Kowa Prominar TSN-99A- our view


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£3,449 (with TE-11WZII zoom eyepiece)

Elsewhere on this website, we took a close look at the Kowa Prominar TSN-99A spotting scope review, and you’ll remember that we were mighty impressed with it. But there was a lot to say about it. So, this month, we ran it past a long-term Kowa scope user (our own Mike Weedon), and a casual birder who’s thinking about buying a full-size scope to complement his travel scope. Oh, and we also used the TSN-99A for a bit of phone-scoping. First, what did Mike have to say?

©Tom Bailey

The Kowa user

Mike Weedon: I have been the proud owner of a Kowa Prominar TSN-823M angled scope (with 32xW LERand later 30x eyepiece) since 2006. I upgraded from a TSN-821 for that extra clarity of image of the fluorite glass, especially apparent when it came to digiscoping.

Indeed, the 823 has been a wonderful scope for digiscoping, and the scope I used throughout the production of Bird Watching’s popular Digiscoping Made Easy DVD (remember that?).

At the time, I felt my Kowa scope was class-leading, particularly at the very reasonable price it went for, back in the Noughties. I still use my scope all the time and feel it easily outclasses most scopes I come across in the field, with a clear, colour-neutral (to my eyes) and fringe-free image, a very good field of view and general ease of use.

Although I have my scope wrapped in a padded case, underneath it has always been a slightly odd-looking scope, though, with the angled eyepiece set ‘to the right’, so it feels like you are birding round corners somewhat. But I am very used to it and love it.

That said, I have become aware in recent years that scopes have come along which outclass my old Kowa without trying. Yes, there is a price to pay, but the top modern scopes are brighter, more detailed and frankly better than my trusty old 823.

Side by side with the Prominar TSN-99A, I was acutely aware that my workhorse produces a ‘misty’ image compared to the devastatingly crisp, realistic, bright and crystal clarity of the TSN-99 (it would surely be sensational for digiscoping or phonescoping).

What I had always been satisfied with suddenly became a little disappointing. The ergonomics, looks, central dual-speed focusing wheel and even the colour of the 99 made my old faithful seem dated and clunky.

But it was the image which made me want to upgrade: misty and dull will never beat crystal- clear and bright! In its favour, my 823 is a lighter-weight model (and is the weight I am used to, of course). But everything else makes me want to go birding all the time with the TSN-99. If only I could afford one…

©Tom Bailey

The phonescoper

Matt Merritt: I’m no photographer, and I’m not much of a phonescoper either, writes Matt Merritt. But the latter is partly because I’ve always found it fiddly, and a bit more trouble than it’s worth when all I’m really after are record shots.
So I tried the TSN-IPXR RP (approx. £90) with the new TSN-99A. That XR in the designation is because it’s designed for iPhone XRs – you need to get the appropriate version for your phone.

The kit is quick to set up... ...for non-intrusive close-ups ©Matt Merritt

The phone slips inside easily enough, but is held very securely. You could easily leave it on for long periods, and it would give your phone a fair bit of protection, although the screen is uncovered.

You then attach the appropriate adapter ring (TSN-AR11WZ, in this case), which fits snugly over the eyepiece.
And that’s its attraction – within a minute of setting up, you’re able to take pics easily, with no vignetting or similar.

Take your time, and you can get something really special, but the ease of use is what stood out for me – it doesn’t intrude upon your birding.

One reminder. As we mentioned last month, you do need a good sturdy tripod, for this even more than birding, or the ease of use will mean nothing. But get that right, and this does exactly what you want an adapter to do.

©Matt Merritt

The upgrader


Kirk Parsons is a casual birder, living in South Derbyshire, and has been thinking about buying a larger scope for those occasions when he needs a bit more punch (he’s been using an Opticron MM2 for years, and is very happy with it).

Trying the new TSN-99A, he said: “Even at full zoom, it feels like a wide field of view, with no real tunnel vision effect. The image is very clear and the colour natural, and I’ve found the focus action really smooth and easy to use. He was equally impressed when using it with the TE-80XW wide angle eyepiece.

“Wow! That really does feel like a very wide field of view, and again the image is just so sharp and clean.”

One of the big questions, though, is how easy he’d find it to go from a travel scope to
a jumbo-sized beauty like this.

“I’d be okay with carrying it around – it’s obviously heavier but that wouldn’t put me off. I’d still keep my MM alongside it, though – I do a lot of birding when traveling and it’s just so convenient.”

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