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Kowa 883 vs Harpia 85 (1 Viewer)

Hello all,

I've been reading Bird Forum quite a bit in the last few months as I've contemplated buying a scope to upgrade my Vortex Viper 82. I've read a ton of great stuff on here and am hoping for a little more specific feedback as I narrow my choices down.

I'm a field ornithologist studying birds in Montana and NW Mexico. I use scopes more in Mexico, mostly doing wintering waterbird surveys. But I run a research station and ecolodge and our scopes end up getting used for a little bit of everything.

I was fortunate to get alpha binoculars through my job last winter, and after about a year with them I've become an adherent of the "buy once, cry once" mindset and am committed to getting a top-quality spotter. That said, I'm on a conservation salary and it is a major purchase for me. After weighing the options, I felt like the price difference between Kowa and Swaro/Zeiss (looked at the Leica 82 Televid and to my eyes all three of the aforementioned scopes felt like steps up from the Leica) outweighed any potential advantages of the Swaro ATX or Zeiss Harpia.

But recently someone in my birding community put their Harpia 85 up for sale. The price is reasonable, and the difference between it and a Kowa 883 is close enough for this type of long-term purchase that I'm looking to evaluate each solely on their merits, ignoring the difference in price. I found an 883 for a decent price online from somewhere with a generous return policy, so I went ahead and bought it so I could compare the Kowa and Zeiss side-by-side.

I'm curious what kinds of things you all think I should be thinking about as I compare them.

Also, I would love to hear from owners of either scope what they like the most about it, AND their least favorite thing. It doesn't seem like there's a 'perfect' scope out there and I'm curious what long-term users of each think of the costs/benefits of their scope.

Here are some of the pros and cons I'm weighing:

Size

Kowa the clear winner here. Can't believe how bright and clear such a compact scope is.

Image

Kind of a tossup. I haven't had much time to side-by-side comparisons yet; I'm sure my view will evolve over the next couple weeks. The Kowa seems like it has less CA and feels slightly more precise, and perhaps more color neutral. The Harpia has a more pleasing "3D" effect to my eyes, and the FOV at low mag is really impressive. Harpia owners, how often do you feel like that FOV ends up being a real advantage?

Focus

Kind of agnostic about the focus ring vs. focus knob debate. Both seem to work well.

Zoom

Here is an area where the Zeiss is a winner for me. Having the zoom ring adjacent to the focus ring seems like an advantage. I was glassing a kettle of raptors with the Harpia the other day, and the process of examining the full kettle at low mag, picking the bird I wanted to hone in on, zooming and panning to it, then zooming out and picking out the next bird, all without having to pick either hand up, was some of the most fun I've ever had with a scope. That said, after playing with the Kowa a little bit, I found I'm able to adjust the zoom on the eyepiece with the thumb and index finger, while being able to adjust the fine focus with the pinkie of the same hand. Not as elegant, but it does seem like I'm able to pan/zoom/focus simultaneously on the Kowa as well. How do folks with focus/zoom rings on the body of their scopes like them? Has your opinion on them changed after extended use?

Style

Not the most important thing, but we'd all be lying if we said appearance didn't matter. This is also kind of a tossup for me. I know some people find the Harpia kind of clunky, but I think it is pretty sharp looking. But I also think its design cues clearly make it look like more of a luxury item than the Kowa, which for me is a negative. Less flashy is better.

As you can see, I feel like I can make a convincing case to myself about either scope.


Any advice appreciated!
 
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PYRTLE

Old Berkshire Boy
If you had the perseverance and time to read every similar post on choosing between A, B or C optics the one constant piece of solid advice is to choose what suits you the best. You've already done some tests associated with the ergonomics as well as the image.

When I worked in retailing optics and people really couldn't decide which model to choose after testing them in field conditions ( from 5 minutes to several repeat visits ) I would ask them which one would you take if they were free! That was enough for the person to pick out the correct item, and I honestly cannot recall anyone returning due to changing their mind...... they paid of course.

Again, for a once only purchase please dont let a few or even a couple of hundred dollars sway your preference.

Good luck.
 

Royfinn

Well-known member
I am not familiar with either scope, but half of serious birders here (where I live) in Finland have Kowa 883, and I haven't seen anyone with Harpia.
 
I am not familiar with either scope, but half of serious birders here (where I live) in Finland have Kowa 883, and I haven't seen anyone with Harpia.

That is interesting to hear. Kowa's are not that common where I live. In a decade of serious birding in the western US I've only seen them a handful of times. I was surprised to see how stellar their reputation is when I started doing research online. Swarovski seems like it has 90-95% of the premium optics market around here.
 

dogbreath

Well-known member
I wonder if the Swarovski are popular because, not only are the Swaros very good, they are a "safe buy". I know Swaros are a very good instrument (I Use them regularly) and lots of birders use them so a sort of momentum builds up whereas one has to be a bit brave to go for something else. So if one is spending $3000 ish on a scope it might feel less of a gamble getting the same as everyone else?
 
I wonder if the Swarovski are popular because, not only are the Swaros very good, they are a "safe buy". I know Swaros are a very good instrument (I Use them regularly) and lots of birders use them so a sort of momentum builds up whereas one has to be a bit brave to go for something else. So if one is spending $3000 ish on a scope it might feel less of a gamble getting the same as everyone else?

I think you're onto something. They're also such beautiful objects, and feel extremely well built. I mean they all seem well made at this price point, but they do seem like the leaders on finish and feel. I can understand the mindset of "I'm spending all this money I might as well get the most luxurious". Plus the incredible optics, of course.
 
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chris murphy

Used Register
A big deal for me with a scope is the focus mechanism. I used to have a Nikon ED82, which almost everyone in the universe raves about, except me. I could never get used to the barrel focus, which was especially sensitive on the Nikon.

I now use a Kowa 663, which has a focus wheel, which I much prefer. I enjoy using the Kowa way more than I ever did with the Nikon, even though I know the image quality cannot be on a par.

For me barrel focus is a massive turn off and I would go for the Kowa every time, even if the Harpia gave a better image.

If I ever win the lottery I plan on making an 883 my next purchase.

As I don't do the lottery, I may be waiting some time.
 

Royfinn

Well-known member
In the Rokslide forum you can find this review:

I have the 95 Harpia as well at the ATX 95/Kowa 883 and APO 82. Completely different beast. I would without a doubt purchase the Kowa 883, ATX, Meopta Meostar, and the Leica APO 82 over the Zeiss Harpia. There is so much to say about the Zeiss Harpia, how the slow/fast focus functions, how the objective end is your magnification end. Can’t use an extender at this point in time. How it does not utilize its full 95 objective under about 40 magnification. The objective end is stopped down or substantially smaller under 40x power and the negative to this is low light/twilight glassing is not that great. In order to use all of its 95 objective, you pretty much have to use 70x. At 70x, glassing is difficult at dusk and dawn. It was not designed as a low light spotter. I’ve compared for 2 months the difference between my ATX 95 and Kowa 883. Both are substantially better than the Harpia in every way. I honestly think Zeiss threw a spotter together that was “just good enough.” I will say that daytime use the glass is quite brilliant. Still shows some chromatic aberration and is still slightly warmer than the others. It’s definitely Zeiss quality. But if you really wanna take full advantage of it, the magnification has to be up above 40x. In my opinion, the one thing it has over every other spotter is it’s FOV. It maintains the same FOV on any magnification which is genius. But that doesn’t make up for all that’s lacking. Just my .2. If you want the very best spotter out there, you go....

Kowa 883
Swaro ATX
Leica APO/Meopta Meostar. Your really splitting hairs here. The Leica has that 3D appearance like the Nocitivids. The Meopta is very hard to see a difference next to the ATX, but if you look hard enough it’s there. You can’t go wrong with any.

https://www.rokslide.com/forums/thr...IP2E0HwMU1OL3rfzqgxEuXX_IULB-FvGTMchsJh6d2sgY
 

paddy7

Well-known member
Optical comparisons aside, the only other ingredient i would throw in is build quality. The Kowa is unusually light for its optical dimensions, which seems to be a result of a magnesium body.
I know of three cases of one having done the dreaded tripod-plunge resulting in cracking of the body. Without being Sherlock Holmes, my inquiries found that all three were angled scopes, all three fell backwards, and all three cracked at the 'shoulder'.
So, i'd guess that thinking about the risks your particular usage/terrain might pose may be worth a second or two.
I've only tried the Harpia briefly at a trade show - the bouncy wooden platform it was set up on prevented any serious judgement, but here on the east coast of England, the Kowa i would say is by far the most common top-line scope.
Being able to extend it up to x96 relatively cheaply is also probably worth consideration.
 

jring

Well-known member
Hi,

although I would not really classify a broken optical instrument due to falling to the floor from 1.5m as a build quality issue...

Joachim
 

dogbreath

Well-known member
In the North West of England, I see mainly Opticron and Swaro. I rarely see Kowa products on view and feel a bit of an outsider with mine.
 
Optical comparisons aside, the only other ingredient i would throw in is build quality. The Kowa is unusually light for its optical dimensions, which seems to be a result of a magnesium body.
I know of three cases of one having done the dreaded tripod-plunge resulting in cracking of the body. Without being Sherlock Holmes, my inquiries found that all three were angled scopes, all three fell backwards, and all three cracked at the 'shoulder'.
So, i'd guess that thinking about the risks your particular usage/terrain might pose may be worth a second or two.
I've only tried the Harpia briefly at a trade show - the bouncy wooden platform it was set up on prevented any serious judgement, but here on the east coast of England, the Kowa i would say is by far the most common top-line scope.
Being able to extend it up to x96 relatively cheaply is also probably worth consideration.

I've been staring at the seam at the shoulder where I bet those scopes cracked and wondering if that was a weak point, so that is good information.

Do you have experience with the extender? It sounds cool, and the increased customization options on the Kowa compared to the Harpia is a plus, but I'm curious if the extender is practical when it comes to finding and looking at birds in field conditions.
 
Hi,

although I would not really classify a broken optical instrument due to falling to the floor from 1.5m as a build quality issue...

Joachim

Haha very true. It will be used for hundreds of hours a year though and if one is more likely to save me from myself when the inevitable accident happens that is good to know. I'm guessing any scope could have that problem when taking a tumble though.
 

paddy7

Well-known member
Well, i have to admit to my Swaro ATS65 having been over a few times with no issues! I do treat the Kowa more carefully as a result of having seen damage to others' scopes though and rarely leave it unattended on the tripod (unless i drop one section of tripod leg beforehand)
Obviously the better padded the case (if you use one) the safer it is. I stole an idea from someone else and wrapped all non-exposed parts of the scope in bubble wrap before it went into the case as well; perhaps a little paranoid now!

The extender is relatively simple to insert and remove; takes the whole zoom range up by 1.6x, so you have to live with starting at around 40x.
Although the light doesn't decrease much until the extremes of zoom, any vibration or movement is obviously magnified too, so stability is the key.
Also, the FoV decreases; i bought it thinking i'd use it for seawatching, but finding the bird is too much of a chore. I now use it on the big estuaries on our coast, scanning for waders.
 

dogbreath

Well-known member
I have an extender for my scope and find it a bit difficult to put on and take off if my hands are cold. In addition, to Paddy's observations I find that depth of focus is reduced (or I think it is). Unstable air can also be an issue at the greater magnifications (hardly the manufacturer's fault) because the movemets of the air seem to be magnified. Finding the bird at 96x is always going to be less easy than at 25x or 40x but it is doable. Not easy on open seas mind you.

All of that said, I think the Kowa provides a fabulous view and I much prefer the focus mechanism over the Swaro offering. For me, having decided to spend what these things cost, deciding on the Kowa over the Swaro was an easy decision. But if someone preferred the Swaro over the Kowa, I don't think that would be a poor decision. You pays your money and all that.
 

BoldenEagle

Well-known member
A big deal for me with a scope is the focus mechanism. I used to have a Nikon ED82, which almost everyone in the universe raves about, except me. I could never get used to the barrel focus, which was especially sensitive on the Nikon.

For me barrel focus is a massive turn off and I would go for the Kowa every time, even if the Harpia gave a better image.

I have similar thoughts about Nikon ED82, which was my first scope.

I think focusing system with two speed focussing knobs on the scope is the best solution. But it can be less perfect also. Kowa Prominar 883 has otherwise quite perfect (butter smooth action, nice grippy knobs etc.) focusing system but the slow focus knob is too fast. I can focus from infinity to about 30 meters just by one move of my fingertip. I really wonder who needs that fast focus ability with a scope of maximum mag. 60x or 96x? And you still have the "fast focus" knob, which is about 3 times faster, what's that for then?? Of course this kind of focusing system suffers less from fast focus than fast helical focus system but it's still little annoying thing, for me at least.

I think otherwise 96x magnification with Kowa's 1.6x extender and 25-60x zoom is very usable even with flying birds if wind is not high, seeing is good and you have sturdy tripod with good video head; your hand rests on the scope and only your fingertip moves. Of course it needs also good light because exit pupil is quite small with maximum mag. You also need practise to find birds with 40x minimun mag. when using extender, cable tier or other kind of sight is a must. For stationary birds extender works extremely well.

For me one another major advantage of Kowa Prominar 883 is it's ability to be used with astro eyepieces; you will have lots of eyepiece options.

Regardless of scope type, the most important thing is to test the sample one is buying; if you will get a poor specimen of for example Kowa Prominar 883, you won't get much benefit of the extender either.

Juhani
 

paddy7

Well-known member
All things being equal optics-wise (as i suspect the ATX, Harpia and 883 are probably all sound front-runners) i would think for survey work the 'feel' of the thing is going to be important. I've always been of the belief that (both with scope and bins) that speed and instinctiveness is of the essence. Although this can often be developed through familiarity and repeated use, in the case of a scope how the focus systems feels to you, and to a lesser extent, how hopping from zoom to focus is important.
As an example, i nearly sold my ATS65 when i bought the Kowa, as i wasn't that keen on the helical focus system. Then i spent a day or two and adapted my technique for using it (thumb below, finger above rather than rolling from the top) and the scope suddenly seemed irreplaceable.
I'm equally at home with the Kowa's dual focus and find the smaller, slow focus has a finger constantly resting on it, compensating for target movement. The ability to suddenly use the fast focus to change distance reasonably rapidly does give the Kowa something of an edge.
For survey work, and i'm assuming fairly long days in the field and a few miles on foot, the light weight coupled with 88mm and 60x would make it a sound choice i think. The weight of the scope would mean (unless you're coping with English east coast weather) you could go lighter through the head/tripod too.
 

jring

Well-known member
Kowa Prominar 883 has otherwise quite perfect (butter smooth action, nice grippy knobs etc.) focusing system but the slow focus knob is too fast. I can focus from infinity to about 30 meters just by one move of my fingertip.

Wow, that is very fast... I have to admit that I don't remember the focus of the 883 to be that fast... maybe was occupied enjoying the bird or trying to crank up the zoom to test the optics...
My old Kowas (TSN-3 and 663) with single speed focus (which I would have expected to be somewhere in between the slow and fast focus of a dual speed system) need maybe 1.5 turns for this... which can be done reasonably quick by rolling it along your whole finger...

As an example, i nearly sold my ATS65 when i bought the Kowa, as i wasn't that keen on the helical focus system. Then i spent a day or two and adapted my technique for using it (thumb below, finger above rather than rolling from the top) and the scope suddenly seemed irreplaceable.

Yes, obviously pinching the large wheel is the way to go. Unfortunately I seem to be too clumsy to turn the wheel without introducing vibrations...

Joachim
 

BoldenEagle

Well-known member
Wow, that is very fast... I have to admit that I don't remember the focus of the 883 to be that fast... maybe was occupied enjoying the bird or trying to crank up the zoom to test the optics...
My old Kowas (TSN-3 and 663) with single speed focus (which I would have expected to be somewhere in between the slow and fast focus of a dual speed system) need maybe 1.5 turns for this... which can be done reasonably quick by rolling it along your whole finger...

Well, to be precise, by "fingertip" I ment the first joint of my forefinger...That's about half turn with the slow focus knob when I just measured it. It's not totally unusable but I would personally be satisfied if this would be the speed for fast focus and slow focus could be about half of that speed...But some digiscopers might be more happy fith this kind of faster focus.

Juhani
 
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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