Kowa 664 vs Swaro 65 HD, Just did a head to head

Stinky Coyote

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My first post may as well fit in with what this forum seems to be about and i think its time to hang here as i get older and my focus narrows on these mountain hunting gear addictions. I really dig reviews and comparos and i love giving them back. I'm from Alberta, 39 yrs old, been chasing sheep for quite a few years now, mostly on foot, been in on half dozen kills, couple rams, couple ewes, one of each were my own do it yourself, then guided a couple of the others and tagged along on couple of the others with several no blood in the pack years trying to figure the game out. I bowhunt a bunch too but mostly for local deer/elk/moose, been pretty much a rifle guy in the mountains so far. So i've been posting rifle/bow/optic reviews on a local forum for long time. Figure this place is maybe even a better fit for what i'm likely to review going forward. I have a Blaser K95 i can talk about soon also as still in the setting up stage for this year, oh and also picked up a Kifaru T2 which should hopefully see some blood this fall also i'll be able to yap about. And so here is copy paste of the kowa/swaro review i posted locally. Good data i figure for any mountain hunting gear junky forum!

The only way i was going to know forsure how the Japanes Kowa 66mm ED glass stacked up against the flagship in the class Swaro 65mm HD was to buy the Kowa and borrow the Swaro. I actually borrowed two identical Swaro's one with the 20-60x eyepiece and the other with the 25-50x wide angle eyepiece but i will focus mostly on the 20-60x models. All three scopes essentially brand spanking new condition. This is a shakedown years in the making in my head, finally got to put my eyes to them today.

The target i put them up against was a 60 km/h speed limit sign at 1885 yards (1.725 km/1725m/1.07 mile). Sun was up, 10:45 am, clear, 7 degrees C.

I paid 1320 plus tax for the Kowa 664 at Robinson Camera downtown cowtown which has always given me good prices on leica/swaro in the past. So not sure what the retail of the Swaro's are both were the STM (straight body magnesiums) but from recollection in the 2700 range from Robinson although i know one was bought for around 1800-2k as a demo or something from cameraland which is a great deal, as it came as new. But lets just say the swaro is worth twice what the Kowa is worth as retail from same store so to speak.

Having both set up, going from eye to eye, i notice a very similar quality/detail, too hard to tell difference right away. Swaro has a colder say more blue-ish hue, Kowa a warmer more yellow-ish hue...but you have to literally go back and forth to see the slight difference...its very slight difference, the both seem very spot on to the actual color of the scene but there is a difference when you look from one to the other. The many pictures i took through both spotters will not show this hue difference its that slight, my pictures give me both colder/warmer images from both depending.

The swaro has a bigger field of view (backed up by the stats below) and the outer edges stay sharp all the way out especially at 20x. I was left with a very strong initial impression from the swaro at 20x and although i don't think i can tell the resolution difference between them on the sign at 1885 yards, that larger fov with sharpness right to the edge did stand out as impressive.

At 60x, again, the larger fov is apparent from the swaro but over and over focusing on the 60 km/h speed limit sign at 1885 yards i could get a slightly better resolution from the kowa, yes some mirage present and i was expecting the swaro to out do the kowa here, and it does with its larger fov and better edge resolution but i could get the kowa to show me a better image of that 60 km/h sign! I have pics but they will be useless on the internet and mostly useless even on the computer. I will try to crop out the sign and get them on here to show what i mean.

I never noticed the field of view advantage or the edge to edge advantage of the swaro until studying the pics at home as i was so focused on that 60 km/h sign at 1885 yards. I knew something turned me on about that initial look through the swaro at 20x and it took some studying to figure out what. Zooming in on the focal point (60km/h sign) on the computer shows essentially identical resolution capability at 20x and as mentioned at 60x the edge went to the kowa over the swaro on both my eyeballs and then back at home on computer zooming on the pics....it was after studying i realized it had to be that larger fov and the edge to edge crispness i admired from the 20x image on the swaro...this advantage a lot less noticeable at 60x.

I guess one could say then the swaro has a bigger sweet spot of optical goodness but the kowa can bear down on a small object and edge out the swaro ever so slightly. At any rate, things were sooooooo close i came away smiling and confirming any research i could find was what i expected. The larger 77mm and 88mm kowas both beat out the 80mm swaro hd's lots of research to find on that and the 88mm kowa is known as the flagship of all sporting spotters period. Unsure of the new swaro's though, maybe the big 95 can whoop up on the kowa 88? I'm sure reviews will be around, but finding out more on the 66mm kowa vs the 65mm hd swaro's was much harder.

Thats all for now on the image capabilities of them. Here is the other side of story. Magnification ring on the 20-60x swaro was easily the stiffest, the kowa about 25% easier, then the 25-50x wide angle swaro another 50% easier again...it spun almost as freely as the helical focusers on the swaro's. Next and what is a bigger point for me is the focuser differences. The kowa runs a traditional focuser knob up top and the swaro's use the big helical focuser. I am used to the traditional focuser so keep in mind. I found it easier, faster, and steadier to focus the kowa. You hold it which must steady it and just run the knob with your finger. The gearing and tension seem perfect on the kowa, combined with less shake it was much easier to dial it in on a tough target at a long distance. The natural for the helical seems to be zero hand contact but just your thumb and finger (bottom and top) of the focuser ring and you can be dainty but back and forth on the same tripod i consistantly found a steadier/quicker more accurate focus...again...i'm used to that system. Sure in cold/snow/gloves the helical might be nicer? I don't mind taking a glove off for a second to focus either...moot? Anyhow, there may also be a way to grab the swaro and just run the wheel with your thumb to steady the image better while focusing. I compared my nikon ed50 to one of these swaro's awhile ago and that was a standout difference for me there also, i do not like the helical focuser at all....preference/personal thing.

Weight, all three spotters with just their factory lens caps on both ends.
Swaro 25-50x 2 lb 15 oz
Swaro 20-60x 2 lb 14 oz
Kowa 20-60x 2 lb 13.5 oz

Field of view (FOV):
Swaro 25/50x at 1000m = 42m and 27m
Swaro 20/60x at 1000m = 36m and 20m
Kowa 20/60x at 1000m = 33.2m and 17.5m


Pretty evenly matched there but one is the lightest of the bunch lol...the kowa may be 1/2" longer overall.....so pretty moot on dimensions and weight...keep in mind this is the magnesium body swaro which i think is a few oz lighter than the aluminum body swaro so the kowa is no sweat the lightweight champ. This should give anyone looking to compare these plenty of info to mull over before breaking out the moula. The kowa is a serious bang for buck piece of glass. I would still agree the king of 65mm glass is the swaro hd but definitely not the bang for the buck champ. I'd be happy with both as they are top end glass. Since i have the kowa, and i could afford the swaro, i will be keeping it happily, i do prefer the focuser knob and generally don't do alot of looking for things with a spotter, use more as a judging tool so the fov differences and around the edge crispness differences don't matter enough to me to make a switch, i gladly make the trade off for the focuser knob and i still get a top of the class resolution when i want to really have a look at something.

A note on the wide angle, its nice, but for a spotter i tend to be focusing on small singular objects to judge so the giant fov is almost a waste on me, image quality/resolution about same as 20-60x for a pure judging tool go for the 20-60x, understand from someone that for digi scoping also choose the 20-60x as the wide angle a bit more fussy on eye ball position being perfect and almost inside the fish eye or bubble if you will so getting cameras to work properly also a little trickier...just what i heard, research that yourself if you like the idea of the bigger fov, i like the 20-60x but there is nothing wrong with the wide angle either. My money would buy the 20-60x.

Here, lets see, tried to crop the two best 60x images from these spotters to the same amount of country but the reality was very similar to the images getting a better definition/less distorted view of that 60 km/h sign, remember, 1885 yards. Top image is swaro, bottom image is kowa, focused on the 60 km/h sign best i could.

406123011.jpg
406123007.jpg

The spotters together
406123020.jpg
406123019.jpg

Granted also, one test, one day, head to head. Not a lot of time to compare but it was a pretty small target pretty far away and that was really my only goal, i wanted them to struggle and show me some differences.

And some other notes, i researched this showdown a ton and there isn't a lot of info/tests/comparo's to be found, there is plenty on the larger class glass and the kowa 77/88mm series seems to rank better than the swaro 80 but i needed to see the 65/66's together to satisfy and itch that just wouldn't go away.

I wish the kowa 66 was invited to this particular showdown with 36 scopes tested same time by 30 users beginner to high level users. The big kowas owned 1st and 2nd spot, then the swaro 80 and 65 owned 3rd and 4th spot. The writer/organizer (a swaro 65 owner) made this comment to be found on page 2 of the comments.

All in all, I’m not sure I’m ready to give up my 65mm Swarovski, although I’d love to see one of the smaller 66mm Kowas, which were not sent to us to review.

And i too wish it was there to play at the same time, would love to have seen how it ranked by 30 people against the swaro 65 top dog? Anyhow, i digress, here is the review, on page 4 at the end there is a pdf link you can click on for the rankings/categories etc. The were ranked overall, not just on image alone.

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=1039#top


It appears all other comparo's and test you can find bear out similar results from the big kowas vs the big swaro so i do find some merrit to this review as the data seems to echo all over when doing research.

Hope this helps the gear junky brotherhood out! :)
 
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Stinky Coyote

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Nice Job! Thanks for the effort to put this together! We may have to turn that into an article and post permanently on the site.

DC

thanks guys, i will try and keep up the good work, blaser k95 on deck next, just need to do some long shooting to have a final picture on it which will happen in next week or so, then the kifaru t2 pack may have to wait till i slog up the hill this fall, i'll have two sheep tags personally as my turn for a ewe again and i'll have the general ram tag also, but a main goal is a main buddy still doesn't have his first ram yet so priority #1...theoritically i could be packing out 3 sheep this fall so fingers crossed, also new this year is bowtech specialist so i could do one up for it too, i did the hoyt carbon element rkt last year which i could dig up if interest in the data/impression on it, and until this blaser k95 became reality i've shot a sako a7 in 270 wsm which has 4 of the 6 sheep i've been in on among other stuff like elk/deer/moose but always wanted to try a k95 as a secondary or what may become primary mountain rig with my beloved sako taking up backup duty? will give it a shot anyway, gotta love gear!
 

Manosteel

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Hey SC nice to see you made your way here! You will find this site a notch above others and a place you can really exchange tips, gear reviews, and real world hunting advice by people who actual use the gear they talk about. I know your a real gear junkie so this site is right up your alley. Great review as usual.

You should post some of you Alberta mule deer pics, we have some mulely maniacs here!
 

Matt Cashell

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Welcome to Rokslide SC,

A very interesting comparo. I am curious if you will be doing any follow-up comparisons with these? Particularly, I would be interested in any testing done on aberrations, field curvature, distortion, etc.

Also on the resolution testing, it seems mirage was a big factor in your comparison. Do you have anything planned to test raw apparent resolution under mirage-mitigated conditions? Perhaps low light?

Thanks,

Matt

PS.

One note on FOV: I prefer the widest FOV (both in spec and "useable" FOV) while hunting because I can focus in on something, and maybe spot additional animals nearby. It also saves on panning, and allows a rested view for letting your eye roam around looking for critters. JMO

Thanks again!
 
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Stinky Coyote

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Hey Mano! Been reading the sheep threads, omg epic hunting/pics/writing/trophies...been literally speechless in there, I'm definitely in a good place here!

Bitterroot, I'm far from an optics expert, ive really enjoyed my little nikon Ed50 for past several years, especially as soon as I start climbing and it's ease of use, could always ram it to 40x(13-40x eyepiece) and get a plenty good enough image for me, range work and hunting/scouting, just a brilliant little optic i adored enough to not even worry about looking for a 60x capable spotter until other wants were crossed off "the list". And now after reading here for a few days and what top notch in depth reviewing is getting done around here I'll try to be more thorough and keep up with the jones better. I could easily get those scopes back and thought I should test them in different conditions, low light, but I got other fires just more pressing to me, I saw enough to know I can live with the kowa pretty easy for my needs. If I spent the kind of time behind a spotter like I do behind my tripod mounted ultravid hd binos then I'd likely put way more time and effort into comparing, something tells me I'd be packing around a kowa 774. I chase bighorns primarily, don't have to age them and seems the spotter only comes out for judging or really struggling to find an animal to look at, can see in that giant country where the white sheep live how much more time the spotter would get used!

Consider this a very quick comparo, but not from anything resembling an optics expert, Joe hunter, I was dying to see them at 60x at distance together, one and done for me, next. ;)

This was more or less one quick head to head with the best in this size of glass to see if the kowa can play at that top level, got my answer, trying to be as accurate and honest about it and then share it. So people can take from it what they need? The swaro is still the king and I can see why. Hope it helps. I gotta find a couple hours now to shoot the k95 at some distance.
 
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Stinky Coyote

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Oh how I hate my iPad some times. Something I can say from borrowing the 25-50x wide angle against my ed50 last year on sheep and elk is boy did I ever notice mirage on the swaro, barely touch that mag ring and all over, the little nikon ed50 never notice it, year in year out, ram it to 40x and enjoy, no mirage, little booger just works for me, I can't wait to get this kowa some hours and see if this is going to be a new and wonderful mirage filled world? Yes there was mirage during my test, I should have broke the ed50 out to see how it faired on mirage alone but I can compare that out any day and will to satisfy my curiosity on that aspect. What do u do with mirage? I suspect u live with it, so figured ok, part or real world...let's see which one resolves that "60" the best...if the kowa could slightly show me a fractionally sharper/less distorted 60 then holy crap, I was tickled, that was enough for me, did not expect it to do anything better than the swaro at all and really that was the only thing, but it's what I was trying to look at and read to show me differences between them and they r so close in that test one test one day one condition, have to take it for what it's worth, hopefully doesn't come across as the kowa is some giant killer, it's not, but IMO dang good for the money.
 

dotman

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Hey Stinky, great no BS write-up. Once you have more time behind it give us a follow up, I have a feeling you'll like the Kowa.
 

Matt Cashell

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SC,

I wasn't trying to be critical, just wanted to hear more about your impressions on these optics.

On mirage, it is mostly magnification related, although depth of field also plays a role.

Again, very nice write up.

And I agree, Kowa is a top contender for sure!
 
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Stinky Coyote

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SC,

I wasn't trying to be critical, just wanted to hear more about your impressions on these optics.

On mirage, it is mostly magnification related, although depth of field also plays a role.

Again, very nice write up.

And I agree, Kowa is a top contender for sure!

I know, but it's good u asked those questions as clearly those two scopes would be ideal for alot more time compared to each other by more experienced optics gurus.

On the mirage, for some reason and I didn't pay attention to it enough to really suss it out but in the kowa it seemed to me the sign was a bit larger thru the kowa at both 20x and 60x yet seemed to have less mirage than both the swaros. I have already returned the swaro with the 60x eyepiece but may borrow again to keep this going but I do have a bit more info on the kowa vs the wide angle swaro today and the nikon ed50.

As I was seeing some family this am and returning the 25-50x swaro but also seeing an uncle who has guided white sheep and bou's for some 18-19 seasons in nwt who also owns a nikon ed50 was curious to see the kowa vs what he knows well also. So I set all three up on same table on three tripods and focused them all on a pair of ravens on a chimney stack on roof of house some 700 yards away. We had slightly overcast conditions, 9 degree C and around lunch time. We had shingles, some metal work of the chimney vents with reflection and the ravens to focus on and see the differences in detail etc. Three reviewers, myself, uncle and his wife. All scopes on max magnification so we had 40x, 50x and 60x. We all preferred the view thru the kowa and nikon vs the swaro, the wide angle swaro seems to have a curvature effect and noticeably more mirage. The kowa easily equaled the image quality of the nikon but at 20x higher mag....and then we spun the kowa down to 40x and compared to that nikon we know so well at that magnification and the kowa was noticeably better image, crisper, brighter. That told us both a lot since it had essentially the same kind of image quality at 60x as the nikon did at 40x we get an idea of how useable that will be. Uncle had also in past compared a hunters swaro at 40x against his ed50 at 40x and they both agreed the swaro bested the ed50 but that the ed50 still had a very good high quality very useable image at 40x and seems like we duplicated that finding with the kowa vs the ed50.

End of the day we all agree as we knew anyhow that the ed50 is absolutely incredible for what it is, if 40x is enough, it's tough to imagine more image per ounce, and I have found it such an awesome real world useable spotter for so many reasons including weight, size, both help it fight wind etc. And stay that much more stable while viewing plus also mirage never seems an issue. But if 60x is going to be the requirement then one has to double the weight and size plus add another ounce or two to step up to the kowa 66 and magnesium body swaro 65 hd. and we agreed the kowa is awesome and top end performer, preferred over the swaro wide angle combo by two brand new sets of eyes, one experienced and one rookie and I go along with that also. The swaro wide probably really comes into it's own when gridding a mountain or two for a couple hours but straight up high mag judging the kowa wins no sweat, it's a much tighter race against swaro 20-60.

Other observations today, both the Japanese scopes are both Ed glass and they both seemed very similar in the image color wise etc. Like they could have been same manufacturer just bigger vs smaller. The swaro wide angle has it's virtues and on 25x its view is massive, unsure we know the terminology etc. To describe the differences we saw, all i can say is the two new viewers commented they preferred both the Japanese images to the swaro wide.

I can comment that whatever that effect that the swaro wide angle has that is different than the kowa, the curvature and more apparent mirage is also apparent on the 20-60x but not nearly as pronounced as on the wide angle but it u can tell they two swaros r related just like the ed50/kowa seem related, swaro has a very 'swaro' image and I could probably have 5 spotters lined up and masked so I couldn't tell which was which and pick out which one or more were swaros.My eyes are very happy with these ed glass Japanese scopes.
 

Matt Cashell

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On the mirage, for some reason and I didn't pay attention to it enough to really suss it out but in the kowa it seemed to me the sign was a bit larger thru the kowa at both 20x and 60x yet seemed to have less mirage than both the swaros.

So here we have a few of the optical illusions that deal with FOV. When the FOV is smaller, the object takes up more of it, and looks bigger, giving the impression of a more maginified image and more detail, even when there isn't any. On the flip side, you are seeing more real estate at the same maginification with the Swaro WA, so you see more disturbance from the same amount of mirage, so your brain is telling you more mirage, when in fact you are just seeing more image. (I am using the ambiguous "you" here, and don't mean to say you (SC) aren't seeing what your seeing, just providing an explanation for things that CAN be seen with optics with varying FOVs)

I am interested in what you mean by curvature, particularly if you are referring to field curvature or distortion.

If you get the chance, I would be interested to see how the scopes compared in a resolution test something like this: Do it over a shorter distance to mitigate mirage (like 50-100 yards). Use something with fine detail. A resolution chart would be great, but I also like to use things like a credit card or Restaurant menu. Do it at a couple different times for different lighting conditions.

I do find your tests so far usefull. They show how these scopes performed for you under mirage conditions, which certainly are common for hunters like us! I recently tested the Meopta S2 spotting scope, which proved both high resolution, and resistant to mirage.

I also like the 20-60 for hunting a little better than the 25-50 WA with the Swaro ATM/STMs. That extra magnification pays off in detail, and you still have the wide 20x setting. However, the newer eyepieces that are BOTH high magnifcation and wide angle are really exciting like the Meopta 30-60WA, Swaro 25-60 (30-70) ATX, and the new Kowa 25-60 Prominar. Best of both worlds.

Thanks for all your efforts so far, SC, and I look forward to more!

Oh yeah,

I wanted to mention that I also have the ED50 w/ 13-40 MCII eyepiece, and agree it is a great backpacking spotter! However, I hope I don't burst your bubble when I remind you the ED50 is actually Chinese in origin. ;)
 
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Stinky Coyote

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Lol, feels Chinese, cheap, plastic toy, no surprise really.

Thanks for more in depth explanations of what my eyes r telling me, it's making sense to someone who knows and sounds like I'm explaining what I see well enough to be understood. It's now becoming more interesting to me. I have to say I'm not really a fan of the extra fov if that's what u get, I'd almost prefer less fov. That extra mirage effect on the "60" from the sign at 1885 yards from the swaro would block out parts of the numbers or distort and disfigure the numbers while the kowa did less distortion or hiding behind mirage. So what is actually better? I know what my mind seems to prefer. And again, we r splitting hairs, I found both images, considering the test, to be pretty awesome.

I'm gonna need to do a little homework on this before iput them together again so I can compare more of these things more thoroughly. As stated I tend to use the spotter to bear down on something I've already found with binos but it is interesting stuff now that I have access to these spotters so will try and save u the hassle of re-doing this comparo to get the technical stuff sorted, if we get near each other happy to loan out the kowa but I'll try and come up with another comparo and research some good parameters like u suggest do them again. I was craving feedback from this head to head but just couldnt seem to find the data I was looking for. And still can't answer the technical questions well enough but ill work on improving my knowledge here and assemble them for another show down with some resolution charts etc. And maybe a panel of guys for opinions to compile. I'm gonna have to get low on projects but I will get it on my list because its Fun to do and I should see it through. Call this the longest first impression thread.
 
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Stinky Coyote

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i'm glad i took more pictures, and have talked a bit with Matt (Bitterroot) to understand more on things to look for, he pointed me out to his excellent articles on what to look for/what not to look for and some other comments can be made

the swaro has a pincusion view(ends of straight lines bend outward to edges of image), and the kowa seems to have a slightly barrel view(the opposite of pin cushion view) as the pictures up the roadway had powerpoles all the way along both sides so it was easy to see if they bent inward or outward, at 60x the pincushion effect is very noticeable bending the poles outward on the swaro and they have a lot of bend in them, alot more than the kowa which appear nearly straight, really have to look at the kowa to see the slight barrel effect but very very obvious seeing the pincushion on the swaro...the swaro at 60x vs the wide angel swaro at 50x also showed pin cushion on the 50x wide angle but much more gentle compared to the 60x swaro

thats all one can comment i think on for now until i put them together with some resolution charts and other targets at other lighting conditions and even try some panning which sounds like the pincushion effect makes the image not a 'rolling ball' so for those who pan and view at same time this would be a factor to consider, i more or less grid with my bino's and spotter and freeze and look over the image then move and freeze again so it would appear the kowa is a great choice for my style of spotting scope use
 
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Stinky Coyote

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alrighty, i'll post the images for what they can tell, one must note, i hand hold a canon sd1400 point and shoot, lots of things you wont be able to judge but this pincushion effect is very easy to see in the images, i've been taking pics like this through spotters for long time, its poor mans digiscoping but you get the hang of it, i certainly don't do it for anyone other than myself, the camera is auto focusing on whatever it wants in the image for each shot, lighting always seems different but it serves me well enough for scouting etc.

Here is the 60x image from kowa, the speed limit sign is 1885 yards, center of image, that is focal point. Note the power poles on right side, see if you can tell if they are straight or do they bend inward/outward at the edges?

406176624.jpg

And here is the 60x image from the swaro. Now check out those power poles on the right side, pretty curved.

406176655.jpg

And then again here is the kowa at 20x, its harder to see this effect imo at this mag.

406176705.jpg

And then the 20x from the swaro.

406176719.jpg

When i get these scopes back together i will pan with them to see how that pincushion effect flattens the image out under movement?, and or, how the flatter almost slightly barrelled image from the kowa may get a 'rolling ball' look while under movement? If anything to just learn more about spotter differences and actually see these differences in person etc. As mentioned, it appears i chose the scope that suits me best as i use more for judging than searching and even when i search bino's or spotter i tend to move/freeze and look the image over vs panning while i go, i will pan alot more with the bino's but not so much with spotter.
 
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Flatbow

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great review. I am no expert by any means but spend a lot of time behind glass in Aug-Sept. in the mountains of Alaska. For my Feb. birthday I bought a new scope. After setting up a Zeiss, a Swarvo, and a Kowa side by side I bought the Kowa. The TSN 663. Was impressed with what I 'saw' but the lighter weight of the Kowa is what won me over. Can't wait for the weather to improve some and get out to use it. Woke to 10" of snow this morning!
 
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