"Wow, that's bright!"

Those are the first words of most people who look through the Pentax PF-80ED scope.

I spent my first 15 years of birding without a scope and 15 years more with an inexpensive Bushnell Spacemaster 60 mm. I must admit it's gratifying to own a scope with a "wow factor." But I didn't buy the scope to impress others--I bought it to see more birds and see them better. And, boy, do I.

Turn up the zoom lens from 20x magnification to 60x, and the image is equally impressive. There is some loss of brightness, of course, but most other scopes would be turning that murky greenish-gray we've come to expect from extreme magnification. Not here, colors remain pure and the image sharp.

When it first came out, Stephen Ingraham of Better View Desired (now out of business) declared it a Reference Standard in birding scopes. In other words, the best birding scope. He said, "Optically, the new Pentax scope, with its fixed power eyepieces, is noticeably superior to any other scope currently on the market... and it has a notably brighter, more contrasty image with more intense colors and sharper color separation." As for the zoom lens, "it provides an amazingly bright, amazingly sharp, amazingly detailed view from 20 to 60 power: the best overall performance I have seen so far in any spotting scope with a zoom eyepiece." Then he went on to praise its optics further, "It is like walking right up to the bird and looking at it through the highest quality magnifying glass you have ever seen. And did I say the image was bright?"

Soon thereafter, however, new 65 mm scopes came on the market and Ingraham changed his mind, declaring the Swarovski ATS 65HD the best scope for birding, due to its good optics and lighter weight and smaller size. Then he went on to say that the 80 mm scopes were really more scope than a birder needs. He admitted that the Pentax had superior optics to the Swarovski. And he still considers the Pentax to be the Reference Standard for 70-80 mm scopes.

I think Ingraham made a mistake. Sure, the larger 80 mm scope is bigger and heavier than my old 60 mm Spacemaster. It took a couple of birding trips before I stopped treating it like a newborn baby and propped it over my shoulder to carry just like any other scope. It is not so heavy that it is an additional burden. It's a scope like any other in that regard. And the superior optics are worth it for me in sea watches and general birding in the gray skies of Oregon's winter (spring and fall, too, for that matter).

Because of the huge eyepiece they are ideally suited to digiscoping. The added brightness, sharpness, and color fidelity would make them a top choice for any digiscoping setup.

And the price of the Pentax is almost half that of the Swarovski.

The Pentax is $864.95 at Adorama with 20-60x zoom eyepiece.

The Swarovski is $1569.05 at Adorama with 20-60x zoom eyepiece.

Hey, that savings leaves you with enough cash to buy the top-of-the-line Nikon CoolPix 4500 digital camera for digiscoping!

Greg Gillson
February 26, 2003