I remember years ago in my twenties working at a wild bird feeding store and reading Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman on a slow day and thinking, "Man, I'm wasting my life by playing it safe with a steady job. I need to be out traveling and bird watching, living hand to mouth." Then I'd read something Kenn wrote in Bird Watchers Digest and it would mention being someplace with editor Bill Thompson and I'd think, "How cool would it be to travel around with other birders? Get to see new birding products and what the latest."
Cut to 15 years later and doodly doodly doodly: here I am doing just that. Life has taken me to many strange and wonderful places. Recently, it sent me to Austria to take a look at some new products Swarovski has been working on for the last few years. They've taken their modular ATX spotting scope line which already allowed you to customize your objective lenses to another level. Now you can truly personalize a Swarovski scope to suit your particular needs.
Are you ready to see the weirdest, yet coolest spotting scope that's coming down the pike?
The new BTX allows you to use both eyes with the spotting scope. Not only does this scope work naturally with the way our vision, it also gives you an almost 3D image of a bird. Like a pair of binoculars you can adjust it for your face with the eye cups and the barrels. There's even a diopter to balance out the lenses to your vision. An adjustable forehead rest allows you to comfortably watch birds through the scope for hours by resting your head against the scope. This is the perfect tool for sea watching, hawk counting or bird surveys. I wish I had this back when I was doing my eagle surveys and I had to stake out a bald eagle nest for four hours at a time. Doing that with one eye gets a bit exhausting on the muscles.
I already have the ATX scope and it is a fantastic piece of equipment. When I came along on this trip, I brought it too and was able to do side by side comparisons while watching waterfowl. What surprised me was that going from using both eyes on the BTX scope to only one eye on my ATX scope was difficult. The BTX was so comfortable visually that it felt like I was going from a high end scope to a low end scope--which is ridiculous because the ATX is a quality piece of equipment. But most of us were meant to use both our eyeballs to see well and that's what the BTX was designed for.
Of course I had to see if I could digiscope with the BTX. I didn't have an adapter for it so held my iPhone 7 up to one of the eyepieces and after some zooming on the phone to take out the vignetting I got the above shot of a whooper swan. However, digiscoping doesn't really capture the 3D view of birds and wildlife you will get with this scope.
The BTX magnification is 30 power with a 65mm and 85mm objective lens and 35 power with the 95mm objective lens. But if you want more magnification, you have have another option. Swarovski has also created a magnification extender which can be used with the BTX and the ATX and STX as well. If you attach it to the 65 or 85mm BTX you'll go from 30 power magnification to 50. If you use with the 95mm objective lens you'll go from 35 power magnification to 60.
Because of the design for comfort, the BTX only comes as an angled scope. It is a bit on the heavier side of things for a Swarovski scope. For example, an ATX 85mm is roughly 4.2 pounds and the BTX 85mm is roughly 5.5 pounds. Since it is a bit heavier, it's best to use it with a balance rail. There's even a new tripod head to accommodate the new set up.
If weight is a concern, Clay Taylor and I played around with the BTX and the 65mm objective lens which comes out to about 4.8 pounds. A smaller objective lens makes the scope lighter but won't have as much light gathering ability as an 85 or 95mm. Even so, it still works very well. But this set up is really the dream set up for hawk watching platforms and those who dig scanning for gulls and jaegers on sea watches.
If you see a BTX at a bird festival this spring, take it out side, really adjust for your eyes and marvel at the view. You wouldn't think there could be any more major advances in the world of quality scopes, but this is really quite something.