2017 Optics Shootout Results

2017 Optics Shootout

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could get binoculars and spotting scopes from Leica, Swarovski, Kowa and Vortex. Line them up and have a whole bunch of folks compare them head to head? Who do you think would come out on top?  We were curious, so we decided to find out.

Maybe some of you remember that we did an optics demo at the NW Mountain Challenge in Tamarack Idaho back in June.  What we wanted to do was to get some high end glass available to hunters who wouldn’t normally get a chance to use them. Well, outside of your local Cabela’s parking lot anyway.  Tamarack is the perfect high mountain setting, and we held the demo in the evening to show how they performed in real world low light situations.

But we wanted to take it a step further to give them the opportunity to rate these binoculars and spotting scopes head to head against each other. We kept the scoring simple, and I was really surprised how much time our reviewers took to evaluate. We added up the scores and thought we’d share them with you.  Not a whole lot of surprises here, but let’s start with the Binoculars.

When choosing the bino’s we selected the 3 that most hunters would choose. The Vortex Razor 10×42’s, the Swarovski SLC 10×42’s, and the brand new Leica Noctivid 10×42’s.  The Leica’s are really more in line with the Swaro EL’s with their field flattening and internal baffling that captures stray light.  But we thought it would be interesting to see how they fared.

Binoculars

Brand/Model Build Quality Clarity Brightness Total Score
Swaro SLC 4.5 3.9 4.0 12.4
Leica Noctivid 4.3 3.8 4.1 12.2
Vortex Razor 3.7 3.2 3.5 10.5

 

As you can see the Swarovski SLC’s won all but the brightness category.  I was a little surprised that they beat out the Noctivids but what really surprised me was how poorly the Razors did in clarity. In my experience i think they should have scored better, but it’s possible that the Leica’s and Swaro’s are really just that much better.  For me brightness is probably the most important aspect in a pair of bino’s simply because it makes a difference no matter how you deploy, where clarity is not as important off hand as it is when you are glassing from a tripod.  I think the SLC’s were deserving of the win here.

Spotting Scopes

This was what I was excited to see. Would the Swarovski run away with this one too? We decided to split up the scoring of clarity into 2 separate categories, one at low mag and one at high.  This, we thought, would even the playing field for the spotters that had a higher top end magnification.

Brand/Model Build Quality Low mag Clarity High mag Clarity Brightness Total Score
Leica Televid 3.8 4.0 3.9 3.9 15.6
Swaro ATS 3.9 3.9 3.9 3.8 15.5
Kowa TSN 773 3.8 4.0 3.9 4.0 15.7
Vortex Razor 3.8 3.5 3.6 3.5 14.4
Kowa TSN 553 3.8 3.7 3.7 3.7 14.9

 

A few years ago we put posted a review of the best high end 65mm spotters. Leica won that competition, although not by very much.  In this head to head shootout we put the 65mm Leica APO Televid, Swarovski ATS (with wide angle eyepiece), and Vortex Razor up against the Kowa 77mm spotter.  We really wanted to get some feedback on the new 55mm Kowa TSN 553, so we threw that on the end for fun.  

Before we compare the bigger glass, take a look at the scores for the Kowa 55mm (see our review here).  VERY impressive for a scope that is almost half the size and 20-30oz lighter than the scopes its being compared against.  It actually beat out the Vortex Razor in all categories. Kowa did a nice job on this lightweight scope with its Fluorite crystal objective lens. 28oz is extremely impressive for this level of performance. 

The scores for build quality on both Kowas could have been better, and were probably due to the lack of the rubberized exterior. I know that the rubberized exterior is not necessary, but it sure would be nice to have! They definitely made up for it in clarity and brightness though.

For me, clarity is the most important score here.  I usually glass first with my bino’s in really low light, and when i find a good animal I’ll switch over to my spotter. That’s when i want to see high resolution detail.  All the scores for clarity were VERY close! Even the much lower priced Razor did well, although noticeably below the rest.

In the brightness category the Kowa won out, as it should with its larger objective and it being the only spotter with HD glass in the eyepiece. No surprise there.  

Winners

Overall the 77mm Kowa edged out the Swarovski ATS, followed closely by the Leica.  One could argue that the Kowa was not a good fit for this test, but the size and weight of the 77mm Kowa is roughly the same as the other three 65mm spotters in this shootout. The Kowa, Swaro, and Leica did noticeably better than the Razor, and I think that goes to show that most people can look through these spotters and if they look closely, see a difference in clarity and brightness. I think it’s telling that these scores were close to what we see when we do our in-depth reviews. I think this really speaks to the value of having high end glass. There really is a visible difference and it’s worth saving for.

Speaking of winners, we did give away a pair of Vortex Diamondback binoculars, and a Vortex Ranger 1500 rangefinder!  Big thanks to Vortex for helping us with the give away! Here are some pics of our lucky winners!