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Should I upgrade my scope

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Old Monday 29th April 2019, 12:36   #1
Gary58
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Should I upgrade my scope

I currently own a Vortex Razor HD scope 27-60x85 that is their latest generation. We are using it to view wildlife in Arizona from our back yard. We look upon the Superstition Mountains and are about 2 miles from its highest peaks. WE find Desert Big Horn sheep and many different raptors while viewing through the scope. I am using a Iphone adapter to take video and still pics through the scope. Everything works pretty well but I am wondering if a Kowa 883. or Swaro ATS 80 HD would be a noticeable step up in resolution. I am willing to spend the extra money to upgrade if there is a real reason to. If anyone has any experience with these scopes compared to the Vortex , please chime in.
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Old Monday 29th April 2019, 12:55   #2
jring
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Hi,

it will be difficult to give good advice in such a case as all spotting scopes (or rather all optical instruments) are subject to sample variation. One might think that quality control fetches the really bad ones but even then there's examples which are ok and those that are great. And with spotting scopes, we unfortunately have seen duds even from the alpha brands (which were usually fixed/exchanged without further ado).

So you first should try to find out how your current well scopes works - if you can (at least sometimes - due to heat haze aka seeing) use the maximum magnification and get a crisp image with easy to find best focus, chances are, your scope is fine. In that case I would say keep it... I have seen not so great examples of the alpha brands.

If you can, you could go to some bird sanctuary and maybe ask fellow birders to get a look through their scopes (that's how I get to know other scopes, beside the occasional vendor visit or optics show).

You could also learn how to perform a star test and either try to evaluate what you see or take images of the diffraction rings and post them here or on cloudynights. This is useful as the form of the diffraction rings can give hints as to what kind of aberration is present and will also quickly prove the point when talking to a manufacturer about replacing a substandard piece of kit.

Joachim, who has not yet looked through a Vortex scope - they're kinda rare in Europe...
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Old Monday 29th April 2019, 20:55   #3
henry link
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As Joachim says changing to a more expensive scope does not necessarily mean upgrading to a better one. Optically, the very best birding scope I've yet seen was a specimen of the Nikon 82mm Monarch ED I tested recently. It cost exactly the same as your Vortex Razor, but per mm of aperture it outperfomed all of the high end scopes I've tested from Kowa, Swarovski or Zeiss. I hope to post a review in the next week or two.

I haven't seen the new Vortex Razor, but I have tested two of its Kamakura made siblings: The Zeiss Gavia and Brunton Icon, both reviewed here. Those have some serious optical design problems which the Vortex possibly shares, but I don't think even a poor sample of the Nikon would have. Unfortunately I would be surprised if every Monarch ED is as good as the one I tested, but just finding one unit that good means the design is not a limitation.

Henry
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Old Monday 29th April 2019, 22:30   #4
Gary58
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Actually the Razor is pretty impressive. We are digiscoping Desert Bighorn sheep at around 2 miles and under certain conditions get some CA. I have been considering a Swaro ATS80 or the Kowa tsn 883 as the reviews suggest that they might do better in that area.
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Old Monday 29th April 2019, 22:42   #5
Alexis Powell
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My advice is the same as jring/Joachim's, and like him, I expect that unless you have a lemon, you aren't likely to gain anything in resolution (that you asked about, specifically) by getting a new scope, especially if by that you mean more detail in your Iphone stills and movies. Scoping at distance tends to be limited more by atmospheric stability than by optics, and photography with a cell phone (no matter how good) or a small digital camera tends to be held back by the abilities of the sensor, especially if used at anything above base ISO. I think the biggest gains to be had with better scopes are control of chromatic aberration, ability to deal with back-lighting, and with getting good field of view and close focus specs.

My most often used scope is an ancient (~1996) but excellent Nikon 78ED Fieldscope with 30x MC eyepiece. I also sometimes use the 25-75x MC II zoom (often set to 75x) on that scope with a Sony RX100 iv camera to document rare river-dwelling turtles (seen as they are basking). I also have an excellent Nikon 82ED with 30x eyepieces, which should theoretically be better (brightness, contrast...), but the difference in performance is so small as to be inconsequential if even detectable in every circumstance in which I have tested it against the 78ED. I generally choose to use the 78ED simply because I prefer its focus collar placement (in front instead of behind the scope foot). I own 24x MC, 50x WF, 50x DS, 75x MC, and 25-56x MC eyepieces for these scopes, but they don't see much use.

I also have an Athlon 20-60x86ED Cronus scope, which I think it is similar to your Vortex, for my students to use. I haven't tested it in many real-world conditions because I don't use it much myself, but it seems a fine unit and a competent scope. I don't think that it lacks in resolution or visual quality at 60x, but I'm not that keen on it because I'm not a fan of traditional zoom eyepieces (with their poor FOV at ~30x magnification) and because it has poor (by my standards) close focus.

My latest addition is a Kowa TSN-884 with 25-60x. It's among the best in its class, and the zoom is certainly super nice with its excellent FOV at 25x (so wide that it gives up very little to fixed eyepieces), essentially constant AFOV, and very good eye-relief compared to the Nikon zoom. It's a great scope that provides a really clean view, and I will be acquiring the 1.6x extender in the near future for some photographic applications, which will make for a really nice package overall that will be useful for my research needs. Still, for routine birding, esp. since I'm not convinced of the need for powers over 30x for making IDs, I can't say that I find it a significant improvement over my 78ED. Perhaps I'll change my tune after a few years of comparative use, but that remains to be seen. Admittedly, despite being obsessive about my optics (eyeglasses, loupes, camera lenses, binos...), I've never been very inspired by scopes. Get a good one (such as you probably already have) and call it quits on purchasing more. I feel very differently about binoculars. I have, several times since ~1986, found new bins superior (optically or ergonomically) to my older ones and have then abandoned most use of the older ones almost immediately.

--AP

Last edited by Alexis Powell : Tuesday 30th April 2019 at 16:32.
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Old Tuesday 30th April 2019, 11:14   #6
Gary58
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I am a photographer also and use M43 Olympus gear. I also have the Sony RX100iv. The Kowa 883 intrigues me as I might be interested in trying out M43 cameras with it and they seem to be more supportive of digiscoping than some other scope manufacturers. Have you tried out digiscoping with your Kowa?
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Old Tuesday 30th April 2019, 12:12   #7
jring
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Hi,

if you get CA in a digiscoped image, the question remains if that is from the scope (or eyepiece) or from the camera lens.
If your main usecase is really digiscoping wildlife two miles out from your backyard only, an astro ed refractor or apo with 100 or 120mm is probably preferable (and might still be cheaper than an alpha spotting scope).

Joachim
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Old Tuesday 30th April 2019, 16:28   #8
Alexis Powell
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary58 View Post
I am a photographer also and use M43 Olympus gear. I also have the Sony RX100iv. The Kowa 883 intrigues me as I might be interested in trying out M43 cameras with it and they seem to be more supportive of digiscoping than some other scope manufacturers. Have you tried out digiscoping with your Kowa?
My purpose when digiscoping is to obtain photographic vouchers to allow independent reviewers to confirm my sight records of rare species, so I am not concerned about quality to the nth degree, just getting a shot that allows for easy diagnosis. Up to now, I've managed quite well by simply holding the Sony RX100 iv (zoomed to 70 mm equivalent) to the eyepiece of my Nikon scope. Nevertheless, I recently purchased an Olympus EM-10 Mark II with Panasonic 20 mm f/1.7 II and Novagrade adapter to use with my scopes. It works quite well with the Kowa, especially because the ocular end of the Kowa eyepiece doesn't rotate while zooming. For my purposes, a somewhat longer lens than the 20 mm might have been better because I often end up cropping heavily to show details of the head pattern of the turtles that I seek (generally viewed from 20 - 150 m distance).

--AP
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