Pentax PF-65ED II
My first question is on eye piece selection. I anticipate adding fixed value eye pieces down the road (XF or XW), but I'd like to start with a variable. Since the FX zoom eye piece is rather universally disliked can you suggest an alternative that prioritizes optical quality at a reasonable weight (for perspective I don't consider the Pentax 70509 a reasonable weight for this scope)?
My second question regards alternative scopes I should consider. The most obvious is the Kowa 663, which has several apparent advantages: A zoom eye piece that will probably yield higher optical quality then the zoom eye pieces that are a practical match to the Pentax. A zoom range of 20-60, again likely greater than what is available and desirable for the Pentax. A dual / fine focus feature and perhaps better optical quality in the scope body? Are there other compelling reasons to pay nearly twice as much for the Kowa? Are there other scopes in the sub $1000 range that will offer advantages over the Pentax and better meet my needs?
As to a zoom for the PF65ED, there are some zoom 1.25" telescope eyepieces on the market, such as the Vixen LV 8024mm and the Meade Series 4000 8-24mm that will give you 16-48x in the PF-65ED. Some users report good success with these zooms, though I have not tried the combination, myself. I still regard the Kowa TE-9z to be a better zoom than either of these, but, then, it is nearly twice the price when purchased as an individual item.
The Kowa eyepiece does have the advantage of being designed specifically for the 600 series, so you are assured of getting optimal performance. When you start adding telescope eyepieces to short focal length spotting scopes such as the PF-65ED, you often have to do some trial and error to get a good match, since short focal length means you have a scope that is touchy about eyepieces. Most users I know with a PF-65ED have had their best luck with high quality fixed power eyepieces, such as the XW.
As for the body, I would rate the PF-65ED right there in the same class as the Kowa, It's a well-made, fine little scope. Another scope I woudl also recommend is the Brunton Eterna 62 ED It will get you in the ball game at a nicer price than the Kowa 663 and no worries about an eyepiece.
Thanks for the informative reply. It's really unfortunate the XF zoom eye piece is sub par. A first rate zoom eyepiece for the PF-65ED II would make this so easy. Perhaps Pentax will redesign it one day soon. It seems like successfully doing so would put them in an enviable market position, assuming the price didn't change dramatically.
I looked at the Brunton Eterna. It looks nice, but I really want the somewhat higher end optical quality and eyepiece flexibility of the Kowa and Pentax, even if it can only be fully realized with a fixed value eyepiece on the Pentax. If money were no object I'd get the Kowa and be done with it. However, money is an important consideration so a few more questions on the Pentax:
Is the TE-9Z an option? I suspect not, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
As you mentioned I too have read good things about the Vixen zoom eye piece and will probably go this route, assuming the TE-9Z is not an option. I am a bit confused about the specific model however. The 3777 you referenced appears to be an older model which specifies the use of lanthanum glass. It seems to have been replaced by the 5836 NLV 8-24 Click Stop Zoom Eyepiece. This new model no longer specifies the use of lanthanum glass, but of course it may still be used. Do you have an opinion on the usefulness of the click stop feature? If it's not a significant improvement I'm inclined to go with the less expensive 3777 and the certainty of lanthanum glass.
Do you believe I'll have any issues resolving .22 caliber holes at 200 yards with the 8.5mm XF (45.9x) eyepiece, or the Vixen eyepiece at 48x?
Thank you again for your input. I've learned a great deal reading your responses to the questions asked on this forum.
Keep the Brunton in mind - it's still a good affordable option.
As for the click stop feature, it really isn;t a big deal one way or another, though I could see some convenience in it as a guide to where you are on magnification after you've determined what each click position translates to in magnification. Remember, those telescope zooms will be marked in mm of focal length, not magnification. On the PF-65ED with its 390 mm focal length, magnification will be that 390 mm divided by the mm of focal length you choose on the eyepiece.
Nope, sorry, Kowa eyepieces on Kowa spotting scopes, only and only specific Kowa spotting scopes at that. Wouldn't it be nice if it were otherwise, though.
200 yards is right at the limit for a good 65 mm ED scope but others have reported it as doable under good conditions. Should be a go with a good fixed power or zoom at 48x, especially if you use one of those orange/black bulls instead of the traditional black on white bulls on your targets.
Thank you again for your help. I'm getting close, but as is often the case with comparisons of this nature more information leads to some conclusions, but also a few more questions.
The Kowa TSN663 seems to have it all (within the context of my requirements and this comparison). Good zoom, fixed eyepiece alternatives, digiscoping accessories to attach my camera (Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3) directly to the scope, a rotating tripod mounting collar and so forth. The down side is a higher price.
The Pentax PF-65ED appears comparable to the Kowa at a lower price point if a fixed eyepiece is used. However, there isn't an ideal zoom lens solution. I also haven't found a camera adapter that attaches via the filter ring threads on my camera.
Looking more thoroughly at the Brunton Athena 62 I see a few areas of (potential) compromise relative to the Pentax and Kowa:
Slightly lower optical quality (fixed and zoom with the Kowa, fixed with the Pentax).
Less zoom than the Kowa (45x vs 60x).
It doesn't appear to have fixed eyepiece options.
It doesn't appear to have a digiscoping kit that will allow me to attach my camera via my cameras filter ring threads.
It doesn't appear to have a rotating tripod mounting collar.
Am I correct on the digiscoping?
On the Kowa a TSN-DA1 plus adapter ring for a direct connection to my 46mm filter ring threads.
On the Pentax a UA-1 “universal style adapter”.
On the Brunton a third party universal adapter.
Would you rate the Brunton Athena 62 over the Pentax with a zoom lens in optical quality?
Are my statements about the Brunton correct?
I don't rate the ability to attach a camera directly to the scope via a filter ring to be an advantage for digiscoping compared to using a universal adapter or for that matter, just handholding the camera over the eyepiece without an adapter as I do for my digiscoping. You're going to get identically good pics no matter how you deal with attaching the camera, though the handholding takes some practice. By all means, if you like filter thread direct approach, though, go for it, but I can't see it as a deal breaker one way or the other.
Brunton did make a fixed power eyepiece for the Eterna a few years, ago, but I never really saw them around much. You may still see one on E-bay, but that could be a challenge to find one. As for the 45x vs 60x, again, not really an issue as 45x should be plenty.
The easy answer, of course is to just bite the bullet and get a Kowa 663 (my personal scope, by the way) but it's easy to say when it's someone else's money. Otherwise, the Pentax or Brunton will serve you fine, but now that you've thrown digiscoping into the mix, I highly recommend choosing a scope that gives an optional wide-angle fixed power eyepiece option. I have used the zoom on my Kowa for digiscoping in a pinch, but I very much prefer my fixed 20x for digiscoping. I also would recommend a rotating tripod collar for bench work at the range and, no, the Eterna does not have that feature.
Based on what we have discussed so far, looks like your best option is the Pentax with a fixed power eyepiece or even two fixed power eyepieces - a 20-25x for digiscoping and, say, about 35-40x for general work - if you can afford the Kowa.
I think you've summed it up well. A thorough analysis leading to the precipice of a much larger expense than originally contemplated: Who'd have guessed!
I appreciate your opinion, but I'm a little surprised you don't feel there is an advantage to attaching a camera via ring threads. Doing so would seemingly minimize / eliminate alignment and, or stability issues that I'd think to be potential problems with universal style adapters using a clamping mechanism. That being said I'll properly weight your first hand experience versus my “seems to me” thinking and not make this a deciding factor. While on the subject can you recommend the product you would use with the Pentax?
If I go with the Pentax what is your opinion of the 8.5 and 12mm XF eyepieces? I know the XW are more highly regarded, but the lighter weight of the XF is attractive.
Once again thank you very much for your time and very helpful advice.
You'll get the same degree of accuracy with alignment with most universal adapters once you have them adjusted for your individual scope and camera, so don't be afraid to give one a try.
Yes, I could see going with the XF 8 and XF12 fixed power eyepieces. They are actually an underrated eyepiece and suffer a bit from the bad rep of the XF zoom. You won't get the field of view of an XW but they are MUCH more affordable, of course. They do have enough eye relief for use as digiscoping eyepieces, too.
Best of luck and let us know how things work out.
I don't use one, myself, as I said, but if I did, I like the swing away function you get with the UA-1 that allows you to swing the camera out of the way when not in use. Looks as good a choice as any.
I've spent the last few days mulling over the advantages / disadvantages of the products we've discussed. I've also continued researching and have arrived at a somewhat unexpected conclusion. As previously stated, I think the Kowa 663 is the best choice; great optics and accessories. However, it's more than I want to spend at this time. I really want to choose the Pentax PF-65ED, but two issues bother me: There isn't an ideal zoom option, or camera adapter. The lack of a camera adapter that's as eloquent as the solutions offered by Kowa, Swarovski and others isn't a deal breaker since I'm not sure how much interest I'll actually have in digiscoping, but the lack of a zoom option that is truly complimentary to the scope's optical quality is, at least for me. Instead I'm going to go with the Vortex Viper HD 15-45x65.
I don't think the Vortex optics are going to win over Kowa, or Pentax (with a XW eyepiece) fans, but the reviews I've read and the first hand feedback I've received are favorable. In addition there is a 25x wide angle lens and what appears to be a well designed camera interface available. All in all it looks like a well thought out package and a good value. A major benefit of going this route is the lower cost, which will allow me to substantially increase my budget for a new tripod and head (required components regardless of the scope purchased). I'm going to “invest” in a Gitzo GT2542L and a Manfrotto 701HDV head. The tripod will not only support any foreseeable future scope upgrade, it will be a huge step up from my current Slik Sprint Pro II for photography and video.
One more question if you don't mind. My take on the 701HDV is that it offers everything the often recommended 128RC provides as well as a slider plate, a lower weight and a lower height. Of course it's more expensive, but it seems like a better choice for video and the slider plate seems like a very nice option for digiscoping. Am I missing anything?
Your help has been truly valuable. I welcome any thoughts you have.
Nope, you are doing your homework and then some. Great job!
The slider plate may be useful down the road if you plan on adding a video cam of some size, though I don't see a whole lot of application with a spotting scope, but, hey, if you plan to go to a 80-85 mm class scope at some point, that is a great tripod and head combo. It's way overkill for a 65 mm scope, but if you don't mind the extra weight, go for it.
Vortex is a great up and coming company in the world of optics with solid products and super customer support. The Viper HD is a very good choice. You'll like it.