Two different in situ spectrophotometers are compared that were used in the field to determine nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) concentrations at two distinct spring discharge sites. One sensor was a double wavelength spectrophotometer (DWS) and the other a multiple wavelength spectrophotometer (MWS). The objective of the study was to review the hardware options, determine ease of calibration, accuracy, influence of additional substances and to assess positive and negative aspects of the two sensors as well as troubleshooting and trade-offs. Both sensors are sufficient to monitor highly time-resolved NO3-N concentrations in emergent groundwater. However, the chosen path length of the sensors had a significant influence on the sensitivity and the range of detectable NO3-N. The accuracy of the calculated NO3-N concentrations of the sensors can be affected if the content of additional substances such as turbidity, organic matter, nitrite or hydrogen carbonate significantly varies after the sensors have been calibrated to a particular water matrix. The MWS offers more possibilities for calibration and error detection but requires more expertise compared with the DWS.