March 28th, 2014

Lights, Camera, Action — Commence Fire

If you own a modern smart-phone, you have a shooting coach in your pocket. What we mean is that the video-recording capability of your smart phone can help improve your shooting. Have you ever watched yourself shooting, under match conditions? Well you may be shocked (and surprised) by what you see. Video reveals all. If you are flinching, you’ll see it. If you’re not returning your rifle to the same place on the rests after each shot, you’ll see it. If you are not maintaining a consistent cheek weld from shot to shot, you’ll see it.

If you are a serious competitive shooter (or aspire to be one), you should take a camera to the range next time you practice. Have a friend film you while you are shooting in “match-like conditions”, i.e. with time limits and a specific course of fire. After the filming session, review the video carefully.

Our IT guy, JayChris, has improved his shooting skills by filming his practice sessions and watching for gun-handling errors or other mistakes. Recently Jay won the F-Open division at the TCSA (Rattlesnake) match. Jay says his progress has been aided by video analysis:

“Video-tape yourself in match conditions (or under mock match conditions when practicing). I have video from my first season of shooting at a long range match some years ago. I can compare that to video shot in 2014. Going back to year one, I could see how much moving around I was doing. The video camera is a useful tool. I video myself every so often at the practice range, just to make sure I’m consistent. When reviewing the video, I’ve caught myself dropping a shot right after re-settling into a new position where I didn’t even notice I was doing it while shooting.”

Video analysis has helped our IT Guy, JayChris, shoot better and make fewer mistakes.
JayChris Video

Watch Your Position on Video
Jay continues: “Watching myself and other shooters on video has shown me how important it is to establish a comfortable shooting position. I used to move all over the place between shots. I spent some time getting a feel for a position where I could eject and load without breaking my cheek/shoulder weld, and that I could hold through a 20-shot string. It’s probably not as super critical as sling shooting positions, but I think it makes a big difference. It also helps ensure that your view through the scope remains the same. If you have parallax, changing your cheek weld has consequences. This includes making sure your rifle is set on the bags at a comfortable height — too high or too low and you are straining yourself and adding muscle tension into the equation.”

Use Video To Analyze Mistakes After Matches
Video can help you identify inconsistent holds and gun-handling mistakes. A video review can be part of the regular “post-mortem” you should do after every match. Bryan Litz says: “After each match, carefully analyze how you lost points and make a plan to improve. Beginning shooters will lose a lot of points to fundamental things like sight alignment and trigger control. At every step along the way, always ask yourself why you’re losing points and address the issues.”

Video can help you spot problems (such as inconsistent head position or bad trigger technique) that cost you points. We had one friend who was complaining about “mysterious horizontal” at matches. A post-match video session revealed that he was yanking the trigger to the side, rather than pulling straight back. He then consciously worked on his trigger control and his scores improved noticeably.

Video Equipment — What You Need
If you own a digital point-and-shoot camera made within the last four years, chances are you can shoot video. It may not be HD video, but it will suffice for the task of analyzing your shooting technique. Apple iPhones and iPads (and some Android phones) can take excellent video as well, but you’ll have to figure out a mounting system if you’re out by yourself. If you don’t currently own any device that can shoot video, consider one of the choices below. You can get a great camera for under $250.00 these days. The selections below all feature wide-angle capability, so you can position the camera close to the shooter. That’s important when shooting at crowded ranges. The Panasonic Lumix ZS20 has built-in GPS functionality, so you can tag your photos/videos with latitude and longitude.

One tip — you do NOT need to record at 1920×1080 Full HD resolution. It’s nice that some of the latest cameras (including the GoPro) offer this resolution, but 1920×1080 files will be HUGE, and older computers may have trouble playing back the video. For your range movies (to be viewed on a computer), we suggest you record at 720p HD.

Recommended Cameras with Video Capability

Permalink Shooting Skills, Tech Tip 2 Comments »
June 8th, 2011

Optics Review: Kowa TSN-884 Prominar (PFC) Spotting Scope

Kowa TSN-884 Spotting Scope Review
by Danny Reever
It has been a couple of years since I wrote the review of high-end spotting scopes for AccurateShooter.com. In that time there have been some advances in technology and unfortunately some hefty price hikes to go along with that technology. Not too long ago, few top-end scopes exceeded $2300.00 with eyepiece. Now some premium spotting scopes top the $4000.00 mark with eyepiece! My Pentax PF100-ED, once a top-of-the-line product (but now discontinued by Pentax) would now be considered a mid-price spotting scope, given the current pricing of premium spotting scopes from Kowa, Leica, Zeiss, Swarovski and other top brands. “Street Price” for the Kowa TSN-884 reviewed here, is roughly $2800.00 with eyepiece. That’s a serious investment by any standards.

“The Kowa Prominar (TSN 88X series) is quite simply the best spotting scope I’ve ever looked through. In all instances the Kowa out-performed everything I was able to compare it to. The Kowa had unrivaled clarity, and I could resolve 6mm bullet holes at 500m with it better than with my 100mm Pentax. After testing the Kowa, I sold my Pentax PF100-ED, and I’m planning to purchase a Kowa TSN-884.”

kowa Prominar 883 884 scopeBeing like many shooters out there I’m always looking for that better mousetrap in regard to seeing 6mm bullet holes at extended yardages. That’s how I ended up with the Pentax PF100-ED. Recently I had been hearing rumblings here and there from other shooters and on various websites raving about the Kowa TSN 883/884 spotting scopes. In fact right here on AccurateShooter.com’s Daily Bulletin it was reported that the Kowa Prominar was rated number one by the Cornell Ornithology lab in their 2008 Scope Quest — a detailed review of 36 spotting scopes. However, they did not compare all spotting scopes that were available at that time. The super expensive Leica 82mm Televid APO HD was missing, along with my Pentax PF100-ED. The Cornell test also was geared more toward birders than shooters, but it was enough to pique my interest in regard to the Kowa, which features an 88mm objective with Pure Flourite Crystal (PFC) main lens elements.

I had to find a Kowa 883/884 to review and compare to what shooters were currently using out there. I contacted Kowa USA, which graciously agreed to furnish me one to review for Accurate Shooter. I requested the Kowa TSN-884 straight body along with the 20-60X zoom eyepiece that Kowa had redesigned for the 77-88mm spotting scopes. I chose the straight body over the TSN-883 angled version. With a straight spotter you can easily monitor flags and conditions downrange without moving your head very much. I admit the TSN-883 angled model may be more user-friendly for some applications, such as prone and F-Class shooting. With an angled body you can also set the scope slightly lower on your tripod. Straight or Angled — you need to choose what works best for you in your particular application.

kowa Prominar 883 884 scope

Kowa TSN-884 Highlights
Even though the Kowa has a large 88mm objective I was struck by the compactness of this scope. With a length of a little over thirteen inches without eyepiece it is compact indeed. Weight (without eyepiece) is a trim 53.6 ounces due to the use of Magnesium alloy for the scope body. With the 20-60X eyepiece installed, length is 16 3/8 inches, and weight is 65.1 ounces. Compare this to my monster-sized Pentax PF100-ED which is 23 ¾ inches long and weighs 111.1 ounces (6.94 pounds!) with eyepiece. The Kowa is 7 3/8″ shorter overall, and the Kowa is an amazing three and a half pounds (56 ounces) lighter in weight! The smaller size and weight of the Kowa allows you to use a much lighter and more compact tripod for this scope if you so desire. (Note: You might think the Pentax’s weight might actually stabilize the unit. However, the problem is that much of the weight of the Pentax is way out front, where it is cantilevered far forward of the mounting bracket. We’ve found that just a light touch on the front end of the Pentax will cause it to shake and wobble. Because so much weight is cantilevered way out front, the Pentax can wobble easily even on a massive tripod.)

kowa Prominar 883 884 scope

The most impressive quality of the Kowa 883/884 is its bright, ultra-sharp image. This super-sharp, distortion-free image comes from superior glass. The objective lens of the TSN 884 incorporates Pure Fluorite Crystal (PFC). Kowa claims 99% or higher light transmission and after looking through the scope I have no reason to doubt that claim. One focuses the Kowa via a system of two focus controls along one axis. The larger-diameter knob provides course adjustment to rapidly bring the subject into focus. The smaller-diameter control fine-tunes the focus for the sharpest image. This system works well in practice and one adapts quickly to the dual controls.

Like most high-end spotting scopes, the Kowa 883/884 is designed to function in all weather conditions. The nitrogen-purged body is fully sealed, and Kowa claims the “housing” is waterproof — but no you don’t want to dunk your scope in a river. Note: Even though this scope is robustly constructed, I must point out that the Kowa does not have any rubber armor coating. This does keep the weight down, but if you are tough on scopes, you may prefer a different design, such as the new Zeiss Diascope which boasts full rubber armor over the entire scope body. Kowa does offer a padded cover for an additional $125.00 which would help protect the scope. Given the high cost of the TSN 883/884, the padded cover is probably a smart investment.

Kowa TSN-884 Field Test Results
Initially I set up the Kowa and my Pentax PF100-ED on separate tripods side by side on my front deck. I was immediately impressed with the optical clarity of the Kowa, especially at the lower powers. I aimed both scopes at my neighbor’s log house, perhaps 150 yards away, focusing on a particular log end cut. With both scopes set at 60-power I could easily count the growth rings on the log with both scopes. However, the Kowa, without question, was clearer. How much clearer? I can best describe it this way. Imagine looking through a car window with the window up. Now imagine rolling the window down and looking again. With the Kowa, it was like having the window rolled down — contrast was a bit better, colors were a bit more vibrant, things seemed slightly sharper — as if a thin haze had been removed.

Using the Kowa TSN-884 at the Range
I have taken the Kowa to the range on numerous occasions over the past few weeks. I’ve used it in many different environmental conditions, comparing it to as many different spotting scopes as were available. In all instances the Kowa out-performed everything I was able to compare it to. Sometimes (but not always) the difference was startling.

kowa Prominar 883 884 scope

One of my tests included a Snellen Eye Chart, just like the one at your optometrist office. Instead of it hanging on a wall, I placed the Snellen Chart at 500 meters along with some previously-shot paper Ground Hog targets. Conditions were hazy and humid with moderate mirage. My Nightforce 12-42x56mm Benchrest riflescope set at 42X could read line 6 on the chart and I could distinguish only a few of the 6mm bullet holes. My Pentax PF100-ED set at 60X (to match the Kowa’s maximum power) was better. With the Pentax I could read line 7 on the chart and see more of the bullet holes. With the Kowa set at 60X, I could read line 8 on the chart and see all of the bullet holes on the white parts of the targets.. FYI, line 8 on the Snellen Chart defines 20-20 vision at 20 feet. Reading that at 500 meters (1641 feet) is pretty impressive!

I could make out perhaps one-third of the bullet holes in the black parts of the targets with the Kowa. That’s not that great, but the Kowa did better than the Pentax or the Nightforce. Rodney Smith, another Shippensburg shooter, had his own Pentax PF100-ED on site. Comparing his PF100-ED with the Kowa, Rodney agreed that the Kowa TSN-884 was markedly better. (It is interesting to note that both Rodney’s Pentax and mine were optically identical in every respect when compared side by side. And the Kowa out-performed them both.) Another shooter, Bob Chamberlin, had the smaller Pentax PF80-ED on site so we could compare the smaller Pentax with the Kowa as well.

kowa Prominar 883 884 scope

Since then I’ve tested the Kowa in some really severe mirage. When the mirage is really running it’s a hard test for any optic. When the mirage is building, I’ll say that the Kowa can perhaps give you a longer timespan or “viewing window” — starting when you start to lose sight of 6mm bullet holes until you lose them all together. How much is the “viewing window” extended? That depends on the environmental conditions, your eyesight, and your age. My son Logan, who is fourteen with eyes like a hawk, can see 22/6mm bullet holes when I can’t see a thing. Youth and 20/20 vision trumps old eyes every time.

Kowa TSN-884 Performs Great in Ground Hog Match
I used the Kowa at the Shippensburg, Pennsylvania Ground Hog Match on May 28, 2011. At that match, I managed to set a new course record for the 200/300/500 meter distance. Here’s the important fact — using the Kowa I could easily see my 6mm bullet holes at all yardages. That sure helped my shooting and contributed to setting the course record. But then, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.”

Overall Assessment — Superior Performance, and a Hefty Price
The Kowa is a truly outstanding spotting scope. I’ll go on record and say it’s the best I’ve ever looked through. However, this level of optical performance does come with a hefty cost — “street price” is about $2800.00 with eyepiece. Is the Kowa TSN-883/884 worth almost $1000 more than a Pentax PF100-ED (if you can find one)? Is the Kowa worth $1700.00 more than the excellent Pentax PF80-ED (a ‘best buy’) which costs around $1100.00 with 20-60 zoom eyepiece? Only you can decide that.

In my situation, I decided that the Kowa was worth the price. After testing the Kowa TSN-884 and using it successfully at a match, I decided to purchase one. I have sold my Pentax PF100-ED, and I’m shopping right now for a Kowa TSN-884. So far, the best price I’ve found is on Amazon.com — $2100.00 for the TSN-884 body only.

Three Eyepiece Options Available
Kowa offers three new eyepieces designed for its 77-88mm family of scopes: a 25X long eye relief; a 30X wide angle; and a 20-60X zoom. These current eyepieces are held securely within the body by means of a locking button on the scope body that needs to be pressed while un-mounting an eyepiece, so accidental removal is prevented. (Older Kowa eyepieces may be used with the purchase of an adapter for those upgrading their scope bodies.) The new generation 20-60X zoom eyepiece will be of most interest to shooters. This has a field of view (at 1000 yards) of 115 feet at 20 power and 55 feet at 60 power. Minimum eye relief is 16.5mm — that’s pretty good for a spotter with 60X magnification. Exit pupil size ranges from 4.4mm to 1.5mm. The shortest distance at which the TSN-884 can focus is 16.5 feet — so, yes, you can use this for handgun spotting duties.

The eyepiece features a twist-up eyecup with four detents. One possible annoyance is the eyecup can come unscrewed when you are trying to adjust it due to the fact that the digiscoping adaptor is designed to fit in the place occupied by the eyecup. I didn’t really find this a problem but it is worth mentioning in cases where multiple users are constantly adjusting the eyecup. If I had to suggest anything to Kowa to make the TSN-884 better it would be to increase the magnification to 75X for those times when you could use the extra power. Rumor has it that Kowa just might have a higher 70- or 75-power eyepiece on the drawing board. That would make the TSN-883/884 an even more impressive product.

Disclosure: Kowa provided Danny Reever with a temporary “loaner” TSN-884 (with eyepiece) for testing and evaluation. Kowa provided no compensation to the reviewer.
Permalink - Articles, Gear Review, Optics 7 Comments »
May 7th, 2009

Birders Test 36 Spotting Scopes — Kowa 88mm Tops Field

Spotting Scope ReviewLast year, the Cornell Ornithology Lab conducted ScopeQuest 2008, a detailed comparison test of 36 spotting scopes. Optics (ranging in price from $220.00 to $4500.00) were viewed side-by-side and rated according to sharpness, color fidelity, edge-to-edge focus, brightness, distortion, and general optical quality. The testing team also considered ease of handling/focus, and eye relief (scopes with longer eye relief are better for eyeglass wearers). Two of the finest spotting scopes AccurateShooter.com has used, the Zeiss Diascope 85 T FL, and the Swarovski APS 80 HD, performed very well as expected, and ended up near the top of the list. The TeleVue-85 APO, a very large refractor, received the highest ratings for image quality (both at 20X and 60X), but lost points for easy of use and general “feel”. The overall winner among the 36 spotting scopes tested was the Kowa TSN-883 Prominar, a new-generation spotter with a huge 88mm objective, dual focusing knobs, and spectacular flourite glass. The results of Cornell’s spotting scope test are found on the LivingBird.org website. Click the link below for a charrt ranking all 36 scopes according to their overall ratings.

CLICK HERE for Spotting Scope Test Summary (.pdf file)

Kowa TSN-883 Prominar
CLICK HERE for large photo of Kowa TSN-883 on Tripod.

Ken Rosenberg, summarizing the findings of Cornell’s ScopeQuest testers, named the Kowa TSN-883 the big winner. Rosenberg writes: “Fifteen models competed in the most expensive category, including 12 conventional zoom scopes and three astronomy “cross-overs”[.] Among the conventional scopes, the surprising (to us) and virtually unanimous top-of-the-line ranking went to the Kowa TSN-883 Prominar. In side-by-side comparisons with Swarovski, Leica, Zeiss, and Nikon, both Kowa scopes provided a slightly, but noticeably, brighter and crisper image at 60x than any other scope. The three-dimensional detail visible … with these scopes, even in dim light, is simply phenomenal.”

Swarovski ATS Spotting ScopeRosenberg also gave high praise to the Swarovski ATS 65 HD, noting that it was much lighter and compact than the Kowa 883, while offering nearly the image quality. Rosenberg concludes: “For birders willing to take the plunge for the very best optics at whatever cost, the top choices, in my view, are either the Kowa 883/884 or 773/774 or the Swarovski HD 80mm or 65mm scopes. Any of these top scopes will give you years of pure birding pleasure. Although the larger Kowa offers the brightest, sharpest image available from a conventional zoom scope under the toughest birding conditions, the small Swarovski still delivers the best image per ounce of any scope.”

More Products Worth Considering
The Cornell Test did NOT include some premium spotting scopes, including Pentax’s top-of-the-line PF-100ED, or the new Leica 82mm Televid APO HD. The big Leica APO is considered by many experts to be the new benchmark for spotting scope quality. However, it is enormously expensive. The 82mm Leica APO HD retails for $3200 for the body only. That’s nearly $900 more than the Kowa TSN-883 Prominar body only.

Permalink Gear Review, Optics No Comments »
January 19th, 2009

SHOT Show Report: Leica's Impressive APO Spotting Scopes

Every year, the high-end Spotting Scopes from the major optics-makers seem to get bigger, better, and, unfortunately, more expensive. Leica rolled out its new flagship spotting scope, a black-bodied 82mm Televid with APO glass. A smaller version with a 65mm front objective will also be available in Spring 2009. These babies are expensive — the 82mm (body only, no eyepiece), carries a $3,195.00 MSRP, while the 65mm (body only, no eyepiece) retails for $2,295.00.

What justifies the high price is Leica’s superb APO (apochromatic) glass. This is formulated to give enhanced light transmission with less chromatic aberration. Other manufacturers offer “ED”, “HD” or “LD” low-dispersion glass, but the Leica APO glass is probably about as good as it gets. (Both the new 65mm and the 82mm are offered at a lower price with HD flouride glass, with APO lenses an extra-cost upgrade.) Leica claims the optical performance of the new spotting scopes is significantly better than the preceding models. The High Definition (HD) versions use specialized glass in a newly designed lens arrangement for improved clarity and contrast.

Jason checked out the new 82mm Televid with angled body. It was fitted with a 25-50x Wide Angle eyepiece. Jason noted the eyepiece offered good eye relief, and the clarity and sharpness was outstanding. The scope is fairly compact (front to rear) for an 80mm-class optic. Is the 82mm APO Televid better than the Big Zeiss or Swarovski (or the new ED-glass Kowa)? Only field tests can reveal that. “You’d have to get the Leica 82mm in the field with a couple other premium spotters with low dispersion glass and see how they perform side by side.” The Leica Televid 82 and Televid 65 spotting scopes are both available with straight or angled eyepiece housing, with either HD or APO glass.

Leice also announced that, for 2009, it will offer HD (High Definition) lenses in its popular Geovid Laser-Range-Finding Binoculars. MSRP on the HD Geovids starts at $2395.00.

For more information, visit www.leica-camera.com.

Permalink New Product, Optics No Comments »