Spotting scopes are essentially mini-telescopes that have been modified for day use. If you are in the market for a spotting scope for birding, then Vortex Optics has you covered. They are highly regarded not only among birders, but many authorities in the bird watching world. In this article, we’ll cover the newest model of spotting scopes from Vortex Optics, the Razor HD series. More specifically, we’re going to do a Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope review.
About Vortex Optics
Vortex Optics is an American company that is based in Wisconsin. They’ve been around since 1986 are a family and veteran owned business that believes in a core set of values.
The first of those values is centered around making sure the customer comes first and is always taken care of at all costs. In addition, to provide a high quality and well-designed product that is always on the cutting edge of technology and innovation.
Vortex has grown to be a leader in the industry not just for spotting scopes but also for rifle scopes, binoculars, monoculars, and more. Their lifetime “VIP Warranty” comes with all of their products, and makes you feel very safe and secure with your purchase when buying from Vortex.
Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope Review
Vortex has 3 lines of spotting scopes. Those are the Diamondback, Viper HD, and the Razor HD that we’re covering here. The Razor HD is a top-shelf spotting scope, but without the top-shelf price tag. For the purpose of this article we’ll mostly be discussing using the scope for bird watching, but there are many other uses for this spotting scope.
Some common uses for the Razor HD spotting scope are as follows:
- Birding and bird watching
- Wildlife viewing
- Target practice
- Even some light astronomy
The Razor HD boasts no color fringing, degradation of resolution or dilution of color fidelity at longer viewing distances. Whether your intended use is for viewing birds at your feeder or out in the field, they’re great for entry level users and experienced birders alike. They are the top of line spotting scopes from Vortex.
The following features are included with all 6 variants of the Razor HD line of spotting scopes.
- Lifetime warranty
- Amazing optics
- Porro prism
- Apochromatic lens system
- XR plus multi-coated optics
- Dielectric prism coatings
- Waterproof and fog-proof
- Armortek scratch-resistant lens coatings
- Adjustable eyecups
RAZOR HD 11-33X50 Spotting Scope
First up is the lowest magnification model, the 11-33x50mm. The body design looks a lot more like the Diamondback style of body than it does the other two Razor HD models. It comes with an adjustable eyecup and powerful zoom eyepiece as well as two focus wheels for micro (fine) and macro (fast) adjustments.
- Dual focus
- Magnification: 11-33x
- Objective Lens Diameter: 50 mm
- Linear Field of View: 191-96 ft/1000 yds
- Angular Field of View: 3.6-1.8 degrees
- Close Focus: 6.6 feet
- Eye Relief: 16-19 mm
- Exit Pupil: 4.6-1.5 mm
- Length: 10.3 inches
- Weight: 25.0 oz
Pros for this model
- Low cost makes it a great “starter scope”
- Great for viewing birds at a feeder from close by
- Smaller and lighter weight than other models
It’s compact, lightweight, and easy to carry around. We really like this one for backyard birding because of that. If you are primarily going to use your scope for watching a bird feeder in your backyard, then this one will be a good fit. If you want something a little more powerful that you can take out in the field and use at longer distances then keep reading.
RAZOR HD 22-48X65 Spotting Scope
A little more power and a little bigger is the 22-48×65. It’s the new design and looks quite different from the previous one. I personally like this design a little better than the 11-33×50 but it comes at a price… actual price and an increase in weight. However you do get significantly more power, just keep an eye on that increase in close focus. The close focus range for the next model actually goes back down making it a bit more attractive to me.
Next up is the mid-range magnification model, the 22-48x65mm.
- Helical Focus
- Built-in Sunshade
- Rotating Tripod Ring
- Magnification: 22-48x
- Objective Lens Diameter: 65 mm
- Linear Field of View: 138-84 ft/1000 yds
- Angular Field of View: 2.7-1.6 degrees
- Close Focus: 26.2 feet
- Eye Relief: 16.7-17 mm
- Exit Pupil: 2.9-1.3 mm
- Length: 14.8 inches
- Weight: 56.8 oz
Pros for this model
- Significantly better magnification than the 11-33×50
Many people like this magnification because it’s a good combination of mid-range price with higher power. If you are wanting more magnification and a little better light gathering capability than the 11-33×50 but can’t stomach the price tag of the 27-60×85 then, this is what you want.
RAZOR HD 27-60X85 Spotting Scope
Last is the top of the line magnification model, the 27-60x85mm. This one is the cream of the crop for Vortex spotting scopes. It’s big, it’s powerful, and it’s very pretty. All that comes with another price increase, but based on the reviews from owners of this model, literally no one regrets the purchase.
- Helical Focus
- Built-in Sunshade
- Rotating Tripod Ring
- Magnification: 27-60x
- Objective Lens Diameter: 85 mm
- Linear Field of View: 117-68 ft/1000 yds
- Angular Field of View: 2.2-1.3 degrees
- Close Focus: 16.4 feet
- Eye Relief: 16.7-17 mm
- Exit Pupil: 3.1-1.4 mm
- Length: 15.5 inches
- Weight: 65.6 oz
- Best magnification
- Shorter close focus for watching bird feeders
- Highest light gathering for shaded or low light situations
If you have the budget, then this spotting scope has the best of everything. It has a short close focus of just 16.4 feet and more overall power than any other Vortex spotting scope. On top of that, the image quality and color correction is noticeably better than the Viper line of spotting scopes at near max magnifications.
What to look for when buying a spotting scope
For the price range that these spotting scopes are in, the image quality is really outstanding. The image quality is going to be very sharp and clear across all 3 models. Even when compared to the Vortex Viper or Diamondback scopes there is a noticeable difference.
It remains very consistent around the entire field of view with little to no drop-off in quality around the edges like you’ll see on other scopes, some that are even more expensive.
The magnification is the first set of numbers in each model. So in this case; 11x-33x, 22x-48x, and 27x-65x. The images for all 3 are super clear at the lower end of their magnifications, and still pretty darn impressive at the higher end. It’s expected for the quality to decrease just a bit as we get towards the upper end of the magnification though.
For the low price range these scopes are in, you can’t really complain about a slight quality decrease at max magnification. That’s why they offer 3 variations.
The objective lens (front lens) diameter is the last number for each model. For these spotting scopes those are 50mm, 65mm, and 85mm. When it comes to the objective lens diameter, the wider it is the more light that enters the scope and thus the brighter the image is. For back yard viewing this might not be a huge concern. But if you’re taking the scope out in the field in the early morning light, the fading light of dusk, or trying to view a shaded tree line, it might be a spec you want to consider spending more for.
You might think that a bigger objective lens is always better, and while it is when it comes to image clarity and quality, the bigger lenses do have a drawback. They are heavier, bulkier, and more expensive. If none of those things bother you then it might make sense to get the 85mm model here. Just be sure that the other specs for that model fits your specific needs.
When it comes to close focus, each model below has a different range. This can be an important feature for birding and how and where you plan to use the spotting scope can be crucial to finding a good close focus range for you.
- 11-33×50 – 6 feet
- 22-48×65 – 26.2 feet
- 27-65×85 – 16.4 feet
Close focus is simply the closest distance that you can be away from the object you’re viewing while maintaining visual clarity. If all you plan to do is watch birds from close distances, then a shorter close focus might be best for you. However if all you are going to be doing is target practice, wildlife viewing, or bird watching from long distances, then a short close focus range will do little for you.
Eye relief represents the distance, usually in millimeters, at which a user can hold the scope away from their eye and still get the full field of view. Longer eye relief reduces eye strain for the user and is best for people that wear glasses.
Common eye relief ranges for many scopes and binoculars is in between 10-15 mm. The Vortex Razor HD spotting scopes are rated at 16-19mm for the 11-33×50 and 16.7-17mm for the 22-48×65 and 27-65×85 models, which is pretty good. As mentioned above, especially if you wear glasses.
If you need more eye relief, Vortex makes an eye piece with extended eye relief.
The exit pupil of a spotting scope refers to the width of the beam of light that leaves the eyepiece, this is also measured in millimeters. To get the exit pupil value range for a spotting scope simply divide the objective lens diameter by the magnification power. As with eye relief and overall image quality, the exit pupil will increase or decrease as the magnification power does. The larger the exit pupil is, the brighter the image will be making a higher exit pupil better for low-light conditions.
Focal length is the distance from the primary objective (primary lens) to the focal plane, or the distance between the lens and the perfect point of focus. If you want a more detailed definition of focal length and what it actually does, check out this article.
Field of view
The linear field of view is the width of the area you can see. It is usually measured at 1000 yards and in our case varies for each model. The angular field of view is measured in degrees and can be used to calculate your linear field of view.
Your field of view is related to your magnification. The greater your magnification, the smaller your field of view. Think about it, when you are zoomed way in on something, you are only viewing a small physical area. However when you are zoomed way out, you are viewing a much larger physical area of space. In birding, if your field of view gets too small, it might be hard for you to quickly get the bird in your sight or to easily follow it if it’s moving.
When it comes to coatings on optic lenses, you have 4 types:
- Coated – Thin anti-reflective coating.
- Fully coated – Thin anti-reflective coating on both sides of the objective lens, ocular lens, and the long side of the prism.
- Multi coated – At least one of the lenses have multiple coatings.
- Fully multi coated – All lens surfaces have multiple coatings. Most high end sport optics will have this.
All of the Razor Hd spotting scopes have XR Plus fully multi coated optics. Direct from the Vortex website:
Ultimate anti-reflective coatings on all air-to-glass surfaces provide maximum light transmission for peak clarity and the pinnacle of low-light performance.
Build and design
This is an important factor in choosing the best spotting scope, and much of it is a matter of opinion. The build quality that Vortex puts out is amazing with all of their products, in our opinion. The design of the 22-48×65 and the 27-65×85 is new, where focusing is done with a helical focus ring that goes around the scope body. The 11-33×50 is still the “old style” of design from Vortex with the 2 focus wheels for fine and fast. Nothing wrong with the old style design at all, still very solid. Many people don’t miss the 2 focus wheel system and enjoy the knobs not being there to get snagged on things when taking the scope in and out of bags. Again, just a personal preference.
As with any spotting scope, the more magnification they have, the bigger and heavier they’ll be. The 33×50 weighs in at 25 oz, the 48×65 weighs 56.8 oz, and the biggest model weighs just a little more at 65.6 oz. So there’s really not that much of a difference between the last two. If you are wanting something light and compact, the 11×33 is the way to go.
We strongly recommend that you get the best possible tripod that you can afford when using a spotting scope. You are already spending a good chunk on a nice spotting scope, you need a proper tripod for the best experience. The ones below are popular among Vortex spotting scope owners.
- Vortex Optics High Country II Tripod Kit
- Manfrotto 190XPRO Aluminum 3-Section Tripod
- K&F Compact Aluminum Tripod
To properly take care of a new spotting scope you start with a good case. Now these scopes do come with a protective nylon case, but you may want a little something extra like the Pelican Foam Case. Or maybe the included case isn’t really what you want. If that’s the case, (no pun intended) here are some more options.
Vortex offers the ability to upgrade your eyepiece for an even better viewing experience with your Razor HD spotting scope. Here are some of their options.
- Vortex Optics Razor HD Ranging Reticle Eyepieces 22x
- Vortex Razor HD 18x/23x Long Eye Relief Eyepiece
- Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope LER Wide Angle Eyepiece
There are other spotting scope accessories available such as gimbals and adapters for digi-scoping. The recommended digiscoping kit below is the only one that I can find that will work with the Vortex Optics’ large eyepiece diameter.
- Vortex Optics Car Window Mount
- Phone Skope Complete Digiscoping Kit
- Vortex Optics Fog-Free Lens Cleaning Field Kit
Which model is best for you
Whether you are purchasing for yourself or as a gift, it can be a bit overwhelming with all of the options that each model has. First consider your (or the recipient’s) intended use and let’s figure out if you want an angled or straight spotting scope.
Angled vs straight
Angled is often chosen over straight for a few reasons. You can use a smaller, lighter tripod. They are also generally more comfortable to use and work well for short and tall people alike.
Straight scopes often appeal more to hunters who are tracking fast moving animals and need the ability to spot and focus quicker. In addition, straight scopes are also easier to use in a vehicle in conjunction with a car window mount like the one we linked to above in the recommended spotting scope accessories section.
Now you can consider things like price, magnification., and other things that may affect your decision. If it’s in the budget, we recommend going for the 27-60X85 angled model for most bird watchers. Otherwise the base model is also great, especially as a first spotting scope. Both models have a good close focus range that will allow you to view birds at fairly close distances if you’re like us and like watching birds at your feeders.
There’s no question that Vortex makes some of the best spotting scopes for birding, and the Razor HD lineup are their flagship spotting scopes. You’ll find comparisons to other brands like Celestron, which are quality scopes, but the majority of people agree that Vortex is hard to beat.
Our opinion is that when it comes to birding, Vortex is a great choice for a spotting scope. Just consider the type of bird watching you are going to do. If you’ll be doing mostly close range birding then you’ll likely be fine with the 11-33×50, if you want to include some longer distance spotting then the 27-60×85 is what you want.
So do a little more research before you take the leap if you like, but these are great spotting scopes from a great brand and the chances are that you’re going to be very happy with your purchase. Good luck!