Kowa TSN-88A Prominar Spotting Scope Review
Review Date – January 2024
Price as reviewed – Our price £2898 scope and eyepiece kit (RRP – £3139)
- Value for money…yes really!
- Compact and Lightweight for an 88mm objective scope
- Best in class image quality and brightness for the price
- Beautiful focusing system
- Painted metal body prone to marking easily
Kowa Optics has built its reputation on offering the finest Japanese optics on the market. Their spotting scopes have been on the market since 1964 when they were first used for the Tokyo Olympic shooting event in that year. Ever since they have led the way for optical quality.
Released in 2023, the 88A is the successor the hugely popular TSN-883. Now featuring a lighter weight body but, more importantly, an improvement in the wonderful optics which promises improved performance at higher magnifications.
The Kowa TSN-88A faces a stern test with tough competition from the likes of Swarovski and Zeiss. Lets see how it faces up against its European counterparts.
The Kowa TSN-88A spotting scope carries a similar design to its predecessor, the TSN-883. A new black rubberised section near the eyepiece is all that separates them. It is a classic design which is instantly recognisable as a Kowa to those in the know.
The build quality is generally excellent as you would expect for this price point. Its hard to separate the TSN-88A from its rivals when it comes to build quality as at the prices being charged nothing but the best will do.
However, What really stands out is just how compact and lightweight the TSN-88A is. You can see in our table below that the Kowa leads the way for length and weight, making it a surprisingly good option as a travel scope.
The focusing system on the TSN-88A is another highlight. Superbly weighted and damped it makes it easy to find the right magnification throughout the zoom range of 25-60x magnification. The twist up/down eyecup works well too giving a good eye relief at all magnifications.
The zoom function on the eyepiece is also expertly damped and gives a real feel of quality. The dual coarse/fine system making it easy to get the scope into focus throughout the zoom range. The fine focus is particularly excellent at higher magnifications.
Our only gripe with the design of the TSN-88A is with the painted metal body. While very elegant, and also a reason for the lower weight, compared to the rubber armouring of other high end scopes it does mark easily.
Now we get to the really important part. Lets first of all get the negatives out of the way. The minimum focus distance and field of view at lower magnifications is not as good as the Zeiss Harpia 85mm. Birders who spend a lot of time scanning large areas such as seawatching or estuaries may notice, and prefer, the Zeiss for the wider field of view, however for most other birders its going to be fairly inconsequential when you remember that the pros of the TSN-88A vastly outweigh this slight drawback. The Zeiss does also have a lower minimum focus than the Kowa and Swarovski as well at just 22x, which could also be useful for the above scenarios.
Now the positives, and where do we begin? As we were discussing field of view lets stick with it. While not massively different the field of view at 60x is wider than the Zeiss Harpia is at its maximum 65x and the Swarovski ATX 85mm is at its maximum 60x. While you would expect this small victory over the Zeiss due to its higher magnification it is interesting that the Kowa manages to achieve a wider field of view than the Swarovski right through the zoom range.
As for the rest of the optical performance, well the Kowa simply destroys the other two. The TSN-883 was already a wonderful scope, more than a match for the Harpia 85 and the ATX 85. However, now that Kowa has reworked the glass in the TSN-88A it is simply no contest. In good light and at low magnifications this improvement is less noticeable, however crank the zoom up and suddenly you notice the real differences.
Gone is any form of light drop off. Gone is any reduction in sharpness right across the field of view. Colours and contrast retain a really pleasing natural look to them in all lights no matter what magnification you are using. Even at 60x magnification everything remains sharp, bright, contrasty, and accurate. This was the slight weak point of the tsn-883 and it is now completely removed. Compared to the Zeiss and Swarovski, which are impressive by anyone’s standards, the TSN-88A simply cannot be competed with when using these scopes in challenging conditions at long distance.
So, the Kowa TSN-88A. It seems crazy to say that a spotting scope costing close to £3000 can be good value but in this case it truly is. Undercutting its major competition by at least £300 means that it can only be described as good value .
Yes it has some small negatives as we mentioned above. However, if you are looking for that lifetime spotting scope which will go with you on your birding adventures anywhere in the world then this is the scope for you. We admit the weight and size savings over its competitors are not massive but it all helps.
Then you have the optics. We have never before looked through 85mm category spotting scope, cranked up the magnification and retained that wow factor. Yes the (much) bigger brother of this scope, the Kowa TSN-99A, has this quality but that is to be expected due to its higher price and bigger objective. Likewise the Zeiss Harpia 95 and Swarovski ATX 95 are impressive beasts but the size, weight, and price of these takes them out of this comparison.
For us there is simply no other spotting scope at a similar price, weight, and size which can hold a candle to the Kowa TSN-88A. The TSN-883 may have got us talking, but the TSN-88A has just ended the conversation. It is simply the finest spotting scope in its class, in the world.
We hope you’ve found this review useful, if you’d like to find out more or purchase this scope you can do so by clicking the arrow below, contacting us, or by popping into our Norfolk shop.
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