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Kowa 883 vs Harpia 85 (1 Viewer)

eitanaltman

Well-known member
For what it’s worth, the Kowa 883 is by far the dominant alpha birding scope that I see around here. 10-15 years ago it was Swarovski ATS with some Zeiss Diascopes, but the Kowa has taken over for most who can afford it. I see a few Leica Televids and a scattering of others.

Ive only seen the Harpia once, it was carried by a co-leader on a tour a few months back who is a Zeiss rep. It was nice, but didn’t wow me and seemed kind of clunky and bulky for my tastes (although it was a 95 not an 85). The wide FOV and adjacent focus and zoom rings is pretty cool, but the dual focus knob setup on the Kowa is my preference vs barrel MiJ ted focus. The Kowa 883 is amazingly compact for the huge aperture, which is a big advantage when you’re lugging it around.

I also spent tome a few years back touring a visiting friend locally and he had the Kowa with the 1.6x extender, he was able to get decent digiscoping shots with his iPhone at 96x. It was impressively clear with the extended mounted. Although personally I wouldn’t want to have 40x as my lowest available magnification for field use.

If high magnification is a priority then another option is the Meopta S2 with the 20-70x zoom. You give up the wide apparent FOV but you get a huge zoom range with a very usable 70x mag, the S2 optics are top notch as others have noted.
 
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Thank you all for the feedback! Had a chance to compare them in the field today. Still undecided, they both excel at different things. Will have to take them to a reservoir this weekend and spend the day glassing waterbirds to see which I prefer.

The Kowa has the brightest, clearest image I’ve ever seen. At low light the bigger objective lens and conventional zoom made a noticeable difference. In daylight the Kowa was a little brighter than the Harpia, but not in a significant way that I feel like would make a difference. The image on the Zeiss is also incredible. To my eyes it was just ever so slightly less sharp. I notice the difference when say, staring at bark on a tree. But when it came to id’ing birds the difference was insignificant, both did the job really, really well. I’d be using it mostly in the daytime so the difference in brightness is notable, but not a deciding factor.

The Kowa has the most neutral colors I think I’ve seen as well, but I don’t mind the coolness of the zeiss. In fact, when the light was good I found the Zeiss to just be....subjectively more beautiful. I think the depth of field in the Zeiss was better to my eyes, and in the right light everything popped in a luminous, 3D way.

The FOV on the Zeiss is impressive. I also do like having the zoom next to the focus. I think it was easier to hit the sweet spot on the Kowa, but I bet increased familiarity with the zeiss would help.

The extra weight of the Harpia doesn’t really bother me. The compactness of the Kowa for the size of the lens is really impressive though.

So I guess it’s coming down to whether I prefer the wider FOV and the zoom system in the Harpia, or the slightly better perceived sharpness of the Kowa.
 
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DRodrigues

Well-known member
...
So I guess it’s coming down to whether I prefer the wider FOV and the zoom system in the Harpia, or the slightly better perceived sharpness of the Kowa.

Or the extra magnification/resolution of the Kowa, when using the 1.6x extender. The Kowa also will be better for digiscopy (more light), also because has more accessories for that use.
 

Jeff Bouton

Well-known member
Let me begin with full disclosure, I work for Kowa as Sales & Marketing Manager for Nature Observation in the US. So no assumed names or guerrilla marketing tactics here, there is no need for it.

To begin, I have to say I'm shocked this thread has gone this far without someone pointing out that the Kowa PROMINAR TSN-883 retails at $1,349 dollars LESS than the Harpia 85 here in the US!!! Seems like a very major pro / con to overlook. So if splitting hairs on performance as above, one would think the extra $1,349 in your pocket would make the decision very easy for most consumers.

The Kowa weighs 54.4 oz / Harpia 68.2 oz (25% heavier body) and the Harpia is a full 1.6" longer than the Kowa as well.

As for the 1.6x extender it works extremely well, I've used quite effectively to digiscope Saturn as well as Jupiter and her moons recently plus in diurnal conditions. Fun fact, if you wanted to you could theoretically stack these adapters to increase magnification even more. I've not done this, but apparently some of my digiscoping friends in the UK have used 2 extenders stacked together, but honestly one has been enough for me in real field use and digiscoping.

The fine focus wheel works amazingly well for getting for getting focus tack sharp which becomes even more critical when digiscoping and adding additional magnification of a camera lens. I will not get into performance differences as I clearly have a bias, but I will say I've taken my best digiscoping images since moving back to Kowa earlier this year. The fluorite crystal lens element does a wonderful job at controlling chromatic aberration leading to a sharper perceived focus and the color neutrality mentioned above.

If digiscoping it's also worth pointing to Kowa's full suite of digiscoping accessories as well to accomodate DSLR, Micro 4/3rds, and phonescoping. Here is a wonderful independent review of spotting scopes conducted by the National Audubon Society showing the TSN-883 as the top performer in the field (in fairness to Zeiss Harpia was not included here): https://www.audubon.org/gear/scope-guide.

Also see Kowa's informative product videos for more info on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/kowasportingoptics
 
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Alexis Powell

Natural history enthusiast
United States
...I have to say I'm shocked this thread has gone this far without someone pointing out that the Kowa PROMINAR TSN-883 retails at $1,349 dollars LESS than the Harpia 85 here in the US!!! Seems like a very major pro / con to overlook. So if splitting hairs on performance as above, one would think the extra $1,349 in your pocket would make the decision very easy for most consumers...

Ah, well some of us take our optics very seriously here on BirdForum, price be damned.

--AP
 
I completely agree that the price difference should make it an easy decision for most consumers.

I am really, really, impressed with the 883. I have a friend of a friend that heard I was comparing scopes and is coming to check them out later in the week. I fully expect to recommend they get a Kowa. For all the reasons many of you have mentioned, its easy to make the case that the Kowa is the better overall scope, especially with the increased adaptability and lower cost. I gotta say though, I think the Harpia might be better for me in terms of finding and looking at birds, which ultimately is the thing I need a scope to do.

Wildfire smoke has prevented me from really putting them through their paces, though the smoke makes for interesting testing conditions, seeing what the scopes can do in truly heinous light. But in the birding I've been able to do I can see the advantages of the wider field of view and the wider magnification range.

Two examples: I was looking at a pair of crows yesterday afternoon perched high in a tree up the street, about 1/2 the way up the next block. I got very usable images at maximum mag in both scopes, even through the haze. But what were splotches on one bird through the Kowa were clearly patches of gray juvenile feathers mixed in with the black feathers grown during its post-juvenile molt through the Harpia's 65x, allowing me to age the crow.

This evening, I was at a local pond. While looking at a couple of mallards at 22x I saw the reeds and cattails rustling in the background a foot or so above the water, near the edge of the image. The slightest adjustment on the focus ring brought the plants into focus as a male common yellowthroat popped into view, clear as can be. Being able to zoom in on it without having to lift my hand to the eyepiece (or have to pan to get on the bird) and get a great look at it was also nice. I don't think I would have even noticed the grass rustling through the Kowa.

I'm still planning to put them through more comparisons, but right now I'm leaning towards the Harpia. I do a lot of teaching and a lot of waterbird counting. I can see scenarios where I could get more species into view in the Harpia at one time, which makes for easier comparisons while teaching bird ID, and being able to get on more birds in different situations with the more forgiving field of view is also a plus. And counting ducks is easier when you can see more at once. But the Kowa is also great. I will be sad to give one of them up.
 
I hope this thread is still live... query for Jeff Bouton. I dream of a TSN 883 (or perhaps a 773, which also gets excellent reviews, and scope+eyepiece a substantial £700 cheaper in UK). But Jeff: how do you respond to concerns above about potential damage-proneness of the TSNs? I've had a pair of Trinovid binoculars for nearly 30 years, gave them hell but they're still perfect. I'd want a costly scope to similarly survive the occasional hard knocks that are inevitable over decades of field use...
 
I hope this thread is still live... query for Jeff Bouton. I dream of a TSN 883 (or perhaps a 773, which also gets excellent reviews, and scope+eyepiece a substantial £700 cheaper in UK). But Jeff: how do you respond to concerns above about potential damage-proneness of the TSNs? I've had a pair of Trinovid binoculars for nearly 30 years, gave them hell but they're still perfect. I'd want a costly scope to similarly survive the occasional hard knocks that are inevitable over decades of field use...
I should stress I'm not trying to be critical of Kowa in particular. It's perhaps the case that no manufacturer produces a scope as rugged and knock-resistant as a top-end binocular.
 

Hauksen

Forum member
The fine focus wheel works amazingly for getting for getting focus tack sharp which becomes even more critical if digiscoping and adding additional magnification of a camera lens.
Hi Jeff,

I certainly do love my Kowa 883, but the fine focus is overly aggressive, to the point that it makes the coarse focus all but pointless because fine focus is so fast.

I'll admit that it works so smoothly that I'm not missing a true fine focus, unless I use my newly acquired 1.6x extender ... and then the lack of a fine focus that actually deserves the name is a major annoyance to me.

Regards,

Henning
 

peter.jones

Former supporter. No longer active.
Supporter
I have a Harpia 85. I bought Zeiss 8x25 about a year ago, and that has impressed me so much, its making me favour Zeiss if there is a decision to be made, such as this one.

The FOV at low magnification is amazing, literally point in the approximate direction, and the bird will be there.
The focussing, I don't really notice the "gears". I focus past on high speed, and then move back on the fine tune. Occasionally nudging the high gear if I overshot. But scope focussing is done by eye, so it's not really noticeable. (Compared to binoculars, which you can focus by touch, before they even reach your eyes, with practice).

I get the odd partial blackout when scanning, but didn't notice that last time out.
I haven't noticed it poorer at the low magnification, which I've read in a couple of places as it doesn't use the 85mm?
I tend to centralise the subject and zoom in to ~40x, which would get the optimum performance out of it.

Enjoying it so far, in mostly dull conditions and rain!
 

Jeff Bouton

Well-known member
I hope this thread is still live... query for Jeff Bouton. I dream of a TSN 883 (or perhaps a 773, which also gets excellent reviews, and scope+eyepiece a substantial £700 cheaper in UK). But Jeff: how do you respond to concerns above about potential damage-proneness of the TSNs? I've had a pair of Trinovid binoculars for nearly 30 years, gave them hell but they're still perfect. I'd want a costly scope to similarly survive the occasional hard knocks that are inevitable over decades of field use...
To address directly, in our repair department we see almost no 880’s come through each year so feel they are VERY rugged. I watched a brand new 883 get knocked over from full height at the San Diego Bird Fest this March making a sickening loud thwack when it hit the hard concrete walk and it was just fine. The comparative dearth of repairs is especially remarkable when you consider the enormous number of units in the field here in the US. This design has been in the market for over 14 years now and in units I’d argue we sell more units than nearly any other spotting scope out there. In short, I work for the company so could certainly be viewed skeptically, but I think if you simply look at ANY consumer reviews on any dealers websites, or just even consider the far superior rate of sale compared to most other spotters, you can clearly conclude these rumors can’t be true. Consumers today are connected and educated, even when unscrupulous manufacturer reps use fake names and spout false allegations about competing products (which sadly happens all too often), these odd opinions don’t seem to fit with the majority of the rave reviews posted by most. At any rate, I would not be concerned with the ruggedness of these scopes at all. They are time tested with literally tens of thousands of units in the field many being used daily without fail in over a decade of use. It’s impossible to gauge how brand new models & mechanical designs will hold up over time especially if rates of sale are comparatively very low (e.g. if a competing model sells 1:10 compared to Kowa meaning it would take a century of sales to match the volumes of the Kowa in the field). Since I was specifically called out, I felt obligated to respond but honestly don’t feel it was warranted, the product’s overwhelming popularity over such a long period speaks for itself!
 
To address directly, in our repair department we see almost no 880’s come through each year so feel they are VERY rugged. I watched a brand new 883 get knocked over from full height at the San Diego Bird Fest this March making a sickening loud thwack when it hit the hard concrete walk and it was just fine. The comparative dearth of repairs is especially remarkable when you consider the enormous number of units in the field here in the US. This design has been in the market for over 14 years now and in units I’d argue we sell more units than nearly any other spotting scope out there. In short, I work for the company so could certainly be viewed skeptically, but I think if you simply look at ANY consumer reviews on any dealers websites, or just even consider the far superior rate of sale compared to most other spotters, you can clearly conclude these rumors can’t be true. Consumers today are connected and educated, even when unscrupulous manufacturer reps use fake names and spout false allegations about competing products (which sadly happens all too often), these odd opinions don’t seem to fit with the majority of the rave reviews posted by most. At any rate, I would not be concerned with the ruggedness of these scopes at all. They are time tested with literally tens of thousands of units in the field many being used daily without fail in over a decade of use. It’s impossible to gauge how brand new models & mechanical designs will hold up over time especially if rates of sale are comparatively very low (e.g. if a competing model sells 1:10 compared to Kowa meaning it would take a century of sales to match the volumes of the Kowa in the field). Since I was specifically called out, I felt obligated to respond but honestly don’t feel it was warranted, the product’s overwhelming popularity over such a long period speaks for itself!
Hey Jeff, many thanks for this, and apologies for specifically calling you out. As noted, it wasn't really a critique of Kowa, more a reflection of my own nervousness about spending big money on a superb but not indestructible optical device. Your arguments make absolute sense: it's been a massive seller for years, and I believe you that very few come back for damage repair; sickening loud thwack on concrete is what we will try to avoid, but your story encouraging; and I have absolutely no doubt you're right that there are Bad Guys out there who mendaciously disparage their competitors' products. So all in all, you've convinced me. And I guess there are just common-sense approaches to risk reduction, like ensuring it's always in its protective case, and using a sufficiently heavy tripod, and not operating under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. Really appreciate your reply, thanks :)
 

mtn

... winging it ....
I completely agree that the price difference should make it an easy decision for most consumers.

I am really, really, impressed with the 883. I have a friend of a friend that heard I was comparing scopes and is coming to check them out later in the week. I fully expect to recommend they get a Kowa. For all the reasons many of you have mentioned, its easy to make the case that the Kowa is the better overall scope, especially with the increased adaptability and lower cost. I gotta say though, I think the Harpia might be better for me in terms of finding and looking at birds, which ultimately is the thing I need a scope to do.

Wildfire smoke has prevented me from really putting them through their paces, though the smoke makes for interesting testing conditions, seeing what the scopes can do in truly heinous light. But in the birding I've been able to do I can see the advantages of the wider field of view and the wider magnification range.

Two examples: I was looking at a pair of crows yesterday afternoon perched high in a tree up the street, about 1/2 the way up the next block. I got very usable images at maximum mag in both scopes, even through the haze. But what were splotches on one bird through the Kowa were clearly patches of gray juvenile feathers mixed in with the black feathers grown during its post-juvenile molt through the Harpia's 65x, allowing me to age the crow.

This evening, I was at a local pond. While looking at a couple of mallards at 22x I saw the reeds and cattails rustling in the background a foot or so above the water, near the edge of the image. The slightest adjustment on the focus ring brought the plants into focus as a male common yellowthroat popped into view, clear as can be. Being able to zoom in on it without having to lift my hand to the eyepiece (or have to pan to get on the bird) and get a great look at it was also nice. I don't think I would have even noticed the grass rustling through the Kowa.

I'm still planning to put them through more comparisons, but right now I'm leaning towards the Harpia. I do a lot of teaching and a lot of waterbird counting. I can see scenarios where I could get more species into view in the Harpia at one time, which makes for easier comparisons while teaching bird ID, and being able to get on more birds in different situations with the more forgiving field of view is also a plus. And counting ducks is easier when you can see more at once. But the Kowa is also great. I will be sad to give one of them up.


Did you ever decide which one to keep?
 
Since this thread has been bumped up, I take the opportunity to note that I bought a Kowa 884 (I prefer straight): I'm delighted with it.

Thanks to Jeff for response to my pre-purchase query about robustness. It remains my only significant gripe: the supplied case is rather loose-fitting, and I wish Kowa would resolve that and pack the inside of the case tight with internal neoprene or similar, for added protection. [I know there's an expensive neoprene case available, but it doesn't fully cover the scope.]

Otherwise it's superb. I love the focusing mechanism (though I agree that the difference between coarse and fine is minimal, so that I rarely use fine). I use it on a decades-old Manfrotto 055 tripod, with very helpful Scopac carrying pack.

[I have no doubt that the Harpia is also superb, Zeiss is quality too.]

I had a go at digiscoping, but I really didn't find that to be a workable approach: so I bought a Nikon P950 instead, and very happy with that too.
 
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peter.jones

Former supporter. No longer active.
Supporter
Something I'd never appreciated with these scopes is the close focussing. I always tend to use binoculars, and switch to the scope at longer distance. Has anyone made use of the 3-4 m close focus for macro / insects / plant identification? (The Harpia is 3.5m, I'm sure the others are in a similar ballpark)
I'll give this a try in the coming weeks, but I suspect I'll get better views from 3 metres with a scope than with my monocular (8x focus down to 30cm), it may even be on a par with my field microscope! (although flipping a stem over under the microscope is probably more desirable than walking around it!!)
 

peter.jones

Former supporter. No longer active.
Supporter

It becomes apparent that hunters / hunters' forums have a very different criteria to birders.
Presumably Hunters scan the area for a stationary / slow moving animal.
Birders do this too, but we also like to follow birds in flight, seawatching in particular.

So the hunters' criteria, in order of importance would be something like stealth, Twilight, weight, image quality, field of view.
Birder's on the other hand would be Image quality, Field of View, weight , Twilight, stealth.

(From a UK perspective at any rate, we aren't blessed with many opportunities / species to scope in the twilight)
 
Since this thread has been bumped up, I take the opportunity to note that I bought a Kowa 884 (I prefer straight): I'm delighted with it.

Thanks to Jeff for response to my pre-purchase query about robustness. It remains my only significant gripe: the supplied case is rather loose-fitting, and I wish Kowa would resolve that and pack the inside of the case tight with internal neoprene or similar, for added protection. [I know there's an expensive neoprene case available, but it doesn't fully cover the scope.]

Otherwise it's superb. I love the focusing mechanism (though I agree that the difference between coarse and fine is minimal, so that I rarely use fine). I use it on a decades-old Manfrotto 055 tripod, with very helpful Scopac carrying pack.

[I have no doubt that the Harpia is also superb, Zeiss is quality too.]

I had a go at digiscoping, but I really didn't find that to be a workable approach: so I bought a Nikon P950 instead, and very happy with that too.
can you please tell me which tripod head you use on your Manfrotto 055?
 

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