Swarovski ATM 80 HD + 25-50x W eyepiece
For the past few weeks I have been lucky enough to use the new Swarovski ATM 80 HD coupled with the new 25-50x W eyepiece. By way of a simple review, there’s no point beating about the bush, this new telescope/eyepiece combination from Swarovski is simply superb. Alongside Leica, Swarovski have recently made upgrades to their optical equipment spurred on by both Zeiss and Kowa. Though these upgrades may to some seem like subtle changes to already very good ‘scopes and eyepieces, on the ‘ATM’ Swarovski have improved the body, making it from magnesium, and by improving the glass and coating they have improved the light-gathering qualities compared with the ATS. Furthermore, the ‘W’ eyepiece is totally new, and offers a more limited range in zoom, but a big improvement in the optical quality and angle of view.
[For more technical details visit here http://www.swarovskioptik.com/en/products/48 - for the body; and here http://www.swarovskioptik.com/en/products/18 - for the eyepiece.]
The only cosmetic difference anybody might notice on the body is that the sliding objective lens-hood is black, otherwise it is the same sensitive and smooth ‘helical-’ (barrel-) focussing (the only one of the ‘big four’ to use this method of focus). It still has the small device to help with the aim (on the angled scope); the eyepiece still has a bayonet mount that clicks in nicely and smoothly; handily, Swarovski have made the ‘foot’ of the ‘scope the same size as the attachment that fixes it to the head of many Swarovski/Manfrotto tripods, so their is no chance of it (annoyingly) coming loose.
It is hard to judge any improvement to the body without using an eyepiece on it, and the new 25-50x W eyepiece is amazing. The eye-relief (diameter of the lens) is large, no doubt in order to allow for the fantastic angle of view, which is significantly greater than the Kowa 883 – hence th ‘W’ on it’s name. This large eye-relief initially meant that it took a short while for me to find the perfect placement of my eye, in order to cut out some dark crescental ‘shadows’ I was getting, but I got used to this quickly and there were no further problems.
Optically, all of the top telescopes are excellent, and the ATM 80HD is, as you would expect, superb. The most significant feature of the 25-50x W is the wide angle of view. This is extremely impressive (e.g. at 25x it is greater than the Kowa at 20x and at 50x it is equal to 38x on the Kowa; in many circumstances (especially seawatching and when digiscoping) I found this an enormous benefit. I got so used to it that I found looking through other zooms sometimes a touch restricting.
Through the ‘scope, the image is clear and crisp from edge-to-edge, with no distortion of straight lines; at the extreme edge, there is sometimes a very slight colour fringe on dark objects against a bright background, but I have to say that for most of the time this is not noticeable at all (only visible if you really looks for it). As you zoom up, there is a need to slightly re-adjust the focus, but I find this with all ‘scopes, and the depth of field is good – whilst seawatching, the focus was from c.300m to the horizon. The image is almost imperceptibly on the warm side, and looking east across the North Sea, with the sun glinting in the early morning there was no internal reflection at all.
In summary, optically there is very little to choose between all of the top telescopes, for many it will boil down to personal preference. The one significant advantage to the set-up I have tested is the angle of view that will benefit most birders in their general birding. For those that digiscope, they will find they do not have to zoom in so much to get rid of the vignetting (black circling round the image). I can highly recommend this set-up, but if you find the price too steep for you at the moment, you might seriously starting by getting the new eyepiece.
Brian Small – August 2009
[From time to time, I will add to this review some images I have taken through the ‘scope and ‘W’ eyepiece. Here is the first, an unmanipulated image of a Common Tern at Minsmere in July http://surfbirds.com/albums/showphot...334/ppuser/411 - with work these could be vastly improved, but I wanted to show the image without sharpening, etc..]