04 Jun

High End Semi-Scientific Spotting Scope Test and the Battlescooter!

Steven K. Ledin,

Nikon loaned us one of their amazing Edge VR spotting scopes, and I used it last month while filming in Texas with Keith Warren for his High Road TV show. Nightforce sent us a demo of their new spotter, the TS-82. We hadn't seen it yet, and couldn't wait to try it.

This was a perfect opportunity for an impromptu, semi-scientific test of high end spotters. Our man Trevor came up with a criteria sheet and took the products out of stock. We started in the warehouse with a standard 1951 USAF resolution test target under a combination of natural and florescent light. We also used a Nikon resolution chart that was incredibly detailed.

 Our spotters were the following:

The amazing Nikon Edge VR with the 20-60 eyepiece. The most expensive in the test by almost two times. I've used this scope a few times in the field. "VR" stands for Vibration Reduction, and man, does it ever work. It's a heavy unit that is charged with 4 AA batteries. The VR mode is not needed all the time, so if the batteries fail, the scope is still fine without them. It's kind of clumsy in the field and weighs about 4.5 pounds. I'd love to have this while digiscoping, and Nikon offers the attachments for use with many of their newer DSLRs. Photography is where this would rule. I wouldn't want to carry this around as a hunter, not only because of the weight, but because it has electronics in it, and the footprint of it is huge. Amazing and awesome for the right application, though.

The svelte and sexy Swarovski STS 80. A great size for a backpack. I've always loved this Austrian company. The only one with a really usable finder aid for quick sighting. You can see this small sighting tube at the 1:00 position next to the eyepiece. Great for hunters.

The Kowa TSN-883 with the TE-10Z 20-60 eyepiece. Third most expensive of the test. Kowa has been known for years at the 1000 yard range. Most spotters there were, and still are, Kowa green for a reason. The sleeper of the bunch. Big 88mm objective. The dual focus was another superb attribute of this outstanding product.

The new Nightforce TS-82 Xtreme Hi-Def spotter with a 20-70 eyepiece. Ten more power magnification than most others. A very impressive product from a top quality riflescope company known more for precision than optical excellence. This may change your mind. Made in the Czech Republic. Check the Meopta website to view where it started from. One of our new favorites. Unique look, just like their riflescopes.

The Leupold Mark 4 20-60×80. Didn't measure up to these extreme spotters in many categories, but neither do any of the others measure up to  the Leupold's best attributes, which are toughness, compactness, and ease of use with ginormous eye relief. Easy one hand use, and a milling reticle if you need it. Kind of in the way for me. Perfect for our soldiers and excellent quality. A great choice for hard use.

The best value and least expensive of the test, by far, the consumer favorite Vortex Razor 20-60×85. Vortex is one of the most pleasurable companies I've dealt with through decades in the business. Honest and hardworking people that have the highest quality customer service possible. Throughout the years, there have been a few companies that have been as good, but none better. They make great products that perform above their price range. Love the dual focus.

The Ziess Victory Diascope 20-75×85. Typical Zeiss. Excellent. Larger than most, but also has 15X more magnification and an 85mm objective. Used with the Zeiss Carbon Fiber tripod, a hardly beatable combination. A bit large for hard field use.

Indoors at 25 yards, it was way too easy to read even the smallest section of the charts, but the Nikon chart with its irregular lines and shading gave us a lot to ponder about. And ponder we did, 5 of us from Product Intelligence, with our clipboards in hand, moving from scope to scope, determining by trial and error the best to the worst, and sometimes worst to the best. It takes a toll on your eyes. I could only test for about 15 minutes at a time, then had to take a break and come back later. We tested all at the same 60X.

Since we had 7 scopes, we rated them from 1-7 on Ease of Use, Brightness of Image, Contrast, Resolution, and Color Saturation, although Color Saturation was only done outside. Inside scores of top performers were greatly varied from outside scores, which I expected, but not as much as realized.

Here's the approximate pricing on these spotters:

Nikon EDG VR with 20-60 eyepiece– $6,000.00. Yes, you read that correctly. Six grand.

Swarovski STS 80- About $3,100.00 with 20-60.

Kowa Prominar 883 with 20-60 eyepiece– About $3050.00.

Nightforce TS-82 with 20-70 eyepiece– About $2,500.00.

Leupold Mark 4 with 20-60 eyepiece– About $2,400.00.

Vortex Razor with 20-60 eyepiece– Only $1,600.00! Superb value!

Zeiss Victory FL Diascope with 20-75 eyepiece– $3,150.00.

Indoors, I thought the easiest to use was the Swarovski, with its slender body and finder scope. The Kowa and the Zeiss were next because of the excellent dual focus mechanisms they both had. On the other hand, the EDG was big and clumsy.

Still indoors, the Kowa shocked us all at how much brighter it was than any other scope. Not even close. The Kowa was also number one in contrast. In all categories indoors after adding up all my numbers, the Kowa was so much better than anything else I couldn't believe it. The Kowa registered a first in brightness, first in contrast, and second in ease of use. What a shockingly excellent performer inside under a combination of natural and flourescent light.

The reticle in the Leupold was annoying, the Zeiss was a bit large, and the Vortex was a notch below the others in all categories. I expected more out of the EDG.

Outside was a different story, and the rankings were shuffled quite a bit.

The first distance was 443 yards. It was a resolution chart on the back of a street sign. There was noticeable mirage at high power. This was a great test for long range resolution. The second distance was 129 yards, where the Nikon chart and a 1951 chart were placed. Also included were fluorescent orange HOLD stickers from our warehouse. These were used for testing chromatic aberration, or the bleeding of colors around the sighted object.

The Razor wasn't really a contender against the others in the test, but it was also a fraction of the cost of the others, and it did a great job. Not just a good job, but a great job. Just not up to par against these guys. If you didn't have it next to the others to compare, most folks would be thrilled forever to use such a fine product. And in optics, like race cars, it takes a significant increase in money for the slightest increase in performance. This is certainly the case here with these top-tiered precision optical instruments.

The Leupold and the EDG were the next least favorites. The Leupold, again, was not in its element. It is perhaps the easiest to use quickly, and I'll bet it's the toughest by far. The Edg, also, was not in its element, which may be digiscoping. It is a large, heavy, cumbersome unit. The Vibration Reduction works as described, and it's quite amazing.

We all liked the Nightforce a lot, and it came in next highest. It is a handy unit and reasonably priced for what you get. The optics are excellent, and it has a tactile feel, with unique rubber nipples or protrusions on moving parts. It's a lot of scope for the money, and certainly a welcome addition into the Top Tiered category. It seems to me that this would be a top choice for a hunter.

The Swarovski and the Zeiss tied for second and third place. The Ziess has more magnifying power, but that may or may not be useful. I loved the dual focus, but overall, it's a pretty large spotter. The Swarovski is pleasantly designed for easy carry, and it takes up a pretty small footprint. Again, the finder's scope was handy.

The Kowa was again, all by itself on the top. In every way. It wasn't really close. Amazing, amazing product.

The combined total scores of the scope from the indoor and outdoor test put the scopes in this order:

Kowa, by a humongous margin. Not even close. Shocking.

Swarovski, then close behind, the Zeiss.

The EDG then the Nightforce close.

The Leupold then the Vortex.

I won't give actual combined scores; I've probably made a few manufacturers mad and/or disappointed already, although a test always has some winners and some not so much. It wasn't a very technical test, and it was a bit impromptu. I would be very proud to own a Leupold or Vortex as my only spotter for hunting, birdwatching, people watching, and digiscoping. Sans reticle in the Leupold. The Vortex almost makes it into a category of no-holds-barred competition where performance is primary and cost is secondary. It is a steal for 1600 bucks. If I was getting shot at I would like the Leupold.

The Kowa was unbelievable. After so many years of playing with and testing and breaking and hunting with optics, many of them high-end, I'm kind of flabbergasted and a bit ashamed of myself for not taking Kowa as seriously as I should have. I"m an old-schooler, and even when I was maturing, the 1000 yard shooters almost always had Kowa green on the firing line, or at least wanted to. I always knew they were good, I just never put them up against what I traditionally knew from first hand experience were the best. I won't make that mistake again, and as a matter of fact, Kowa is already scheduled for a visit in a couple of weeks. I'll look forward to hearing from them.

I've just finished testing another fine piece of equipment. It's alive, It's alive, IT'S ALIVE!!!!



The Battlescooter was born from My Shirley's totaled 1985 Honda Elite 250. We got her an identical one to replace it, and after she crashed that one I make a great one out of the best parts from both bikes, and I took all the broken stuff for the Battlescooter. The duct tape keeps what's left of the instrument panel together, and also prevents rain from shorting any of the exposed wiring. None of the gauges work, but chicks did scars. That must be why My Shirley likes me. What a beauty, this cycle. New tires, new grease, pounded out wheels, and the occasional shocking backfire still lets this popcorn machine with a weed-wacker engine get up to 80.

The usefulness of gauges is overrated. None of these work, anyway.

I took it the 50 round trip miles to work yesterday and she was awesome!

I hope we all hold together so well after we break. Good luck!








About Steven K. Ledin

Steve has never not known guns. Before motorcycles, money, or girls, they have always been part of his life. He was tenured as General Manager of one of the country’s largest gun stores and ranges, a buyer in a big box sporting goods store, and is currently OpticsPlanet’s Director of Product Intelligence. He was a US Navy gunners mate, and is an NRA certified instructor in ten categories, as well as an Illinois CCW instructor. He shoots competitively and has hunted from Alaska to Africa. He thoroughly loves life with his beloved wife, Shirley, and their three wildish dogs Tinker, TranRek (pronounced “Train Wreck”), and Crash Almighty. He is a stubborn stage 4 cancer survivor not yet ready to cash in his chips.

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