A spotting scope is a fantastic piece of birding equipment, but it is also an expensive investment and damage can be even more expensive to repair. With proper cleaning that keeps the scope at its peak performance, this tool can provide many years of superior bird views.
How Scopes Get Dirty
Most birders instinctively take good care of their optics, whether they use binoculars or a spotting scope, but whenever equipment is used outdoors, it will naturally acquire dust and dirt. Just touching or handling the scope can leave smudges and fingerprints, and different weather conditions – a windy day, a light mist or fog, scattered rain – can get a scope dirty even in a short period of time. Where the scope is used can also lead to unwanted messes, such as a muddy area to set up the tripod, and putting the equipment in a vehicle can expose it to other dirt or debris. While this type of equipment is designed to function well even with a moderate amount of dirt, too much mess can lead to performance degradation such as:
- Obscured lenses that do not offer clear views or ideal focus across the entire field of view.
- Clogged focus wheels or stiff knobs that can no longer make or hold fine adjustments.
- Stiff or clogged tripod legs and mounts that cannot be easily adjusted for different situations.
Without proper cleaning, scratches and other damage can develop that will render the spotting scope much less useful in the field with less flexibility for birding in different habitats or lighting conditions. Poor images can result in missed bird sightings or incorrect identifications, making the scope useless to a conscientious birder.
How to Clean Spotting Scopes
Proper cleaning is an essential part of good spotting scope care, and it's easier to clean a scope than many birders realize. Just like cleaning binoculars, however, first review the manufacturer's instructions and recommendations. If no cleaning procedure is outlined, carefully refresh your scope with gentle cleaning.
To clean your spotting scope…
- Remove the scope from its tripod to avoid any risk of tipping or falling while it is being cleaned, and only clean the scope in a safe area.
- Wipe the scope's body and barrel with a damp, clean cloth, but avoid touching any lenses. Rotate the cloth frequently so a clean patch is always in use.
- Use a can of compressed air or an ear syringe to direct short puffs of air toward crevices near the focus wheels, and also to gently blow debris off the lenses. Do not use sustained air blasts or breathe on the lenses, however, because moisture can accumulate and may cause damage.
- Use a clean lens pen or clean paintbrush to carefully brush more dirt and debris off the lenses. Do not apply heavy pressure that could grind the dirt into the lens and cause scratches.
- Use a clean cotton swab dampened with a solution of isopropyl alcohol to soak up any remaining dust or debris. The alcohol will dry swiftly and is less likely to leave spots or streaks.
- Use a clean microfiber cloth or lens tissue and wipe across the lenses in a slow circular motion to remove streaks, fingerprints or other marks. Only use this step if necessary, however; it is always better to avoid any rubbing on the lenses.
- Clean the scope's tripod by using a damp cloth to wipe the legs and feet. Check any hinges and adjustment knobs to be sure they are firm and secure.
Tips to Keep Your Scope Clean
The less your scope needs to be cleaned, the longer it will provide optimum performance and the less risk there is of inadvertent damage. To keep your scope cleaner…
- Keep lens covers in place at all times when the scope is not in use.
- Invest in a cover that can protect the scope's body at all times, only unzipping over the eyepiece and lenses when necessary.
- Keep the areas where the scope is stored clean as well, including in a vehicle, and always store the scope inside a protective case.
- Take extra precautions when using the scope to avoid tips or falls that can not only cause damage but will also dirty the scope.
- Always wipe your hands before using the scope to avoid getting dust or dirt inside focus wheels or adjustment knobs.
- Always use clean tools when cleaning your scope to minimize the risk of transferring dirt onto the instrument.
A spotting scope can take birding views to a new level, but without clear views and properly-functioning equipment, it can be less then useless to dedicated birders. Learning how to properly clean a spotting scope is essential to protect the instrument's usefulness and ensure stunning views of birds for many years.
Photo – Dirty View © Kevin Dooley