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Spotters Kowa Prominar vs Vortex Razor... Have we done this?

LuckyDuck

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  • Nov 4, 2020
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    I'm not having much luck with the search function but as the title suggests... Kowa Prominar vs Vortex Razor of equivalent objective lens- has the Hide argued this?

    -LD
     
    I have both...

    Kowa TSN88 and the Votrex Razor 85 Sorry its no comparison...the Kowa is in a completely different league to the Vortex!!!
    what if he’s talking about kowa genisis prominar vs razor UHD binos….? Different story imo


    …but I do agree…if it’s the spotters…it’s no contest the kowa for sure.
     
    My apologies for any confusion, I thought I put the 'spotter' tag in the post but I see now I failed to do so and couldn't figure out how to edit the post to add that. But, yes I'm asking in regards to spotting scopes, particularly have been eyeing up either the TSN-66 Prominar and was curious that stacks up to the 65mm Razor (or how the TSN-883 stacks up to the 85mm razor). Truth be told, I wasn't familiar with the Kowa brand up until a few months ago but ran across them being highly recommended/discussed on high power forums which led me to start researching them and finding many independent reviews that place them in the 'alpha' glass category.

    I supposed it'd be too subjective to ask for image quality differences between the Kowa & Vortex but thought I'd take a stab by asking since there didn't seem to be many comparisons that I could locate on other forums (maybe that's a hint in and of itself). I'd be at least several months out before looking to upgrade from my Razors but was just curious what to look for/be aware of as far as differences if I get a chance to place them side by side.

    -LD

     
    I have been using the TSN 663 for over 10 years shooting Highpower. Kowa is the favored company in Highpower, not just because of glass and image quality, but because of the eyepiece feature. The LER (Long Eye Relief) 25/27X eyepiece allows you to shoot in position and still be able to easily glance through the scope at the same time. No need to break position befind the gun to check the target or wind/mirage.

    Birdwatchers, a somewhat finicky/odd bunch, choose high-end optics and love to argue merits of each one. Kowa is at the top of their list too. Their view of Vortex Razor is that the scope is slightly a step below Kowa, but still very good.

    Biggest downside to Kowa is the lack of an eyepice reticle option.
     
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    I have had them all (including the Big 3 Euro Models) and the Kowa stands above them all. They simply have the formula dialed for spotters. Some people don't like the fact that they don't have the protective rubber armour, I could care less. I just wrapped mine with some cheap camo stretchy wrap and it works great.
     
    OP,

    Having dabbled in F-Class for a while, I was able to peep through numerous spotters by just asking for permission. I sold my old Leupold spotter after picking up a Kowa Prominar 883. I still look through different glass when possible. The only thing that would get me away from my 883 is trying the Kowa Prominar 99 and seeing a substantial increase in performance.

    YMMV,
    Keith
     
    TSN88A with Kowa protective cover..
     

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    I have both the TSN-883 and the Vortex 85mm. The Kowa outshines the Vortex. It's an amazing spotter.

    I would say that the Vortex "feels" like it might be more rugged. (for whatever that is worth).
     
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    I have the razor HD it's fine although they've shifted to china for their razors which pisses me off a lot. Sportsmans had them on sale for 769 with a stand and a 100$ gift card. It's better than my older Kowa but not by a lot, compared to a friend's swarovski it's not as good but not by a lot. The reason a lot of people get the kowa is the long eye relief eyepiece it's just really really nice to get behind.

    Also the razor has fine eye relief, no problem with sunglasses at 25x-30x, my older leupold and burris spotters you have to shove your eyeball against it.
     
    I have the razor HD it's fine although they've shifted to china for their razors which pisses me off a lot. Sportsmans had them on sale for 769 with a stand and a 100$ gift card. It's better than my older Kowa but not by a lot, compared to a friend's swarovski it's not as good but not by a lot. The reason a lot of people get the kowa is the long eye relief eyepiece it's just really really nice to get behind.

    Also the razor has fine eye relief, no problem with sunglasses at 25x-30x, my older leupold and burris spotters you have to shove your eyeball against it.
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    Well Sir- you certainly put me down a rabbit hole tonight based off of your comment (I can't seem to locate the LER eyepiece just yet but I know that I placed it somewhere where I wouldn't lose it which for some reason is away from the rest of the boxes...) but your 'made in China' comment made me pull everything out that I could find tonight (instead of going to bed as I planned to)... Apologies for the 'spaghetti' pictures but hopefully it can still add at least some value to the discussion...
     
    The proverbial "Part II" to that post is- I examined both the bodies & eyepieces and couldn't locate anything that would suggest the country of origin on the product(s) by themselves in either case but the closest I came to was the barcode on the boxes (one of which was admittedly obscured by a sticker but I included that in the photo "lineup" to keep myself honest). I could have sworn that I saw the Razor line as being advertised as being at least assembled in the US using Japanese glass when I purchased both last year but when I referenced their website tonight, only the 27-60x85 is advertised as being made in the USA from their website's Q&A and now I can't seem to find the same validation for either their 22-48x65 spotting scope or the MRAD/LER Eyepiece(s). I'm sure it's likely more-so due to my memory spacing out than I'm trying to suggest that any 'fuckery is afoot' but as I mentioned, I went down quite the rabbit hole trying to right that ship.

    With that all said- and I don't mean for this to come across as a challenge by any means and apologize for my apparent ignorance but if you have any supporting documentation about the Vortex Razor's being of Chinese origin, I'd sincerely appreciate if you could share that. I do try to make an effort to divert the dollars from my purchases elsewhere when I can but without getting political, I will say that from my experience I do still think the Vortex Razor line is an excellent product but if they are in fact of Chinese manufacture- I'd be inclined at least to divert my attention away from picking up the 13-39x56 model for experimentation/grins and go back to eyeing up the Kowa's a bit harder.

    Hope that all makes sense and appreciate your feedback,

    -LD
     
    I have been using the TSN 663 for over 10 years shooting Highpower. Kowa is the favored company in Highpower, not just because of glass and image quality, but because of the eyepiece feature. The LER (Long Eye Relief) 25/27X eyepiece allows you to shoot in position and still be able to easily glance through the scope at the same time. No need to break position befind the gun to check the target or wind/mirage.

    Birdwatchers, a somewhat finicky/odd bunch, choose high-end optics and love to argue merits of each one. Kowa is at the top of their list too. Their view of Vortex Razor is that the scope is slightly a step below Kowa, but still very good.

    Biggest downside to Kowa is the lack of an eyepice reticle option.
    I'm always learning (or at least try to be)- I see now that it should be written it as "Highpower" rather than a previous post I made calling it "High Power" but would humbly offer as an excuse that spellcheck did me wrong. It sounds like you have a good handle on what put me along this path at least.

    As I mentioned, I'd been ignorant of the Kowa brand up until the past year but after researching them for several months now they seem to hit that "Alpha Glass" category but the praise also seems mainly concentrated from the Highpower shooters but I will add that everything you said about the LER and (I think it's the NRA and not necessarily as much with the CMP rules) that requires safety glasses being worn while on the firing line and even have a handy-dandy illustration in their rulebook of what that means which provides some minor comedic value to me at least.

    All that to say- what I've been reading is the Kowa high-end spotters are all that and "a bag of chips" optically with the Euro glass we'd all think of as being 'top dog' but as you mentioned, the eye relief is what clenches the preference amongst the Highpower shooters from what I'm seeing. So here I get to my actual question component- now that Vortex offers an LER eyepiece, It looks like the advertised differences is between 31mm and 32mm at the expense of about a minor amount of magnification that Kowa still holds the edge on. The eye relief doesn't strike me as all that significant but in your experience does the increase in magnification justify the (somewhat significant) added expense (whether it be to read target markers or mirage)? Have you noticed a shift in Highpower matches with regards to spotting scope preferences like PRS has had with shifting from spotters to binos? What I've been reading, and thus where the question is coming from, is with electronic scoring Highpower competitors are getting instant feedback and as of 2024 are using their spotting scopes to read mirage because they paid good money for the glass to do so but haven't used it to see impacts for quite some time.

    I really do have to apologize for bombarding you with all these questions but if you'll allow me- I only have one more floating around in my head. It seems that a lot of Highpower shooters use a vertical shaft with a tripod base as opposed to PRS shooters that use traditional tripods- it seems like a lot of the previously recommended Highpower models have since had their manufactures throw in the towel/close their doors so I'm left with looking at Creedmoor's PoleCat V2 scope stand... am I interpreting the data correctly that by opting for the 1" I'll essentially be acquiring a more stable/heavier product and platform than their 3/4" model? If so, have you noticed any limitation (either due to optic size and/or weight) that I should be aware of... just to keep things somewhat even, say only compared to the KOWA objective size offerings)? I saw that Creedmor offers weights to attach to the base while PRS typically seems to stick with the traditional tripod design and add weight to the hook directly underneath the mounting head for the same reasons. I'd think the added weight being closer to the center of gravity would be more effective but would love to hear if you had any personal or know of anyone else's experience with the Highpower Tripod mount design.

    Apologies again for all of the questions.

    -LD
     
    OP,

    Having dabbled in F-Class for a while, I was able to peep through numerous spotters by just asking for permission. I sold my old Leupold spotter after picking up a Kowa Prominar 883. I still look through different glass when possible. The only thing that would get me away from my 883 is trying the Kowa Prominar 99 and seeing a substantial increase in performance.

    YMMV,
    Keith
    I appreciate the input Keith,

    I reckon that's the root of my uncertainty- not having the opportunity to look through other options to understand what I'm missing out on but also not looking to drop 10's of thousands of dollars buying all the different options that are recommended just to make myself smarter. Certainly good feedback though.

    -LD
     
    I have had them all (including the Big 3 Euro Models) and the Kowa stands above them all. They simply have the formula dialed for spotters. Some people don't like the fact that they don't have the protective rubber armour, I could care less. I just wrapped mine with some cheap camo stretchy wrap and it works great.
    Would you mind me asking how much you appreciate/use the dual focus that the Kowa offers (aside from glass quality)? I've been pretty happy with being able to 'dial in' with the Razor but admittedly don't know what I might be missing with that option.

    -LD
     
    I appreciate the input Keith,

    I reckon that's the root of my uncertainty- not having the opportunity to look through other options to understand what I'm missing out on but also not looking to drop 10's of thousands of dollars buying all the different options that are recommended just to make myself smarter. Certainly good feedback though.

    -LD

    LD,

    Find & then go to a High Power competition. There will be plenty of opportunities to look through spotters while only being out travel costs. Another benefit, among many others, is that you'll normally meet some good folks.

    I use the dual-focus pretty much every time that I use the spotter.

    In my experience, the LER eyepiece is overhyped. I bought one, used it for one match and sold it. The 20-60x eyepiece worked well for me when shooting matches and is much more versatile overall.

    Keith
     
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    Id love to get the kowa highlander binos someday. Kowa is top notch stuff
     
    Well Sir- you certainly put me down a rabbit hole tonight based off of your comment (I can't seem to locate the LER eyepiece just yet but I know that I placed it somewhere where I wouldn't lose it which for some reason is away from the rest of the boxes...) but your 'made in China' comment made me pull everything out that I could find tonight (instead of going to bed as I planned to)... Apologies for the 'spaghetti' pictures but hopefully it can still add at least some value to the discussion...

    Mine says "Made in China" on the bottom of it and it's definitely a Razor lol.

    This is what I have:

     
    Highpower shooters use a vertical shaft with a tripod base as opposed to PRS shooters that use traditional tripods.....
    Creedmoor's PoleCat V2 scope stand... am I interpreting the data correctly that by opting for the 1" I'll essentially be acquiring a more stable/heavier product and platform than their 3/4" model?
    You will never see a High Power (that is the proper spelling, I was using "shorthand") "Across The Course" stand at PRS matches due to their slow set-up, but I do see some PRS "style" tripods that lay legs flat at XTC matches. The general concensus on the Polecat is that it is a bit "wobbly" in the standing height. The 1" is a lot more stable. Yes, many shops stopped making stands due to the shrinking numbers of High Power shooters. But there are still a few in addition to Creedmoor, such as Freeland and Ray-Vin classic tripods. Ray-Vin is now made by HicTec. They have some cool short tripods for F-class or bench use:

    In all honesty, the High Power stand is not practical anywhere outside of High Power. Even the best 1" pole by Ray-Vin has some wobble or tremors when used standing and scoring practical matches. Binoculars are much better than staring through a single eyepiece. If you are scoring on a practical event with several targets, trying to move a scope around and find them is more difficult. As to the benefit of a 20-60X vs the 25X LER, the higher magnification is hardly used. It does have some practicality such as spotting for a smaller target like 1MOA steel at longer distance.

    As for E-targets eliminating the need for scopes, that is somewhat correct. However, we still like to read mirage to indicate wind 100-200 yards in front of the target. That is where the difference between a Kowa and a cheaper scope is most obvious.

    Perfect excuse for a "hey look at my gun" pic:
    WSFSqxK.jpg
     
    Mine says "Made in China" on the bottom of it and it's definitely a Razor lol.

    This is what I have:


    Some info on the various iterations of the Vortex Razor spotting scopes. Went through this a couple of years ago with the Razor spotting scopes. The ones made in China are the Gen 1, 20-60 x 85 and can be had for around $1k (wait for a sale). Gen 1's have a two tone color scheme and suppose to be optically the same as the Gen 2 (can't confirm or deny). Gen 2 Razors are 27-60 x 85, made in either Japan/and or assembled in the Philippines (not exactly sure how that works, but think they have jap glass). They can be had for around $1700 (amazon has them now for $1534 (Amaz Vortex Razor). They are a solid green color.

    Milling reticles can be had for the Gen 2's for around $300.00 (MOA) to $400 (mil). Milling reticles can also be had for the Gen 1 Razors, but are made by Burris.

    My set up is as follows: Gen 1 Razor (on sale at Sportsman for $799) with Burris 30x milling reticle (Burris reticle). Half way decent spotting scope with a milling reticle for roughly $1100. That was back in 2022. Does everything I need it to out to 1.5k yards plus - mirage is more often than not the limiting factor.

    Sorry, didn't mean to hijack the thread - I have never looked through a Kowa so have no basis for comparison.
     
    Would you mind me asking how much you appreciate/use the dual focus that the Kowa offers (aside from glass quality)? I've been pretty happy with being able to 'dial in' with the Razor but admittedly don't know what I might be missing with that option.
    I pretty much only use the small focus knob. The large focus knob for me is if the spotter gets out of focus riding in my backpack. I digiscope quite a bit as well and it works great in that capacity also.
     
    The Kowa Prominar features lenses made from pure fluorite crystal. This type of glass virtually eliminates all chromatic aberration and makes for superb color definition and contrast. I also contend that the use of this type of glass produces an image that is more resistant to distortion from mirage while at the same time showing the mirage more clearly and better than other types of glass. I can detect mirage earlier and better with my Kowa 883 than any other spotter I've looked through.

    I also do a lot of digiscoping and the Kowa had all the adapters needed to connect my DSLR to it.

    Finally, I used to use the LER (Long Eye Relief) eyepiece, but when Kowa released their latest XW eyepiece, the LER was replaced in a hurry by this new eyepiece.

    When I shot XTC matches, I had the pole tripods and they were never very stable and a pain to use. Last time was 17 years ago. F-class ever since, and I have a Manfrotto tripod that collapses to the ground. But since we don't need to score with a spotter anymore, I have an Edelkrone on which I mount the 883 and it folds into a small unit that fits in the case. When I go to matches that do not have etargets, I use my old CF Manfrotto Tripod. I can switch my Kowa 883 between the Edelkrone and the Manfrotto in 2 seconds.

    My Kowa 883 wears the fitted neoprene cover over the magnesium body.
     
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    Having seen a few spotters here and there....

    As far as pure image quality with spotters goes, I think Kowa Prominar is the best we currently have. 88mm is fantastic. 99mm is unbelievable. If Kowa made an eyepiece with a reticle, I would be running one of these. I think Swaro's binocular eyepiece gives it an edge for prolonged observation, but in terms of pure image, to me, Kowa has an edge.

    Between Kowa Prominar and Vortex Razor spotters, for the large models (88mm vs 85mm), Kowa is a better image. Kowa is also a more expensive spotter, so whether this image quality difference is worth the price difference for you is a personal choice.

    On long eye relief eyepiece: Vortex does make one that is 22x on the 85mm model and 17x on the 65mm model. I tested it with a 65mm body and was quite imrpessed with it. They have a version of the same long eye relief eyepiece with a reticle (85 model only). It works quite nicely, but then again, I tend to not run spotter magnification super high, so 22x worked fine for me.

    As far as where Razor spotters are made, that changed a couple of times. They started out in Japan with the Gen1 spotter. As their volumes went up, production of Gen1 spotters moved to China. I think that was right around the time they introduced the first gen 50mm spotter. When they went to Gen2 (helical focuser version), the spotter ended up with US assembly primarily out of Japanese glass and US made parts.

    Gen1 Burris Signature HD spotter is essentially what Gen 1 Razor used to be, which is why their eyepiece fits. I think Vortex also used to offer that eyepiece with their Gen1 spotter. I vaguely remember testing it. Good image quality, though eyerelief was a little on the short side.

    This SHOT show Burris showed a Gen2 of their spotter that also went to a helical focuser. I think the Gen1 eyepiece is compatible with the new body.
     
    Having seen a few spotters here and there....

    As far as pure image quality with spotters goes, I think Kowa Prominar is the best we currently have. 88mm is fantastic. 99mm is unbelievable. If Kowa made an eyepiece with a reticle, I would be running one of these. I think Swaro's binocular eyepiece gives it an edge for prolonged observation, but in terms of pure image, to me, Kowa has an edge.

    Between Kowa Prominar and Vortex Razor spotters, for the large models (88mm vs 85mm), Kowa is a better image. Kowa is also a more expensive spotter, so whether this image quality difference is worth the price difference for you is a personal choice.

    On long eye relief eyepiece: Vortex does make one that is 22x on the 85mm model and 17x on the 65mm model. I tested it with a 65mm body and was quite imrpessed with it. They have a version of the same long eye relief eyepiece with a reticle (85 model only). It works quite nicely, but then again, I tend to not run spotter magnification super high, so 22x worked fine for me.

    As far as where Razor spotters are made, that changed a couple of times. They started out in Japan with the Gen1 spotter. As their volumes went up, production of Gen1 spotters moved to China. I think that was right around the time they introduced the first gen 50mm spotter. When they went to Gen2 (helical focuser version), the spotter ended up with US assembly primarily out of Japanese glass and US made parts.

    Gen1 Burris Signature HD spotter is essentially what Gen 1 Razor used to be, which is why their eyepiece fits. I think Vortex also used to offer that eyepiece with their Gen1 spotter. I vaguely remember testing it. Good image quality, though eyerelief was a little on the short side.

    This SHOT show Burris showed a Gen2 of their spotter that also went to a helical focuser. I think the Gen1 eyepiece is compatible with the new body.
    Really appreciate you sharing that all with me- that does seem to support everything that I've been able to dig up in my own research but you can't beat personal experience. As a fun story- I was rather amazed last year on how different our eyes work. I was testing out the 85mm spotting scope with Vortex's reticle eyepiece and where one fellow could see the reticle perfectly- I had to screw around rather significantly for it to appear to my eyes, let alone bring it in focus.

    To your point, the latest Burris Signature HD 85mm spotting scope certainly looks sharp based off of the listing found on their website/other retailers but no personal experience with their optics. I have had a lot of success using their signature scope rings though.

    -LD
     
    I currently have the 1st gen Razor. My biggest complaint is the focus. It is so "precise" that if I am looking at something that is moving, if it moves a couple steps away it goes out of focus and I have to adjust. I am constantly having to adjust the focus.
    I have been thinking about the Kowa Prominar, however have no way of looking thru one. Does anyone have any thoughts on the focus and if it constantly needs adjustment? Or is my old eyes?

    Bill
     
    I currently have the 1st gen Razor. My biggest complaint is the focus. It is so "precise" that if I am looking at something that is moving, if it moves a couple steps away it goes out of focus and I have to adjust. I am constantly having to adjust the focus.
    I have been thinking about the Kowa Prominar, however have no way of looking thru one. Does anyone have any thoughts on the focus and if it constantly needs adjustment? Or is my old eyes?

    Bill
    That's a depth of field issue. What model is the Razor and how far away are you from the object you're observing?
     
    You will never see a High Power (that is the proper spelling, I was using "shorthand") "Across The Course" stand at PRS matches due to their slow set-up, but I do see some PRS "style" tripods that lay legs flat at XTC matches. The general concensus on the Polecat is that it is a bit "wobbly" in the standing height. The 1" is a lot more stable. Yes, many shops stopped making stands due to the shrinking numbers of High Power shooters. But there are still a few in addition to Creedmoor, such as Freeland and Ray-Vin classic tripods. Ray-Vin is now made by HicTec. They have some cool short tripods for F-class or bench use:

    In all honesty, the High Power stand is not practical anywhere outside of High Power. Even the best 1" pole by Ray-Vin has some wobble or tremors when used standing and scoring practical matches. Binoculars are much better than staring through a single eyepiece. If you are scoring on a practical event with several targets, trying to move a scope around and find them is more difficult. As to the benefit of a 20-60X vs the 25X LER, the higher magnification is hardly used. It does have some practicality such as spotting for a smaller target like 1MOA steel at longer distance.

    As for E-targets eliminating the need for scopes, that is somewhat correct. However, we still like to read mirage to indicate wind 100-200 yards in front of the target. That is where the difference between a Kowa and a cheaper scope is most obvious.

    Perfect excuse for a "hey look at my gun" pic:
    WSFSqxK.jpg

    @smoothy8500 what kind of tripod is that?