January 4th, 2019

Seeing Bullet Holes at 1000 Yards? Yes It IS Possible…

Pentax PF 100ED
Coalinga Range in California. At dawn we could clearly see 7mm and .30 Cal bullet holes at 1000 yards.

Pentax smc-xw 10mmWhile attending the CA Long Range Championship a few seasons back, we had the opportunity to test the performance of a high-magnification (63X) spotting scope in near-ideal conditions (maybe the best I’ve ever witnessed). On the event’s last day we arrived at 5:45 am, literally as the sun was cresting the horizon. I quickly deployed our Pentax PF-100ED spotting scope, fitted with a Pentax SMC-XW 10mm fixed-power eyepiece. When used with the 100mm Pentax scope, this 10mm eyepiece yields 63X magnification. Befitting its $359.00 price, this eyepiece is extremely clear and sharp.

At the crack of dawn, viewing conditions were ideal. No mist, no mirage, no wind. The first thing this Editor noticed was that I could see metal nail heads on the target boards. That was astonishing. As soon as the first practice targets went up, to my surprise, I could see 6.5mm, 7mm, and 30-caliber bullet holes in the white at 1000 yards. No lie…

That’s right, I could see bullet holes at 1000. I know many of you folks may not believe that, but there was no mistaking when I saw a 7mm bullet cut the white line separating the Nine Ring and Eight Ring on the target in view. (I was watching that target as the shot was fired and saw the shot-hole form). And when I looked at the 30-cal targets, the bullet holes in the white were quite visible. In these perfect conditions I could also make out 3/8″ bolt heads on the target frames.

The Human Factor
When viewing the bullet holes, I was using my left naked eye (no safety glasses or magnification). I also had a contact lens in my right eye (needed for distance vision). To my surprise, while I could see the bullet holes without much difficulty with my left eye, things were fuzzier and slightly more blurry with the right eye, even when I re-focused the scope.

Pentax smc-xw 10mmThen I invited 3 or 4 shooters to look through the scope. One younger guy, with good eyes, said immediately: “Yeah, I can see the holes — right there at 4 o’clock and seven o’clock. Wow.” Some older guys, who were wearing glasses, could not see the holes at all, no matter what we did to the scope’s main focus and diopter adjustment.

The lesson here — if you have to wear glasses or corrective contact lenses, just that extra bit of optical interference may make a difference in what you can see through the scope. Basically anything that goes between the scope eyepiece and your eyeball can degrade the image somewhat. So… you may be better off removing your glasses if you can still obtain good focus sharpness using the diopter adjustment and focus ring. I did the left vs. right eye test a half dozen times, and I could definitely see small features at 1000 yards with my naked eye that I could not see with my right eye fitted with a contact lens. (I did have to re-focus the scope for each eye, since one had a corrective lens while the other did not.)

Mirage Degrades Image Sharpness and Resolution
The “magic light” prevailed for only an hour or so, and then we started to get some mirage. As soon as the mirage appeared I was no longer able to see raw bullet holes, though I could still easily see black pasters on the black bulls. When the mirage started, the sharpness of the visible image degraded a huge amount. Where I could see bullet holes at dawn, by mid-morning I could barely read the numbers on the scoring rings. Lesson: If you want to test the ulimate resolution of your optics, you need perfect conditions.

Chromatic AberrationChromatic Aberration Revealed
As the light got brighter and the mirage increased I started to see blue and red fringing at the edges of the spotting disk and the large numerals. This was quite noticeable. On one side of the bright, white spotting disc you could see a dark red edge, while on the other side there was a blue edge (harder to see but still present).

The photo below was taken through the Pentax spotter lens using a point and shoot camera held up to the eyepiece. The sharpness of the Pentax was actually much better than this photo shows, but the through-the-lens image does clearly reveal the red and blue fringing. This fringing is caused by chromatic aberration — the failure of a lens to focus all colors to the same point. Chromatic aberration, most visible at high magnification, causes different wavelengths of light to have differing focal lengths (see diagram). Chromatic aberration manifests itself as “fringes” of color along boundaries that separate dark and bright parts of the image, because each color in the optical spectrum cannot be focused at a single common point on the optical axis. Keep in mind that the Pentax does have “ED” or low-dispersion glass, so the effect would be even more dramatic with a cheaper spotting scope.


CLICK HERE to view LARGE PHOTO that shows aberration more clearly.

If you wonder why top-of-the-line spotting scopes (such as the $2980 Swarovski ATS-80 ) cost so much, the answer is that they will deliver even LESS chromatic aberration at long range and high magnification. With their exotic apochromatic (APO), ultra-low-dispersion glass, a few ultra-high-end spotting scopes can deliver an image without the color edging you see in the photo above.

The Pentax PF-100ED is a heck of a spotting scope. Any scope that can resolve bullet holes at 1000 yards is impressive. But if you want the ultimate in optical performance, with minimal chromatic aberration, you may need to step up to something like the 88mm Kowa Prominar TSN-884 with Flourite Crystal lenses ($2450.00 body only), or the 82mm Leica APO ($3899.00 with 25-50X eyepiece).

EDITOR’s NOTE: The purpose of this report is to show what is possible… in IDEAL conditions. With this Pentax 100mm, as well as a Swarovski 80mm, we have often been able to resolve 6mm bullet holes at 600 yards. But again, that performance requires really good viewing conditions. By 10:00 am at my range, even with the 100mm Pentax at 75 power, seeing 6mm bullet holes is “iffy” at best. So don’t go out and mortgage the house to buy a $4000 optic with the hope that you’ll be able to spot your shots at 1000 yards. If conditions are anything less than perfect, you’ll be lucky to see bullet holes at 500 yards. The real solution for very long-range spotting is to set up a remote target cam that broadcasts a video picture to a screen at your shooting station.

Permalink - Articles, Optics, Tech Tip 1 Comment »
September 22nd, 2017

Seeing Bullet Holes at 1000 Yards — the Ultimate Optics Challenge

Pentax PF 100ED

Pentax smc-xw 10mmWhile attending the CA Long Range Championship a few seasons back, we had the opportunity to test the performance of a high-magnification (63X) spotting scope in near-ideal conditions (maybe the best I’ve ever witnessed). On the event’s last day we arrived at 5:45 am, literally as the sun was cresting the horizon. I quickly deployed our Pentax PF-100ED spotting scope, fitted with a Pentax SMC-XW 10mm fixed-power eyepiece. When used with the 100mm Pentax scope, this 10mm eyepiece yields 63X magnification. Befitting its $359.00 price, this eyepiece is extremely clear and sharp.

At the crack of dawn, viewing conditions were ideal. No mist, no mirage, no wind. The first thing this Editor noticed was that I could see metal nail heads on the target boards. That was astonishing. As soon as the first practice targets went up, to my surprise, I could see 6.5mm, 7mm, and 30-caliber bullet holes in the white at 1000 yards. No lie…

That’s right, I could see bullet holes at 1000. I know many of you folks may not believe that, but there was no mistaking when I saw a 7mm bullet cut the white line separating the Nine Ring and Eight Ring on the target in view. (I was watching that target as the shot was fired and saw the shot-hole form). And when I looked at the 30-cal targets, the bullet holes in the white were quite visible. In these perfect conditions I could also make out 3/8″ bolt heads on the target frames.

The Human Factor
When viewing the bullet holes, I was using my left naked eye (no safety glasses or magnification). I also had a contact lens in my right eye (needed for distance vision). To my surprise, while I could see the bullet holes without much difficulty with my left eye, things were fuzzier and slightly more blurry with the right eye, even when I re-focused the scope.

Pentax smc-xw 10mmThen I invited 3 or 4 shooters to look through the scope. One younger guy, with good eyes, said immediately: “Yeah, I can see the holes — right there at 4 o’clock and seven o’clock. Wow.” Some older guys, who were wearing glasses, could not see the holes at all, no matter what we did to the scope’s main focus and diopter adjustment.

The lesson here — if you have to wear glasses or corrective contact lenses, just that extra bit of optical interference may make a difference in what you can see through the scope. Basically anything that goes between the scope eyepiece and your eyeball can degrade the image somewhat. So… you may be better off removing your glasses if you can still obtain good focus sharpness using the diopter adjustment and focus ring. I did the left vs. right eye test a half dozen times, and I could definitely see small features at 1000 yards with my naked eye that I could not see with my right eye fitted with a contact lens. (I did have to re-focus the scope for each eye, since one had a corrective lens while the other did not.)

Mirage Degrades Image Sharpness and Resolution
The “magic light” prevailed for only an hour or so, and then we started to get some mirage. As soon as the mirage appeared I was no longer able to see raw bullet holes, though I could still easily see black pasters on the black bulls. When the mirage started, the sharpness of the visible image degraded a huge amount. Where I could see bullet holes at dawn, by mid-morning I could barely read the numbers on the scoring rings. Lesson: If you want to test the ulimate resolution of your optics, you need perfect conditions.

Chromatic AberrationChromatic Aberration Revealed
As the light got brighter and the mirage increased I started to see blue and red fringing at the edges of the spotting disk and the large numerals. This was quite noticeable. On one side of the bright, white spotting disc you could see a dark red edge, while on the other side there was a blue edge (harder to see but still present).

The photo below was taken through the Pentax spotter lens using a point and shoot camera held up to the eyepiece. The sharpness of the Pentax was actually much better than this photo shows, but the through-the-lens image does clearly reveal the red and blue fringing. This fringing is caused by chromatic aberration — the failure of a lens to focus all colors to the same point. Chromatic aberration, most visible at high magnification, causes different wavelengths of light to have differing focal lengths (see diagram). Chromatic aberration manifests itself as “fringes” of color along boundaries that separate dark and bright parts of the image, because each color in the optical spectrum cannot be focused at a single common point on the optical axis. Keep in mind that the Pentax does have “ED” or low-dispersion glass, so the effect would be even more dramatic with a cheaper spotting scope.


CLICK HERE to view LARGE PHOTO that shows aberration more clearly.

If you wonder why top-of-the-line spotting scopes (such as the $3900 Leica APO-Televid 82) cost so much, the answer is that they will deliver even LESS chromatic aberration at long range and high magnification. With their exotic apochromatic (APO), ultra-low-dispersion glass, a few ultra-high-end spotting scopes can deliver an image without the color edging you see in the photo above.

The Pentax PF-100ED is a heck of a spotting scope. Any scope that can resolve bullet holes at 1000 yards is impressive. But if you want the ultimate in optical performance, with minimal chromatic aberration, you may need to step up to something like the 88mm Kowa Prominar TSN-883 with Flourite Crystal lenses ($2450.00 body only), or the 82mm Leica APO ($3899.00 with 25-50X eyepiece).

EDITOR’s NOTE: The purpose of this report is to show what is possible… in IDEAL conditions. With this Pentax 100mm, as well as a Swarovski 80mm, we have often been able to resolve 6mm bullet holes at 600 yards. But again, that performance requires really good viewing conditions. By 10:00 am at my range, even with the 100mm Pentax at 75 power, seeing 6mm bullet holes is “iffy” at best. So don’t go out and mortgage the house to buy a $4000 optic with the hope that you’ll be able to spot your shots at 1000 yards. If conditions are anything less than perfect, you’ll be lucky to see bullet holes at 500 yards. The real solution for very long-range spotting is to set up a remote target cam that broadcasts a video picture to a screen at your shooting station.

Permalink - Articles, Optics, Tech Tip 2 Comments »
May 28th, 2014

Spotting Scope Resolution at 1000 Yards (in Ideal Conditions)

Pentax smc-xw 10mmWhile attending the CA Long Range Championship a while back, we had the opportunity to test the performance of a high-magnification (63X) spotting scope in near-ideal conditions (maybe the best I’ve ever witnessed). On the event’s last day we arrived at 5:45 am, literally as the sun was cresting the horizon. I quickly deployed our Pentax PF-100ED spotting scope, fitted with a Pentax SMC-XW 10mm fixed-power eyepiece. When used with the 100mm Pentax scope, this 10mm eyepiece yields 63X magnification. Befitting its $359.00 price, this eyepiece is extremely clear and sharp.

At the crack of dawn, viewing conditions were ideal. No mist, no mirage, no wind. The first thing this Editor noticed was that I could see metal nail heads on the target boards. That was astonishing. As soon as the first practice targets went up, to my surprise, I could see 6.5mm, 7mm, and 30-caliber bullet holes in the white at 1000 yards.

That’s right, I could see bullet holes at 1000. I know many of you folks may not believe that, but there was no mistaking when I saw a 7mm bullet cut the white line separating the Nine Ring and Eight Ring on the target in view. (I was watching that target as the shot was fired and saw the shot-hole form). And when I looked at the 30-cal targets, the bullet holes in the white were quite visible. In these perfect conditions I could also make out 3/8″ bolt heads on the target frames.

Pentax PF 100ED

The Human Factor
When viewing the bullet holes, I was using my left naked eye (no safety glasses or magnification). I also had a contact lens in my right eye (needed for distance vision). To my surprise, while I could see the bullet holes without much difficulty with my left eye, things were fuzzier and slightly more blurry with the right eye, even when I re-focused the scope.

Pentax smc-xw 10mmThen I invited 3 or 4 shooters to look through the scope. One younger guy, with good eyes, said immediately: “Yeah, I can see the holes — right there at 4 o’clock and seven o’clock. Wow.” Some older guys, who were wearing glasses, could not see the holes at all, no matter what we did to the scope’s main focus and diopter adjustment.

The lesson here — if you have to wear glasses or corrective contact lenses, just that extra bit of optical interference may make a difference in what you can see through the scope. Basically anything that goes between the scope eyepiece and your eyeball can degrade the image somewhat. So… you may be better off removing your glasses if you can still obtain good focus sharpness using the diopter adjustment and focus ring. I did the left vs. right eye test a half dozen times, and I could definitely see small features at 1000 yards with my naked eye that I could not see with my right eye fitted with a contact lens. (I did have to re-focus the scope for each eye, since one had a corrective lens while the other did not.)

Mirage Degrades Image Sharpness and Resolution
The “magic light” prevailed for only an hour or so, and then we started to get some mirage. As soon as the mirage appeared I was no longer able to see raw bullet holes, though I could still easily see black pasters on the black bulls. When the mirage started, the sharpness of the visible image degraded a huge amount. Where I could see bullet holes at dawn, by mid-morning I could barely read the numbers on the scoring rings. Lesson: If you want to test the ulimate resolution of your optics, you need perfect conditions.

Chromatic AberrationChromatic Aberration Revealed
As the light got brighter and the mirage increased I started to see blue and red fringing at the edges of the spotting disk and the large numerals. This was quite noticeable. On one side of the bright, white spotting disc you could see a dark red edge, while on the other side there was a blue edge (harder to see but still present).

The photo below was taken through the Pentax spotter lens using a point and shoot camera held up to the eyepiece. The sharpness of the Pentax was actually much better than this photo shows, but the through-the-lens image does clearly reveal the red and blue fringing. This fringing is caused by chromatic aberration — the failure of a lens to focus all colors to the same point. Chromatic aberration, most visible at high magnification, causes different wavelengths of light to have differing focal lengths (see diagram). Chromatic aberration manifests itself as “fringes” of color along boundaries that separate dark and bright parts of the image, because each color in the optical spectrum cannot be focused at a single common point on the optical axis. Keep in mind that the Pentax does have “ED” or low-dispersion glass, so the effect would be even more dramatic with a cheaper spotting scope.


CLICK HERE to view LARGE PHOTO that shows aberration more clearly.

If you wonder why top-of-the-line spotting scopes (such as the $3900 Leica APO-Televid 82) cost so much, the answer is that they will deliver even LESS chromatic aberration at long range and high magnification. With their exotic apochromatic (APO), ultra-low-dispersion glass, a few ultra-high-end spotting scopes can deliver an image without the color edging you see in the photo above.

The Pentax PF-100ED is a heck of a spotting scope. Any scope that can resolve bullet holes at 1000 yards is impressive. But if you want the ultimate in optical performance, with minimal chromatic aberration, you may need to step up to something like the 88mm Kowa Prominar TSN-883 with Flourite Crystal lenses ($2450.00 body only), or the 82mm Leica APO ($3899.00 with 25-50X eyepiece).

EDITOR’s NOTE: The purpose of this report is to show what is possible… in IDEAL conditions. With this Pentax 100mm, as well as a Swarovski 80mm, we have often been able to resolve 6mm bullet holes at 600 yards. But again, that performance requires really good viewing conditions. By 10:00 am at my range, even with the 100mm Pentax at 75 power, seeing 6mm bullet holes is “iffy” at best. So don’t go out and mortgage the house to buy a $4000 optic with the hope that you’ll be able to spot your shots at 1000 yards. If conditions are anything less than perfect, you’ll be lucky to see bullet holes at 500 yards. The real solution for very long-range spotting is to set up a remote target cam that broadcasts a video picture to a screen at your shooting station.

Permalink Optics, Tech Tip 11 Comments »
April 19th, 2014

Better Viewing at 600 Yards with ‘Negative’ Targets

At long range, small bullet holes are much easier to see in the white than in the black. When you’re practicing at long range on high power targets, one way to enhance your ability to see your bullet holes is to print a “negative” version of the regulation bullseye target.

How do you create a “negative” of a target image? Many image programs, including the FREE Irfanview software, have a “Negative” function in the pull-down menu. If you don’t see a “Negative” menu option in your program, look for a “substitute colors” option. Many printers also have a “reverse colors” function. If you can’t find a solution with your computer or printer, just take a normal bullseye target to a copy shop, and the staff can easily print you a set of targets with white centers in black fields.

Forum member Watercam uses a Pentax PF-80ED spotting scope. With his 80mm Pentax he can see 6mm bullet holes in the white at 600 yards (in very good conditions), but holes in the black are only visible out to 400 yards or so. Accordingly, Watercam uses a modified “reversed” black-to-white target for 600-yard practice.

Watercam told us: “The view through the Pentax is very sharp and contrasty with great color. Eye relief with the Pentax 10-60 power zoom is 18-22mm (much more than the Kowa zoom), so I can use glasses with no problem. With my 6mm and limited mirage I’m seeing defined, 6mm holes in the white out to 600. In the black, I can see bullets holes at about 400 with my eyes. I am printing reverse-color targets for training without a pit partner at the 600-yard line.”

Pentax PF-80 ED scope

Brits Use New White-Field Target for F-Class
In the UK, ranges are now using a “reverse-style” target with a mostly white area. Laurie Holland says this allows shooters to see shots much more easily. Laurie reports: “Here’s a photo of the 500/600 yard F-Class match target we use in PSSA comps at Diggle Ranges with club members Chris Hull (L) and Terry Mann (R). We now use this target form at all ranges up to 1K for F-Class, and, yes you can often see your hits at 600 on the target before the markers pull it. Regards from England — Laurie”.

Day-Glo Stick-on Targets
If you’re not concerned with official scoring rings, you can use an all-white target with a bright, fluorescent target dot in the middle. A 2″- or 3″-diameter stick-on target dot is highly visible at 600 yards. With a high-quality scope, you can use the small black diamonds in the center for precise aiming. The Birchwood Casey Target Spots® assortment (item #33928-TSA) offers neon orange target dots in 1″, 2″, and 3″ diameters. This “value pack” includes 72-1″, 36-2″, and 24-3″ self-adhesive circles.

Permalink News, Tech Tip 5 Comments »
October 8th, 2013

Pentax PF80-ED Angled Spotting Scope on Sale for $684.95

Here’s a great deal on an excellent spotting scope. Right now Amazon.com has the Pentax PF80-ED Angled spotting scope body for just $684.95 with FREE Shipping for Prime members. Supplies are very limited, so don’t hesitate. Mind you, this is just for the BODY ONLY — but the PF80-ED body alone sells elsewhere for $899.00 (See: Optics Planet PF-80ED).

Amazon.com also has the Pentax PF-80ED with straight body for just $629.00 (eyepiece not included). With either straight or angled version, a Pentax 20-60X zoom eyepiece will cost another $240 or so from Amazon.com, but you can find used models for less on eBay.

Pentax PF-80ED Angled spotting scope body

The PF-80ED has a large objective lens with high-definition glass. Focusing is fast and precise. You will have to purchase an eyepiece separately — but rest assured, the Pentax eyepieces are some of the best available, with large-diameter, astronomy-style mounts, and wide-angle view with extended eye relief. We use a Pentax PF100-ED and PF80-ED, with both zoom and fixed-focal-length eyepieces. The Pentax eyepieces are outstanding.

We actually prefer the PF80-ED (vs. the PF100) for most duties because it is MUCH more compact, and sits more steady on the tripod. While the PF80-ED has been out for a few years, it still compares favorably with spotting scopes that cost twice as much. To do better, you’ll need to spend over $2000.00 for a Kowa, Leica, Nightforce, Swarovski, or Zeiss spotting scope with low-dispersion glass. And, with most of these brands, that two grand will only get you the spotter body — you’ll then need to spend $400-$700 for the eyepiece. We think it’s hard to beat a PF80-ED at this sales price. Even after purchasing the eyepiece your total cost is about $925.00.

Permalink Hot Deals, Optics 4 Comments »
November 2nd, 2011

Pentax PF-80ED Spotting Scopes @ $684.95 with Free Shipping

Amazon.com just listed 15 more Pentax PF-80ED Angled spotting scopes at $684.95 with FREE Shipping. While this price does NOT include eyepiece (20-60X zoom costs another $320.00 or so), this is a great deal on a high-quality 80mm spotting scope with great glass. You need to spend $2000.00 or more for a spotting scope that will significantly out-perform the Pentax PF-80ED. Also the Pentax eyepieces (purchase separately) are outstanding. READ MORE here.

Pentax PF-80ED Angled spotting scope body
Disclosure: AccurateShooter.com has an affiliate relationship with Amazon.com.
Permalink Hot Deals, Optics No 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 »
January 20th, 2011

SHOT Show Report: Pentax Power Zoom Scope — Push-Button Magnification

A riflescope that zooms in and out with the push of a remote button may seem like technological overkill. But think about it — most common point and shoot cameras these days offer power zoom and auto-focus. Modern binoculars have image stabilization and other high-tech features. There’s no reason a riflescope shouldn’t benefit from useful technologies we’ve already adapted to other optical products.

Pentax Marketing Demo — Ultimate Zoom
YouTube Preview Image

The new Pentax “Ultimate Zoom” scope got little press when it was launched in mid-2010. But we think it may be a true trend-setter. The big advantage for a varmint hunter is that you can keep your eye on the target. You don’t have to raise your head up or move your hand away from your firing position (see video above). With this scope you can zoom from 3X to 15X without changing your grip on the rifle or moving your head away from the scope. In the field, the batteries can last many months. The Pentax Ultimate Zoom typically retails for about $349.00 street price. However, Amazon.com currently offers the Ultimate Zoom for just $199.99 — a very good deal. In the video below you’ll see a product demo from SHOT Show.

YouTube Preview Image
Permalink - Videos, New Product, Optics No Comments »