Pentax PR-80 EDA telescope

OUR VERDICT: Colours are true to life, with plenty of brightness, contrast and edge-to-edge sharpness.

It’s been almost 11 years since my first Birdwatch optics review, the excellent Pentax PF-80 ED spotting scope. This landmark product represented a milestone in the development of large diameter, high-quality telescope eyepieces. Surprisingly, however, it has not resonated with buyers of birding optics and encountering one in the field remains a rare event.

May 2013 saw the launch of a new model, the PR-80 EDA, which with its shapely, modern appearance, contemporary design and dual focusing knob, may be destined to cut more of a dash and have a far greater appeal to birders.

This new model, available in Britain from late June, is not a replacement for the more expensive PF-80 ED, which is still available. Rather it is designed to appeal to a wider user base, with birders foremost in mind.

The angle-bodied scope – there is no straight version – immediately lends an impression of what I can only describe as ‘heavy-duty’ quality: well constructed, tough, rubber armoured and able to stand up to anything you care to throw at it. It appears substantial, despite having a light magnesium alloy body. With an overall weight of 2,400 g, including the eyepiece and stay-on case, it is one of the heaviest scopes on the market.

Seemingly sound mechanics are manifested in the rotating tripod foot, which click-locks in eight positions around the narrow waist of the scope, and in the bayonet fitting of the eyepiece, which twists in and is locked securely in place by tightening a milled ring at the base of the port. The base here is threaded to make it possible to connect any Pentax DSLR camera to the scope by means of an adapter which, at the time of going to press, is still under development. The large, centrally mounted, rubber-milled split dual focusing wheel turns freely, while the lens hood pulls out smoothly and closes crisply. Updated optics include a double-ED objective and all the lenses are fully multi-coated. The XL 8-24 zoom eyepiece (20-60x magnification) is relatively deep, rotates throughout its entire length and consists of a broadly milled, rubber-covered turning ring near its distal end, above a clearly defined range of magnification, scaled for use with both 65 mm and 80 mm telescopes. Review continues after the photo.

Pentax PR-80 EDA telescope
The whole field of view is available with the eyecup fully extended even at the
highest magnification.

The rigid, rubber-covered eyecup twists out and click-stops very loosely and imprecisely in two positions above the base. When fully retracted in the base position, extending it also results in changing the magnification setting, which might be a problem if different users are sharing the scope in the field. With the eyecup fully extended, I was still able to see the whole field of view at the highest magnification. It’s worth pointing out that the PR-80 EDA body is also compatible with the XW and XF series of eyepieces in the Pentax range.

I was immediately impressed with the colours. These were vibrant, true to life and set in an image full of brightness and contrast, combined with edge-to-edge sharpness.

This was the case at magnifications to just beyond 40x, after which I struggled to obtain a pin-sharp image. The dual focusing system helped to some extent here. The fine focusing wheel wasn’t overly sensitive and was very easy to use. However, in terms of overall sharpness, the winning image undoubtedly fell within the lower half of the magnification range.

Other positive aspects of the image include its relative brightness as light conditions deteriorated with the onset of dusk, the low to average level of chromatic aberration and the low curvature of field. The field of view range is about average for a scope of this specification. The key accessory for this scope is the stay-on case, which folds back and is held away from the eyepiece by Velcro. However, I found it could become obstructive when trying to focus. This is a scope worth considering if you are considering a purchase in the mid- to high-range price bracket.

More info

Price: £1,499 (including zoom eyepiece)
Size: 410x170 mm (including zoom eyepiece)
Weight: 2,400 g (including zoom eyepiece and stay-on case)
Field of view: approximately 36.6 to 18.3 m at 1,000 m
Close focus: 8 m
Gas-filled: yes
Waterproof: yes
Guarantee: 30 years