Meopta TGA 75 Collapsible Spotting Scope
By Chuck Hawks
We have reviewed several Meopta products in recent years, so most regular Guns and Shooting Online readers are probably aware that Meopta is a manufacturer of high quality medical, industrial, military and consumer optics headquartered in the Czech Republic. Since 1933, Meopta has been successfully competing with well known German and Austrian optical manufacturers, primarily in the European market.
After WW II, the Company found itself behind the Iron Curtain, so trade with the US and Canada was severely curtailed. After the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia, which became the Czech Republic, Meopta was able to expand their consumer product line and more recently they have established Meopta USA for North American distribution and some manufacturing.
In March 2018, the good people at Meopta USA (https://www.meoptasportsoptics.com/us/) sent me an e-mail announcing the new TGA 75 collapsible spotting scope. Touted as compact and light weight, I thought it looked interesting and I requested a sample for a Guns and Shooting Online review. As it turned out, the press release was a bit premature and there was a delay until sufficient product actually arrived in the US. The TGA 75 is now in stock and you should be able to get one, or at least order one, at your local Meopta dealer. Here, in part, is what the press release claimed:
"The classic draw-tube design of this rugged spotting scope allows the length to be shortened from 14.8 inches when fully extended to 9.8 inches when collapsed, making it easier to carry . . . The TGA 75 has a fully-rubber-armored, lightweight body built to withstand use in the toughest terrain . . . Shockproof and water-resistant, the TGA 75 can be mounted on a tripod, but is easily used without one by placing it on a tree, rock or pack for support . . . The compact TGA 75 spotting scope is ideal for hunters on the move and especially popular with those who pack into remote areas."
(Permit me to comment that cradling the scope in something soft, such as a pack, rolled-up coat, or even a felt cowboy hat, will provide a steadier field rest than a tree or bare rock.)
The TGA 75 is sold as a telescope body (2018 MSRP $899.95), without an eyepiece. The eyepiece is purchased separately. You can choose a 30x magnification, wide angle, fixed focal length eyepiece, or a 20-60x zoom eyepiece. The 2018 MSRP for either is $399.95. The oculars screw securely into the telescope body.
The 30x WA eyepiece has an 11mm focal length and offers 15.5mm of eye relief and a 2.14 degree (38 meters at 1000 meters) field of view. There are six optical elements in four groups. It is 76mm (3 in.) in overall length and weighs 105 grams (3.7 oz.). The claimed daylight transmission is 96%.
The 20-60x zoom eyepiece's focal length is continuously variable between 16.2mm (20x) and 5.55mm (60x). Its eye relief is 15.3mm. The angular field of view is 1.8 - 0.9 degrees, which is 31.4m at 1000m (20x) to 15.7m at 1000m (60x). There are six lens elements in four groups. The zoom ocular is 90mm (3.5 in.) long and weighs 160 grams (5.5 oz.). The light transmission is 92%.
Although the optical performance of the 30x fixed focal length ocular is superior, I chose the zoom eyepiece for the test scope. I mostly use a spotting scope for finding bullet holes in targets at an outdoor rifle range and the zoom feature lets me adjust the scope to the optimum magnification for the caliber of the bullet holes and the amount of heat wave distortion on a given day.
Interestingly, Meopta provides operating and storage temperature information for this ocular. The minimum operating temperature is -25 degrees C and the maximum operating temperature is 55 degrees C. The minimum storage temperature is -40 degrees C and the maximum is 70 degrees C.
TGA 75 Telescope Body Specifications
The TGA 75 and its eyepiece are packaged in separate boxes. Packaged with the scope body are heavy duty rubber front and rear protective caps (the latter fits over an installed eyepiece), a thin nylon carrying strap, Meopta's North American lifetime transferable warranty and what passes for an instruction manual. The caps are worth mentioning, as they provide excellent protection, slide on and off easily, yet have enough friction to stay in place.
The supplied, folded, six-panel instruction manual supplied with the scope is functionally worthless. There is no optical diagram and no parts list. In fact, there are no actual instructions, only four pictograms showing the front and rear protective caps, draw tube operation, focusing ring and tripod mount. Specifications are provided in eight languages, all lumped together for maximum confusion. Surely, it is not too much to ask for a decent owner's manual with a $1300 spotting scope.
When I removed the TGA 75 and the 20-60x zoom eyepiece from their boxes and screwed them together, I was surprised by this spotting scope's weight. At 3 pounds 6.3 ounces per my digital scale, I would not consider this a particularly lightweight spotter. It is only 0.7 ounce lighter than my 15-45x porro prism Vanguard Endeavor HD 65S spotting scope, which has a 65mm objective lens and is 14 inches long; I consider the Vanguard a rather large spotting scope. I expect the big 75mm objective lens accounts for most of the TGA 75's weight.
The TGA 75 with zoom eyepiece measures 13-5/8 inches long when telescoped and with front and rear caps in place, as it would normally be carried. Extended for use with caps removed, it measures 17-11/16 inches in length.
The TGA 75's magnesium alloy body should be lighter than an aluminum body of the same size. Otherwise, the scope would be even heavier.
European optical manufacturers seem mesmerized by big objective lenses. While they capture more light, this is only an advantage in low light conditions. For normal daytime use, even on overcast days, a spotting scope with a 50mm objective at 30x has a 1.66mm exit pupil, which is sufficient to support that amount of magnification.
Of course, if you are doing your observing pre-dawn or post-dusk, a big objective comes into its own. The 75mm objective of the TGA yields a 2.5mm exit pupil at 30x. Overall, the TGA 75 is more portable than a conventional, high quality spotting scope, such as the Vanguard, but not by a lot.
The TGA 75 is secured to a tripod using a professional size 3/8 inch threaded mounting hole with a 1/4-20 thread adapter for typical photo tripods already installed. The scope balances about where its tripod mount is located when the tube is retracted. Unfortunately, when the draw-tube is extended for use, it is markedly tail heavy. It is unfortunate Meopta could not have found a way to move the tripod socket rearward. (I can only assume this was impossible, due to the internal requirements of the inner sliding tube.)
In addition, the actual mounting hole for a tripod screw is off center to the rear of the tripod mounting foot. 11/16 inch of the tripod mount foot is in front of the 1/4-20 threaded hole, while there is only 2/16 inch of the mount foot behind the hole. The result of this eccentric mounting hole is that when the scope is mounted on a tripod, there is more support foot area in front of the mounting screw (where it isn't needed) than behind (where it is).
The front of the tripod mounting foot is partially cut away to provide an attachment point for the included carrying strap. This narrow, uncomfortable shoulder strap is not essential, but a stable mounting system for the telescope is, so I consider this an unfortunate design compromise. There are better ways to carry a spotting scope, such as a pouch case with a wide shoulder strap. (Meopta offers such a case as an accessory.)
Other than the tripod foot, the mechanics of the scope seem to be very well designed. The draw-tube slides smoothly in and out, but with sufficient friction that it is unlikely to be moved inadvertently. When the draw tube is fully extended in the viewing position, there is no play. To achieve this requires not only excellent design, but also precision manufacturing and exacting quality control. Before someone asks, yes, the draw-tube must be pulled all the way out (to its full focal length) before the scope can be used. Otherwise, it cannot be focused.
The inside of the main tube is finished in a smooth matte black. I could not see any internal ridges or physical light baffles to help control internal reflections, but internal reflections were not a problem during normal viewing. The lens elements I can see without taking the scope apart appear to be secured in place with threaded retaining rings, as befits a scope in this price range.
The extended main tube is sufficiently long to accommodate the scope's prime focal length of 329mm without the need for prisms to "fold" the light path. However, small prisms are used at the end of the draw tube, immediately in front of the eyepiece, to provide a right side up and laterally correct image.
A wide focusing ring is located at the end of the draw tube. It is the full diameter of the draw tube and rubber covered with wide grooves for a comfortable and positive grip. This is a single speed focuser; there is no slow/fine focus adjuster. The focus ring makes about two complete turns from stop to stop and focuses well past infinity, as a spotting scope should.
The zoom ring is conventionally located on the eyepiece. It is also rubber covered and knurled. There is an index dot on the zoom ring and white numbers in front of the zoom ring indicate 20 - 30 - 40 - 50 - 60 power magnification. Both the focus and zoom rings are smooth and easy to use.
I used professional Bogen (Manfrotto) #3221 tripod legs with a #3028 head while viewing. While the legs were entirely adequate, the head adjustments allowed too much creep for routine use with this scope, mostly due to the scope's poor balance after extension. This tripod/head combination weighs 7 pounds 7.3 ounces, so it is not a flimsy, lightweight rig.
I made do with the 3028 head, but a professional, fluid damped, video head, such as the Manfrotto 526, would have been a better choice. Bear in mind the 3028 head is generally adequate for medium (2-1/4 inch) format cameras (Rolleiflex, Mamiya, Hasselblad, etc), so obviously the TGA 75 takes a lot of stabilizing. The bottom line here is don't plan on using a compact or medium size photo tripod with a TGA 75; it requires a professional video tripod for stable viewing.
Because Meopta advertises this scope as "easily used" over a tree, rock, or other impromptu support, I laid a dish towel over the top of my car (to protect the finish) and looked through the scope at relatively short range (about 60 yards). For what it's worth, at 30x magnification I was able to hold the scope steady enough to be useful in the field.
Where the Meopta really shines is its optical performance. It is one of the best spotting scopes I have ever used. (As a former professional photographer, photography teacher and amateur astronomer, I have more experience than most with optics.) Color fringing is minimal and color fidelity is good. Distortion is not noticeable. Coma is well controlled.
Lens flare seems adequately suppressed in daylight, although flare was apparent at night when I focused on street lights about 100 yards away. Do not look directly at the sun with any telescope.
The MeoBright lens multi-coatings help deliver superior optical quality, while the hard MeoShield coating on the front of the exposed lens' surfaces provides as much protection as possible against minor scratching and marring. (Never touch a lens surface with your fingers. Clean only with lens tissues or a soft lens cleaning cloth.)
At 20x, 30x and 40x the center to edge sharpness is excellent, with almost no visual degradation as magnification is increased. At 50x the center sharpness is excellent and the edge sharpness is good. At 60x the center sharpness is good and the edge sharpness has degraded, but remains satisfactory.
After all, you are normally looking at something in the center of the field of view and atmospheric conditions very seldom allow the use of so much magnification, even at 100 yards, and the farther away from the subject you are the more the atmospheric conditions degrade the view. At the rifle range I rarely use more than about 30x magnification and often less. Overall, the contrast and resolution are excellent for a zoom spotting scope and they would probably be even better with the fixed 30x eyepiece.
The eye relief of the 20-60x zoom eyepiece is just sufficient for those who do not need glasses to see the entire field of view and there is a built-in rubber eyecup to help keep eyelashes off of the ocular lens. If you must wear eyeglasses, you will need to fold the eyecup back. Even so, the eye relief is inadequate and only about half of the normal field of view can be seen without moving the head. Eye relief is a function of the ocular design, not the telescope itself.
Many eyeglass wearers do not realize that if they only have slight to moderate astigmatism and their glasses are used primarily to correct for near (myopia) or far (hyperopia) sightedness, they do not need to wear their eyeglasses when viewing through a telescope. Focusing the telescope automatically compensates for myopia or hyperopia. However, those with moderate to severe astigmatism will need to use their glasses while viewing.
Meopta offers a number of accessories for spotting scopes. These include a camera adaptor, phone adaptor, carrying case with wide strap and a Manfrotto tripod with a fluid (video type) head.
Summary and Conclusion
The Meopta TGA 75 is a high quality spotting scope with a commensurate price tag. It competes in the marketplace with spotting scopes from Leupold (Gold Ring), Nikon (Monarch) and Zeiss (Dialyt), putting it the medium price range among high performance spotting scopes. Of course, European optics have a certain cachet in North America, which works to Meopta's advantage.
A quick online search found the TGA 75 scope body for sale at Amazon.com and Sport Optics for the full MSRP of $899.95 (June 2018). The oculars were priced at $399.95, also the MSRP. Optics4Birding offered a discount, with the TGA 75 scope body priced at $849.99 and the 20-60x zoom eyepiece priced at $279.99.
Any spotting scope of this quality will be fairly expensive, but the TGA 75 offers some unique advantages in its price class, particularly its fine optics, excellent engineering/manufacturing and draw-tube design. Other significant features include its magnesium alloy main tube, exceptionally rugged rubber-armored body, interchangeable oculars, and excellent front and rear protective caps.
Copyright 2018 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.