Best Terrestrial Telescopes for Land Viewing 2023

Landscape aerial view of a forest during sunset with the text Best Terrestrial Telescopes For Land Viewing 2023

Everyone knows that telescopes are great for the night sky – but some of them are also perfect for daytime, terrestrial land viewing. Take a look below at our 2023 Recommendations for the Best Terrestrial (Land Viewing) Telescopes.

Before I talk you through my recommendations for 2023, it’s important that you understand the different types of scopes. But if you’re still new to Terrestrial Viewing, that’s alright – you’ve come to the right place!

Click here to go straight to a guide on the different types of telescopes or scroll to the bottom of the page.

But if you already know your way around Refractor Telescopes and Spotting Scopes, take a look at my recommendations below!

Spotting Scopes are the preferred choice for Terrestrial Observers for distances lower than 5 km. They offer several advantages over Refractor Telescopes when used for mid-range Land Viewing, but their more compact size limits their strength and brightness.

For distances over 5km, I would recommend using a Refractor Telescope.

When choosing a Spotting Scope, there are a few considerations you need to make.

  • Magnification / Zoom Range (eg. 20-60x)
  • Aperture (eg. 80mm)
  • Angled vs Straight Eyepiece
  • Glass Type (eg. Standard vs Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) Glass)

You also need to consider that the majority of Spotting Scopes don’t come with a tripod. Using a tripod will let you achieve a level of versatility that isn’t possible with a solid flat surface like a table.

Recommended Tripods for Spotting Scopes

It’s important to note that most Spotting Scopes are designed to be mounted to a standard Camera Tripod Head Mount via a Quick Release Plate, so if you already have a Camera Tripod – great! Just make sure that your tripod’s payload capacity exceeds the weight of the Spotting Scope.

If you don’t have a Tripod yet – here’s what I’d recommend.

saxon Heavy Duty Tripod TX210 (633070)

saxon Heavy Duty Tripod TX210

Mount Type: 3-Way Pan/Tilt with Quick Release Plate

Payload Capacity: 4 kg

Price: $229.95

Celestron Trailseeker Fluid Pan Tripod

Mount Type: Two-Way Fluid Handle with Quick Release Plate

Payload Capacity: 4 kg

Price: $269.95

Celestron Trailseeker Fluid Pan Tripod (82050)

Now onto the Recommended Spotting Scopes for Land Viewing.

Recommended Spotting Scopes for Terrestrial Land Viewing (< $500)

Below $500, any of these are great options to consider.

Celestron Ultima 65 18-55x65 Angled Eyepiece Spotting Scope (52248) pointing bottom left

Celestron Ultima 65 18-55×65 Angled Eyepiece Spotting Scope

Magnification and Aperture: 18-55x65mm

Glass Type: Standard

Price: $349.95

Click here for the straight variant.

Saxon 20-60×80 Spotting Scope

Magnification: 20-60x

Aperture: 80mm

Glass Type: Standard

Price: $449.95

Saxon 20-60x80 Spotting Scope (412020) pointing bottom right

Recommended Spotting Scopes for Terrestrial Land Viewing ($500 – $1000)

Here are some more great options between $500 and $1000.

Vanguard Endeavor HD 82A 20-60x82 Spotting Scope (V237992) pointing left

Vanguard Endeavor HD 82A 20-60×82 Spotting Scope

Magnification: 20-60x

Aperture: 82mm

Glass Type: Extra-Low Dispersion (ED)

Price: $799.95

Celestron Ultima 100 22-66×100 Angled Eyepiece Spotting Scope

Magnification and Aperture: 22-66×100

Glass Type: Standard

Price: $819.95

Celestron Ultima 100 22-66x100 Angled Eyepiece Spotting Scope (52252) pointing bottom left
Vortex Diamondback HD 16-48x65 Angled Spotting Scope (VODS65A) pointing bottom right

Vortex Diamondback HD 16-48×65 Angled Spotting Scope

Magnification: 16-48x

Aperture: 65mm

Glass Type: Standard

Price: $849

Saxon 20-60×80 ED Spotting Scope

Magnification: 22-67x

Aperture: 100mm

Glass Type: Extra-Low Dispersion (ED)

Price: $989

Saxon 20-60x80 ED Spotting Scope (414020) pointing bottom right

Recommended Spotting Scopes for Terrestrial Land Viewing (> $1000)

Finally, take a look at the top-of-the-range Terrestrial Spotting Scopes over $1000.

Celestron Regal M2 100ED 22-67x100ED Angled Eyepiece Spotting Scope (52306) pointing bottom left

Celestron Regal M2 22-67x100ED Angled Spotting Scope

Magnification: 22-67x

Aperture: 100mm

Glass Type: Extra-Low Dispersion (ED)

Price: $1,899 (Currently $200 Off)

Kowa Prominar TSN-773 770 Series Angled XD Spotting Scope – Body Only

Magnification: Depends on Eyepiece (25-60x Wide Zoom or 35x Fixed)

Aperture: 77mm

Glass Type: XD (Extra-Low Dispersion)

Price: $2,939 (Excluding Eyepiece)

Kowa Prominar TSN 773 770 Series 77mm Angled XD Spotting Scope (Body Only) (KWTSN-773) pointing top right
Vortex Razor HD 27-60x85 Angled Spotting Scope (VORS-85A) pointing bottom right

Vortex Razor HD 27-60×85 Angled Spotting Scope

Magnification: 27-60x

Aperture: 85mm

Glass Type: HD (High-Density Extra-Low Dispersion)

Price: $3,100

Leica APO Televid 82 Angled Spotting Scope – No Eyepiece

Magnification: 25-50x with Leica Zoom Eyepiece (Not Included)

Aperture: 82mm

Glass Type: Apochromatic (APO) Fluoride Lenses

Price: $4,199

Leica APO Televid 82 Angled Spotting Scope - No Eyepiece (40121) pointed left

When choosing a Refractor Telescope for Terrestrial Viewing, pay attention to the size and shape of the scope.

For General Observation (~ 5-10 km)

Shorter and Wider Telescopes

Generally speaking, the Refractor Scopes with a wider aperture (diameter) and shorter focal length are great all-rounders. These models bring in more light and maintain a decent field-of-view (FOV), and are often the preferred choice for day-to-day Terrestrial observation.

The Refractor Telescopes that I would recommend for General Terrestrial Use are:

saxon Pioneer 804 AZ3 Refractor Telescope (214117) pointed top-left

saxon Pioneer 804 AZ3 Refractor Telescope

Focal Length: 400mm

Aperture: 80mm

Price: $379.95

saxon 1025 AZ4 Refractor Telescope

Focal Length: 500mm

Aperture: 102mm

Price: $869

saxon 1025 AZ4 Refractor Telescope (214124-1) pointed top-right
saxon 1206 AZ5 Refractor Telescope (1206AZ5) pointed top-right

saxon 1206 AZ5 Refractor Telescope

Focal Length: 600mm

Aperture: 120mm

Price: $1,099

saxon ED80AZ3 Refractor Telescope

Focal Length: 600mm

Aperture: 80mm

Price: $1299

Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) Glass.

saxon ED80 AZ3 Refractor Telescope (214130) pointed top-right

For Long-Distance Observation (~ 10 km)

Long and Narrow Refractor Telescopes

Conversely, the Refractors that are longer in focal length are great for viewing objects further away. These are more useful when you want to pinpoint a specific, small (and preferably stationary) region of interest in the distance.

One downside of these is a lack of field-of-view, which you sacrifice in favour of high magnification. This makes spotting specific objects particularly difficult, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for or if don’t have contextual clues to figure out where you’re pointing.

Another downside of these when Land Viewing is that when they’re long, they’re generally thin. A smaller aperture (diameter) means they bring in less light, so don’t work as well during dawn and dusk as some of the wider models.

But this doesn’t detract from the fact that they are the best choice for someone who knows what they’re looking for – especially when the region of interest is small and in the distance.

Here are the Refractor Telescopes I recommend for long-distance observation.

saxon Novo 909 AZ3 Refractor Telescope pointed top-left

saxon Novo 909 AZ3 Refractor Telescope

Focal Length: 910mm

Aperture: 90mm

Price: $419.95

saxon Novo 709 AZ3 Refractor Telescope

Focal Length: 910mm

Aperture: 70mm

Price: $379.95

saxon Novo 909 AZ3 Refractor Telescope pointed top-left

Guide: Types of Telescopes for Terrestrial Viewing

If you’ve already had a look online at some telescopes, you might notice how easy it is to get confused by all the different types.

There are several different types of telescopes that can get more and more complicated, but there’s two basic types you should be aware of – reflectors and refractors.

Reflector Telescopes

The first of these is a Reflector Telescope. Simply put, these types of telescopes use mirrors to gather and focus light. That makes them cost-effective and great for the night sky.

But since they use mirrors, they naturally invert images sideways and flips them upside-down. For astronomy, this isn’t too much of an issue as orientation doesn’t matter too much in the night sky.

But f you plan to use a Reflector Telescope for Terrestrial Land Viewing, that’s when it gets a little awkward. However, if you’ve already got a Reflector Telescope, it isn’t impossible.

Using accessories like an erecting eyepiece or an erect image diagonal will let you turn the image the right way up, but they’ll still be mirror reversed sideways.

There is something else that can also be an issue with Reflectors. Due to their mirrors (again), you look through the side of the telescope instead of through the end. This isn’t the most intuitive design for terrestrial use, and can prove difficult for some users such as young children.

Take a look at this diagram by Celestron below to see what I mean.

Diagram of the mirror system in a dobsonian or newtonian reflector telescope

Refractor Telescopes

Refractor Telescopes are the bread-and-butter for Land Viewing. These telescopes use lenses, which makes them much more practical for Terrestrial use. For starters, you’ll be looking through the end of the telescope, which provides for a much more intuitive viewing experience. This makes them pretty easy to use, even for kids.

And because they use lenses instead of mirrors, the image isn’t mirror reversed sideways.

But it is important to note that the images will also be upside-down when looking through a refractor. However, these telescopes generally come with an erect image diagonal in the box, which flips the image the right way up. These diagonals are either 45° or 90°.

Here’s a similar diagram by Celestron to illustrate how a Refractor Telescope works for comparison.

Diagram of the lens system in a refractor telescope

Refractor Telescope vs Spotting Scope for Terrestrial Land Viewing

Now that you know the basics of the two most common types of telescopes, it’s important that you understand Spotting Scopes too.

To put it simply, Spotting Scopes are smaller Refractor Telescopes. Their compactness means they’re purpose-built for Land Viewing, but there are quite a few other differences too.

The table below summarises some of the most obvious differences between Spotting Scopes and Refractor Telescopes.

Refractor TelescopesSpotting Scopes
Larger aperture and longer focal lengthSmaller aperture and shorter focal length
Erecting Prisms attached separately (to create a correctly-oriented image)Inbuilt erecting prisms
Usually fixed magnification eyepieces.Eyepieces normally with variable magnification to zoom in and out.
Normally come with a tripod and mountTripod generally not included

Glass Type

Before you decide on a Spotting Scope or Refractor Telescope, it’s important to note the different types of glass and how they can impact image quality.

Standard Glass

Standard Glass is normally found on cheaper optics. For basic, day-to-day use, there’s nothing inherently wrong with them. However, Standard Glass can result in a phenomenon known as Chromatic Aberration (CA) or Colour Fringing, reducing colour accuracy and sharpness.

Hence, you can always improve your viewing experience by using a Refractor Telescope or Spotting Scope with better glass.

Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) Glass

For example, Extra-Low Dispersion Glass or ED Glass use formulated coatings with rare-earth materials to minimise chromatic aberration. This results in a much greater colour accuracy and less colour fringing. ED Glass is commonly found in mid-range to high-end Spotting Scopes and Refractor Telescopes.

Apochromatic (APO) Glass

The Best Terrestrial Telescopes for Land Viewing use an Apochromat or Apochromatic Lens (APO Lens) to essentially eliminate chromatic aberration. This results in exceptional colour fidelity and almost non-existent colour fringing, even at high-contrast edges where colour inaccuracy is often present. Typically, Telescopes and Spotting Scopes that incorporate APO Lenses use Fluoride Glass, which further improves colour accuracy and results in contrast-rich, clear views free of chromatic aberration.

Now that you know about the difference between a Refractor Telescope and a Spotting Scope, if you haven’t already, take a look at my Recommended Land Viewing / Terrestrial Telescopes for 2023 by clicking here or scrolling to the top of the page.

Conclusion: Best Terrestrial Telescope for Land Viewing

Now that you’ve read through my recommended Refractor Telescopes and Spotting Scopes, hopefully a couple of them have stood out to you as good options. If you’re still deciding, feel free to take a look at our full range of Land Viewing Scopes.

If you have any questions or recommendations of your own, leave a comment below!

Clear skies.

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