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Kowa 883 v Swarovski ATS80

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Old Sunday 2nd June 2019, 06:40   #1
wolfbirder
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Kowa 883 v Swarovski ATS80

Hi

Not a highly scientific test, but I was able to compare these yesterday at the Birder's Store in Worcester. I'm juts a lay person so don't understand or use all the technical jargon.

I realise the ATX Swarv is the latest of their line, in fairness, but the ATS80 has almost set the standard for a number of years.

I trialled the ATS80 with the 20-50 zoom eyepiece (wide-angled one) and found it excellent with its single large focussing ring. On a bright sunny day distant objects were quickly snapped on to, though it gave a colder less bright image compared to the Kowa. As always, it looked streamlined and robust. Not much else to say really, it was effective, simple to use, and of very good quality - producing an excellent image from 20x to 50x, though it lost a little clarity on max zoom. I did not try it with 20-60 zoom eyepiece as most seem to prefer the 20-50.

The Kowa 883 with the 20-60 zoom eyepiece produced a snappier, brighter image of distant objects, but only just, all the way to the edge. The intensity of colour was deeper. It has a dual focussing ring, and the smaller secondary ring to precisely focus, produced a clarity of image that the Swarovski ATS80 could not quite attain. But the dual focus might mean it takes slightly longer to attain that clarity, not easy when birds are moving around. Probably becomes perfected with practice.

The small focussing ring on the Kowa I looked through was a little loose too, which was a bit concerning. And the eye-relief twist-up cap also seemed to have a bit of grit in as it turned awkwardly. So the model I looked through almost seemed like a 2nd-hand model. A bit concerning 'if' it cannot cope with regular use. This was a new example but obviously the one used as a show-piece example for birders to try. It shouldn't really exhibit these slight faults if it has simply been in the shop. Has anyone else who purchased one experienced these concerns? They probably can be easily fixed in fairness.

Overall I would give the Swarovski ATS80 8.5 out of 10, and the Kowa 883 9 out of 10. The former cost the best part of 2,000, and the Kowa 2400 so both are extremely expensive but you pay for what you get, without doubt.

I needed to go away and consider my options. Still haven't decided.
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Old Sunday 2nd June 2019, 08:08   #2
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Hi wolfbirder,

I enjoyed reading your thoughts, the ATS is such a clean design, nothing to snag and of course fully rubber armoured which I find negates the need for a case, but the image from that big 88mm Kowa is mighty, and of course you can add the extender to increase the power, if I was buying new at those prices I think I`d go with the Kowa, but I`d be keeping my Ats65hd.
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Old Sunday 2nd June 2019, 08:16   #3
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Thanks Tors, I know the ATS65 comes very highly regarded, do you mind me asking whether you have had the opportunity to compare the ATS65 to the ATS80? In terms of optical performance.
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Old Sunday 2nd June 2019, 13:14   #4
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Nick,

I presume you tested the Swaro with the 25x-50x zoom and the Kowa with the 25x-60x wide angle zoom (TE-11WZ), or was it the old 20x-60x zoom?
I have both the Kowa 883 and a Swaro ATM 65HD (optically the same as the ATS 65, but with a magnesium body).
My Kowa has a few tenths of a millimeter play on the coarse focussing knob and another example I inspected had this too. However, the fine focusser is precise and I use this almost exclusively in the field.

The ATS 65 and ATS 80 have the same 460 mm focal length, so the "slower" f/7 focal ratio of the ATS 65 helps in giving it superb correction of spherical and chromatic aberration. The drawback is of course that the smaller aperture means a smaller exit pupil and lower usable magnifications under poor lighting conditios. However, usable magnification is often limited by heat haze and there are situations, where I am thankful for the lower weight of the ATM 65 and prefer to take it with me than the 883. It has the 30x W eyepiece and at this magnification in good lighting conditions there's not much to choose between it and the 883.

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Old Sunday 2nd June 2019, 19:09   #5
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Originally Posted by wolfbirder View Post
Thanks Tors, I know the ATS65 comes very highly regarded, do you mind me asking whether you have had the opportunity to compare the ATS65 to the ATS80? In terms of optical performance.
Not in a meaningful way and certainly not in challenging conditions. I will say though that the 65 has never seemed inadequate and has always got the task done, and of course I never look at it wondering whether I can be bothered to carry it around, its never a burden to put it in my backpack.
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Old Tuesday 4th June 2019, 00:08   #6
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Hi wolfbirder,

cannot really comment, as I don't own an 883 (I'm fine with my 30 year old cherry TSN-3), but of the 10+ examples of 883 I have looked through, all were fine or better. In all fairness, the 2 or 3 ATS/M I have seen were ok too, some ATX not so much.

But if I didn't have the cherry TSN-3, I probably would have an 883 with extender and the great 25-60 wide zoom.

Joachim

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Old Tuesday 4th June 2019, 06:00   #7
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Thanks folks, appreciate your feedback.
I think I asked to test the 20 x 60 zoom on the Kowa.
I'm sort of umming and arring between the Swarovski ATS65, ATS80 or the Kowa.
I need to go to a field day, sadly the Midlands is poorly served.
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 07:23   #8
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I think you need to try the wider eyepiece. I returned mine to Kowa when it developed the dreaded paint-flecks, and was lent the older, narrower eye piece. All i can say is that it was a completely different experience, and perhaps the comparison between the ATS and the 883 would not have been so marked if that had been what i'd seen in the first place.
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 07:59   #9
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Sorry - forgot the other half of what i meant to aay.
My first serious scope (which i still have) was the ATS65HD, which - at the time of purchase - i compared to the ATS80 and a Leica 65. I found that for my purposes, there was not enough advantage in the ATS80 to overcome the price and size difference, as i was intending to cover long distances with it on my back.
On a trip to Hungary, when surveying a black-necked grebe in full breeding clothes, i compared the view through my ATS65 with that of a friend, who had just bought the Kowa 883, with the (then new) wide angle eyepiece. Absolutely breathtaking.
It then became a mission to eventually get one. However, the intention to sell the ATS to help finance the deal was something i just couldn't go through with, and am glad of the decision. The ATS is still my walking/travelling scope, and if it hadn't been for that moment with the grebe, i think i could have been happy with it forever.
The Kowa, with its magnesium body, is probably slightly more delicate than the Swaro, and - while i have the ATS on a CF tripod and Sirui VA5 head (very lightweight), the Kowa is set up for estuaries and sea-watching, on aluminium legs and a Manfrotto 500 head - more stable, but heavier.
The ability to jack the 883 up to 96x with the 1.6 extender is really something when you have good light too.....
So, i would give serious consideration to what i wanted the scope for if i was starting again. I've put the Swaro into situations i'd baulk at taking the Kowa, and it's a robust, lightweight, fantastic instrument which i use a great deal.
There's no doubt in my mind that the 883, however, is one of the best one or two spotting scopes out there though.
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 07:59   #10
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I'll give it a try at the Rutland Water Birdfair, cheers Paddy.
Very interesting thoughts.

I've only got an Opticron travel scope as a back up, would love an ATS65 as one.
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 12:01   #11
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I own a Kowa 883 with the 25-60 eyepice. It is regularly used. The images through that scope are fantastic. I have never regretted buying it.

I regularly use the Swarovski ATS 65HD and ATS80HD with the 25-50 and 20-60 eyepieces in the course of volunteer work. I use the Swaro scopes in all weathers from brilliant sunshine to heavy rain. It is fair to say the Swaros are heavily used (perhaps even abused) by visitors where I volunteer and they take the use without any indication of trouble. The images are good although sometimes I feel the ATS65 feels a bit like looking down a tube - an experience I don't get with my Kowa or the bigger Swaro. Would my Kowa stand up to the same level of abuse? I don't know. Not because I have any doubt about it's robustness but because it is mine and I am not letting hundreds of visitors loose on it some of whom would not be as careful as I would wish. My Kowa feels well built but I am not taking the risk.

When I went to buy my scope I went out to buy a Swaro ATS 80HD as a consequence of my experience in my voluntary work. I did try Zeiss Diascopes but to my eyes there was no doubt the Kowa produced the brighter, sharper image and I preferred its ergonomics (certainly over the Diascope). I am not conscious that I take longer to focus on a subject with my Kowa than I do with a Swaro. In truth, I rarely use the coarse focus wheel on the Kowa because the fine wheel seems to work. I would be surprised if The Birders Store is currently retilling the older Kowa 20 - 60 eyepiece I would have thought they would be demonstrating the newer eyepiece - they were when I visited 18 months ago.

If I was buying again I would buy the Kowa again. Other birders would buy the Swaro. I am convinced that neither is a poor instrument just that one is preferred by some over the other. Go with whichever you prefer, use it and enjoy it.
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 12:27   #12
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of course, the means of focusing is another consideration when making a choice. The large helical single focus of the ATS scopes seem to function best when using the whole hand - fingers on top, thumb underneath. This is something i didn't pick up on for some time when i first had the 65mm.

I too rarely use the fast focus knob of the 883. Focusing on both scopes is fast and accurate, as you'd expect for the price - it just depends if you have a preference for dual or single systems
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 12:34   #13
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of course, the means of focusing is another consideration when making a choice. The large helical single focus of the ATS scopes seem to function best when using the whole hand - fingers on top, thumb underneath. This is something i didn't pick up on for some time when i first had the 65mm.

I too rarely use the fast focus knob of the 883. Focusing on both scopes is fast and accurate, as you'd expect for the price - it just depends if you have a preference for dual or single systems
Exactly.
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 12:51   #14
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Wolfbirder,

Not sure where in the midlands you are but you could try

www.focusopticsltd.co.uk

They are near Coventry. I have bought used stuff from Focus Optics and visited when I was looking at scopes. Very easy to deal with, in my experience.

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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 13:05   #15
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Thanks all, really useful input from each of you. Very much appreciated.
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 14:06   #16
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The Kowa, with its magnesium body, is probably slightly more delicate than the Swaro, and - while i have the ATS on a CF tripod and Sirui VA5 head (very lightweight), the Kowa is set up for estuaries and sea-watching, on aluminium legs and a Manfrotto 500 head - more stable, but heavier.
The ability to jack the 883 up to 96x with the 1.6 extender is really something when you have good light too.....
So, i would give serious consideration to what i wanted the scope for if i was starting again. I've put the Swaro into situations i'd baulk at taking the Kowa, and it's a robust, lightweight, fantastic instrument which i use a great deal.
There's no doubt in my mind that the 883, however, is one of the best one or two spotting scopes out there though.
That's a perfect summary IMO.The Kowa is from what I've seen just about the best big scope, and seems to suffer remarkably little from sample variation. That's a real bonus because chances are you'll get a good one if you actually buy it. The 65mm Swaro is perfect for any situation where a smaller scope is to be preferred. It works well on a lighter tripod, an important consideration IMO.

I'm still quite happy with my Nikon Fieldscopes, but if I had to switch scopes that's the combination I'd get. If I could only get one, I'd get the Swaro first. Weight DOES matter to me, a lot.

In the long run I'd also get a really small scope as well. I'm a sort of three scopes guy nowadays. I actually feel having one alpha scope (or two, or three ... ) is more important than using an alpha binocular for most purposes. There are many pretty good binoculars in the mid-price range nowadays, but only very few really good scopes. Most of the bargain scopes just don't cut it.

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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 14:21   #17
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I'd certainly agree with with that. Perhaps the higher mags widen the gulf between the 3-4 top line scopes and almost all the others. I'm not sure the attempts to fill the 'beta' grade in the scope market have been as successful as they have with binoculars.
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 15:54   #18
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Perhaps the higher mags widen the gulf between the 3-4 top line scopes and almost all the others. I'm not sure the attempts to fill the 'beta' grade in the scope market have been as successful as they have with binoculars.
This is certainly not true for the $1600 Nikon Monarch 82ED. One I recently tested had better optics (adjusted for aperture) than than all but one or two cherry samples of the six Kowa 883s and four Swarovski 95-ATX scopes I've tested and even the cherry Kowa and Swarovski scopes were no better than the Nikon, perhaps a little worse.
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 18:23   #19
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Hi Henry - of course, the Nikon at $1600 may be seen to be in the 'alpha' area, whatever that might mean. I just wondered if you knew if they were consistent, or whether the one you tested was a cherry too? I admit personally i've seen less variation QC-wise in Nikon products than some others, although haven't seen much of their scopes.
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 18:45   #20
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Also, to get a wide field zoom that roughly compares to the Kowa and Swarovski, an additional $550 must be ponied up. Now it’s a $2150 scope.
I just bought a new Kowa 883 w/ 25-60 for $2420.

Henry’s finding has been mentioned in other threads, and I await Henry’s review on the Monarch. I am a big fan of Nikon Fieldscopes and have two of them.
It would not surprise me (completely) if the latter Nikons hang with or exceed other premium scopes.
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 19:20   #21
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Originally Posted by Hermann View Post

In the long run I'd also get a really small scope as well. I'm a sort of three scopes guy nowadays. I actually feel having one alpha scope (or two, or three ... ) is more important than using an alpha binocular for most purposes. There are many pretty good binoculars in the mid-price range nowadays, but only very few really good scopes. Most of the bargain scopes just don't cut it.

Hermann
That's kind of where I'm at as well.
I'm more willing to plunk down for a scope than for binoculars. One benefits much more from better optics with a scope than with (handheld) binoculars. Many bins will give you a good view and enable you to ID what you're looking at. Holding these in one's hands is the major limiting factor. To see the brilliance of what you're looking at, a scope can't be beat.
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Old Wednesday 5th June 2019, 20:07   #22
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There was something i heard once as a piece of advice, but can't remember for the life of me when, where and who said it -
'get yourself some good binoculars, but an excellent scope'. Don't know if anyone else has heard this, or perhaps is responsible for having said it?
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Old Thursday 6th June 2019, 16:47   #23
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I think, in fast and furious and physically difficult birding conditions (which often obtain when seeking the most or "best" birds), the utility of superb binoculars is far above lesser bins that otherwise would suffice. Consequently, as a dedicated birder, I could never endorse the notion that a great scope is more important than great bins. That said, I also don't endorse the idea of having great bins and a crummy scope. Get the great bins because they are the most important optical tool for most birding. Spend on the great scope because if properly cared for, it will last and will not be made obsolete. Improvements in birding scopes are hard to obtain at this point, and given that atmospheric effects are often the limitation on what can be seen, further improvements will not be of much practical significance.

These days, I am using my Kowa 884 with 25-60x and 1.6x (so, effectively 40-96x) very heavily for fieldwork (digiscoping basking turtles). It performs flawlessly. Really, I have no complaints. Still, I don't feel I'm taking a step down in utility or fine optical performance when I use my ancient Nikon 78ED with 30x wide for birding. The 25-75x zoom on that scope is also super sharp and works beautifully when needed, but if using a zoom on a routine basis I prefer the Kowa zoom and scope because of its better eye relief for glasses, wider FOV, and larger aperture. If I weren't doing the turtle work, I'd probably have had no trouble continuing to resist purchasing the Kowa 884 or any another modern scope. Since I bought the 78ED in ~1996, I've had plenty of opportunity to compare it to everything else, and I could have purchased several scopes to replace it since then, but I just couldn't see (literally) much if any benefit, so the only scopes that have inspired a purchase were the 50ED (for travel; body-only new for $325) and an 82ED that I couldn't resist (as a back-up/lender) new with 25-75x mark II zoom for under $900. Scopes are cheap because one can buy one or two and then be done. I haven't found the same to be true for bins, but maybe that's because I got into birding in the mid 1980s, when bins were not optimized for birding. It's been a long time getting here, but now that we have close-focusing, compact, long eye-relief, reasonably wide-field, waterproof, optically stunning bins, maybe I could imagine that I could feel the same way about bins as I do scopes. If I were starting today, and got the Swarovski 8.5x42 EL SV and Zeiss 8x25 Victory Pocket, I might be satisfied with my bins indefinitely (which is to say until Swarovski were to give the EL variable-ratio focus. C'mon Swarovski!)

--AP

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Old Thursday 6th June 2019, 19:31   #24
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Good post Alexis. I agree with most of what you wrote and also agree with your choice of optics. I have an ED82, ED50, Victory 8x25s, and tomorrow an 883 w/25-60.

About the point about binoculars v spotters and value..
I wouldn't argue about having fine binoculars as this is the birder's fundamental tool. I would argue that things like quick focus, flare control, reasonable wide field, eye relief compatibility, and general handling friendliness, are of more value than absolute optical acuity. I tend not to look through hand held binoculars for extended periods and much after an ID is made, with some exceptions.

With this way of thinking, my "ancient" (to use your word for your ED78) 8x32BNs are superb for my use. Though I have recently bought the 8x25 Victorys and MHG 8x42s, I have felt no desire to buy a $2500 super bin from Z,S, or L.
I'm just not imagining much of an improvement over what I currently have, for my use.

I started down the path of purchasing the Kowa 883 looking for a Nikon ED82A.
Haven't found one to my liking. My ED82 is the straight version and I've been wanting the angled version for some time.
So not finding what I know is an excellent scope in the old Nikon, I opted for the angled Kowa which cost about the same as those flagship bins previously mentioned and am perfectly comfortable with that.

I had no reservations plunking down for the scope whereas I wouldn't consider paying that for a pair of birding bins. The very small things that one of those super bins "might" give just don't add up to a big deal, for me.

Now my experience isn't yours or anybody else's. I'm just not comfortable doing extended study through hand held binoculars. I am with a scope.
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Old Thursday 6th June 2019, 20:34   #25
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Actually, I don't think we disagree on much of anything!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Conville View Post
...I wouldn't argue about having fine binoculars as this is the birder's fundamental tool. I would argue that things like quick focus, flare control, reasonable wide field, eye relief compatibility, and general handling friendliness, are of more value than absolute optical acuity...
Although I do use my bins (esp. when I don't have a scope with me) at their/my limits of resolution/acuity, I agree that those other qualities you listed are just as important for a birding bin. The thing is, in my experience it is only the top quality bins that do all those things well. I've not found a bin that handles really well and is field worthy but that doesn't cost much and doesn't also have superb optical quality. In fact, I think the opposite is true far more often these days (i.e. some fairly inexpensive bins have great optics but poor handling and durability).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Conville View Post
...With this way of thinking, my "ancient" (to use your word for your ED78) 8x32BNs are superb for my use. Though I have recently bought the 8x25 Victorys and MHG 8x42s, I have felt no desire to buy a $2500 super bin from Z,S, or L. I'm just not imagining much of an improvement over what I currently have, for my use...
Ha! The 8x32 BN is one of the great bins of all time and is superb in every respect, even by modern standards, almost identical to its 8x32 Ultravid descendent, so I think you _do_ have a super bin. You just didn't have to pay today's prices. The closest thing to a current "super bin" that I have is the Swarovski 8.5x42 EL SV with traditional strap lugs (which I prefer), which I got new on considerable mark-down ($1600) when the field-pro version was released. Even so, that's the most I've ever paid for a bin. I have a good number of "alphas", but they were all less expensive in the past.

Quote:
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...I started down the path of purchasing the Kowa 883 looking for a Nikon ED82A. Haven't found one to my liking. My ED82 is the straight version and I've been wanting the angled version for some time. So not finding what I know is an excellent scope in the old Nikon, I opted for the angled Kowa...
Funny, I was initially interested in a new big scope for the same reason--to get an angled version. But then I got an angled ED50 for myself and had regular access to a big angled scope (Athlon Cronus) for work. After a good amount of day to day experience with both, I've decided that I don't like viewing (or rather, finding and tracking) birds through angled scopes, even after plenty of time to get used to them. I like the angled ED50 since it works better than my straight ED50 on a travel (i.e. short when stable) tripod, but only for that reason. The big angled scope works better than straight for sharing views, but otherwise I'm not a fan. So for my own work, I chose the 884 over the 883. Love it! esp. with my current project since I am often pointing it downwards (looking down to creeks from bridges). Very refreshing to be back to a straight scope.

--AP
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