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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

Advice on choice of ATX 85/95 vs Kowa 883 vs Harpia 85/95 (1 Viewer)

MarkyGee

Member
Good afternoon All

I've been lurking on these forums for a couple of weeks or so and thought that it was time to ask my burning question ...!

I'm a keen amateur bird watcher based in the South of England. My primary birding sites are reserves where my basic 10*42 binos run out of steam very quickly when trying to observe waders or find bearded reedlings in the reed beds at some distance. I don't think that the weight of the scope is a massive factor for me. Good magnification is important which is favouring the 95mm Swaro and Zeiss, albeit I am aware of the Kowa extender ...

I recently had the opportunity to have a short look through a Kowa (I think it was an 883 given the size of the objective lens which looked massive). The difference in what I could see using it was amazing and cemented the idea that I should invest in a scope myself. This will be a long-term investment so I'm prepared to push my budget to Swarovski and Zeiss (but not the 115mm Swaro!). It will be a one-time only purchase and I want to get this right.

I'm trying to weigh up the pros and cons of Swarovski ATX 85/95 vs Zeiss Harpia 85/95 vs Kowa 883. I will try to get to see and demo the scopes at the end of October but I'm doing the research leg work now to make sure I know what to look for in each.

I've seen a lot of messages about the Harpia not being quite so good at magnifications of less than 40x but having amazing FOV. The Kowa looks incredibly good value compared to the other two and a bundled package with an extender is still way cheaper than the others. I'm having difficulty in understanding whether the 85 or 95 mm objective lens versions would be best for me (particularly when it also confers an additional degree of magnification).

I'd really appreciate some honest opinions and suggestions to help me narrow things down.

Finally, something that often appears to be overlooked when considering these heavier scopes is suggested tripods / heads to provide stability and minimise vibration.

I'm leaning towards either Manfrotto or Kite carbon tripod legs and the Manfrotto MVH502AH head but again, would welcome suggestions.

Many thanks for taking the time to read this.

Mark
 

ajfossey

Registered User
Supporter
Hello Mark. I’ll confine my comments to experiences of my own.

I have both the Swarovski 85 & 95 and tend to use the BTX eyepiece on the larger objective to enjoy the visual delights of observing waders at sites such as Oare Marshes at x35. I’m looking forward to shortly moving this to the 115mm, though the magnification will remain at x35, there will be improvements in light gathering of course, though I understand from comments elsewhere that only 110mm of the 115mm objective will be effectively useable by the BTX module due to technical reasons that I don’t pretend to understand! However, when married with the 1.7 extender, the magnification increases to x59.5 and my understanding is, that in this configuration the full 115mm is realisable with the BTX.

I previously used the 95 module prior to the BTX eyepiece release with the ATX eyepiece and found it to be an unsurprisingly fantastic tool to bring to bare when scanning further than the range of my binoculars or simply to enjoy a more personal and close up experience. The magnification ranging from x30 to x70 when used without the 1.7 extender.

Following release of the BTX, I purchased the 85 objective module to utilise the now spare ATX objective. A couple of points that came to light having done this were:
  • The 85 module was lighter and more portable becoming my first choice when cycling or walking far
  • The magnification of the 85 module ranges x25 to x60, again, when used without the 1.7 extender. I found this range generally better
  • The 85 objective combined with the ATX eyepiece performed better than the 95 module on a smaller Gitzo tripod I already owned, again, contributing to a lighter burden when cycling or walking distance

I’ve no experience of the Zeiss products so leave that for someone better positioned to offer a perspective.

I’ve also little experience of the Kowa products though I know those who enjoy them immensely. Again I’ll yield to anyone with better experience, but I will mention that quality of eyepieces was a factor that resulted in a friend changing from Kowa to another manufacturer (Swarovski for what it’s worth).

There is of course no substitute for trying all yourself, but worth including warranty in your mind as you weigh options. Most would I’m sure recognise Swarovski to be a most positive example in this regard and indeed I can testify to this through experience of my own. Of Zeiss and Kowa, I have no direct experience.
 

MarkyGee

Member
Hello Mark. I’ll confine my comments to experiences of my own.

I have both the Swarovski 85 & 95 and tend to use the BTX eyepiece on the larger objective to enjoy the visual delights of observing waders at sites such as Oare Marshes at x35. I’m looking forward to shortly moving this to the 115mm, though the magnification will remain at x35, there will be improvements in light gathering of course, though I understand from comments elsewhere that only 110mm of the 115mm objective will be effectively useable by the BTX module due to technical reasons that I don’t pretend to understand! However, when married with the 1.7 extender, the magnification increases to x59.5 and my understanding is, that in this configuration the full 115mm is realisable with the BTX.

I previously used the 95 module prior to the BTX eyepiece release with the ATX eyepiece and found it to be an unsurprisingly fantastic tool to bring to bare when scanning further than the range of my binoculars or simply to enjoy a more personal and close up experience. The magnification ranging from x30 to x70 when used without the 1.7 extender.

Following release of the BTX, I purchased the 85 objective module to utilise the now spare ATX objective. A couple of points that came to light having done this were:
  • The 85 module was lighter and more portable becoming my first choice when cycling or walking far
  • The magnification of the 85 module ranges x25 to x60, again, when used without the 1.7 extender. I found this range generally better
  • The 85 objective combined with the ATX eyepiece performed better than the 95 module on a smaller Gitzo tripod I already owned, again, contributing to a lighter burden when cycling or walking distance

I’ve no experience of the Zeiss products so leave that for someone better positioned to offer a perspective.

I’ve also little experience of the Kowa products though I know those who enjoy them immensely. Again I’ll yield to anyone with better experience, but I will mention that quality of eyepieces was a factor that resulted in a friend changing from Kowa to another manufacturer (Swarovski for what it’s worth).

There is of course no substitute for trying all yourself, but worth including warranty in your mind as you weigh options. Most would I’m sure recognise Swarovski to be a most positive example in this regard and indeed I can testify to this through experience of my own. Of Zeiss and Kowa, I have no direct experience.
Thanks for your reply. Can I ask a couple of follow-up questions?

Would you say that you prefer the BTX eyepiece over the ATX one for general birding, particularly if pairing it with a x1.7 extender and the 95mm Objective?

Also, you mention that when using the ATX eyepiece with an 85mm objective, you find the magnification range (of x25 - x60) generally better - than what? The 95mm objective and ATX?

Thanks again for your time.
 
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ajfossey

Registered User
Supporter
Thanks for your reply. Can I ask a couple of follow-up questions?

Would you say that you prefer the BTX eyepiece over the ATX one for general birding, particularly if pairing it with a x1.7 extender and the 95mm Objective?

Also, you mention that when using the ATX eyepiece with an 85mm objective, you find the magnification range (of x25 - x60) generally better - than what? The 95mm objective and ATX?

Thanks again for your time.

I love the BTX eyepiece. The viewing experience for me is unbeatable and more than makes up for the fixed magnification. I tend not to use the extender as x35 is a good all purpose magnification for my style of birding. If I need more, I’ll use the extender as at least it’s an option.

The BTX on the 95 (and will be more so on the 115) is a fairly heavy item to carry around too far. I’ve already intimated in my earlier post that it requires a bigger tripod, but I also use it with a balance rail and Gitzo type gimbal head for maximum stability.

I fairly often cycle from home so it’s not realistic to think about carrying the above setup! This for me is when the 85 with the ATX comes into its own; lighter scope, lighter tripod, classic tripod head; all reducing the weight.

Others will have different views I’m sure, but for me the x25 to x60 magnification range of the 85 (with the ATX eyepiece) is more than adequate given the advantage of portability. If I use the ATX on the 95 I’m starting to lose some of the advantages of the lighter setup.

It’s all fitness for purpose. If I’m about to embark on an 8 mile walk from my house along the estuary near where I live, I choose an even lighter setup (Swarovski ATS 65) or even an Opticron MM4 50 or 60 depending on whether I plan to also take a camera and how fit I’m feeling!
 

litebeam

Well-known member
Within the Swaro options themselves....


Like AJ, for me the ATX with the 85mm is superior.
I've used the 95mm and 85mm side by side here at home for months.

The 85mm has far more usable magnification as opposed to the all-around higher 'x' of the 95mm.
It's obviously a bit more portable as well for those pack excursions.

If I did more low light and astro application I'd probably opt for the 95mm.
 

Tringa45

Well-known member
Europe
Mark,

Don't overestimate the usefulness of higher magnifications. Atmospheric conditions (heat haze) will often prevent their use and for terrestrial applications exit pupils under 2 mm will result in a loss of brightness, viewing comfort and possibly contrast. I think the situations where 70x would help you get an ID would be very few and far between.
On the other hand, 25x can offer real advantages over 30x for viewing songbirds at moderate distances, less for the field of view than for the additional depth of field at the lower magnification.

I have a Kowa 883, which I chose over an ATX85 for its greater versatility and price advantage. Optically there would be little to choose between good examples of either. The excellent service back-up is a plus for Swarovski and some users have a preference one or the other focussing mechanism. I have verified the optical capabilities of the 883 at high magnifications with astronomical eyepieces, but in the field I seldom go above 50x.

The Manfrotto MVH502AH is almost overkill for an 85 or 95 mm birding scope and the MVH500AH should be perfectly adequate and offer a cost advantage but only marginal weight saving. Lighter alternatives are the Gitzo GHF2W or Berlebach 510 or 553. If going for a CF tripod keep the number of leg sections to a minimum and don't go below 20 mm diameter for the bottom leg sections.

John
 

Bill Atwood

Registered User
Supporter
United States
Tringa45 (John) makes some good points. Also, absolutely agree that tripods & heads are often overlooked. ESPECIALLY when it comes to the scope/plate interface. I'd probably get the Gitzo GHF2W head and the plate for the Swaro PTH head since it includes an anti-rotation pin. For tripods my preference is 3 section Gitzo/Benro/Induro/Slik CF in the 2.8-3.5lb weight range. This kit works well (for me anyway) supporting the ATX95 w/1.X extender.

I've downsized from the ATX95 to the Meopta Meostar S2 82mm w/ 20-70x eyepiece. In use I find it to be 98% equivalent of the ATX95, the difference being in marginally smaller FOV, although the “sharp” FOV is very close and may actually be equal. And of course at 82mm the image is dimmer very early/late in the day. The Meopta is on a Manfrotto 128RC. Although it is a tad heavier than the Gitzo GHF2W, the S2 foot (like the Swaro ATS/STS) fits directly onto the 128RC without a plate. It locks in and there is no rotation whatsoever. Some think the 128RC is insufficient for the S2, I disagree. The scope can flop if the vertical control knob is loose and the scope is not near level, however the flop is rather slow and controlled, and the total kit is not in danger of going over.
 

MarkyGee

Member
I'd like to provide a quick update to thank all the contributors on this post.

I had the opportunity to try out all 3 scopes thanks to Brian at the Birder's Store in Worcester, UK. Brian was incredibly helpful and impartial when letting my wife and I put the 3 different scopes through their paces outside his store.

In the end, we chose the Kowa 883 over the Swarovksi ATX-95 and the Zeiss Harpia 85. The image quality was superb, bright and clear and, to my eyes at least, equally as good as the other scopes. The fact that the price here in the UK was approximately £900 less than the Swarovski swung it, and it even came with a free cover, something that would have cost an extra £200 on the Swarovski!

I also found the focussing of the Kowa easier than the other two. I am still getting used to the zoom on the eyepiece but I am absurdly pleased with my purchase.

I also purchased a carbon fibre Kite Ardea tripod with a Manfrotto RC128 head. The MVH500 head which I also looked at seemed too beefy for the Kowa but, if I take digiscoping to the next level with my DSLR, I may need to upgrade later.

Thanks for all the posts and advice.
 

rosbifs

Well-known tool
France
Good work - I got to use the Kowa once, it was compact and had an excellent image quality.

I have the mvh500 head and it is very good...
 

peter.jones

Former supporter. No longer active here.
Supporter
I've owned the atx95 and now own a Harpia 85.
I don't think I could recommend one over the over. Purely down to your personal preference.

The Kowa though.. could you in theory, use the fine tune focus knob to go from close to infinity?
that would be an advantage over the Zeiss, which, I think gives you a "window" of fine focus before you hit the faster gear? Or maybe you can move it slow and stay in the fine tune gear?
Having said that, the zeiss was very easy to work with, if you just forgot about the focus gears, and just use it!
Sadly lockdown, and some heavy overtime has limited my enjoyment of the Zeiss so far!
 
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Vollmeise

Well-known member
The Kowa though.. could you in theory, use the fine tune focus knob to go from close to infinity?

Surely You can use the fine tune focus knob from close to infinity. I almost never do use the other knob, there is - for my personal needs - no reason for.

@Mark: Good choice. I've chosen the 883 over the ATX some years ago too, simply due to the slightly better image of the Kowa. You'll notice almost no CAs at the Kowa's image even in highest contrast situations, while the ATX will start to show some purple and green borders e.g. around the shape of water fowl against the sun. Not much of a difference, but there is some. And those tiny differences sometimes will make the crucial factor to tell a Tufted Duck from a Greater Scaup in the distance.


Cheers
 
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peter.jones

Former supporter. No longer active here.
Supporter
Surely You can use the fine tune focus knob from close to infinity. I almost never do use the other knob, there is - for my personal needs - no reason for.

Cheers

That's a definite difference, and I'm not sure either is better in this respect, just different.
The Kowa, you could track something with fine focus from close to infinity.
The Zeiss, if you tried to do that, you hit the faster gear after less than a quarter of a turn.
The idea is you focus slightly past the subject, and then come back with the fine tune, which I've always done instinctively anyway.
If no one told me about that gear feature, I doubt I would notice it on the Harpia, my brain seems to just process the focusing.

I'd have liked to have tried the Kowa and Zeiss in a shop before buying, but I can see UK stock falling, and prices going higher in the new year. (Like it did about 4 years ago!)
 

jring

Well-known member
Hi MarkyGee,

congratulations to a new toy - a good example of the Kowa should offer the same views as the other options at the normal up to 60 or 70x magnifications. With an extender it will be a tad darker at the top magnification end than the 95mm options, but those won't be super bright either...

The Ardea legs are a good choice, as for 128RC vs 500AH - the 500AH might look much more massive (and certainly is more stable), but it is actually the same weight as the 128RC...

Joachim
 

Bill Atwood

Registered User
Supporter
United States
Ackshually,

The 128RC with plate & handle weighs 1.7lbs.

The MH500AH with plate & handle weighs 2.17lbs.

The 883 works for the 883, but it is a bit much for it. The MH500AH is likely better, but as I said above I'd probably go for Gitzo GHF2W.
 

peter.jones

Former supporter. No longer active here.
Supporter
I've seen a lot of messages about the Harpia not being quite so good at magnifications of less than 40x but having amazing FOV.

No idea, I haven't noticed performance dropping at the lower magnification, or it improving as you zoom in.
It does have an incredible FOV. Even after just a day of familiarisation, I can confidently point it towards a distant bird in the sky, look thru the eyepiece, and it's there, before zooming in to 40x
I'm getting the feeling that it is really well designed for
Getting onto the subject very quickly
 
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MarkyGee

Member
That sounds like a good plan Peter!

I pop down to Fishlake every now and again around lunchtime hoping to see the Osprey with the new scope (now I'm working from home). Yesterday, I headed out over the boardwalk on the Test from B&Q which was very pleasant but didn't yield many birds.

Let's see how things are fixed in a few weeks ...
 
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

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