When you’re attempting to draw birds in the wild, nothing beats a good spotting scope. If you’ve ever tried holding a pair of binoculars steady with one hand while balancing a sketchbook in your lap, you’ll know that it’s not ideal. Having a scope mounted on a tripod is much better, as both hands are free and the view through the lens is stable.
Before rushing out to buy a scope, I suggest you think about what species of birds you wish to draw and consider the time of day you plan to be outdoors. If you’re out in bright conditions, you probably won’t need a scope with over-sized glass elements that lets in tons of light. Scopes like that are perfect for viewing birds in the early morning hours or at dusk, but is probably overkill for most artists, not to mention such scopes are large, cumbersome and expensive.
Whenever possible, talk to birders in the field and peek through their optics to get an idea of what’s available. Online reviews can be helpful, but everyone has different needs, so buy what’s right for you.
For myself, I wanted a scope that was compact and not a burden carry around. The weight quickly adds up when you factor in a tripod, folding chair, art supplies and water/snacks. Other features important to me were having an angled eyepiece with good eye relief (because I wear glasses) and full waterproofing, which is different than weather-sealing. A weather-sealed scope will have rubber gaskets at the major seems to repel drops of rain or sand, while a scope that’s waterproof will be fully sealed and won’t fog internally because the air inside has been replaced with nitrogen gas.
The scope I purchased is the aptly named Hummingbird Scope, made by Celestron. It’s a tiny, well-made scope at an affordable price. I bought it at The Urban Nature Store, a local bird shop located in Toronto.
There are two models to choose between: 7-22 x 50 or 9-27 x56, the latter giving you a bit more reach and a brighter view. After testing both I picked the 9-27. You can see how it fits in the palm of my hands. What you can’t see is how sturdy it feels. In case you drop it, there’s protective rubber covering the entire body which should help absorb the impact. The view is also nice and crisp without any vignetting along the edges.
Although scopes are relatively simple optical instruments, you need to inspect for manufacturing defects. Pay attention to how smoothly the focus ring turns, it should be buttery smooth. When I was comparing the different Hummingbirds at the shop, I noticed the 7-22x50 had a stiff focusing ring and that was a brand new scope straight out of the box. Just another good reason to buy in person from a local retailer.
With spring just around the corner, I can’t wait to get outdoors with my little scope. If you’re in Toronto and see someone sketching Tree Swallows and Red Necked Grebes, that’s probably me!