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Review of Optics

New Entry among Top Birding

Scopes: THE NIKON FIELDSCOPE

ED 82 A

In early spring of 2003 Nikon finally announced a new large scope to replace the Fieldscope ED 78, which took part in our grand telescope test in issue 1/2002. Improvements over the older model are a bigger 82mm objective, new multi-coating now applied to all air-to-glass surfaces, a retractable sunshade and, most importantly, water- and fog-proof construction with a nitrogen-filled interior. Nikon has evidently had some trouble getting production going, since the first shipment intended for sale arrived in November. Since the older model had fared well in our test, it was obvious the newcomer would have to be tested against the best scopes on the market today, the Zeiss Diascope 85 and Swarovski ATS 80 HD.

Unit-to-unit quality variations influence Nikon just like any other brand, and that’s why I screened the first batch of scopes, choosing the one with the best image for the test. I tested it with resolution targets against the older Fieldscope (which has served as my reference in earlier telescope tests as well), and in the field against the Swarovski ATS 80 HD we had in the 4/2002 test. However, I had to return the Nikon to the dealer before I had a chance to test it against the Zeiss. Thus the comparison with Zeiss was done with a different sample, which on the basis of resolution tests was not quite as good as the first. In all the field tests, the weather conditions were favourable. It was as sunny as it can be in Finland in November, with hardly any heat haze in the air. I also conducted flare and backlight tests in bright sunlight when the sun was very low. The scopes were tested only with zooms, and my comments on the wide-angles are based on my previous experience using them in the Fieldscope ED 78 A and ED III A.

Technical properties and usability

The Fieldscope ED 82 A follows the lead of Zeiss and Swarovski in being the same telescope as its little brother, the ED III A, save for its bigger objective. Thus, Nikon's large scope is finally fully waterproof, nitrogen filled and equipped with a retractable sunshade. The eyepieces are also shared with the smaller scope. As with Zeiss, and unlike the Swarovski ATS series, the eyepieces provide different magnifications in the 82 and the 60mm models. In Nikon's case, however, the normal range of magnifications, 20-60x, comes with the 60 mm scope, while the larger one gives a range of 25-75x. As with the other two makes, the larger objective takes care of the balance problem, and with a zoom the ED 82 balances well. The scope is comparatively short, but it weighs a bit more than the Zeiss or Swarovski. The body is magnesium alloy with rubber armouring on the sunshade, focus ring and back of the prism housing. Focusing is done with a wide ring just like with the Swarovski, with another similarity being the somewhat stiff action of the ring. This type of focus can easily be used with gloves on, but the Zeiss with its focus knob can be focused with less shake. Nikon's focus is considerably faster than Swarovski's. I am used to such a focus, but some users might find precise focusing with it difficult. The eyepiece does not protrude as high as in the Zeiss or Swarovski, but since it is offset to the right, aiming from the viewing position along the objective barrel is somewhat more difficult with the Nikon. It is therefore worthwhile adding a "cable-tie sight" to the Nikon, which improves aiming significantly. The press-on eyepiece cover is a bit loose and ought to be tethered to the eyepiece to prevent accidental loss. The press-on objective cover, made of semi-hard plastic, is unlikely to break in use, but since it is also too loose it is sure to get lost unless it is also tethered somehow. Nikon uses threading instead of a bayonet for their eyepieces, but this does not make them significantly slower to exchange. There is no safety latch, but the zoom action is light enough and there is enough threading so that the eyepiece will not drop off while zooming. The zoom ring of the new MC II zoom is very narrow making zooming less pleasant than with the old zoom. The rubber-covered twist-out eyecup is not as sturdy as those of Swarovski and Zeiss. The zoom's eye-relief is rather short, but in the available 30x, 38x, 50x and 75x wide-angles the eye-relief is sufficiently long for spectacle use. The fields of view of the Nikon’s zoom lens is modest in comparison with its main rivals, and the small diameter of the eye-piece lens combined with rather short eye-relief make for an indifferent viewing experience. Nikon's guarantee is 10 years. There is a good view-through case available as an accessory, which comes with a small case for two extra eyepieces. Also available is a proprietary digiscoping attachment kit for Coolpix cameras. With the attachment, the ED 82 A is very well suited for digiscoping, but the smallest available magnifications are 25x with the zoom and 30x with a wide-angle. With other scopes, digiscopers often prefer to use 20x magnification.

Optical performance

I compared the Fieldscope with the same units of Swarovski ATS 80 HD and Zeiss Diascope FL 85 we had in our previous test. The resolution of the new Nikon, tested both with test targets and in the field, was equal to the Zeiss and slightly better than the Swarovski. Since the Nikon is also capable of reaching higher magnifications, it can, under favourable conditions, resolve smaller detail than the other two. Contrast in the Nikon is better than in the Swarovski, which means that it is better than in any scope I have tested. Also, various hues of black and subtle shadings of grey were better differentiated in the Nikon. In brightness, the Nikon was close to the Zeiss at comparable magnifications, and brighter than the Swarovski. Compared to the older Fieldscope ED 78, the newer scope is brighter by more than one would expect given the rather modest aperture increase. I did twilight tests comparing the new ED 82 to the old ED 78. Again, the new model's performance was markedly better. As for colour balance, the Fieldscope like many other Nikons has a slight sunset-reddish bias, which is most noticeable in white surfaces but is never particularly prominent. Colours are very vivid and are clearly distinguished even at the highest magnifications. I saw the colour and hues of the head of a winter-plumage Smew swimming in the shade against reeds about a kilometre away more easily and vividly with the Nikon than with the Swarovski, and there was no need to reduce the magnification down from 75x. With respect to flare and backlight properties the Nikon is also top-class, on a par with the ATS 80 HD and better than the Zeiss. I was even able to make out detail in a shoreline wedged between a low-lying sun and its dazzlingly bright reflection in the water. In general ease of viewing, the ED 82 A is not quite on the level of Zeiss and Swarovski, since eye placement with the small eyepiece lens of the zoom is more critical. Focusing was easy, however, and there was no question about where the best focus was. Image quality near the edge of the field is improved in the new MC II zoom, but unfortunately what remains from the older construction is the narrow field of view. Since the zoom's range starts at 25x instead of 20x, the real field of view offered by the Nikon zoom is significantly narrower than that of its rivals (1.6°–0.77° whereas the widest-field zoom, Zeiss 20-60x, gives 2.47°–1.19°). I would like to see Nikon eventually learn something from the zoom eyepieces of the European makes, since the narrow, tubelike image and short eye-relief of the former are unnecessarily Spartan compared to the spacious luxury offered by the Swarovski, Leica or Zeiss zooms. By contrast, Nikon's wide-angles are fully comparable to those of Swarovski and Zeiss. They are easy to use and provide a magnificent image. The 50x and 75x wide-angles are sharp practically to the edge. The edge quality of the 38x and 30x wide-angles is not as good as that of the Swarovski 30x wide-angle, but they are also sharp, easy to view and their brightness and contrast is top notch.

Conclusions

The Fieldscope ED 82 A is a marked improvement over its predecessor. In usability and field-worthiness, it has now caught up with its rivals and its optical performance is top-class all around. However, the Nikon differs sufficiently from both the Zeiss Diascope 85 FL and the Swarovski ATS 80 HD so that birders contemplating the purchase of a top-performance scope must decide which compromise – wider fields of view or higher magnifications – is better for their own needs. Once you know what you want, any one of these three could certainly be the right choice.

Specifications:

Length (measured with zoom eyepiece)

c. 39 cm

Weight - " -

c. 1.800 g

Closest focusing distance

c. 4 m

Eyepiece fields of view:

25 - 75x MC II zoom

1.6-0.77°

30x wide MC

2.4°

38x wide MC

1.9°

50x wide MC

1.4°

75x wide MC

1.0°


 

Kimmo Absetz