Friday, April 19, 2013

Wide-eyed: The new Kowa 25-60x wide-angle zoom eyepiece

The New Kowa TE-11WZ Wide-angle Zoom
As has been mentioned in previous blog posts, the big news in spotting scopes in the last couple of years has been wide-angle zooms, giving both the flexibility of variable magnification and a very good angle of view. The latest manufacturer to join the 'one eyepiece for everything' club is Kowa.

Kowa are one of the most respected Japanese optics companies with a particular forte for spotting scopes and a legacy of ground-breaking equipment going back over thirty years. For many birders in the mid to late 1980s the 77mm TSN 1,2,3 and 4 were the bee's knees when it came to near indestructible high-performance scopes. At that time fixed 20x or 30x were the eyepieces to have, not only because they were good lenses but also because the zooms available from all manufacturers were almost useless for birding on account of being soft and having a field of view nearly big enough to get an entire goldcrest in at fifty yards.

These days zooms are much better to the point of outselling fixed eyepieces more than 20:1 and offering fields of view nearly on a par. The latest generation of zooms from Leica, Swarovski and a host of others give a magnification range of 25-50/60x and have much improved field of view. Both of the afore mentioned European companies now only have zooms in the current product line ups and the ATX Swarovski scopes eyepiece is part of a rear module that includes the prisms and therefore most of the glass in the scope.

The TSN-IP4S phone scoping adapter
Kowa have stuck to the traditional body-and-eyepiece format and introduced their first wide-angle zoom, made for the 770 and 880 series scopes. Physically it uses the same metal chassis as the 20-60x that was launched with these scopes in 2006, and so is the same size and near enough same weight.  The biggest advantage to keeping the same dimensions as the previous eyepiece is that Kowa's excellent iphone digiscoping adapter fits it perfectly.  The mechanics and build are up to the high standards you should expect for a scope of this quality, feeling positive, nicely damped and robust.

Optically it has a tough act to follow in the form of the 'old' 20-60x but it in no way disgraces itself, delivering everything its predecessor could and a bit more punch, edge sharpness and of course field of view. I tend not to hold a lot of store in the figures quoted in specification sheets as it doesn't always translate into what the eye sees, so purely for a subjective point of view the new eyepiece is notably wider at 25x than the 20-60x is at 20x and this increase holds up right through the range. One of the real strengths of the 880 series is the phenomenal brightness from the large 88mm objective lens, especially at 60x and the new eyepiece, unlike some manufacturers' offerings, retains the this power rather than restricting the range to 50x.

At £669 it is quite and investment, but it really does deliver what it set out to and will keep Kowa at the cutting edge of spotting scope technology.

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