We love optics here at Backwoods Pursuit, so we were stoked to get to do a Kowa TSN 553 review. We’d heard great things about this little spotting scope and wanted to personally test it out. When you are trying to decide what the best spotting scope is for your needs, there’s simply nothing better than getting to put it to the test in the field side by side with a number of other spotting scopes. When all lined up next to each other, you can really start to see the differences. But when does anyone have tons of different spotting scopes all at once to literally compare them all to each other?
Amazingly, that’s exactly what we got the chance to do for this series of spotting scope reviews. Our goal for this project was to find the best compact spotting scope, 65 mm class spotting scope, 85 mm class spotting scope, as well as the best values in each of the categories.
Make sure you check out all of the the other spotting scope reviews here on the website as well as over on the Backwoods Pursuit YouTube Channel!
Want to see how the Kowa TSN 553 Spotting Scope performed next to 18 of the best spotting scopes on the market? Check out our MASSIVE SPOTTING SCOPE REVIEW where we lined up 19 of the best spotting scopes we could find and put them to the test. Side by side, volunteer participants, no brand loyalties (at least as much as humanly possible), many lighting conditions, and 14 guys ranking these things. What an awesome project to put together! Two years of work, research, and testing went into this review. You don’t want to miss this!
Dive into the details on every one of the spotting scopes in the review above by becoming a Backwoods Pursuit Member (TOTALLY FREE) and you can download the data we used to put this review together.
Kowa Optics – Taking the Hunting Industry By Storm
Kowa Optics may not be a brand you are all that familiar with in the hunting world, but you probably should be as they are growing quickly in recognition among hunters. A long time staple in birding circles, Kowa features some top-notch optics, so we wanted to put together this Kowa TSN 553 review to test it out. We had heard some great things about the Kowa TSN spotting scopes (and I’d had the chance to test one in the past), so putting together this Kowa TSN 553 review was a must.
If you’ve been following us here at Backwoods Pursuit, you are probably aware that we love testing optics. A while back we set out to put together the biggest spotting scope test and review possible, to help folks make an educated decision on what spotting scope will best fit their needs and budget. This test consisted of two years of gathering spotting scopes, field testing them, and getting a large group of volunteers to help us rank them all. Want to see how the Kowa TSN 553 Spotting Scope ranked in that massive test and review?
Check out our massive review “The Best Spotting Scopes For Hunting!”
Kowa TSN 553 Review: The Testing
As mentioned above, this Kowa TSN 553 was part of the huge comparison review, but we also wanted to go into more detail on the Kowa TSN 553 Spotting Scope than we could provide in that article. We were able to field test the Kowa TSN 553 throughout the 2020 scouting and hunting seasons, as well as include it in our group testing to get the opinions of 14 avid hunters.
Kowa TSN 553: The Specs
The Kowa TSN 553 features a tiny 55 mm objection lens that gathers a ton of light for its size and actually gives you incredible low light performance. Make sure to see how the Kowa TSN 553 stacked up against the competition in our “Best Spotting Scope For Hunting” review!
Here are some of the specs and details noted:
- 15-45x eyepiece
- 55 mm objective lens
- Pure fluorite lens
- Signature Kowa dual focus system
- Magnesium alloy body
- Sun shade
- Twist up 5 position eyepiece
- Weight: 28.5 oz
- 16 mm eye relief
- No rubber armor
- Price: $1,800
Purely based on the specs above, this Kowa TSN 553 is outstanding. It’s so light and compact, you’ll hardly notice it’s in your pack. That part was never in question given its weight. The real question was, how would it be optically? Well, we found out.
Kowa TSN 553 Review: Pure Fluorite Crystal
Kowa Optics features their premium pure fluorite glass in the TSN 553 spotting scope. If you’ve never looked through a spotting scope with pure fluorite glass, you’re missing out. It’s kind of like going from 1080p to 4k Ultra. It just gives you that extra pop and clarity in the image, color and brightness. Do you “need” pure fluorite glass? Absolutely not. Does it give you that extra little bit of clarity, color and performance optics enthusiasts love? Without a doubt. In typical hunting situations, you likely don’t “need” the extra little boost the pure fluorite glass the Kowa TSN 553 gives you, but man is it nice when you have it.
When you have a spotting scope as small as the Kowa TSN 553, the pure fluorite lens makes a massive difference. There were several “good” compact spotting scopes in our huge spotting scope review, but none even came close to the performance of the Kowa TSN 553. One tester after another stepped away from the little Kowa TSN 553 and said, “Wow! That thing is crazy impressive!” And that’s no exaggeration. The performance of this super, small spotting scope was the most talked about optic during our group testing. It is that good.
Kowa TSN 553: Eyepiece
Like its bigger brothers, the TSN 883 and the TSN 773, the Kowa TSN 553 features a click stop eyepiece that is very comfortable. While it wasn’t my absolute favorite of ALL of the spotting scopes we tested in our massive spotting scope review, it was right there near the top. The clicks are nice and crisp with no play and enough resistance to keep the eyepiece in place inside your pack, and it has a nice, comfortable, rubber coating.
Kowa TSN 553 Review: Dual Focus System
One of the most endearing things our group came to love on this Kowa TSN 553 is their fantastic dual focus system. This focus system is my favorite focus system of all the spotting scopes I’ve tested to date (over 20 that I’ve personally used in the field). I wasn’t the only one that loved the Kowa Spotting Scope dual focus system, it was hands down the favorite among our testing group as well.
The comment was made over and over again just how awesome the dual focus system was. The Kowa dual focus system allows you to fine tune the image with minimal disturbance to the object you are viewing, while we all found that the barrel focus style caused much more shaking during the fine-tuning process, especially at the highest magnifications when you really need to fine tune the image.
Kowa TSN 553: Weight/Body Construction
Another area that it REALLY shined was size and weight. It is constructed of magnesium alloy to help keep the weight down while maintaining a super durable shell. This is evident when you see that this 55 mm spotting scope weighs in at an incredible 28.5 ounces. You read that right. This little powerhouse of a compact spotting scope weighs just 28.5 ounces. That’s super impressive, especially when you compare it to other compact spotting scopes on the market today.
While it’s nice to have a rubber armor covering the outside of your spotting scope, after field use I found that it really isn’t necessary, especially with a magnesium alloy body. Durability isn’t a concern at all, it’s just a little less comfortable to hold and touch when using, especially in colder weather when a rubber armor doesn’t transfer as much of the cold as having to directly touch the magnesium alloy.
Kowa TSN 553 Review: Image Clarity/Low Light Performance
As we talked about earlier, you are getting some of the best image quality imaginable with the Kowa TSN 553 spotting scope, particularly given its size and weight. The image it gives you is so crisp and clear, it’s likely to blow you away as it did nearly every one of our testers. Kowa spotting scopes feature a warmer tint to the glass than something like the Swarovski ATX, which makes for a more pleasant viewing experience in most lighting conditions.
The Kowa TSN 553 hung in there with the Swarovski ATX and Kowa TSN 773 like a champ until very low light. As expected, it started to fall off before the ATX and Kowa TSN 773 due to their larger objective lenses, but dang! This thing was right there with them until the very end. The testers and I were blown away again by this little spotting scope.
Kowa TSN 553 Review: Edge-to-Edge Clarity
Our team noted the near flawless edge-to-edge clarity of the Kowa TSN 553. Nothing short of amazing! There was almost no notable loss of image clarity from the center of the field of view all the way to the outermost edges. You know you are looking through top-notch glass when this happens.
I also noticed that the Kowa TSN 553 eyepiece offers great forgiveness. You don’t have to have your eye positioned perfectly to get the full field of view. Some spotting scopes, particularly less expensive models, tend to have less forgiveness and require perfect eye placement to use it, especially at full magnification. This is not so with the Kowa TSN 553.
Kowa TSN 553 review: Chromatic Aberration
Chromatic aberration? The Kowa TSN 553 has none that I could pick out. Edges of snowy banks transitioning to brown dirt, the outline of a tree leaf from 1000+ yards away, etc. were as clear and crisp as could be. Not many spotting scopes have no identifiable chromatic aberration, but this is one of them.
Kowa TSN 553: Field of View
The Kowa TSN 553 gives you a surprisingly wide field of view for such a small spotting scope, but it did seem to have a bit of the tunnel view. Take a look at how it compares to its larger counterparts:
- Kowa TSN 553: 132 ft-69 ft
- Swarovski ATX 65 mm: 124 ft-68 ft
- Kowa TSN 773: 138 ft-76 ft
- Maven CS.1: 174 ft-81 ft
What’s particularly impressive is how the Kowa TSN 553 offers a comparable field of view to the larger ATX and TSN 773. Granted, both of those feature a higher minimum magnification of 25x respectively, so it’s not really a fair comparison.
The big surprise here in the field of view arena is the little Athon Ares UHD 15-45x65mm spotting scope as well as the Maven CS.1 both feature a massively better field of view than the Kowa TSN 553. You can really see this when you look through them side by side as the Maven CS.1 and Athlon Ares UHD both give you the feel of a wide angle lens, while the Kowa TSN 553 does not. You feel like you are looking through a tunnel more so with the Kowa 553, but the image of the Kowa is far superior.
Kowa TSN 553 Review: What We liked
I walked away from this Kowa TSN 553 review with such an appreciation for a lightweight spotting scope that gives you the performance that the Kowa TSN 553 does. It’s such an impressive scope! The overall clarity, edge-to-clarity, dual focus system, comfortable eyepiece, super smooth zoom mechanism and its insanely low weight all stand out with the Kowa TSN 553.
- Image clarity
- Dual focus mechanism
- Smooth zoom mechanism
- Edge-to-edge clarity
- Eyepiece cover stays on
- Weight – 28.5 oz
Kowa TSN 553 Review: What We Didn’t Like
This list is very short, but there were a few things that could have been better.
- No rubber armor
- No Arca-Swiss base
- Lack of wide angle viewing
If I could change only one thing about the Kowa TSN 553, it would be putting a wide-angle eyepiece on this little Kowa TSN 553 which would make it unreal. None of the other “dislikes” matter that much to me, but the wide-angle viewing would really improve this thing. I’m sure there are some major challenges with making that happen or they would have already done it like they did with the TSN 883 and TSN 773, so I’m more than happy to put up with the narrow viewing for the image quality you get.
Kowa TSN 553: The Warranty
Kowa Optics offer a lifetime warranty that is transferable. I’ve not had the need to test out the warranty, but it’s good to know that your purchase is backed by, what I hear to be, a solid warranty. You do want to register your purchase with Kowa to make sure you get the warranty coverage you want, but that’s nothing new.
check out All 3 of the Top Kowa Spotting Scopes!
How The Kowa TSN 553 Spotting Scope Ranked
Relative to Its Price Category
Low Light Performance
Kowa TSN 553 Review: Conclusion
At the end of the day your budget will likely determine if you can make the plunge of spending the coin on this little Kowa TSN 553 Spotting Scope. Is it worth the money? Well, that depends on how you use a spotting scope. If you do a lot of backpack hunting or want to keep your weight to a minimum but still need premium optics, this scope is for you! If you spend long hours behind glass and look to your optics to save you hiking by sizing up critters before you take off after them, then you absolutely want this spotting scope!
If you don’t mind hauling the extra weight and need to really reach out there long distance wise, a larger spotting scope might fit the bill better. For me personally, this little Kowa TSN 553 is the ABSOLUTE PERFECT ELK HUNTING SPOTTING SCOPE. It’s got enough magnification to tell me everything I need to know on an elk sized animal without packing around extra weight. If you’ve hunted big game, you know a successful day means a super heavy load back to the truck, in which case you’ll be celebrating your choice to take the Kowa TSN 553. That’s a call you have to make for yourself, though.
Subscribe to Backwoods Pursuit to get Your FREE Backcountry Gear Worksheet!!!
Dial in your gear list, calculate your pack weight, and lighten up your pack with this handy tool!