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Advice for first spotting scope (+ tripod) (1 Viewer)


Hi all,

I would like to buy my first spotting scope and am looking for some advice.
Found the advice in this post very useful: Moved to a seaside area: Need to get a spotting scope

We like to hike now and then and usually take one pair of cheap binos with us. Been to birding places occasionaly.
Plan to do it more often in the future, but want to limit my budget to +- 1.500€ (scope + tripod + head) for now, until I know this hobby really stays with me.
But can convince myself to spend a bit more, given the right arguments.
Had zero experience with spotting scopes until I rented a Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85 for two weeks for a trip to Burgundy last month. I loved it, used it around 6 hours a day.
But the Zeiss is already over my budget, and have no idea how it compares to other scopes.

I certainly want to try digiscoping, and possibly buy a new camera for it (not from the 1500). Have some older cameras (DSLR and smaller) so might try these first.

Noticed this can have a big impact on the fun, so want something decent and light.
Have set my mind on Benro Tortoise TTOR35C (300€). Remarks or suggestions welcome of course.

Fluid Head
Don't know really. Is Benro S4Pro (160€) a good idea?

That would leave around 1050€ for scope + eyepiece, unless I am forgetting something?
  1. 65mm vs 85mm => Since I plan to bike or walk to sites, I would like to keep the weight down, and think I should go for 65mm.

  2. straight vs angled => I hope to share the fun with wife and kids, so I will go for angled.

  3. zoom vs fixed: not sure, zoom seems to be more common.

  4. used vs new: I am getting impatient so will probably for for new ;-)

  5. I want to keep the weight down (walk or bike) => prepared to pay a little bit more for a better and light scope

  6. Are some scopes more suited to digiscoping than others?
So that lead me to this shortlist:

  • Vortex Razor HD 22-48x65wa (at 1600g).
    • Local shop sells it for 1.580€ but can find it for 1.080€ within a 1 hour drive.
    • digiscoping options ?
    • I read good reviews of the 85mm Razor, does that say anything about the 65mm scope?
    • The 85mm is 'only' 290g (and 500€) heavier. Should I go for that one? TTOR35C and S4Pro should be able to handle it?
  • Kite SP65 (at 1250g)
    • so lighter than the razor, but violates the rule to only buy ED glass?
  • Kowa TSN-663M + TSE-Z9B 20-60x
    • Found it for 1.299€ (also one hour drive)
    • 1040g for the scope but not sure about weight of the eyepiece. One site claims 1494g for the combo, so 100g lighter than te razor.
    • Never seen it in real life, but the razor looks a lot better imo
    • Seems to have a lot of options (=adapters) for digiscoping.
    • I saw a post about a newer TSN-66A but it's a lot more expensive (over 2.500)
  • Used: Tweedehands Nikon Fieldscope ED82 telescoop CM3694.
    • Is it good value at 650 € ?
    • digiscoping options ?
  • Vortex DiamondBack 65
    • only 1412g and 490€
    • but seem to remember claims that it's a big step down from the razor?
Other models I reviewed but out of budget: Monarch 60, Monarch 82 ED-A, Conquest Gavia 85, MeoStar S2 82 HD.

Some other questions:
I read about lemons and cherries and wonder how many scopes fall into either category? Or there also apples that not perfect but good enough?
Since I could not find many shops in Belgium that have a lot of scopes in stock, where I could compare a few samples/models, I wonder what the chance is that I would get a sample that is simply good enough. Not sure I would notice the difference if I don't start looking for it?

Is there a difference between ED and HD glass?

Should I definitely go and try the scope in the shop?
I had such a good experience with the Gavia that I wonder if any scope would please me?

I haven't tried all of the scopes listed but the Fieldscope still holds it own with newer scopes. Does it come with an eyepiece?
I've enjoyed the Pentax PF-65EDAII 65mm Spotting Scope (Angled Viewing, Eyepiece Required). Clear, light, no false colors and good for travel. Uses 1.25" telescopic eyepieces, fixed or zoom. I've seen them on sale occassionally for $ 449 (US). Great for wildlife, birds, travel and astronomy.
Richard and Siggy, thanks for the suggestions.
I was trying to make the short list shorter, not longer ;-)

Will have a look at the Nikon and Pentax. Did you try digiscoping with those scopes?

Currently for me it's mainly between the Razor and the Kowa.
The local store has ordered the Kowa so that I can test it out in the shop.

I noticed I posted this question in the wrong folder (tripods and heads).
Is it frowned upon to re-post in another folder?
Don't forget to check out the Opticron MM3 and 4, my first was an MM3 and it was quite all right and light (and I moved on to a Swaro ATC after a year, so beware!). Carbon tripod and fluid head absolutely but check height and weight. Also, check out Sirui for tripods.
Best of luck!
Pentax uses standard American 1.25" telescopic eyepieces. Commercial digiscopic adapters are available. I do not digiscope.
Hi all,
… Is there a difference between ED and HD glass?
ED glass refers to Extra-low Dispersion glass. A variety of specialty glass that are used in lenses to correct chromatic aberration (color fringing) by having the different colors in the light spectrum arrive at the optical devices’ focal point (your eye) at the same time.

Fluorite lenses are the highest level in terms of correcting chromatic aberration, but they cost more than ED glass.

HD means “High Definition” and is a vague marketing term that doesn’t really mean anything, but is tossed around to make anything from lens coatings to whatever sound impressive.

The Opticron MM4 60 GA ED scope (often mentioned on these forums) is a well priced scope made with ED glass that has very good clarity, controls chromatic aberration well, and is light weight.

The Pentax PF-65EDAII was mentioned by Siggy above.

Both are good scopes and are within your budget.

We have both the Pentax PF-65EDAII with a fixed power astronomy eyepiece, and the Opticron MM4 60 GA ED with Opticron’s SDL-V3 zoom eyepiece.

The Opticron MM4 is lighter in weight, is a little more crisp, has a coarse/fine dual focus knob with a wonderful fine focus ratio, and is weather tight when the SDL-V3 eyepiece is used.

The Pentax has a slightly larger diameter objective lens, is heavier, has a single focus knob, and with a fixed power eyepiece (made with 7-8 lanthanum glass lens elements) controls chromatic aberration slightly better. The Pentax scope body is weather tight, but most fixed power astronomy eyepieces are not, so using a fixed power astro eyepiece will not give you a fully weather tight setup.

Pentax has a zoom eyepiece that will make their setup fully weather tight. I haven’t tried the Pentax zoom so can’t comment on its optical quality compared to the Opticron zoom.
For inexpensive ($50), lightweight fluid head, for hiking/travel look at the

SmallRig Selection Tripod Fluid Head Pan Tilt Head with Quick Release Plate for Arca Swiss


it seems you are planning to buy in person, which is a very good idea if you also plan to thoroughly test the scope you want to buy and then buy exactly the example you have tested. Sample variation does exist and obviously there is a huge number of unremarkable oranges (I'm allergic to apples - the brand, not the fruit) between the few cherries and lemons one reads about on here... you do want to avoid the lemons, trust me, I have seen a few in person...

If you plan to use only the normal zoom EP on the scope, testing it in good seeing (cool overcast morning is ideal) at maximum magnification will be enough. You should see a crisp image center field at max magnification of the zoom for an ED scope with an easy to find point of best focus - rather than a wide range of least blurriness which usually is an indicator of more severe aberrations. Most scopes do ge a bit softer towards the edge of field, sharp to the edge is kinda rare as it needs a special design which counteracts field curvature and very tight tolerances...
You can check for transversal CA (blue/yellow fringes) with a high contrast edge (branches or a black bird against not too dark clouds are great). You should not see any in the center and nothing too terrible towards the edge.

The used 82ED with what looks like a 16x/24x/30x DS wide angle digiscoping EP (at least one can see 30x on the third image and the Nikon DS lineup only has three models of which only the 16x/24x/30x offers 30x on any body) is very well priced - I would certainly check that in person if not too far away. It will most probably be fine up to 75x in good seeing with an extra 25-75x MCII zoom but is not exactly small or light at almost 1,7kg for the body...

As for the weight, I would not make too many compromises - your whole pack will be 5kg or more anyways with tripod, head, hopefully a mulepack or the like, water, snack, phone or small camera and maybe a guide anyways... I for my part am fine with that on my back with a mulepack or so for a day... I have also cycled with it but of course there is a good chance to break your scope in an accident, regardless of how well it is padded... on the other hand, in that case getting out of it unharmed is the main objective...

PS: shameless plug - if you want to go ultra light, I have a too seldom used Kowa 613 with stay on case and 30 wide and the 1.6x extender (for a nice and crisp 48x with the 30 wide) which I might be willing to part with... it clocked in at 1210g with soc, EP and extender... if you're interested, please PM me...

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The Pentax 65mm scopes are excellent and lighter in weight than ones with larger objectives. I use the angled version which I find easier when viewing birds up in trees. Check out the BH Photo website and you can see price ranges and weights and read reviews by people who have purchased them.

Pentax and Vortex are excellent in terms of image quality and durability but sell at affordable prices. The Pentax uses 1 inch lens elements so lot of options available from Pentax and from many other companies. The scopes are usable up to 30x magnification so don't pay more to get more magnification that you will not end up using.

For a tripod I use the one that a tripod and head that is designed for cameras and lenses with Arca-Swiss mounts. I added a $20 Arca Swiss plate to the bottom of the scope and so the tripod works for the scope and for my cameras and lenses. The scope specific tripods are either flimsy with a lot of leg flex or very expensive.
I see you link to both Belgian and Dutch website. Depending on where you live within NL/BE, there are some great shops to test and buy.
If in the Netherlands, there are some selling also Opticron (also shipping to Belgium, but I haven't found a Belgian shop selling Opticron). As recommended by Dyrlege higher up, I would also recommend you to consider the MM3 and MM4. I have the MM4 50mm as a travel scope which is really great. Though I would probably recommend you the 60mm (not tested myself,but getting great reviews) if it's to be your only scope.
You may find good new or second hand Kite scope or from Vogelbescherming.nl, with great warranty and after-sale service (many but not all Vogelbescherming optics are just rebranded Kite optics, which themselves are mostly from well-known Japanese OEM manufacturer).
If you're a member of Natuurpunt in Belgium or Vogelbescherming in the Netherlands, you can get discounts in their (web)shops and also in quite a few independent optics stores. Also on optics from some other brands. (Our you might become a member: it's great to support the local nature preserving association, getting also great info about nature in your area through their newsletters. And the discount on a scope will most likely be larger than the (annual) membership fee.)
Regarding the Kite SP65 (which is the same as the Vogelbescherming Sperwer 65, I think): I have never tested it, but would love to test it to know how good it is.
I have it's bigger and ED-brother, the Kite SP82ED/Vogelbescherming Havik 82 ED, found second hand with the wide-angle eyepiece (not compatible with the 65mm!), which is really good, but I have no clue about the SP65 (smaller, does not exist in ED, other eyepiece). Thus let us know if you get a chance to test/compare it what your findings are!
I’ve had an Opticron ES80HD with SDL v2 for years and have enjoyed the views.

A couple of weeks ago I compared it side by side with the Opticron MM4 60 and 77 using my eyepiece and the newer SDL v3.

Putting my SDLv2 and a v3 on two MM4 60 bodies side by side was interesting. Really couldn’t see any significant differences between them.

The best combination optically was the MM4 77 and SDL v3, which was a step up optically (brighter, sharper, better contrast and colour) and smaller and lighter than my current scope.

The MM4 60 and SDL v3 would be next best and significantly more compact and giving up nothing optically to my current setup.
If you are buying in person, at a shop for example.
Try the ‘scopes and see how they feel when looking through them and how the focus feels.
It's not a bad idea to look at the specifications of course but it is more sensible to buy a 'scope with which you feel comfortable. If it’s comfortable to use you will persevere - if it isn’t comfortable then you may start to feel like you can’t be bothered with it and have to start looking around again.

As a ‘scope for a beginner, I would not hesitate to recommend Opticron either MM3 or MM4 which (I think) both come in 50mm and 60mm objective lenses. If you can buy a pre-loved ‘scope and save some money, that’s a great option.
So Mook,

This may be of interest, see #1 and #8...

In case no ones added this, its an important read re tripod buying from John/Tringa

Also this one maybe, see #99

Hi all,

Thanks for all the advice. I ended up buying
  • Opticron MM4 77 ED + SDLV3 for €1299
  • Leofoto LS-323C
  • Leofoto BV-10 (second-hand)
  • Opticron Universal Smartphone Mount usm-2
  • Bynolyt Telebackpack
and so far I am very happy with my choices.

I drove to Foto Rooijmans in Budel (NL) and they were very kind. I spend a whole afternoon comparing scopes (and tripod heads).
The tested scopes ordered by sharpness/brightness/general feel according to me and my son:

Vortex Razor HD 22-48x65 < Kowa TSN663 < Opticron MM4 77 < Meopta Meostar S2 82 with 30-60x < Swarovski ATS 65 HD met 20-60x

I am not 100% sure which Swarovski scope we tested, but I remember they had it on offer for €2000.
And although it was an eeny tiny bit brighter than the Opticron, I did not see a difference that's worth €700 in my opinion. Not for a first scope anyway.
Same for the Meopta.

While testing I didn't notice any chromatic aberration on any of the scopes and assumed I simply wasn't susceptible of it.
Once I decided which brand/type to buy, I didn't spend much time testing the particular sample I received.
And the next day (at home) the sky was completely overcast and very white, playing with the scope I almost immediately noticed CA and once seen it was very distracting. I also noticed that the panning of the (second-hand) BV-10 head was much more jerky than the model I tested in the shop, while the tilt was very smooth.

The same day I wrote to Foto Rooimans and they immediately replied that I could come to the shop and compare with other models.
So I did (another 2.5 hour roundtrip) and they were very helpful, they let me do a blind test and 3x I was able to pick out the sample with more CA, until I found a sample that was on par with their showroom model. I also exchanged the BV-10 head with their showroom model that was smooth in all directions. So I am a happy camper now. I can definitely recommend Foto Rooijmans and am so glad I did not order anything online.

We're in Umbria (Italy) right now and I've spent many hours behind the scope. Very happy to see 3 short-toed snake eagles yesterday (mostly via the binoculars) and bee-eaters (also mostly with binos), but I wish they would sit down and pose ;-)

Initially I was I favour of the cylindrical focusing system (like the Zeiss Gavia that I rented) but I very quickly got used to the the dual focusing knobs on the Opticron and like it now better.

The universal digiscoping mount works but it always takes some time to fit it on my phone.
A very simple but handy improvement would be to have two knobs to keep the phone in place, one could be used to get the phone in the right position and should only be adjusted once while the other could be use to lock/unlock the phone. Strange they did not think of this.
If anyone knows a good adapter that works like this, please let me know.

I hope the above helps someone in the future.


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