SWAROVSKI BTX SPOTTING SCOPE
By John Herbert
Swarovski are on a roll: a few years back they introduced the EL Range Laser Rangefinder binoculars, and their performance, both optically and laser-wise, put them at the top of the tree. Next they introduced the outstanding X5 rifle scope for long range hunters and shooters, and the Z8i with its customisable turrets and 8 times magnification range. This year we have the soon-to-be-released DS laser rangefinder scope, and the subject of this review: the BTX spotting scope. There is a lot of innovation and clever design amongst these products, but the one thing they have in common is superb optics.
Let’s cut to the chase and get the obvious thing out in the open; it’s much easier to look through a binocular than it is to look through a monocular. If you’ve spent time looking through a spotting scope you know it gets tiring, with even the best optics. Human binocular vision allows greater depth-of-field perception, higher levels of contrast, and quicker detection of movement. It also reduces eyestrain and allows your brain to process the image with less effort. All of this sounds good, but the proof is really in the pudding; when you look through a BTX it all becomes clear, if you’ll excuse the pun. I can use all the optical superlatives here, and they will be well deserved, but the end result is a beautifully clear, sharp and bright image with no noticeable optical aberrations.
THE GOOD BITS
The image, as discussed, is outstanding. JP from the New Zealand Ammunition Company set up the BTX on the new PTH mount and we stepped outside the office and looked up into Moonshine Hill, above Upper Hutt. To my surprise I picked up a mob of goats on the hill; the distance on Google maps was approximately 2.3km! The magnification level was 30x and I was able to see the animals very clearly.
JP then fitted the 1.7x magnifier and we looked at the goats again. The image lost a very small amount of its sharpness when using the magnifier, but at 51x magnification the goats were still very clear; I could easily discern billies from nannies, and I could see the horns quite clearly. Testing the BTX later in the day I was looking at a paddock that was about 900m away and I watched two hares frolic as the sun started to drop; I watched them run around until the colours started to fade because of the lack of light. I didn’t realise quite how dark it was until I switched to my binoculars and realised I was even struggling to see the animals in my bottom paddock, 300m away. I was impressed not only with the twilight performance but also how 40 minutes of watching left me with no eyestrain whatsoever.
I can’t emphasize this point enough: when I’m running steel plate shoots I watch for bullet impacts all day long and I often finish the day with a thumping headache. I also miss the odd shot because I have to take my head away as I get a sore neck from holding my eye just off or on the eyepiece.
The eyepieces are similar to those on the EL binoculars and you can adjust them left and right to suit your eye spacing; the right eyepiece has the diopter adjustment and the eyecups can be adjusted up and down to suit. The BTX uses an adjustable padded forehead rest that allows you to maintain perfect eye relief, again making long viewing sessions easy. I thought the forehead rest would allow the transfer of body movements into the scope but in reality the image stays very still; I would go so far as to say it’s a big reason why the BTX is so easy to look through for long periods, and a supported head also helps reduce neck strain.
The BTX has a little aiming reticle off to the side of the eyepieces that while offering no magnification puts you in line with your target – I though it looked a bit gimmicky, but after using it I have to say it’s very handy. For the digiscopers out there the BTX will work just fine with Swarovski’s iPhone adapter, although it won’t allow a camera lens connection like the ATX. That, said the image quality from the iPhone adapter is very good. It would be nice if they made an adapter for Android phones, however; not all of us are Apple enthusiasts.
Swarovski claim there is no reduction in image quality, sharpness, contrast or light transmission using BTX over an ATX, and while I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison the quality of the image leads me to believe they are correct; after all, the light transmission and magnification are still in the objective lens, just like the ATX. The BTX is fully compatible with all Swarovski’s objective modules (65mm, 85mm, 95mm) so if you already have an ATX you can just buy the BTX module separately to upgrade.
The major downside here is the unit’s size and weight. A BTX head is around 600g heavier than an ATX, and because of the BTX design you have no zoom function. The latter is not a big deal for me personally as 30x, or 51x with the 1.7 magnifier, is enough, and as I’ve mentioned before, optical quality is more important than magnification. The weight is a personal thing; some won’t accept more weight, whereas others will say “Hey – I glass a lot and this is a superior system”. The weight does have a hidden cost though, and that is in the mount. The BTX unit adds weight to the back of the scope and it can affect the balance, but I was using an 85mm objective module and it wasn’t too bad. If I had the 65mm then it would be unbalanced towards the rear. Swarovski have addressed this with a new Balance Rail (BR) and Professional Tripod Head (PTH) mount. This system works really well; the scope is very stable and panning and tilting are a breeze. It’s just one of those bits of equipment that you don’t realize how well it works until you try it.
The Swarovski BTX is a real step forward in long range observation. It allows better contrast, depth perception, and quicker recognition, and it reduces eyestrain and neck strain; our brain is wired to work with binocular vision so it makes sense that it’s easier with two eyes open. The weight is the only downside, and for those who travel light then an ATX with the 65mm setup may be the best option. However for those who spend a long time glassing and need top quality optics the BTX has to be one of the best options money can buy. My words probably don’t do justice to how good this unit is – it is absolutely superb, so if you get a chance to try one then do it. You will see the light, so to speak.
SWAROVSKI BTX SPOTTING SCOPE (With 85mm objective unit)
MAGNIFICATION: 30x (51x with 1.7 adapter)
LENS DIAMETER: 85mm
EXIT PUPIL: 2.9mm
FIELD OF VIEW AT 1000M: 37m
DIOPTER CORRECTION: >5
RRP: BTX module $3899, 65mm objective module $1299, 85mm objective module $2299, 95mm objective module $2799, ME 1.7x magnification extender $549, PTH (Professional tripod head) $999, BR (Balance rail) $299.