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

'Choose any two'... (1 Viewer)

Singlereed

Well-known member
Low weight, low price, high performance – choose any two…

I’m looking for my first scope and like everything in life, it seems there are compromises over size/weight, price and performance, i.e. low weight and high performance implies high price etc.

I’m looking for a bit of general advice about where to narrow down a shortlist to look at (through!).

So, here’s what I’d like. I enjoy watching birds at reserves like Titchwell where binoculars are not really enough to see birds on distant banks – hence the need for a scope. As far as I know, I don’t see myself needing the kit to be light enough to be called a true ‘travel scope’ but sometimes it is a bit of a hike to a viewing point or hide and of course, I might like to be able to carry it around if I walk on to other places. I do want to be able to digiscope with it, using my MFT camera.

How much magnification power and what sort of objective lens size do I actually need for this? I suspect a 50mm travel scope won’t really have the power for this kind of environment – or would it? On the other hand, a 80mm or bigger scope could just be a bit too cumbersome to be carting around with a suitable tripod. So, I’m thinking somewhere in the middle, i.e. 60-70mm might be the right place to look. If I could pair something like this with a reasonably light tripod, hopefully that will give a good viewing experience and yet it will be easier to carry around and hence get used more.

So far, I have only looked through a few scopes and they were all full sized – 80/88mm. The biggest difference I saw between a £650, £1000 and £2300 scope of broadly similar dimensions was the ease of getting a clear picture in the most expensive one (i.e. a Kowa 883). I could have settled for the actual clarity of any the images (all were ED glass or better) but I struggled to get my eye to settle on the zoomed in image on the two less expensive scopes and wouldn’t consider buying either of them – but this was at the 60-75x end of things, whereas the Kowa was much clearer zoomed in. I’m not talking about distortion or aberration but actually getting a nice bright, clear picture without dark rings, crescents or simply a weeny little image. And when a friendly birder who let me look through his large Swarovski (didn’t notice the model but I think it may have been the largest ATX), I found this was also easy to see through – and it was near dusk. I was wondering if this was function of ‘exit pupil’ but then the two cheaper scopes were similar objective size and eyepiece, at least in terms of ‘numbers’, so I’m assuming it isn’t that but perhaps the outright quality of Kowa and Swarovski’s glass and design.

Anyway, that aside, am I likely to find something in the 60-70mm sort of size that is going to give me the kind of viewing comfort and ease I’m looking for? Also, how much magnification do I actually need for the sort of setting I described, perhaps looking at 100m away or so? After all, a large proportion of the birders I saw seemed to be using a Swarovski scope and without looking too closely, I reckon at least some of them were 65mm versions.

So, in summary: is the right, mid-sized scope likely to offer the sort of ease of viewing I’m after or do I need to just accept I’ll only be happy with a full-size scope? Secondly, how much magnification do I actually need? Many smaller or medium options top out at say 40 or 45x rather than 50 or 60? Is that a red herring if birders are actually only using, say 30x anyway? - in which case, a top quality 'travel scope' could be an option.

At this stage, I’m just trying to narrow down my search a bit. I’m not in a great position to actually go and look at a load of scopes in any dealer at the moment – I realise that would give me some answers very quickly. I appreciate the advantages of looking out for a second hand quality scope rather than a new one but this of course depends on actually finding a suitable example available to buy.

Thanks, in advance – I have found the forum really useful; I’ve read a lot of reviews and discussions of various brands and models but need to narrow things down a bit for my own preferred purposes and hope some of you may be able to help me with this.

PS (thanks Pyrtle) - Budget - well, as much as it takes to be good enough. I had hoped to come in not much more than £1-1.2k but could see that I might need to pay double that much, having seen how good the Kowa 883 was.
 
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PYRTLE

Old Berkshire Boy
You've missed one thing - you're budget. Good that you've researched the " first scope" threads on here. But you have also chipped in with the caveat of wishing to digiscope. So, my answer would be along the lines of....
Minimum of 65mm, preferably a higher quality glass ( non standard ), fixed mag. wide eyepiece. And a sturdy tripod.

Give a sum of money that you wish to spend - obviously you are well versed with you get what you pay for.

Good luck.
 

Singlereed

Well-known member
Thanks Pat - now edited to include note about budget. If I thought something around £1k (or even less) would be good enough that would be great but I suspect it may not be.
 

PYRTLE

Old Berkshire Boy
Thanks Pat - now edited to include note about budget. If I thought something around £1k (or even less) would be good enough that would be great but I suspect it may not be.

I think that's a sensible figure for a few reasons - see what is available second hand but also perhaps a bundle from Opticron?
 

Ratal

Well-known member
Thanks Pat - now edited to include note about budget. If I thought something around £1k (or even less) would be good enough that would be great but I suspect it may not be.

This will be far, far far more than 'Good enough'...

* EDIT TO ADD: If you buy the body only from Uttings or similar, get the NEW SDL V3 zoom. It is way beyond worth it as an upgrade and gives stellar perfromance.

You have a magnificent setup for your 1000 quid budget.

https://www.birders-store.co.uk/opticron-sdl-v3-zoom-eyepiece-41270.html


https://www.uttings.co.uk/p131423-o...stay-on-case-black-optimm4kit-a/#.XygPpKDTU1I
 
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Singlereed

Well-known member
Yep - the Opticron MM4 60 or 77 easily come in at under that figure with their any of their zoom eyepieces and case so those are a possibility. One of the reasons I asked about the maximum magnification I'll need is it is 45 or 54 with those two on the zoom eyepieces and the fixed focal length ones up to about 30x at most.
 

dogbreath

Well-known member
When you are watching birds at reserves do you only use the hides? If so perhaps a hide clamp with column such as that produced by Opticronhttps://www.opticron.co.uk/our-products/tripods-and-mounts/clamps-and-mounts/bc-2-hide-clamp-cw-157qk-panhead rather than a tripod might suffice? If you will be using the scope outside of hides, a sturdy tripod is a must. Don't underestimate the worth of a good tripod. I use a carbon fibre Benro tripod with a Gitzo video head with my Kowa 883 and it is fine. But I also have a hide clamp (with which I use the tripod column/head) when I am in hides.

As to which scope, I think you have to look through as many instruments as you can. There is no substitute for finding a good retailler and spending time looking through a few instruments.

In-Focus (who have a branch at Barnes WWT), The Birders Store in Worcester, Cley Spy in Norfolk, Focal Point Optics in Coventry all have a good range and will have used instruments to try. And all of these have good returns policies.

I find I use the lower end of the zoom range on my scope the most (25-60x) but the upper end is useful and is certainly useful in places like Titchwell where specimens can be at a distance but in truth a lesser magnification - up to 45 or 50 - would be more than adequate. I use a 65mm and 80mm Swaro regularly and find that for most of the time the 65 Swaro is perfectly good but I prefer the image size and clarity of the bigger scopes more comfortable.

I think there are other factors that influence choice of scope which you should be aware of. The Kowa and Swaro have different focussing mechanisms. I don't know the technical names for the focussing mechanisms. The Swaro has a focus mechanism on the barrel whereas the Kowa (and others) have a focus knob on the top of the scope. Some people prefer one over the other. Perhaps most importantly is the ease of eye placement (as you have identified) and I suspect that identifying which scpe you find easiest to use is a process of trying as many as you can.
 

Ratal

Well-known member
Yep - the Opticron MM4 60 or 77 easily come in at under that figure with their any of their zoom eyepieces and case so those are a possibility. One of the reasons I asked about the maximum magnification I'll need is it is 45 or 54 with those two on the zoom eyepieces and the fixed focal length ones up to about 30x at most.

The SDL V2 doesn't come off my MM4 50 ED.Ever.

And I have a cherry example of the 24x wide angle eyepiece For me? It is the zoom all the way - From the arctic wastes of Varanger to the desert of Morroco and Israel.

Zoom.

And I never, ever once felt I was missing out - as the lower powers are amazing when the mirage is rising or the cold is swilring fog about.
 

Singlereed

Well-known member
Yep - the Opticron MM4 60 or 77 easily come in at under that figure with any of their zoom eyepieces and case so those are a possibility. One of the reasons I asked about the maximum magnification I'll need is it is 45 or 54 with those two on the zoom eyepieces and the fixed focal length ones up to about 30x at most. Several retailers are doing packages now with the SDL v3 lens, only downside is that it looks like its a bit bigger than the one it replaced and won't fit the Digi scoping adaptor (52mm won't fit into 51.5...) But yes, these are a possible option along with Nikon, Pentax, Kowa or maybe even the Swarovski 65 ATS.

And thanks for mentioning the tripod - I'm not going to scrimp on that - I was hoping the scope itself would come in under £1.2k approx, partly because i might need to spend another £500 or so on tripod, digiscoping adaptor and a carrying pack. If I have to spend more to get what I'll be happy with, then so be it - I can appreciate and enjoy using quality gear.
 
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jring

Well-known member
Hi,

first of all, welcome to birdforum!

The most important advice I have to give about spotting scopes is to test the example your are going to buy - either before you buy in person or inside the return period if buying online. Sample variation does unfortunately exist and I have personally looked through quite a few mediocre examples and some real dogs which never should have left the factory (in Absam or Wetzlar rather than Shenzen).

So reading up a bit on star-testing telescopes beforehand is a good idea (can also be done during daylight with an artificial star).

A sturdy tripod and head was mentioned - since most manufacturers tend to give maximum loads, take half of that as the upper limit of what you put on top of that (so head, scope, eyepiece, digiscoping adapter, camera and lens for the tripod).
The best material for tripods is wood due to its great dampening of oscillations - if you are willing to lug it around. Then comes carbon fiber and then aluminium. This is of course for models with roughly the same maximum load - a very chunky aluminium tripod can be better that a flimsy wooden one...
Less leg sections are better than more in terms of stability, also you want to keep the center column down or mostly so for best stability, so get legs which are high enough for comfortable use with the column down (models with no column are of course even better).

As for digiscoping I'm not really experienced with that - but the really great shots tend to be taken at fairly low magnifications (20-30x) and with a normal or short telephopto lens - often enough with point and shoots. Mounting the camera is the most interesting question here - and Swaro really nailed that with its DCB II adapter... at an equally shocking price as the corresponding scope and eyepiece.

You could also mate the camera body w/o lens to an eyepiece or use a so-called TLS-APO (usually offered by the scope manufacturer) to essentially make your scope into a manual long telephoto with a T-mount.

Joachim
 

wllmspd

Well-known member
I use a manfrotto 290 and 500ah head with a 4kg set of angled astro binoculars. Fixed focal length eyepieces let me keep wide field views at all powers unlike with zoom eyepieces.
You can forget lightweight (Especially with spare pairs of eyepieces), I carried them round RSPB Arne for a day last year and didn’t regret it afterwards. Takes a few mins to set up, so less immediate than the scope and tripod slung over the shoulder crowd, but i prefer the immersion of a two eyed view (I use winged eyecups to help) I mainly use 30x, can go a bit lower and have a 60x set of eyepieces for those “just need a bit more reach occasions”. Not for everyone. I also have an old ED astro scope for when I want to travel lighter (or carry other things).

Yes, inFocus Barnes has shut.
Peter
 

Royfinn

Well-known member
Many smaller or medium options top out at say 40 or 45x rather than 50 or 60? Is that a red herring if birders are actually only using, say 30x anyway? - in which case, a top quality 'travel scope' could be an option.
I have Nikon ED50 with 27X wide eye piece. It's great scope for what it is - about 2kg with tripod. It's good close to medium distances. But now I am planning to buy full size scope, because ED50 is just not enough for migration watch, that is most common use for a scope here in Middle-Finland. Birds are usually kilometers away and it's hopeless to try to make id (for me) with ED50. And here are also some bird towers, where 27X is not enough to scan the other side of the lake for waders and stuff. No good birders around here uses fixed eye piece.
 

Taxboy

Well-known member
So does the Opticron 77 hit the price vs performance sweet spot or what other competitors would you put it up against. I know I have to view each scope but always good to have a short list of contenders otherwise I find it difficult to compare more than about 3 at any one time

Sent from my SM-T800 using Tapatalk
 

Singlereed

Well-known member
Thanks everyone, some useful ideas - I was just trying to narrow down what kind of format/size scope I'll need for watching waders etc at reasonable distance from hides but yet which is light and compact enough to carry around as well for other places - not a travel scope but, equally, not a behemoth either! So, I'm going to have a look at a few in the 60-77mm sort of range and see if they give me the sort of image I can feel comfortable with. If not, then it may be back to an 80mm+ type scope. I do have some models I want to look at but my question wasn't really about specific models, rather how much magnification will I need on tap - one of the possible issues (maybe?) with some mid sized scopes is that they either 'only' go up to about 45x or are not really that clear at the top end of their range. Anyway, I've seen what a 88mm scope can be like, it was lovely and not that bad to carry around but if I can live with something a bit smaller and less expensive then that will be grand.
 

paddy7

Well-known member
There are a couple of points which might be worth considering (and these are largely based on my own experiences).
The first is working out your balance of importance between using the scope as a scope and using it as a lens for photography.
One of the reasons some of the better shots are at the lower mags is that vibration is amplified the further in you go; that, of course, may be the responsibility of the tripod and head, but it's a rare day at Titchwell when there's no wind from some direction or other.
The second of course is the portability. A scope and camera taken to a specific reserve for the express purpose of photos may be different to a hike like Burnham Overy Staithe through to Holkham Woods (using the same coast as an analogy!)
Something like (just as an example) the Swarovski ATS65mm would be a fine scope for both uses, and the simple solution would be to have two tripod/head set-ups - one carbon fibre with a Sirui or other lightweight video head, and another perhaps aluminium tripod with a Manfrotto 500AH head (or something similarly substantial) for the 'less walking, more photography' days.
Of course, this just adds to your options, so i guess doesn't help much! Sorry!
 

Singlereed

Well-known member
Thanks, good points and I do plan to have a look at that scope. I do already own a vintage tripod that is nothing if not heavy and stable ;-)
 

CMB

Well-known member
You've gotten a lot of good advice, and Jring's comments about tripods should be read multiple times.

We have both a 65mm and 80mm scope. Why two? Because the worst scope is the one you leave at home. We always have a scope (or two) with us. We found that there is a time and place for both sizes and weights. We use fixed 35x eyepieces and have not felt the need for more magnification.

When it comes to scopes I seldom see people talk about eye relief. It is an important consideration, just like with binoculars. Few zoom eyepieces have a fixed eye relief through the whole range of the zoom. With most zooms the eye relief changes as the magnification changes. If one wears glasses, and has an astigmatism, this is something that should be considered.

For us the Pentax PF series scopes with fixed power astronomy eyepieces allowed us to get the optical specs needed, and fit the budget. We found that the alpha scope zooms lacked the eye relief needed. Yes, there is one particular brand and model that does, but you pay dearly for it. Not too many alpha brands offer fixed eyepieces anymore, and the magnification range of those that are offered is limited.

I have digiscoped with our 65mm and 80mm scopes. Digiscoping vs camera really seems to be a personal preference issue, but if your reason to digicope is to be able to capture that rare sighting quickly when you see it... Buy a bridge camera instead.

The digiscope images have been sufficient to prove ID of a rare sighting but not much more. Honestly I find it a hassle to attach the adapter, recenter, recheck focus... If you are trying to get a photo to document a rare sighting, digiscoping is not the fast or easy way to do it. Grabbing a photo with a bridge camera is much quicker, less work, gets you good photos, and the setup isn't that heavy.

Enjoy the research and process!

Chris
 
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Singlereed

Well-known member
Thanks, yes the Pentax are definitely a possibility and I understand the value of such a range of possible eyepieces, many of them quite economical to buy as well. AFAIK, no-one in the UK keeps those scopes in stock, a couple of retailers sell them but I think they only get them in to order - but then, regulations here allow a consumer to return an online order they aren't happy with. Pricing is such that I could conceivably have two scope bodies and a few eyepieces for the cost of some of the other single options.

I'm thinking you're probably right about digiscoping with a camera, perhaps better to use my phone for occasional opportunistic shots and, as you say, use a bridge camera or just my DSLR and its longest lens, put it on the tripod and set everything to give me the best chance of cropping the image.

Anyway, I'm looking at a few models tomorrow to help understand what format will suit me best and how much I need to spend to be satisfied. As you say, the worst scope is the one you leave at home so let's hope I don't buy one of those :) Thanks again.
 
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 Colombia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
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