Spotting Scopes
A heads-up shoot-out

30 November 2001
By Sarge and Eyeman

Well folks, after several months of extensive testing and evaluation we finally completed our spotting scope review on Thanksgiving Day! Before I say another word I have several people that I need to thank; without their assistance this review would not have been possible. First is Chris Farris from S.W.F.A., Inc. This comparison would not have happened without Chris loaning us four of the six scopes reviewed. Thanks also goes Jon Lacorte from Nikon for the loan of the Spotter XL outfit, as well as Humphrey Swift and Jane – sorry, Jane, you never gave me a last name – from Swift Optics for the Panther scope. And last but certainly not least, my partner, Eyeman. Eyeman, for those that haven't seen his handle, is an ophthalmologist and was of invaluable assistance with this review. Oh, he shoots too!! Now with the BIG THANK YOU out of the way, let's get going.

First, I want to fill you in on the requirements I placed on the scopes. They had to have a variable power eye piece, nothing less than a 60mm objective, and finally the price had to be $500.00 or less. All the scopes in this review met these requirements except the Panther (which exceeded the $500 price point), which you'll see in the table I'm placing later in this article. Yes, I'm going to try and put all this information in a table that I HOPE will be readable and useable.

All scopes where tested at 50, 100, 200, and 300 yards. We also did some "looking" at 600 and 1,000 yards, but more on that later.

At 50 and 100 yards we looked at three different items: a Hoppes sight-in target, a Snellen Eye Chart, and a dollar bill. First was a Hoppes Sight-in Target that had previously been punctured with an appropriate number of .30 caliber rounds to make viewing easy. We were more interested in seeing individual holes than groups at this distance. This target was used throughout the entire testing process.

Next, also used during the entire testing process, was a standard 20' Snellen Eye Chart as seen here. You know, the one you have looked at every time you've gone to the doctor! I'll now turn this over to Eyeman! Why an eye chart?? There are many reasons for including this non-standard target. Most everyone has seen one. The letters are precisely printed so that the letters on the 20/40 line are twice as large as the letters on the 20/20 line. Yes Matilda, the 20/200 line is 10 times larger than the 3/8 inch letters on the 20/20 line!

You mil-dot enthusiasts will be interested to know that when viewed at 20 feet, or 6 meters, the letters subtend an arc of 5 degrees and each subsection (black bar that forms part of the letter) has an arc of 1 degree. For example, the 20/50 line letter subtends the same 5 degrees when viewed at 50 feet as the 20/20 letters did at 20 feet. This ratio is consistent throughout the chart to the 20/200 line. Sound familiar??

The numerator is the testing distance and the denominator is the size of the smallest letter that can be read from said testing distance. Interestingly, the black bar parts of the letter also subtend an angle of 1 minute of arc at that distance. 20/40 also means that the test distance was 20 feet, but the subject was only able to read what a person with normal vision can read at 40 feet. 20/10 means you see at 20 feet what most people can only see at 10 feet.


Line:

Have we put you to sleep yet?? If not let us try again!

Why the one dollar bill?? For starters, everyone has one—and if you don't, this article ain't gonna mean much to ya! The printing is very precise and we needed a smaller target at 50 yards as all the scopes could easily resolve the smallest line on the eye chart. There are two types of contrast items on the dollar bill: black-on-white (United States of America) and white-on-black (One Dollar). The font is the same size in both instances. If you are in a store comparing scopes and you're wondering if the one the salesman is trying to push off on you is better than the one you really want, or you're wondering how it compares with the ones you fondly remember from this article, you can whip out your $1, tack it to something (no, not to the guy's forehead—even though you may want to!), pace off 50 yards, and have a look! This clean dollar bill test was only done at 50 and 100 yards.

For the eye chart, these were simple yes/no observations. If one of us indicated he could read the line, he would have to do just that. If more than two letters were missed in reading a line, the line was not counted as having been read and the line above it was recorded. If there is a dual answer it means Eyeman, again, could see it and Sarge's poor old eyes couldn't! (Yes Sarge's eyes are old but that has nothing to do with it! Remember, he wears GLASSES!) Light is bent every time it travels through a different medium. As light moves from the air to your eye it is bent tremendously, and this does more for focusing than the lens of the eye. The reason everything is blurred when you open your eyes underwater is the air-eye interface is lost and the lens of the eye is not strong enough to pull things into focus. For those of you who wear glasses there are two additional interfaces that degrade the light signal: the air-glass interface on the front of the glasses, and the glass-air interface as the light leaves the glasses. Besides, have you EVER seen anyone with really clean glasses?? Sarge did have a slightly better view when looking through the scopes without glasses, but we felt the article would have more value with both points of view.

Also included in the data is whether or not mirage was a factor.

Now let me introduce the candidates, listed in order by the highest low-power to the lowest low-power—did that make sense?? Anyway, here they are:
Kowa TS 612, Swift Panther, Bushnell Spacemaster, Burris Signature, Nikon Spotter XL, and the Leupold Wind River. Now, lets see if I can get this table to come out right! (Note from the Webmaster: Whether he can or not is not the issue - whether I can is at stake here!)

Manufacturer Kowa Swift Bushnell Burris Nikon Leupold
Model
TS 612
Panther
Spacemaster
Signature
Spotter XL
Wind River
Cost
$499.95
$530.00
$333.95
$499.95
$499.95
$199.95
Power
20-60
20-45
20-45
18-45
16-47
15-45
 
50 yards
9:45 AM
Mirage
No
No
No
No
No
No
 
Eye Chart
11
11
11
11
11
11
 
.30 caliber holes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
USA on $1
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
One Dollar on $1
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
 
 
100 yards
10:50 AM
Lowest Power
20
20
20
18
16
15
 
Mirage
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Eye Chart
11
11
11
9
10
9
 
.30 caliber holes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
USA on $1
No
No
No
No
No
No
 
One Dollar on $1
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
 
 
100 yards
Mirage
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Mid Power 40x
Eye Chart
11
11
11
9
10
9
 
.30 caliber holes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
USA on $1
No
No
No
No
No
No
 
One Dollar on $1
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
 
100 yards
High Power
60
45
45
45
47
45
 
Mirage
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Eye Chart
11
11
11
11
11
11/9
 
.30 caliber holes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
USA on $1
Yes
Yes/No
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
 
One Dollar on $1
Yes
Yes/No
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
 
 
200 yards
Noon
Mirage - Heavy
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Low Power
20
20
20
18
16
15
 
Eye Chart
7
7/6
7/6
7/6
6
6/5
 
.30 caliber holes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Mid Power 40x
Eye Chart
8
9/7
9/7
8/7
7
7/6
 
.30 caliber holes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
High Power
60
45
45
45
47
45
 
Eye Chart
8/7
7/6
8/7
8/7
7/6
7/6
 
.30 caliber holes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
 
300 yards
Day 2 9:00 AM
Mirage
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Low Power
20
20
20
18
16
15
 
Eye Chart
5
5
5
5/4
5
5
 
.30 caliber holes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
 
Mid Power 40x
Eye Chart
7
8/7
8
8/7
7
6/5
 
.30 caliber holes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
High Power
60
45
45
45
47
45
 
Eye Chart
9/8
9/8
8
7/6
7
6/5
 
.30 caliber holes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes

Now, I said I would mention some work at 600 and 1,000 yards. We did try all the scopes at both of these distances but the mirage prevented any useful testing. The best thing we can say for any of them is that we could see the sight-in target and we could see the eye chart, and this varied greatly depending on how heavy the mirage happened to be at that moment. As far as trying to distinguish anything specific we would really have to look HARD to do this, especially as the mirage was getting VERY HEAVY! We did experience one cloudy break and the mirage dropped long enough for us to read the 20/70 line at 1,000 yards using the Kowa scope. The sun came back out, the mirage returned, and we were dead in the water before we could test any of the other scopes. We have no reason to believe the other scopes, which demonstrated approximately equal resolving powers, would not have performed equally as well. Taking that into consideration we decided that any real useful information would not be forth-coming, so we ended our testing at 300 yards.

As for our opinions as to how the scopes break out, well…REALLY look at the table and make your decision. To us they all did quite well, within the limitations of the individual optics.

The Kowa and the Swift can be had with different eyepieces, as you desire. The Nikon and the Bushnell are "outfits" that come with tripods and cases. The Leupold also has an included case. The Nikon is a nice set-up as it has a case for the scope itself, which can be mounted to a tripod with the case still on the scope, plus a case to carry both the scope and the tripod. The tripod goes from about 12 inches to 4 feet in height. The Bushnell comes in a foam padded backpack with cut-outs for the scope and the small "table top" type tripod. This tripod adjusts from about 6 inches to approximately a foot or just a bit more.

All scopes came with lens caps for both ends of the scope (and a Butler Creek cap for the objective end on the Burris). About the only complaint we had on any of the scopes was the objective lens cap on the Bushnell. This cap is made from the same "armour" material as covers the scope and is attached with the same material to the scope. Problem is, it has a lot of "memory" and wanted to flip back up in front of the lens. If this were my scope, it would be a simple matter to either score the rubber or remove it completely and replace it with a Butler Creek cap. Not a big problem, but a nuisance nonetheless.

One of the other things we noticed was the lack of continuity in placement of the focusing knobs. Some are on top of the scope, some on the side, others in back of the power ring, and one (the Bushnell) very conveniently placed into the side of the scope body. All scopes had some type of rubber-like material covering them, with the Bushnell being the heaviest.

OK, OK, so which did I like best? Well, for my money the Bushnell would be very hard to beat. As well as staying right in there optically with the Kowa and the Swift, it has the case, the tripod, and a price almost $200 less than the more expensive Swift.

When it comes to the prices quoted, all prices except the Swift are the prices as seen on the S.W.F.A. website. The price on the Swift is as quoted to me in an e-mail from them.

Well, folks, there it is! I hope this will assist you in selecting a new or replacement spotting scope.


For more information on any of these scopes, go to:
S.W.F.A., Inc.
Swift Optics


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