• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    Register for an account to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

Cautionary note regarding Vortex's Nomad / Diamondback spotters (1 Viewer)

em132

Member
(Warning: LONG post!)

Hello to all,

Here's my cautionary tale regarding Vortex's entry line of spotting scopes, including a "tryst" with their "VIP" warranty service. I sincerely hope the info herein will prove useful to anyone who's in the market for a low-to-mid price entry-level spotting scope.

My experience with Vortex started a little over two years ago when I bought my first "serious" (or semi-serious) spotting scope: a straight model Vortex Nomad. Most online reviews at the time were generally "glowing," B&H had a sale on them and the CAD$ was fairly strong so it seemed like a really good deal... Or so I thought:

The scope was barely out of its packaging when I noticed how incredibly loose the front lens shade was. It literally slid all the way in and out under its own weight when you held the scope vertically! It was quite comical, really. The twist eye-cup felt really cheap and dinky, as if it could fall at any given time if pulled too hard. But then I spotted (HA!) the worst fault of all when I went to peer through the eyepiece: a sickening, football shaped exit pupil (see attachment, right pic). Now I realize that a lot of optics out there--even "good" ones--have mildly truncated exit pupils, but this scope was stopped down by about 25-30%, which is flat out unacceptable, regardless of cost! Needless to say, it went back to B&H the very next day.

Having sworn off Vortex at the time because of this experience, I went ahead and purchased one of my 2nd choices: a Bushnell Trophy 20-60x65. It was significantly bulkier (and nose-heavy!), had an impossibly stiff zoom ring, BUT both the eye-cup and lens shade had a much tighter feel... AND IT HAD A ROUND EXIT PUPIL!... YAY! The optics were also good enough (didn't seem all that different from the Vortex, really). All in all, I was happy... Right up until I got a chance to experience my first angled scope: an acquaintance's Celestron Ultima 80 (which also had a round pupil, BTW)... That was it, I was hooked... The Bushnell had to go. No more straight scopes for me!

So, my online search continued for a decent quality ANGLED spotting scope in the $300-400 bracket... And to my dismay I was finding out that this was far easier said than done. I mean, given how many different model scopes there are on the market (going by the stock carried by sellers like B&H and Adorama), you'd think it would be easy to compile a short list of contenders. BUT, when you take out all the straight models, everything below and above 60-65mm aperture (my brief experience with the Ultima 80 turned me off completely to "big" scopes), the obviously cheap Chinese crap, models with consistently poor reviews and those with poor specs (i.e. not waterproof, poor eye relief/AFOV, BK7 prisms, no FMC...) then you're really not left with much to chose from. This is largely why I [begrudgingly!] kept coming back to Vortex's offering (the Nomad)... I then rationalized that maybe the first Nomad I got was an early and/or bad sample. So I decided to give Vortex another shot (this time making sure to ask the seller (B&H, again) to open the packaging to check the exit pupil prior to shipping). Sure enough, the scope I received had a noticeably rounder pupil (still visibly truncated, but nowhere near as badly as before). Plus, the lens shade and eye-cup felt noticeably tighter (though not nearly as much as on the Bushnell). So, all was good, right? Read on...

I don't know why I didn't notice it at first, but later on (a few months ago at this point in time) I noticed a glitch in the focusing action: The image "shifted" in a diagonal manner when focusing in and out (I'd say roughly 10-15 apparent degrees peak to peak, which is pretty significant). While this had no effect on image quality, it did affect usability, especially when sharing with other people: Whatever object of interest was in the center of the FOV wouldn't be centered for long when the next person readjusted the focus. Note that this scope had NOT been "bumped," dropped or abused in any way, so this was yet another factory defect.

I contacted Vortex Canada about this and they said such a defect was covered by the VIP warranty. Good! So I sent it in and crossed my fingers they'd send it back to me as good as new.

NOW THEN!... At around this time (again, roughly two months ago), Vortex's new Diamondback line had not gone unnoticed by little ol' me. This upgraded Nomad (which is essentially what the Diamondbacks are) featured [seemingly] improved optics and a few minor cosmetic and functional improvements (e.g. larger tripod base). Also, I assumed (mistakenly!) that these improvements would somehow include some tightening up of their quality control (especially given the significant price increase). A Nova-Scotia retailer had a "free shipping" deal going on with their Vortex line so I decided to take the plunge... again (I must be a masochist!).

A week later I got the package, opened it and...... there it was again!: that dreaded football-shaped exit pupil--about as bad as that first Nomad from a couple years back. Not a damn thing has changed! Back to the seller it went. Sigh, the Diamondbacks looked so promising too, with their new whiz-bang "dielectric" prisms and "XR" lens coatings. But alas, no amount of fancy coatings can make up for a significant loss of aperture caused by abysmal collimation.

While still waiting for my refund for the Diamondback, I finally received my Nomad from Vortex... Repaired and good as new, right? Hardly! Oh, they sent back a Nomad alright, but it wasn't the same one I sent in. Nope. They sent back a very slightly used one with "good focus," along with a note from a Vortex techie stating that some image shift is to be expected from the Nomad given its "fast" focusing mechanism. I feel as though I've been fed a standard company line and they just threw me a bone to shut me up. (Maybe it wasn't meant that way, but geez, this is a ~$300 scope we're talking about here, not some cheap $100 "NCStar"-type piece of junk. Are shifting images while focusing and grossly misaligned optics the norm in the $300-400 price bracket???) Thing is, this one too has SOME image shift when focusing, though not as bad as before (incidentally, the Diamondback had NO discernible shift). OH!, but the cherry on top in all of this is--YOU GUESSED IT!--this "new" Nomad they sent me had that same ol' football-shaped exit pupil! Figures!

Do the math up to this point: Three Nomads + one Diamondback, and THREE of them had exit pupils akin to the one in the right pic (one was even worse than what is depicted). And the one "good" one (the 2nd, "cherry-picked" one) still had a visibly truncated pupil. Combine that with the wonky focus and CLEARLY Vortex has some serious quality control issues with their Nomad/Diamondback OEM. Caveat Emptor!

I'm done with Vortex, with their products and their "VIP" service. There's no question I'll be putting this "newly repaired" Nomad up for sale very shortly. I think I'll be VERY lucky to get $100 for it, after all, I can't expect these types of faults to go unnoticed.

As it stands right now, I'm still looking for a DECENT, ~$350-450 spotter... One model I'm currently (and seriously) considering is the Vanguard Endeavor HD 65A, even though it's roughly $100-150 more than I feel comfortable spending... But hey, maybe biting the bullet on this one might be worth it. Reviews on the Vanguard are quite positive, and their warranty seems to be just as good as Vortex's (lifetime/no-fault). Plus, I'd be getting ED glass to boot.

Now, having said all this (and in the spirit of fairness), I'm more than willing to entertain the possibility that Vortex's shoddy quality control does not affect their Razor and Viper lines, both of which very likely use different (Japanese?) OEM's. So anyone considering the purchase of products from those lines may want to disregard this entire post/rant, or at least take it under advisement with a heavy grain of salt.

/end rant

~Eric


P.S.: I'm going to go out on an limb here and assume that the collimation issues affecting the Nomad/Diamondback line also affects Redfield's Rampage line of spotting scopes, seeing as these are obviously made by the same OEM. So Caveat Emptor here also!
 

Attachments

  • 1.png
    1.png
    33.4 KB · Views: 723
Last edited:

em132

Member
A follow up:

Last evening (Sat.) I was at a local sporting goods store looking for a camo baseball cap when I saw a cheapo Simmons scope on display (this guy): $160 (CAD), straight eyepiece, single layer coatings, BK7 prisms...

Obviously NOT the kind of scope I'm looking for. Still, out of sheer curiosity, I took a few minutes to check it out. As you may have already surmised, the very first thing I checked on this thing was the exit pupil: perfectly circular! Imagine THAT!... Although I have to say that the flare control was rather poor. Still, it IS possible for a cheap scope to have perfectly aligned optics.

It was cold and dark outside so I limited my quick test to display shelves at the far end of the store. The focus knob was stiff but it managed to achieve focused fairly easily. At 20x the image was quite contrasty and clear, especially considering the store was dimly lit. But best of all, NO IMAGE SHIFT AT ALL WHEN "SEESAWING" THE FOCUS KNOB! THE IMAGE REMAINED STILL AS A ROCK! (YOU HEAR THAT, VORTEX TECHIE GUY?)

To think that a $160 cheepie scope can achieve better quality control--in fundamentally key areas--than one from a "reputed" brand that costs almost 3x as much... :C
 
Last edited:

FrankD

Well-known member
Considering your price point, is there some reason you haven't considered the Celestron Regal M2 65 mm? The previous model, the F-ED, was priced right around $400 (depending on where you purchased it from). I think the newer model typically retails at about the same price point.

I found it over on Opticscamp for $420. Seems like a bit of a no-brainer from my perspective.

http://opticscamp.com/regal-m2-spotting-scopes/6-celestron-regal-m2-65ed-spotting-scope-52304.html

Or, another less expensive but high performing alternative would be the Theron Saker 60 mm scope for $259.

http://www.theronoptics.com/SAKER_ED_60MM_SPOTTER_HKQ5.php

Both have been reviewed pretty extensively on the forums and have received favorable reviews. I am not sure if either place ships to Canada but it would be worth a phone call/email or two to find out.
 

looksharp65

Well-known member
Not that it really helps, but I have a distinct feeling that the egg-shaped pupil and the image-shift are two sides of the same problem. Could it be something around a moving prism as part of the focusing mechanism? Henry might chime in and enlighten us here.

//L

PS. When I read "football-shaped exit pupil" I thought about a soccer ball and figured it was something like pentagonal or hexagonal in shape, but couldn't really understand how that could happen.3:). DS.
 

em132

Member
FrankD:

The Regal 65 is/was/is/was/is/was on my short list; canadiantelescopes has 'em on sale at $420 CAD + tx. (free ship.), so the price is right. My one and only gripe (a big one) is that the thing looks awfully rear-heavy; I'd hate to have to unlock-lock the head for every little tilt adjustment. (Those huge Synta rear ends are clearly only balanced for 80mm apertures and above.)

As for the Saker, its warranty is a big minus in my book. Besides, Thayer's lone retailer (predatoroptics) apparently does not ship internationally.

Thanks for the suggestions.

looksharp65:

That "same problem" is shoddy quality control on the part of that OEM.

Seriously though, these are two separate issues IMO. The misalignment seems to be at the eyepiece attachment point. As for the focus, the Nomad's knob moves one of the prisms (there's no focus lens); one end of the prism is attached to the knob (some type of threaded shaft arrangement, no doubt) while at the other end (the only end that's visible) there's a fork-type of deal that rides on a ridge molded in the casing. It's a very shoddy arrangement, and looking through the objective (with a flashlight) you can actually see the prism pitching slightly when you focus in and out. No wonder the image shifts!

---
ETA:

Not that it really helps, but I have a distinct feeling that the egg-shaped pupil and the image-shift are two sides of the same problem.

On second thought, you might be on to something there! The exit pupil does seem to widen and narrow ever so slightly when focusing back and forth. It may very well be that the whole moving prism assembly is mounted off-center.

Incidentally, I think I've narrowed down this scope's OEM to two possibilities: Nikula or Bosma.
---

BTW, here's an actual pic of that football shaped exit pupil. (Granted, it's a fat, slanted football.)
 

Attachments

  • pupil.jpg
    pupil.jpg
    49.1 KB · Views: 625
Last edited:

Users who are viewing this thread

Top