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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: June/16/2010 at 23:13
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Here is the written account of my epic quest for the big spotter, ending happily with a new Vortex Razor HD:Yippee
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: June/16/2010 at 23:13
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HISTORY

I have been through a lot of spotting scopes. Some good (Pentax 65ed), some not (Leupold Green Ring). Some portable (Leupold Gold Ring FLP) and some not (Nikon Sky and Earth).

For a couple of years now I have been toting around my Zeiss Diascope 65tfl (Thanks SWFA!) while out scouting, hunting, birding, and generally … looking. I thought I had reached the do-it-all spotting scope nirvana. A pretty light, pretty sharp, pretty contrasty (is that a word?), pretty ergonomic total package. It wasn’t too heavy to throw in the pack. It was a good for judging antelope out the pickup window. It was always on the tripod in front of the picture window at home for when I caught the itch. I thought I had my last spotter.

I think I should have known myself better than that.

Something happened last summer. I discovered digiscoping, and a new, wondrous, expensive world opened to my eyes. I mated up my Canon A590 IS to my trusty Diascope and voila … pretty good pics. Then what happens when I rotate the camera dial to the little movie camera icon? OOOOHHHH … videoscoping! More success brings more questions: What if I found a way to use my SLR camera? Do you think my HD camcorder would work? Yes, sure, you bet. A little online surfing brings friendly help from around the planet. Suddenly new terms are creeping into my vocabulary: vignetting, ISO, mirror slap. I’m finding out about sensor sizes like four thirds, APS-C, and full-frame.

My results seemed pretty good, until I started looking at some digiscoping galleries online. Holy crap! That was a sharp photo! My eyes wandered to the equipment list Swarovski 80HD. Next gallery … Leica APO 82. Next, Zeiss 85TFL. Next, Kowa 883 pure flourite crystal lens. Those guys are getting fast shutter speeds. For Heaven’s sake, they were getting pics of birds in flight! It became woefully apparent: I NEEDED a new spotting scope. My trusty 65mm objective just wasn’t cutting it. I wanted some big glass.

THE JOURNEY

I started looking around. There are some nice looking scopes out there, right up to where you see the price tags. I decide I just needed to save and get what I really wanted. I headed down to the local sporting goods store and talked to the guy behind the counter. “Can I check out some spotters outside?” “Sure, but it won’t do you any good … this is the best scope for the money.” He pulls out a huge contraption called a Nikon Prostaff 82. I didn’t think this thing was in the league of scopes I was looking for, but what the hey. I took it outside. Not bad at low powers, but at high powers, a narrow, dim view. I told him I am looking for something with a wider field of view. He told me the field of view is the same for all scopes of the same “lens size and power.” I replied, “You mean exit pupil?” He blinked. Uh-oh, somebody didn’t pay attention at the rep’s employee training.

Thank God for the good information I’ve found on Optics Talk!

I pack up and head elsewhere. For the next four months I stopped at every sporting goods store I drove by. I poured over postings on Optics Talk (and elsewhere). I looked through every high end scope I could get somebody to take out of the case. I looked at lots of varied resolution charts. I bothered a lot of salesmen by asking to take three scopes outside, at dusk … again.

In the end, I found out that unit variation plays quite the role in spotting scopes. I saw some Zeiss 85tfl units seemed to have significantly different resolution capabilities. None were poor performers, mind you, but some were better than others. I noticed the Swarovskis I looked through were consistently … awesome. Side by side, the Swarovski 80HD and a “good” Zeiss 85tfl were quite similar in resolving power. Both at the resolution chart, and outside in my own subjective opinion looking at various subjects. The Zeiss images had a yellow bias it seemed. The Swaro was pretty neutral. The Zeiss had it’s usual mega-wide zoom with astigmatism at the low powers. It took a long time to find one, but I finally found a $4000 Leica Televid APO 82, and it’s heralded 25x to 50x wide angle zoom. The same store even had the new Swarovski 25x to 50x wide angle eyepiece. A head to head showdown commenced. The optical performance was pretty much a tie. Flat field, excellent contrast, wide, wide, wide, and oh so sharp. Funny thing, the Swaro was much harder to get a full field of view than the Leica. The eye relief was definitely more critical. The Swaro required a perfect eye position to get a full field, while the Leica was quite forgiving. I switched to the Swaro 20x to 60x eyepiece, and the critical eye relief was gone. Just nice sharp views right up to 60x. I really liked that scope, and eyepiece combination, and knew many digiscopers had used it successfully. I started feeling confident that the Swaro would be my choice.

Then I looked through the Kowa 883. I was able to compare it directly to the Swaro. It was brighter in low light, without a doubt ... I suppose that 8mm of extra objective doesn’t hurt. It also had a little narrower field of view. I had heard and read about the Kowa’s clear edge in pure resolution. I did not see it … to the extent it has been proclaimed. The resolution capabilities seemed pretty similar outside the store. I went inside and found I could definitely see one more fine line on the resolution chart with the Kowa. Back outside, looking at subjects within 100 yards … slight edge to Kowa. Looking at subjects far away … no noticeable edge to my eye. It seemed that maybe the volume of air you look through, and the resulting mirage and other effects, may have been the limiting factor on spotting scope performance when you get to that level.

ENTER THE RAZOR

I hadn’t really considered the Razor HD as an option, because I figured if I was going to save and spend $1600 bucks, I might as well save longer and go all-out with $3000 or more. I’m glad I decided to look through one. Hello!!!!!! Wait a minute salesman, can I bring out that Swaro one more time? Side by side with the Swaro, I found the two scopes had almost indistinguishable images! Side by side with the “good” Zeiss: coin toss on resolution, and the Vortex had better color fidelity! The image was fantastic, flat field, super sharp, excellent color, brightness a touch better than the swaro and similar to the Zeiss. Eye relief? Long, and non-critical.

On an optical level, all of the scopes I looked at were comparable, even the lauded Kowa. All of the scopes controlled chromatic aberration exceedingly well. I could only see it in the most extreme high-contrast situations in the Swaro, Zeiss, and Vortex, and even then it was ever so thin. Contrast was excellent in every scope, with the Swaro and Leica leading the way. Some were better than others at certain things: The Kowa was brightest, and had the best resolution. The Leica had the widest, easiest view. The Swarovski was all-around great. The Zeiss was bright and sharp. The Vortex was similar to the Swarovski in image. Image quality was not the determining factor for me. Their image performance was that close.

So what does make the decision? I was concerned about the Kowa’s crystal lense’s durability. I had heard rumors they are fragile. I didn’t want to think about that in the field, real or not. The Zeiss was nice, but I was always accidentally unscrewing the eyepiece from my Diascope 65, and it didn‘t have the digiscoping accessories I would have preferred. The Leica was nice in all areas (save digiscoping accessories), but didn’t really stand out, and it should at $4000. The Swarovski was awesome in all categories and had many digiscoping accessories available, but used the helical focus, and I prefer dual focus. The Razor

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: June/17/2010 at 05:56
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Nice review, Matt!  Thanks for sharing!
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: June/17/2010 at 07:42
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Thanks for the review. This may be the scope that I wished I had bought.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: June/17/2010 at 08:57
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Great stuff Bitterroot.  Thanks for the excellent summary. 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: June/17/2010 at 09:59
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Matt,
FWIW and to piggyback onto your review, I evaluated Rancid's Razor HD with the 20-60X eyepiece side by side with my Leica Televid 77 APO, also with 20-60X eyepiece.  It was tough to declare one conclusively better than the other, which speaks very highly of the Razor, given the fact it retails for about $1000 less than the Leica did with eyepieces.  Granted, my scope isn't the newest Leica, so I'm sure it is a slight step down in optical quality (and a serious step down in price), but it's certainly no slouch, probably roughly on par with the Zeiss you compared yours against. 
 
I enlisted the help of a buddy of mine and his son, and they came to the same conclusions I did... it would take a lot more side by side comparisons in varying light and environmental conditions to pick one as optically superior to the other. 

I setup a target with .30 and .22 cal bullet holes 300 yards away for determining resolution.  Basically, what I could see with one, I could see with the other.  From about 35X or so and up, I could see the .22 cal holes very clearly @ 300 with both spotters.  I would say the Razor HD has a slightly sharper image from about 55X - 60X, though.  That probably has a lot to do with its larger objective.  Color saturation and contrast seemed pretty evenly matched, and neither had a noticeable color bias.  I could see no discernible chromatic aberration in either, but it was a cloudy day so I couldn't really duplicate the conditions that generally make CA really stand out for me when evaluating optics. 

The Razor had a little less prominent tunnel vision at 20X.  Eye relief and field of view looked to be about the same or very close.  Even with its 85mm objective, the Razor is still more compact than the Leica 77mm.  Both scopes had equally smooth dual focus knobs.  The Razor had a smoother power change ring and a much nicer eyepiece lock mechanism (my body didn't have a provision for eyepiece lock, so I made one to adapt to the later locking style eyepiece).  The only area where I would say the Leica was superior to the Razor was was when I compared the Leica's fixed 32X eyepiece in place of the variable.  With that eyepiece, it had a noticeably larger FOV and a sharper image than the Razor set at around 32X.  However, I suspect the Razor would show the same improvements with its fixed 30X eyepiece, since a fixed eyepiece typically produces better image quality and wider FOV than a variable EP at the same magnification.  But, RC bought the fixed eyepiece after I'd already sent the scope back to him, so I couldn't do a head to head comparison on the fixed eyepieces.  Overall, I would give the Razor the edge (no pun intended) over the Leica, especially considering price and physical size and weight, where the Razor had a clear advantage.
 
I too prefer the dual ratio focus knobs used on the Razor, Leica, Zeiss, Kowa over the central body mounted helical focus used on the Swaro, Nikon, etc.  Because less resistance is required for focusing, you can focus with only 1 finger, and you have both fast and fine focus ability, I've found it's easier to achieve pin sharp focus while keeping the scope rock steady.
 
I found very little to criticize about the Razor.  I personally would have preferred the entire body to be rubber armored, to better prevent cosmetic damage to the body.  As you said, it has the appearance of being very robustly constructed, though.  I also didn't care for the design of the objective cap.  I thought it was too flexible and a tad too difficult to remove.  But, these are minor issues.

When you consider the Razor HD retails for about $1K less than the Leica did when new, it is an absolute bargain!  It is truly alpha class for considerably less money than the scopes it compares favorably to.  If I was buying a high end spotter today, the Razor HD is unquestionably the one I would buy.  Considering the scopes it compares favorably to, I don't know what scope would provide better image quality at anywhere near the same price.


Edited by RifleDude - June/17/2010 at 10:03
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: June/17/2010 at 11:22
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Thanks for the review Matt and Ted.  Sounds like the Razor HD is a quality product and a quality buy.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: June/17/2010 at 20:50
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Ted,
 
I did not get a chance to compare the APO 77 to the Razor HD side by side, but I am glad you did.  I have spent some time with the older Televid series and agree they are right there with the best in the world.  The new Leica is updated and great looking, but there really is no replacing sheer magnification power when looking for fine detail.  When using the Swarovski 80HD with both the 20-60 and 25-50, I could definitely resolve a little more detail with the 60x versus the 50x.  However, I would still like a 25-50 wide angle zoom for the Razor, because it would be a great digiscoping eyepiece with it's wide field and variable magnification.
 
I also did not get a chance to look at the brand new Diascopes.  I have heard the new Diascopes have updated optical systems, particularly centered around internal stray light control.  I am very interested in the idea of a high power zoom eyepiece.  An 85mm objective at 75x yields a 1.13mm exit pupil.  That is a hair bigger than the Swarovski 65HD's 1.08mm exit pupil at 60x.  Even my old Pentax 65ed had useable resolution at 60x.
 
BTW, I've read about poor performance by Diascopes in several threads, and it always surprised me with the great performance I got out of my Diascope 65.  After looking through several samples of Diascopes, I have concluded that the poor opinions are the result of two primary causes.  First, the Zeiss zoom has noticeable astigmatism at low power, and that turns off prospective users.  Second, the samples ranged from "pretty darn good" to "wow, great!"  When you are looking at Brand X and say, "Wow, Great!" but go to a "pretty darn good" Zeiss, you start to think  Brand X is always better than Zeiss.
 
I completely forgot to include my biggest complaint about the Razor HD:  The tripod foot should have been designed to fit in the standard manfrotto head without the need for a quick release plate.  The Swaro have had this usefull feature for years, and Leica has included it in their newest Televids.  It is so usefull I would be willing to send my Razor to Vortex for retrofitting if they added the feature.
 
The value of the Razor HD is real:  You can get a Razor HD, the digiscoping adapter, a sturdy tripod, and a quality digital camera all for less than one of the competing scopes alone.  That is a bargain, and without penalty in performance.


Edited by Bitterroot Bulls - June/17/2010 at 22:07
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: June/17/2010 at 22:03
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I saw the new Diascope at the SHOT show, but I couldn't tell much about it inside the building, other than to say it has an "interesting" dual ratio focus knob built into a single knob.  The Zeiss rep there told me the new eyepiece doesn't have the astigmatism of the previous eyepiece.

I totally agree with you on the integral Manfrotto style tripod foot.  That is a really nice, very practical feature that other manufacturers should adopt!

Enjoy your new scope, and thanks again for posting your comments!
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: June/20/2010 at 22:21
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I hope Scott or somebody at Vortex is monitoring the threads on the Razor HD.  They have a great product, and I am exited to see the line expand in both bodies and eyepieces.
 
I e-mailed Vortex last week about plans for the line, but, as of yet, haven't received a response.
 
Has anyone on the OT heard any rumors?
 
Poker
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: June/21/2010 at 17:21
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I called Vortex myself about a month ago, and they told me they'd have a straight 
ep razor spotter by September.   I tell my buddy, he calls Vortex himself, and they tell him by the first of the year if they're lucky.  Now Scott @ Vortex says 2011, so who knows for sure.  Guess it's 2011 at the earliest.  Problem is, I start scouting heavily Sept 2010, so I may go ahead and spring for the 884 Prominar or a Zeiss 85T FL. 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: October/08/2010 at 16:38
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Its on the wall of their Facebook page.
 
 
 
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