I’m committed to reviewing more budget priced optics over the next year, especially since there are so many new gun owners out there. But it’s nice to get some time behind truly top-of-the-line glass, too.
The Leupold Santiam HD 27-55x80mm spotting scope is just that. Welcome to the quality and innovation that built one of the most recognized brands in the business.
My most common use for a spotting scope is likely the same as it is for other shooters; to see where my bullets land on a target. And most of the time, that’s at the 100 yard range. If that’s all you need a spotting scope to do, there are lots of good enough, relatively inexpensive options out there. I’ve been using one of Bushnell’s lower priced spotting scopes for this for the better part of a decade, and it works just fine for that application.
That said, when it comes to hunting in open land, or target shooting beyond the 300 yard line, there are much better options.
I first saw the value of a high quality spotting scope during my first west Texas sheep hunt. Finding the sheep was easy. Any good pair of binoculars (probably the most important piece of hunting gear you can buy) will show you herds of sheep. But finding the right ram among those herds takes more magnification, and time.
Many of you have had the same experience hunting in the western states. Climb high, set up, and look down and around until you’ve found your prey. The hard part then is figuring out how to get where they are, or where they’re going. I’ve spent the last seven seasons on the Idaho/Wyoming border doing exactly this for bear, mule deer, and wolves.
The other common use for a high quality spotting scope is target shooting. I’ve been teaching some basic long range courses lately and man, staring at the 1,000 yard line for eight hours a day will wear a dude out.
One of the lessons I learned as a kid while hunting was reiterated for me in the military, so many years later. “Observe an area prior to occupying it.”
This is the primary use for spotting scopes in the military today. Yes, I’m very sure (because qualified snipers have told me this) that spotting scopes are used to identify hits or misses and to make adjustments to precision small arms fire in combat. But the vast majority of time spotting scopes are simply used to watch an area to see what is going on there. In these situations, observing wide fields of view, as well as the ability to focus on details, are of the highest importance.
All of these applications highlight the need for spotting scopes of this quality. The longer you are staring through the optic, the more the differences in quality glass become apparent.
The first and most important consideration for any optic is the clarity of the glass. In this, the Leupold Santiam truly excels.
Take a look at the image above, taken with my camera phone. If there were any game or varmints in that field, even a fox would be visible. Of course, I still wouldn’t be able to take a shot, as that field was a little over three miles away on a hazy day.
Because of my recent nephrectomy, I haven’t been able to do much shooting lately. I have, however, been able to spot. For that, I’m grateful for this particular view. As hunting season is beginning in earnest, I’ve spent my mornings with a couple cups of coffee, glassing the fields and hillsides 500 to 800 yards beyond my back porch.
In the afternoons, I’ve helped friends dial in their guns and develop a DOPE card to get them ready for their hunts this year. Helping them zero, as well as getting some solid data from the 300-800 yard lines have given me a few hours each day behind the Santiam spotting scope.
After staring through a scope for hours, I usually walk away from the firing line with a headache. If I spend all day looking through the glass, I can’t keep a reticle focused sharply enough to actually call a shot. Not so with the Santiam. The class is so clear, and there’s just no distortion, that I get no headache and my eyes don’t get too tired. You wouldn’t think it would make that big a difference, but it certainly does.
I’ve mentioned in a couple reviews that one of the differences in price point on optics is the amount of light transmitted back to the viewer. Starting around 2015, Leupold took this to another level with their Twilight Max HD Light Management System. This is where Leupold separates itself from other optic brands, including other premium optics at the high end of the market.
The Twilight Max HD Light Management system maximizes the frequencies the human eye can see in near darkness. For those of you who hunt, this system effectively extends what you can see clearly to beyond the hours of legal game hunting. It really does add twenty to thirty minutes of clear observation onto the beginning and end of each day.
That’s not a small thing. Those are the most precious minutes you have in the field and very often make or break a hunt. For military applications, the early morning minutes are no less vital than when Major Robert Rogers codified their importance, 260 years ago.
There are other noteworthy features to the Santiam’s glass. It has their Diamond Coat 2 treatment for not only increased brightness, but fantastic abrasion resistance. This is especially important in both sandy and snowy environments. The glass is also treated with Guard-iON lens coating, which helps shed moisture from the lens, as I can verify.
The Santiam bills itself as “absolutely waterproof.” I would have preferred some standard listed, but no matter. To the bathtub, Batman!
I filled the old iron tub up and simply let this scope sit for about half an hour before taking it out and wiping it off. Zero issues.
What I was more impressed with than the Leupold Santiam’s water tight feature (I spend relatively little time hunting for Aquaman in the deep) was how easy it was to clean the lens after I dunked it. I’ve noted in previous reviews how hard it is to clean water spots from lenses after I get them wet.
I wasn’t looking forward to that with this scope, as the objective lens is so large, but I had no issues. I assume that’s because of the Guard-iON coating. The water just rolled off without any residue, just as advertised. I did no more than wipe the glass and edges with my T-shirt. This was a very pleasant surprise.
Beyond the fantastic glass quality and light management technology, the Santiam has a series of useful features.
There’s a built-in retractable lens shade to reduce glare, although the lens coating takes care of a lot of that already. You’ll also find a twist out eye cap for differing eye relief needs, including folks who wear glasses.
The Santiam also includes branded lens caps, as well as a neoprene soft protective body cover.
The magnification range is wide, 27 to 55 power. Even at the highest power, that provides a 73-foot field of view at 1,000 yards. The magnification adjustment ring is near the eye piece. It’s large and deeply textured with large ridges that are easily moveable even while wearing gloves.
What’s particularly nice is that, although the ring stays in place once you put it there, it moves easily enough that you don’t totally lose what you were looking at when you disturb the spotting scope by changing the magnification.
The focus ring is located mid-body on the optic. It also moves easily and precisely, and is large and textured enough that you won’t need to take your eye off the target to adjust focus.
At four and a quarter pounds, the Leupold Santiam no lightweight. That’s not what it was made to be. It’s got an 80mm objective. That massive front lens means super lightweight just isn’t possible, but puts the field of view and light transmission in a class of its own.
Set-up and take-down of the scope is easy. It screws right onto a tripod with a standard 1/4-20 adapter port. The version reviewed has a straight eyepiece, but an angled eyepiece is available as well. As for myself, I tend to find the straight eyepiece is a bit more versatile, as the angled version is more difficult to use from the prone and other low body positions.
As are all of Leupold’s optics, the Santiam is backed up by their excellent customer service and lifetime guarantee. I’ve never had a Leupold scope break, but I’ve had one damaged. It took about 6 weeks for them to get it back to me, free of charge and no questions asked.
With an almost $2,400 MSRP, the Leupold Santiam is not inexpensive. If you are in the business of spotting for a long time, or if you are in the position where the shot you take is a shot you or your partner can’t afford to miss, every dime of that cost is money well spent.
Leupold’s marketing materials say that the Santiam was built as the no compromise spotting scope that provided unparalleled image quality in a field worthy, rugged platform. They’ve succeeded. It’s absolutely world class.
Specifications: Leupold Santiam HD 27-55×80 Spotting Scope
Length: 16.4 in.
Weight: 68.7 oz.
Twilight Factor: 46.5 – 66.3
Close Focus Distance: 11 ft
Angular FOV Range: 2 – 1.4
Exit Pupil Range: 2.9 – 1.5
Eye Relief Range: 16.6 – 19.2
Linear FOV: Low 105 ft/1000 yd
Linear FOV: High 73 ft/1000 yd
MSRP: $2,339.99 (about $1,799 retail)
Overall * * * * *
Exceptional in every way. Solid features and well built. The Leupold SX-5 Santiam HD 27-55x80mm spotting scope delivers world class image quality with superior light management technology that puts it ahead of everything else in its class.