup.
- Can be easier on the neck.
- Better for glassing up steep terrain.
- Can be easier to glass while standing up (and the tripod can be lower).
- Easier to switch between different people (a tall person can adjust the rotating collar for a shorter person, and a tall person can easily look into a tripod that was setup for a shorter person).
- Depending on your backpack, an angled spotter can be difficult to stuff into a pocket and can be cumbersome when your backpack is full.
- Can be a little difficult to glass at extreme downhill angles.
- While glassing from a vehicle you’ll need to adjust the collar to see properly.
- If you leave the scope sitting out while you take a quick break or grab some food out of your pack, it can collect water/snow until you start glassing again.
- In a quick pinch, throw a hat on your eyepiece or keep your eyecap close by.
Straight spotting scope
- Can be easier to get the glass on an animal.
- This means faster target acquisition.
- Can be easier to glass severe downhill angles.
- Can be easier to glass from a vehicle window mount.
- Can be better for glassing in extreme weather (angled eyepieces can collect rain/snow if your eye isn’t constantly on the scope).
- Can be quicker to switch from tripod mounted binoculars to a spotting scope
- Can be easier to place in a backpack around other gear items.
- Easy for someone to use/share/learn for the first time.
A straight spotting scope design is very simple because the eyepiece makes a straight line toward the target.
Switching from binoculars mounted on a tripod to a spotting scope
I glass a lot with high power binoculars off a tripod and this is the one section where it would be nice to have a straight spotting scope. It's very hard to argue that switching from binoculars mounted on a tripod to a straight spotting scope isn't the fastest method. It's super simple. This switch involves no movement to the tripod or spotting scope collar, whereas on an angled setup you'll need to lower your tripod to get a comfortable view, or you'll have to quickly adjust the collar and move your seated position to the right or left in order see the animal properly. I feel it's important to mention that adjusting the collar is fast, but that, plus moving slightly from your seated position increases the chance that you'll bump your tripod legs and completely move the spotter off of the animal.
- Can be a real pain to glass severe uphill angles.
- Neck discomfort if you have to constantly crouch.
- Tripod has to be taller to glass effectively which increases movement due to wind.
- This is especially true when using a tripod standing up.
A few reasons why I prefer an angled spotting scope
Versatile glassing positions and stability
Let’s face it… you are never on perfectly level ground while using a spotting scope. I prefer the angled spotting scope because I can use it in so many more awkward glassing positions. Plus angled spotters can be a lot more stable because you can keep the tripod lower which makes it more stable and easier to glass in the wind. Also, because you can keep your tripod lower, you can get by with a shorter tripod which can drastically save weight if you’re on a backpack hunt.
Most of the angled spotting scopes should have a rotating collar that you can adjust. This will move the the angled head from side to side. I can’t tell you how amazing this is when you have a buck bedded in sagebrush or tall vegetation and you’re trying to pick apart his rack while also trying to stay completely hidden. This is a situation where I'll rotate my angled tripod head and have it pointing down toward the ground. This allows me to glass and keep my head hidden below the skyline.
The waiting out a buck situation
The angled eyepiece also really shines for rifle hunters. If you're in a situation where you’re waiting for a buck to stand, you'll most likely have your spotting scope next to your rifle. The angled scope is great for this situation because you can just turn to your head to the left while you're prone to look through the spotter. This is a lot easier than trying to look through a riflescope for hours as you wait or having to crouch upward to look through a straight spotter.
For me, the angled is also perfect for those situation when you’re looking straight out in front of you while sitting on the ground or even glassing from a small chair. The angled scope makes you tip your head slightly downward, which is very comfortable for long glassing sessions. Also, I really enjoy turning my eyepiece to the 10 to 11 o'clock position or the 2 to 3 o'clock position from time to time. This position also feels natural and switching from side to side gives one eye a break.
One tripod height for multiple people
Angled spotting scopes are also easier for people of varying height to look through because of the angled view and the shorter tripod height. If you’re a tall person, it’s a lot easier to bend at the waist to look through an angled spotting scope than to bend your knees and crouch down. You can easily hunch over hold a steady position to check out a deer your friend found. Whereas if your friend had a straight spotter, it would be set up perfectly for him, but for you to see through it, you might have to do a combination of twisting your neck, waist and knees in order to glass up the buck. Or even worse, adjusting the tripod center column or leg height and risk losing the deer if it goes into cover randomly. This should not be the determining factor when deciding what to get, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Is the speed in locating animals a problem with an angled?
If you ask my brother, he would say that locating deer with an angled spotting scopes takes way too long and is very difficult. He has threatened to toss my spotting scope down a cliff multiple times.
It might be because I’ve used an angled spotter for so long, but locating an animal with an angled is just as quick as with a straight spotter. Even if you’re using an angled for the first time, after a few trips it won’t be a problem anymore.
Quotes from hunters on spotting scope preferences
When it comes to using a straight or angled spotting scope there really is no black or white and no right or wrong, it all comes down to personal preference. If it is in your budget to have both styles of scopes it would allow you to alter their usage depending on the type of hunting you are doing. Angled scopes have the advantage of using a lower tripod height for better stability as well as, in my opinion, being a much better setup for digiscoping. If you are planning on glassing for long periods of time the angled scope is also a more comfortable option. As for myself, I prefer a straight scope as I feel it is more versatile for the hunting conditions I tend to find myself in. I prefer the straight scope due to faster target acquisition while spotting and stalking. Additionally, most of my spotting positions are from elevated positions looking for game below. Almost all of the hunts I go on are backpack style hunts so the straight is also preferred as it fits better in most of the packs I use. Western weather can be harsh and will wreak havoc on an angled scope eyepiece with rain, snow and dirt. The straight scope also works great in many different situations such as glassing for antelope from the comfort of a vehicle using a window mount, glassing from a blind, or looking for a whitetail buck from a tree stand. If possible, find both styles of scopes and take them to the field for a test run. Find which scope fits you and the future hunting situations you hope to find yourself in. Being comfortable and glassing for long periods of time is one of the most critical parts of finding game.
I like a straight spotting scope for two reasons one is the target acquisition is much faster with a straight spotting scope. Number two you when sitting and glassing and using an angled spotting scope you have to move your center post or move your legs up and down in order to get the subject image in the same spot. About two years ago I tried to switch to an angled spotting scope and that only lasted for about one week until I realized that my target acquisition was much faster with the straight and there was no need to move my tripod once I slid the binoculars off. I just finished a podcast episode on this exact subject of angle versus straight with Cody from the Outdoorsmans’. I think an angled spotting scope is great if you're using it strictly for digiscoping. But there is no way to be looking through binoculars on the tripod and then switch to an angled spotting scope without having to move the legs or the center post. To me that becomes inefficient.
Here is the link to Jay's podcast episode.
I currently use a straight spotting scope, but I definitely want to change to angled. While glassing for multiple hours looking for sheep, angled is SO much more comfortable on your neck and less strain is incurred. Everyone thinks angled are harder to use, but I really don't think so. It just takes a few uses and they are quick and awesome! My vote is angled.
There are two major reasons I use the straight eye piece. Most of my hunting is spent in the west. Many times I have limited time to acquire my target. I find it easier and quicker to acquire animals with the straight scope. I also spend much of my time away from a vehicle and use a very light tripod that does not extend over 50 inches tall. The straight scope is more comfortable to use with the small tripod than the angled lens.
For hunting in the west I prefer an angled scope. This allows a lot more comfortable glassing when glassing up steep slopes and with the swivel capabilities of most scopes I can now comfortably glass downhill as well. The angled body also allows me to keep my spotting scope closer to the ground keep my center of gravity lower and my scope more stable.
For the style of hunting and glassing that I prefer, the straight spotter fits me best. I like to run a set of 15x binoculars for the majority of my glassing, I rarely sit for hours behind a spotter. I only switch to a spotter when I need a close up detailed look at something, and then its back to the 15s. Because of this, it's much easier to use a straight spotting scope and not have to adjust the height of the tripod.
Be sure to test out both styles before making a large purchase and then practice with your scope before taking it on a hunt the first time. Remember to think about what you’ll use the spotting scope for the majority of the time. I don't suggest buying a scope based on one big hunt that you have coming up. Example: Don’t by an angled just because it might work best for a mountain hunt when you might prefer a straight for 80% of your hunts. In the end, use what you are most comfortable with and you'll become very proficient with it over time.