My Best Tripod for Binoculars & Spotting Scopes: Astronomy & Terrestrial Surveillance

In this guide, I will take you through all of my personal favorite tripod setups (tripods, tripod heads & tripod adapters) that I use for my astronomy binoculars, spotting scopes as well as for long-range daytime binocular surveillance on land, out to sea and up towards the sky for uses like observing eagles and plane spotting.

As you may have noticed by the increase in the number of related reviews and articles on BBR about binoculars that are specifically designed for astronomy as well as long-range terrestrial surveillance, my interest in these areas has deepened and as such, I am using my binoculars with a tripod far more often.

As well as this, the Spotting Scope section of BBR continues to grow, and thus as a result, I am receiving more and more questions in regards to not only what binoculars and scopes are best for these uses, but what tripod is best for use with binoculars and spotting scopes.

Maven B.5 18x56 Binoculars mounted on a Tripod
Maven B.5 18x56 Binoculars mounted on a Tripod

So rather than having to answer all these questions individually (often repeating myself), I have decided to put together my personal guide to the best tripod setup for binoculars that I have used:

Please Note: Whilst I have tested many hundreds of pairs of binoculars, I certainly don’t have anywhere near as much experience when it comes to testing such a wide variety of tripods and thus don’t consider myself to be a big expert in this field. This guide is on from my point of view and personal experience.

Using my Tripod with a Camera

But what I will add is that along with the fact that I often using tripods with binoculars and spotting scopes, I am also a keen (but very amateur) birding and wildlife photographer and because of this I have bought, owned, used and indeed reviewed a fair amount of tripods and tripod heads over the years and thus whilst I have not tested hundreds of setups, I do feel that I certainly know what I like and don’t like and what to look for in a good tripod setup. Thus based on this, I hope that at least some of my advice below is both informative and helpful to you:

My Current Tripod Setup I Use Most Often with Binoculars & Scopes

Over the years, I have slowly refined my tripod set up to the point where I am very happy with the gear that I now have and use and so think the best way for me to go about this article is to run through my current equipment and explain what I like about it, what I don’t and how I interchange and use different tripod heads depending exactly which binoculars I am using and what the intended use is:

Tripod Adapters

“Standard” Tripod Adapter

To begin with, you will need an adapter that you attach to your binocular which then fits onto the tripod head.

Most binoculars are what we call “tripod adaptable” meaning that they will accept a “standard” tripod adapter which you screw into the thread at the front of the central hinge on your binocular.

These are relatively inexpensive, easy to obtain and it is very easy to do.

Some binoculars won’t have this or will use a different system, but there is pretty always some way in which you can do it.

Apart from making sure you get the right type of adapter for your particular binoculars (99% of the time it is a standard adapter), I don’t really have a preference as they all pretty much work the same, but my main piece of advice would be to not get a very cheap plastic one. There is no point in getting a very sturdy tripod, only to have a tripod adapter that is unstable and easily breaks!

For more details, the different types and where to buy read my guide to the Binocular Tripod Adapter.

Bresser Pirsch Gen II 20-60x80 Spotting Scope mounted on top of the Bresser BX-5 PRO Tripod/Monopod

Tripods

I now have four full-sized tripods that I own and use on a regular basis, two of which I use most often:

Standard Size Binoculars & Photography

For many years, my favorite tripod and indeed the one I have used most often for most of my binocular and photography uses is the Vanguard Abeo Pro 283CT Tripod which I have now had for I would say about five years.

It has carbon fiber legs (CT = Carbon Tripod) and I actually got it as an upgrade from the less expensive, but heavier, aluminum Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT Tripod (AT = Aluminium Tripod) which in terms of its function is quite similar to the carbon version, is sturdy and works very well, but is a fair bit heavier and so for use with binoculars out in the field, I will most often take the more lightweight carbon fiber option.

Large Spotting Scopes, Astronomy Binoculars & Video

Just recently the German brand Bresser sent me their excellent Pirsch Gen II 20-60x80 Spotting Scope to Review.

Along with it, they also sent me their top of the range Bresser BX-5 PRO Tripod/Monopod:

With its liquid-mounted video head and panhandle, the BX-5 is primarily designed with videography in mind, but the many features that it has to ensure that it works well for making videos when using heavy video cameras also directly translate to it also being a perfect tripod for use with spotting scopes and larger binoculars, especially where astronomy and long-range terrestrial uses are involved.

As well as this the smooth panning ability, along with a large platform and rock-solid base make it perfect for digiscopers, especially when using large SLR cameras which can make smaller tripods become unbalanced.

With these and many other great features like the fact that it easily converts to a monopod (see the review), it instantly became a firm favorite of mine during testing and so I decided to hold onto it to add to my stable!

Stability & Weight

As the main reason for fixing your binoculars onto a tripod is to increase stability, I think this is the best place to start when looking for a tripod.

However, as with binoculars and scopes, there are always trade-offs to be had. So a very steady and robust tripod is often also a relatively heavy tripod. This is not really a problem if all you want to do is set it up on your balcony, but it is not so great if you want to carry it about with you when out in the field.

I often take a tripod with me out in the field. Which one I take often depends on what I am using or testing:

So for example, if I am testing or using a relatively lightweight binocular like a 10x42 or 12x50 for example, or if I am using a smaller travel-friendly spotting scope like the excellent Hawke Endurance 12-36x50 Spotting Scope, for example, It would be somewhat illogical to use a large heavy tripod and thus I will invariably opt for a smaller, more lightweight tripod.

On the flip side, it I am testing or just using my large spotting scope or astronomy binoculars, to get the most stable base, it is worth carrying the extra weight of a larger, more steady tripod as well.

Aluminum vs Carbon
So for me personally AND how I use my tripods, I think that the increase in price for a good lightweight carbon tripod like the Vanguard Abeo Pro 283CT is worth it for me when I need to be as mobile as possible.

However, I also need a bulkier, more stable tripod for when I am using heavier equipment on it:

So for those who mostly operate from a single base, or who use large heavy binoculars and/or spotting scopes, then I would suggest an aluminum tripod like the Bresser BX-5 PRO as being a good option.

The very tall and stable Bresser BX-5 PRO Tripod

Tripod Height

When using your tripod with binoculars or a straight-through spotting scope, unless you are sitting down (which I sometimes do, especially for astronomy), the tripod legs are likely going to be fully extended and perhaps even the central column as well.

In this state, stability is particularly important: Is it all very well having a tripod that is extremely steady when it is in its compact state, but where it is really needed is when it is fully loaded and fully extended.

In this regard, I have been pretty happy with both of my Vanguard tripods, but here, the extra stability offered and the fact that it is taller means that my Bresser BX-5 Pro has the edge over these two.

Also keep in mind the height of the tripod that you intend on purchasing, not forgetting to add the height of the tripod head into the equation.

In the video above, I go over some important considerations to keep in mind in terms of the height and stability when looking for and selecting a tripod for binoculars or a spotting scope – you can read the full article here: Using Tripods with Binoculars & Spotting Scopes: Height & Eyepiece Angles!

Standing

Height: Terrestrial Uses
For maximum comfort and ease of use, you need the setup to be high enough so that you are able to look through the binoculars whilst standing up.

Height: Sky & Astronomy
When looking up at the sky or space, in terms of height, things get even more complicated when it comes to binoculars as you need to get yourself right under them (that is unless you have a pair with angled eyepieces which some Astro binoculars do actually have).

With a spotting scope, it depends on if you have a straight-through scope or one with an angled eyepiece and is something that you most certainly should keep in mind when buying a scope. See my guide to Angled vs Straight Spotting Scopes

Angled Eyepieces like that on the Bresser Pirsch Gen II 20-60x80 Spotting Scope really help when looking up into the sky

With a maximum height 185cm my BresserBX-5 certainly has the advantage of the others that I have and so for uses like Astronomy and even birding, be that for large birds like eagles on the wing or indeed those at the top of tall trees, if I don’t have an angled eyepiece on the equipment that I am using or testing, then this will most likely be the tripod that I go with.

The Abeo Pro 283CT Tripod has an advertised maximum height (extended) of 1m 55cm (61.02in) which is a little on the safe side as I have just measured mine to be a little more at 159cm (with the legs splayed).

Considering that I am 5ft 8in (1.74m) tall, this may not seem to be enough, but when you factor in the extra height of the pistol grip tripod head (see below) and the tripod adapter, it is usually just about enough for me to get under the setup and look, although it is not as comfortable as the others like the Bresser as I do have to bend my knees slightly, which increases the more vertically you point the binoculars.

Whilst not as tall as the Bresser BX-5, in terms of my Vanguard Tripods, the Alta Pro 263AT Tripod has the advantage here as it has an advertised maximum height of 1m 65cm (65 inches) which is about right.

So once I have added the tripod head and tripod adapter, I personally can just get myself in a reasonably comfortable position under it and only have to slightly bend my knees when pointing the binoculars vertically.

Sitting

Terrestrial Uses:
Depending on your situation and preferences, sitting in front of your binocular and tripod setup is certainly an option and is a popular choice for many long ranges uses like watching ships out at sea or viewing wildlife from a static location.

Using a tripod is essential for digibinning. (Carson HookUpz Universal Adapter)

Some hunters will also take a tripod with them and sit on the ground when glassing over long distances. The advantage of this is you do not need such a large tripod and in this situation, you can even get away with using a lightweight travel tripod which usually folds up into a very small shape making them super easy to carry about.

Sky & Astronomy
Sitting Under the Tripod is certainly an option for when you need to point your binoculars skyward, be that at night for stargazing or during the day for uses like plane spotting or even following high flying birds like eagles.

Sometimes the problem with this technique can be that it can be quite difficult to position yourself comfortably with a chair under the tripod as the legs of the tripod and your chair often clash and, the angle of the binoculars.

Vanguard Tripod with its Multi-Angle Central Column

Here again, I really like the somewhat ingenious system of the two Vanguard tripods:

Unlike most tripods that only allow you to move the central column up or down to alter the height, with these two, I can change the angle of the column.

Using the multi angle central column to tilt the tripod upwards towards the birds or starss

I think this system was designed for photographers to reach awkward/interesting angles and can help balance your setup when you are on very unlevel ground, but I have found it particularly useful for astronomy and aircraft spotting:

As you can see in the photos (right & above), it enables you to move the tripod away from the legs a little and thus be able to sit in a more comfortable position under the tripod and look up into the sky.

Tripod Heads: Versatility & Ease of Use

Intuitive Aiming: The Pistol Grip
As you can see from the photos on this page and indeed on many more on BBR site, when it comes to using binoculars on a tripod (especially smaller or standards sized ones), I mostly use the pistol grip style of tripod head which is a variation on the simpler ball head design.

The main reason for this is aiming is very intuitive and reasonably fast which in my experience is not the case with the standard ball head design. Don’t get me wrong, standard ball heads do have their ideal uses (still photography), but for standard-sized and some larger binoculars, I have found the pistol grip to be a good solution.

Vanguard GH-300T Pistol Grip Ball Head

To aim with a pistol grip, you simply pull the trigger which releases the ball head and then turn the binocular in the direction you want to survey.

With pan-handles, there are two levers to adjust (one of tilt and one for panning) and with a normal ball head, the weight of the binocular on top can lead to it flopping over whilst you try and aim the system before the bird flies off!

Bresser BX-5 Pro Video-Tripod Head – showing the pan-handle video fluid head on-top and the integrated ball head under it

Smooth Panning & Heavier Gear

When it comes to heavier and larger equipment like full-sized spotting scopes and 70 to 100mm binoculars, then I now definitely prefer to use the pan-handle fluid head with its integrated ball head that comes with the BX-5 Pro Video-Tripod. This is especially true if I am digiscoping using a camera and a scope/binocular or just creating videos for BBR with a camera.

Whilst quick, aiming with the pistol grip is jerky and most certainly not a smooth process. The fluid movement you get with the panhandle on the BX-5 is in complete contrast to this and is as smooth as butter.

What I also like is sitting under this is an integrated ball-head with a bubble level that makes it possible to perfectly level your equipment quite quickly even on very uneven surfaces.

Other Exceptions

There are occasions when I will swap out and use my MOVO GH1000 Gimbal Tripod Head

Levenhuk Bruno Plus 20x80 Binoculars & Movo GH1000 Gimbal Head
Levenhuk Bruno Plus 20x80 Binoculars & Movo GH1000 Gimbal Head

Whilst large and heavy, it is obviously not the ideal piece of kit to carry about in the field, but for the use with very large spotting scopes and some large binoculars, it can work really well, especially for astronomy as the weightless setup makes heavier equipment very easy to aim.

A gimbal is especially nice to use when you have time to sit and relax and pan about, letting the tripod take all the weight and with a good gimbal head like my Movo, you can move in both the vertical and horizontal axes using just a single finger – perfect for astronomy when you are sitting outside holding a hot cup of coffee in the other hand!

Conclusion

So there you have it, I hope that this guide to what tripods I use with my binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras answers some of your questions and that it has been of use to you.

More Info
You can also look and see what other gear I use here.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.

Share

Comments are closed.