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Harpia 95: A Review on a Scottish Island

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Old Friday 16th November 2018, 12:36   #1
Troubador
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Harpia 95: A Review on a Scottish Island

It was a long time coming but eventually the loaned Harpia turned up and just in time to get packed and taken to the Isle of Islay for three weeks of what turned out to be the worst weather we have ever experienced in Scotland. Nevertheless with our cottage being situated very close to the sea (see the pic) I was able to take advantage of every opportunity to find out how it performed for birding and nature observation.

As usual, I will first take a moment or two to consider the specifications and prices of the Harpia and its most obvious rival, Swarovski’s ATX 95. Talking of prices, the Harpia 23-70x95 weighs in at £3,395 in the UK, approximately €3,695 in the Euro Zone and around $4,400 in the States. For Swarovski’s ATX 30-70x95 the equivalent prices are approximately £3,040, €3,460 and $4,498.

There are certainly bigger differences when considering specifications. The ATX bottoms out at 30x whereas Harpia goes down to 23x, both of them running up to 70x. Harpia is listed at 2298g / 81.1ozs, with ATX at 2150g / 75.8ozs. So we have the Zeiss with the wider zoom range while the Swarovski claims a 6% weight advantage. Harpia focuses a little closer than ATX at 4.5m versus 4.8m, but the biggest difference between them is field of view.

At its lowest magnification of 23x Harpia’s field of view is listed as 58.8m at 1,000m compared with Swarovski’s claim of 35m for ATX. If that looks like a huge difference, that’s because it is. If you calculate the area of view at 1,000m and compare the two, the Zeiss has an area 282% bigger. Yes, that is 2.82 times as big, and the Harpia even beats Kowa’s terrific TSN-883 (whose 42m is not to be lightly dismissed) by 95%, so nearly twice as big based on area.

Now for an aspect that has aroused some controversy: exit pupil. The zooming mechanism of the Harpia is contained within the objective lens optical tube and not in a separate eyepiece and it closes down the size of the objective lens as you reduce the magnification below 40x. From this magnification and higher the full objective diameter is available, below, it reduces as magnification is reduced. Here are the published Harpia and ATX exit pupils

Harpia exit pupil: 2.50 – 1.34 mm
ATX exit pupil: 3.2-1.4 mm

Based on these figures, Harpia is at a disadvantage at dusk and dawn due to the smaller exit pupil at the lowest magnifications. Boosting Harpia’s magnification to 40x brings you the full diameter of the objective lens and the extra detail that we know is crucial in twilight. During normal daylight your pupils will be around 2.50mm anyway so there is no loss of brightness under these conditions and it is probably no coincidence that this is the pupil size at which the human eye delivers the highest sharpness. Nevertheless this is something that crepuscular viewers will want to consider.

The scope itself is a handsome instrument with an adjustable eyecup that moves with a well-engineered precision unknown to some of Zeiss’s binocular eyecups. There are two wheels of different sizes side-by-side on the body, one for focus and one for magnification. As has been the norm with recent Zeiss scopes, the focus wheel adjusts the focus finely and slowly for a certain rotation and then ups the speed to allow quicker re-focusing over longer distances. I was a bit suspicious of this at first although I had found it agreeable at the Bird Fair. However it worked so well it was easy to forget about it. Both focus and magnification adjuster moved with a smooth and backlash-free precision. Up front there is a retractable lens-hood.

Our cottage on Islay overlooked a small sea bay with the furthest rocky headland being about 500m away, according to my measurements of our Ordnance Survey map, and the centre of the bay around 300m. Now, I have tried Harpia several times at the Bird Fair but never before on my ‘home ground’ of a Scottish sea coast, but the first time I set it up and looked through it at the bay, set at its lowest magnification, my jaw nearly hit the deck. This is a monster field of view, and with 23x magnification too. Wow! Panning to look at the open sea, a flock of Kittiwakes about 750m away floated leisurely across the field of view seemingly giving me all the time in the world to spot the adults from the youngsters. Minutes later a shower of tumbling ‘black’ birds arriving in the blustery wind on the grassy dunes about 600m away revealed 4 Red-billed Choughs in amongst a gang of Jackdaws. They strutted away behind some dunes so I racked up the magnification to 70x and focused on the rocks on the headland and could clearly make out the individual patches of Barnacles and lichens.

The weather for the next few days was just awful with heavy rain and mist but when it cleared I found two Great Northern Divers in the bay with one sweep at 23x. They had greatly differing facial patterns with one having ‘smudged’ cheeks and the other cheeks as white as snow. At 70x these birds were just stunning and although these two didn’t call, what was probably a family group of 4 seen at another site on the island, did. If your soul and heart aren’t pulled when you hear a Great Northern’s voice then you ain’t got either!

Early in my trialling of Harpia I was on the look-out for the possibility of noticing a dimming as I reduced magnification to 23x, but I never saw this, and soon forgot about it. The view at 23x was plenty bright enough even under cloudy conditions and it seems to me logical that, since you want brightness in order to see details, that you want this brightness at higher magnifications, when finding details is your goal. This is what Harpia gives you from 40x-70x magnification.

Squinting to look hard left and hard right to the field edge, it was sharp all the way, and this combined with the huge field of view at 23x allowed me to hand-hold it and capture a view of 2 Choughs that appeared just as I was taking the scope off the tripod. I just caught them at the edge of the field of view and despite the wavering, it was enough to see that they were Choughs and not Jackdaws. This is not recommended, but it was a fun moment!

At this point I should mention that the apparent field of view of 72° stays the same no matter what magnification is set, and this makes for very comfortable viewing especially for a long session. And talking of viewing comfort, the eye relief is 18mm and although it varies a little with magnification, the change is hardly measurable according to Zeiss. You will search in vain for chromatic aberration over almost the entire field of view because there is only the merest hint of it at the extreme edge of the field.

How sharp is it at 70x? Well, to my eyes it seemed to get sharper at higher magnifications and it was quite sharp enough at 23x, but the acid test was when I took it to visit a friend who is a warden on an Islay nature reserve and who had been having trouble reading leg-rings on Twite (a small finch) to check if they had been ringed on the reserve. We set up the Harpia at what he estimated to be between 25-30 metres away from a flock of between 450 – 500 Twite, perched on overhead cables. By the way you cannot believe the amount of sound, of sweet melodious sound, that can come from nearly 500 tiny voices when they are all ‘talking’ at once. Eventually he found one with a leg ring and triumphantly read it: YR! This meant it had been ringed on the reserve the previous December. I took a look myself and by golly there was the writing on the tiny ring, a ring barely visible through binos.

Could another scope have delivered such detail? I don’t know, quite possibly. Could it deliver the same detail at 70x combined with the same field of view at Harpia’s lowest magnification? At this point I will quote Kimmo, one of our most experienced members, who said on Birdforum:

“I acknowledge that for a lot of the practical birding people use their scopes for, a wide FOV at low magnifications is a real and sizeable benefit. The difference in field between the Harpia and just about any other scope at 20-30x mags is not subtle”.

Scanning a habitat for your target species is something at which Harpia excells. Of course binos have much wider fields but hand-held they don’t have 23x magnification. Using this attribute I was able to identify that at least 4 different Otters were using the bay below our cottage. The wide field at 23x found them (2 different groups of 2, at different times) and the 70x meant I could see that each pair was a mother and cub, but of different ages. Of course where there are young ones there is a father, so this told me 5 Otters were making use of that coast. This characteristic low-mag/wide field and high-mag/great detail dynamic, encapsulates what Harpia is all about for me. I have described how it worked for viewing Otters but of course it worked in exactly the same way when scanning the sea and the grassy dunes and coast for birds too. Not only Great Northern Divers, but Shag, Red-throated Divers, and passerines such as Stonechat and Meadow Pipit and Rock Pipit, were all found by scanning at 23x/wide field and then zooming in with high magnification. You can say this is the same with any scope but take a look at the field of view details again and read Kimmo’s comment again. Harpia takes this technique to another level.

How did it perform in twilight? We had a lot of ‘twilight conditions’ due to heavy, heavy cloud and pouring rain, bringing evening on earlier in the day, and using 23x to scan and 40x to view, I could make out the different facial patterns of the two Great Northern Divers 300m away. Twilight specialists may need something more to capture a few minutes longer but for me, viewing mainly in daylight, I was really happy with the wide-field at 23x/great detail at 40x or higher, combination.

I am not a digi-scoper so can’t personally speak from experience of doing this, but several reviewers around the world have digi-scoped with Harpia and one of them, Melissa Penta, kindly commented on Harpia’s performance under jungle canopy conditions and also sent me a photo to accompany this review. Here is how she described Harpia:

………. “The views that we had throughout the forest and in the dark canopy were pretty amazing with the Harpia. I never felt like a bird was too dark to see detail, even backlit”.

The bird she photographed was a Barred Puffbird and it was taken with an old iPhone 6 at the full 70x magnification. I think it’s a great image but bear in mind the quality has to be reduced to post on Birdforum.

Summing up, Harpia seems to me to have been optimised to perform in a very practical way providing a very wide view at its lowest magnification and the sharpest, brightest detail at its highest magnification. Anyone looking for a scope with these talents and capabilities should do themselves a favour and try it out.

Lee
Harpia photo copyright Lee Thickett
Barred Puff Bird photo copyright Melissa Penta, to whom, thanks!
Thanks to Kimmo from whose post I copied the quotation.
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Old Friday 16th November 2018, 13:20   #2
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A great review Lee, many thank indeed!

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Old Friday 16th November 2018, 14:53   #3
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Thanks Chris you are welcome.

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Old Friday 16th November 2018, 17:04   #4
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I agree with Chris, this is an excellent review that gives a somewhat broader and more balanced view than some others - many thanks, Lee!
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Old Friday 16th November 2018, 18:59   #5
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I agree with Chris, this is an excellent review that gives a somewhat broader and more balanced view than some others - many thanks, Lee!
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Thanks for your kind words Christophe, that was the intention.

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Old Friday 16th November 2018, 19:00   #6
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Thanks Lee for this great review!
I have the harpia 95 now in use since 2 months and I am very pleased with its performance
The best optical instrument I ever used together with the zeiss 8x25 and swaro 8,5x42
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Old Friday 16th November 2018, 20:04   #7
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Hi Lee, a excellent review of a great scope. I think, our verdict is similar.

But your text has a poetic note, mine lacks.
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Old Friday 16th November 2018, 20:23   #8
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Superb review Lee. I'm totally with you regarding the call of the Diver/loon.

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Old Friday 16th November 2018, 21:37   #9
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Lee
If you wind up costing me 4400.00 I am going to fly over and put salt in your beer.
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Old Saturday 17th November 2018, 09:44   #10
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Gunther, OhWeh and Rich, thanks for your kind remarks, they are much appreciated.

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Old Saturday 17th November 2018, 09:45   #11
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Lee
If you wind up costing me 4400.00 I am going to fly over and put salt in your beer.
Steve
Steve

If you fly over here I will buy you the beer and the salt

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Old Saturday 17th November 2018, 11:00   #12
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Thanks Lee. V useful. Have you bought one yet?

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Old Saturday 17th November 2018, 12:56   #13
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Compared to the Meopta S2 Lee was it far superior in every respect?
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Old Saturday 17th November 2018, 14:53   #14
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Thanks Lee. V useful. Have you bought one yet?

Alan
No but its coming up to Christmas so I might have a word with Santa. On the other hand we have already booked holidays for next year so I might have to be careful with the pennies.

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Old Saturday 17th November 2018, 15:04   #15
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Compared to the Meopta S2 Lee was it far superior in every respect?
Hya Coppo

I need to choose my words carefully here.

No Harpia isn't far superior in every respect. For example the S2 is as sharp and contrasty in my opinion.

BUT

What makes Harpia 95 superior than S2 in the field is the super wide field of view at 23x combined with the effortless zoom up to 70x where it is crystal clear. Having the zoom wheel next to the focus wheel means speedy focus and mag changes and with practice you can do it with one hand. When there is a lot of activity you can keep on top of more of it with Harpia than with the S2.

These add up to a superior field instrument at a price that is in keeping with this. Only you can decide whether the price is worth the capability.

If you can 'only' afford an S2 you will get a scope to be proud of and to cherish for life but if you have Swaro ATX money to spend then I would seriously take a look at the Harpia.

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Old Saturday 17th November 2018, 17:42   #16
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But you did/could not compare the ATX and the Harpia directly?

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Old Saturday 17th November 2018, 18:47   #17
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But you did/could not compare the ATX and the Harpia directly?
Not on this test but I did at Bird Fair although the Harpia and ATX there were not side-by-side. The difference in field of view at the lower magnifications was very obvious and the ability to zoom from 23 to 70x magnification and not be limited by the minimum of 30x magnification without changing eyepieces, was also clear. At Bird Fair I didn't appreciate the advantage of having the focus and magnification wheels adjacent either, and this needed a little practice in the field to get used to it.

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Old Saturday 17th November 2018, 19:13   #18
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Nice review Lee.
However, at this quality level you need to compare side by side, otherwise the AFOV difference is the most obvious.
Regarding the digiscopy potential, the difference to the X95 should be at low mags. Although the lower mags and wider AFOVs can be useful for digiscopy, the question is that the light availability should make a bigger difference... Most of my digiscopy is done at lower mag...
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Old Sunday 18th November 2018, 07:44   #19
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Nice review Lee.
However, at this quality level you need to compare side by side, otherwise the AFOV difference is the most obvious.
Regarding the digiscopy potential, the difference to the X95 should be at low mags. Although the lower mags and wider AFOVs can be useful for digiscopy, the question is that the light availability should make a bigger difference... Most of my digiscopy is done at lower mag...
Hi David
Thanks for your kind words and of course the review was not a 'comparison' review at all and anyone in this market should make their own minds up by testing side-by-side. My goal was to find out whether Harpia is a high-priced prima donna without substance or a practical tool for nature observation with usable innovations and my conclusion is that it is the latter.

Lee
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Old Monday 19th November 2018, 23:50   #20
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This is frustrating! Now I can’t wait for these innovations to ‘trickle down’ and become part of the way all scopes are made. Keeping the apparent field of view the same throughout the zoom range, putting the magnification and focus controls together on the barrel, having such a whopping great field of view at the lowest magnification—with any luck those things will be widely adopted, even if other aspects of the scope, like its flat, chromatic aberration-free field and sensational central sharpness, are impossible to copy at lower prices. Really good review.
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Old Tuesday 20th November 2018, 07:26   #21
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This is frustrating! Now I can’t wait for these innovations to ‘trickle down’ and become part of the way all scopes are made. Keeping the apparent field of view the same throughout the zoom range, putting the magnification and focus controls together on the barrel, having such a whopping great field of view at the lowest magnification—with any luck those things will be widely adopted, even if other aspects of the scope, like its flat, chromatic aberration-free field and sensational central sharpness, are impossible to copy at lower prices. Really good review.
Peter
Thanks for your kind words. There are some excellent scopes available today, at different price levels, and I think Harpia definitely brings something different to the party, and in a sound, practical way. As always with optics you need to try it out to discover if its talents appeal to you.

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Old Tuesday 20th November 2018, 14:08   #22
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Originally Posted by Peter Audrain View Post
This is frustrating! Now I can’t wait for these innovations to ‘trickle down’ and become part of the way all scopes are made. Keeping the apparent field of view the same throughout the zoom range, putting the magnification and focus controls together on the barrel, having such a whopping great field of view at the lowest magnification—with any luck those things will be widely adopted, even if other aspects of the scope, like its flat, chromatic aberration-free field and sensational central sharpness, are impossible to copy at lower prices. Really good review.

Peter,

Good advice from Lee there. Could be that your post is a tad too quick to accept some enthusiastic early and subjective opinions of the Harpia. We’re still far from a complete picture of its basic optical characteristics. In fact, as far as I know only Kimmo and I have made any attempt at all at objective testing. Hopefully more will be coming from Kimmo, but my one hour with the scope was all it took for me to scratch it off my short list based on a failure to meet the minimum standards for image quality I expect from an expensive scope.

Frankly, even if I had only seen Lee’s review I would be skeptical just from reading between the lines of a couple of his observations.

Firstly, he noticed (as I did) that the image sharpness of the Harpia improves as magnification increases up to 70x. Since no 95mm telescope can be “perfectly “ sharp at 70x that strongly suggests to me that the lower magnifications are not as sharp as they should be, something I confirmed by comparing the Harpia to a better scope at 40x.

Secondly, I was struck by his observation that the 82mm Meopta S2 was “as sharp and contrasty” as the 95mm Harpia. Assuming equal magnification an 82mm scope cannot be as sharp and contrasty as a 95mm scope of equal quality. Obviously the S2 can’t be better than a perfect 82mm scope, which suggests that the Harpia Lee reviewed was also not performing any better than a perfect 82mm scope, not a good result for a 95mm scope.

In fairness to Lee the two of us must represent the absolute Yin and Yang of optics evaluation. I don’t think he would object if I say that he quite intentionally sticks to global impressions under field conditions and I quite intentionally stick to measurements and comparisons under controlled conditions. Most consumers are certainly closer to Lee’s approach when they evaluate scopes, so I expect Zeiss is counting on many satisfactory global impressions to carry the day for the Harpia.

Henry
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Old Tuesday 20th November 2018, 14:50   #23
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Henry,
I didn't want to comment earlier, so as to influence a good review.

Was the Harpia that Lee tested picked out by Zeiss as a good sample to be reviewed?
Was it in fact better than a randomly bought Harpia from a shop?

Sky and Telescope used to have the policy of buying incognito from a normal shop when testing scopes.
This is fairer than being given an example by the maker to be tested.
But even here, one needs in my experience to test several, if not many, seemingly identical scopes to see the range of performance.

For me, a 93mm high performance expensive scope should have the ability to give very good results at 185x without the image breaking down because of optics limitations.
I understand that because of prisms and lots of glass 130x or 140x might be reasonable for most.
But not for me at £3,000 plus.
I expect to be able to use high powers when I choose to observe in favourable Seeing conditions.
I do read the weather both for terrestrial and astro observations.

Patrick Moore's advice holds true for me still.
One good observation is worth a thousand bad observations.

I accept that for birdwatchers the Harpia seems to be a very useful spotting scope. Birdwatchers don't normally go for high magnifications.
I hope it sells well and the quality is good.
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Old Tuesday 20th November 2018, 14:56   #24
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In fairness to Lee the two of us must represent the absolute Yin and Yang of optics evaluation. I don’t think he would object if I say that he quite intentionally sticks to global impressions under field conditions and I quite intentionally stick to measurements and comparisons under controlled conditions. Most consumers are certainly closer to Lee’s approach when they evaluate scopes, so I expect Zeiss is counting on many satisfactory global impressions to carry the day for the Harpia.

Henry
Hi Henry
No, I don't object to that at all, I think you summed up our different priorities neatly and I think both approaches are of value.

What I found, and I mentioned this in the same post as my remarks about the Meopta's sharpness and contrast, is that IMHO, Harpia is nevertheless a superior field instrument due to its combination of ultra-wide field at 23x and its perceived sharpness at 70x. The convenience of a 23-70x magnification range without changing eyepieces, and its handling with the two adjacent wheels facilitating fast acquisition of new targets also contribute greatly to its capabilities during actual birding and nature observing. I found all of these attributes to be of real benefit during field observation and if Zeiss is relying on these attributes to 'carry the day for Harpia' then they have reason for optimism.

Lee
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Old Tuesday 20th November 2018, 15:54   #25
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This Harpia discussion reminds me of two things from my 35 mm film photography past, especially before shutter and aperture control were able to be electronically tweaked (i.e. adjusted infinitely in automated modes). Some reviewers criticized constant aperture zooms for "wasting aperture" at their short end, but I loved my Nikon 80-200 f/4 AIS lens because I didn't have to adjust shutter speed after changing focal length. The other thing that the Harpia discussion reminds me of is the introduction of super-zoom lenses, which were criticized for having poor resolution and weird distortions but which were so handy for most purposes and totally adequate for making 4x6 prints. I never went for the extremes, e.g. 28-200 mm f/3.5-5.6 available from Tamron (and later 28-300 available from several brands), but I did enjoy my Nikon 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 AF-D (and capable of 1:2 macro), which was perfect for most casual family and travel photography. That lens, on a body with built-in flash, plus maybe one small prime lens depending on the setting (e.g. 20 mm f/2.8, or 50 mm f/1.4), was all I needed when traveling light.

My sense of aesthetics and interest in limits of performance makes me partial to Henry Link's approach, but my interest in practical applications as a birder makes me very sympathetic to Troubador's evaluation. Most of the time, in the course of birding, it is all about getting on the bird fast enough and with a good enough view to make the ID. A big aperture to facilitate image brightness at less frequently used high (for birding, i.e. < 100x) magnifications, coupled to a very wide FOV for scanning and routine magnification for ID (i.e. ~30x) seems to be a very practical approach for a birding tool. The dual-ratio focus and adjacent placements of zoom and focus controls are likewise excellent designs for rapid target (i.e. bird) acquisition and assessment.

The downsides of this scope are the high cost and the high weight for what is effectively a small aperture scope in most use. One of the virtues of those one-lens-does-all super-zooms for 35 mm photography was that they were really cheap! The pricing was intentionally very competitive. Even someone with Henry Link's sensibilities might buy one for occasional use when practicalities of just getting the shot trump peak optical performance. The Harpia comes at too high a cost to buy just for fun. Unlike Peter Audrain, I'm not so interested in the overall design of the Harpia trickling down. I'm really only interested in increasing FOV of zoom eyepieces, especially at low (~25x) magnifications. I love light and big exit pupils. The latest efforts from Kowa and Meopta are a huge improvement over past eyepieces, and I bet we'll see better in the future.

--AP
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