July 1998

Nikon 20X Spotting Scope A Best Buy For The Shooting Bench

The Nikonís price, clarity and user-friendly features made it our choice in this four-unit test of spotting scopes.

The evolution of spotting scopes seems to have maintained pace with other advancements in the firearms and shooting accessory industry. This fact was strongly realized when we compared the equipment in this test to the spotting scope one of testers has mounted in his pistol box. It’s an O. F. Mossberg & Sons Model A “Spotshot” 20x. In 1963, its list price was $29.95. It has a 38mm objective lens. Its 10mm ocular lens is mounted at the end of a sliding tube, which is pulled in and out to rough-focus, then rotated to fine-focus. Considering inflation, we certainly get a lot for our money today, in quality, warranty, and advances in manufacturing and the science of optics.

However, the Mossberg still works, and works well. It’s fine for seeing the holes punched in paper targets at 100 yards. But, these new scopes sure are nice.

For this article, we selected four spotting scopes ranging in suggested price from $352.95 to $628.00. Our selection included two fixed power units—the Weaver 20X and the Nikon 20X, and two variable power units with zoom lenses—the Bushnell 15X to 45X Spacemaster and the Tasco 15X to 60X.

In our tests, comparisons included clarity, brightness, ease of operation, and quality. Speaking of clarity, if you use a scope while wearing eyeglasses, they could affect the observed sharpness of your subject. Certain eyeglass lenses, especially the “high index” plastic lens, can cause blurring of the subject. When using a riflescope, these eyeglass lenses can also cause blurring of the reticle in addition to the subject.

Although the Bushnell and Tasco scopes in this test can be used as camera telephoto lenses, we did not examine these capabilities.

Nikon
At a suggested retail price of $368.95, the Nikon Model 7834 20X Spotting Scope we tested included a lens wiping cloth and a carrying case with an adjustable shoulder strap. We were told by Nikon that this model has been superseded by Model 7350, which was not available in time for our test. The new model has a sliding sunshade and is water-resistant, but the price remains the same.

The scope weighed 44.3 ounces and was 13-3/4 inches long. The body was covered with gray rubber material. The objective lens cover was black rubber. The eyepiece was almost completely covered with a black rubber roll-down eyecup. A deep plastic lens cover screwed onto threads at the rear of the scope body, protecting the entire eyepiece. The scope’s knurled focusing knob was 4-1/2 inches forward of the eyepiece. It was 1-1/2 inches long, located on top of the body, and pointed forward. A sight groove was molded into the body armor coating just above the eyepiece. The instructions warned against using this scope in the rain.

The soft black plastic shoulder bag measured 14 x 4-1/2 x 3-3/4 inches and was thinly padded. The bag’s top flap was held closed with two quick-release buckles. The Nikon scope had a limited 25-year warranty to the original purchaser for defects in material and workmanship. The serialized warranty certificate enclosed with the scope, as well as a dated proof of purchase, must be presented with the scope when requesting warranty work.

An optional zoom eyepiece is available as an accessory to convert this scope to 15X to 45X variable power.

Our Judgments
We mounted this scope on a quality camera tripod for testing. The objective lens cover remained open without any problem, although it was attached to the body with a rubber hinge somewhat like the Bushnell. The eyepiece lens cover was relatively easy to remove and replace. The eyepiece had a soft rubber rollback eyecup, to accommodate users with or without eyeglasses.

The ribbed focusing knob was covered with nonslip rubber and was easy to adjust. Its location at the top of the scope body felt unusual at first, but our testers became accustomed to it after using the scope for a while. We didn’t have much success pinpointing what we wanted to look at with the sight groove located above the eyepiece. It just got us in the general direction.

This Nikon spotting scope was rated second in sharpness among the scopes in this test. The difference between first place and last place was small, and may be entirely dependent on the physical nature of the viewer’s eyes. In our opinion, this scope’s brightness (light-gathering ability) was the same as the others.

The carrying case, which was just the right size for the scope, was thinly padded. But, the scope itself was probably well-enough protected with its own rubberized armor coating.

The instruction book coverage was complete, except for the omission of the sighting groove. The translation to English was poor. Some typical phrases were: “...with wearing glasses on...” and “...drive in the eyepiece thread to the eyepiece socket...”. The illustrations would have been better if they were larger, but they were clear.

We were pleased with the results of our phone call to Nikon’s Customer Service department. Our questions were answered quickly and courteously.

Weaver
At a suggested retail price of $352.95, the Weaver Model 49945 20X Spotting Scope included a lens wiping cloth and a carrying case with an adjustable shoulder strap. The scope weighed 21 ounces and was 10-3/8 inches long. It was covered with black rubber material. The objective lens and eyepiece slip-on covers were made of flexible black plastic. The knurled focusing ring was 1-1/2 inches forward of the eyepiece.

The thinly padded soft black plastic carrying case measured 11 x 2-3/4 x 3 inches. A zipper allowed the top and one end to be opened.

The Weaver scope had a limited lifetime warranty to the original owner for defects in material and workmanship. A check for $7 is required to cover the cost of handling and return postage.

Our Judgments
For testing, we mounted this scope on a quality camera tripod. The slide-on eyepiece and objective lens covers were easy to remove and replace. The rubber eyecup was not adjustable. We would like to have seen a deeper eyecup—extended further away from the eyepiece lens—to afford the lens more protection.

The focusing ring was covered with knurled rubber, and was easy to find because of its generous size and difference in feel from the smooth surface of the scope body.

This Weaver spotting scope was rated third in sharpness among the scopes in this test. We want to emphasize that the difference between first place and last place was small. No difference in brightness was noted in the scopes tested.

The carrying case, which was just the right size for the scope, was thinly padded. But, the scope itself was probably well-enough protected with its own rubberized armor coating.

Except for not having the capability to install a different power eyepiece, this scope did whatever the other fixed power scope in this test could do, but in a lighter, smaller waterproof package.

The instruction sheet was well written, but printed in small type. The illustration was large and clear. The box in which this scope was packed indicated it was waterproof, shockproof and fogproof. But, any limitations or explanations of these “proofs” were not found in the instructions that accompanied the scope.

We were pleased with the results of our phone call to Weaver’s Customer Service department. Our questions were answered quickly and courteously.

Bushnell
At a suggested retail price of $560.95, the Bushnell Model 78-1217 Field Kit included the Spacemaster Camo Armored Telescope, a 15-45x-zoom eyepiece, a table-top tripod, and a backpack carrying case.

The scope, with eyepiece attached, weighed 38.2 ounces and was 13-7/8 inches long. The tripod weighed 23.3 ounces. Except for the eyepiece and focusing knob, the scope was covered with a camouflage-colored rubber material. The nondetachable objective lens cover was made of the same material.

The eyepiece was packed separately and required attachment prior to using the scope. This was best accomplished when the scope was pointing straight down. We placed the eyepiece into the opening and turned the eyepiece attachment locking ring clockwise. (Do this gently, until the threads catch, to avoid crossthreading.) This procedure was quick and easy.

The rear half of the eyepiece was covered with a black rubber material. Changing scope power was done by rotating the knurled portion near the rear of the eyepiece. A window in the side of the eyepiece housing indicated the power setting. A deep hard plastic lens cover screwed onto threads at the rear of the scope body, protecting the entire eyepiece.

The scope’s hard plastic focusing knob was recessed into the scope body to the right of the eyepiece. It was deeply slotted, and was rotated by moving the fingers up or down while keeping light pressure against the knob’s side. A “peep sight” was built into the scope housing just above the eyepiece mounting hole.

The padded black nylon back-pack measured 14 x 16-3/4 x 6-1/4 inches. A zipper with two separate pulls allowed the front to be opened along both sides and at the top. The front remained attached at the bottom. A foam pad with form-fit cutouts for the scope and tripod filled the interior. The front had two zippered compartments and four open-topped pockets. The two adjustable shoulder straps were padded. An adjustable waist-strap with quick-release buckle kept the backpack snug against the wearer’s back. In addition, a carrying handle was attached at the top.

The tripod was designed for use on a table or other sturdy platform. Controls included a knurled ring to lock windage adjustment and a knurled knob to lock elevation adjustment. In addition, a smaller knob provided 26 degrees of elevation fine-adjustment.

The Bushnell scope had a limited lifetime warranty for defects in material and workmanship for the lifetime of the original owner. A check for $10 is required to cover the cost of handling.

Our Judgments
After mounting the scope onto its tripod, we found that the objective lens cover would continually flip back to its closed position. It was attached to the body with a rubber hinge. We finally overcame the problem by using a rubber band around the body to hold the cover open. The eyepiece lens cover was relatively easy to remove and replace.

The peep sight, located above the eyepiece, was imprecise. We didn’t have much success with pinpointing what we wanted to look at. It just got us in the general direction.

We could not maintain eye contact with the eyepiece while changing power, because the eyecup rotates during power adjustment. Changing the power setting was easy, and didn’t disturb the scope’s position on the tripod. The rubber eyecup was not adjustable.

The focusing knob was in a good position and was fairly easy to operate. It didn’t disturb the scope’s position on the tripod. However, we feel very strongly that the focusing knob should be covered with a non-slip coating.

This Bushnell spotting scope was rated forth in sharpness among the scopes in this test. Again, we emphasize that the difference between first place and last place was small. There was no noticeable difference in brightness in the scopes tested.

The tripod was quite steady when all adjustment locks were tight. A larger windage locking ring and elevation locking knob would make these locks easier to tighten. After tightening the elevation locking knob, a fine-adjustment knob allowed limited elevation changes. This tripod did not have a fine-windage adjustment, as did the other tripod in this test.

The carrying case was impressive, sturdy, useful, and large—maybe larger than necessary for just the scope kit. We felt it would probably be put to other uses when not carrying the scope and tripod.

The instructions provided were well written, with large clear illustrations. Bushnell’s Customer Service department returned our phone message promptly. One of our testers told us that she had occasion to use their warranty service for a very old pair of Bushnell binoculars, and that she received excellent service.

Tasco
The Tasco Model 9002T Spotting Scope included the 9000T 15X to 60X scope, a 22P shooter’s stand tripod, a 9000ADAPT camera adapter tube, and a 9002T shoulder bag carrying case. Although the suggested retail price was $628, it was widely available at discounted prices.

The scope weighed 48 ounces and was 17-1/2 inches long. The tripod weighed 27.5 ounces. Except for the eyepiece, zoom ring, and focusing ring, the scope was finished in crackle black paint. The objective lens cover was made of hard plastic and screwed into the scope body. The eyepiece lens cover, also of hard plastic, screwed onto threads at the rear of the scope body. It was sufficiently deep to protect the entire eyepiece. The eyepiece was an integral part of the scope. The eyepiece eyecup could be turned to make it retract or extend.

Changing scope power was accomplished by rotating a grooved ring 6 inches forward of the eyepiece. When aligned with a red line engraved on the top of the scope body, green numbers engraved in the ring indicated the power setting. The white numbers on this ring indicated the equivalent telephoto lens length for photographic use.

Focusing was accomplished by rotating a grooved ring 7-1/2 inches forward of the eyepiece. When aligned with a red line engraved on the top of the scope body, white numbers indicating feet (and green numbers indicating meters) engraved in the ring indicated the focus distance. We could not obtain information regarding the + and - sign (separated by a red dot) on the focusing ring (see Our Judgments).

The black shoulder bag was covered with a leather-like material. Except for the front, the covering material was installed over a hard case. The bag measured 19-1/2 x 10-1/4 x 4-1/2 inches. The top flap was held closed with two quick-release buckles. A zipper on each end of the bottom front flap allowed this flap to fold completely down. The interior was compartmentalized for the scope and tripod, and had additional adjustable compartments and pockets for other items. The adjustable compartment partitions were attached with Velcro. Elastic straps over the compartments were sewn in at one end and had Velcro on the free end. An adjustable shoulder strap was padded with a nonslip pad. We could not obtain information regarding the purpose of two additional straps included with the bag (see Our Judgments).

The tripod was designed for use on a table or other sturdy platform. Controls included a knurled ring to lock windage adjustment and a knurled knob to lock elevation adjustment. In addition, two smaller knobs provided elevation and windage fine-adjustment of 30 degrees and 25 degrees, respectively.

The Tasco scope had a no-fault limited lifetime warranty to the original purchaser. If it is damaged and fails to operate, Tasco will repair or replace it for a $10 handling charge.

The Tasco tripod had a 1-year limited warranty to the original purchaser for defects in material and workmanship. A check for $10 is required to cover the cost of handling.

Our Judgments
We mounted this scope onto its tripod, and found that changing magnification and focus disturbed the tripod’s aim unless the elevation locking knob and windage locking ring were quite tight. The tripod was reasonably steady when these locks were tight. As with the other tripod in this test, a larger windage locking ring and elevation locking knob would make these locks easier to tighten.

Unless the user becomes very familiar with this scope, it’s easy to mistake the focusing ring for the power change ring, and vice versa. Both rings are grooved. We think that one ring should be grooved, and the other ring should be knurled, so the user will know which one is being adjusted.

The eyepiece and objective lens covers were easy to remove and replace. The hard plastic eyecup was adjusted in and out by turning it. An integral sliding sunshade could be extended over the objective lens.

This Tasco scope was rated first in sharpness among the scopes in this test. Remember, the difference between first place and last place was small. No difference in brightness was noted in the scopes tested.

This tripod had both windage and elevation fine-adjustments. After tightening the elevation locking knob, the fine-adjustment knob allowed limited elevation changes. Because the windage fine-adjustment control operated independently of the windage locking knob, the windage locking knob can be loose or tight. However, we suggest the locking knob should be tight. The windage fine-adjustment could have allowed a few more degrees of adjustment, except that the inside of this knob rubbed on the tripod head when it was adjusted to its extreme right position.

This carrying case was also impressive, sturdy, useful, and large— but not as large as the Bushnell case. We felt this one, too, would probably see other use when not carrying the scope and tripod.

Instructions were good but limited in coverage for the scope, and passable for the tripod. Illustrations were large and clear. Except for its existence being admitted to in the parts identification illustration, the sliding sunshade was not mentioned. The shoulder bag was mentioned, but no instructions covering its use were provided.

We called Tasco to obtain information about the purpose of the two additional straps included with the bag and the + and - signs (separated by a red dot) on the focusing ring. We spoke to their Technical Support, their Marketing, and their Communications departments. We waited 15 days from our first call for their answers. Tasco’s response to the question about the bag straps was that they didn’t know what they were used for. They said the + and - signs on the focusing ring were “a diopter adjustment,” but they couldn’t explain what they did or how or when they were used, other than “it makes the image sharper.”

Bottom Line
We don’t think that you can go wrong with any of the scopes we tested. Optically, all in this test rate a “buy” recommendation.

Click here to view the Spotting Scope Specifications

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For the average shooter who usually engages targets at 100 yards or less, the $369 Nikon 20X is our choice for the best buy. It provided the second-clearest view and was the most user friendly. Furthermore, if the need should arise in the future, the scope could be upgraded to 15X to 45X variable power.

The Weaver 20X scope’s clarity was satisfactory, but it didn’t have conveniences such as a rubber eyecup. It was the lightest and most compact unit of the test. This $353 scope would be our second choice for typical range use.

The $561 Bushnell 15X-45X scope is more expensive than either fixed power scope, and probably more powerful than needed strictly for a shooting bench accessory. However, its power and backpack carrying case would be suitable for hunters to use during pre-season scouting trips.

The $628 Tasco 15X-60X scope was expensive and, in our opinion, more complicated than needed for most shooting activities. Nevertheless, it would be a good choice for times when you want to see a really long distance away.