Over the last year I have been able to get some extensive time glassing behind the Vortex Razor HD 50mm spotting scope. Coming from a lightweight backpacking perspective I had been a fan and personal user of the Nikon ED50 spotting scope that has been on the market for a long time. If you talked to anyone a few years ago who knew of the Nikon ED50, every single person who had used that scope was a huge fan. It was always amazing to me that no other companies, especially in the hunting market were not making a small / portable spotting scope to compete with the ED50. (Nikon made almost zero attempt to market the scope to hunters, but it was and is extremely popular among birders)
So when I first heard in early 2013 that Vortex was going to come out with a 50mm lightweight spotter to say the least I was excited to get my hands on one and test it out. With Vortex's reputation of producing outstanding quality optics at a price the average guy can afford and backing that up with the best warranty in the business I had a hunch the Razor HD 50mm wasn't going to let me down.
With over 8 years now of hunting experience behind a 50mm spotting scope I feel like its important to start this article out on what the limitations are of a 50mm scope before talking about all the benefits and why I think most hunters should be packing one.
The first and most obvious limitation is the upper end of the magnification, the Razor HD 50mm maxes out at 33x, where compared to the 65mm and 85mm Vortex scopes are 48x and 60x respectively. So if you are first and foremost a trophy hunter and need to know if that Muley buck 1 mile away is 185 or 190 this probably isn't the scope for you. You'll be able to get a good idea of the frame size on that buck but won't have the zoom range to get in close and see each individual point in detail. For me all I need to know is if its a shooter or not and determining that 5" of horn really doesn't matter. I can always get closer if need be.
Secondly the scope for whatever reason (why I am not 100% sure) does not seem to cut through atmostpheric conditions as well as the bigger scopes. Whether that be mid-day thermals, haze, fog etc the larger scopes seem to do a better job cutting through those conditions.
Lastly, on comparative magnifications say 30x on the 50mm and 30x on the 65mm scopes the 50 will not be as bright. During the day this really isn't an issue but you do lose light gathering ability early in the morning and late into the evening. There isn't a major difference but it is noticeable. That being said the glass and coatings in the Razor HD 50 is excellent so it will most likely out perform most other spotting scopes regardless of objective size that are under $500 or so.
Now on to the Positives!
Size and weight!!!
I am a huge believer and advocate of keeping it simple and light when out hunting. We have enough things to worry about when hunting with weather, terrain, weary animals etc. Having my pack be light allows me to hunt further and longer than if it was heavy and that alone will create more opportunities to harvest an animal at the end of the day. The difference between the Vortex 50mm scope and their 85 is 40.7oz, that is 8oz heavier than if I had packed my tent or not that day. Maybe 2.5lbs doesn't sound like a lot but at the end of the day every ounce in the pack matters and you'll be hard pressed to find somewhere you can shave that much weight off your pack.
Small and Compact!
The small size also allows me to get the spotting scope in and out of my pack quicker and easier. At the end of the day I seem to use it a lot more than if I was packing a bigger/heavier scope. I read a great quote recently when I was researching cameras and it basically said the best camera out there is the camera that you have with you. I think the same can be said here, I have personally done this myself and talked to many others who have done the same. That heavy 85mm scope when you are loading your pack up at the truck sometimes doesn't always make the cut, especially if you think its going to be a short quick hunt and you won't need it. I can almost guarantee that the 50mm because it is so small and lightweight will always make it into the pack.
Field of View:
This is a photo taken through the Razor HD 50mm with a Sony RX100 III camera at a distance of 1 mile. You can see the excellent image quality. There are two Mountain Goats in the photo, right where the tree's meet the rocks. (click on the image to see full size)
There is a misconception that the smaller 50mm spotter scopes are going to have a narrow field of view. At the bottom end on the Razor HD 50 at 11x you have a field of view of 191ft! Compare that to the Razor HD 65 at its bottom magnification at 16x, the field of view is 138ft. I like to do the majority of my glassing in the 11-16x range when the field of view is wide and then if I spot something to zoom in on then I go from there. In my opinion having a larger field of view is a huge advantage as you'll be glassing more country at once and have the opportunity to spot movement easier.
This is where I was extremely impressed with the Vortex Razor HD 50. Optically it is on par with the other Razor HD spotting scopes: image clarity, resolution, brightness etc are all superb. We did a very detailed review of all the high end 65mm spotting scopes which you can view here and I put the Razor HD 65 as no doubt the best buy when compared to Swarovski and Leica. The image is so close in quality that more often than not you can't see a difference between them. The image between the Vortex Razor HD 65 and 50 is basically identical except on very low light conditions.
For me personally if I was only able to own 1 scope it would no doubt be the Vortex Razor HD 50mm. Its optical quality, build quality, outstanding warranty and by nature its small size and weight fit me perfectly for my type of hunting. I think that most guys would benefit greatly from the small compact size and use their scope more since it isn't heavy and too big to pack around. I think for those reasons alone its worth giving up a little glassing range.
Quick notes: I prefer the straight model in this scope as the Angled does not have a rotating collor for viewing up and down hill. Also I like to roll over the rubber eyepeice on itself to give me a better field of view as you can see in the picture above.