Swarovski ATX 25-60x85 in sika country

Nik, Scotty & Phill field-test a high quality spotting scope from a world-class manufacturer...

It was on one of our roar hunts into a new area last year that we saw some potential for testing a spotting scope. The wide tussock valleys, open tops and expansive clay pan faces looked ideal for some serious glassing.

Phill and Scotty (Right) searching for sika with the Swarovski ATX 25-60x85. Phill found the spotter and tripod setup comfortable for extended periods of glassing.

During our 2013 trip we had covered much of the area and learnt of some ideal locations where we could sit and glass into prime sika country. So with that in mind I approached Paul Clark of the NZ Ammunition Co. to discuss some options about what he considered suitable for the type of terrain we would be hunting. Of particular interest was the adapter that allowed a DSLR camera to be fitted directly to the eyepiece, allowing us to photograph and film through what is effectively one extremely powerful telephoto lens. Arrangements were made and the following week the scope arrived.

The complete setup; robust, minimalistic and ergonomically designed.

Removing the components from the packaging I was once again, as with any of the Swarovski products I have been fortunate enough to hunt and shoot with over the years, immediately impressed with the quality. Solid and well-designed construction with an emphasis on ergonomics and simplicity are trademark features I have always admired in these Austrian optics. The main unit is comprised of two separate components, the objective module and the eyepiece module. The objective modules are available in varying magnifications and objective sizes, ranging from 25-60x65 through to 30-70x90. There are two different eyepiece modules, the angled view ATX and the straight view STX. The ATX is described as being suitable for more precise viewing on stationary objects whereas the STX has been designed for quicker acquisition of moving objects, feeding deer for example. Our review model was supplied with the ATX eyepiece.

A simple and secure coupling system alows the two modules to be quickly and easily joined together.

Completing the setup is the CT Travel 101 carbon tripod and DH 101 tripod head. The tripod features a three-stage extender giving a maximum viewing height of approximately 1.8m. The tripod head incorporates a simple and robust latch lock style scope attachment which eliminates the need for the traditional threaded bolt plate. All the Swarovski spotting scopes come with a fixed tripod head attachment that automatically and securely locks onto the tripod. The tripod legs can be tilted individually for increased stability, and located at the top of each leg is a latch that locks the leg into position. We found this really helpful when glassing from the side of steep face. Overall the tripod is well designed and simple to operate.

The objective and eyepiece modules can be split in two, one benefit of that is that it allows the unit to be shared by two hunters.

As with any quality optic, and in particular a spotter, weight is a consideration and the 25-60x85 certainly isn’t light. Overall weight is just over 1.9 kilograms – combine that with the carbon tripod and tripod head at around 2.2kilograms and you are lugging over four kilos! Fortunately the spotter itself can be separated into its separate components, the objective module and the eyepiece module. Great if you’re hunting with a buddy as you can share the load.

Filming and photographing game is one of my favourite pastimes and although I regard myself as somewhat of an amateur videographer it is always good to review high-end equipment from time to time. Digiscoping is the combination of a spotting scope, scope adapter and a digital camera. As indicated above, this enables the viewer to use the spotter as a telephoto lens, however, we aren’t just talking any ordinary telephoto lens, we are talking about one with focal lengths around the 1800mm mark, which is huge! Considering your standard telephoto lens may have a 800mm focal length, it isn’t hard to see the benefits already. Also worth mentioning is that telephoto lenses in the 800mm range are super expensive, for example, the Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L USM IS lens retails for well over NZ$16,000...! whereas the ATX 25-60x85 retails for $5999 and the APO adapter for $799.

The TLS APO adapter features a small lens which matches up to the eyepiece module.

Fundamental to digiscoping is the adapter. Swarovski has their TLS APO Telefoto Lens System Apochromat for the ATX/STX range, which is quite a mouthful but is basically the adapter, which connects the DSLR to the eyepiece. It’s a simple operation; remove the lens from your camera, attach the adapter and slip it over the eyepiece. This can be achieved in under 30 seconds so you can begin digiscoping with minimal effort.

85mm of pure clarity! Swarovski glass is about as good as it gets!

With issue #142 of NZG&H at the printers and the Swarovski scope sitting proudly in my office, our 2014 sika roar trip couldn’t come round quick enough. This year’s roar had been a fairly subdued affair due to the fact I was having so much fun helping my wife raise our rather energetic 4-month-old son, Nathan.

Anyway, the 24th of April arrived and before we knew it, Scotty, Phill and I were buzzing the beech tree tops heading into our block via Helisika’s Hughes 500E. We don’t often fly in, maybe once a year, but we sure do enjoy the ride when we do! It also allows us to take along a little extra equipment for an extended stay in the scrub. Wasting no time we headed straight to the tops the following day and began glassing into some prime sika country. Phill had carried the spotter and I had the tripod – setting it all up was easy and within a minute I was sitting comfortably behind the glass. As expected the view through this spotter is exceptional. The clarity throughout the entire magnification range is superb and its ability to seemingly “gather” light is impressive. In a few short minutes it was immediately apparent why Swarovski really does deserve its world-class reputation.

The amount of zoom available is staggering and the ability to clearly make out fist-sized objects at distances around a kilometre left us wondering – how far could an animal be clearly spotted? Fortunately we were able to test that just a couple of days later on. First things first though, I had a mission in mind stemming from our 2013 trip. The following day Phill and I headed up to a spot where I’d had a very close encounter with a reasonable six point sika stag. Long story short, sitting just inside the bush edge and after exchanging some single calls, the stag had walked right in, eyeballing me at three metres before rapidly departing.

We made good time reaching the saddle, letting out some single calls as we neared what I hoped would once again be his territory this year. Luck was with us, we were positioned just off the side of the saddle when Phill heard some movement and I caught a look at a stag as he moved in to see who had entered his territory. He moved directly below us at a distance of about 30 metres, heading towards the saddle. I let a few minutes go by then tried some low “mews” in an effort to bring him in. It worked, we heard him heading back the way he’d come and moments later he stepped into view. With just his head and neck visible I slowly began to raise my 7x57 Mauser 98. He instantly picked up the movement and looked in my direction – wasting no time I settled the crosshairs on his upper neck and squeezed off the shot.

Nik with his 6pt sika stag. The shot was at a distance of around 20m. Nik considers his Husqvarna 7x57 rifle matched with 156gr Norma Oryx ammunition and topped with a Leupold VXI 3-9x40 scope a near perfect combination for hunting sika.

He dropped instantly, the 156 grain Norma Oryx round (ammunition also supplied by Paul Clark) proving to be formidable at such close range. We were stoked; a respectable sika stag on the ground, and Phill had experienced his first close-up sika action. We spent the rest of the day up on the tops, including an hour exchanging calls with another stag, before heading back to the hut with a pack full of venison. 

On Day three we decided to camp at the saddle. After setting up our fly camp we headed up onto the tops for an afternoon and evening of glassing. About an hour into it I spotted a lone sika hind at a distance of about 900 metres, feeding out in the open on a steep-sided scrub face, a great opportunity to test the digiscoping capabilities. Attaching the APO adapter to the eyepiece model we were all able to view the hind on the camera’s LCD screen, pretty bloody cool!

A sika hind feeding on a steep hillside at a distance of 900+ metres.

At first it was a little difficult to fully focus on the deer at that distance, but by using the camera’s 5x and 10x screen viewer zoom function and a bit of practice, we managed to capture some pretty decent footage and stills. While all this was going on Scotty had been glassing into a gully behind us and located a sika stag moving between two patches of bush. Fortunately the stag stopped just on the bush edge allowing us to capture some decent footage and stills of him. He was at a distance of around 350m and the spotter and digiscoping abilities really proved themselves at this range. It had been a fantastic evening and overall we were very impressed with the unit’s performance.

This well conditioned sika stag provided some excellent filming and photographic opportunities. What he lacks in antler development he certainly makes up for in body size!

Unfortunately over the next couple days the weather took a turn for the worse, and although we braved the high winds and snowy sleet we were unable to pick up any more animals in the open. The last day however was an absolute cracker and I decided to do a big day into some new ground with the intention of visiting an area where we’d called up a sika stag earlier. Due to the amount of travel I would be doing I decided to leave the spotter at camp. For this long day’s hunt, it was simply unnecessary weight.

Over the course of my day I managed to get onto several animals which provided some great footage on the Canon SX 280HS compact digital camera I had recently purchased.

A young sika stag Nik spooked while en route back to the hut.

This sika hind was caught out on the bush edge.

Back at the hut that evening, we shared a couple of beers and discussed plans for next year. It had been another excellent trip, time spent in the hills with mates always is.

Individually, and as a complete unit, the ATX Spotter, TLS APO and tripod are hard to fault. Each module integrates seamlessly and it is obvious that Swarovski really takes the time to consider the functionality of each module and how it will all come together. It is almost impossible to find any faults. In this case I really can only look at the weight factor. Personally I feel you need to pair up with a mate to share the load. One person carrying the spotter while the other carries the tripod. This certainly isn’t a fault, just a consideration. As predominantly a solo hunter I would have to factor in the amount of travel and terrain involved in each trip before deciding to take the unit along, particularly if I was on a walk-in mission. And even on fly-in trips I still tend to spend some time camping away from the hut or campsite. As always, the light gathering ability of any optical device reduces as you increase the magnification, only marginally with the spotter but more noticeably with the TLS APO adapter in place. Increasing the ISO setting on your camera mitigates this but does create more “noise” in your footage.

To sum up, brilliant optical equipment, well designed and functionally sound. Enough said.


The NZG&H sika hunting column featuring tips & information on hunting methods, areas to hunt, huts & campsites to check out, weather
and terrain.