Over the past couple months I've been researching today's top-of-the-line spotting scopes, in search of the one that fits my needs the best. I narrowed my choices down to the latest Kowa and Swarovski (Leica out of the question only because of it's ridiculous price tag of $4k).
Thanks to Jim Zipp of The Fat Robin in Hamden, CT I was able to compare these two heavyweights side-by-side under various conditions. Overall, the Kowa wins in nearly all categories except field of view, thanks to Swarovski's fantastic 25-50x Wide Angle zoom eyepiece. This extra FOV may actually make the Swarovski the better digiscoping option, though the Kowa's brighter image is also an advantage.
In low light, the Kowa's extra light-gathering ability is apparent in the bright image. Also, while studying distant shorebirds at Sandy Pt, the extra 50-60x power of the Kowa zoom eyepiece was an absolute necessity. Long gone are the days when the image at 60x is dark and borderline useless! Another nice feature of the Kowa is it's dual-focusing knob...I found myself bringing birds into focus much more quickly with the Kowa knob than the Swarovski single barrel focusing wheel.
I think those are the most important points, so I'll keep it brief. In short, both are excellent scopes but I think the Kowa 883 is a bit better and comes at a slightly cheaper price too. Perhaps most importantly, when field testing the two scopes, the Kowa felt more natural in my hands and by the end of the testing it was the one I just felt better about!
The scope produces a stunning image and I'm really looking forward to mid-summer shorebirding with my new toy!
The next step is to figure out a cheap digiscoping setup. I currently use the Canon A590, so I'll see if I can devise a homemade adapter to help with that. I'd rather not spend the extra bucks on a new camera and adapter, but I am really tempted by the capabilities of this scope. Maybe someday soon I will take real stab at digiscoping, rather than settling for record shots from hand-holding.