Bombing down a dusty two track in the middle of nowhere Nevada made for a rough ride. That normally wouldn’t even cross my mind but today was different. Today my cargo was worth more than the Jeep I was driving. Stacked on the back seat was ten thousand dollars’ worth of Kowa and Swarovski optics. Every noise coming from the back seat had me casting a nervous glance across the ensemble to ensure none of them had shifted positions.

The event was simple- beg, borrow or steal (not really but I did rent some) the best Spotting scopes in the world and bring them along with a bunch of buddies to a location for real world testing. Having drawn a deer tag in the same unit was just a happy coincidence or at least that is how I explained it to those assembled guests here. For all of us this would possibly be the only time we would see the Swarovski 115mm and 95mm along with both ATX and BTX eye pieces, Kowa TSN-99mm angled on tripods side by side.

The testing would be as follows-

*View standard eye chart at 500 yards distance to compare clarity.

*Compare the 1951 USAF resolution chart at 35 yards to minimize mirage during close range resolution evaluation.

*Find the shed antler placed under the sage brush at 800 yards to simulate a deer laying in the shade.

*Use the spotting scope for actual scouting swapping scopes multiple times during the 4-day event.

Standard eye chart at 500 yards. It should come as no surprise that all three scopes were phenomenal. I found the dual focus wheels on the Kowa to be extremely helpful while a few of the group found Swarovski single focus ring to be simpler and more effective. Looking back, I concluded that it is simply personal bias and what style one is most familiar with that they prefer. As expected, the 115mm and the 99mm out preformed the 95mm by a wide margin during fading light, although most were surprised at the minimal difference between the Swarovski 115 and the Kowa 99 with only a slight edge (less than 2 minutes) going to the Swarovski 115mm.

Comparisons using the 1951 USAF resolution chart. As stated above the USAF chart was placed at 35 yards to limit mirage and each of the three scopes setup and focused to see which resolved the smallest chart. The Swarovski 95mm resolved the least amount losing to its big brother the 115mm by two chart sizes and to the Kowa 99mm by three chart sizes. I think it surprised most to see the Kowa come out on top, but I think the dual focus wheels gave a slight edge and brought out the Kowa’s sharpest focused image.

Viewing the shed antler. I think everyone found the color contrast between the Kowa and Swarovski lens coatings to be notable but slight. I tried to capture the difference while digiscoping (using my Samsungs camera) but couldn’t discern a difference when viewing the photos. To me the Kowa produces a more natural view while the Swarovski colors are just so slightly cooler. I use Swarovski SLC binoculars and enjoyed that color contrast but found that I picked out the antler quicker with Kowa’s more natural coloring during testing. Reviewers were split so once again personal preferences come into play with what your eye likes best.

Using under field conditions was a combination of swapping scopes out between ourselves and hitting the hills to do actual scouting. One of the days was a light rain which no doubt skewed the results, but mother nature isn’t a variable anyone controls. Another variable I failed to account for was varying tripods among the testers. I think with everyone using their personal tripods and heads with each scope tested mitigated those differences as they compared each scope equally. Note that each scope performed its best when set on the heaviest carbon tripod.

A few of the major differences are Swarovski’s single focus ring vs dual focus wheels on the Kowa. Swarovski’s’ armored body is a stark contrast to Kowa’s painted finish. I found the Kowa lighter yet still durable after a season of hard use. The Swarovski scopes have a machined arca-swiss mounting foot while Kowa has a standard foot that now includes twin screws to securely fasten to any adaptor plate.  Kowa and Swarovski both offer 30-70 zoom eye pieces with similar fields of view. The TE-80xw Kowa eyepiece option that is an extra wide fixed 40x with 117’ at 1000 yards while the Swarovski has the option of installing the BTX double eyepiece (BTX is extremely comfortable to use during long glassing sessions that nearly doubles the weight and price point).

I’ll summarize the results here- at roughly the same price as the Swarovski 95mm every single reviewer agreed the Kowa 99 was a better preforming scope. The Kowa 99 punches above its price point and when compared with the Swarovski 115mm it simply comes down to personal preferences of features. For me the Swarovski ATX eyepiece was slightly easier to get behind while the Kowa 99 has a slightly crisper view. If you haven’t checked out the new Kowa Fluorite series scopes you are truly missing out.

*Note* One easy way to get expensive optics side by side is to rent them for a day or two. I personally have used Rent Outdoor Gear a Rokslide sponsor multiple times with each time being a no hassle experience. The rental process is incredibly easy, pick your dates and just add shipping and credit card information. Rent Outdoor Gear will have your optics package setting at your door by the date requested. Don’t worry returning them is just as easy, simply attach the supplied return label back on the box, tape it up and drop off at the shipper.

One other feature of Rent Outdoor Gear is their keeper program. Basically, they allow you to put up to 7 days of your rental fees towards purchasing and keeping that item. Give them a call to learn more about the program.

You can add your comments in this thread-

Listen to some of the testers in this episode of the Rokcast-Tipsy Tuesday: Kowa 99 Review with Sal Soriano and Randon Timothy



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Sam Weaver
Sam grew up in rural Utah close to some great hunting opportunities, and hunting was instilled at a young age. After joining the military Sam was exposed to hunting other states and species from his new friends from across the United States. Sam has had the great fortune to hunt across the West, the Mid-west, and even Alaska. Sam is always seeking that next hunt, chasing something new or exploring somewhere new. Sam is DIY hunter who is always trying new gear to maximize every opportunity to get out and see what's on the other side of the mountain.