I ditto everything Bob wrote, with a couple explanations, additions. (We've been through all this before--these questions get asked about once a year).

1.  Best source of professional information and answers to questions with full array of possibilities:  EAGLE OPTICS in Wisconsin.  They have a web site w/ catalog.  They also have an 800 number.  Call it with some questions ready and the very knowledgeable salesperson will give excellent answers and explanations.  This is one case in which buying non-local is most likely the best for the buyer. I HAVE NO, I REPEAT: NO INVESTMENT/PROFIT INTEREST IN EAGLE OPTICS.  I offer information about Eagle Optics because every birder I know who has bought equipment through them sings their praises highly.  I've bought 3 prs. of binoculars and 2 scopes as I've become more addicted to birding and desired better optics.

2.  Carbon fiber tripods are very expensive and the main feature is being ultra light.  I'm not particularly strong, especially in arms , but decided on a tripod that is pretty light and is not carbon fiber.
Some people advocate getting the heaviest (they argue that equates with the sturdiest) tripod available.  I often carry my tripod with scope mounted on it for long distances.  I don't want extra weight.  The sturdiness is often to provide stabilization in windy situations.  Stabilization can be accomplished in ways other than carrying around a couple extra pounds on your shoulder.

Also, as Bob noted, a top line scope mounted on a cheap, light weight tripod meant for video cameras becomes a mediocre scope.  This is because scopes are balanced differently than cameras.  The design overwhelms the tripod stability capability.

3.  Height of tripod.  This makes a big difference.  I'm 5'3".  I have AN ANGLED SCOPE.  I do not need a long tripod like Mike Thelen, who is well over 6' and has a straight angle scope.  My tripod, with center post fully extended extends to well above 6 foot and the angle eyepiece means that anyone from 4' to 6'6" can use my scope comfortably.  My reasoning:  why buy a tripod and carry the weight for extra length in legs and centerpiece that I don't need?

4.  BIG DIFFERENCE between what a photographer needs/wants/uses and what a spotting scope birder wants/needs.
     a.  FLUID HEAD.  Birder wants this for ease in panning.
     b.  QUICK RELEASE.  Scopes made since mine sometimes have the scope part built in (mine doesn't), and this connects with a quick release plate mounted on the head.  Without the quick release set-up, you have to screw and unscrew the scope from the head on the tripod (and if you have one, the window mount).  This is tedious, time-consuming and guaranteed to miss a lot of birds.
     c.  Ask the Eagle Optics salesperson what is the most popular tripod leg release mechanism and WHY.  Ask which is the most troublesome, and WHY.

5.  NOTE:  the full package of scope and tripod often comes in several pieces--that is you must decide which of many element selections to make, and get everything you need.  The full array includes:

1.  Spotting Scope:  this is the "barrel" either straight or angled, many options as to HD or not, etc.
2.  Eyepiece:  sold separately, this is mounted onto the barrel.  It may be single focus or zoom.  GET A ZOOM (20-60)
3.  Quick release (whatever mechanism) for ease on/off tripod head
4.  Scope cover (this is for protection from elements and self klutzitude--dropped mine onto concrete on first outing)
5.  Tripod
6.  Tripod head (ah, yes, sold separately) remember fluid head
7.  Tripod strap (most people don't have it; I use mine to carry tripod on shoulder with scope mounted--I can balance it, control the movements, change pressure point on shoulder, etc., AND keep my arm down, rather than holding onto the tripod at shoulder height--this is important to me because I have good control of the set up, can often have both hands free to use binocs because of good balance, and it keeps my arm down and blood flowing in less than perfect circulation body.

Edge Wade
Columbia, MO
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On Nov 20, 2009, at 8:09 AM, Bob Fisher wrote:

You can't go wrong with the Swarovski 80 HD, although there are other options out there. There are, however, a few decisions to make:

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