Let’s face it: We’d be thrilled to own any of the competitors in this category. They perform exceptionally in low-light conditions and are constructed with top-notch materials. One thing to keep in mind when purchasing one of these beauties: For each model, with the exception of the Maven, the eyepiece is sold separately—so budget accordingly.
The Kowa TSN-883 was our testers’ obvious favorite among these elites; the other four all came in neck-in-neck. Your best bet for finding the best match for you is to get your hands on the optics and try them out, but you really can’t go wrong with any of these models.
Once you’ve drooled over these stars, check out the top picks for the other two categories in our complete Audubon Guide to Scopes.
Price: $2,450 body; $700 Kowa TE-11WZ eyepiece
The takeaway: This model pulled ahead with outstanding marks in nearly every category, including color, sharpness, and brightness, and it earned the highest score for eye relief of all the models tested. Reviewers were wowed by how sharp the image remained throughout the zoom range, and they praised the smooth focus and zoom controls. NOTE: Folks were also impressed with the TSN-773; it has a 77mm objective lens, a price of $1,600 for the body (it uses the same eyepiece), and its overall score was 7.7.
More specs: 25-60x magnification; 88mm objective lens; 17mm eye relief; 66.6 oz
Swarovski STX 85
Price: $1,720 body; $2,370 Swarovski STX eyepiece
The takeaway: The STX delivers stellar overall optical performance. It did impressively well even in low-light conditions and, as reviewers noted again and again, has beautiful color rendition. Testers were divided, however, on the placement of the oversize, centrally located zoom and focus knobs.
More specs: 25-60x magnification; 85mm objective lens; 20mm eye relief; 67.4 oz
Price: $2,000 body; $500 Meopta WA S2 eyepiece
The takeaway: “The images just pop into focus beautifully,” one reviewer said. The factor that dinged the Meostar’s score was the zoom ring: people found it to be too stiff.
More specs: 30-60x magnification; 82mm objective lens; 50.4 oz
Price: $2,700 body; $850 Leica Televid ASPH eyepiece
The takeaway: Reviewers praised the color and brightness this scope delivers, as well as the overall feel and eye relief.
More specs: 25-50x magnification; 82mm objective lens; 52.8 oz
The takeaway: Outstanding image quality overall, and better edge-to-edge focus than the Leica or Meopta. And while looks didn’t factor into the score, multiple reviewers scribbled in the comments that they like the customizable pop of color.
More specs: 25-50x magnification; 80mm objective lens; 17-18mm eye relief; 64.5 oz