by Brian J Small
Kowa have been part of the birding optics community for quite a while. I owned my first after getting rid of my Swift Telemaster (or whatever it was called), and loved it. I still see many around, but just recently, one felt they had been left behind a little by the "big three", Leica, Swarovski and Zeiss.
Those that know me well are aware of the high regard I hold for my current telescope, a Zeiss 85 T* FL 'scope. Originally, I had a Leica, then briefly the large Swarovski, but I realised just how good the Zeiss was during a trip to Lesvos with Richard Campey from In Focus. His Zeiss was "knocking spots" off my Swarovski, especially in low light conditions, so when I got home I changed and have never looked back. I loved the brightness, the clarity of the zoom and the wide angle of view. However, during a trip to Finland in June this year, the local guide mentoned that the new Kowa was getting great reviews, so I contacted Pyser-SGI, who act as agents for Kowa in the UK, and they kindly lent me a review model.
First impressions are always important, and as I opened the box, I immediately liked the quality and construction, it felt familiar - it is actually quite like the Zeiss, with rapid and fine focus wheels, similar in size (actually a touch shorter, but also a touch taller due to longer eyepiece). As I put the bayonet of the zoom eyepiece in, it clicked nicely into place; the rapid focus took just two turns to go from minimum (c.5m) to maximum focus; the fine focus was smooth and easy. It felt a touch lighter than my Zeiss, too, which is always a good thing when carrying it all day whilst leading groups - it's weight is 1520g vs 1780g for the Zeiss. It has a good hood, which slides out easily, though there is no rubber armouring on exposed areas.
However, it is the quality of the image which is the crucial element for all birders and in this respect I was blown away! The view was not quite as wide as on my Zeiss, but it was still stunningly sharp from edge to edge. I had become used to the slight distortion of the image at the edge of the Zeiss image, when at 20x - a small price for the huge objective lens and wide-angle of view - but on the Kowa I felt that the distortion was minimal and certainly not as soft as on my Zeiss. As I zoomed in, I became more and more impressed, and a little excited; I was amazed that the image-quality remained excellent all the way to 60x. There appeared to be no fall off beyond 50x, and checking the creases on the legs of roosting gulls became a real treat (!?). The sharpness was faultless, though some might feel that the extremely slight compression/distortion of the image at the very edge when fully zoomed out a touch disconcerting, but for 95% of the image this is not an issue.
The image colour was neutral. On my Zeiss, I had become used to the faint yellow colour cast typical of Zeiss (and indeed Swarovski for that matter) and it matched Leica in this respect. There was no colour-fringing around any subject, whether looking into the light or not. The image is incredibly bright, though only 3mm wider on the objective lens than the Zeiss, this would let through c.3.5% more light (and based on objective lens diameter alone, equates to 10% more than the Swarovski 80mm and 14.3% more than the Leica 77mm).
The zoom was amazing, so I changed to the 30x wide-angled eyepiece with high expectations, and this too was superb. More or less the same dimensions as the zoom, it was far superior to the 30x Zeiss eyepiece, which I always felt was a touch disappointing when compared with its zoom counterpart. It had a very wide angle of view: at 30x it was almost as wide-angled as the zoom eyepiece at 20x, and the image was crisp, neutral in colour and sharp from edge to edge. This eyepiece would be ideal for digiscoping or general use if you are not a fan of zooms (though I recommend you try the zoom as well), but I believe that there is also a 20x superwide eyepiece which might be even better for digiscoping, but have not used it.
[For those that wish for more technical data, they can go to the Pyser-SGI website at http://www.pyser-sgi.com/productdeta...ProductID=2152 ]
It became apparent whilst using this 'scope that this was probably the best telescope I had looked through, and I have tried all on the market. There is no doubt is is expensive, being ?160 more expensive than the Swarovski 80mm and ?370 more than the Leica 77mm but if you want the best currently available you would want to try it. Though it is also obvious that chosing a 'scope is a matter of personal taste, I feel that you must have a look through this telescope before you spend all of that money.
Visit Kowa at www.kowascope.com
Active Valve Control System