If you're a first-time buyer, use these four tips to pick the scope that's right for you. And check out the top picks in our complete Audubon Guide to Scopes.
Take the opportunity to try out scope models in your price range at wild-bird stores that sell optics or birding festivals where manufacturers set up displays.
Angled vs. Straight
If you always go birding alone, you can set the tripod for your height and use a straight-through scope design. If you bird with others, an angled eyepiece makes it easy for people of different heights to share.
Clarity Over Power
If you have to choose, go for sharpness, not higher magnification. Heat shimmer will often make the highest magnification useless anyway, but a sharp image is important at any power.
A Solid Base
A great scope on a weak, shaky tripod won’t give you good views.