The scopes in this category are all under $1,000. While we appreciate that shelling out hundreds of dollars might be a squeeze, if not impossible, for some birders, we just haven’t found a $100 scope that’s worth the money. For those looking for a bargain, we recommend the Celestron Trailseeker, which scored quite well and costs $280. (You might also consider buying a used scope on eBay, but proceed with caution.)
While we’d initially planned to only highlight the top five scorers in each category, we bent the rules for this one. Not only did it have the most models—we tested 10—but three of the best performers earned nearly identical scores, separated by only three-hundredths of a point.
Once you've perused these budget-friendly options, check out the top picks for the other two categories in our complete Audubon Guide to Scopes.
Celestron Regal M2
The takeaway: One reviewer summed up nearly everyone’s take: “Really nice image.” Testers noted minimal, if any, chromatic aberration, and the Regal’s marks for color and sharpness pushed it to the top of the category. It’s also easy to operate, with nice resistance on the zoom and focus knobs, and our bespectacled guinea pigs lauded the eye relief.
More specs: 20-60x magnification; 80mm objective lens; 20mm eye relief; 56.7 oz
Vortex Viper HD
The takeaway: The Viper provides clear, bright optics in a compact package. The image is sharp at the widest setting from the center to the edges and remains good throughout the zoom range. This scope earned the same mark as the Celestron Regal for eye relief—7.5—and performed slightly better when it came to edge-to-edge focus and ease of focus.
More specs: 15-45x magnification; 65mm objective lens; 20-15mm eye relief; 53.3 oz
The takeaway: The Elite’s high score stems in no small part from its image quality—it scored solid 8’s for brightness and sharpness, the highest of any contenders in this category. It also maintains focus well throughout the zoom range.
More specs: 20-60x magnification; 80mm objective lens; 18mm eye relief; 53 oz
Celestron Trailseeker 65
The takeaway: The image is sharp at the center, and testers praised the zoom and ease of focus. “It has a very smooth feel,” one reviewer noted. This scope earned the third-highest rating for eye relief in this category, after the Celestron Regal and Vortex Viper.
More specs: 16-48x magnification; 65mm objective lens; 18-15mm eye relief; 48 oz
Opticron MM4 60 GA ED
The takeaway: The strong points of the Opticron, which tied with the Alpen and Vortex Diamond in overall score, are brightness and color. Reviewers noted that image sharpness degraded at the highest magnification. NOTE: Multiple eyepieces are available for the MM4; we tested it with the HDF T 15-45x, a kit available through Opticron (code 40862).
More specs: 15-45x magnification; 60mm objective lens; 22-17mm eye relief; 33 oz
The takeaway: Produced sharp, bright images. At higher magnification there was noticeable chromatic distortion, or purple fringing.
More specs: 20-60x magnification; 80mm objective lens; 19-18mm eye relief; 56 oz
The takeaway: Testers liked how smoothly the Diamondback zoomed and focused, but gave it slightly lower marks for brightness, sharpness, and color than the Alpen and Opticron.
More specs: 20-60x magnification; 80mm objective lens; 20-16.5mm eye relief; 47.1 oz