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Comparison of 65mm Scopes: Zeiss vs. Swarovski

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Old Wednesday 16th February 2005, 15:06   #1
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Comparison of 65mm Scopes: Zeiss vs. Swarovski


I am reposting this review since the original was lost in the very unfortunate crash of the server. I have added a few updates.

I found a very friendly optics dealer and was able to spend about 1.5 hours looking at birds outside his store comparing the different angled models of 65 mm spotting scopes. I compared the Zeiss, the normal glass Swarovski and the HD Swarovski, all with zoom lenses. First, some caveats:

1) All the differences I noticed were fairly small. All three are great scopes. However, it you are going to spend a lot of money and use the scope for the rest of your life, I think it is worth trying to split some hairs to get the best one for your needs. I left the Leica 62 out of the comparison just because I thought if I go for a 15-45X scope I prefer the wider field of the Zeiss. In this comparison I particularly wanted to see how much extra could be seen with 60X in the Swarovski vs the 45X of the Zeiss.

2) All these scopes are subject to sample variation. I only compared one of each scope. Nevertheless, I think my impressions are similar to what I have seen others report.

3) Most of the comparisons below refer to the highest power (45X for Zeiss and 60x for the Swarovski). I did not spend a lot of time with the lower powers, but differences at low power are very subtle to nonexistent.

Comparison 1: Zeiss vs. normal glass Swarovski

I preferred the Zeiss. It has a very significant advantage in both LOWER power (15X vs 20X) and WIDER FIELD of view at all lower powers. It was much easier to point and get on the bird and you had the sensation of a wide, expansive view, especially great for scanning flocks or the ocean. Optically the Zeiss was sharp and very bright. Perhaps a little too bright in that contrast was a little low and colors a little washed out. However, the brightness contributed to excellent shadow detail and at high power it was easier to see details on distant birds than with the Swarovski, even thought the Swarovski was at higher power, because the view in the Zeiss was brighter and sharper. The view through the Swarovski was also excellent with a little more saturated color, but also a bit darker and more contrasty. Too much contrast in my opinion and some details on really distant birds were obscured and dark. Distant details tended to be a little blocky. I liked the rubber armoring of the Swarovski and thought its focus was quicker and more precise than the Zeiss. Both eyepieces had excellent eye relief at the power extremes, but the Swarovski was a little better in the middle powers. However, the wider field and brighter, sharper image won the comparison for the Zeiss because the normal glass Swarovski had no advantage at 60X, in fact probably had a little less detail than the Zeiss at 45X on distant birds.

Comparison 2: Zeiss vs. HD Swarovski

Tough call, but in the end I preferred the HD Swarovski. The HD glass makes all the difference in the Swarovski. Views were detailed, contrasty, razor sharp and with excellent, saturated colors. The brighter, less contrasty view of the Zeiss was not as satisfying after seeing the HD Swarovski. The view through the Swarovski exuded texture, you could feel the softness of the plumage. With the HD glass more detail was visible at 60X in the Swarovski than at 45X in the Zeiss and colors were especially easier to see. With the higher resolution and stronger color, the higher contrast seemed to work for the HD version, not against it as it did in the normal glass version, and it had excellent shadow detail and details did not block up as they did in the normal glass scope. The view was still not quite as bright as the Zeiss; however with the HD glass I could see more detail at 60X in the Swarovski than at 45X in the Zeiss. The images in the Swarovski were also just more satisfying because of the color saturation and rich textural detail.

Conclusion: The Zeiss is a great scope and a terrific bargain. If you want the easiest scope to get on the bird or bird in challenging lighting a lot, it could be a great choice. At the lower powers it gives nothing up to the other scopes. If you do not anticipate needing high-powered views to pull out the last little detail, it is a great, user friendly scope. However, the HD Swarovski is a very special piece of glass. Views were really breathtakingly beautiful. It is a lot more money than the Zeiss and you may struggle a little to get on the bird due to the narrower field at lower powers. But if you are looking for the best high power view of the bird possible with 65mm, I believe the HD Swarovski is it. If it came with a 15-60X zoom, I think it would be the perfect scope (Swarovski are you listening?).

AS a final caveat, I am not sure all these conclusions would translate to the 80-85mm scopes. I need a travel scope and want to use a lighter tripod. The 80-85 mm scopes are all 20-60X, which would bring their performance closer together - more high power detail in the Zeiss but less of a wide field advantage. Thus this comparison is probably more of a toss up. All I can say is that it is great to have so many great optical choices. My only wish (see above) is that the zoom scopes would offer lower powers to make scanning and finding the bird easier. 15-60X as a standard power range would be great.

I purchased the ATS 65mm HD Swarovski from the dealer. I have used it in the field a couple of times. I really wish it had the wide field of the Zeiss but every time I zoom in and feel the textures on the bird at high power, I am amazed at the quality of the optics. Absolutely stunning views this morning of an Anna’s Hummingbird reflecting the morning sun off its gorget at 60X. The richness, detail, color saturation and contrast of the image are unmatched by any scope I have seen. I can also add with respect to sample variation that the scope I received is as sharp and contrasty as the one I looked through in the store.

Mike Moore
Gilbert, AZ, USA
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Old Thursday 2nd March 2006, 00:16   #2
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Hi Mike - Thanks for the review.
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Old Thursday 2nd March 2006, 20:40   #3
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Originally Posted by digitalbirdy
Hi Mike - Thanks for the review.
Did you notice that the review dates from over a year back? But you are right, it is well worth looking at old posts every now and then.
--PS: That's a Sooty Falcon on the avatar, photo taken near Sharm el Sheik, Egypt. My highest priority raptor at the time.
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