THE KOWA 823M (FLOURITE) BIRDING
The top-of-the-line Kowa fluorite scopes are the 820M series consisting
of the 824M straight scope and the 823M angled or offset scope. This review
covers the 823M spotting scope, we can hope that most of the assumptions
can apply to either flourite model. The scope has a focal length of 450mm
giving it an F ratio of 5.5.
The 823M’s (angled or offset) multi-coated fluorite 82mm objective
end optics are unchanged from the earlier 823 model, but the carbon-fibre
body has been reinforced to make it more impact-resistant. With these
changes, the new model weighs in at about 100g more than the old. (The
length is 383mm and total weight is 1480 grams). The scope is also, dust-proof,
nitrogen-filled and waterproof, but I still would not want to use
it in the rain!
The 823M's image is excellent especially in side and front light,
which was very good; and its brightness and clarity in daylight
at all magnifications was also very good. Viewing against the sun, the
Kowa did not fare quite as well, exhibiting a little flare and slightly reduced
color contrast. The field of view of the Kowa bayonet mount zoom (2.0-1.0
degrees) is a typical narrow, tube-like zoom’s field. The extreme edge quality
varied from somewhat poor at 20x to very good at 40-50x, but deteriorates
a little again when increasing magnification to the maximum 60x. Between
25-40x there is also a shiny surface visible inside the eyepiece barrel beyond
the field edge. When zooming from 20x to 60x an adjustment must be made to
the focus. Going from 60x down the focus hardly changes at all. For eyeglass
wearers the zoom's small eye relief will be disconcerting even with the fold
down or removeable eyecup removed or folded in place. Thus, the Kowa’s
image is not one of the most even and restful to view over extended periods.
The eyepiece zoom adjustment was very light but does have a somewhat rough
feel. However, with practice, finding the optimum eye position
is easy, and the best image isn't that hard to find even for this reviewer
who wears glasses.
Under the bayonet eyepiece mount is a "dust protection glass".
This is to keep out humidity or dust, and is easily kept clean with
a small lens blower or air canister.
One can focus as close as 6 metres, but with the edition of a
"close-up" optional adapter the close focus range can be narrowed to
3.5 metres but at the sacrifice of infinity focusing (the range is now
3.5 to 7 metres). This optional item wasn't tested.
Another option (not tested) is an eyepiece converter which allows
other Kowa eyepieces to be used with the 823/4 (non-flourite) and 823/4M
The rubberised focus knob at the top side of the prism housing
is very smooth and the precise focus adjustment point was found easily.
The front objective lens end has a slide-out rain/glare guard. The main
body can be rotated through 360 degrees when tripod mounted to allow the
user to get to a comfortable viewing position.
Other eyepieces available are 32x and 50x wide-angles and
a long 31mm eye relief eyepiece especially made for target shooting and
yielding 27x. Only the LER (31mm) was tested. It gives a nice bright image
but the field of view is somewhat narrow. It is very easy to use with eyeglasses
as the rubber eyecup slips off. It works well with the digital adapter for
The zoom eyepiece is supplied with a large screw cover which
will fit over the entire eyepiece and screw into the telescope body.
This will not work if the optional "digital adapter" (reviewed below)
is in place. In this case there is a supplied eye-end cover, which can
be used when the eyepiece is removed. There is also a small end cap for
the bayonet end of the eyepiece. The objective lens has a screw-in cover
which can be awkward to get threaded on a cold day. A slip-on cover would
have been better here. A 86mm filter (perhaps a solar filter) can
also be threaded on the objective end.
The optional waterproof case can stay in place, but is a handicap
when trying to use the "peep-sight" on the right side of the scope. The
peep-sight isn't that useful for birding anyway. The case lacks the
shoulder strap of earlier models which makes carrying the scope, using
the built-in "hand-strap", awkward especially if the tripod and head
is still attached. No slinging this combination over the shoulder!
The optional digital camera adapter can be used with various
digital cameras, but you must purchase the required step ring for your
particular digital camera model. In this review the 28mm ring fitted
nicely to a Nikon Coolpix 4500 digital camera. Once installed, part of
the adapter stays on the scope at all times and doesn't interfer with
visual use. There is an extension tube (also an extra cost) that is hollowed
out, allowing the zoom to be turned when the camera is in place for digiscoping.
The whole unit with camera attached slips over the eyepiece and there
is a single large lock screw which is tightened against the previously
installed housing. This digital adapter takes getting used to but is very
efficient and can be quickly removed to allow the next target to be found.
The digital camera adapter can also be used with other Kowa scopes and
eyepiece combinations as a step ring is included for this purpose.
The scope plus camera can be very "back-heavy" so the tripod
head tension must be adjusted so that the scope doesn't fall forward
when the camera unit is removed. Without the camera and digital adapter,
the 823M balances very well on the Manfrotto 128RC (Bogen 3130) "micro
video head", and also the Manfrotto 390RC "Junior pan and tilt head" used
during this review. I might add that the Manfrotto "Junior" 390RC is a
better head for the Kowa (or any spotting scope) when "digiscoping" (using
a digital camera coupled to a spotting scope).
For film buffs there is a photo-adapter (not tested) which
with the 823/4M's can increase the focal length to 840mm and the F stop
to about F/10.4. A "T-ring" (also extra) is required to attach a specific
35mm SLR camera model to the adapter.
There is a limited lifetime warranty on the scope. A warranty
card is provided.
The scope's serial number is on the side of the small "tripod block"
affixed to the bottom of the scope. The number is also on the cardboard
The instructions, such as they are, consists of a small pamphlet
in poorly written (translated) English with a Japanese translation.
In my view, a waste of good paper. The instructions for the digital adapter
aren't much better.If Kowa were to improve anything, the instruction pamphlets
for both products could be improved greatly. As it is now, one can soon
figure how everything works without resorting to the limited and mediocre
documentation now provided. This is one case where two great products are
spoiled by the documentation. Funny thing though, the Kowa advertising
is very slick and colorful but the "manual"(?) is just and black and white
slimmer version of the advertising brochure with no additional useful information.
Is the manual provided with the other high end scopes on the market any
better? Or are theirs, like Kowa's, just an after thought?