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Using Binoculars to see at distances

Swarovski 65-mm HD Scopes

Swarovski 65mm HD Scope

Review Highlights

  • Tremendous optical performance
  • Huge field of view, great depth of field
  • Very short minimum close focus
  • Lightweight and compact, but still durable

Full Review

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 spotting scopes.

Optical Performance

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.

Visual Field

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!

Physical Properties

Swarovski 65mm HD Scope - Zoom and Cap

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!

Eyepieces

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.

Model Eyepiece type Field of view @ 1000 yds Eye relief Price
20-60xS Zoom 108-60 ft 17 mm $2,450.00
25-50xS Zoom, wide angle 138-89 ft 17 mm $2,450.00

Swarovski 20-60x Zoom Eyepiece All eyepieces 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!

Focusing

Swarovski 65mm HD Scope Focus Swarovski 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.

Digiscoping

Swarovski 65mm HD Scope Digiscoping Adapter 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.

Accessories

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.

Conclusions

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 $2,450.00 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 a fact.

Swarovski 65-mm HD Scopes - current price and availability