• Welcome to BirdForum, the internet's largest birding community with thousands of members from all over the world. The forums are dedicated to wild birds, birding, binoculars and equipment and all that goes with it.

    Please register for an account to take part in the discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.
Feel the intensity, not your equipment. Maximum image quality. Minimum weight. The new ZEISS SFL, up to 30% less weight than comparable competitors.

Help me choose my next spotting scope, please (1 Viewer)

mtn

... winging it ....
Hi all. Thanks in advance for any advice you can share. I am in the market for a spotting scope. I previously owned a newer Swarovski ATS 65 HD with both the 20-60 and 25-50 WA eyepieces. I currently own a Nikon EDIIIA 60mm scope with a 20-60 eyepiece that I plan to keep. The Swarovski was great but I sold it to fund other pursuits. I really liked the WA eyepiece and the customer service I received from Swarovski USA. I thought the 20-60 was ok but I did not like the tunnel view so much (yes, the Nikon has a tunnel view as well). I would consider just getting another Swarovski 65 but I'd like to try a larger scope this time, something around 80mm.

Important considerations for my next scope are; High quality image first and foremost, wide angle eyepiece(s) available, good customer service in the US, adapters available for digiscoping and potentially for astro eyepieces, good performance at high magnification, cost.

Currently on my list:
Swarovski ATS 80 HD w/ 25-50 WA eyepiece - pluses include known quality and customer service, downsides include 50x limit on WA eyepiece and cost (would have to buy used)
Kowa TSN 773 w/ 20-60 WA eyepiece (or maybe the 883 if I came across a deal) - pluses include 60x WA and cost, downside is I have no experience with Kowa products or customer service at all...
Meopta Meostar 82mm w/ 30-60 WA eyepiece - essentially the same considerations as the Kowa
Maybe another Nikon or a Leica (I have a pair of Leica binoculars that I adore)?

So my biggest questions are;

How well do these scopes compare optically?
How well do the Kowa and Meopta (and other) scopes do above 50x magnification?
How is customer service for Kowa and Meopta (and Leica/Nikon/other)?
Are adapters for all of these scopes easy to come by?

My primary reason for wanting the larger objective and astro adapters is that I have three young kids and we like to look at the stars and planets with the Nikon... I would love to be able to use the new scope to give us a better view of the night sky. Are there any considerations I should be taking into account that I've left out? Are there any scopes of this class that I'm overlooking? I'm not too concerned with the weight or size differences. I would really love to be able to use this scope primarily for birding and wildlife but also for casual astronomy. I would plan to hike with the scope and also take it on family outings and camping trips, so it would be good if it's somewhat rugged.
I very much appreciate any insight from the community here.

All the best,
Daniel
 
Last edited:

jring

Well-known member
Hi,

quite frankly this specification list is a bit long for one instrument... especially hiking and meaningful astro are not really compatible as anything above 80-85mm (or 88 in case of the Kowa which is quite light for the aperture) gets a bit heavy to lug around on real hikes...

My advice would be as follows:

- test your Nikon - you have the zoom EP already for high magnifications - do a star test. The very least requirement should be the ability to show a sharp image during daylight at the maximum magnification of 60 or 70x with an easy to find point of best focus.

- if the Nikon is good (as I would expect), get a wide angle fixed EP or two for it... 30x is a favourite among birders for a reason or maybe 40x if you want some more range and are willing to learn the cable tie trick for aiming. The Nikon is going to be great for hiking.

- if the Nikon is not so great, test scopes until you find a good one and buy that. If you can find a good used one, by all means take that. The Kowa 770 series did not get much love in the reviews and usually the price difference to the 880 series is small.

- Angled is much preferred if you want to use the scope with multiple persons. If you want to show stuff to small kids, make sure you have a working rotating collar and use it w/o stay-on-case so the rotating collar can be used... That way you can get sth in the scope and then rotate the scope so the EP points down or sideways so small kids can reach it.

- for astro, get an 8" dobsonian and some EPs - it is going to show so much more on the sky than a small refractor and the instrument plus some EPs can be bought for a 3 digit pricetag - and not even on the upper end of that if you find sth used.

- warranty and/or customer care - I might be strange, but I couldn't care less about that. If I break it, I get it fixed at my expense.
Unlike electronics, which tends to catastrophically fail on its own early or at the very end of the product life, optics and mechanics in optical instruments don't really go bad unless they are abused. And abuse is usually not covered by warranty...
It sure sounds nice to get the legendary Swaro customer service in case sth goes wrong... but you pay for it up front... even if you never need it...

Joachim
 

mtn

... winging it ....
Thanks for your thoughts Joachim.

An example of customer service (and why it is important to me); when I got my Swaro 65, I noticed a few distracting black "dots" grouped near the center of the view at high magnification in one of the eyepieces... I cleaned the outward-facing lenses but the dots did not go away. I was able to ship the eyepiece to Swarovski in CT and it returned a couple of weeks later good as new and without the dots. This was a defect that was handled by their customer service department, not accidental breakage or something that I had caused.
 
Last edited:

jring

Well-known member
Hi,

sounds like your problem was taken care of - as expected with Swaro - but when I buy an EP and it has black dots near the focal plane... I either don't buy it (when buying in person) or it goes back right away to the seller as defective...
That's not a typical warranty case which involves an item being in good order when you get it but developing a defect later but inside the warranty period.
Focus drive getting stiff or scratchy over time or the hinge on a pair of bins getting too loose would be examples with the mechanics.
In the optics dept. I can only think of the infamous Leica coating disaster when some UK birdwatchers were not amused to see their spotting scope front elements develop catastrophic coating damage after seawatch and contact with salt water spray.
Other manufacturers tend to honor their warranties too - unlike Swaro they might stick to the terms stipulated in the paperwork when the instrument was bought - like only 10 or 30 years vs. lifetime and maybe only for the original buyer and not infinitely transferable. But that's fine with me... especially when I bought a nice used instrument at a good price.

Joachim
 

dannat

Well-known member
from cloudy nights the kowa 883 reviews better for astro use than the swarovski equivalent , grab the 1.6x adapter with their 25-60x zoom. if you can find a nikon 82ed fieldscope, with the 25-75x zoom you will get some reasonable moon views, planets are sharp but bit small, i used mine for quick looks or when out and about and it gave satisfying views, esp. for campers/tourists whom i used to show objects through it
 

Bill Atwood

Registered User
Supporter
United States
Years ago I owned the Swaro ATS80HD 20-60x, I would never consider it the equal of the 3 discussed further below. Perhaps the newer ones are.

Recently I’ve been comparing the Meostar S2 w/ 20-70 & 30-60x, the Kowa 883 and the Swaro ATX95. The ATX95 I’ve had for a few years, the Meostar S2 for a few months and the Kowa 883 for about 3 weeks. Optically, by which I mean clarity and apparent sharpness at high magnifications, they are all very close. However, the differences are very minor even under dim conditions and at extended distances. I’d rank their performance by objective size, Swaro>Kowa>Meopta. All three are excellent at 50x as well as at their highest magnifications. The Swaro and Kowa work well with their extenders, however I’m not fond of installing & removing them in the field.

With these scopes optically so close to each other, ergonomics and manufacturer service obviously play a significant role when making a selection. I’ve always found the ATX95 too heavy and bulky, especially the eyepiece end. Need to get off my butt and sell it, however will miss having Swaro service available.

I’m likely keeping the Meostar S2 and 20-70x. The 30-60x does have the nice “walk-in” view at 30x, but the 20-70x has similar FOV at 20-25x (albeit with a bit of tunnel) and seems sharper than the 30-60x. I like its relative compactness and that it can be used on the Manfrotto 128RC WITHOUT a mounting plate. Wish the focus was a bit slower and less stiff. There are few reports regarding service, all appear to be positive. Would be interesting to see a version with the Meolux coating.

I’m torn about the Kowa 883, I’ve listed it for sale locally, but sorta want to keep it. Comparing it with the others the image just seems a bit crisper, like a slight film has been removed. The fine focus could be finer, but it is a touch better than the Meostar and I’m growing to like its location. The eyepiece surface catches sidelight occasionally and for some reason it’s hard to prevent when it does. The eyecup is just awful. The 883 is a little larger than the Meostar, the weight is almost identical. Service reports are spotty, and the scope may not be as robust as others. The eyepiece zoom is easy to adjust, reminds me of the old TSN-4. Will work with plate on the 128RC, much better on the Gitzo GHF2W.
 

wolfbirder

Well-known member
Supporter
I compared the ATS80HD with the Kowa 883 side by side and indeed preferred and bought the latter - I would say the image was brighter and crisper than the ATS80 by some way, though both were very good.
 

tenex

reality-based
I’m likely keeping the Meostar S2 and 20-70x. The 30-60x does have the nice “walk-in” view at 30x, but the 20-70x has similar FOV at 20-25x (albeit with a bit of tunnel) and seems sharper than the 30-60x. I like its relative compactness and that it can be used on the Manfrotto 128RC WITHOUT a mounting plate. Wish the focus was a bit slower and less stiff. There are few reports regarding service, all appear to be positive. Would be interesting to see a version with the Meolux coating.
Thanks for your comments on the Meo eyepieces; I'm trying to choose (and haven't seen the WA yet). Did you really find the 30-60 less sharp? Haven't heard that before.

My new S2 (with white logo, is this variant #4?) could actually have Meolux by now, as the recent interview here suggested they were adding it to scopes. (It also said the benefit over Meobright is only in twilight.) The focus is lovely and smooth, not stiff, so you might consider service if this really bothers you.
 

Bill Atwood

Registered User
Supporter
United States
Thanks for your comments on the Meo eyepieces; I'm trying to choose (and haven't seen the WA yet). Did you really find the 30-60 less sharp? Haven't heard that before.

My new S2 (with white logo, is this variant #4?) could actually have Meolux by now, as the recent interview here suggested they were adding it to scopes. (It also said the benefit over Meobright is only in twilight.) The focus is lovely and smooth, not stiff, so you might consider service if this really bothers you.
IRMC it was very slightly less sharp at 60x when viewing at long 1/4mi distances. I wouldn't hesitate to get it if you are someone that values WA views at 30x-50x. I'm usually stupidly seduced by the availability of higher powers and prefer the 20x-70x.

Mine also has the white logo. I think if they were using any new coating like Meolux they would be promoting it.
 

cjmassey

Member
I tried the S2 earlier this year and loved the sharpness even at high zoom but found the zoom extremely hard to turn. Bill, did you find this on your S2? Maybe I got a lemon. Thanks
 

mtn

... winging it ....
So just to update this thread... I've been on a bit of a journey with spotters over the past year, here are my impressions:

I did pick up an older fixed power (24/30x WA) eyepiece for my Nikon EDIIIA 60 and it was quite nice. I spent a lot of time observing my resident hawks and a Pied-billed Grebe that visited our pond for a few weeks at the end of last year using that 24x eyepiece. Took some fun photos of a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker through it too (handheld with my phone):

IMG_20201126_122902.jpg

Shortly after my last post I found a lightly used Meopta S2 with the 20-70x eyepiece and bought it. It was a very nice scope albeit a bit large/heavy. I thought maybe the 20-70 FOV would be limiting but it was not at all. The view was bright and sharp through the zoom range, color was good and the scope was easy to use. I did not like panning with the scope because either the curvature (or flatness?) of the field created a rolling ball type effect that was distracting but this was a minor issue because I don't spend a lot of time panning with a spotter. I noticed that in cold weather (teens-20s F) the view seemed to be foggy and when I looked at the objective I found that ice was forming on the inside of the objective lens (I made a post about this here on the forum). I sent the scope in to Meopta USA and received a brand new scope body in return (chalk one for the value of warrant/service). Here's a photo of a Junco I took through the Meostar (handheld with my phone):

jpeg_1608928134000.jpg

While the scope was away I started looking at other options (and I decided to sell the Meopta and look for something more portable)...

I came across a Zeiss Dialyt 18-45x65 that looked like fun so I picked it up. This was a very fun scope! This was my first straight-bodied spotting scope and I really enjoyed the way it handled and allowed for back and forth with my binoculars. The view through this scope was excellent, extremely sharp in the center of the field. Focusing took some getting used to (these focus by twisting the outer housing at the objective end) and the FOV was definitely limited, although perhaps better than the zoom on my Nikon. I found that the straight body suited me nicely and I was able to take photos through the scope with my phone more easily with this format:
IMG_20210109_161149.jpg
IMG_20210109_203054.jpg

Ultimately I felt like this scope was great to keep handy in my truck but was fairly limited as a primary scope so I sold it and...

I stayed with a straight body style and bought a used Swarovski STX here on birdforum. The seller was in Canada, so the exchange rate made it "fairly reasonable". It came with a new 65mm objective and I bought a demo 85mm objective at a good price from Cameraland. This scope was everything I had hoped for. The view was sensational and having the zoom and focus positioned next to each other made for easy and pleasant one-handed operation. The only two drawbacks that I found were that the eyepiece/eyecup was very large in diameter and the scope was quite large/heavy with either objective module. Still... the view! The wide angle zoom is really incredible. I ended up using the 85mm objective almost exclusively but since I also had the 65mm and a preference for the straight body style I decided I could live without my 60mm Nikon and (regrettably) sold it and the eyepieces to someone who was looking for one. I happily used the STX from stationary positions for a while, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, but I found that I was never taking it in the field because of its size... even with the 65mm objective it was large and heavy enough to require a sturdier tripod than the Nikon. Here are a couple of photos I took (again, hand held with my phone) through the STX+85mm objective:

IMG_20210424_162214.jpg
IMG_20210418_160616.jpg

Ultimately I decided to go back to something more portable (and less expensive... this may have been another reason I rarely carried the STX into the field) and tried a Swarovski STM 65 HD with the 25-50x eyepiece. This scope was a bit of a let-down after the STX and now I really started to miss having my Nikon. The STM HD is a good scope... but I felt like for the cost it was not a tremendous value. This is, of course, still a very nice scope but this was the second time I'd owned a Swarovski 65 HD and it's just not the scope for me.

I found a good deal on a well-used Kowa 662 with a 25x eyepiece and also found a 20-60 zoom. With the 25x I felt like this scope was just as good as the Swarovski 65, and so I sold the Swarovski and kept the Kowa. At less than 1/4 the price of the Swarovski I was very happy with this scope. I did find that CA was pretty bad at higher mags and so I only used the 25x eyepiece. But...

I couldn't take it any more and when a good deal on a like new sample came up I went after another Nikon... this time the 82A. What a scope! Optically (with a couple of fixed eyepieces), it is as good as the STX, at roughly 1/4 the price. It's also smaller. Looking back at my original post I feel like this scope checks most of the boxes.
Important considerations for my next scope are; High quality image first and foremost, wide angle eyepiece(s) available, good customer service in the US, adapters available for digiscoping and potentially for astro eyepieces, good performance at high magnification, cost.
...
My primary reason for wanting the larger objective and astro adapters is that I have three young kids and we like to look at the stars and planets with the Nikon... I would love to be able to use the new scope to give us a better view of the night sky. Are there any considerations I should be taking into account that I've left out? Are there any scopes of this class that I'm overlooking? I'm not too concerned with the weight or size differences. I would really love to be able to use this scope primarily for birding and wildlife but also for casual astronomy. I would plan to hike with the scope and also take it on family outings and camping trips, so it would be good if it's somewhat rugged.
I don't know about Nikon customer service... but I do know the scope is built extremely well. I also learned that I do care about size/weight more than I thought... the STX was just a really big scope. At the end of the day, if I only used a scope from stationary positions and I had an unlimited budget for optics (or I used a scope for work) then I would consider another Swarovski TX. But, I really, really like the Nikon 82A. The view is phenomenal. It's relatively compact. It's rugged. There are many nice eyepieces to choose from. It's relatively inexpensive. It's just a good all around scope for the way I use one. And going back to the angled body is better for looking at the night sky.

I haven't taken any photos through it yet but when I do I will be sure to share.

Cheers,
Daniel
 

jcwu88

Well-known member
United States
Hi Daniel,

Thank you for sharing your experience!
Is your Nikon ED82 model Monarch or Fieldscope? Thanks
 
Last edited:

mtn

... winging it ....
Hi Daniel,

Thank you for sharing your experience!
Is your Nikon ED82 model Monarch or Fieldscope? Thanks
The 82A is an older Fieldscope (mint green). I have yet to try the Monarch, although I know some reviews have it outperforming the Fieldscope... Which is quite the achievement!

Cheers
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top