Most birders we know of started their birding expeditions with 8x or 10x binoculars. However, soon they wanted to view more exotic birds from much longer ranges. A good quality spotting scope can enable you to check out birds anywhere from 16x to 75x magnification range.
Most spotting scopes have to be attached with tripod and head for better as well as steady bird spotting. However, many bird spotting enthusiasts feel this to be a burden, especially when they are travelling. They feel a binocular along with a field guide is enough for them to spot the birds. However, this is the most common mistake that amateur birders make and miss to view something they really wanted to see. This is where the concept of a travel spotting scope came into existence. Most important feature of this kind of scope is that they are very easy to carry and you can carry them for miles without any kind of hassle. These spotting scopes are smaller and at the same time lighter. In fact, the accompanying head or tripod in these cases are also more compact and lighter, thereby helping you to put the kit in your small luggage. These kits weigh just 5 pounds and can be carried very easily.
High quality spotting scopes, having 40 to 60 powers, are available between $1500 and $2,500 price range. Two such high quality spotting scopes are Vortex Razor HD 16-48×65 and pricier Swarovski HD 20-60×65. Both these spotting scopes are mid-range scopes and produce commendable results. Though the latter provides you with higher maximum magnification power (60x) than that of the former and priced around $1,000 more, both come in mid-range spotting scope segment. That’s why it becomes that more important for comparing both these scopes to decide whether you should at all shell out the additional $1,000 money.
A Quick View of the Specifications
Before we start comparing these two high quality scopes, it is important to get a preliminary feel of both. Let’s check their specs first.
The magnification of this spotting scope is from 16x to 48x and therefore you can spot birds anywhere from long range to extreme long range. This spotter has been found useful to many long range hunters even as it helped them get a clearer view of the target especially in the above 2,000 yards range shootings. The objective lens of this Vortex spotter is 65mm, enabling enough light to pass through and help in production of clearer and brighter images. Vortex Razor HD 16-48×65 Angled Spotting Scope RZR-65A1 is 14.1 inches long and weighs just 48.4 ounces, much lighter than many other bulky and similar category scopes. You will get a decent eye relief (20-18 mm) in this spotter. Other important specs of Vortex Razor HD 16-48×65 include 4.1-1.4 mm exit pupil, 11.5 feet close focus, 2.7-1.4 degrees angular field of view, and 138 feet to 75 feet per 1000 yards linear field of view.
Swarovski HD 20-60×65
Though this spotting scope’s magnification range is higher than that of Vortex Razor HD 16-48×65, it still comes in the mid-range category. The magnification range here is 20x to 60x and the objective lens diameter is 65mm, same as the Vortex Optics product. The best thing we noticed here is that it is longer than the Vortex Razor HD spotting scope (14.6 inches over 14.1 inches) but is lighter (48.3 ounces vis-a-vis 48.4 ounces). Other important specs of Swarovski ATS-65 HD 20-60x65mm Angled Spotting Scope are 118 feet to 66 feet at 1,000 yards field of view, 2.1-1.1 degrees angle of view, 17 mm eye relief, greater than 5 Diopter Correction, 3.3 – 1.1 mm exit pupil diameter, 9.8 feet minimum focus distance, and many more.
Comparison between Vortex Razor HD 16-48×65 and Swarovski HD 20-60×65
Though we have got a brief idea on the similarities and well as differences between these two mid-range spotting scopes, we now want to compare them more closely. This analysis will help you to decide whether it is worth it for you to shell out the additional $1,000 for the Swarovski product.
Both these spotting scopes are compact and can be put in the backpack for hiking. Best part of these scopes is that both come with 65mm objective lens diameter. While the Vortex Razor HD Angled spotter’s price is around $1,000, price of Swarovski HD spotter is around $2,000. This is when we decided to compare these spotting scopes to find out which one is superior.
i. Checking Image Clarity, Color Fidelity, and Others at Different Magnification Ranges
During testing, we first picked up Vortex Razor HD 16-48×65 Angled Spotting Scope RZR-65A1 and tried to spot a “Goodyear” sign half a mile away from the shop we were standing in. We found out the image to be crystal clear on all magnification ranges, from edge to edge, and there is no visible distortion at the corners. Image details as well as color reproduction were excellent. One of the features that we liked a lot is the dual focus wheel, which made focusing really easy. While turning the fine focus, we found out that the image clarity window in it is quite large. Though it was a bit off from reaching perfect focus adjustment, still we were able to view a decent and usable image having great detail.
Now, it was time for us to test the Swarovski ATS-65 HD 20-60x65mm Spotting Scope with Eyepiece and followed the same procedures as followed while checking the Vortex spotting scope. Image clarity reproduced through this Swarovski spotter is almost the same as that in case of the Vortex one. In fact, color fidelity of the Swarovski spotter is also very good but almost same as Vortex Razor HD 16-48×65 spotting scope. Therefore, in terms of image clarity, both the spotters are more or less similar.
For further testing the Swarovski spotter, we turned the scope’s power to the maximum 60x and this is where we were kind of disappointed. We found out that the focus was significantly touchy and even with the slightest movement of the adjustment knob it moved too much in one direction and the image became absolutely fuzzy. To get a hold on the focus, we brought down the focus to 50x and found out both image detailing as well as color reproduction were relatively more sharper. In fact, this is when we felt that for an objective lens of 65mm, magnification power of 60x was a bit too much, which was evident from sharpness, color fidelity, and clarity of the image at maximum magnification. When we compared the image production through the Swarovski at higher magnification vis-à-vis lower magnification, we found out that the same appeared darker in comparison to the latter.
We also checked clarity of image through this spotting scope at 48x power, which is the maximum magnification limit for Vortex Razor HD 16-48x 65 spotter. Focusing window in the Swarovski spotter is smaller than that in the Vortex Razor HD spotting scope in spite of the fact that image reproduction in both of them is equally sharp and clear.
ii. Checking Performance of the Spotters while Viewing Objects in Dark or Shadowy Areas
For checking how these spotters faired in viewing objects in shadowy or darker places, we tried to view a dark blue colored umbrella’s underside that was covering a patio table. Swarovski HD 20-60×65 faired well in eating up the shadows and we were able to view the objects located in the dark areas under the umbrella quite well. Up to 55x power, we didn’t face any issue in seeing the darker images. However, the problem started only when we went past 55x magnification. However, when we checked the same at 48x magnification, the image results of darker objects were good enough.
In fact, we also performed the same test with Vortex Razor HD 16-48×65 Angled Spotting Scope RZR-65A1 and the results were also encouraging. It must be said that at 48x power, image result of darker objects through the Swarovski spotter is slightly better than that of Razor HD spotter. When we say, the results are only slightly better, we mean it. Therefore, there is hardly any difference between the two spotting scopes, especially in viewing objects in darker areas.
iii. Other Factors
Both the spotters came with considerably large eyepieces, creating eye reliefs that are equally comfortable. In fact, factor such as customer service is also equally good in both the spotting scopes. Therefore, you will hardly find any reason to put one ahead of the other.
We loved both the Spotting scopes. Whether it is Swarovski ATS-65 HD 20-60x65mm Spotting Scope with Eyepiece (Angled Viewing) or Vortex Razor HD 16-48×65 Angled Spotting Scope RZR-65A1, both the scopes came with similar testing results. However, we like the latter scope more because of two reasons. While the first reason is the presence of dual focus wheels, the latter is the significantly lower price than that of Swaro. In fact, there is hardly any advantage a birder will experience in the extended magnification of 60x at the Swarovski spotter, as already discussed in the comparison above. Therefore, it is most prudent for a birder or even an extreme long distance hunter to go with the more affordable Vortex Razor HD 16-48×65 spotting scope than Swarovski ATS-65 HD 20-60x65mm, where the latter is around $1,000 pricier than the former.