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In the world of birders, hunters and target shooters, spotting scopes have long been the tools of choice whether one is trying to determine if the Sulawesi Red-Knobbed Hornbill you spotted is a male or female—without spooking it—or as a means of avoiding gunshot wounds while eyeballing the accuracy of the holes you just punched through your target.
Sulawesi Red-Knobbed Hornbills and target practice aside, spotting scopes have also been getting a great deal of attention lately among photographers seeking to capture long distance close-up stills and video with conventional DSLRs.
Commonly referred to as “digiscoping,” camera-mounted fieldscopes allow you to capture high-magnification stills and video using quality imaging gear that’s far smaller and lighter than conventional, moderately fast, fixed-aperture telephotos in the 800- to 1000mm range. In practice, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say you could easily fit a digiscoping rig (camera, scope and required accessories) into a single carry-on bag, which would be unimaginable with a traditional super telephoto camera-and-lens system. As a plus, the image quality can be quite remarkable.
The newest additions to Nikon’s extensive field scope lineup are the Nikon EDG VR/85, the straight version of Nikon’s new EGD-series fieldscopes, and the Nikon EDG VR/85-A, which is the angled version of the series. Both models feature 85mm objective diameters, focus down to 16.4' (5m) and weigh 5.3 lb (2.4 kg). A first for fieldscopes, these fieldscopes offer VR optical image stabilization, which affords the user a two-stop advantage when handholding the scope or digiscoping. In case you’re wondering, the EDG VR (vibration reduction) system works very well, even after downing a tall Starbucks Verona.
As one should expect from Nikon’s top-of-the-line fieldscopes, the glass used in the new EDGs features multilayer-coated ED (extra-low dispersion) glass elements and prism surfaces that ensure minimal chromatic aberrations and bright, naturally colored light transmission. Other attributes of Nikon’s new EDG VR fieldscopes include a slim profile, phase correction coated roof prism and a fog-free, O-ring sealed, nitrogen-filled housing that according to Nikon is waterproof down to 6.6' (2m) below the waterline for intervals of up to 10 minutes. As for structural integrity, the new scopes are solid to the touch and feature smooth focus controls. Both models also feature rotating tripod collars with 90-degree indents.
Regardless of your preferences—straight barrel or angled barrel—both versions of the new fieldscopes are compatible with all seven Nikon EDG-series eyepieces including the FEP-20-60, which features aspherical lens surfaces for minimal image distortion and the FEP-25 LER, which features an ultra-long 32.3mm of eye relief.
Choosing between a straight or angled fieldscope is a matter of personal preference as well as where and how you plan on using the scope. Regardless of your choice, both versions deliver the goods as advertised. The advantage of the straight Nikon EDG-VR 85 is that because it eliminates the prism that enables the eyepiece to be angled, light is transmitted more efficiently from the front lens element to the rear element, resulting in a (slightly) brighter image. Under bright, sunny skies, the differences may be negligible. If, however, you plan on using the scope in dimmer light, you might want to consider a straight scope.
The advantage of the angled Nikon EDG VR 85/A is that it can be easily set up for use by groups of users of varying heights. Angled scopes are also easier to use for low angle and high-angle viewing (like tilt-screen LCDs). By rotating the scope 90° (using its rotating tripod collar) the scope can be used easily for side viewing, which is a common practice for seated target practice applications. Angled scopes are also typically shorter than straight scopes, which makes it possible to pack them into shorter or smaller cases.
At the base of the scope is a battery compartment (4 AA batteries for the VR system) and an extra wide tripod-mounting plate with a choice of three threaded screw holes for balancing your rig, based on the particulars of your system. When needed, the VR system can be switched on or off with the touch of a finger. It can also be locked in the ON position, and the system turns itself off automatically after 30 minutes.
Other sensible features found on Nikon’s EDG VR-series fieldscopes include an integrated, sliding hood for keeping stray light away from the front lens element, and hinged lens caps that fold out of the way when using the scope and then flip back into place with equal ease—and with zero fumbling on your part.
For those who wish to use the new fieldscopes for digiscoping purposes, Nikon offers a choice of two options. For using Nikon “P” and “S” series CoolPix cameras (as well as many third-party compact digital cameras), Nikon offers the optional FSB-U1 Universal Digiscoping Adapter, which allows you to capture true “in your face” close-ups of whatever you’re focused on.
For higher-fidelity results, you can also attach a Nikon DSLR to either of Nikon’s EDG VR-series fieldscopes using Nikon’s FSA L-2 Digital SLR Adapter, which depending on where you set the 3.5x magnification setting, turns your fieldscope into a 500- to 1750mm equivalent lens on a full-frame (FX format) Nikon DSLR, or a 750- to 2625mm lens on an APS-C (DX format) Nikon DSLR. For referencing purposes, the equivalent focal lengths for both formats are engraved into the FSA L-2’s zoom ring. The fact you can hike all day with the entire system packed into a relatively lightweight, easily managed shoulder bag or backpack is downright awesome.
As icing on the cake, Nikon’s EDG VR-series fieldscopes come with a 25-year limited warranty for repair or replacement of your scope, and if that’s not enough to make you giddy, Nikon also offers fault-free coverage of the new scopes that covers repair or replacement of damaged goods not covered by the limited warranty, for a nominal shipping charge.
|Nikon EDG 85 VR (Straight)||Nikon EDG 85 VR-A (Angled)|
|Close Focusing||16.4' (5m)||16.4' (5m)|
|Length||14.9" (379mm)||15.7" (398mm)|
|Height/Width||5.6 x 4.1" (141 x 104mm)||5.6 x 4.1" (141 x 104mm)|
|Weight||5.3 lb (2.4 kg) w/o batteries||5.3 lb (2.4 kg) w/o batteries|
|Vibration Reduction effects @ 77°F (25°C)||Observation: Degree of vibration is reduced to approx. 1/8
Digiscoping: Equivalent of a shutter speed approx. 2 stops faster
|Observation: Degree of vibration is reduced to approx. 1/8
Digiscoping: Equivalent of a shutter speed approx. 2 stops faster
|Power||4x AA batteries; Alkaline, Lithium, or NiMH||4x AA batteries; Alkaline, Lithium, or NiMH|
|Battery Life @ 77°F (25°C)||Approx. 17 hours (AA alkaline battery), approx. 31 hours (AA lithium battery), approx. 15 hours (AA Ni-MH battery)||Approx. 17 hours (AA alkaline battery), approx. 31 hours (AA lithium battery), approx. 15 hours (AA Ni-MH battery)|