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Harpia 95: A Review on a Scottish Island (1 Viewer)

Troubador

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Staff member
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It was a long time coming but eventually the loaned Harpia turned up and just in time to get packed and taken to the Isle of Islay for three weeks of what turned out to be the worst weather we have ever experienced in Scotland. Nevertheless with our cottage being situated very close to the sea (see the pic) I was able to take advantage of every opportunity to find out how it performed for birding and nature observation.

As usual, I will first take a moment or two to consider the specifications and prices of the Harpia and its most obvious rival, Swarovski’s ATX 95. Talking of prices, the Harpia 23-70x95 weighs in at £3,395 in the UK, approximately €3,695 in the Euro Zone and around $4,400 in the States. For Swarovski’s ATX 30-70x95 the equivalent prices are approximately £3,040, €3,460 and $4,498.

There are certainly bigger differences when considering specifications. The ATX bottoms out at 30x whereas Harpia goes down to 23x, both of them running up to 70x. Harpia is listed at 2298g / 81.1ozs, with ATX at 2150g / 75.8ozs. So we have the Zeiss with the wider zoom range while the Swarovski claims a 6% weight advantage. Harpia focuses a little closer than ATX at 4.5m versus 4.8m, but the biggest difference between them is field of view.

At its lowest magnification of 23x Harpia’s field of view is listed as 58.8m at 1,000m compared with Swarovski’s claim of 35m for ATX. If that looks like a huge difference, that’s because it is. If you calculate the area of view at 1,000m and compare the two, the Zeiss has an area 282% bigger. Yes, that is 2.82 times as big, and the Harpia even beats Kowa’s terrific TSN-883 (whose 42m is not to be lightly dismissed) by 95%, so nearly twice as big based on area.

Now for an aspect that has aroused some controversy: exit pupil. The zooming mechanism of the Harpia is contained within the objective lens optical tube and not in a separate eyepiece and it closes down the size of the objective lens as you reduce the magnification below 40x. From this magnification and higher the full objective diameter is available, below, it reduces as magnification is reduced. Here are the published Harpia and ATX exit pupils

Harpia exit pupil: 2.50 – 1.34 mm
ATX exit pupil: 3.2-1.4 mm

Based on these figures, Harpia is at a disadvantage at dusk and dawn due to the smaller exit pupil at the lowest magnifications. Boosting Harpia’s magnification to 40x brings you the full diameter of the objective lens and the extra detail that we know is crucial in twilight. During normal daylight your pupils will be around 2.50mm anyway so there is no loss of brightness under these conditions and it is probably no coincidence that this is the pupil size at which the human eye delivers the highest sharpness. Nevertheless this is something that crepuscular viewers will want to consider.

The scope itself is a handsome instrument with an adjustable eyecup that moves with a well-engineered precision unknown to some of Zeiss’s binocular eyecups. There are two wheels of different sizes side-by-side on the body, one for focus and one for magnification. As has been the norm with recent Zeiss scopes, the focus wheel adjusts the focus finely and slowly for a certain rotation and then ups the speed to allow quicker re-focusing over longer distances. I was a bit suspicious of this at first although I had found it agreeable at the Bird Fair. However it worked so well it was easy to forget about it. Both focus and magnification adjuster moved with a smooth and backlash-free precision. Up front there is a retractable lens-hood.

Our cottage on Islay overlooked a small sea bay with the furthest rocky headland being about 500m away, according to my measurements of our Ordnance Survey map, and the centre of the bay around 300m. Now, I have tried Harpia several times at the Bird Fair but never before on my ‘home ground’ of a Scottish sea coast, but the first time I set it up and looked through it at the bay, set at its lowest magnification, my jaw nearly hit the deck. This is a monster field of view, and with 23x magnification too. Wow! Panning to look at the open sea, a flock of Kittiwakes about 750m away floated leisurely across the field of view seemingly giving me all the time in the world to spot the adults from the youngsters. Minutes later a shower of tumbling ‘black’ birds arriving in the blustery wind on the grassy dunes about 600m away revealed 4 Red-billed Choughs in amongst a gang of Jackdaws. They strutted away behind some dunes so I racked up the magnification to 70x and focused on the rocks on the headland and could clearly make out the individual patches of Barnacles and lichens.

The weather for the next few days was just awful with heavy rain and mist but when it cleared I found two Great Northern Divers in the bay with one sweep at 23x. They had greatly differing facial patterns with one having ‘smudged’ cheeks and the other cheeks as white as snow. At 70x these birds were just stunning and although these two didn’t call, what was probably a family group of 4 seen at another site on the island, did. If your soul and heart aren’t pulled when you hear a Great Northern’s voice then you ain’t got either!

Early in my trialling of Harpia I was on the look-out for the possibility of noticing a dimming as I reduced magnification to 23x, but I never saw this, and soon forgot about it. The view at 23x was plenty bright enough even under cloudy conditions and it seems to me logical that, since you want brightness in order to see details, that you want this brightness at higher magnifications, when finding details is your goal. This is what Harpia gives you from 40x-70x magnification.

Squinting to look hard left and hard right to the field edge, it was sharp all the way, and this combined with the huge field of view at 23x allowed me to hand-hold it and capture a view of 2 Choughs that appeared just as I was taking the scope off the tripod. I just caught them at the edge of the field of view and despite the wavering, it was enough to see that they were Choughs and not Jackdaws. This is not recommended, but it was a fun moment!

At this point I should mention that the apparent field of view of 72° stays the same no matter what magnification is set, and this makes for very comfortable viewing especially for a long session. And talking of viewing comfort, the eye relief is 18mm and although it varies a little with magnification, the change is hardly measurable according to Zeiss. You will search in vain for chromatic aberration over almost the entire field of view because there is only the merest hint of it at the extreme edge of the field.

How sharp is it at 70x? Well, to my eyes it seemed to get sharper at higher magnifications and it was quite sharp enough at 23x, but the acid test was when I took it to visit a friend who is a warden on an Islay nature reserve and who had been having trouble reading leg-rings on Twite (a small finch) to check if they had been ringed on the reserve. We set up the Harpia at what he estimated to be between 25-30 metres away from a flock of between 450 – 500 Twite, perched on overhead cables. By the way you cannot believe the amount of sound, of sweet melodious sound, that can come from nearly 500 tiny voices when they are all ‘talking’ at once. Eventually he found one with a leg ring and triumphantly read it: YR! This meant it had been ringed on the reserve the previous December. I took a look myself and by golly there was the writing on the tiny ring, a ring barely visible through binos.

Could another scope have delivered such detail? I don’t know, quite possibly. Could it deliver the same detail at 70x combined with the same field of view at Harpia’s lowest magnification? At this point I will quote Kimmo, one of our most experienced members, who said on Birdforum:

“I acknowledge that for a lot of the practical birding people use their scopes for, a wide FOV at low magnifications is a real and sizeable benefit. The difference in field between the Harpia and just about any other scope at 20-30x mags is not subtle”.

Scanning a habitat for your target species is something at which Harpia excells. Of course binos have much wider fields but hand-held they don’t have 23x magnification. Using this attribute I was able to identify that at least 4 different Otters were using the bay below our cottage. The wide field at 23x found them (2 different groups of 2, at different times) and the 70x meant I could see that each pair was a mother and cub, but of different ages. Of course where there are young ones there is a father, so this told me 5 Otters were making use of that coast. This characteristic low-mag/wide field and high-mag/great detail dynamic, encapsulates what Harpia is all about for me. I have described how it worked for viewing Otters but of course it worked in exactly the same way when scanning the sea and the grassy dunes and coast for birds too. Not only Great Northern Divers, but Shag, Red-throated Divers, and passerines such as Stonechat and Meadow Pipit and Rock Pipit, were all found by scanning at 23x/wide field and then zooming in with high magnification. You can say this is the same with any scope but take a look at the field of view details again and read Kimmo’s comment again. Harpia takes this technique to another level.

How did it perform in twilight? We had a lot of ‘twilight conditions’ due to heavy, heavy cloud and pouring rain, bringing evening on earlier in the day, and using 23x to scan and 40x to view, I could make out the different facial patterns of the two Great Northern Divers 300m away. Twilight specialists may need something more to capture a few minutes longer but for me, viewing mainly in daylight, I was really happy with the wide-field at 23x/great detail at 40x or higher, combination.

I am not a digi-scoper so can’t personally speak from experience of doing this, but several reviewers around the world have digi-scoped with Harpia and one of them, Melissa Penta, kindly commented on Harpia’s performance under jungle canopy conditions and also sent me a photo to accompany this review. Here is how she described Harpia:

………. “The views that we had throughout the forest and in the dark canopy were pretty amazing with the Harpia. I never felt like a bird was too dark to see detail, even backlit”.

The bird she photographed was a Barred Puffbird and it was taken with an old iPhone 6 at the full 70x magnification. I think it’s a great image but bear in mind the quality has to be reduced to post on Birdforum.

Summing up, Harpia seems to me to have been optimised to perform in a very practical way providing a very wide view at its lowest magnification and the sharpest, brightest detail at its highest magnification. Anyone looking for a scope with these talents and capabilities should do themselves a favour and try it out.

Lee
Harpia photo copyright Lee Thickett
Barred Puff Bird photo copyright Melissa Penta, to whom, thanks!
Thanks to Kimmo from whose post I copied the quotation.
 

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Canip

Well-known member
I agree with Chris, this is an excellent review that gives a somewhat broader and more balanced view than some others - many thanks, Lee!
Canip
 

arran

Well-known member
Thanks Lee for this great review!
I have the harpia 95 now in use since 2 months and I am very pleased with its performance
The best optical instrument I ever used together with the zeiss 8x25 and swaro 8,5x42
 

OhWeh

Well-known member
Hi Lee, a excellent review of a great scope. I think, our verdict is similar.

But your text has a poetic note, mine lacks.
 

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Compared to the Meopta S2 Lee was it far superior in every respect?

Hya Coppo

I need to choose my words carefully here.

No Harpia isn't far superior in every respect. For example the S2 is as sharp and contrasty in my opinion.

BUT

What makes Harpia 95 superior than S2 in the field is the super wide field of view at 23x combined with the effortless zoom up to 70x where it is crystal clear. Having the zoom wheel next to the focus wheel means speedy focus and mag changes and with practice you can do it with one hand. When there is a lot of activity you can keep on top of more of it with Harpia than with the S2.

These add up to a superior field instrument at a price that is in keeping with this. Only you can decide whether the price is worth the capability.

If you can 'only' afford an S2 you will get a scope to be proud of and to cherish for life but if you have Swaro ATX money to spend then I would seriously take a look at the Harpia.

Lee
 

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
But you did/could not compare the ATX and the Harpia directly?

Not on this test but I did at Bird Fair although the Harpia and ATX there were not side-by-side. The difference in field of view at the lower magnifications was very obvious and the ability to zoom from 23 to 70x magnification and not be limited by the minimum of 30x magnification without changing eyepieces, was also clear. At Bird Fair I didn't appreciate the advantage of having the focus and magnification wheels adjacent either, and this needed a little practice in the field to get used to it.

Lee
 

DRodrigues

Well-known member
Nice review Lee. :t:
However, at this quality level you need to compare side by side, otherwise the AFOV difference is the most obvious.
Regarding the digiscopy potential, the difference to the X95 should be at low mags. Although the lower mags and wider AFOVs can be useful for digiscopy, the question is that the light availability should make a bigger difference... Most of my digiscopy is done at lower mag...
 

Troubador

Moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Nice review Lee. :t:
However, at this quality level you need to compare side by side, otherwise the AFOV difference is the most obvious.
Regarding the digiscopy potential, the difference to the X95 should be at low mags. Although the lower mags and wider AFOVs can be useful for digiscopy, the question is that the light availability should make a bigger difference... Most of my digiscopy is done at lower mag...

Hi David
Thanks for your kind words and of course the review was not a 'comparison' review at all and anyone in this market should make their own minds up by testing side-by-side. My goal was to find out whether Harpia is a high-priced prima donna without substance or a practical tool for nature observation with usable innovations and my conclusion is that it is the latter.

Lee
 

Peter Audrain

Consummate Indoorsman
This is frustrating! Now I can’t wait for these innovations to ‘trickle down’ and become part of the way all scopes are made. Keeping the apparent field of view the same throughout the zoom range, putting the magnification and focus controls together on the barrel, having such a whopping great field of view at the lowest magnification—with any luck those things will be widely adopted, even if other aspects of the scope, like its flat, chromatic aberration-free field and sensational central sharpness, are impossible to copy at lower prices. Really good review.
 

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