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ATM 80 HD test report

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Old Wednesday 7th April 2010, 13:55   #1
iporali
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ATM 80 HD test report

Hi all,

During the last few months of silent Finnish birding season I have been very lucky to borrow and test a friend's latest Swarovski ATM80HD spotting scope with all the digiscoping bells and whistles. Squidge asked below about the opinions of this scope and to my slight surprise I couldn't find here an "in depth" review of the A/STM80 - so, here is my collection of observations with the new system compared to my older AT80HD, which I thought I would never have a need to replace…

Sorry about the verbosity of this post - I may have got carried away with this "in depth" thing . I tried to divide the content in shorter sections to make it easier to swallow and to get the illustration at approximately correct places.

Looks:
Externally the shape and colours of the ATM80HD are almost identical to the earlier ATS model. This looks like an evolutionary update with new lens coatings and utilization of magnesium alloys in the manufacturing. First I preferred the ATS colour scheme (black focusing wheel, green sunshade) to the ATM (black sunshade, green focus wheel), but the more I got used to the new, the more 'balanced' it started to feel. Well, they both work to me - and that nice grippy surface looks and feels so good that it would almost be a shame to cover it with a SOC. I liked the functionality of the SOC of the old AT80-body, but obviously that tightly-fitting case shows the slim waist of the ATS/M much better. I didn't weigh the scopes, but the ATM body is *a lot* more compact (as can be seen) and lighter in weight than the AT. I don't think the difference to the ATS is significant.

Please, notice that in the picture I have shown the big difference between the AT and ATM, but in the text I often talk about marginal differences of the ATS and ATM.
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Old Wednesday 7th April 2010, 14:05   #2
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Part 2

Ergonomics of the scope body and accessories
I really like the slim focusing wheel and especially combined with an open balance plate this allows a large sector of rotation without changing the grip. I had a chance to test the focusing wheel at -30°C and obviously it does get stiffer, but the large diameter of the helical wheel transmits enough power to make focusing easy enough even in the cold. The focus mechanism of the tested sample of ATM did not have any play at all. It was nicely damped and completely noiseless, unlike the older AT80HD, where there was a small amount of play, and a weak, dry sound was audible (but not disturbing) when rotating the focuser. The sunshield on the ATM is not very easy to pull out and the older scope is easier to aim. Fortunately the latter can (and must ) be fixed with a "cable-tie sight". I have always disliked the peep-sight tubes of the ATS/M, but now I found out that you can replace the whole part with a small rubber thingy that comes in the scope box… it really looks much better now .

The new sliding balance plate (Fig. 1) that came with the setup was a nice accessory to adjust the balance according to the the weight of digiscoping gear. Materials were of high quality (metal and hard plastic/composites) and the two-point support was a very good idea for distributing the load of usually back-heavy digiscoping equipment. It is not available for the older Swaro AT body, but to be honest there is not a big functional difference to any longer quick-release plates or platforms like the Manfrotto/Bogen "501PLONG" or Giottos "MH631". I think Swarovski could have designed the sliding base plate the same size as the Manfrotto 501PLONG since this would have extended the sliding range on the 501 or Gitzo 2380 heads, removed one connection… and they have done the same with their scope mounting foot (ATS/M) and the smaller Manfrotto QR plate.

The UCA digiscoping adapter was also an interesting product (Fig. 2 and 3). It is sturdy, made to very tight tolerances and it accepts many kinds of cameras to be connected to the spotting scope. The adapter is tightened to the zoom eyepiece with a thumb screw in such a way that the zoom ring remains usable. It connects and centers so accurately that for the first time I have seriously started to consider DSLR or video digiscoping. I have tested it using afocal coupling ("normal" digiscoping) and also eyepiece projection (DSLR without a lens) and I would imagine that with a live-view & video equipped camera this would very likely produce great results. However, for occasional snapshots with compact cameras, the installed adapter prevents viewing and is perhaps too large and slow to take on/off. This adapter is compatible only with the zoom eyepieces, and I would welcome an add-on adapter for the fixed eyepieces. I have used my Baader swing-out adapter for my "mixed" birdwatching use, but I can clearly see the advantages of getting the camera always perfectly adjusted with a UCA or corresponding platform.
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Old Wednesday 7th April 2010, 14:15   #3
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Part 3

The 25-50x eyepiece
This is IMO the real star of the setup. I have already been singing its praises here on the BirdForum (even before such a thing existed http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?p=254056) and nothing in my testing has changed this opinion. It is a true "birder's eyepiece", which brings the most useful power range more easily accessible than any of the current 20-60x zooms. It is easy to see how much larger angle of light can come out of the eyelens of the 25-50xW compared to the old 20-60x. (Fig. 4)

A wide 25x is always better than a narrow 20x - it helps both in finding the target AND getting the ID (see the difference in digiscoped screens, taken at 28mm wide-angle of the Lumix FX01). I like fixed 30x wide-angles, but now that I can get both better TFOV and more power, I can't see very much need for it. Of course there are situations when higher than 50x power would be necessary or useful, but my needs are perfectly served with this 2x zoom. (Fig. 5 and 6)

The optics is excellent: flat field, sharp to the edges, great contrast, AFOV is good enough - not as wide as the fixed wide-angles, but wide enough not to feel restricted. Some transverse CA can be seen at the peripherial FOV, but it is not disturbing. The eyelens is relatively flat, which does not seem to cause as strong, coloured reflection spots as eg. the 20xSW. The zoom ring movement is lighter and shorter than that of the older (AT) 20-60x, and that makes it very easy and fast to use during viewing. I also love to be able to actually use the mid-powers of the zoom, because the ER does not drop too low. An extremely useful feature is that the zoom is very close parfocal - not quite, but almost: if you find a distant raptor in the sky at 25x and then zoom in, you don't lose the focus (which was the case with that older "AT" 20-60x zoom). This is very handy in digiscoping too. One tiny niggle is the short lens cap strap, which clearly wasn't designed to work with the UCA-adapter - but it is actually quite easy to extend if necessary (Fig 7).

It was interesting to read about several black-out/kidney-beaning experiences on the BF and sure enough, I was able to see them myself. I have been quite sensitive - and slightly annoyed with the black-out tendency of my Nikon SE binoculars and at first I was a little worried about how it was going to affect my viewing comfort. Luckily it did not turn out to be a problem, but the way to avoid black-outs with this eyepiece was in my experience different from other "black-out prone" eyepieces. One has to push the eye closer to the eyepiece instead of taking it farther. My conclusions from some digiscoping and viewing "experiments" were that this is yet another eyepiece with "spherical aberration of the exit pupil" (SAEP) - and the exit pupil is curved so that at the edges the ER is longer than in the center. In digiscoping this is not such a problem, because the camera has to be centered anyway, and it does not "look around".
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Old Wednesday 7th April 2010, 14:19   #4
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Conclusion

I was determined to purchase the zoom eyepiece in case it worked for me. Well, it did, but when I also had such a good chance to play with the whole setup and to see how well all the accessories work together and with the new ATM body, I just couldn't resist the temptation and ended up making this highly unnecessary and expensive - but hopefully final - jump to a new scope. I acknowledge that the Kowa 883 could have had a slight edge in image quality (due to larger objective) the Leica zoom could have been even more comfortable (due to better ER) and the new Zeiss would have had more power, but the combination of features, size, accessories and all the positive experiences with Swarovski after-sales service convinced me that *for me* this was the best possible compromize. I am still at the very beginning of using this setup and I'll reserve an option for any future criticism whenever necessary, but right now things look very promising. I will put the scope through its paces during this spring and I am sure I will soon know more about its strengths and weaknesses in real-world use.

Best regards,

Ilkka
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Old Wednesday 7th April 2010, 16:17   #5
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Ilkka: Excellent review! Glad to hear that you managed to deal with the blackout issues on the 25x-50x zoom--great zoom, but I could never avoid the blackout issues on it no matter how I adjusted it.
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Old Wednesday 7th April 2010, 16:24   #6
squidge
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Thanks Iporali for that review, I've ordered the 80ATM hd angled with the 20-60 zoom. As its my first real scope i've nothing to compare it too. However I do know somebody who has a slight interest in optics who will be able to give their expert opinion whenever I get the chance to get down to wicklow. I will be mainly using the scope for seawatching so when finances allow i'll be getting the 30xw eyepiece. Once again thanks, Ger.
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Old Wednesday 7th April 2010, 18:25   #7
Sancho
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Quote:
Originally Posted by iporali View Post
I just couldn't resist the temptation and ended up making this highly unnecessary and expensive - but hopefully final - jump to a new scope.....Ilkka
Superb review, Ilkka, many thanks. I can´t wait to see Ger´s. Or maybe I shouldn´t look at it at all.

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However I do know somebody who has a slight interest in optics who will be able to give their expert opinion whenever I get the chance to get down to wicklow.
Too kind, Ger...expert opinion it certainly ain´t...there´s a yawning gulf between "expert opinion" and "unhealthy obsession". But I can´t wait to compare your ATM 80/zoom to the Zeiss/Baader zoom set up. Let me know when it arrives (I bet it´s tomorrow!)

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Old Wednesday 7th April 2010, 18:32   #8
squidge
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Hopefully.
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Old Thursday 8th April 2010, 09:46   #9
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Karmantra - sorry to hear about the incompatibility of this wide-zoom for you. I think it is just a matter of insufficient ER, which is not practically possible to get around. If the ER is measured at the edges of exit pupil (which is likely) this eyepiece may give better measured than "efficient" ER values... unlike the Nikon SE, which has the opposite. In my experience this zoom tolerates fairly well "looking around" *inside* the ER distance - but for many users getting there is not possible.

Ger - congratulations on a great choice . There is a very good chance that this is your last scope as well. Do let us know how the Swaro works for you.

Sancho - I can only wish I could write as well as you, but I am glad to see you spotted the line that was inspired by you . As much as I like the ATM & 25-50x, I think you might not find the scope nirvana with them - and likely for the same reasons as Karmantra. And with the 'narrow' 20-60x zoom you have already "been there, done that". The Leica 25-50x might be worth trying though...

Best regards,

Ilkka
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Old Thursday 8th April 2010, 10:58   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by squidge View Post
Thanks Iporali for that review, I've ordered the 80ATM hd angled with the 20-60 zoom. As its my first real scope i've nothing to compare it too. However I do know somebody who has a slight interest in optics who will be able to give their expert opinion whenever I get the chance to get down to wicklow. I will be mainly using the scope for seawatching so when finances allow i'll be getting the 30xw eyepiece. Once again thanks, Ger.
Hi Squidge,

The 30x EP is very impressive, I've just bought one second hand & as new condition for about £200 and I'm very impressed. I'm sure it'll be an ideal EP for seawatching. If i were you I'd be patient & get one second hand as they come up in the classified section now & then. I've bought all my Swaro optics second hand & not only are they all in excellent condition I've only paid about 45% of the new price. Good luck & enjoy your new Scope.

Cheers, Neil.
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Old Thursday 8th April 2010, 14:24   #11
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Cheers Neil, I will definitely be getting the 30x secondhand as I'm now officially broke after the new scope,eyepiece,tripod and head. Its very addictive this optics malarky, I just hope all the Birdies appreciate the expense it costs and that they just stop and pose for a few minutes so I can get positive id's.,thanks Ger.
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Old Thursday 8th April 2010, 14:39   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by squidge View Post
Thanks Iporali for that review, I've ordered the 80ATM hd angled with the 20-60 zoom. As its my first real scope i've nothing to compare it too. However I do know somebody who has a slight interest in optics who will be able to give their expert opinion whenever I get the chance to get down to wicklow. I will be mainly using the scope for seawatching so when finances allow i'll be getting the 30xw eyepiece. Once again thanks, Ger.
I got the 30xww when i got the scope but recently bought the 25-50x as i didnt find the magnification of the 30x as much as i'd like for seawatching and i find the wide fOV of the 25-50x makes it excellent for seawatching though its far from cheap.
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Old Thursday 8th April 2010, 14:51   #13
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....Its very addictive this optics malarky....thanks Ger.

You said it, Ger. But like I tell the kids at my school re. tobacco, alcohol and drugs...."Stop now, it´ll be much harder in a few years, you´ll have spent a fortune and done yourself a lot of damage....." (Mind you, maybe iporali is right about the Apo-Televid....looks kind of cute.).
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Old Thursday 8th April 2010, 17:19   #14
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Courier arrived an hour ago, I'm afraid to touch the scope i think i will just put it on the shelf to look at.. After treble checking everything was screwed in properly(the tripod and head came with same courier) I took the plunge to look through for the first time. Panic stations everything was black, Phew it was only the lens cap. Took the lens cap off, After focusing on a tree in the distance one word came to mind, Wow, The clarity was unbelievable, I got my wife to have a look and she was impressed even after the cost. Once the zoom went over 40 things started to narrow but i was still impressed with the view. So roll on tomorrow as it gets its first days birding. Ger.
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Old Thursday 8th April 2010, 19:40   #15
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Take it to bed tonight, Ger. Their favourite lullaby is "Hush, little telescope, don´t say a word, Daddy´s going to take you to see a bird..." etc. etc. Let it have a lie-in tomorrow, then turn on TG4 and it can watch Doodlebops and Clifford the Big Red Dog.
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Old Friday 9th April 2010, 08:03   #16
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Ilkka,

Thanks for the insightful and thorough review.

I have not tested the ATM:s yet, but I did have the lovely 25-50x on loan for a while, and got a chance to try it in a few ATS and AT HD:s. It seemed like a few owners of the AT HD started saving for the new zoom right away, but not necessarily for the scope, planning to do what you initially thought you would.

So I was wondering. Your review of the zoom sort of says it already and shows pictures of the new zoom on the old scope, but maybe you could still specifically address the combo of old gray scope/new wide zoom? Easier to aim, slightly higher magnifications (ca 26-52). Also, although I'm not at all sure that this was not my brain playing a trick on me, I got the impression that viewing with the zoom was slightly easier and more comfortable with the old scope than with the new, as if the eye-relief issue would have been less. But this last one was probably a mistaken perception, as I cannot think of a reason why this would be a fact.

Kimmo
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Old Friday 9th April 2010, 09:29   #17
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Take it to bed tonight, Ger. Their favourite lullaby is "Hush, little telescope, don´t say a word, Daddy´s going to take you to see a bird..." etc. etc. Let it have a lie-in tomorrow, then turn on TG4 and it can watch Doodlebops and Clifford the Big Red Dog.
Thanks for giving me a chuckle Sancho.

Neil.
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Old Friday 9th April 2010, 11:47   #18
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maybe you could still specifically address the combo of old gray scope/new wide zoom? Easier to aim, slightly higher magnifications (ca 26-52). Also, although I'm not at all sure that this was not my brain playing a trick on me, I got the impression that viewing with the zoom was slightly easier and more comfortable with the old scope than with the new, as if the eye-relief issue would have been less. But this last one was probably a mistaken perception, as I cannot think of a reason why this would be a fact.
Kimmo,

Yes, my original plan was just to test whether or not the new eyepiece works on my trusty, and not too old, AT80HD. I was very happy to see that it did - and I would say that it did just as well as on the new ATM body. There was absolutely no vignetting with this eyepiece, unlike with the 20xSW, which shows very slight darkening at the very edges of the fieldstop. Obviously there is no locking pin on the old scope, but since the new zoom mechanism needs less force to rotate, the eyepiece should not come off easily. If I remember correctly, the edge of the new large zoom comes very slightly over the lower edge of the scope - not that it should interest anyone but the worst design freaks.

I remember when you earlier mentioned about possibly lesser black-out tendency with the older body. I did try to compare them with this in mind, but I couldn't honestly see the difference. However, I wouldn't exclude that possibility since when I made my comparisons the lighting conditions were some of the darkest days of the winter - ie. the eye pupils almost wide open and not causing black-out as easily. Also, that small difference in the scope's focal length may quite well cause differences that are visible to eagle-eyed observers like yourself. I even have two potential explanations for your impressions:

1. That 4% (?) magnification difference reduces the size of the exit pupil (of the AT80) by 4%. Eye pupils of given diameter should be able move slightly more before causing vignetting.
2. I am not completely sure about this, but I think some long-fl -eyepieces have more ER with a Barlow than without. Maybe the AT80 acts like a 1.04x Barlow and actually increases ER just enough to be noticeable.

Best regards,

Ilkka


ps. Unfortunately I don't have the AT80HD with me anymore - I gave it to a friend, who will most likely buy it. But I can still arrange any testing quite easily if necessary.

Last edited by iporali : Friday 9th April 2010 at 12:15.
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Old Friday 9th April 2010, 13:21   #19
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Ikka,

Congratulations on the new scope and thanks for the excellent test report!

I won't complain too much about the omission of resolution and star testing this time, since the basic optical performance of the Swarovski scopes is pretty well known by now. But, I think it's in your own self interest to perform those tests. They're the best consumer protection against acquiring a below average specimen.

On the question of less kidney-beaning with the AT80HD, besides increased magnification another possibility for a smaller exit pupil in the old scope is a stopped down aperture from its long string of prisms which gets even longer with closer focus. The one scope with this prism design I measured (Pentax 80mm ED) was down about 2mm at infinity focus and gradually lost almost 20% of its aperture between infinity and close focus.

I'm one who found the eyepiece a bit difficult to use, both from my eye positioned too far away and too close. Could be I was testing it in brighter light and/or my pupil might tend to close more than yours at the same light level.

Henry

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Old Saturday 10th April 2010, 01:17   #20
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Nicely done...I am impressed with your reflection upon this. I really like my scope although I have the ATS model...either one is just about perfect.
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Old Saturday 10th April 2010, 07:30   #21
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Nice report Ilkka. I understand that one of the reasons we haven't been seeing a lot of the new scopes around was they had to sell down the old stock first. I'm looking to seeing some photos from the field.
I've got a loaner STM80HD which I packed today with 7 cameras to take to Singapore for a couple of days of serious digiscoping. I'm hoping it doesn't rain too much which it did the last time I was there.
I'll post some comments next week.
Neil
ps also have the TLS and will give it a workout.
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Old Saturday 10th April 2010, 19:00   #22
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Just spent the last two days with the new scope or Lillian the hussey as my wife calls it. The first day out was a little dissapointing as the tide was out and I dont think even Hubble would see that far out. But I was still impressed with the views it was giving me. Over 40 the fov gets a little too narrow for my liking but the view was still very clear. Today was a wonderful day, I timed the tides right this time and the images were spectacular. I zoomed in on a pair of little egrets and the detail of the plummage was unreal. The sun was shining so I pulled out the sun shade with no problems whatsoever. I found the focusing very smooth and easy to use. As I said the imaging was spectacular and I cant see how a picture can get any clearer especially at 20x. Any doubts I had about this big investment have thoroughly been quashed and I know I made the right choice. Although I'm off now to sell the dog to fund the 25x50 zoom just for that extra fov. Thanks Ger.
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Old Saturday 10th April 2010, 20:13   #23
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Congrats Ger! I´ll buy your dog. Sick of buying optics...BTW, were you happy with your tripod choice?

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Old Saturday 10th April 2010, 22:04   #24
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I got a manfotto 055 classic, Its a bit on the heavy side but it does the job. The head is 128rc same as your own, its fairly smooth when panning the scope. When finances allow I'll probably get the 190 carbon fibre but thats after I get the new 25x50 zoom also the 30xw also the new 8.5 swaro bins also 7x bins also a pair of compacts and maybe a travel scope
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Old Sunday 11th April 2010, 10:31   #25
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I got a manfotto 055 classic, Its a bit on the heavy side but it does the job. The head is 128rc same as your own, its fairly smooth when panning the scope. When finances allow I'll probably get the 190 carbon fibre but thats after I get the new 25x50 zoom also the 30xw also the new 8.5 swaro bins also 7x bins also a pair of compacts and maybe a travel scope
So it'll be a while then.

Neil.
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