Swarovski 65-mm HD Scopes
- Tremendous optical
- Huge field of view,
great depth of field
- Very short minimum
- Lightweight and compact,
but still durable
Swarovski recently released what they boldly call the “next generation” of their
excellent 65-mm spotting scope. Swarovski makes a number of 65-mm scopes including
the HD and non-HD versions of the straight and angled body configurations. Swarovski told us that there are
no differences optically between the two body types, so all that matters is the quality of the glass, and HD glass is much better. This review article concerns only the HD versions of the Swarovski 65-mm
In reviewing the Swarovski 65 HD scopes, we did what we usually do. We tell our
wives that we’re going off to work, and then we stop by the Optics4Birding warehouse,
grab a selection of comparable products, pick a beautiful spot, and go birding!
Okay, it’s a bit more complex than that, but you get the picture. In this case,
we took four other top-of-the-line 65-mm spotting scopes, all made with high-density
(HD), extra-low dispersion glass, all equipped with 20-60x zoom eyepieces, and headed
for a local marsh. Let us say right off the top, that in this cohort, the Swarovski
was pretty much the clear winner. We found the Swarovski 65 HD to be the brightest
scope of the lot, irrespective of the magnification, but at 40x and 60x, the difference
was particularly obvious and compelling. Normally, with high-end products such as
these, you have to stress the optics under low light conditions to see such things,
but not here. That was impressive! Another thing that struck us here was the contrast.
The 65-mm Swarovski scope seemed to have more contrast that made image details just
pop out at us. In terms of color fidelity, all of these scopes were equally good.
For image sharpness, the Swarovski and one other scope were excellent and clearly
ahead of the others.
Based on manufacturer’s published data for field-of-view-at-1000 yards, the Swarovski
65 HD should have been in the middle of the scopes we looked at. However, what we
observed in direct comparison was that the 65-mm Swarovski HD had the widest useful
field of view. The scope that advertised the largest field of view at 1000 yards
was the one we rated third best in this character. This is why we do this: sometimes
the published data don’t match up to observable reality. The last part of the optical
performance that we compared the scopes on was depth of field. There are no direct
measurements of this property and nobody publishes statistic on it. The only way
to get a feel for it is to do comparison trials and measure the relative performance
of a given set of scopes. Typically, the way we do it is to focus all the scopes
as sharply as possible on a particular object that offers a lot of fine detail and
then see how far behind it things appear to still be in focus. Using this sort of
qualitative measurement, we found the Swarovski 65 HD and one of the competitors
were about equal, while the other three had less depth of field. So the overall
outcome is this: in every category of image quality or optical properties, the Swarovski
either tied or bested the competition. That’s pretty good performance!
The Swarovski 65 HD scopes come wrapped in pliable, dark green, rubber armor that
makes them pleasant to handle, but also cushions very well against shocks. The amount
of protection offered by this armor means that with Swarovski scopes, a padded case
is truly optional, whereas with many scopes, doing without a case is a huge risk.
The Swarovski ATS (angled) and STS (straight) scopes 65 HD scopes weigh 38.9 and 38.2 oz. respectively, or a bit less than 2.5 lbs.
The angled and straight 65 HD scopes are 12.8 and 12.0 inches long, respectively
- about average for a 65-mm spotting scope. The objective lens cap is harder plastic,
and attaches by means of spring loaded clips. This has the advantage of being more
rapidly deployed, compared to a lens cap that screws on, but it is also much more
easily lost. There is a sighting tube located on the prism housing that works fairly
well in helping to locate things. Lastly, the bodies of these scopes are fully sealed
and nitrogen-purged, so they are completely waterproof and internally fog-proof.
Swarovski claims the seals will hold up to a depth of at least 13 feet. We thought
about testing this at a local reef, but decided against it! The scope bodies have
an extendable lens hood that easily pops out or slides in. Oddly, the Swarovski
literature claims that the hood locks in place, though we couldn’t figure out how.
In the end, it’s a trivial point anyway. The major point is, the hood is there and
it’s good: use it!
The Swarovski 65 HD scopes have a selection of available eyepieces, all of which
also fit their 80-mm scopes. Most birders are likely to opt for a zoom eyepiece,
but as of 2009, Swarovski now offers two of these, the original 20-60x zoom eyepiece
and their new 25-50 wide-angle zoom eyepiece. This is a really excellent new eyepiece,
with significant advantages in field of view relative to the more conventional 20-60x
zoom. Some of the optical
properties of these eyepieces are summarized in the table below.
Field of view @ 1000 yds
Zoom, wide angle
switch readily in and out of the scope bodies on standard bayonet-type mounts, and
they lock nicely in place with a simple, easy mechanism. You can actually do this
with gloves on. The eyecup on these eyepieces adjusts with a helical twist mechanism.
There are no fixed positions in between fully in and fully out, but the mechanism
has enough resistance in it that it stays put, without being too stiff to easily
handle. The one minor problem here is that the eyecup mechanism is fairly fragile.
It doesn’t take much of a knock to damage the pins on which the eyecup rides, and
once you do this, you have to replace the entire outer eyecup assembly. To Swarovski’s
credit however, they are quick to ship out replacement parts, and the repair is
easy to do. The minimum eye relief on any of the eyepieces is 17 mm which is enough
to be comfortable for any user. Swarovski makes all their eyepieces with a soft
rubber ocular lens cover that is tethered to the eyepiece with a length of braided
nylon cord. It’s really hard to lose these in the field, which is a good thing!
spotting scopes have a helical ring focus mechanism on the barrel of the scope,
rather than a focusing knob on the prism housing. This is one of those things that
people argue about with great passion, and it is not our desire to get into that
fight here. One clear advantage to a helical focus mechanism is that it is very
responsive. Getting from minimum close focus to infinity with the 65-mm Swarovski
scopes takes 2.25 turns, as compared to 5-8 full turns of a focus knob on a typical
scope. Thus, focusing on the Swarovski scopes is very responsive, but not so steeply
pitched that it lacks precision. It is worth noting that the minimum close focus
for the Swarovski 65 HD scopes is just over 9 feet, the shortest on any scope we’ve
examined! That can be a big advantage in the field, especially for digiscopers.
Speaking of digiscoping, Swarovski is one
of only two manufacturers to offer a full range of adapters that cover any type
of digital camera you might wish to use (of course the camera must be digiscoping-capable).
Swarovski digiscoping adapters come in three types. The first, the TLS-800, is for
all SLR-type cameras, and it essentially replaces both the scope eyepiece and the
camera lens, directly linking the scope to the camera body as a telephoto lens.
The DCA Digital Camera Adapter fits both DSLR and point-and-shoot digital cameras
with filter threads. This adapter fits over the scope eyepiece and by means of an
interchangeable ring, attaches to the threads inside the lens or filter of the camera.
This system is limited in terms of which cameras it will work with by the adapter
rings. Swarovski supplies five rings, in thread diameters of 28, 30, 37, 52 and
58 mm. The UCA Universal Camera Adapter in principle, works with all cameras, providing
a platform that correctly positions the digital camera in front of the scope eyepiece.
The design of this system fits both angled and straight configuration scopes. If
the user carries the camera already mounted up inside the UCA adapter, deployment
on the scope is fairly quick. One issue to be aware of is that many of these adapters
require the use of an extended plate or a rail system on the tripod to redistribute
the weight of the camera and adapter rig. Otherwise, the system becomes too heavy
for most tripods to compensate for and the scope and camera will be forever tilting
up at the sky. In general, Swarovski offers some of the best digiscoping options
of any optics manufacturer today.
The tripod attachment bracket on the Swarovski 65 HD scopes is attached to a ring
with a set-screw on it. Releasing the set screw permits rotation of the scope body
within the ring. The mounting bracket swivels through the entire 360° range with
detents every 45°, which is particularly useful with the angled version, though
the same system is present on all Swarovski scopes. In the way of accessories, Swarovski
markets view-through scope cases for the 65-mm scopes, but with the excellent quality
of the scope armoring, they’re optional.
We probably ought to tell you how much a 65-mm Swarovski scope costs. Swarovski
65 HD scopes aren’t cheap. The angled and straight models (ATS and STS respectively) scopes cost
for the body only (see table above for eyepiece pricing).
That being said, perhaps we should refer you back to the paragraphs where we discussed
their superior optical performance and digiscoping versatility. Yes, they cost a
bit more than other 65-mm scopes do, but the 65-mm Swarovski HD scopes also deliver
more performance. For those who want the best, the value isn’t a judgment – it’s
Swarovski 65-mm HD Scopes - current
price and availability