Swarovski Optik is well-known for high quality birding optics and their High Definition (HD) spotting scopes are at the top of the list for most birders. Our scope of choice is the STS 80 HD version with the Swarovski 20-60x zoom eyepiece.
As far as image quality goes, the HD is jaw-dropping. Even zoomed in all the way, the bird stays mostly in focus, especially on a great tripod. Colors are bright and true, more so between 20 and 40x. The zoom eyepiece is smooth and we prefer it over fixed eyepieces only because it is nice to scan at 20 and then go in a bit further to nail down defining details.
Swarovski provides some extra luxury to their scopes such as attaching the lens cap to the eyepiece (making it nearly impossible to lose). Also, the focus wheel is huge and easy to use, yet blends in nicely with the fine lines of the scope’s body. The durable construction provides piece-of-mind if the scope does take a hit, say from a Doberman plowing into your tripod. However, the scope weighs a comfortable 4.2 lbs (with balance rail, eyepiece, and digital camera adapter attached).
Straight vs. Angled – Choosing between an angled or a straight-barreled spotting scope is greatly a matter of preference. Angled is often better when leading birding outings because more people can use the scope without raising or lowering the tripod. However, we elected to get the straight for one simple reason: it works better for digiscoping.
The straight scope provides an easier time finding a bird with the camera attached. Plus, the camera slides on and off the scope much easier than with the angled scope.
Swarovski doesn’t make a “low-end” version of their spotting scopes (other than the non-HD, smaller diameter ones which are also of the highest quality) so expect to plunk down a lot of money for this superb bird-finding tool. You could buy a lesser scope but have you ever heard of an unhappy Swarovski owner? No.