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Nikon ED50 vs MM3/4 50/60 vs Kowa TSN-501

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Old Monday 26th November 2018, 19:25   #1
chicago-al
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Nikon ED50 vs MM3/4 50/60 vs Kowa TSN-501

Hi all. New member here! I am a light duty birder looking to get back into it after a lapse of several years. A brief visit to Costa Rica earlier this year whetted my appetite and I'll be back there in January.

I'm shopping for a lightweight but satisfactory scope, my first. I have read everything I could find here and am near to pulling the trigger. The ones I have in mind are the ones everyone talks about I think.

I figure through Amazon and eBay that I can buy a new albeit grey-market Nikon ED50, with cover, and a 27x DS eyepiece for around $500-525. This is the most expensive route to go and despite buying new, there would presumably not be warranty support. However when I got into birding in the late 90s I bought a pair of Nikon 8x32SE binoculars on the advice of BVD and that's worked out pretty well. (Total beginner's luck!) So I am pretty biased in favor of Nikon, and for me the 'starter' scope might be all I ever have.

Folks also like the Opticrons and there's the 60 version of the MM3 available used here on the site at a very attractive price. (Might be sold now though.) Brighter but longer and heavier, also has a zoom eyepiece.

I also had put a Kowa TSN-501 into my cart at B&H a few days ago and I see the price on that has dropped to $299 (!). That's with the zoom eyepiece but I think no cover. I'd expect lower image and build quality but that's a heck of a price.

Any further suggestions or advice welcome!

Last edited by chicago-al : Monday 26th November 2018 at 20:00.
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Old Tuesday 27th November 2018, 10:19   #2
jring
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Hi,

first of all, welcome to Birdforum!

All the models you mentioned are going to be a good choice.

The Nikon with the 27x is going to be spectacular due to its super wide field, but getting other magnifications (which the body is well capable of - 50x should be no problem) is going to be tricky and expensive due to limited supply of new Nikon fieldscope EPs and also the zoom offerings are quite sharp but also quite narrow.

Opticron has nice zoom EPs - my SDLv2 is a cherry on my old Kowa. If you can get a good used 60mm example at an attractive price, there is a good chance you will not need another scope - 50mm is most used as a light option with a big scope for when it's necessary.

There is not so many reveiws out there for the Kowa 501, but the one example I tried at an astro meeting was very nice, especially considering the price. The EP is fixed though, so you have to live with the zoom range (which is well chosen as it stops at the point where the non-ed optics will stop to work well).

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Old Tuesday 27th November 2018, 11:49   #3
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Hi Joachim,

Quote:
Originally Posted by jring View Post
The Nikon with the 27x is going to be spectacular due to its super wide field, but getting other magnifications (which the body is well capable of - 50x should be no problem) is going to be tricky and expensive due to limited supply of new Nikon fieldscope EPs and also the zoom offerings are quite sharp but also quite narrow.
I have the Nikon ED50 with the 13 - 40x zoom, and I have to admit that I usually tend to limit myself to about 30x since the image seems to get noticably darker at 40x. On the other hand, I quite enjoy the wide field of view at 13x. Without looking up the specifications, I'd be surprised if a fixed 27x surpasses the field of view of the zoom when fully zoomed out. (Though of course the 27x might give the overall better experience, combining magnification and field of view).

Quote:
Originally Posted by jring View Post
If you can get a good used 60mm example at an attractive price, there is a good chance you will not need another scope - 50mm is most used as a light option with a big scope for when it's necessary.
I have no experience with small scopes other than the Nikon ED50, but I would agree that as one's only scope, a 50 mm scope is perhaps a bit limited.

Regards,

Henning
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Old Tuesday 27th November 2018, 15:10   #4
jring
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hauksen View Post
Without looking up the specifications, I'd be surprised if a fixed 27x surpasses the field of view of the zoom when fully zoomed out. (Though of course the 27x might give the overall better experience, combining magnification and field of view).
Hi,

I just did - it's 52 to 47m for the zoom... but with an afov of 40 deg or so the zoom feels like looking through a soda straw...

I would choose the 27x, if I had an ED 50.

Regarding brightness at higher magnification - that is expected, the question is, if it's still sharp at that magnification with good light.

https://www.nikon.de/de_DE/product/s...oom#tech_specs

https://www.nikon.de/de_DE/product/s...-ds#tech_specs

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Old Tuesday 27th November 2018, 17:09   #5
Hauksen
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Hi Joachim,

Quote:
Originally Posted by jring View Post
I just did - it's 52 to 47m for the zoom... but with an afov of 40 deg or so the zoom feels like looking through a soda straw...
Maybe I only enjoy it so much because I've never had the 27x :-)

Quote:
Originally Posted by jring View Post
Regarding brightness at higher magnification - that is expected, the question is, if it's still sharp at that magnification with good light.
No complaints there, but maybe that's just the lack of a trained eye on my part.

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Henning
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Old Tuesday 27th November 2018, 22:27   #6
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Has anyone any experience of the Celestron Hummingbird 50 & 56mm ED 'micro' travelscopes? Aimed at birders but no 'in depth', serious reviews that I can find. Prices of both models cut recently, probably due to poor uptake. Both take standard 1.25" astro eyepieces which could lead to some interesting & very effective pairings.

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Old Tuesday 27th November 2018, 22:37   #7
chicago-al
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Thank you for the helpful comments! It's all useful. I agree that there are not a lot of objective reviews on the Kowa 501/502 so hard to judge it without seeing it directly...which is not so easy. That price is very attractive though and I'm tempted to order it from B&H then return if it doesn't suit.

Last edited by chicago-al : Wednesday 28th November 2018 at 04:25.
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Old Wednesday 28th November 2018, 11:32   #8
jring
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rotherbirder View Post
Has anyone any experience of the Celestron Hummingbird 50 & 56mm ED 'micro' travelscopes? Aimed at birders but no 'in depth', serious reviews that I can find. Prices of both models cut recently, probably due to poor uptake. Both take standard 1.25" astro eyepieces which could lead to some interesting & very effective pairings.
RB
Having tried the 56mm and the Kowa 501 side by side at a telescope meeting I didn't bother to get any astro EP to try more magnification with the Celestron.

At least with the examples present the Kowa won by a big margin and offered a useful image at 40x. f3.5 in the celestron is too fast for a refractor unless you can use 4 or more elements.

Joachim

Last edited by jring : Wednesday 28th November 2018 at 13:42. Reason: corrected grammar
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Old Wednesday 28th November 2018, 13:12   #9
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Thanks Joachim; just the sort of info I was seeking and hence the reason they aren't popular I suppose. How about the Hawke Endeavour 50mm, would this offer a suitable alternative for the OP? I've read good reviews of this scope in several places, both ED & non-ED versions.

RB

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Old Wednesday 28th November 2018, 21:17   #10
chicago-al
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I feel a bit stupid now; wife and I are going to see her parents in Florida this weekend, and an obligatory part of a trip there is a visit to the Corkscrew Swamp Audubon Sanctuary. I could have ordered the Kowa scope and gotten it in time to take there and test out. If it didn't satisfy it would have easily been returnable. Oh well!
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Old Wednesday 5th December 2018, 00:24   #11
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Well, last weekend I looked through a few scopes at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (which is a must-see if you are in SW Florida). These were scopes that the volunteer staff either had fixed to the railings or were walking around with. All were Vortex, and one was the compact 'Razor HD' model, roughly comparable to the scopes I'm looking at. While the image was good I was less impressed with the zoom eyepiece. Not sure which one it was. Sure it brought more magnification but the image itself seemed to get smaller, at least after halfway through the zoom travel. (I like to think I know a bit about optics as I've been a pro cinematographer for about 30 years.)

So this makes me think the Nikon with the fixed eyepiece is the way to go, and I may well do that. But this morning I got my usual 'Deal of the Day' email from B&H Photo, and they have the Manfrotto BeFree *Carbon Fiber* Travel Tripod for more than 50% off. I am a fan of Manfrotto for lightweight pro gear (my 'real' tripod is a Sachtler) and this was an amazing price. It seems like the ideal tripod to go with any of these scopes, and I can use it on the job for small monitors or the occasional lightweight camera as well. So I put it in my cart, and seeing the Kowa TSN-501 still there at only $299, I figured I should just go ahead and try that out. I'll update this thread with what I learn.
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Old Wednesday 5th December 2018, 09:19   #12
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Hi,

please do keep us posted - I hope you like the 501 as well as I did the example I tried...

Not quite sure what you mean with the "image getting smaller" - there is two effects to be seen when using a zoom EP and changing the zoom factor (besides the obvious magnification change):

- when zooming out (to smaller magnification) the apparent field of view gets smaller - you see more black around the image when looking through the scope.

- when zooming in (to higher magnification) the exit pupil gets smaller which you can see when looking at the eypeice but not when looking through it (then you might see that the image gets darker if the exit pupil gets smaller than the pupil of your eye.

Joachim

Last edited by jring : Wednesday 5th December 2018 at 11:41. Reason: speling
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Old Wednesday 5th December 2018, 14:09   #13
chicago-al
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I'll see if the Kowa's zoom eyepiece does the same as I saw on the Vortex scopes. I'd describe it as a 'portholing' effect when zooming in, yielding greater magnification but not necessarily more information. What I love about my binoculars (Nikon 8x32SE) is that they give a very big and wide image, compared to other 8x I've looked through, and I am hoping to find a scope that does the same. Which might well be the Nikon with a fixed eyepiece.
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Old Wednesday 5th December 2018, 17:24   #14
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Hi,

still not really sure what you mean with portholing. Anyways, the Kowa 501 has 46 deg afov at 20x (which is narrow) and 64 deg at 40x (which is not too shabby and in the same ballpark as your SE).

The fact that the magnification increases but no new information is visible happens when you push the magnification of the scope beyond the resolution limit of the objective lens - either due to aberrations or even the limit of diffraction caused by the lens aperture.

The eyesight of the observer also is relevant here, a very good eyesight will let you see all the information there is to be had in an instrument at lower magnification while an observer with non-perfect eyesight might find higher magnification in the same instrument still useful.

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Old Saturday 15th December 2018, 20:09   #15
chicago-al
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Since I posted last, I've received that new Kowa TSN-501. I was also pleasantly surprised that I was able to buy a lightly used Opticron 50ED with the HPL zoom eyepiece through [the auction site] for slightly more just a week later. We are having a few days of mild weather here and I'll be taking both out for an evaluation so I can decide between the two. I'll post back with my impressions.

So far though: the Kowa is amazingly small and light yet is not a toy, image quality is quite good. The Opticron appears to have the edge optically and with eye relief, and of course has a choice of eyepieces.

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Old Sunday 16th December 2018, 23:52   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chicago-al View Post
Since I posted last, I've received that new Kowa TSN-501. I was also pleasantly surprised that I was able to buy a lightly used Opticron 50ED with the HPL zoom eyepiece through [the auction site] for slightly more just a week later. We are having a few days of mild weather here and I'll be taking both out for an evaluation so I can decide between the two. I'll post back with my impressions.

So far though: the Kowa is amazingly small and light yet is not a toy, image quality is quite good. The Opticron appears to have the edge optically and with eye relief, and of course has a choice of eyepieces.
Sounds like a great comparison review coming up!!!
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Old Monday 17th December 2018, 11:49   #17
jring
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Hi,

congratulations on two nice scopes - looking forward to a comparison!

The MM3-50 and HDF zoom should better have the edge optically - they're a bit more than double the price of the little Kowa when bought new. If you got them for a little more than the Kowa new, you got a good deal!

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Old Tuesday 18th December 2018, 02:43   #18
chicago-al
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Well, no one should expect a 'great' comparison as I am a beginner at spotting scopes, and a very casual birder compared to most here, but I have used cinema and photo optics for some decades so maybe my observations, limited though they be, are worth something.

I am going to keep the Opticron MM3 50 ED scope and return the Kowa TSN-501 to B&H Photo, as it's unmarked and well within their 30 day return window. The choice for me is clear, but I have to say that if money or size & weight were prime considerations, I'd choose the Kowa. I happened to luck into the Opticron used for less than $350; and for my level of commitment to birding I would not have been willing to spend full price for it.

The Kowa is noticeably smaller and lighter than the Opticron, the weight of the former might be half that of the latter. However since we are talking about <2 lbs vs <1, and I'm not going on an extended backpacking trip, it's not important. (To me.) The Kowa has decent image quality and if I were not comparing it to anything else, I would certainly find it acceptable. One nice feature is that its zoom eyepiece is 'parfocal,' that is, when changing the zoom it's not necessary to re-focus. This is probably due to the zoom's limited 2x range and it being fixed. Which is of course, also a limitation of the scope. On the example I used, the zoom eyepiece was rather stiff; this could be unique to that sample, and it might loosen up with use, but in practice, with a lightweight tripod, zooming might itself shift the scope.

When the scopes are compared side by side, the Opticron's optical advantages become clear. Its not surprising that it has better image quality across the board: higher contrast and sharpness with less chromatic aberration, and it's distinctly better across the image field, where the Kowa falls off from the center. In the center though, the Kowa looks good, and the other differences are not, I think, profound. You might well ask yourself: is image falloff on the edges going to make a difference in IDing that bird?

An important factor for me though is that the Opticron's eye relief is also better. I looked at the same targets this afternoon (unfortunately just bare tree branches and a few oak leaves) through both, and even as a novice found it very easy to get my eye on the eyepiece and see the whole image with the Opticron. With the Kowa it was harder to find the 'sweet spot' where the image was clear and I was seeing the whole thing. This applied with or without glasses. I'm going to be sharing this scope with my non-birder wife in Costa Rica in a month, so the less difficulty 'finding the image' with the scope, the better.

For the same reason, I also like the Opticron's 12-36x zoom eyepiece. On the one I have, the zoom is smooth and easy though not loose. (I think it could perhaps use just a little more grease on the helicoil threads.) 12x is a magnification I can easily use to 'find the bird' and then zoom in. (And refocus!) As I get more skilled with the scope, I may want to look for a fixed eyepiece in the 20-28x range for a wider FOV. That's an option I would not have with the Kowa.

I am attaching below (or trying to) two crude digiscoped images to show the differences between the scopes. Both were done with my iPhone SE, both are the straight image with no cropping or adjustments, and I simply held the phone up to the eyepiece and moved it around till I had the image centered and clear. This was much easier to do with the Opticron, due to the eye relief as I described. The Kowa's eyepiece was at 20x, its widest, and the Opticron was zoomed in to not-quite-the-same magnification. Note that even with the Opticron zoomed in halfway, the image size is comparable. The photos were taken within a minute of one another. It should be obvious which is which.

I hope someone, at some time, finds this at least a bit useful. Thanks to those of you who have offered advice!
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Last edited by chicago-al : Tuesday 18th December 2018 at 04:21.
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Old Tuesday 18th December 2018, 09:51   #19
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Hi,

thanks for a nice review - the only thing which could have been better were images at higher magnification as the two low mag shots don't really show the differences mentioned as these get more pronounced at higher magnification.

I can understand that want to keep the Opticron - it's nice glass which you got as a really good deal.

For better aim I strongly recommend to look here for Kimmo's cable tie trick... I keep my scope at 52x, find the bird with binoculars, remember the position, aim at this position over the EP and cable tie and am on target.

Joachim
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Old Tuesday 18th December 2018, 18:44   #20
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Fair enough, Joachim. Here are iphone photos with the Opticron at 36x and the Kowa as near as I could match it. It didn't help that the Kowa was on a flimsy tripod, where zooming the eyepiece or adjusting the rather tight eyecup moved the scope around.

Note that the Kowa appears to show a larger image, which I would consider desirable. However, getting your eye (or your phone's camera lens) centered on the Kowa eyepiece is quite a pain, and by eye I wasn't seeing the whole image. With the Opticron, no such problem.

I think that these images will show some optical differences between the two scopes. They are plain enough in person. I did nothing to either image except reduce the size for uploading. That screen-looking pattern on the X is an actual texture.

BTW one minor thing I don't like about the Opticron is the double focus knob. Maybe it's from many years of focusing lenses, but I can 'dial it in' with one knob.
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Old Tuesday 18th December 2018, 20:16   #21
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Hi,

thanks for the high mag images - I see what you mean with the Kowa being a bit worse, but the image is still perfectly usable which is impressive for a non ED scope at that price point.

Have fun with your MM3! Btw, which zom did you get with the MM3- SDLv2?

Joachim

Last edited by jring : Tuesday 18th December 2018 at 20:19.
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Old Wednesday 19th December 2018, 15:55   #22
chicago-al
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Zoom eyepiece is the HDF T, #40862, which is 12-36 on this scope. Though oddly the Opticron site shows it being 15-45 on the MM4/50. In any case it's a good range, and at some point I could upgrade to the SDL zoom, or go to a fixed eyepiece. As a more casual birder, this may well be all the scope I'll ever need.
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Old Thursday 20th December 2018, 08:32   #23
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Originally Posted by chicago-al View Post
Zoom eyepiece is the HDF T, #40862, which is 12-36 on this scope. Though oddly the Opticron site shows it being 15-45 on the MM4/50. In any case it's a good range, and at some point I could upgrade to the SDL zoom, or go to a fixed eyepiece. As a more casual birder, this may well be all the scope I'll ever need.
Hi,

the 15-45x for HDF zoom on MM4-50 is a typo - it's correct in the description of the body. Not sure if an upgrade from HDF zoom to SDL makes sense - if you can use the HDF with it's slightly shorter eye relief, all you would gain is a little more field of view.

Joachim
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Old Thursday 20th December 2018, 11:31   #24
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Thanks for pointing out the error Joachim - now corrected.

Cheers, Pete
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