If you want a bit more reach than your bins provide, but don’t fancy lugging a large scope around, this is a great option. Optical performance is more than adequate for most situations, and this is a scope that genuinely does fit in your pocket, if you’re birding around the world.
Words Matt Merritt / Pic Tom Bailey
There are all sorts of reasons why you might prefer to use a very small, lightweight spotting scope, not least that it can make life a lot easier if you’re travelling by air. But there’s a balance
to be struck – lack of bulk is no good if the scope isn’t offering anything you can’t get from a good pair of bins.
So, I thoroughly enjoyed putting Hawke’s Endurance ED 50mm scope through its paces over several weeks.
On the first count, it scores very highly. It weighs just 745g with the 12x-36x eyepiece included, and it really is pretty dinky. I found it easy to stow it away in the main pockets or the inside pocket of my winter coat, or even the inside pocket of a fleece or soft-shell. That could save you some serious hand luggage space if you’re flying.
It’s a solidly put-together scope, though, with good rubber armouring and a robust feel all-round. There’s an extendable lens hood.
There’s a split focus wheel, with both the main section and the fine focus wheel being roughly a finger wide and well textured for grip.
They both turn moderately stiffly, with the main wheel taking 5.75 turns from close focus to infinity. There was a slight lumpiness to the movement, I thought, but in use in the field I found both wheels easy to use and to find focus with, so maybe that was more a case of me being picky back at the office.
Close focus, incidentally, is really very good. The quoted figure is 2.5m, but it actually felt a little less than that, so this is a good scope to have handy if you’re planning on doing a bit of bug-watching on your birding expeditions.
There are four distinct eyepiece positions, with a maximum of 15mm eye relief. In the field, the eyepiece held each position very well, and the hard rubber eyecup is really very comfortable in extended use.
So, what about the optics? First impressions are of a bright, sharp image, with good natural colours. At the lower magnifications (anything up to around 26x), the image also feels pretty wide – the sharpness goes very close to the edge and creates a spacious, roomy feel, perhaps more than the field of view figures of 58m@1000m (at 12x) and 30m@1000m (at 36x) might suggest.
As you crank the magnification up to the higher end, things do feel a little bit more cramped and dull (although that’s the case with all zoom eyepieces, really), and I felt there was some fall-off in quality at the edge of the image, but it’s still really pretty good.
The ED glass comes into its own when birding in low light – on a couple of dusk expeditions I was surprised just how bright the image felt, and the same applied when birding in the misty murk of spring.
Colour fringing was hard to find at all magnifications, except when tracking a bird moving fast against a bright sky, but that can be a problem with any optics, too. As long as you get your eye position right, you shouldn’t have any great problems with chromatic aberration.
There’s a good fabric stay-on case, with strap, that was both easy to get on and off, and that worked well in the field, and there’s an eyepiece cover and a removable tethered objective lens cover.
At £400, the price tag isn’t too weighty, either, so consider teaming this up with a good travel tripod, and you’ll have lightweight optics that can cope with anything your birdwatching throws at them.
Eye relief: 15mm
Field of view: 58m@1,000m (12x) - 30m@1000m (36x)
Close focus: 2.5m
Supplied with: Stay-on case; tethered lens cover; eyepiece cover
This review was first published in the June 2018 issue of Bird Watching
Reviewed by Matt Merritt
(This scope review was first published in the January 2018 issue of Bird Watching magazine)
The year 2016 saw some major developments at the top end of the optics market, with both Swarovski and Zeiss releasing new ranges of scopes, so Leica’s update of the Televid range will inevitably be seen as the third big player of the optics world trying to keep pace.
First impressions are that Leica has wisely built on its already very considerable strengths. The Televid 82 looks remarkably small for a scope with an 82mm objective lens, and it feels light, too – having used the wonderfully compact Ultravid 8x32HD bins for some time, I already know how good Leica is at packing a lot into a small package, and this scope keeps up that emerging tradition.
The 25-50x wide angle zoom eyepiece fits quickly and securely using a bayonet fitting, and produces a bright, very sharp and natural-looking image.
A field of view of 41m@1,000m (using 25x magnification), is very wide indeed, and it feels it, too, with sharpness maintained right to the edges. Even at maximum zoom, there’s no feeling of claustrophobia, with field of view 28m@1,000m.
That, in turn, meant that I used the zoom far more than usual. It is controlled by twisting the eyepiece, and moves smoothly and moderately stiffly.
Colour fringing was nearly impossible to find, even against bright sunlight, and the scope also performed extremely well in low light – this is an all-rounder that can handle most situations.
There’s a split focus wheel, with the main wheel over a finger wide, and the fine focus around a finger wide. Well ridged for grip, they were easy to use even with gloves on, and they are well enough separated to avoid any mistakes.
Scope: extra precision
The main wheel does have a lot of travel, taking almost five full clockwise turns from close focus to infinity. Travel is slightly stiff but smooth, and the fine focus wheel is excellent, making it easier to find that extra bit of precision in your focusing. Close focus, incidentally, is just under four metres, highly impressive if you plan on using your scope for more general wildlife-watching.
The eyecup twists up and down to two positions, and stayed in place well, and while it offers good eye relief and is comfortable in extended use, some might prefer that it had at least one intermediate position. The rubber rim of the eyecup was a little loose on the test sample, but it’s a problem that could be very easily fixed.
Build quality in general is excellent, as you’d expect, with solid rubber armouring, good waterproofing, and the peace of mind that goes with a Leica warranty.
Leica scope verdict:
The new Televid APO 82 is far more of a traditional scope than the recent releases from its rivals, but what a scope! It seems to have been designed with ease and pleasure of use in mind, because the dinky size and low weight make it easy to carry around all day, while that eyepiece produces great results without putting undue strain on the eye. Take a look, and add it to your list of possibilities.
Leica APO Televid 82 factfile:
Eye relief: 19mm
Field of view: 41m@1,000m (25x) 28m@1,000m (50x)
Close focus: 3.8m
Weight: 1,469g (including eyepiece)
RRP: £2,000 (scope only); £2,675 (scope and eyepiece)
Review by David Chandler
(This scope review was first published in the October 2017 issue of Bird Watching magazine)
They may look pretty much like many other scopes on the outside, but inside the Harpias are different. You need to look through them to really appreciate these high-end offerings. There are two Harpias – one with an 85mm objective, and one with a 95mm objective. Both are zooms and include the eyepiece. The 85 is a 22x-65x; the 95 a 23x-70x.
Unusually, the glass that does the zooming is in the objective, not the eyepiece. This means the eyepiece can be smaller and sit more comfortably near the eye. Zoom and focusing rings wrap around the barrel, with noticeable differences in resistance so you won’t mix them up. Here’s where it gets even more interesting.
When you zoom there’s no image tunnelling – no claustrophobic narrowing of the view. You need to try a Harpia and see this for yourself. The apparent field of view is a constant 72° – which is wide – all the way through the zoom range.
This makes it a bit easier to find the bird, and to see detail on flying birds – you’ll see more on a bird flying through the view than if you scan to follow it. You might want to try that – if your scope has a wide enough view.
The one focusing wheel delivers two focusing speeds. Handle it gently and the focus is fine. Move it quickly and it changes gear, enabling a more speedy switch from close to far. It’s good.
In use, you can scan at low power, then zoom in. The scope needs to be stable, you need to take care with the focusing, and atmospheric conditions need to be good, but these scopes can deliver very impressive images even at maximum magnification – that’s what they were designed to do.
For maximum stability twist the eyecup down and keep your eye a little away from the eyepiece. Then zoom in a bit, and then a bit more… The view of the Long-tailed Tyrant 400m away at 65x was excellent.
At 50m I could see feather level detail – the image was incredibly sharp. The Gray-cheeked Nunlet is a small Puffbird. It was 40m away in shaded forest. With the 95mm cranked up to a bit over 60x the view was stunning – I could see bristles around the base of its bill.
Aside from zoom range and objective size there are other differences between the two models. The 95 weighs 2.29kg. At 2.148kg the 85 is a little bit lighter. The big Harpia close-focuses to 4.5m.
Its smaller sibling shaves a metre off that, so if you watch insects with your scope this is the one you’ll want. The price? Around 3,900 Euros for the 95mm, and 3,500 for the 85mm. The scopes we played with were pre-production samples. Production Harpias should be available in the new year. They will be head-on competition for the best that are out there.
We did see a Harpy Eagle through the Harpia. It’s a massive, iconic bird with outrageously stout legs and a hind claw the size of a Grizzly Bear’s. More on that another time. Its scientific name is Harpia harpyja. That’s why we had to see one. I’m glad they didn’t call it Corvus. Thank you Zeiss.
Zeiss Harpia factfiles:
Magnification: 22-65 (85mm) / 23-70 (95mm)
Field of view: 63.2-21m (85mm) / 58.8-19.5m (95mm)
Close focus: 3.5m (85mm) / 4.5m (95mm)
Weight: 1934g (85mm) / 2078g (95mm)
RRP: £2,995 (85mm) / £3,395 (95mm)
Field of view (@1000m): 58m-30m
Close focus: 2.5m
Eye relief: 16mm
Dimensions: 255mm x 77mm x 131mm
A scope that you can safely stash in a coat pocket can be a vital piece of equipment if you’re birding abroad, but it’s of no use if it can’t do the job once you get there. So, can Hawke’s 50mm Endurance live up to the performance of the rest of the range?
The image produced by the 50mm objective is sharp and bright, with good colour reproduction. Field of view (30m@1000m at 36x) isn’t great, but it’s adequate for most situations. I detected impressively little colour fringing, even against direct sunlight.
The zoom control is quite narrow, but ridged for extra grip and travels easily, while there are dual focus wheels on top of the scope, with the ‘coarse’ focus a finger wide and the ‘fine’ focus a little smaller. Both were easy enough to use, and travelled smoothly but perhaps a little too freely, taking six full clockwise turns from close focus (2.5m or a little less) to infinity. Nevertheless, using both, focus was easy to find and maintain.
The Endurance 50mm, then, does a good all-round job, but what’s most impressive is the size. At 714g, it’s lighter than some binoculars, and fitted easily into the inside and main cargo pockets of my coat – it could save you some serious luggage space. Our photographer, Tom Bailey, also felt it would be an ideal scope for hillwalkers and other outdoor enthusiasts to stash in their rucksacks.
The eyecup is comfortable in extended use and offers a good 16mm of eye relief – it twists up and down and stays in place well when fully extended, but there aren’t any click-stopped intermediate positions.
Scope build quality
Build quality is generally excellent, with the main body well armoured (but light and compact), an extending lens hood, and a good stay-on carry case. The zoom eyepiece screws into place very securely. A rotating collar might have been a nice touch, too, though.
Hawke Endurance verdict
A good optical all-rounder, and it’s so light and compact you could even use it handheld at a pinch.
Field of view: (m@1000m) 35 (20x) – 17 (60x)
Close focus: 7.5m
Weight: 1,547g (with eyepiece)
Ratings (out of 5)
Review by Matt Merritt
Celestron’s Trailseeker scope offers a cheaper alternative to their popular Regal range, so exactly what do they have to offer?
In terms of design, it’s perhaps a little unexceptional looking, but none the worse for that. It’s sleek, and covered with solid rubber armour. There’s a click-stopped rotating collar, a lens hood, and on a tripod it felt well-balanced. Weight isn’t an issue, either – if you’re going to carry an 80mm scope around, this certainly isn’t any heavier than most.
There’s a twist-lock to hold the 20x-60x eyepiece in place, and the zoom control is well textured for easy grip, and around two fingers wide. The eyecup itself is comfortable enough to use, and stayed in place well, but twists up and down a little stiffly.
Focusing is pleasantly precise, thanks to a split focus wheel – both the main and fine focus wheels are around a finger wide and textured, although it would be nice if they were separated more. They’re on the right top of the scope, and the main wheel takes a little over four turns from close focus to infinity, travelling smoothly and only moderately stiffly.
In most conditions, the 80mm objective lens performed well, gathering plenty of light and producing an image that is bright and true to life in terms of colour, with good sharpness right to the edges. There was some chromatic aberration against very bright light, mainly when tracking a moving bird, and in twilight I did start to find things a bit murky at higher magnifications, but as always with zooms, I did most of my birding in the 25x-35x range anyway.
The same goes for field of view – there is a certain amount of ‘tunnel vision’ up over 45x, but you’re unlikely to use that a great deal. Most of the time, this scope does a great job when watching wide vistas of water or mudflat.
All things considered, it’s an easy scope to use – you can get straight out and get birding with no fuss, and its performance will keep most birders happy most of the time. For the price, it’s an impressive piece of kit.
This review was first published in the March 2016 issue of Bird Watching magazine.
Magnification: 1.8x (25-50x becomes a 45-90x)
Field of view (m@1000 m): 21.6 – 14
Close focus: 3.8 m (quoted)
Weight: 92gRRP: £320.
Warranty: 5 years.
Ratings (out of 5)
Review by David Chandler
Leica’s 1.8x extender fits between the eyepiece and body of a Televid scope, adding 20 mm to the length of the eyepiece. You can use it with 65mm and 82mm Televids – but only the angled ones. What it does is turn the 25-50x eyepiece into a whopping 45-90x for relatively little money – in top-end price terms anyway. The eyepiece has a RRP of £750. The extender is a mere £320. I tested it on the 82mm scope.
First things first – binocular practicalities
The extender has the quality feel you expect from Leica, and a stiff, solid, bayonet mount. The first time I tried to fit it I didn’t find it easy, but with a little practice it gets much easier.
You can fit the extender onto the eyepiece first, or the body. When you fit it to the body, you line up a red mark on the extender with a white dot on the body and twist 45° clockwise.
To remove it, I recommend removing the eyepiece from the extender while the extender is attached to the body – it’s easier than separating the two after removing them as a unit. There’s a release button on the extender that you pull out to liberate the eyepiece, which I found a bit fiddly to use.
Then you twist the eyepiece about 45° anti-clockwise, and wiggle it around a bit to remove it. It’s a similar exercise with the extender, except that you push in a release button on the scope to set it free.
High-magnification comes with challenges – you need a really stable tripod and focusing is trickier. The Televid’s dual-focusing mechanism was a great help – the fine-focusing wheel proved very useful.
Binocular image quality
I tested the extender on a reasonably bright afternoon at a country park, and again at Fen Drayton Lakes on an overcast morning, with Fieldfares overhead and a Cetti’s Warbler yelling out its song. In brighter conditions, the extender performed very well – the image quality was excellent at 45x and very good at 90x.
Colours looked natural and sharpness was excellent at the bottom end of the zoom range, and very good at 90x. I noticed a very small amount of edge softness, but nothing significant. Not surprisingly, the view was duller at the top end, but on the whole was still useable. I struggled looking into shade up close at 90x – the image just looked black – but why would you do that anyway?
The field of view didn’t feel claustrophobic, even at 90x, and colour-fringing seemed pretty well controlled, though I did see some at the top of the field of view on rippling waves. I used the fine-focus wheel even in brighter conditions at 45x. Leica quote the close-focus as 3.8m – I measured it as almost 4m.
The extender wasn’t as easy to use in dull, overcast conditions. During this session I was scoping over much bigger distances – probably around 400m. The extender was fine at 45x, but at 90x focusing was tricky and it was difficult to get a satisfactory image. With care, the view was reasonable at about 54x (30x1.8).
I had more success looking at birds that were closer (but still distant), with a functional view at 90x, where I could see the bill pattern on a female Gadwall. In dull conditions there was some peripheral softness to the field of view, which of course, was less noticeable at 45x. Again, I was pleased to have the fine-focus facility!
Focus precision in Fen Drayton’s dullness (it’s only the weather I’m referring to!) was good at 45x, though care was needed with very distant subjects, but at 90x could be tricky, especially at very long range.
If you own an angled Televid, this is a relatively affordable way of giving yourself what is effectively an extra eyepiece, that more or less takes over where the 25-50x leaves off. Don’t expect miracles when the light isn’t too good, but when it’s reasonable or better, the extender does a very good job.
This scope review first appeared in the February 2016 issue of Bird Watching magazine.
Review by Matt Merritt
Over the past 10 years, the quality of optics has advanced to such an extent that you wonder where it’s possible for top-end manufacturers to go with their products. Built-in electronic features, maybe?
Cameras, or even some sort of bird ID system, have been rumoured to be the next step forward.
So it’s safe to say few saw Swarovski’s new BTX binocular scope coming. At the launch at the company’s HQ near Innsbruck, Austria, there were audible gasps from the gathered European birders, journalists and optics experts.
Compatible with the ATX/STX objective modules, it offers 30x magnification for the 65mm and 85mm modules, and 35x for the 95mm. These can be increased to 50x and 60x respectively with use of the ME 1.7x magnification extender, which fits easily and quickly.
The ATX/STX scopes, of course, already provide images that are bright and sharp right to the edges, with impressive field of view and a very natural colour. So what’s new?
Well, the BTX is the most comfortable scope to look through that I’ve ever come across, for a start. You can adjust the interpupillary distance easily, and there’s then none of the squinting and eye-straining inevitable with any conventional scope. A day of scanning huge wildfowl flocks on the Rhine Delta at Lake Constance passed without my eyes ever getting tired, and there’s a built-in adjustable forehead rest to help.
More importantly, perhaps, the fact you’re using both eyes means your brain is getting more information, and that what you see thus feels more vivid, more three-dimensional, and has a greater depth of field. It feels, in short, like using binoculars rather than a scope.
There’s a removable aiming aid, which is both more useful and more robust than previous similar features, and a new BR balance rail and PTH tripod head are available to help keep the whole system stable and balanced, and to scan smoothly. It is heavier, as you’d expect, but not enough to put most people off, I’d suggest.
This review was first published in the April 2017 issue of Bird Watching magazine.
Field of view: (m@1000m) 33 (30x) – 23 (60x)
Close focus: 3.3m
Weight: 1,700g (with eyepiece)
Ratings (out of 5)
Review by Matt Merritt
Scopes are vital to any birder venturing far beyond the garden or park, but there’s a balance to be struck between the extra reach provided by high-quality glass, and the need to carry such weighty optics around with you. With the Conquest Gavia, Zeiss look to have packed outstanding optics into a compact, easily portable package.
The image is bright with no noticeable colour cast, and is sharp right to the edge of the impressive field of view. As you zoom in (from 30x up to 60x), you do get some milkiness at the edges, but not enough to be distracting. Colour-fringing was hard to find, except once when following moving birds against a bright light.
Focusing is very precise, with the wide, helical focus wheel moving very smoothly and with moderately stiff resistance, taking exactly one anti-clockwise turn from close focus to infinity.
The eyepiece locks in place. The rubber-covered eyecup twists up and down to three secure positions, and is comfortable in extended use, while build quality generally is superb – there’s lots of rubber armouring, a rotating collar that locks in eight positions, and a lens hood that operates very smoothly. The objective lens cover clicks into place, so shouldn’t go missing when you have the scope slung, and there’s a tethered eyepiece cover.
Zeiss Conquest Gavia 85 verdict:
The Gavia produces a very impressive image, even at high magnification, but just as impressive is its user-friendliness – I never got tired of carrying it around. At as little as half the cost of absolute top-end scopes, this is a piece of kit you really need to try for yourself.
Review by Mike Weedon
Each year at the Birdfair, when it was sunny, one of the Zeiss team would declare it ‘rubbish optics weather’. When the light is superb, even ‘rubbish’ optics make things look good. It is only when the weather is gloomy that you can separate the optical wheat from the chaff; the finest gear comes to the fore and the best optics bring out a level of clarity and detail that lesser equipment can only dream of.
It was just as well, then, that when a group of journalists and dealers were invited to Poland to try out the Zeiss Conquest Gavia scope in spring 2016, that the weather was often poor! Birding in the gloom of drizzle in a Polish forest is a great test for any optical equipment. Of course, it helps you want to extract the very best from a telescope when the subject is a bedraggled Ural Owl or a hunting Pygmy Owl, or perhaps one of the several woodpecker species found in these magnificent woods. And it was here that the Gavia shone through, delivering excellent images with a speedy and accurate focus mechanism making forest birding a pleasure.
It may not produce the mind-blowing views you get from a scope costing twice as much. But it comes very close and the whole point of the Conquest range is to produce optical excellence and usability at an affordable price. And in this, the Conquest Gavia really shines.
This scope review was first published in the January 2017 issue of Bird Watching magazine.
- Solid, and reassuringly well made
- Nice eyepiece – lots of room for adjustment for all users
- HD glass pays off with a bright, natural image
- Little fall-off in quality of image, even at higher magnifications
- Spot-on focussing to get the best out of that HD glass
Vortex have long been a reliably high-quality presence in the optics market, with a particularly fine binocular range, so it was always going to be very interesting to see how the new Razor HD scope stacked up against some of the big boys. It currently comes in one model – angled, 85mm objective lens, with a 20x/60x zoom eyepiece – and right from first sight it’s a heavyweight contender. There’s also a 30x wide angle eyepiece available, by the way. In terms of looks, it’s rather reminiscent of Kowa’s TSN scopes, no bad thing if you want to create a good first impression. That means it’s relatively compact, but solidly put together, with plenty of rubber armour.
So, how does it perform in the field? Well, at anything up to about 30x, it’s sharp and very bright, with a very natural colour. There’s very little loss of clarity at the edge of the image, which means that you get full value for the field of view. Plus point number one for the ultra-high definition glass. The real pleasure, though, is that as you bump the magnification up, there’s nothing like the fall-off in quality of image that you can sometimes see with zoom eyepieces. A milkiness at the edge of the image becomes a little more apparent, and inevitably the field of view is reduced, but you’re certainly not left straining to resolve your target. The HD glass scores again.
All well and good in bright sunlight, but what about more testing conditions? Well, the HD glass completes an impressive hat-trick here, ensuring that the brightness I talked about earlier is apparent even while peering down woodland rides at dusk, or scanning distant duck flocks on a grey, drizzly morning.
Which brings me on to focussing. There’s plenty of (relatively stiff) movement in the main wheel (1.5 fingers wide), which takes around 1.75 clockwise turns from close focus to infinity, and in practice that means that focussing is very precise indeed. There’s a hard-to-define feeling you get with the focus on some optics that there’s something missing, some extra bit of punch you’re always searching for, but that’s never the case here. Look for it, and you’ll find it every time.
There’s also a slightly smaller fine focus wheel, and one of my only gripes might be that the two could be separated slightly, to make things easier when using gloves.
I liked the eyepiece, too. It twists up and down, but the action is stiff enough that it can easily be left at any position between fully out and fully in. That gives you plenty of scope (sorry!) for adjustment, particularly important when you’re seeking to maximise that field of view, and it’s comfortable in extended use. As you’d expect with a quality scope these days, there’s a rotating collar, sun visor, and it’s waterproof and fogproof.
It did feel a little heavy at times, but I’m never sure how relevant that is – carried on a strap, or a harness, you certainly wouldn’t notice. Having decided to carry a full-size scope around, I certainly wouldn’t quibble about a few grams here and there. In fact, one of the real pleasures of this scope was how quickly I started taking it for granted – the optics are excellent, and the fine build quality means that you don’t really notice how the effect is being achieved, you just get on with enjoying the view. It isn’t, of course, cheap, but the many advantages of ED/HD glass never are. What’s more important is that it performs exactly as you’d expect a scope in this price bracket to, so if you’re in the market for a top-end scope, this is definitely worthy of an extended try-out.
REVIEWED BY MATT MERRITT.
- Pin-sharp images, even at high magnifications
- Good natural colour, and sharp to the edges
- View through zoom eyepiece still feels very wide
- Lightweight for such a powerful scope
- Perfect, and easy to use, for digiscoping
When I started birding in the 1970s, I cut my bird teeth with a pair of pre-war porro-prism bins formerly owned by my grandfather. We learnt our birds from first principles and the hard way. A scope was a thing of dreams, a piece of miraculous equipment wielded by the elite of the birdwatching fraternity – the badge of a master birder. Occasionally, my birding friend and I would ask to borrow a quick look through one of these beauties, as I recall, to see my first Broad-billed Sandpiper and Temminck’s Stint on the North Kent Marshes.
Times have changed, and now even fledgling birdwatchers come ready-equipped with a scope. And rightly so, because the difference a good scope can make to your enjoyment of birdwatching is immense. The quality of scopes has improved beyond belief, too. Indeed, it has reached the stage when we are speculating whether the scope has reached the limit, that ultimate stage where the (if you’ll excuse the expression) glass ceiling is reached and it is physically impossible to make them any better. If that time is approaching, it is not coming before some of the main players at the cutting edge of scope manufacturer have had more than a decent stab at improving the best.
And so we come to the latest incarnation of Swarovski’s rubber-armoured birding scope. I was luckily enough to be invited in mid-May, to join a group of birders, digiscopers, photographers and journalists to the steppes and mountains of Kazakhstan to test the new Swarovski scope, its brand-new wide-angle eyepiece and the company’s new design of digiscoping adapter.
The first thing that strikes you about this set-up, before you have even used it, is its weight - or lack of it! The body has been made with magnesium to keep it as light as possible and it shows. My shoulders never once complained. Despite that, the scope shares the comfortable, sturdy, well-built feel of its predecessor. And I am ashamed to admit that I foolishly allowed my model to crash to the ground twice - but with absolutely no ill-effects.
In line with the fact that the optical envelope has almost been pushed as far as it will go, the optics are superb. The image is bright, colour-true and crisp to the edge. There is drama and three-dimensionality in every view. Most striking of all was the performance of the zoom eyepiece. Let’s make this clear, I hate zooms. Or rather, I thought I hated zooms. I used to believe they give a nasty, tunnel vision image, and leave me just dying to see beyond the boundaries of the image. The new wide-angle zoom I used in Kazakhstan was astonishing, though. Throughout the trip, throughout the range of magnification, I never once thought of tunnels, never felt I was getting short-changed on field of view. Though I mostly used it a lower magnifications, when I turned the silky smooth zoom to higher mag, I wasn’t aware of losing quality and didn’t feel that extra enclosure of the expected tunnel. And the quality of resolution and brightness stood up very well to zooming. Digiscoping was a piece of cake, producing very bright, crisp, feather-perfect images with the minimal of effort.
It is a minor gripe, but when zooming the scope needs considerable refocusing. I don’t know if it is possible to get round this optically, but it made relocating distant birds I’d zoomed to slightly tricky. The helical focusing mechanism was of course very smooth and easy, so refocusing was hardly a chore.
In summary, a brilliant, lightweight scope of the highest standard. The wide-angle zoom was a revelation which could even convert a diehard fixed-mag eyepiece birder like me.
REVIEWED BY MIKE WEEDON.
- Quality feel – well-built and rather stylish
- Well-balanced, so extra weight no problem
- Excellent at lower magnifications – sharp, bright and wide
- Focussing is very precise
- Zoom makes short work of some long-distance ID tests
Olivon are one of those optics brands that, over the years, have quietly built up a good reputation without any great fanfare. You frequently come across their binoculars and scopes being used out in the field, and their users have good things to say about them. So, the chance to try out their new, top-of-the-range ED scope was an opportunity not to be missed.
First impressions last, they say, and this is a scope that scrubs up well, with a look that manages to be both streamlined and robust. I tested it with a 20x-60x zoom eyepiece, as zooms seem to have massively outstripped fixed magnification eyepieces in popularity over recent years. I’ve talked before about my reservations about this, but it’s fair to say there are an increasing number of models out there that are tackling my preconceptions. I can add the T-84 EDO to that list. The image, at all magnifications, boasts a good natural colour and is impressively bright, the latter having been something that, in the past, zoom eyepieces sacrificed.
The other trade-off comes where field of view is concerned. It’s inevitably narrower on zoom eyepieces than on fixed, but here I never found it oppressively so, with the tunnel-effect that you sometimes find. That’s no doubt down to the ED glass, which helps ensure that the image is sharp right up to the edges. Even at the maximum magnification, 60x, this holds true. The eyepiece resolves to a sharp, crisp image, and although, as you’d expect, that falls off to a certain extent towards the top end of the magnification range, it’s really not a problem. Throughout a day of watching waders and wildfowl at some really considerable distances, it again and again came up trumps. There’s little or no chromatic aberration (or colour fringing), even against strong sunlight. In low light, too, the ED glass really comes into its own, cutting through the gloom in impressive fashion.
Focusing is excellent. It can take a bit of finesse to find it exactly, but once you do, it’s satisfyingly spot-on, and the mechanism makes searching for it a doddle, rather than a chore. That’s because movement of the helical focus wheel (just over fingers wide) is moderately stiff, but very smooth, and it’s easily gripped, even in cold conditions. It takes around 1.75 anti-clockwise turns from close focus to infinity. Close focus was good, too – it’s increasingly important these days, when dragonflies and other insects come into the equation.
The eyepiece itself is excellent, with the rubber-covered twist-up, twist-down eyecup comfortable in extended use. Although there are only two set positions (fully out and fully down), in practice I found that it stayed in position well at any spot in between. There’s a rotating collar, and one of my few reservations was that the locking nut on it looked a little fragile. Otherwise, as I mentioned earlier, build quality is excellent, with reassuring rubber armour.
Weighed in the hand, it might feel a little on the heavy side, but in practice, I don’t think you’d notice, as it’s very well balanced. It came with a good stay-on case, and as you’d expect it’s waterproof and nitrogen-filled. By unscrewing the eyecup on the eyepiece, you can attach Olivon’s own universal camera adapter ring.
So, all things considered, the ED glass goes a long way towards allaying my reservations about zooms, providing good low-light performance, maintaining sharpness at all magnification levels, and making the most of the field of view. At £1,100, it’s not cheap, but that’s a price that compares very well with the big boys, making this a major contender if you’re looking for a quality, ED glass zoom. Try it for yourself.
REVIEWED BY MATT MERRITT
- Compact and lighter than many in the same class
- Bright, clear, fringe-free views
- Efficient, precise focusing thanks to split wheel
- Comfortable viewing through adjustable eyepiece
- Excellent for no-frills digiscoping
When I reviewed Kowa’s new flagship TSN-883 scope a few months back, I frankly drooled over it. The 883 edged out my previous favourite scope (the now outdated Kowa TSN-823), both in looks and build and most importantly in absolute performance. Now I have my greedy eyes on the 883’s slightly smaller (also fluorite) stablemate, with a 77mm diameter objective lens – almost appearing as a direct challenge to Leica’s now-ageing APO-Televid 77. And I like what I have seen. Very much.
To all intents and purposes this scope is very like the new and lovely 883, only slightly smaller and lighter (in weight – which is a bit lighter than my usual 823 scope). Lengthwise, this compact beauty is only a centimetre or so longer than the classic TSN-613 of old. It has exactly the same textured metal green body as the 883 and houses the same eyepieces. Its balance is good, its weight is good, its feel is good. I even like the green coloration (unusual in a scope), but I would be very tempted to wrap it up in a protective padded case…
In fact, it shares all the features of the bigger brother, including the efficient, precise and smooth, centrally-placed split focus wheel (for both fast and fine focus) and the push-button lock mechanism which crucially stops the bayonet-fitted eyepiece from falling out. The large, comfortable eyepiece itself is a magnificent piece of equipment, delivering a choice of five twist-and-click soft-rubber eyecup settings to suit your eyes’ needs, and also delivering a first-class image. The image is bright and clear and as close to fringe-free as any scope I have tested, with sharp resolution (pretty much to the edges) and a pleasing, realistic depth of field and good field of view. Beware, though, potential purchasers of the zoom eyepiece, the field of view is inevitably much reduced with this variable lens. I measured the minimum close-focus distance as an impressive 4.5m. While testing the scope, I tried digiscoping with it. The eyecup was a perfect fit for my compact camera’s lens, and it took excellent photos without the need for an adapter.
It is very hard to find fault with this scope – it does what it should very well. If I were being very picky, in side-by-side tests with my existing 823, the 773’s image (unsurprisingly) lacked the brightness of the larger model, and the image is very slightly on the yellow side of absolute neutrality. Make no mistake, though (he says drifting back into positivity, because it is hard not to…) the 773 is bright, pushing the 823 close and making mincemeat of some lesser models. The only slight reservation I have is the question of who this model is aimed at. It is not massively different in size (or indeed performance) from the triumphant 883, yet doesn’t quite deliver all the startling brightness of the big brother. That said, it is lighter in weight and it is less expensive, so if you want a brilliant scope which almost delivers the best a scope can, but is a little less heavy and smaller, this could be the one for you. This is a superb scope, delivering a bright, high-quality image, in a compact package.
REVIEWED BY MIKE WEEDON
- Solid, non-nonsense design – good build quality
- Bright, sharp and, for a zoom, pretty wide image
- Even at high magnifications, little reduction in quality
- Focusing is very precise
- Excellent quality at a very price
One of the major trends in the optics market recently has been the wider availability of ED glass at affordable prices. Where binoculars are concerned, that’s meant that it’s now possible to guarantee yourself a high-quality image in even the worst conditions for as little as £300, while you can pay £1,500 or more for a top-of-the-range model and the higher build quality and long-term reassurance that brings. Now birders are starting to be presented with a similarly wide choice in spotting scopes.
First impressions are excellent. The Celestron Regal’s a smart looking, solid piece of kit, with a chunky feel and some good rubber armour that suggests it would withstand all sorts of wear and tear. It’s waterproof, too, and comes with a soft carrying case. Celestron’s literature describes the 20x/60x zoom eyepiece supplied with the scope as ‘wide angle’. A bold claim, in some ways, as the ‘wide angle’ tag usually only gets applied to fixed eyepieces, but in fact this one quickly impressed. At the lowest magnification, the image feels really wide, and even blown up to the maximum magnification (the specification shows the field of view as having been halved between those two extremes), you don’t get the ‘tunnel effect’ that sometimes makes using a zoom hard work. This, presumably, is down to the ED glass. Because there’s little deterioration in the quality of the image even right at the edges, you don’t feel as hemmed in as might once have been the case.
As you might expect, then, the image is bright, with a good, very natural colour. This applied even in low light, one of the times when ED glass really comes into its own, and it also serves to get rid of chromatic aberration. Try as I might, this was almost impossible to find – very impressive indeed. It resolves very well, even at the highest magnification, all of which brings us on to the focussing.
In many ways, it’s really excellent, being very precise. You’re helped in finding that little bit extra by the presence of a fine focus wheel. I did have a couple of reservations, though. One was that the two focus wheels (placed at top right) are just a little too close to each other. If you were using the scope while wearing gloves, for example, you might find this a little frustrating. We’re talking a matter of millimetres, but I’d like to see the divider between the two widened just a little bit. Secondly, you pay a price for that precision, with the wheel taking almost five clockwise turns from close focus to infinity.
The focus wheel on my test model also travelled rather stiffly, and lumpily, but this seems to be something of a one-off – other specimens of the same model travel smoothly and only moderately stiffly. There’s always potential for individual binoculars or scopes, from any manufacturer, to have minor faults, so it’s a reminder to test the actual scope you take home when you buy.
Going back to the eyepiece, it twists up and down to two positions, but I found it was also possible to get it to stay in place at any point in between. Whichever you choose, it’s comfortable to use, even after several hours of use.Also supplied is a ring adapter, allowing you to use the scope for digiscoping with a compact camera, or with DSLRs. Given how excellent the scope is optically, I’d be surprised if you don’t, and this makes it that bit easier. I’d have no hesitation in recommending this scope to any birder looking for ED glass, and all the advantages it brings, at an affordable price. It’s an excellent all-rounder.
REVIEWED BY MATT MERRITT
- Dimensions: 432mm long (without eyepiece)
- Weight 2,041g
- Close focus: 6m
- Field of view: 20x 37m@1,000m; 60x 19m@1,000m
- Distributed by: David Hinds Ltd, Unit B, Chiltern Industrial Estate, Grovebury Road, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire LU7 4TU, Tel: 01525 852 696
- website: www.celestron.co.uk
- Bargain price – scope and eyepiece for under £300
- Excellent build quality
- Sharp, bright image, even at high magnification
- Precise, easy focussing
- Versatile, innovative design
This 80mm scope retails at just £269, including a 20-60x zoom eyepiece. If it’s any good, that makes this package a bit of a bargain. ‘Avian’ is the brand name of Ace Optics, a Bath-based retailer. Avian binoculars have been around for about a decade and have been very favourably reviewed. This Taiwanese-made scope is the first to bear the Avian name and it’s a scope with a difference – the eyepiece can be moved through 90 degrees from straight through viewing to vertical and can be locked in any position along the way. The idea is that this increases the scope’s versatility – making it easier for people of different heights to share the scope, for example.
The Avian’s build quality impressed me – it seemed to be a solid, well-made scope, especially when you consider its price. It has more moving parts than the average scope, but all of them worked well. The objective lens is set back about 2.5cm into the scope’s body, which provides a lot of protection to the big front lens. There’s a pull-out lens hood and a rotating collar for mounting the scope on a tripod. The collar isn’t click-stopped, but isn’t too loose and works well enough.
The eyepiece attaches via a screw-in collar and has a smooth and pleasantly heavy zoom movement. The view feels narrow, but actually compares reasonably well with other zoom eyepieces – and there’s a 30x eyepiece on the way which could provide a very different experience. The view it provides may surprise you – remember that you can pay this much just for an eyepiece! At low magnifications, central sharpness, brightness and contrast are very good. As you pump up the magnification the scope continues to perform well. At the highest magnifications, the image isn’t as crisp, is noticeably duller and careful focussing is required, but this is to be expected and in good conditions I was impressed with what this eyepiece could do, delivering a functional image even at 60x. Focussing precision is good and I found no major colour fringing. There is a slight blue colour cast, but it didn’t bother me.
What of that variable eyepiece? You might think the movement would be sloppy and poorly engineered, but think again. The mechanics are good and it really does give you a more versatile bit of kit. For me, there was too little eye relief at low magnifications and some careful eye positioning was required. At 20x there was noticeable softness at the edges of the view too, but this seemed less of an issue at higher magnifications.This scope is big and heavy, but that isn’t an issue for everyone. It’s not nitrogen-filled or waterproof (it’s described as ‘shower resistant’), and the metal body can get very cold, but a stay-on case is available which solves these ‘problems’.
If there’s a MkII, some click-stops in the twist-up eyecup, a bit more eye relief and a wider focussing wheel would be good additions. To nit-pick, the quoted close-focus seemed a little ambitious: for me it was more like 9 or 10 metres; and the screw-on objective cover is fiddly to get on and off. But don’t forget – this is a scope that costs less than £300 – at this price its performance is commendable.
REVIEWED BY DAVID CHANDLER.
- RRP: £269 including the zoom lens.
- Close focus: 7.5m
- Length: 46cm (with eyepiece straight)
- Weight: 1,795g
- Field of view: 2 degrees at 20x (35m at 1,000m), 1 degree at 60x (17.5m at 1,000m)
- Warranty: Fully guaranteed for 1 year.
- Also supplied: Metal case with foam insert. Objective and eyepiece lens covers.
- Sold by: Ace Optics, 16 Green Street, Bath, BA1 2JZ. Tel: 01225 466364. Fax: 01225 469761.www.acecameras.co.uk