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Leica APO-Televid 82 v. Swarovski ATM 80 HD (1 Viewer)


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Comparison of Leica APO-Televid 82 and Swarovski ATM 80 HD

I also show this comparison with photos at: http://leicavswarovski.wordpress.com/

Leica APO Televid 82

The box, case, and eyepiece tube tell you immediately that you are handling something well made. The fit and finish of the product inside is second to none. The style and aesthetic is modern and exceptionally well executed. When it comes to style, Leica “gets it.” Even the smallest details like the lens cap exudes an air of quality and thoughtfulness. If the optical performance were as clearly better as the style, the Leica would easily be the best scope. Unfortunately, the competition is very considerable.

While the style and aesthetic of the Leica is the best, the actual ergonomics and mechanical function are not so clearly better. The Televid is shorter overall, with a shorter focal length (440mm to 460mm for the Swarovski). It’s also bulkier with a larger objective (82mm versus 80mm) and a case that bulges for the focusing mechanism. The Televid is also heavier by a pound which is something like 25% on these scopes.

The Televid’s focusing mechanism isn’t novel in any way I can tell but it works well. The Swarovski barrel band is more so, and the two-speed single knob on the latest Zeiss is completely novel. I thought the fine and coarse focus wheels on the Televid would be harder to operate with thick gloves on while the Swarovksi’s barrel band would be much easier. As it turns out, focusing the Leica with heavy gloves proved to be no problem at all. If anything, the focus wheels are a litter harder to locate by feel without looking, but I’m sure this would improve with practice and muscle memory. In use, the focuser worked very well. I used an Alpen 788 scope with a similar focuser but in that case only the fine knob worked with gloves. The coarse wheel on the Alpen was very difficult to turn in cold temperatures and impossible to turn with thick gloves. This type of focuser must be made so that it works correctly, but Leica seems to be able to do just that.

I did not pay a lot of attention to eyepiece changes since I don’t intend to do that in use. The eyepieces on both scopes went on with no trouble and they lock. Turning the zoom barrel on the Leica eyepiece takes some pressure to get it turning but it is quiet, smooth and stops solid. The Swarovski’s eyepiece zoom turns easily with the feel and sound of sliding two pieces of fine-textured vinyl together. It’s not cheap feeling at all, but more tactile whereas the Leica is more fluid. The eyecup rotates out on the Leica with the feel of plastic and it has intermediate stops. The Swarovski’s eyecup rotates out smoothly and fluidly without stops.

I read that earlier Televid 82’s had non-rotating lens hoods, which was hard to fathom since the only sighting mechanism provided are some notches on the lens hood that are useless on the angled version of the scope unless the hood can be rotated to view them from the side of the eyepiece. The Televid I received has a rotating lens hood. I found the notches helped to align the scope on the azimuth and that I could pan the scope to find the object I wanted in the eyepiece and that rotating the lens hood was not as useful as previous critics alleged.

On the Leica, the filter threads are on the objective ring, not on the lens hood, and the objective lens cap attaches to these threads. I don’t have a filter, so it’s not clear how it would function with the hood and cap, but the lens cap will not stay on the scope unless the lens hood is retracted so it can grab the filter threads. This complicates carrying the scope with the lens hood extended by preventing the lens cap from also being used. I also read there were some concerns with the Ever-Ready case when the Televid 82 was introduced, where the lens hood was difficult to use owing to the tight fit of the case and the inability to use filters in some situations. One might expect Leica to have solved those issues, but it should be checked out if these scenarios are important to the user. The case was not in the inventory I obtained the Televid from and I chose not to order it unless I determined to keep the scope.

The Swarovski ATM 80 HD

The Swarovski’s filter threads are on the lens hood. This makes it possible to use a filter or the lens cap with the lens hood in any position. Without a filter, I cannot determine whether both can be used at the same time.

Swarovski’s aesthetic taste is outdated but what they lack in fashion sense is possibly made up for by their fortune in crafting a smart design. Green is a good color, but exactly what shade of green is in fashion changes every several years. This is well understood in the automotive market, and by companies that sell iconic products in green. The only shade of green that doesn’t seem to change with the times is perhaps British Racing Green on those automotive products for which it’s appropriate. To explain the changes in green fashion in the most prosaic terms, it shifts between a blue-green teal and a yellow-green shade perhaps every ten years or so. There are also shifts in the fashion of metallics and levels of saturation and brightness between an olive drab and fluorescent lime green and in between.

Now some might say, for crying out loud, why does this matter? Of course it doesn’t, but only serves to demonstrate the datedness of Swarovski’s style. Leica radically updated the Televid from the 77’s older style. Consider that Gitzo just introduced a new line of birding tripods and heads in green, called “Safari.” The green is a current brighter yellow green with good saturation. Zeiss just discontinued their Diascope line of scopes in olive drab (or silver) and decided to go black on the new Diascopes along with Leica. Black, of course, never goes out of fashion. Swarovski’s green is darker, less saturated but not quite drab, and toward the blue part of the spectrum.
The Swarovski logo and corporate identity is dated. While I find Leica’s red dot tasteful if not superfluous, the elaborate Swarovski eagle is gaudy. Printing the brand name in an elaborate typeface is enough, but to add an intricate eagle sculpture is far too much. They should drop the eagle and simplify their typeface. At least adapt a simplified eagle similar to the Swarovski swan. Leica’s typeface is perfect and the red dot is discrete but I wouldn’t miss the latter.

If you’re wondering why on earth any of this matters, let me reiterate. These scopes are close. Real close. If you’re really more interested in the optical performance of these scopes, well then I beg your pardon for a moment more.

The Swarovski’s rubber armor feels softer than the Leica and I thought it better insulated my fingers from a cold scope (I was using them below 0C), but on closer inspection the only thing that’s clear is the Swarovski has two textures, the soft green and the harder black, whereas the Leica has several different textures of black most of which are harder and less grippy than Swarovski’s green.

The Swarovski’s shape is slightly longer and arguably more elegant than the Leica’s owing to the barrel-band focusing ring that integrates with the flowing curve of the barrel. The Leica is more angular with radiused bulges. It’s perhaps less elegant but it’s very handsome and has the look of competence.

Standing back and looking at them, the Leica’s objective appears substantially larger in comparison than what the extra 1mm of radius would suggest. The Leica’s objective coating is a deep red and brighter objects do reflect in it. The Swarovski’s coating is dark perhaps yellow-green. It seems to reflect less obviously than the Leica but this is by no means an objective evaluation or actual measurement. The light throughput as determined primarily by the coatings in these designs matters a lot, but testing the result is not so simple. I won’t attempt it.

Looking in the scopes

Apparent and True Fields of View

From the specifications, I expected the Televid to have a slightly wider apparent field of view in the eyepiece and therefore a slightly wider true field of view for a given magnification. I evaluated the field of view and minimum and maximum magnifications for each scope. Actually measuring the angular field of view, magnification, and angle of apparent field is very involved and I did not do this. I simply pointed the scopes at a measuring tape from the same distance and looked how wide the true field was from that distance.

The Swarovski’s field was slightly but significantly wider at the scopes’ lowest magnifications. The Leica’s field was very slightly wider at the scopes’ highest magnifications. Both eyepieces are nominally 25-50x but I did not measure actual magnification levels which can vary. The results could be explained because the Swarovski zooms down to a lower magnification or because the eyepiece provides a wider apparent field at low magnification. At their highest magnifications, the results could be explained because the Leica is not zooming in as much as the Swarovski or because it has a wider apparent field of view.

Based on the specifications and measurements of actual objective and exit pupil diameters done by others, I suspect the Leica has a slightly wider apparent field of view in the eyepiece at 50x but it is not zooming down to 25x. If it zoomed from 26.2x – 50.7x and had the 59-82 degree field of view, that would explain the results in the field of view I saw at the long end compared to the Swarovski that is actually 25x-50x but 60-70 degrees AFOV. What it does not explain is why the Leica’s field of view was not substantially wider at the short end. With almost the same magnification but 82 degrees versus 70, the field should have been much wider than the Swarovski, but it was only very slightly so. I did not use a standard measurement, but simply examined the same tape meaure from the same unmeasured distance with the two scopes side by side. The difference on the short end is such that it is of no practical use. The difference on the long-end can be useful but it is still small. The Leica’s field was 1.8% wider on the short end but about 7% narrower at the long end.


In the view at night I evaluated chromatic aberration and found it mostly absent. Moving my eye well-off axis, there was some visible in both scopes but for it to appear the view had to become very contorted looking at an object off the center of the field from an off-axis eye position.

In daylight observation of terrestrial subjects, it was easier to evaluate chromatic aberration. None was visible on axis, but it was apparent in both scopes on dark objects against light backgrounds near the edge of the field. I could see a hint of purple on the edge of a shadow cast by a roof line. I could see a pool of blue in a dark corner of a fence. This was only if they were adjacent to the edge of the field of view.


Simply moving the scope to place an in-focus star in various positions on the field showed that both scopes were sharp all around and to the edge. Any lack of sharpness was only visible with off-axis pupilary alignments.

Linear Distortion

A comparison of linear distortion is not a decisive factor for me in choosing an astronomical telescope. In most visual astronomy, we are less concerned about a rectilinear image than we are about sharpness to the edge. Birders, however, are more concerned about rectilinearity and orthoscopic images. With the Swarovski, it is interesting to examine the rectilinearity of the image because of Swarovski’s unusual choice to provide a view in some of their Swarovision binoculars that does not accommodate the small but varying amount of barrel distortion in most people’s eyes. The result is a “globe effect” when panning.

When I evaluated the rectilinearity of the image in these quality scopes, I could not distinguish any flaws. I saw neither pincushion nor barrel. It appeared perfect around the circumference of the field. Of course I am just viewing with my eye. To really evaluate this one might rather try to record an image of a grid undistorted by any additional lenses. I don’t have the practical means to do that but by comparison, an Alpen 788 clearly showed substantial pincushion to my eye.


I evaluated the scopes side by side using a resolution chart at an unknown distance. It is not practical for me to measure the scope’s resolving power, but simple enough for me to compare them. In this comparative test as well as several others, the initial views caused me to think the Leica was inferior but after more careful examination I was not able to distinguish one as better than the other.

Besides the resolution chart, I was amazed to resolve individual wires of a chain link fence at over a mile away. I also compared the contrast using a fine gap on a painted Dutch door at half a mile.

I was able to resolve many fine things with both scopes. Both showed Castor as a double, but the atmosphere and 50x didn’t allow me to completely separate the two. One couldn’t expect to see the fainter pairs with 80mm class objectives.

Both showed good contrast on Jupiter. I could see two bands but the atmosphere was interfering with further observation. The image was bright enough that filters would probably help show more contrast.

Both easily showed four stars in the Trapezium at 25x and gave similar views of the Pleides. I found some easier to locate deep sky objects and the views in each scope were comparable. There is really little reason to expect the views in practice to even be discernable between the two.

I have a view of the mountains out my front window. On this side of the mountain are two ski lifts. There are a great many more on the north side. With a Celestron C5 and Ethos 13 eyepiece, I could resolve the cables on the ski lift over seven miles away but the view was dim and had low contrast and was greatly interfered with by air currents in the atmosphere. With the spotting scopes, I could easily resolve the electrical line and both runs of lift cable at half the magnification of the C5 and at 10 miles distance on a hill behind my house. The view was bright with excellent contrast. If I lingered at the eyepiece long enough for the atmosphere to allow it, I could even resolve a ski pole at seven miles distance. If you can’t land one in the ten ring with one of these scopes, it’s not the optics.

Image Brightness

It’s not practical for me to evaluate image brightness quantitatively. Both scopes are bright. Much brighter than a Alpen 788 and with a far wider field of view at 25x even though the Alpen goes out to 20x. The image at 50x is also larger and brighter than a C5 with 25mm Plossl. It’s also certainly brighter than the C5 with an Ethos 13 (103x) but the Ethos eyepiece spreads the image circle over a much larger area. While the C5 has a much larger nominal aperture, it also has a large central obstruction, a Schmidt corrector that scatters some light, and a mirror of relatively low reflectivity. The standard Celestron diagonal is also poor but the one I evaluated used a 2” Tele Vue Everbrite diagonal. The inability to get the C5 below 50x renders it much dimmer than any view in the smaller refractors at the lower magnifications despite its much larger aperture. I don’t mean this to be a comparison with the SCT, and these are only subjective comments.

Between the Leica and Swarovski, I could not identify one as brighter than the other. Another review that published results of apparently careful light meter readings on measured exit pupils found the Swarovski brighter, presumably indicating superior light throughput. However, the effect of field of view particularly when compared to the substantially different Zeiss, was debated in forums. All of this is beyond my competence. When I attempted simple comparative limiting magnitude tests, I found the difference in the scopes was too hard for me to discern.

The moon was at half and too bright to look at without a filter. I could observe it with the Alpen 788 but the view in the Leica and Swarovski made me squint, pull my eye away and wobble around half-blind for a few seconds. I prefer the viewing around the terminator at a quarter or less and in that case it might be done without a filter.

Parfocalness of Zoom

Zooming in and out required a slight adjustment of focus but this interrelates to the focal length of the observer’s eye. A camera or sensor could test whether the zoom is perfectly parfocal, but most people’s eyes could not. My eyes might be +0.125 diopter (according to one phoropter) which could still require 0.5mm adjustment to the focus when doubling or halving the eyepiece focal length depending on my eye’s accommodation power. Most people that are even a little myopic will need to make some adjustments to focus when zooming.

Eye Relief

I evaluated eye relief for subjective results. I do not wear glasses but my wife does. On both scopes, if my eye is too close to the eye lens, I get kidney-beaning and black out. On the Swarovski, I found I could adjust the eyecup out far enough to rest my eye on the eyecup and see the full field. Pressing my eye against the fully extended eyecup, I could force my eye in far enough to cause a loss of some field. Moving back from the eyecup I lost the full field in a very short distance. There is enough eye relief for eyeglasses but there is not a wide range of useful eye positions.

On the Leica, the eye relief is specified as 19mm versus 17mm for the Swarovski. I did not measure it but fully extended the Leica’s eyecup and put my eye to it. If I touch the eyecup, my eye is too close to the eye lens. If I hover just off it I get a good eye position. The Leica does not seem to be more forgiving in eye position. It takes one slightly further off the eyecup but in practice I didn’t prefer one or the other. My wife could use either with her glasses on. The Leica probably affords more distance in eye position but just as narrow range.

Tripod Mount

Inexplicably, neither of the integrated tripod platforms fit a Gitzo birding scope head. What’s more, it appears that between Kowa, Leica, Swarovski, and Zeiss, none of them share the same size tripod platform. This renders the ability to forgo the use of the tripod head’s quick connect adapter mostly useless unless you happen to have a head that fits the particular scope’s platform. I have Manfrotto and Gitzo heads, into which neither the Leica nor the Swarovski fit without an adapter. The scopes’ base plates are too small.

It should not noted that I used a 4kg rated tripod and mount in my testing. I found the tripod more than adequate, particularly since I typically only extend two leg segments to observe from a chair or sitting on the ground. At standing height, a 7-8kg rated tripod would be better. I suggest the Gitzo Series 1 Safari 6x, or a Manfrotto 055 series.

I tried the Gitzo Series 1 GH1720QR head which I found unsatisfactory with these scopes. The birding-specific fluid cartridges have stiff initial resistance even fully unlocked, and the mount will flex when making small adjustments causing objects to bounce back in the field. I actually preferred my Manfrotto 390RC2 head which is a non-fluid three-way head. It worked adequately but I feel that there is a better fluid head for these scopes. Leica rebrands the Gitzo G2180. The GH2720QR may also be a good choice. Swarovski offers their head made in Austria. Manfrotto’s 701HDV video head might work well. A Manfrotto 410 junior geared head offers all the precision you could want but it’s really only practical to unlock one axis at a time with it. Of course any astronomical Alt-Azimuth, Equatorial or Goto mount can be made to work with these spotters, but many of them would be over-kill.

Star Test

The Leica was so far undercorrected for spherical aberration that I could clearly see the variation in brightness from the center of the defocused star to the edge alternating between intra and extra-focus. Extra-focus showed a brighter center. It is possible that Leica intentionally specifies this undercorrection to provide pleasing bokeh in the out of focus areas for photography or digiscoping. Some undercorrection may be desirable for the unfocused area behind a bird for example. One would certainly expect to find undercorrection in some of Leica’s portrait lenses for example but I have no way of assessing the value of the undercorrection in this scope.

The defocused star also showed in the Leica substantial coma away from the center of the field with the center of the concentric rings veering toward the side of an ellipsoid. I also saw what looked like a cateye pattern. I can’t prove it but I wonder if the Leica eyepiece actually has a significantly wider field stop than the image circle the scope provides. While I didn’t see obvious vignetting, it would explain where the 82 degrees of apparent field went and why I got almost football shaped defocused stars near the edge.

The Swarovski on the other hand had very consistently illuminated concentric rings. It was not obviously under or over corrected. It appeared perfect. I would have needed a higher magnification eyepiece and laboratory conditions to scrutinize it any further.

On the Swarovski, the defocused star’s diffraction rings remained circular even as I moved the scope to bring the star out to the very edge of the field. The rings also remained concentric with the axis not veering from the center anywhere in the field stop of the eyepiece.

Since I only had the single scope and eyepiece pairs that were not interchangeable, I had no way of evaluating whether the effects I was seeing in the Leica were caused by the scope or the eyepiece. I suspect the eyepiece is implicated in some of it.

The Leica eyepiece is made in Portugal. I read that Leitz opened this factory in 1973, quite ostensibly to save labor costs without incurring the difficulties of going much farther abroad thereby incurring costs in trade and problems with managing quality. While I have read positive results from an evaluation of this eyepiece compared to astronomical eyepieces using a larger apochromatic refractor of reputable make, I am left skeptical and I would be suspicious of sample variation, and test carefully.


I have a Panasonic DMC LX3 from which the Leica D-Lux 4 version derives, and I’m afraid you’ve stumbled into a review that was mostly intended to determine for myself which of these scopes to own so this otherwise banal piece of trivia actually matters to me if only me alone. Leica produces a digiscoping adapter for these cameras that makes digiscoping very simple. It costs $107. I can adapt the camera to the Swarovski but it is initially more complex. I need a Panasonic adapter ($20), a 46 to 52mm step-up ring ($7) and the Swarovski digiscoping adapter ($249). With all the pieces, I could assemble the adapter that would be just as simple as the Leica in use for $286. While this is much costlier, the Leica scope and eyepiece is initially $680 more than the Swarovski at prices available to me. For another camera, there is no more convenience to the Leica’s adapter unless it were another Leica favored camera like the D-Lux 5 (DMC LX5).

Swarovski produces the TLS800 adapter to use a mirror reflex camera with their spotting scopes. I have read that Leica produces a similar adapter but I have not been able to find any more about it. I have some older Nikon film SLR’s I like but I doubt I would use them with this scope. For someone interested in this kind of arrangement for astrophotography, I suggest they would almost certainly be better off with an NP101is.

Buying a Leica

If one were to choose the Leica APO Televid 82 and eyepiece, I would highly recommend purchasing it through Company 7. Their promise is to perform in-house quality control testing and they should have no trouble detecting a problem with anything coming from Leica. Since Leica fixes retail prices on their products and Company 7 performs this service without additional cost, I can see few reasons why anyone would rather receive a scope picked at random by a retailer that won’t even open the box. I’m not sure who’s at a disadvantage; Company 7 because they can’t increase their price to reflect their care of the customer, or the warehouse retailer because they’re not authorized to lower their prices for their lack of such attention.

I did not receive the Leica I evaluated from Company 7. I purchased it from a warehouse distributor along with the Swarovski because I believed there was a 50% chance that I would return it in favor of the Swarovski. Company 7 doesn’t sell the Swarovski and I didn’t think their traditional retail store business model was amenable to sending out a scope for me to evaluate with a good chance that I would return it even if there was nothing wrong. I appreciate that Company 7 would rather work to ensure I receive one of the best examples of what I order with the intention of keeping it. Therefore I would have had to be fairly determined that I wanted a Leica before I ordered one from them. Had my evaluation showed many clear superiorities with the design and function of the Leica, I would have returned both scopes and ordered one from Company 7 with a reasonable expectation that I would receive a better one and the continuing care of its customers that Company 7 promises.


As it were, I found the Leica was:

• Heavier
• Bulkier
• More costly

It had no clear advantages. Besides the optical deficiencies which can easily be accounted for as sample variation, there was nothing about the unrelated factors of optical performance, the mechanical features, the design specification itself, the materials of construction, or anything that would clearly distinguish the Televid as superior. Since it is actually a more recent design, we cannot expect Leica will offer a better scope until such a time we might expect the same from its competition.

In comparison, the Swarovski was:

• Lighter
• Slimmer
• Less costly

The optical superiority may or may not have merely been a result of sample variation. Because the practical performance was not very obviously superior, it wouldn’t be fair to expect every Swarovski scope to outperform a Leica. The optical design parameters are too similar to expect any real difference. Where the Swarovski does decisively distinguish itself is in the physical and mechanical parameters. It is obviously lighter and slimmer if only a small amount longer. I admit that for astronomy this matters little to many, but for myself it weighs significantly in determining whether I grab it or not. I go observing every night (even if I can’t see anything but a storm overhead). If there’s even a small chance of seeing the heavens, I like to have a telescope that doesn’t require excessive involvement in many ancillary tasks. I feel that the telescope that you will use the most is the one that is best for you.

Mechanically the preference between these two scopes is more subjective. I found the Swarovski focusing band slightly more convenient than the Leica’s wheels, but not as much as I expected I would. I also preferred the Swarovski’s eyepiece mechanics. The zoom barrel didn’t provide the Leica’s initial sticky resistance to turning and the eyecup twists out fluidly instead of with the plastic feel of the Leica and its three stops.

Most importantly, the Swarovski ATM 80 HD was not inferior to the Leica in any aspect. I had rather expected it to be so, perhaps owing to my regard for Leica’s M-system cameras and lenses (about which I will almost certainly be more objective now). I was not able to identify a single area in which the Swarovski was the least bit inferior other than a tiny margin of field of view only at the highest magnification. It should be noted that the extra edge the Leica provides was substantially flawed and had it been masked the optical performance would have been less degraded. At lowest magnification, the Swarovski actually gave more field most likely because of both slightly less magnification and an apparent field in the eyepiece one degree wider.

I do feel that the Leica I received was below the standard that I would expect. Leitz has historically had trouble with quality when outsourcing to Canada and Portugal to obtain lower costs. My findings should serve to make anyone buying on thrift to be wary. How Leica considers the results their supply chain delivered in this case a bargain is beyond me. They delivered the most expensive serially produced 80mm refractor of any type, astro or birding, with flaws. They even included a hand signed certificate in the box.

Although I did not evaluate the newer Zeiss Diascope 85, I will explain why I didn’t and a few things one might expect from the Diascope. It is a slightly longer focal length scope at 502mm rather than the 460mm Swarovski and 440mm Leica. It has a slightly larger aperture at 85mm. It is substantially heavier at 2073g compared to the Swarovski’s 1594g.

For an astronomer not concerned with the extra size and weight, the main consideration is the available eyepieces. Although the Diascope is adaptable to use any standard 1.25” astronomical eyepiece, the bayonet mount eyepieces available from Zeiss include 40x, 20-60x, and 20-75x. Although the zoom eyepieces provide a wider range of magnification than 25-50x, it should be noted that the field of view for a given magnification is less, particularly at low magnification. Zeiss’ decision not to offer a 25-50x eyepiece is the main reason I did not evaluate a Diascope.

The apparent field of view of the 20-75x eyepiece is 46-67.5 degrees. This provides a smaller image circle than the 25-50x which is 60-70 degrees or more. A 60 degree AFOV at 25x shows more field than a 46 degree AFOV at 20x. Also, while the additional reach to 75x is enticing, in practice this will result in a smaller exit pupil that can create difficulty in use. The highly magnified image will be dimmer and the true field at less than a degree will have limited applications in astronomy (mostly useful for solar system objects). For a greater variety of celestial subjects, the wide angle (68 degree) 40x eyepiece is probably a better choice for the Zeiss.

My interest is also piqued by the Kite KSP 80 HD and the ostensibly forthcoming KSP 80 APO from Belgium. The Kowa Prominars are also regarded among the birding community. I am mostly interested in the Highlander binocular arrangement that is like the old Zeiss Starmorbi and Asembi, but owing to the size and mass of these telescopes, a large mount is necessary resulting in a lack of portability – a circumstance in which one is probably better served by larger aperture as well.

In any event, I hope someone finds my comparison useful.

Thanks for the very comprehensive review.

Your description of the star tests suggests that you had the great good luck of acquiring an absolute cherry sample of the Swarovski. It's rare in my experience to find a spotting scope specimen of any brand, including Swarovski, that isn't undercorrected for spherical aberration and doesn't have any other optical defects.

I don't think there is any advantage to undercorrection in a scope. Pleasing bokeh is nice in a camera lens, but it's pretty poor compensation for degraded resolving power in a telescope. But as you observed, 50x is really not enough magnification for most people to notice any but the worst loss of resolution in 80mm+ class scopes. That's my biggest complaint with the 25-50x zooms on large spotting scopes. The resolution of a really good 80mm scope specimen can never be accessed, even when conditions permit it.

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I suspect when people are buying a 25x to 50x zoom they're making a trade off for exit pupil comfort, FOV and ER against maximum magnification (smallest resolvable features). Most of the time you use this magnification range so why not optimize for it. Even at 50x atmospheric conditions in the field make it less than worthwhile. Plus the step between 50x and 60x is rather small (but not small enough I suppose when you really need it).

Perhaps the ideal complement to a 25x to 50x zoom is a 1.25" astro EP to give between 60x and 75x for those cases when you really want to see the flamingos in the heat haze.
Questions of magnification do seem to come down to personal use and quality of optics. I use 90-92mm scopes. With those I find the "pointless" magnifications are the ones below 30x. 40-80x is the useful range most of time, sometimes up to 100-120x for a distant bird if the air is steady. I suspect something is wrong with the optics, rather than air turbulence, if an 80-88mm scope seems uncomfortable or useless beyond 50x.
I think I already described why I prefer 25-50x to the other choices from Leica, Swarovski and Zeiss. I primarily observe celestial subjects, birds less so. To recap, I like the wide apparent field of view particularly at lower powers where it is often difficult to get. The image brightness in an 80mm around 30 to 40x is good. I could do quite well with a fixed focal length wide angle eyepiece but the zoom gives some versatility and provided it's wide enough as with the 25-50x, it gives up little. The 20-60 and 75 give up more AFOV compared with fixed wide angles.

In astronomy, much higher magnifications are useful than anything in birding, but we mostly want these with larger apertures as well. 100mm yes, but also 130, 160 for refractors. But this gives up the portability of a three and a half pound 80mm spotter. A case of eyepieces also gives up the kind of simplicity we want in the field.

For me, the little spotter also takes the place of a binocular because I cannot easily share a good binocular with my children. The minimum IPD is too much, and it is complex to mount for them (the straight through eyepieces would take laying on the back and a bulky parallelogram style mount to view objects near the zenith). As a binocular substitute, we certainly want very wide fields.

In astronomy there is an abudance of wide field subjects, but comparatively few where a narrow field is better, particularly with such a limited aperture. Chiefly, we have the planets and binary stars. These are the most important areas where perhaps 90-120x would improve things greatly with an 80mm scope. I would probably try to accomplish this with a Tele Vue Radian eyepiece because as Kevin suspected, I value "comfort." (An abbe-ortho would be less so)

Perhaps a more apt description of what I'm looking for is "ease of use." I share my scope with children and difficulties for them in eye placement can result from small exit pupils, and too much or too little eye relief. For the skilled observer, this issue may matter little. Also, with children, wide TFOV gives them the opportunity to steer the scope and find things they relate easily with the naked-eye view. I could use different eyepieces, but again I'd rather forgo the eyepiece case in the field. I like the simplicity of "one-size-does-it-all." For the stay at home observatory rig (I don't have one), well then the sky's the limit.

As for star testing and resolution charts, there is no question that higher magnification gives us a lot more insight. Birdingwatching.com reports that they test resolution of scopes using a barlow but they don't provide details on how they do this. It seems it would be difficult to accomplish unless they are not using the brand-specific eyepieces, in which case it would make more sense to use a short focal length eyepiece.

Where I would find another zoom interesting would be if it were (with the ~460mm 80) say 50-100x with 80 to 90 degrees AFOV. Other than that, a fixed short focal length eyepiece with a narrower apparent field can compliment my observing, just less frequently and because of that I'm not sure I need my "all-purpose" zoom to accomodate that function. Of course if you have a 1-300X zoom with 110 degree fields, orthoscopic images, and scant abberation of any kind, that fits in my stay-on case and costs less than a grand, I'll take it!
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Questions of magnification do seem to come down to personal use and quality of optics. I use 90-92mm scopes. With those I find the "pointless" magnifications are the ones below 30x. 40-80x is the useful range most of time, sometimes up to 100-120x for a distant bird if the air is steady. I suspect something is wrong with the optics, rather than air turbulence, if an 80-88mm scope seems uncomfortable or useless beyond 50x.


Most scopes mentioned here are at the max. 80mm. Could you tell us what
scopes you are using in the 90-92mm range, are those in the astro class ?

I know I could learn much about scopes, as my longest is 60mm.

As for star testing and resolution charts, there is no question that higher magnification gives us a lot more insight. Birdingwatching.com reports that they test resolution of scopes using a barlow but they don't provide details on how they do this. It seems it would be difficult to accomplish unless they are not using the brand-specific eyepieces, in which case it would make more sense to use a short focal length eyepiece.

FWIW, the Porters at Birdwatching.com don't use a Barlow. They use a small 2x telescope placed behind the eyepiece of the scope being tested. That works fine for measuring resolution on a LP/mm chart.


I use small Astro-Physics (92mm) and Takahashi (90,78,50mm) astronomical refractors for birding.

FWIW, the Porters at Birdwatching.com don't use a Barlow. They use a small 2x telescope placed behind the eyepiece of the scope being tested. That works fine for measuring resolution on a LP/mm chart.


I use small Astro-Physics (92mm) and Takahashi (90,78,50mm) astronomical refractors for birding.

Interesting gear. Is there a specific thread that shows your setup?
Tripod choice? Portability/ setup time?
2" or 1.25" diagonal? Erecting Prism?
Do you use a binoviewer?
What is your solution for rainy weather?

The 50mm Takahashi seems like a fun scope. Any thoughts vs the Nikon 50mm?

There's no thread that lists my stuff. I don't want to highjack this one, but in answer to your specific questions and with apologies to the OP:

six tripods: aluminum, wood, carbon fiber, usually Gitzo 3530S for birding

a drawer full of diagonals from years of optogeek collecting: prisms, mirrors, 1.25', 2"

no binoviewer

plastic bag

The Tak FC-50 has excellent optics, but it's much bigger and heavier than it needs to be. Weighs more than a Kowa 883.

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There's no thread that lists my stuff. I don't want to highjack this one, but in answer to your specific questions and with apologies to the OP:


No worries. Considering I'm more astro than birding, your gear comprises interesting choices. You're using astro scopes for birding, and I'm using a birding scope for astronomy. How about that.

There's no question you get an optical advantage with that gear, but whether I'm birding or going out for the night, I really appreciate the simplicity (yes, with some inherent compromises) of the spotter.

I went out last night. My dog needed to run around and I wanted to have a look at the sky before the moon rose but I also wanted to be home in time to put the kids to bed.

In astronomy, we talk about "grab-n-go" to describe a scope that doesn't require a project to load it in the truck. For some people it could still amount to loading a tripod, a cased equatorial or goto mount, another case with the OTA and an eyepiece case. For me, I squeezed the tripod legs together and set the spotter in the back seat of the truck. It took me just as long to stick the binocular and camera in my pockets. Preparing a small Dewar's flask of hot coffee took the longest. It was worth it though. Get the parka, 'cause it's about 10 below zero... LED headlight (with a dim red beam to preserve night vision), and the dog's in the crate. When I pulled out of the driveway, I thought to myself if I had any other setup, there's no way I would get to use it tonight.

When I got away from town, I took a walk with the dog. Here's where a binocular works best. I'm using Nikon 10x21's but have been looking around for something better (the 10x21's were a gift 10 years ago). I would like some Swarovski 8x42 EL's but I can't rationalize/justify the expense. I've got some Nikon 7x35's on order. At least they can do one thing better than the Swarovski's - wide angle. I think they'll be great for the kids too because the wide angle will make them easy to point (on a tripod). My kids can only use one ocular though (47mm IPD) for now.

I don't do astrophotography but I do have a digiscoping adapter on the way for terrestrial use. One of the first birds I'd like to photograph is the owls we have here. I see them every night so there should be an opportunity to get a good photograph. If the moon is full like it was few nights ago, it might be more interesting than trying to see the stars.

Anyway, I had good views mostly to the south, saw the area around Orion and the Big Dog well, M42, some open clusters. I had a fair view of the Andomeda galaxy but it was low toward the horizon and the town was lighting up the sky there. I viewed for the better part of an hour, collected the dog and went home.

With a typical telescope, I might have spent the whole time loading, unloading, setting up and taking down. I couldn't have setup in the icy snow and mud hole I was using either. Not even my dog would lay down there. (He spent his time sniffing rabbit trails and grumbling at the coyotes). I would have needed more time to find a cleaner spot. The night before at least we were on some clean ice but I hadn't brought a camp chair so we were really sitting on the ice.

I also think about this steep rocky canyon over by Mud Lake. At the bottom of the canyon there's a creek and a monster cottonwood where I saw a bald eagle last summer. I would have had to leave my kids to climb down there, but maybe this spring we can come in from the side with the truck. Maybe we'll even camp down there.
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