water-proof, dust-proof, ED glass Florite lens. 82mm
Review from Better View Desired
The new Kowa is an obvious sibling to the current TSN series. It shares the same contrasting light and dark olive, rubberized exterior, with a built in lens shade...one of the more attractive scope finishes once you warm up to the color...and certainly one of the nicer ones to handle. The slightly tacky rubber gives a very positive grip and seems quite durable. The body itself departs from traditional scope design by mounting the prisms horizontally instead of vertically. This places the eyepiece off to one side of the objective, rather than above or below...it is reminiscent of one barrel of giant porroprism binoculars. The tripod socket rotates. It is possible to swing the eyepiece up (or down) to a more conventional position, but the graphics and logos on the scope leave no doubt as to how the designers intended it to be used. You quickly get used to the alternative position. The body is waterproofed. There is a little clear window behind the eyepiece mount to keep out moisture.
On a tripod the scope is well balanced, fairly light weight for its size, and quite stable (Kowa included the second hole in the tripod mount for the pin on video tripod heads. Good for them!). There is a very nice small tube-style sight along the eyepiece edge of the prism housing which makes getting on the bird easier with high power eyepieces (though, if you go for the zoom, you can generally eyeball it very well at low power and then zoom up). Focus is by a large knob on the front edge of the prism housing, directly in line with the eyepiece, which places it off to the side of the tripod mount where it is exceptionally easy to reach. The motion is smooth and precise... fairly rapid compared to some scopes. All in all, it is a very field friendly package...the kind of scope that will disappear under your hands and leave you free to concentrate on the birds.
The big news, of course, is supposed to be the 82mm Fluorite objective. It is big. The view is very bright and yields high detail...though it has the slight warmness that some of us associate with Fluorite optics. The Kowa provides as good a view, as excellent a view, as you can currently buy. Very fine indeed. (For NEED Test comparison charts for the Kowa take a look at NEED Test Revisited.)
A Zoom to Buy For
The real news, however, is the zoom eyepiece. I have often faulted manufacturers for producing zooms that are an embarrassment to their scopes. The zoom for the original TSN series was a case in point...not an eyepiece I would recommend to any serious birder. The new zoom, however, is something else again. Physically it looks a lot like the Swarovski zoom, a good three inches long and over an inch in diameter. Optically, it is a very fine eyepiece, indeed. It has good eye relief at all powers. The field remains open and bright all the way from low to high. Resolution and contrast are excellent, especially at lowest and highest powers. The field pinches in just slightly in the mid-powers, but it is still quite nice. At any power, you could easily think you were using a single power eyepiece...and still have all the advantages of a zoom just a little twist. This is a zoom to base a scope choice on. It is good enough to buy a TSN824 just so you have a scope to use it on. (Though I assumed initially that the new zoom would fit the older TSN models, it turns out not to be so. Bummer! The only way to get the new zoom, it appears, is to trade in your TSN-4 for an 824.)
Mounted on the TSN824 the zoom has a slight softness at the extreme edges of the field at all powers...but I don't know if that is the zoom or the scope itself.
Once again, the combination of the 82mm Fluorite objective and the new zoom produces a view that is exceptionally fine. With the fine optics and the addition of waterproofing, Kowa has a scope to be reckoned with again...I expect to see the market flooded with used TSN-4s as the Kowa faithful rush out to upgrade. If you are not already a Kowa user, the TSN824 could easily make you one. The Nikon Fieldscope 78 remains the BVD Reference Standard for the moment...but the Kowa is certainly in the Reference Standard class...a BVD Starred Product.