Spotting scope, a rugged telescope modified for terrestrial use, serves as one of the most pivotal pieces of gear for every hunter, target shooter, birder, or any observer: to locate, identify and observe the subject. This becomes more important when you need to identify the sex, species, or size of the animals. Where your binoculars will fail, that’s the starting point for a spotting scope.
However, there are numerous brands of spotting scope to choose from, creating a lot more confusion. Professional quality and premium finishing, indeed, are not something that every spotting scope brand will provide.
Kowa, established in 1894, has long been known as one of the best spotting scope manufacturers available all around, making only the best in class scopes for the professional shooter, hunter, or birder. Kowa spotting scopes were officially used in 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And, today Kowa is known as one of the best optic brands for all sorts of uses, even if they’re somewhat obscure. They also have one of the widest ranges of scopes available, producing spotting scopes in 7 different sizes (50mm, 55mm, 60mm, 66mm, 77mm, 82mm and 88mm objective lens). These together for a stellar series of Kowa products, and you can easily avail of them both in angled and straight viewing body.
A Quick Guide to Buying Spotting Scopes
Buying spotting scopes can often become overwhelming, and you will be baffled by their varying specifications. And, the price varies wildly depending on the optical quality and size of the devices. However, knowing what to expect beforehand can save a lot of your time, money, and energy. Without any further ado, let’s dive into the amazing world of spotting scopes.
Do I really need a spotting scope?
This is undoubtedly a hit and miss issue. Binoculars won’t provide you more magnification than 7-10x. However, a spotting scope promises more magnification and amazing clarity. If you want to find a bird in a large flock, locate a bird in its hiding place, distinguish between different species, spot in target shooting of any range, observe the nature closely, you are certainly not looking for a pair of binoculars, but a spotting scope. Also, digiscoping has been made effortless in case of a spotting scopes.
What are the labeled numbers?
Generally, spotting scopes are labeled with three numbers. The first two will represent the magnification range and the last one will be the size of the front lens. For a 15-60×80 model, you will have a product with zoom magnification of 15-60x, while the front lens will be of 80mm diameter.
Angled or straight spotting scope?
Now that you know you are looking for a spotting scope, you will face another dilemma. Do you need angled or straight spotting scope? You simply cannot say one is better than another. It all depends on your preference and specific requirement. Advantages of angled versions:
- You can use a shorter tripod for the higher mount point.
- Better support for spotting nestled birds.
- Easier to be used by different people of a group
However, there are also several advantages to using a straight version:
- Beginners can aim easily on one of these.
- Can easily get the glass on an animal.
- Easy to glass severe downhill angles.
- It’ll exert less strain on your neck for level viewing.
- Can view on the ground or water effortlessly.
Magnification and lens
Magnification and lens size are one of the most vital aspects of a spotting scope’s specifications. The higher the magnification, the closer the object will be in your sight. And, with a larger objective lens, you can capture more detail and better image quality, especially at a higher magnification.
However, please remember that a greater magnification and a larger objective lens will not always deliver the expected optical performance unless you are buying a product of superior quality. So, choosing a spotting scope which is made of top-class materials with a premium finish is more important than to get flattered by misleading advertisements.
The magnification will vary from 15-60x from one model to another, while the diameter of the objective lens can be anywhere between 40-100mm. However, if the quality of the spotting scope is not top-notch, you will see the optical performance dropping off as you magnify more and more, and this is primarily determined by the optical system of the scope.
Also, a flagship product from a top vendor will not always guarantee success because the atmosphere plays a big role in this case. As you look into the distance, the more air you’re looking through and the density, air turbulence, heat mirage, dust, air current will play a big role.
Portability is another important issue while considering buying a spotting scope. Be careful here. If you want to carry your scope in the backpack while traveling or mounting, go with a lightweight and compact version. However, if you buy spotting scope with a larger magnification and objective lens, you will feel the exigency of a tripod. The reason is, you need to steady your optics when magnifying to a great scale.
Is an eyepiece included or not?
Know beforehand whether you spotting scope is coming with an eyepiece or not. Most of the high-performance products will not come with an eyepiece. In that case, you have to buy them separately. However, you will have a lot more flexibility and convenience if you have to buy one. The eyepieces will come in various magnification and wide-angle zoom along with different eye reliefs.
With all this information in mind, let’s have a look at some Kowa spotting scope reviews:
Some Popular Products to Consider
One of the most high-performance spotting scopes you will ever find, it comes in two versions: TSN-883 and TSN-884. The objectives lens is 88m, an extra-large aperture with a tremendous light-gathering ability. You need to buy the eyepieces separately. These scopes offer legendary build quality with polycarbonate materials. The best thing about this scope is its Prominar pure fluorite lens, letting you say goodbye to the chromatic aberration and color fringing. You will see a dramatically improved resolution, higher contrast, and sharper image. Weighing only 53.6 ounces and measuring 13.5 inches in length, this scope is the paradigm of an ideal spotting scope for regularly spotting beyond 500 yards. However, they are very expensive, but if you need the performance, you have to pay the price.
Another high-performance spotting scope from Kowa. Features a 77m objective lens, and they are made of Prominar fluorite crystal lens. This scope, almost identical to the previous one, cost lower than the TSN-880 series. However, don’t expect any performance degradation. The only difference is the objective lens, and you won’t notice it until you go for spotting beyond 500 yards. They are also waterproof and fog proof, so you can take them anywhere with you in any weather. They also come in two models, the angled TSN-773 and the straight TSN-774.
If you need both the power of a top-notch spotting scope and want pack it anywhere, this is king. Weighing only 28 ounces and measuring less than a foot, this scope will produce tack-sharp high contrast images with flawless color rendition capacity for an immersive experience. The zoom range is impressive, and you will have a 15-45x wide fixed-zoom eyepiece, providing a field view of 132-69′ at 1000 yards. The eye relief, however, stands on 14-12.5mm, and it can cause a little bit trouble for eyeglass-wearers. This scope also has Prominar fluorite glass, and you will have several other standard features. There is also the straight TSN-554 version available.
This is an entry-level spotting scope from Kowa. So, don’t expect features like the one I’ve reviewed above. The eyepiece provides a zoom of 20-40x. The lens is fully multicoated; however, don’t expect a Prominar fluorite glass. It weighs only 400g, letting you take this scope to anywhere, even on the longest treks and expeditions. An added bonus is the close focus of 2.5 meters. In fact, you will get a very nice performance from this scope. However, you may notice performance drop as you magnify higher on a bright sunny day and in low-light conditions. Have a look at TSN-502 if you prefer a straight version.
Another brilliant scope from Kowa with a reasonable price tag. In fact, in this class of scope, Kowa has delivered something unprecedented. The lens, prism, and dustproof glass are fully multi-coated, ensuring bright and sharp image. The scope weighs less than 745g even with a larger 60mm objective lens. Most importantly, these are very durable scopes made to withstand the toughest weather. They are waterproof to JIS class 7 protection and nitrogen filled to save from fog. However, you may find some color fringing at higher magnification.
Do not let these Kowa spotting scope reviews mislead you in believing that there are no other spotting scopes. The main point, however, to let you know that Kowa is prestigiously known as the top innovator and leader in the market of optics. As you go through the review, you will find a very limited number of cons is written. The scopes which come with prominar fluorite glass will give you an impressive performance, and other than the expensive tag, you will not find any cons. However, for an entry level scope, there may be some performance drop off with the magnification, which is quite normal. After all, they are optical instruments, not magic boxes. Finally, Kowa will definitely exceed your expectation in terms of performance. The least you can expect from a high-performance Kowa product is to be amazed in a way that you have never imagined.
- A Review of the Amazing Kowa TSN-880 Series Spotting ScopesBefore spending a huge amount of money on new optics, read our review of the TSN-883 and TSN-884 spotting scopes from Kowa. How good are they? Are they worth the money? Are there alternatives?
- A Review of Kowa TSN-770 Series Spotting Scopes for 2018The Kowa TSN-770 series is one of the most versatile spotting scope series for birders, hunters and range shooters. We look at what makes these scopes so good and what the buyer should be aware of.
- Review of Kowa TSN-553 and TSN-554 Spotting ScopesIf you're looking for a really mighty spotter scope that is also really small, then these are some serious contenders for your attentions. Read this review article to find out more.
- Kowa TSN-501 and TSN-502 Review: Lots of Power in a Small PackageIf you're looking for a very portable yet high quality spotting scope, you may have stumbled upon the TSN-500 series from Kowa. In this article, we review the models in this series and figure out what you can and what you shouldn't expect from them.