This scope is so important to us that we gathered a few well respected opinions outside of our typical review. First is our review, followed by some well respected hunter’s opinions.
Kowa TSN-553 55mm Fluorite Crystal Spotting Scope
We were the first in the country to get our hands on this scope and it did NOT disappoint. In fact i was personally blown away by its performance.
Let me get this out of the way now: This spotter is in a class of its own. There is no other spotting scope available that can compare to it’s clarity and low light performance in this size and weight class.
The 55mm Kowa’s only real competition comes from high end 65mm spotters. So I put it up next to the 65mm Vortex Razor. What i found was that the Kowa was better in every aspect. Brightness and resolution were all better behind the little 55mm Kowa. Even with the Razor’s new wide angle eyepiece the field of view and eye relief were so close that i could not see a difference. The clear winner here was the Kowa.
Next up was the Swarovski ATX 65mm. Sadly I did not get an opportunity to compare the two in low light. (see Steve’s low light comparison to the Swaro ATS 65mm below) However midday comparisons were very impressive to say the least when viewing both at 45x. The resolution was almost too close to call with just the slightest edge going to the ATX reading small text at 400 yards. Even when looking into shadows the 65mm ATX was brighter but not nearly as much as you’d expect with the extra 10mm objective. Eye relief was noticeably better on the ATX, and obviously the ability to go to 60x is a major benefit when the situation calls for it but in our field experience heat waves and atmosphere conditions really limit the times 60x is truly useful. Based solely on optical quality you can say the ATX was the winner but only by a slight margin. When you factor in size, weight and the cost difference the Kowa is a very attractive option and frankly is outstanding considering its diminutive size.
A lot of guys have asked about the fixed eyepiece. The TE-9Z eyepiece was not our first choice when we first learned that Kowa was building this scope. However now having had this scope in our hands, the TE-11WE eyepiece would have only made this scope more expensive and I can’t imagine the image quality being any better. Not to mention having a fixed eyepiece does save weight.
Why does this little scope pack so much punch? The 55mm Fluorite crystal lens, unique only to Kowa and previously their TSN88 scope (highly regarded as one of the best spotting scopes on the market), eliminates almost any color blur as well as dramatically increases resolution and contrast over the competitions glass lenses.
Its the little things that I like about this scope. The dual focus knobs are still my favorite over the barrel focus that we see on other scopes. They allow the scope to be completely still while making minute changes to focus, allowing you to get on your subject quickly. Also worth mentioning is the poly-carbonate body that feels high quality despite lacking the rubberized exterior like the Swaro and Razor. And the aiming points on the sunshade are a helpful touch.
There are two things that i did not like about this scope. The lack of rotating collar does save weight, and for me it’s not a huge pain except for those times i am very high up looking straight down. And the lack eye relief was tough to get used to. However this high end scope weighs 28oz. What else is there to say?
Its no secret that I really enjoyed my time with Kowa’s new compact spotter. But don’t take my word for it. We passed the scope around to a few of our respected hunting buddies and here is what they said:
Is the Kowa 55mm spotter the perfect backcountry hunting scope?
Well that depends on the user and what in their mind makes up the perfect scope. With the little time I have had with the new Kowa 55mm spotting scope I am highly optimistic that for me it finally does exist. I’ll be able to make my final judgement after putting it to good use this fall chasing elk and deer.
I have been begging the optics world to come out with a high quality 50mm spotting since I bought my first Nikon Ed50 back in 2007. From a lightweight backpackers mentality I could see the potential for what a small scope could be capable of if a company wasn’t afraid to put some quality glass and design into it. I know I am definitely willing to pay top dollar for a high quality lightweight / compact spotter and I feel others are too.
For me the perfect backcountry scope is a balance between weight/size and optical quality. Just like life nothing comes for free so I am able to accept a slight drop in optical performance for a 20-30oz drop in pack weight. To date, the performance jump from existing 50mm scopes on the market to a high end 65mm scope (Swaro, Leica) made the decision on which scope to take into the field a very tough one for me. I love to save weight wherever I can but if the hunt called for a lot of glassing (i.e. early high country mule deer) I would go with the heavier 65mm scopes. If it was an Elk hunt where just getting a general size on an animal was enough, or even a late deer hunt where we typically aren’t glassing extreme long distances I gladly ditched the heavy scope in favor of my 50mm.
After spending 4 nights glassing side by side with a Swaro ATS 25-50X65 (My previous choice as a spotter for the 2017 season based off optical quality / size / weight) I can say confidently that the Kowa 55m will be in my pack this fall. While the Kowa doesn’t match up perfectly in every situation it comes extremely close 95% of the time. Really the only slight difference I could spot was a small boost in resolution at 45x in the Swaro during hot daylight glassing and better performance during the last 15 minutes or so of light. Outside of those two conditions I felt they were neck and neck. Which is insanely impressive for a 55mm to compete that close with a high end 65mm scope. The differences were so small to my eye that there is no way I could justify packing the extra 20oz (more than my sleeping bag!) in my pack. Again I am coming from a lightweight backpacking mentality where every ounce matters to me, if I was a trophy hunter where deciding if a buck is 188 or 192 matters this might not be for me. Or if I was on a sheep hunt where counting age rings is absolutely critical you’ll want a bigger scope.
The only cons I have found with this spotter were the lack of a rotating collar for the Angled scope. That means for a mountain hunter you are going to be better off with the straight scope as glassing down hill can be a pain in the butt without that adjustment The other con was the field of view is definitely a touch smaller than comparable magnifications to the Swaro Wide Angle eyepiece I was testing against (its probably on par with their standard 20-60x eyepiece though)
We will be posting up a lot more information, reviews, videos etc as we get more time with this scope this fall. I can say though for anyone out there like me who cringes every time I throw that heavy spotting scope in my pack but also still demands high quality optics you should be taking a very serious look at putting the Kowa 55 to use this fall. The optical performance is just flat out amazing for a scope of this size and weight.
Impressively bright for a small 55mm scope. Color, contrast and sharpness were great as well. I also was impressed by the decent FOV for a small scope. I didn’t have that tunnel vision effect that I usually experience with a small 50mm scope. I actually could see myself panning across a large hillside with this scope and not feeling like I was missing something because of the small FOV. It also seems to have enough zoom, 15-45x, to use on a mule deer hunt and still be able to zoom enough to judge a mainframe or spot an extra point. It might be difficult to digiscope through in low-light but I think it is still possible with the right setup. I still wish it had a rotating barrel option so I could look left or right and angle the eyepiece and keep my head in the same position, but I understand it would add some weight. Loved the dual speed focus knob.
I would love to have this scope as an option to save some weight on a long hunt. It won’t replace my Swarovski ATS 65 for scouting and digiscoping, but once scouting is over and my favorite bucks are located and sized up, this would be perfect to take on the hunt to shave some weight.
As you can see there are a lot of commonalities here. I think its safe to say we’ve covered all the bases, enough at least for you to make a very well educated purchase decision. We’ve done our homework, now its time for you to decide.
- Objective lens Diameter 55mm
- Objective lens Fluorite Crystal Coating Multi + KR dirt and fluid repelling
- Magnification 15-45
- Focal Length 315mm
- F-Value F5.7
- Minimum Focusing Distance 9.8ft
- Field of View (degree) 2.5~1.3
- Exit Pupil 3.7mm~1.22mm
- Eye Relief 16.5mm~16.0mm
- Field of View at 1000ft 132ft~69ft
- Size TSN-553: W 10.6”×H 6”×D 2.6” TSN-554: W 11.3”×H 3.4”×D 2.6”
- Weight TSN-553: 28.5oz TSN-554: 28.2oz
- Eyepiece Fixed zoom Eyecups
- Twist-up Hood system Slide
- Filter Thread 58mm
- Water Proof Over IPX7 (Dry Nitrogen Gas)