It goes without saying that I visit quite a number of gun sites and one of the questions I often see is some variation of the “what spotting scope should I buy?“. Sadly, the advice usually given is to buy either a very, very expensive piece of equipment or, “well Costco has a deal on……“. Fact is that neither of these answers really satisfies the prospective purchaser who is looking for a high quality piece of glass at a reasonable price.
I’ve had my Pentax 80ED spotter for about three years now and have recommended it whenever I see people pose a question looking for a very good spotter that won’t break the bank. When using it the other day – in some horrible mirage conditions – I figured it was time to actually write and post a review to show readers that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a very nice piece of equipment that will satisfy most target shooting applications.
How did I settle on my spotter ?
For a number of years I stubbornly refused to spend much money on spotting scopes because I chose to pour my optics budget into good glass for my rifles. When I got to the point where I was mostly satisfied that my rifles were fairly well-glassed, I decided to invest in a decent spotting scope to replace my ‘good value’ spotter that I bought some years previously from….. yes, Costco.
I was not planning on using a new spotter for hunting so size/weight wasn’t an issue but at that time of my purchase I really didn’t use a spotter very often so I gave myself a budget of $1500 to play with. This budget constraint eliminated some brands of spotter but I felt I should be able to get a nice piece of gear for somewhere around the price I set myself.
I chose to make the purchase over a weekend when I was competing in a F-Class match as this gave me a good opportunity to look and compare spotters and if the local store had a good return policy, permit me to ‘buy and try’ some contenders.
In the store I looked at a variety of mid priced scopes and initially chose a Leupold Sequoia. Frankly, after testing in a variety of lighting conditions I didn’t even bother taking this spotter to the range preferring instead to search about the store for a better product….. a Vortex Viper HD
After upgrading to the Vortex I went off to the match. The Vortex was a huge improvement over my old spotter and for a while I felt fully satisfied that I had gotten what I needed at a very reasonable price…….until…… yes, I started to look through some other scopes on the line. While the Vortex was good I felt that it wasn’t quite what I wanted.
Besides the usual brands seen at any match, I noticed a disproportionate number of Pentax spotters on the line mmm…. maybe people knew something I didn’t …. After looking through a few of these Pentax units throughout the day and in changing light and mirage I was impressed. Bullet holes at 300m were viewable and targets at 500m were very clear. Finally, something I could see myself owning and at day’s end my mind was pretty made up but though I had used Eyeball V.1 to assess what I liked, I decided to do at least a bit more research.
I learned that the Pentax 80ED features extra low dispersion (ED) glass elements, a large 80 mm objective lens, and a nitrogen filled (JIS Class 6) waterproof body for – according to Pentax – “the perfect blend of durability and outstanding image quality even under the most demanding conditions”.
The body of the PF-80ED incorporates the American standard 1 1/4-inch – diameter eyepiece receptacle, which accepts not only the Pentax XW eyepieces, but also other telescope manufacturers’ eyepieces on the market. When I made my purchase I was torn between the zoom and fixed eyepiece and went with the zoom which was a tough choice – the image quality is better with fixed but zoom gave me the ability to dial down and, at the time, I put more weight on that feature. Today I would likely have gotten a fixed eyepiece but, either way, make sure that the eyepiece you buy is also waterproof – Pentax ones are.
The zoom eyepiece I purchased features a magnification range of 20-60X, an apparent field of view of 38 to 60 degrees, and an eye relief of 20mm. Eye relief is important – especially if you wear glasses – and more is better. I am OK with the 20mm eye relief but I’d be more OK with 25 or 30mm.
A built-in lens shade cuts down on excessive light and helps to prevent rain and other weather elements from interfering with viewing and an extra wide focusing knob is incorporated for effortless focusing.
I chose to buy the angled body as it suits my needs – shooting from prone – better but others may prefer a straight body depending upon their intended application.
I’ve used my Pentax for about three years and change now and I’ve found it to be excellent. Is it as good as a Kowa spotter ? No, but it cost less than half of what I could have ended up spending and it works really well for my applications – I can see bullet holes easily at 200m and in nice weather out to 300m and beyond. I can see bullet trace and can easily see target markers out well past 500m. For me, I am very happy with my choice and recommend that you consider this spotter when next looking to make a purchase of this pretty important accessory to your shooting hobby.
Prices ( in US$ ) for the Pentax body average $850 and eyepieces average about $350. Mine came as a kit for $1099 which included the zoom eyepiece and a soft case. Even though I live in Canada I bought my spotter from Cameraland NY in the USA and was very pleased with their pricing and service.