Spotting Scope Optics:
You have decided that its time to take the next step in the birding world. You have been birding for a while now and your binoculars are wonderful. BUT, you need to see the birds much closer and more detail at a distance! You can’t stand it anymore and need to get a birding scope! Great! Where does one start with all the scopes that are out there you ask. Right here!
Now, let me share with you some thoughts to think about. I have been a second generation photographer and very active in the photography industry for 40 years. I had the wonderful opportunity to study under several famous old school pros and thus I became super critical and very picky about sharpness, clarity, color balance, and composition. What I have come to believe and understand is, that IF you look at optics as a tool and an extension of your eyes to better your vision and craft and you demand the best that you can get., then you won’t be happy with anything but the top shelf optics. Leica, Swarovski, Zeiss & Kowa. Other mid range would be Nikon, Vortex.
I spent an agonizing year in 2005-06 looking through all the scopes at many places like Cape May, Chincoteague Island, Magee Marsh, Crane Creek, Metzger Marsh, Light House Point, Sandy Point, Greenwich Point, Birding events, Hawk Watches., and talking to the users of all types., and became familiar with each different scope. The main thing was to compare the different scopes and eyepieces and then eliminate all but a few as I did and then go back and compare again. Yes, This is time consuming but worth it in the long run and you will be glad you took your time in the end. It came down to my GUT feelings first, true color & light balance, how it felt with regards to focus knobs and past experience with optics and what I wanted and expected out of the scope.
I went with the Leica APO-Televid 77 Angled scope with a 32mm fixed eyepiece (no longer available) in October 2006. (Now it would be the APO-Televid 82 Angled scope with the 25-50mm zoom eyepiece). APO = It means apochromatic refractor in the lens. The APO models have a different lens system than the non APO models. The Apochromatic lenses are made with flouride glass for improved image performance over the non APO. On the newer models, there is an optically neutral front lense to protect the sensitive APO lense. So what does this mean to the end user? The APO will cost more and give you better optical clarity, resolution. I for one surely could tell the difference.
I have not looked back once period! Every time I look through it I say WOW! And so do others that look through it too. I took the chance knowing Leica would soon come out with a newer line of scopes as they were due. Leica didn’t come out with the new scopes till 2009. If weight, bad back is an issue then consider the smaller of the two sizes of scopes with no regret. The optics are just as good. If your planning to go to the tropics you’ll want angled, easier to see with. As for eyepiece, I wanted tack sharp everywhere I look, balanced true color and a wide angle to follow the birds. My theory is, If you are looking at a bird or anything else no matter how close or far it is, for me I want it tack sharp hands down all the way to the viewing edge of the scope! Focus on something in dead center when you look through a Leica Scope. Now, If you have done this correctly you should be able to see a tack sharp image view all the way to the edge of your scope when looking through. This means, your whole viewing area is tack sharp! You can’t get better than this. Many people love the 20-60 or now 25-50 zooms and it works well for them. Heavier though. If I considered an additional eyepiece I would get the zoom.
The newest Leica APO-Televid 82 and 65 came out in 2009 with the latest technology. The Leica APO Teleivid 82 is a full 20% shorter and lighter weight than the current 77 mm APO Televid model that I have., 3% sharper, New Aqua Dura coating that is not BS. (I also have the 8x42HD Ultravids HD Binoculars that have the same coatings) They also have a fixed tripod mount for the Manfrotto tripod line or another line of tripods like Gitzo. This will eliminate the additional tripod plate you currently have to add on the older APO 77 mm. I have no problem though with an extra plate attached to it. The Leica APO-Televids 77 or 62 will not be obsolete or out-dated just older technology. You can still find them around (as of 2013 hard to find but not impossible) at a reduced price. Still a fantastic scope with great optics. APO is a much better optic than the regular optic line.. as with other optic lines you want to get the best level of optics as you can afford to do.
That said you will pay the price for those optics. You won’t have to step up to something better down the line unless you choose too., you will already be there! Remember this is an investment and you will have this for many years to come and perhaps pass them down to your children or grandchildren. Just make sure you are getting what you asked for and nothing less. This is why its best to consult with knowledgable birding associations and companies such as The Fat Robin, Hamden, CT 203-248-7068., BSBO (Black Swamp Bird Observatory) Oak Harbor, OH 419-898-4070., CMBO (Cape May Bird Observatory) NJ 609-884-2736. I have bought from each one of these outfits. These folks are very forth coming and will always tell you the truth from the get go about a variety of optics! This is a good will gesture in recommending these folks on my part and nothing else. Let them know I sent you. They will appreciate where the recommendation came from! Looking to find out about Binoculars? See Binocular Thoughts and My Digiscoping Set-Up here or under Birdwatching in the header.
Good Luck and Happy Birding!