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Friday, November 30, 2012

Gear Review - SWAROVSKI OPTIK ATX/STX Modular Spotting Scopes

Disclaimer: I am biased about this product because I work for SWAROVSKI OPTIK.

When I first saw the ATX/STX spotting scope system, I started thinking about all the times I could use the huge 95mm objective lens from the vehicle or when scouting, and then swap it for the 65mm lens while actually hunting. My opportunities came this fall while helping two friends on two separate hunts, and the combination worked amazingly!

Let's start with the basics of this system:

Image Quality
The image quality of this spotting scope is mind-blowing. It has superior color, clarity, and contrast thanks to the HD lenses and SWAROVISION. In addition, the field flattener lenses provide a huge field of view and amazing edge-to-edge clarity. When comparing it to our 80mm HD spotting scopes, which many people regarded as the best spotting scope on the market, the 65mm lens is quite comparable, the 85mm is brighter and clearer, and the 95mm simply blows it away!

The ATX/95mm (front) compared to the STS-80 HD.

The magnification wheel has been moved down onto the "body" of the scope next to the focus wheel. This greatly improves the ease of use of the spotting scope because you no longer need to reach up under your hat and crank up the magnification while trying to hold the scope steady. A simple movement back from the focus wheel places your hand on the magnification wheel, which is easy to manipulate even with gloves on. In addition, since it is near the middle of the scope, it's much easier to keep your scope on target while zooming in.

This is the first spotting scope that has been designed specifically with digiscoping in mind. Previously, spotting scopes were built as spotting scopes, and then we tried to add cool adapters for digiscoping. I don't know exactly what the engineers did, but they incorporated photography into their plans and design elements. What I do know is that digiscoping is far easier with the scope using either of two different adapters, and the quality is far better. There is an adapter for interchangeable lens cameras called the TLS-APO, and one for point-and-shoots called the DCB II. I have been digiscoping for more than eight years, and the first few photos with this scope were better than all of my other digiscoping photos...combined!

Great-tailed Grackle (ATX/85, DCB II, Canon 1400 IS)

Great-tailed Grackle (ATX/85, DCB II, Canon 1400 IS)

Great-tailed Grackle (ATX/85, DCB II, Canon 1400 IS)

I left the modularity for last, because even if your couldn't interchange objective lenses, or you choose to just get one lens, this scope is still beyond compare. However, when you add in the fact that you can now get one eyepiece (angled is available now, straight will be available in 2013), and then pick-and-choose which objective lens you would like, it makes this scope far more useful. As I said at the beginning, the combination of a 65mm and 95mm, seems perfect for me, but the 85mm is such an amazing lens, that I don't see why someone couldn't use just that one. I have glassed and digiscoped with all three, using the 65/95 combo on two hunts this fall. I used the 95mm while scouting, and then the 65mm during the actual hunt. The size/weight savings were definitely worth it, especially on my friend Joel's mountain goat hunt!

Scouting for Mountain Goats (ATX/95mm, TLS APO, Canon EOS Rebel XTi)

Hunting for Mountain Goats (ATX/65mm, TLS APO, Canon EOS Rebel XTi)

Hunting for Mountain Goats (ATX/65mm, TLS APO, Canon EOS Rebel XTi)

There is simply no better spotting scope that I have looked through, and I have been lucky enough to use almost all the other competitors in the field. I have compared the SWAROVSKI OPTIK ATX directly to our 80mm HD and 65mm HD, and it clearly wins out due to the SWAROVISION attributes of better color, contrast, clarity, and field of view. Add to it the improved ergonomics, digiscoping quality, and modularity, and it simply can't be beat!