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Vortex Razor HD 13-39 x 56 - first impressions (1 Viewer)

Peregrine Took

Well-known member
United Kingdom
Just bought a mint used Vortex Razor HD 13-39 x 56 and these are my first impressions.


I started out a couple of years ago with an Opticron MM4 60mm, then moved to a Kowa TSN-773. I found I wasn't using a scope very much, so I sold it, bought a used Opticron MM4 77mm and bought some fishing rods with the change!

The Opticron 77 was a great scope, but I found that my viewing was 99% in the garden, with my bird feeders at about 25-40 metres from the house, and found the 18x magnification a bit tight to take in adjacent feeders and the 'landing zones' in the trees where the feeders were hung. I was constantly moving the scope around to view the entire scene.

So I decided to sell the 77 and buy another MM4 60, when a used Vortex Razor HD 13-39 x 56 came up for sale.

Vortex Razor HD 13-39 x 56 - first impressions...

The Vortex is compact in size and weight and appears to be nicely made. It feels nice in the hand and I like the colour and finish, and I like the eyepiece and objective lens covers... they collars that hold them in place will not come loose and the front cover is quite chunky and slots reassuringly into the body (unlike Opticron objective covers). There is no lens hood, and I've yet to check the front thread to see if one can be retro-fitted.

It has an Arca-Swiss foot. I have a Gitzo head, but there is a 3/8" thread that will take virtually any plate. The scope also comes with a black neoprene case that I can't imagine using.

The barrel focus was a leap of faith on my part - having never used one before, I thought it might induce vibration, but it's a very solid mechanism and I don't see any shake when using it at high magnification. I was immediately converted - for me, it is easier to find sharp focus than with the dual focus rings of other scopes.

The zoom eyepiece has a thread attachment, similar to that of the Opticron scopes. I don't have a tool to measure it accurately, but I'll update shortly for those who might want to consider alternative EPs. I like the one that's on it, but I guess if there was a 24x wide-angle EP that fitted I'd like to try it.

The eyepiece has a twist up cup and gives plenty of eye relief - I was worried it might not be as pleasant in this respect as the Opticron and Kowa, but my fears were laid to rest immediately. The zoom ring is nice and tight - nothing sloppy about it - and will not move under pressure (I don't normally apply any real pressure, but just for the purpose of testing).

Ease of focus might be a function of depth of field (that's a question others might want to engage with), but I think there is significantly more depth of field with this scope at about 18x magnification, than with the Opticron 77, where I was constantly re-focussing between feeders that were about 600mm apart (one in front of the other). With the Vortex, the depth of field at 13x appears to be about 75-100cm at 25 metres, which is perfect for my needs, while still providing a pleasing out of focus backdrop to birds at my feeders. This also means that if I see a bird landing (with my 'spare eye') outside of the field of view, I can swing the scope sideways and pick it up without the need to re-focus.

It is razor sharp, as the name claims it to be, right to about 5% from the edge of the frame, where it loses about 3% sharpness. This is not a measurable observation, but a subjective one - for me, it is immaterial... the scope is as sharp as the Kowa TSN-773 and the Opticron MM4 77. I have telegraph pole about a kilometre from the house, which has faded lettering (plastic signs) on it - it's a good thing to test sharpness at distance - and it passes the distance / full zoom sharpness test with no complaints and retains colour saturation at distance.

I no longer have the Opticron MM4 60mm to compare side-by-side, but I remember being astonished by the Kowa when I did this 'test' because it easily out-performed the Opticron 60mm, as you might expect. Both the Kowa and the Opticron MM4 77 are fresh enough in my mind that I can honestly say I see very little difference between them and the Vortex (other than maximum magnification, of course)... again, subjective, but I feel no disappointment at stepping down from the 77mm scopes.

Colour rendition:
I've only had it for just over a day, but the weather has thrown everything our way during the last 36 hours. Through rain and shine and at dawn and dusk, the colour appears to me to be neutral, but possibly on the warm side, which is how I like it. I guess people will perceive this differently, but I'm pretty sure it's close to neutral and not on the cold side.

As above (sharpness), colour saturation appears to be perfect at all magnifications within say 100 metres and holds up well at distance and on maximum zoom. It's hard to assess things at distances of one or two kilometres, because a scope isolates the scene in a way that the naked eye cannot, but in dull light (with no heat shimmer or hard shadows) the scope appears to render the scene truthfully.

After about two years of serious scope ownership, this is probably the first scope I've bought where I had a clear idea of what my viewing habits were... rather than what I thought they might be when I joined the RSPB and thought I might visit bird reserves more frequently. In reality 99% of my birding is in my garden, or out and about with my binoculars. If I visit family in Ireland or Scotland I do take my scope and I think this will be perfect for those occasions.

I imagine some will want to compare this scope with the Opticron MM4 60mm, in which case I'd say that, having been converted to barrel focus, I much prefer the ergonomics of the Vortex, but I think it also shades the Opticron optically. If the comparison is with the Kowa TSN-553, I'm going to guess that price is the main factor separating the two - but I must admit, if I could have justified the extra spend (+£400.00), I'd have checked out the Kowa to see what the actual differences were. As it is, I've saved a chunk of money and feel no need for 'what ifs'.

Not technical (and I can't do star tests, nor am I interested), but I hope this helps anyone who is thinking about this type of compact scope. It's September 2023 at the time of writing - I'll add to the thread as I get to know the scope better. And finally, a picture, so there's no confusion about the model I'm writing about.

Screenshot 2023-09-17 at 11.06.45.png
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PS. I forgot to mention that another reason for me to go from a 77mm scope to a smaller one, was close focus, so that I can observe insects more easily.

Also, the scope is dark green - it looks grey in the photo above, which is too late to edit.

Screenshot 2023-09-18 at 12.48.03.png
PPS. I forgot to mention colour fringing... probably because I wasn't aware of any when I first tried the scope. Having now looked a little more critically, there is the tiniest hint of green and purple fringing against very high contrast edges, but only at the edges, with the centre being - to my eyes - devoid.

Just thought I should update the thread, for accuracy. I think that's about it.
Thank you for sharing your experience!
It sounds like a very interesting small scope.
It is strange that it does not gather more attention here oj the forum, considering the many talks about the Swaro ATC, Opticron mm3/4, Kowa tsn-553….
It is still very new though. Maybe interest will increase.
After a month or so of use, you still recommend this spotter? Been debating for a few weeks on grabbing one.

Bear with me....

I sold it pretty quickly after buying it, because I wanted a bit more more light gathering.

So I bought an ex-demo Opticron MM4 60mm instead - which is full circle to a year ago, when I also owned the Opticron, but then got carried away with an upgrade (Kowa TSN-773) that I couldn't really justify, and didn't actually need.

When I tested the Opticron I also tried a Vortex Viper 15-45 x 65 alongside the Vortex Razor - and there was nothing optically between the Viper and Razor. The field of view of the Viper was really narrow compared to the Opticron and at 65mm appeared no brighter (possibly due to the narrow FOV).

On balance, and having owned an MM4 77mm and the MM4 60mm, I think Opticron are better scopes than Vortex, especially for the money, with better eyepieces (and a choice of those eyepieces) and a wider field of view.

Having said I liked the barrel focus of the Razor, I think it was more of an acceptance than a preference, because as soon as I got the Opticron and Razor side-by-side the dual focus of the Opticron was so much easier, and quicker, to operate.

If it's important to you, the MM4s are made in Japan. While the Vortex Razor is 'assembled in the USA', but to me that's 'smoke-and-mirrors' wording, suggesting the components are made in China.

If you intend to buy a Razor, I'd say try the Viper and possibly save some money. (This goes for the updated/current models @ October 2023.) Or buy an Opticron.
The form factor is primarily what is drawing me to the 13-39x56 Razor, as I backpack for extended periods and wanted a small and light spotter. Im not in the price range for a Swaro ATC, so the Razor seemed like a decent alternative and most seem to say the glass itself is more than decent.

Appreciate the response!
One big advantage of Vortex is their fantastic warranty, which is transferable, and covers accidental damage. VIP Warranty I am presently getting a new eye piece which I chipped badly. I have been very impressed: very quick reply to emails, let me know when they received my old one and told me that I have left some of the eyepiece in the scope and to try and remove it but not to worry if that was not possible in which case the whole scope would be replaced.
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