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.
-JasonAs 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.