ILya

Mar 242017
 

I started talking about this rather unique scope a little while back, and I have been using it rather intensively since then.  Here are some final thoughts:

To add to the video, here is some reticle information from the MTC website.  The reticle is called SCB2.  There is also another mrad-based reticle available, which is a little simpler.  I thought this one was simple enough for my purposes.

It is basically a thin mrad-based reticle design, accurate at 10x.  Helpfully, there is an indent at 10x setting og the magnification adjustment, so you know exactly where to set it if you want to use the reticle for ranging or holdover.




The specs of this scope are interesting (the 3-12×32 is identical except for the objective diameter). There isn’t really anything out there like the Viepr Connect, so I did not have much to put into the table.  However, I thought that eye relief and FOV numbers should be compared to some more conventional design, so I added two scopes to the table.  The SWFA SS 3-15x42SFP is my regular airgun scope that I find to be excellent for the money and just about bulletproof.  The very expensive and excellent March 1-10×24 is the highest magnification scope I could think of that has a 24mm objective and close focus.

MTC Viper Connect 3-12×24 SWFA SS 3-15×42 SFP March 1-10×24
Length, in 11.3 13.66 10.4
Weight, oz 21 23.7 19.75
Main Tube Diameter 30mm 30mm 30mm
Eye Relief, in 1.2 3.8 – 4.2 3.8
FOV, ft@100yards 60.9 – 17.1

20.5 @ 10x

34.78 – 7.21

10.8 @ 10x

105.8 -10.5
Exit Pupil 8 – 2

2.4@10x

11.8 – 2.8

4.2@10x

~9 – 2.4
Click Value 1/4 MOA 0.1 mrad ¼ MOA
Adjustment range 120 MOA 36 mrad

(125 MOA)

200 MOA
Close focus 10 yards 7 yards 10 yards
Zero Stop No No Yes
Reticle Location SFP SFP SFP
Reticle Illumination Yes No Yes
Price $400 $450 $2400

The FOV and corresponding short eyerelief of the Viper Connect really make it stand out.  Aside from that, there is nothing earth shattering in the specs, but it is very full featured for the money.  In terms of overall size and weight, it is about average for a scope with a 24mm objective.

The exit pupil is on the small side, so if you are looking for a scope to use for night hunting, this is not the best option.  However, if the distances are reasonable, dialing down to 4x or so really helps.  I did some shooting with it at night with all the lights off and had no issues even with a rather dark target.  There, the illuminated reticle really helped.  It can be set to very low light levels, so it does not mess with your dark adapted eyes.

To summarize all of above, I really liked the Viper Connect and I think it will find home on my airgun.  I would also use it on a rimfire if it had another half inch of eye relief, to avoid the eyepiece bumping into my shooting glasses.  Aside from that, I find very little in this scope to complain about, especially considering the price.  Well, now that I think about it, since the reticle is correct in mrad at 10x, I would have preferred 0.1 mrad clicks, rather than the 1/4 MOA ones that are there.  However, I do not think I touched the turrets since zeroing in, so I am not going to lose any sleep over it.  This scope is really designed for use with a reticle as a primarily tool for elevation and wind holds.

Lastly, big thanks to Jeff from MTC Optics USA (http://www.mtcoptics.us/).  I am sorta new to airguns, so I had (and still have) a barrage of questions to ask and Jeff has been handling them like a pro (I have been known to drive less stable people into despair with my OCD).  Take a look at his webpage.  The information on the Viper Connect is there, along with some other products from MTC.

 Posted by at 1:26 pm
Feb 182017
 

Continuing where I left off in Part 1

 

Vortex

I think Vortex is one of the more a forward looking companies in this business and the pace with which they have been growing is pretty impressive.  I think their product strategy for a bit looked somewhat like a shotgun blast: fire off  a bunch of new products at the market and see what sticks.  It worked adequately and they came up with a good product range, but thankfully, it looks like they are moving past.  Their product line-up looks reasonably coherent and logical to me, except for a few outliers.  I wonder if those will develop into separate product lines or remain single product experiments.   Vortex has converged on four discreet quality levels for their products: Razor (made in Japan and/or USA), Viper (made in Phillipines), Diamondback (made in Phillipines) and Crossfire (made in China).  For conventional riflescopes, this gradation stays consistent for both tactical and hunting products and for all four product levels, Vortex offers very compelling alternatives to other brands.  With riflescopes, the outliers are Golden Eagle target scope and Strike Eagle low range variable.  These are very different kinds of eagles with the Golden Eagle being more or less at the Razor-level of performance, while the Strike Eagle is a “me too” OEM product.  I am a little surprised they didn’t call the Golden Eagle “Razor F-Class” and be done with it, so I wonder if it will spawn another product family.  With red dots, the naming is sorta all over the place, but it almost seem like they are beginning to clean that up as well.  There is a pretty nice Razor reflex sight and a new Razor AMG UH-1 holographic sight that sit at the top of Vortex’s non-magnified sight line-up.  With the tube-style red dot sights, the original Strikefire is still there and somewhat more recent Sparc and Sparc AR.  All are pretty compelling products for their price ranges, although I will freeley admit to liking Sparc AR a lot more than the other two.  With compact reflex sights, in addition to the previously mentioned Razor, there are the Venom and Viper.  They cost about the same, but use different batteries,  Venom has a top loading battery and slightly larger lens.  Viper needs to be removed from its mount to change the battery, which may effect zero.  I do not fully understand why I would choose one over the other (in my case, why I would choose Viper over Venom), so I am curious to see how Vortex will work this out.  Lastly, there are the Spitfire prism sights.  I am not sure where they fit in the Razor-Viper-Diamondback-Crossfire continuum.

Razor AMG UH-1

Razor AMG UH-1




Generally, with Razor products, the only new offering is a very interesting looking holographic sight. I liked what I saw and I plan to test one.  This is an interesting time to take on EOtech and I think Vortex will do well with this one.  The optical design looks to be a little simpler from alignment standpoint than EOtech, so I do not expect it to have thermal stability issues.  Controls are pretty straightforward with two pushbuttons on the back of the sight.

UH-1 with VMX3 magnifier

UH-1 with VMX3 magnifier

I am a bit mixed on that since accessing them when used with a magnifier could be a bit difficult.  Generally, magnifier use is one of the advantages holographic sights have over reflex style red dots, so I spent some time trying to convince Vortex to make a high quality magnifier for the UH-1.  We’ll see if they do it.  They did have the UH-1 set up with the VMX3 magnifier (which I just tested with Sparc AR) and while it is a very respectable magnifier and good for the money, I do not think it is quite good enough for the UH-1.  However, in the picture to the left, you can see how accessing the controls could be a bit problematic.  Lastly, since all holographic sights have a significant battery life disadvantage compared to reflex sights, I was happy to see a rechargeable battery option.

The rest of the Razor line is unchanged for now and, honestly, that is a good thing.  These are excellent scopes.  Razor HD LH has become my go to recommendation for hunting scopes (I think they will adda model or two to it next year) and Razor AMG is still almost impossible to get due to all the backorders.  Razor Gen II in the meantime soldiers on as one of the more compelling general purpose precision scopes out there.  I think the decision to round out the Razor line-up with an American-made quick acquisition sight is a good one.  Aside from that, the Razor HD spotters are new(ish) and I am testing the 65mm model.  It is very good.

PST Gen 2 3-15x44 and 1-5x24

PST Gen 2 3-15×44 and 1-5×24

Viper product family probably had the biggest splash in the Vortex booth this year, since the PST riflescopes were redesigned.  They are still made in the Phillipines, but by a different maker.  The new models are 1-5×24, 2-10×32, 3-15×44 and 5-25×50.  They all sport a new larger eyepiece and they are a bit heavier than their predecessors.  1-5×24 is a SFP model only, while the others are available as both FFP and SFP.  The reticles are well conceived and are generally similar to those in the Razor scopes, so someone who uses a Razor on a primary rifle can put a new PST onto a trainer and feel right at home.  The three higher magnification scopes now sport a proper zero stop similar in operation to Gen 1 Razor.  They seemed like well designed scopes at SHOT and I suspect they will be a meaningful improvement over the original PST.  The big question, of course, is whether they will compete well against all the scopes that were designed to compete against he original PSTs.  That question I can not easily answer without doing a proper test.  The Gen 2 PSTs run between $700 and $1100 depending on the model, so they are a bit more expensive than the original ones and go head to head against Burris XTR II and a few others, most notably Athlon Ares and Midas (2.5-15×50 and 4.5-27×50), as well as Hi-Lux Phenom HD 6-30×56 and PentaLux 4-20×50.  There are others, of course, but one of the things I am really curious about is whether the better-made Chinese scopes from Athlon and Hi-Lux can compete adequately well (and consistently enough) against the better-made Phillipine scopes like the PST Gen II and XTR II.  Once I work that out, the next question will be how well they stack up against Japanese competition like Sightron S3 and some of the US competition like Leupold VX3i LRP.  Basically, I am going to have a lot of fun with this, since this is the price range I want to look at this year.

Among the PST Gen 2 scopes, the 3-15×44 and 1-5×24 seemed to be the best ones of the bunch based on a rather cursory look, so I will start with the 3-15×44.  Interestingly, with the original PSTs, the 2.5-10×32 was the best optimized model, followed by the 6-24×50, while the 2.5-10×44 was the runt of the litter.  We’ll see if my original impressions of the Gen 2 are correct.

Rounding out the Vortex news, they introduced a tactilized version of the Diamondback with a ranging reticle and exposed turrets.  I like Diamondback scopes, but unless there is a lot of interest I will likely skip this one over: it only comes with MOA turrets and I really prefer mrad.

Lastly, Vortex now has a rangefinding binocular called Fury HD.  I wasn’t terribly impressed with how it looked, but then again, at around $1200, it is about half the price of the LRF binos I like.  In other words, as far as LRF binoculars go, I am both spoiled and picky.  I will look at it if time allows, but I have a suspicion that these will be difficult to come by for a bit, so a test may have to wait.

 

Hi-Lux Precision Optics

I know these guys pretty well, since I have been talking to them on and off for some years.  The first of their product I looked at many years ago was not great and I was not kind to it.  Rather than getting all poochy-faced about, the guys at Hi-Lux took it as constructive criticism and got better.  The next scope of theirs I looked at was the original 7-30×50 Uni-Dial with an elevation turret that allows to set flags for different distances (they have a patent on this and I am moderately certain that some other people who use this approach pay them licensing fees).  That scope was not a world beater either, but it stayed zeroed and adjusted true.  Some things on it were a bit crude, but it was ultimately a very usable design and I said exactly that.  A bit more time passed and Hi-Lux introduced their CMR and CMR4 scopes, which are generally good and absolutely superb for the money.  These scopes easily landed on my list of recommendations and I spent a fair amount of time and effort beating them up.  They kept working and working well.  Most importantly, they did well for Hi-Lux so there are enough of these out there to give me confidence that Hi-Lux can build these consistently.  Unlike most other companies who make optics in China, Hi-Lux has their own factory, so they control the manufacturing process.  As they continue moving toward more sophisticated designs, I’ve been sorta keeping tabs on what they do and it sounds like this year they have a bunch of new stuff that is of interest to me:

-CMR8 1-8×26 FFP with 34mm tube

-new Uni-Dial 5-30×56 SFP with a 34mm tube (successor to the original Uni-Dial I tested so many years ago)

-Phenom HD 5-30×56 FFP with a 34mm tube

-PentaLux 4-20×50 FFP or SFP with a 30mm tube

-CMR4-based 1-4x34AO Competition scope since you can now use optics for servie rifle competition

-8×42 and 10×42 binoculars with field flattener lenses

All of these will be in the $500 to $900 range, which makes them fairly accessible.

Hi-Lux makes a lot of other stuff as well, but most of it has been around for a bit and I do not have enough time to look at everything.  I will, however, mention the MM2 (Micro-Max 2) red dot sight that I have failed to break for a number of months now.  It is probably my favourite of the sub-$300 tube-style red dot sights (and is one of the reasons I have not bought an MRO).

The new CMR8 is of particular interest to me since late last year, Hi-Lux asked for some ideas on a reticle for the CMR8.  They already had a very nicely executed internal design, but they wanted another option.  I am perpetually dissatisfied with most of the reticles out there, this was an opportunity for me to try a design that I like.  I suggested a few things and they implemented most of them and added a couple of other things that appealed to them.  I will talk a bit more about this reticle in future articles.  At SHOT was the first time I saw it live and I think it is going to work well for my purposes.  I took a couple of blurry handheld pictures at 1x and at 8x, so you can see what it looks like.  I will do better photography when the first production scopes get here.

CMR8 reticle at 8x

CMR8 reticle at 8x

CMR8 reticle at 1x

CMR8 reticle at 1x

My basic design concept was to have a large out horseshow that is outside the FOV at 8x, but salmost serves a ghost ring at 1x. At 8x, the smaller 10 mrad horseshow is the dominant feature designed to draw the eye to its center where there is a mil-scale and a small mrad-grid array that serves as elevation, wind and lead holds for typical 5.56, 6.5Grendel or 7.62×51 load out to 500-600 yards without the need to twist the turrets.  The grid can also be used for quick rangefinding which I will cover in more detail later.  However, the primary rangefinding features are the choke style rangefinders for both horizontal and vertical targets 1m and 1.75m in size.

CMR8

CMR8

Aside from the reticle, the scope looked pretty well executed, but I will reserve judgement until I get a production unit and properly test it. The turrets are easily finger-adjustable with 0.1 mrad clicks.  You can keep them exposed without any undue effects, but I prefer to run scopes like this type primarily with the reticle, so the included turret covers suit me well.  The illumination starts at a couple of night vision compatible settings one one end and gets pretty bright on the other end.  I am not convinced it will be day bright at 1x, but the reticle is designed to be very visible regardless.  I will work it out for a range of lighting conditions once it gets here.  Overall, the scope is fairly compact at only 10″ of length and at 22 ounces is not overly heavy for a 1-8x design.  Field of view looks to be impressively wide and eye relief is longer than on the CMR4.

Hi-Lux Uni-Dial

Hi-Lux Uni-Dial

The new Uni-Dial seems to be a new design and since I liked those programmable turrets originally, I will definitely test this one as well.  The turrets seemed to have decent feel and tool-less reset.  These days, many companies offer custom engraved turrets for their scopes.  Uni-dial’s customizable nature approaches the same problem from a different angle.  I suspect that the new Uni-Dial and Phenom HD are related design differing in reticle location and perhaps a few other design specifics and aesthetic features.

Hi-Lux Phenom HD 5-30x56FFP

Hi-Lux Phenom HD 5-30x56FFP

The turrets are clearly different between the two with the Phenom being ore of a traditional precision scope design with knurled exposed turrets.  Both offer a removable cat-tail for quick magnification adjsutments.  The FFP reticle in the Phenom is a mil-grid style (along the same lines as Sig’s DEV-L, some Horus designs and many others) and generally this scope’s feature set is pretty ambitious.  I think the Phenom and Uni-Dial will be the first of Hi-Lux’s new scopes I look at.  With the CMR8 and the new competition scope following suite in late spring some time.  As I mentioned earlier, between Hi-Lux and Athlon it looks like Chinese-made designs are really coming of age.  Hi-Lux’s Phenom HD and CMR8 are ambitious designs, but if they are executed well could be a pretty major deal simply because of their sub-$1k price.

CMR4-based service rifle scope

CMR4-based service rifle scope

The CMR4-based competition scope is fundamentally a direct response to the change in the service rifle competition rules that now allow magnified optics of no more than 4.5x of magnification and no more than 34mm objective.  Bother March and Nightforce came out with scope specific for this competition, but both are expensive at $1900 for the Nightforce and well over $2k for March.  I am sure they are exceptional, but I was curious to see what will be out there that is a bit more affordable.  Well, this is an interesting design that will be far cheaper.  Best I can tell, it is the regular CMR4 with the objective lens bumped up to 34mm and adjustable configuration to dial out parallax.  The reticle is a fairly clean MOA-based design.  Now that the rules allow for optics, I have been thinking about trying the service rifle competition.  My original plan was to simply use my Elcan Spectre OS, but perhaps I will experiment with this one as well.  Honestly, I think it is a clever way to quickly get a product to market using a proven platform.  Similarly importantly, this is probably the largest objective for a low range variable scope out there.  I am very curious to see how it does.  At 4x, with a 34mm objective, this scope should have far better low light performance than most similar low range variable designs.  While Hi-Lux was thinking of service rifle competition when they came up with this, I can think of a variety of other applications where it can do well.




Sig-Sauer Electro-Optics

I would like to start this with a formal complaint:  I take my sweet time when I test precision riflescopes.  After months of messing with it, I finally concluded that I really like Sig’s Tango6 scopes.  Naturally, Sig responded by introducing an entirely new Tango6 line-up.  The 1-6×24 is not too different, except the tall turrets I did not like are gone, replaced with covered low and wide knobs.  It is also the only one with a 30mm tube.  The rest are 34mm.

New Tango 6 3-18x44

New Tango 6 3-18×44

The 3-18×44 got much shorter and noticeably fatter.  It is now about the same length as the Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44, but a lot heavier.  4-24×50 is new, while the 5-60×56 appears to be similar to other designs coming from the same OEM (you all know who this is, but Tango6’s product manager seemed sensitive to this, so I won’t say it out loud).  Other than the 1-6x, they all have 120 clicks per turn turrets (i.e. 12 mrad for me or some irrelevant number of MOA for the unholy MOA shooters out there…) that also have zero stop and locking capability (pull-up to unlokc, press down to lock).  The 1-6×24 might also have that many clicks, but I did not check.  The turret on the 1-6×24 is now eerily similar to the Vortex Razor HD Gen 2 1-6×24.  I like all of these new turrets.  The feel was good and the feature set is very rich.  There is now an electronic level and, importantly for me, there is now a mil-grid Christmas tree stile reticle called DEV-L.  For me, that is a big deal.  The electronic level has two indicators that appear to be in the reticle plane, that light up when the scope is not level.  They eat a little into the FOV, so I am trying to decide what I care about more: FOV or electronic level.  I asked Sig to keep me in mind when the 4-24×50 shows up.  While in principle a 3-18×44 is more up my alley, the 4-24×50 is only 3 ounces heavier, so I figured I would rather look at that model.

Sig Whiskey5 scopes

Sig Whiskey5 scopes

Whiskey 5 scopes have gone through an update as well.  These are Japan-made hunting scopes that are now black in color (apparently the hunting crowd objected to greyish bodies).  They also gain the previously mentioned electronic level.  They look like fairly well worked out hunting scopes.

Other riflescope product lines (Tango4 and Whiskey3) look to be reasonably unchanged.

Sig’s excellent LRFs get an upgrade in the form of Kilo2200 and Kilo2400.  Kilo2200 looks like its predecessor, but get a little more range.  Kilo2400 doubles the price tag and adds a sophisticated ballistic calculator and a wind meter that plugs into your smartphone.  Essentially, it is an attempt tog et rid of the Kestrel.  I do not spend a whole lot of time looking at LRFs, but this got my interest.

Aside from that, Sig has a new full size red dot sight called Romeo6 that is apparently assembled in the US.  It looks like a nice sight, but full-size red dots are not my cup of tea.  It does have a solar battery, which I like (I just tested solar powered compact Romeo4).  What did peak my interest was the Juliet4 4x magnifier.  However, it seemed like it was a rather early prototype.  There are not that many truly high quality magnifiers out there, so I am very curious to see what Sig came up with.

 Posted by at 10:40 pm
Feb 072017
 

Just like the videos (here), this is going to be long and laborious.  If you manage to make your way through this whole thing, pour yourself a nice bourbon.  Personally, I am starting with the bourbon now, as I write this.  I suspect, it will be a living document for a few days (so Scotch and Rum might be involved in some stages of this creative process).




Docter Optics

DocterSight G

I liked the DocterSight III quite a bit, so I made sure I visit Docter Optics at SHOT.  They are now owned by a company called Noblex.  I am not sure what that means for Docter, but I hope that means more funding for R&D and increased marketing reach.  Docter is one of those German companies that I can never quite figure out like Kaps or Nickel.  I know Docter has an arm that deals with the military side of things since I have run into theei US arm in the past.  In the commercial world, Docter has a fairly complete line of hunting scope and a few offerings intended for some sort of competition use.  I am not up to speed on the types of competitions that exist in Europe, but it sounds like a low range variable scope with a simple dot reticle and bright illumination is just the ticket for that.  Aside from that, these all look like very solid scopes with the V6 line standing out to me as the more modern offerings that probably go head to head price-wise against Meopta’s MeoStar R2 line, the new Leupold VX-6HD and a few others.  I honestly do not know where these sit quality wise, but they looked pretty good offhand, so I will make sure I look at one.  I think the V6 2-12×50 will be an interesting design to mount on my 280Rem and test.  It looks like it only comes with the #4 reticle which I happen to like, but the illumination system looks to be exceptionally well worked out.  There are quite a few other magnified scopes in the Docter line-up (some come with intersting colors…), but I have to start somewhere and I think I will start with the V6.

I think these are Cerakoted...

I think these are Cerakoted…

On the red dot sight, they have a couple of products that got my interest.  The new DocterSight G is the next evolution of their miniature reflex sight, but with a much larger lens, so I expect it to be notably quicker to pick up.  It will also have manual intensity adjustment.  I expect it to land on our shores toward the end of the year and I will test it then.  Quicksight, is on the other end of the spectrum: it is a freakishly small reflex sight intended for shotguns.

Docter Optics QuickSight

Docter Optics QuickSight

It has a different construction which allows it to have a very low axis.   The construction uses some sort of a prism to redirect the projected dot, so the LED can be set underneath the lens.  That way the body you can see to the right of the lens is basically just a battery compartment.  Vertically, the sight is extremely short and low profile.  Looking it over, I did not see any means of adjusting POA, so I suspect that on shotguns, it clips to the top rib of the barrel and is considered to be more or less sighted in by design.  I would like to test that theory.

In short, I see some things at Docter that are very traditional and some are pretty innovative.

 

Janz Revolvers

They were right next to Docter and the revolver there looked very cool with interchangeable barrels, cylinders, etc.  Once I learned that these start at around $6k, I walked away, but not before taking a couple of pictures.

Janz

Janz

The whole kit.

The whole kit.

 

EOTech

EOTech had some reasonably well publicised issues involving their holographic sights which tarnished both the company and product in many ways.  Beyond this acknowledgement, I will pretty much ignore all of that sordid history and focus on the new products.  New products in question are Vudu riflescopes.  Finally, EOTech offers a line of proper magnified sights and they seem to be pretty decent magnified sights.  What I am not entirely sure of, is whether they are sufficiently differentiated from everybody else on the market who uses LOW’s OEM designs.  What I do not know is whether EOTech has made any modification to these LOW designs outside of their own reticles and external cosmetics.  The EOTech person I talked to said there was some additional customization, but I do not have an easy way to verify that.  There are four riflescopes in the Vudu product line: 1-6×24, 2.5-10×44, 3.5-18×50 and 8-32×56.  There are some discrepancies between the brochures I picked up at SHOT and the information on the website, but best I can tell, 1-6×24 and 2.5-10×44 are available as FFP models only, while 3.5-18×50 and 8-32×50 are available in both FFP and SFP configuration.

EOTech Vudu 1-6x24

EOTech Vudu 1-6×24

The two reticles available in the 1-6×24 both built on the original circle-dot theme of the HWS.  There is a 65 MOA circle that makes for a very quick CQB aiming point.  However at 6x, it disappears outside the FOV and whatever is in the center of the reticle can be used for more precise shots.  There you have an option of either a mil-scale or a horseshoe with caliber specific holdovers for either 5.56 or 7.62.

The reticles in the other scopes are fairly simple designs that look a little bit like Gen 2 MilDot (or Sig’s milling reticle) and are available in two versions: mrad-based and MOA-based.  They look like perfectly respectable reticles, but I am surprised EOTech is not offering something along the lines of a Christmas tree or grid style reticle.  I could have sworn I saw mention of H59 somewhere in the past, but I can’t find it anywhere now.  Honestly, I think that is an oversight.   I am curious to see how these scopes will do, so I sent an e-mail to the gentleman I talked to at SHOT to see if they are willing to lend me one to play with.  The model I am most interested in is the 2.5-10×44.  It is a very underlooked configuration and there are very few of these in FFP form.  My plan is to compare it to US Optics B-10 1.8-10×42.

EOTech Vudu riflescopes and Q's

EOTech Vudu riflescopes and Q’s “The Fix” rifles

Oddly enough an item that caused a lot of interest in the EOTech booth was the rifle that a couple of the scopes were mounted on.  The rifle in question is called “The Fix” by Q LLC.  Best I can tell, Q employs a bunch of people that used to work at Sig and AAC.  I am not sure if either one of those companies has a financial interest in Q and do not particularly care.  The rifles were interesting and, unlike most modern chassis-style rifles, quite light.  I made a mental note to look them up and I did. And then I pre-ordered one.  I like the idea of huting with the same gun I use for precision shooting and my Desert Tech is a bit too heavy for that.  The Fix with a 16″ 308Win barrel weights right around 6lbs and takes a regualr LR-308 magazine that costs abotu $20.  A Desert Tech Covert with a 16″ 308WIn barrel weighs around 10lbs and the magazines are $100 each.  Desert Tech is probably a better precision platform.  I like the bullpup configuration and its weight distribution, I like the quick change barrels.  However, if I wanted to buy a Covert to add to me Gen 1 Desert Tech SRS, I’d be out around $5500.  The Fix is $2800 and weights four pounds less.  If it proves accurate enough for my needs, I’ll have to pull off some sort of a miracle of self-persuasion to keep my old SRS.  Ultimately, that will become the question of how much I want to keep my 338LM.

 

Nightforce Optics

There were two fairly new things at Nightforce booth this year: ATACR F1 7-35×56 and SR-1 Competition 4.5×24 scope.  Both were announced a bit before SHOT, but that was the first time I got to see them.  The little 4.5×24 looked mighty appealing to me (I like compact fixed power scopes, probably owing to how much time I have spent with various Mosin PU scopes) until I figured out that it costs right around $1900.  I will freely admit that it looks like a very well optimized scope and I am sure it will do well with service rifle competitors, but I am having a hard time justifying that cost for a fixed power scope.  Then again, I am not a service rifle competitor, so I might be missing something.  Also, it is cheaper than the March 1-4.5×24 that is also new this year.  On the other side of the spectrum the FFP 7-35×56 ATACR is intended for a very different audience and I suspect it will do very well with precision rifle shooters.  It is pretty expensive at right around $3500, but that is more or less in line with the competition, although in all fairness, if you want more than 30x in a FFP scope there isn’t that much competion out there.  S&B 5-45×56 is close to $5k.  March 5-40×56 is probably the closest and it costs about the same.  There were two 7-35x56s sitting in the Nightforce booth and one looked excellent while the other seemed a little iffy.  I am guessing these were prototypes of some sort, but in the meantime I asked Nightforce to send me one of these for T&E.  I really liked the 4-16×42 ATACR F1, so my expectations for the 7-35×56 are pretty high.  I have not shot my 338LM in a little bit.  This will be a good opportunity to do so.

Trijicon

The big recent news with Trijicon is their acquisition of IR Hunter.  That was a shrewd move on their part.  In my opinon these are the best engineered of the commercially available thermal sights.  Now, with Trijicon’s marketing muscle behind them, we will likely see them get a bit more traction.  The first obvious effect though is that the price has gone up…  Now, in principle, Trijicon has something to offer regardless of the type of a weapon sight you are looking for.  Between RMR and MRO the have some of the better red dot sights on the market.  ACOGs and Compact ACOGs continue to do well (although some could models stand a refresh).  Accupoint and Accupower cover conventional riflescopes fairly well, while TARS serves the precision market (not sure how much impact it has had).

Trijicon MRO

Trijicon MRO

On the non-thermal side of things there is a new version of the MRO called “patrol” or something along those lines, which is the original MRO with a different mount and some accessories.  I really like the MRO and prefer it over the Aimpoint Micro, and the new mount is a solid improvement.  THe top mounted control dial is much easier for me to use with either hand than most other arrangements.  As far as small tubualr red dot sights go, I sorta settled on the MRO is being my overall favourite with Hi-Lux MM2 being the bang for the buck champ.

 

There is also a new Accupower, and it is an interesting design being a FFP 1-8×28.

Trijicon 1-8x28

Trijicon 1-8×28

A slightly larger than the more common 24mm objective might make a difference at 8x.  Aside from that, it looks suspiciously similar to the 1-8×24 design that Light Optical Works from Japan makes for a bunch of other people.  That is not a bad thing since this is a very respectable design, but I am not really sure what changes Trijicon has introduced other than a slight bump in objective diameter.  The reticles are simple and fairly effective designs: broken circle and a ranging scale.  There are two versions, one with mrad scale and another with MOA scale.

I have mixed feelings about broken circle designs.  They work adequately well, but a solid circle or a solid horseshoe is, I think a better option.    One other nice feature thing is a removable cat tail.

I asked Trijicon who I should talk to if I want to borrow one of these for T&E, and they gave me a business card for a gentleman named Eddie Stevenson who is the President of Driftwood Media.  Apparently, that is Trijicon’s PR firm.  I reached out to Eddie and got a fairly quick reply politely asking who I am.  I told him what I do here and never heard back from him.  He is either really busy, or he deemed that I am not worthy of testing the new Trijicon.  I might still borrow one from one of my dealer/distributor friends, but that sorta depends on how busy I am in this coming year.  In years past, I tried to get my hands on every new scope in some manner, but that was before I was married and with kids.  Nowadays, I follow the path of least resistance: I figure out what I want to compare, reach out to the makers and spend whatever time I have on the actual testing process.  If I have to spend time chasing after a manufacturer or, in this case, a PR firm, that’s basically a non-starter for me.  Most of the time, that means they will not deal with writers whose opinion they can not easily influence (via advertising revenue or other means), and I do not feel like delving into figuring this out.




Juggernaut Tactical

I had never heard of Juggernaut Tactical before, although they, like me, live behind enemy lines (in California) and have to comply with California insane laws.

JT CA-compliant Stock for AR-type rifles

JT’s CA-compliant Stock for AR-type rifles

They make a lot of miscellaneous parts for semiauto rifles including a bullpup chassis for M1A and a bunch of other things.  What attracted my interest was there CA-compliant AR stock.  It replaces the buffer tube and provides a pretty good way to make a “featureless” CA-compliant AR-15 or LR-308.  Interestingly, the part of the buttstock that replaces the buffer tube is apparently three times thicker and it feels exceptionally sturdy.  They also tell me, it gets rif of that annoying twang sound AR buffer tubes make.  It comes with an extended takedown pin that serves as a thumb rest and still allows yo to use your original pistol grip (except you cant wrap you thumb around it).  The length of pull was about right for me, and I think it will serve well on my LR-308 when it finally comes out.

Kel-tec

I always stop by the Kel-tec booth to see what they have that is new.  They are an innovative company that really needs more manufacturing capacity.  What has a really got my interest lately with Kel-tec is their RDB-C rifle.  It is a semi-automatic bullpup rifle that does not have a pistol grip.  What it does have is a very respectable trigger.  Since there is no pistol grip, it should be allowed in the People’s Republic of Kalifornia.  It was surprisingly comfortable to hold and when equipped with a 20″ barrel, the overall length is just over 30″.  If they actually make it, they will have the bulk of the California market to themselves.  They have a 5.56 variant and they are working on a 6.5Grendel one.  I will buy both when available.

US Optics

I’ve always had a somewhat complicated relationship with US Optics.  I like a lot about this company, but for a little bit I thought that the market has sorta passed them buy.  They did not have a whole lot of new development (they did have some with low range variables) and while I am a big fan of the EREK knob, I do not like the low magnification tunneling and I did not like how much their scopes cost.  This year, they’ve got the new B-series scopes which are newer iterations of the original 1.8-10x, 3.2x-17 and 5-25 designs called B-10, B-17 and B-25 respectively.  They told me that there were some changes in the system that helped with the tunneling and the turret box was redesigned a bit to be more streamlined.  The tunneling is still there, but looks less pronounced.  The elevation turret is still excellent, and, very importantly, the pricing is a bit more reasonable, at least for the B-10 which lists somewhere around $1700.  B-17 and B-25 list at $2300 and $3300 respectively.   B-10 is the one that I would like to look at.  It is reasonably compact and I really want to give the new turrets a workout with the new zero stop design, tool-less zero, etc.  I glanced at their website and it looks like they are still making changes to it.  At the moment they’ve got some rather questionable product categories there, but I will reserve judgement until it is all updated.

Shield Sights

This is a British company I stumbled onto purely by accident.  Apparently, they make Jpoint and have, in the past made a bunch of miniature reflex sights for others, like Trijicon.  They are now marketing their sights under their own brand and best I can tell, they have been in use by British military for quite some time.  There is a rumor floating around that their rifle sight (either SQS or SIS, I guess) proved to be more reliable than Aimpoint Micro in some British trials.  If true, that is pretty impressive.  Aimpoint Micro is a nice sight.  Shield currently has for reflex sights in their product line.  The original miniature reflex sight is called SMS (Shield Mini Sight) is what you get if you order a Jpoint and a few other sights.  Best I can tell, this is the only one that Shield OEMs for others.  The other models are RMS (Reflex Mini Sight), CQS (Close Quarter Sportsight) and  SIS (Switchable Interface Sight).

Shield SIS

The SIS feature list, interestingly, enough, looks like someone reached into my notes and made a carbine/backup sight based on them: it has three auto adjust modes and a manual adjust mode, it has four reticles you can switch between (8MOA dot, 4MOA dot, 1MOA dot with a 65MOA ring made out of 12 dots, and SIS 2MOA bullet drop).  It also looks pretty indestructible and very compact.  The SIS 2MOA bullet drop reticle is unique to the SIS, while the other four reticle are available in the other sights as well.

 

1MOA with 65MAO circle reticle

 

CQS looks pretty similar to the SIS, so I am assuming it is the earlier version.  That is the sight that is in service with the British military.  Like the SIS and RMS, it has an aluminum body (earlier SMS has a plastic body).  You lose some of the options you have with the SIS and save about a hundred bucks.  I think SIS runs ~$500 and CQS runs around $400, so they are up against some pretty serious competition, and I am very curious to see how they stack up.

Shield RMS

Shield RMS

For handguns, the sight that really got my attention is the RMS.  It has the lowest base of any red dot I have seen and looks like it would be a perfect match for cowitnessing iron sights.  With the proprietary plate, it cowitnesses with standard Glock sights, which is kinda remarkable.  Basically, the body of the sight below the lens is concealed by the rear sight and does not interfere with the sight picture.  That means that all the presentation drills I do with iron sights are not wasted.  With RMS, I do not have to change a thing.

I sent the gentleman who owns Shield an e-mail to see if I can get my hands on one.  We will see how it goes, but I am pretty pumped about these.

 

Nite-Site

Another British company around the corner from Shield was Nite-Eyes.  I was probably pre-dispositioned to not take them very seriously since I have a pet peeve about intentionally misspelling words.  I am not sure what the reasoning is behind butchering the words “Night” and “Sight”.  Maybe they were trying to write in ebonics or something.  I was not born in this country and I worked very hard to learn this language.  I sorta take it personally when people butcher it for no good reason.

Nite-Site gizmo

Nite-Site gizmo

 

This company makes a Near InfraRed camera that clamps onto your scope and blasts the image from the eyepiece onto a screen that hangs a few inches above the scope.  The gizmo with the screen also contains a NIR illuminator that points in the same direction as the barrel.  I see a few problems with this approach.  First of all, if you are shooting a rifle with any sort of recoil, that camera will smack you in the face.  Looking up at that screen while shooting is very unnatural and breaks your cheekweld, since looking at the screen without breaking your cheekweld did not work for me due to camera housing blocking the line of sight.  Then again, they had it all set up with on a Rudolph scope, which kinda stands to reason…  On a plus side, the had a standalone system that was essentially a NIR spotter: it integrates a NIR camera and illuminator into one module with a screen on the back.  That seems like a perfectly viable idea except for some ergonomic issues.  They claim that it is designed to spot things  out to several hundred yards which requires some means of holding it in a stable manner.  The way it is right now is not conducive to that.  Still, that is a fairly clever gadget, while their system that attaches to a scope is… well, I think you worked out what I think about it.

Sightron

Sightron did not have too many new things  this time around.  They now offer simple plex reticles in some of their high magnification scopes.  There is a new small rimfire scope in the SIH line (3-9×32) which looks like a pretty nice little scope, but a simple crosshair reticle it comes with is not my cup of tea.  I think there were a couple of new SII Blue Sky spotters as well.  The two announcements that are of interest to me were in two far removed from each other market segments: miniature red dots sights and ultra high magnification target scopes.

ED Glass in Sightron's next to of the line scope

ED Glass in Sightron’s next to of the line scope

I spent a lot of time with Sightron’s SV 10-50×60 target scope and really liked the innovative dual speed side focus.  That scope was almost good enough to go head to head with the Marches of this world, but did have some annoying CA at high magnification.  More importantly, Vortex’ new Golden Eagle cost a bit less and performs better at high mag.  Now, Sightron has updated this scope with ED glass, which should help at high mag.  It should be out in late spring some time and I will make sure I get my hands on it.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, it looks like Sightron is finally getting into the miniature red dot sight business with their new SRS6 that features a 6MOA dot and a battery compartment accessible form the top.  I’ll make sure I look at that one too.

 Posted by at 2:13 pm
Feb 042017
 

Written by ILya Koshkin In January, 2017

 

Sig Sauer Electro Optics Tango 6 3-18×44

Well, this is one article where I am going to eat some crow, figuratively speaking.  

I make it a point to try to get my hands on some representative samples from more or less every new riflescope brand.  I know that there are differences between models and product lines.  However, since I have a day job, I can’t do a thorough test of everything out there.  I do what I can and only recommend products that I have reasonable hands on time with make it to my list of recommendations.

When I select which products to test, I often ask some of my friends in the industry whether a particular product is worth my time.  I do not always follow their suggestions, but I have to use some sort of a filtering scheme.  When I test a scope, I spend a LOT of time with it and fire a fairly significant number of rounds with it mounted on a gun.  I invest a lot of time and money into it.  I remember I was once talking to a guy who is an avid hunter and he claimed that he practices a lot with his rifle.  Well, after a little digging it turned out that I fire more rounds while testing a single scope than he does in a year with all of his rifles together.  Now, simply firing a lot of rounds by itself does not necessarily mean all that much, but it is still reasonable representation of the time and effort spent.  




When I was first looking into testing a Sig Tango6, a couple of people I talked to said that they are decent, but unexceptional and might not be worth my time.  Sig being a pretty big name, I figured I should test one any way, but my expectations were pretty low.  Digging through the specs was not terribly encouraging either.

Actually using the scope turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.  This scope is the case where the whole package turned out to be more than the sum of the individual parts (forgive me for this overused terminology, but it truly is applicable).

Here is the spec table of the scopes I think represent the Tango6’s competition.  I can come up with a few more, but I think this is a good cross-section of what’s out there.  I tried to stick with a similar magnification range and a 42-44mm objective lens.  I did include the Steiner T5Xi in there which is a 3-15×50 design largely because it is the most direct competitor to the Sig price-wise.  I was able to compare the Sig directly to the Nightforce, Leupold and Steiner since I had them here.  I have not looked at the IOR for a bit, but I have spent a lot of time with it in the past.  While it was a pretty groundbreaking design when it was first introduced (especially for the money), in the modern marketplace and in this price range, it is not terribly competitive.  The Bushnell LRHS is a little less expensive, but looks like a very competent design, that I plan to test thoroughly.

Nightforce

ATACR F1 4-16×42

Leupold

Mark 6

3-18×44

Sig Electro-

Optics Tango6

3-18×44

Steiner T5Xi

3-15×50

IOR SH

3-18×42

Bushnell Elite

Long Range Hunter

4.5-18×44

Length, in 12.6 11.9 15.3 13.1 13.5 14.2
Weight, oz 30 (31.9 w/caps) 23.6 31.8 29.8 (31.5 with sunshade) 28 26.5
Main Tube Diameter 34mm 34mm 30mm 34mm 35mm 30mm
Eye Relief, in 3.35 – 3.54 3.8 – 3.9 3.9 3.5 – 4.3 3.35
FOV, ft@1000yards 26.9 – 6.9

11@10x

36.8 – 6.3

11.3@10x

35.3 – 5.9

10.6@10x

36 – 7.3

11@10x

31 – 7.5

13.5@10x

23.5 – 6

10.6@10x

Exit Pupil, mm 10.3 – 2.7 11.4 – 2.4 12 – 3.4 9.2 – 2.5
Click Value 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad
Adj range E: 26 mrad

W: 18 mrad

E: 29 mrad

W: 14.5 mrad

20.9 mrad E: 34 mrad

W: 15 mrad

22 mrad 24 mrad
Adj per turn 12 mrad, double turn 10 mrad, double turn 8 mrad, double turn 12 mrad, double turn 10 mrad 10 mrad
Zero Stop Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Reticle Location FFP FFP FFP or SFP FFP FFP FFP
Reticle Illum Yes Optional Yes Yes Yes Yes
Price $2400 $2200 – $3200 $1800 FFP

$1700 SFP

$1800 $1850 $1449

 

Looking at the specs, the Tango6 looks like a reasonably well conceived scopes, but a little behind the pack in a few key areas: it is significantly longer than others, a little heavier than others, has the least adjustment range and the least adjustment per turn.  Field of View is on the low side of things, although eye relief is adequately long.

Based on the specs, it is pretty easy to lose interest in the Tango6, but I think that would be a mistake.  I found it to be a very well executed scope in most ways.

Mechanically, I had exactly zero problems with it.  All controls were repeatable and well weighted.  Turrets tracked true (while the scope is available with both MOA and MRAD clicks, the version I looked at had 0.1mrad clicks).  SIde focus did not exhibit any hysteresis that I could see and there was no discernible POA shift with side focus adjustment that I could find.  A couple of times when I thought I saw some POA shift while adjusting side focus, it turned out to be parallax error.

The turrets come with zero stop, which I have really learned to appreciate over the years, and with a locking feature: push down/left to lock and pull up/down to unlock.

The 8 mrad per turn is a little low for this price range, but in practice it is not terribly limiting.  I figured that this scope might be at its best on a gas gun, so it mostly sat on the my large frame AR chambered for 308Win:

On the 308Win, 8mrad gets me out to about 800 yards.  To go further, you need to tap into the second turn.  Since the turret has a zero stop, it is pretty difficult to get confused where you are.  The clicks themselves are widely spaced and very tactile, which I liked.  In terms of overall shape, the turrets are fairly tall and not very wide.  They are easy to grasp, but honestly I prefer turrets that are a little lower and wider. Still, I was not in any way limited by this design.

Windage and elevation turrets are similar in size which, ones again, is not really my thing.  I can’t think of the last time I dialed for wind.  I always hold for wind, so I would have preferred a covered low profile windage turret that does not stick out that much.  Still, with the Tango6, the turret locks down, so after zeroing in, I pushed it in and never touched it again.

The elevation turret and the side focus/illumination turret I exercised quite a bit and came away pretty happy.  

 

All the markings are bright and nicely visible under almost any ambient condition.  The throw of the parallax adjustment is a little short, but I got used to it quickly.  The reticle illumination on this scope is easily among the best I have ever seen.  There is an off setting in every other position and the dynamic range is very broad.  The two lowest settings are for night vision and they are very low indeed.  The brightest setting is pretty much daylight bright.  What I really liked was that unlike most precision scopes, there are no hard stops of on the illumination control.  From an off setting between the brightest and the lowest settings, I can rotate the dial either way continuously.  For me that is very convenient.  

The illuminated part of the reticle is the whole thin section.  Since it can get fairly bright, I found it very helpful even in bright light.  Here is a picture of one of the mid-level settings at night:

The picture was taken with a cell phone, so I apologize for the quality.  I bumped the illumination level up, so that the autofocus could lock on the reticle.  The church in the picture is a bit over 750 yards away and the scope is on 3x.  Note that the thick outer bars of this reticle )MRAD Milling in Sig nomenclature) are pretty nicely visible in low light, more so than the picture suggests.  Even with a dead battery, I stand a pretty good chance of being able to use the reticle in low light simply by bracketing between the thick bars.

Also, the scope did not have any tunneling at low magnification.  The black ring in the picture is an artefact of the picture taking process.

While we are on the subject of the reticle, I liked this one.  It is a simple reticle that reminded me of the Gen 2 MilDot except with some additional features: open center and 0.2mil hashmarks in a few strategic spots to aid in range estimation.

Here are reticle pictures at a few different magnifications.  I found the reticle easy to pick out in any light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For comparison, here is a snapshot of Steiner’s SCR reticle at 3x from the T5Xi 3-15×50 that I compared to the Tango6:

 

In anything but good light, without illumination, the Steiner reticle was much harder to use than the one in the Sig.  The SCR reticle in the Steiner, in general, seemed a lot busier.  I am sure it is a very capable design with a lot of features desirable for competition use, but I I found that I preferred the simplicity and visibility of the Sig reticle design.  This is sort of a personal preference for me.  I do not mind complicated reticles (with a strong preference toward Christmas-tree style designs), but I prefer patterns that retain reasonable visibility even without illumination.

 

Getting the reticle focused was pretty straightforward with the quick eyepiece focus adjustment.  Once focused, it stayed that way.  One of the quick checks to see if the erector system in a FFP scope is worked out correctly is to carefully examine the reticle in the center of the FOV and at the edges.  If the reticle lines remain sharp all the way to the edge of the FOV, it is a good sign.  Some early designs with high erector ratios did not do that.  No such problem with the Sig.

Parallax adjustment is a touch quicker than I like, but with a little practice, I did not have too difficult of a time dialing it in.  The scope has pretty good depth of field, so from the standpoint of getting a sharp image, the somewhat quick adjustment of the parallax knob is not an issue.  However, sharp image does not necessarily mean no parallax, so make sure you check.

Optically, I thought that this design was rather well worked out for the money.  I had a bunch of 3-15×50 scopes here (all costing more), so I had a chance to compare them to the Sig.  Mostly, they were better, but also more expensive.  Of the scopes that competed more or less directly against the Sig due to either price or configuration, I choose the first four in the table above: Leupold Mark 6, Nightforce ATACR F1 and Steiner T5Xi.

Overall, Sig did pretty well and about as well as I would expect it to based on price.  Optically, it was better than the Mark 6 (which pays the penalty for being compact), but not quite as good as the more compact and more expensive ATACR F1 4-16×42.  Tango6 is ultimately a better bang for the buck than either one of these, simply due to being less expensive.  In broad daylight, the biggest difference between these three is in apparent contrast.  Nightforce has really gotten better at that recently.  Both Nightforce and Sig have a touch better resolution than the Mark 6.  In low light, the gap between Nightforce and Sig narrowed just a bit, owing to Sig’s excellent flare suppression.  Mark 6 suffered in low light a little simply because it lacked an illuminated reticle.  Still, the ATACR F1 was the best one of the three once the light got low.

The real problem for all three of these scopes in terms of overall performance for the money is Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50, which has a larger objective lens with minimal size and weight penalty, for about the same money as the Sig.  I am not a huge fan of the SCR reticle, but if we take the reticle out of the equation, the T5Xi is a bit better in low light than the other three scopes I mention, has nice low and wide turrets and is pretty easy to get behind.  Now that the tracking issues with T5Xi have been resolved, it is a very nice package.

That having been said, for my purposes, I prefer Sig’ milling reticle to Steiner’s SCR, and I generally found Sig to be very usable.

Eye relief is generous and reasonably flexible.  It gets pretty tight at 18x, but that is the case with most scopes at high magnification as exit pupil gets smaller.  I did not feel unduly burdened by it.  

Naturally, as soon as I finally decide that I really like the Tango6, I go to SHOT and discover that Sig has completely re-designed the line-up and the new 3-18×44 is much shorter and a bit heavier, with a 35mm tube and new turrets (12mrad per turn).  It looked pretty nice, but I am not excited about the weight.  We’ll see how it stacks up.  I did like their new Dev-L grid style reticle.

In the meantime, I suspect that there will be good prices on the first generation Tango6 and if I were looking for a scope of this type, it would be near the top of my list.

 

 Posted by at 12:20 pm
Feb 012017
 

While I work on the pictures and some written commentary, here are the video clips of my ramblings after SHOT.  I apologize about how disorganized these are, but they are mostly intended as a means for me to record my impressions before they fade.

These are long and meandering, so watch at your own risk…




 

 

 Posted by at 10:45 am
Dec 162016
 

In the modern market, most cameras introduced are pretty decent.  There is a major paradigm shift going on, where traditional fixed lens digital still cameras have been effectively displaced by new categories of photographic devices, most notably cell phones.  All the different compact digital cameras that use fairly small sensors are effectively obsolete, with a couple of exceptions.  The only non-interchangeable lens market segment that is doing all right is the so-called “enthusiast compact camera” that use a pretty large (1″ format) image sensor and as such offer significantly better image quality that any currently available cell phone.

I wrote about these camera fairly extensively earlier this year and while there are a few new entrants to this market, the situation has not changed much.

Here, I will offer some brief recommendations and a little bit of my decision making process for a variety of imaging devices:

 

Cell phones

For all practical purposes, if image quality is important, you need a flagship smartphone.  We are down to two operating systems: Apple and Android.  In terms of pure image quality, top end Android phones are a little better, but the iPhone is not far behind and is excellent in terms of usability.  I use Android and I have recently switched to Google Pixel.  Prior to that, I was using Google Nexus 6P.  However, I have had my hands on just about every flagship smartphone out there.  Google Pixel is pretty much the only option with a top notch smartphone camera in a not supersized body.  It also has the best autofocus I have seen on a phone to date.  Samsung phones do well in online reviews.  I have had a bunch of them and I swear Samsung must be buying those reviews.  In terms of pure image quality, Samsung Galaxy phones are good, but in terms of usability, Google Pixel runs circles around them.

 

Compact Point and Shoot Cameras

First, let’s get it out there: traditional inexpensive point and shoot cameras are simply not worth buying unless for some reason you can not use a smartphone.  The exceptions are:

  1. You need something waterproof/shockproof for swimming, skiing, etc.  In terms of image quality, you are better off putting a proper camera into a waterproof case, but that gets bulky.  If you need a small camera that does this consider Olympus Tough series.  Honestly, if it were me, I would be more likely to look at one of the action cams because for this type of use, video is important.  GoPro effectively created the action cam category, and the new Hero5 Black is pretty impressive.  That is the way I would go, since for this kind of a camera telephoto lens is not necessary (for my use).
  2. You are looking for significantly better image quality that you cell phone in a form factor that is still reasonably pocketable.  Then, you need one of the enthusiast compact cameras I mentioned earlier.  Sony is up to the fifth generation of their RX100 (Mark V), and if you can swing the price tag, it is not a bad way to go.  I think Sony has royally crewed up the interface though, so if super fast video modes do not tickle you, save some money and get the Panasonic LX10.  Its UI has its own gremlins, but it is much better that Sony’s.  Also, while Sony’s autofocus looks awesome  on paper and does great in reviews, every time I use it, I get fewer keepers than with Panasonic.  Basic image quality for still between the two is about the same.  Sony has slightly better 4K video, but both are good.  Now, if all you do is street photography and you never do video, I strongly recommend you take a look at Ricoh GR II with its much larger APS-C sensor and fixed 28mm equivalent lens.  In blows all the 1″ sensor cameras out of the water in terms of image quality in an almost as compact body.  It is a more limiting configuration though, but an excellent UI for photographers.

 

Bridge style non-interchangeable lens camera

The market is full of fancy looking cameras with what looks like incredibly long zoom lenses (83x, etc).  Ignore them.  I am talking about models like Nikon P900 and similar.  They look nice on paper.  When you first get it, you will have a lot of fun playing with that crazy zoom range.  Then, as you look at the pictures you will put the camera away and barely ever use it again.  In order to get that crazy zoom range, they use small image sensors, similar to what is in your cell phone,  but with complicated and not very bright lenses.  Stick with bridge cameras that are built around a much larger 1″ sensor.  Canon, Sony and Panasonic make such cameras.  Nikon announced a few, but can’t quite get them to market.  Canon, in my opinion, bungled this category up a bit in terms of video, so that leaves us with Sony and Panasonic.  For the money, Panasonic FZ1000 is the one to go.  If you are really interested in pro quality video, consider Panasonic FZ2500.  If the longest possible zoom is a big deal for you, spend the extra cash for Sony RX1o Mark III.

 

System Cameras

This includes both mirrorless and DSLR cameras.  Anything with interchangeable lenses qualifies.   Before I delve into it a bit more, you have to decide what is important for you.  If video is important, you should forget about DSLRs.  All DSLRs right now have video features and the way they are implemented is almost looks like they were trying to make sure noone uses them.

Honestly, in the modern camera market DSLRs have two things going for them: long battery life and target tracking (i.e. sports photography).  They will continue having a notable edge in battery life for a while, but target tracking gap is going to be negligible within a generation.

There is, however, a quirk in the market.  Before I get to it, let’s talk about sensor size.  There are three sensor sizes in use for cameras that most of us can sorta afford (I am staying from the medium frame discussion for now):

  • Full frame or 35mm or FX (in Nikon-speak) is the largest and the best for low light and high ISO performance
  • APS-C or DX is about half the area and low light performance is about a stop worse
  • Micro 4/3 is a bit smaller than APS-C and low light performance is about 3/4 of  stop worse than APS-C

High ISO image quality is important for very low light situations and for action photography where you often need to bump up the ISO in order to use very fast shutter speeds.  The only mirrorless system that uses a full frame sensor is Sony A7.  It has great technology and excellent image quality.  Unfortunately, it also has pretty terrible user experience.  Best I can tell, their UI is not designed for humans.  Performance is generally sluggish and battery life is about 60% of what Sony claims.  If you are a landscape photographer, Sony A7R II should be on your shortlist.  Outside of that, if you need a full frame sensor, a DSLR is probably still a better way to go for at least a couple more years.  For allround performance for the money, Nikon D750 is worth looking at.  It is not a new design, so you can find a good deal on it and the AF system is surprisingly competent.  If you do not have legacy lenses from a competing system, and you do not do action photography much, consider Pentax K-1.  This is the most image quality for the money you will get.  Personally, for the things I do, there is an advantage to Canon lenses (I will explain why later), so I would take a long hard look at the new Canon 5D Mark IV.  It is, however, a lot more money.  Also, since Canon seems hell bent on protecting their video camera business, 4K video implementation in the new 5D is fundamentally idiotic (I am being rather mild here; you should hear what real videographers have to say about it).

If you are not compelled to get a full frame sensor, for the most part I would suggest you stay away from DSLRs and stick with a mirrorless camera system.

The only reason to get a DSLR with a crop sensor is if you are looking for good tracking autofocus (i.e. sports) and the best one for the is Nikon D500.  It is not cheap, but it has an absolutely spectacular AF system.  It is also waterproof and, importantly for me, it shoots 4K video.  That is pretty much the only crop sensor DSLR out there that I might consider buying.  If you do not do sports, go mirrorless.

Honestly, with the introduction of Olympus E-M1 Mark II, even sports photography is not really out of reach, but I need to play with that camera a little more to see.  For indoor sports, D500 is still better owing to better high ISO performance.  There are some outstanding issues with D500, but they are mostly peripheral to taking pictures and videos and I hope Nikon will fix them with firmware updates.

Olympus E-M1 Mark II uses a Micro 4/3 size sensor which is a bit smaller than Canon’s APS-C or Nikon’s DX.  All of the Olympus and Panasonic interchangeable lens cameras use Micro-4/3 sensors.

Other mirrorless cameras use APS-C or DX sensors: Fuji X system, Sony A6300 and A6500, Canon EOS M5.

Weirdly, Nikon is not doing anything memorable in the mirrorless space.

All of these are competent cameras.  Sony is the most full featured of them and the one I like the least.  It looks awesome on paper, but it has all of the same Sony problems: sluggish operation, heat issues and battery life issues.  On top of that, Sony decided to not offer lossless raw on their crop sensor cameras, claiming we do not need it.  For those of us who do some postprocessing (and if you do not, system cameras are not for you) this can be an absolute show stopper, since it effects how well you can pull up shadows and generally fix exposure.  I get lossless raw images from my cellphone, but I can’t get them from a Sony A6500.  Basically, if you want to buy a very full featured camera for bragging rights, but do not plan to use any of the features, Sony A6500 is your best choice.  For the rest of us, there are other options.

If you already have a bunch of Canon lenses from your old DSLR, the mirrorless EOS M5 is a pretty good choice.  Canon finally upgraded their sensor fab, so basic image quality from their newest sensors is quite good.  EOS M5 is the only mirrorless camera from Canon with the new sensor.  It does not offer 4K video, but aside from that, I like what I see and it integrates well with all Canon lenses via an adapter.

Fuji X system is now pretty well fleshed out and if you want a mirrorless camera with APS-C sensor, this is a pretty good way to go.  X-T2 now offers competent 4K video and is the best general purpose camera in Fuji’s line-up, while X-Pro2 leans a bit more toward stills.  It sorta comes down to whether you need video and what form factor you like.  X-Pro2 is a rangefinder style camera, while X-T2 is more of a traditional SLR style.  Both are good cameras and they use more or less the same Sony sensor that is in the A6500.  Except, Fuji gets more out of it.

Lastly, we get to Micro-4/3.  This is easily the best fleshed out system in the mirrorless world.  Since it is based on a slightly smaller sensor, its lenses are also a bit smaller, so the overall system is smaller.  The converse is that there is a penalty in low light, although not a huge one.  Traditionally, Panasonic Micro-4/s cameras did better with video and Olympus did better with stills.  The lines are blurring though as far as flagships are concerned.  Newly introduced Olympus E-M1 Mark II is a superb stills camera and a competent video camera.  The upcoming Panasonic GH5 is still likely to be better with video, but stills will be no slouch either.

If you are on a budget, Panasonic generally offers what I believe to be the best price to performance ration in the camera world: G80 for those who like DSLR-style bodeis and GX80 for those who prefer rangefinder style bodies.  Both have excellent stills features and very respectable video options including 4K.  In this price range, I do not like the Olympus offerings, so stick with Panasonic.

As you go a bit higher in price, we have Panasonic GX8 and Olympus Pen-F.  GX8 looked so promising that I bought… and two weeks later returned it.  It is an extremely competent camera, but I could not grab it without inadvertently pressing a bunch of buttons.  Aside from that, I thought it was a very nice design.  I know a lot of people love it and it clearly works for them.  To me, it is a mess of a UI.  Panasonic was trying to make sure there is enough adjustability, so they put in 14 customizable controls instead of leaving some gripping space.

Olympus Pen-F uses the same sensor as GX8 and seems to be a touch better for still image quality, but it is close.  Video features, however, are rather limited.  If you do anything more than a casual video clip occasionally, this is not the camera for you.  Stills performance, however, is excellent as is build quality.  If Olympus made the Pen-F weather resistant, I would already own one warts and all, and I still might buy it.

The flagships of the Panasonic and Olympus lines are GH5 and E-M1 Mark II respectively.  GH5 is coming out next year.  E-M1 Mark II just came out.  I’ll talk about GH5 when it is here.  The E-M Mark II, however, is a superb camera with incredible speed and image stabilization.  If you are after a flagship, give it a look.

 

 Posted by at 4:33 pm
Nov 252016
 

Talking about clothing is a bit of a departure for me, but a little while ago, I ran into a guy who got Lyme disease from a tick.  That got me thinking about insect repelling sprays, clothing, etc.  While I was at it, I tried to find something that is also moisture-wicking and offers some reasonable protection from the sun.  What makes this a bit complicated is the fact that some materials or chemical treatments are not compatible with my skin: I often develop rashes and irritations with clothing made from synthetic materials.

The funny thing is that I can not trace it down to a specific material.  For example, something made of polyester will work well with one maker and not at all with another.  I figure that it must be down to some sort of the treatment, rather than the material itself.

On paper Haeleum Darian shirt seemed to have everything I was looking for:

On top of that I like the Mossy Oak camo pattern.  It is thoroughly useless for anything that I might need, so my interest in it is purely aesthetic.

I am not sure what the Haeleum Darian shirt is treated with, but it agrees with my skin.  I wore it for a bit and had no issues.  Testing how resistant it is to various insect proved to be a little bit difficult, but the chemical it is treated with (permithrin) is a pretty well explored quantity and it works well.  However, I will fully admit that I did not try to seek out ticks or Zika-carrying mosquitoes just to see how well it works.  The wasps, of which I have a bunch in my yard, did not land on the shirt, nor did the flies on a hot day when I went to chop some wood in the yard (I had five large pine trees taken down a little while back and I have been chopping them into firewood for exercise).  I will spare you the pictures of me wearing the shirt as a public service of sorts.  It is fairly tight fitting and an image of a fat man in a tight shirt is something you might never be able to unsee.  The shirt I ordered is 2XL and the overall fit is pretty good.  The only thing to note is that the sleeves seem to run a bit short.  They do not cover the wrists, which I thought was a bit unusual.  On the other hand, I prefer that to sleeves that are excessively long.  The rest of the claims Haeleum made seem to have been accurate: I did not get burned through it (no mean fit in California), and it wicked moisture admirably.

One nice touch that I was happy to see was that the size information was printed right on the shirt material, rather than on a label that would get itchy at the worst possible moment:

The way the stitching is done is also pretty nice in a sense that there was nothing scratching or irritating me.  The material is very soft and seems to be staying that way through a couple of washes.

All in all, despite the slightly short sleeves, I’ll keep wearing this shirt and see how long it stays comfortable.  I think I will look into a few other shirt colors from Haeleum.  This is a new brand for me and, so far, I am reasonably impressed.

 Posted by at 10:45 pm
Nov 192016
 

Here is a refresher: I purchased a 10mm ASR from TNW and it gave me all sorts of problems.  I discussed them a bit here:

TNW ASR: Update

Well, I definitely can find no fault with TNW’s customer service.  That is a pretty mice thing, since I like it when companies stand behind their products.  I sent them an e-mail on Friday, got a reply from the CEO on Monday, got a shipping label on Tuesday and sent them the rifle on Wednesday.  I got it back in about two weeks.  They sent me an e-mail to let me know it shipped.  I was curious, so I sent them another e-mail asking what they did to the rifle and got a reply within a few hours from their marketing manager (which I am pretty impressed with, by the way) with the following information:

According to the repair notes here is what they did to your rifle. “REPLACED BOLT ASSEMBLY, AS WELL AS EJECTOR, FIRED 10 ROUNDS WITH NO ISSUES, EJECTION, EXTRACTION OR OTHERWISE.” Sounds like it must have been a problem with the bolt and ejector so they replaced them both and now it should run smoothly.

That is along the lines of what I thought was wrong with it, so it made sense to me.  At this point, I am pretty impressed with TNW.  Mind you, this is a gun company, so they do not know me from Adam.  When I deal with an optics company, I am always concerned that they know me and I get preferential treatment.  With TNW, I get the same treatment as everyone else, so this is a good sign.

I immediately dragged the rifle out to the range and fired 50 shots through it.  I had one failure to feed, but no other issues.  A careful examination of the feed ramp suggests, that as it smoothes out a bit, I can expect even better reliability.

I am not sure what to expect from a 10mm carbine in terms of accuracy, so I willfully decided to only shoot at steel plates for a little bit (after sight in).  So far, I am hitting plates at 200 yards with ease, and it is pretty remarkable to me that I can extend a pistol cartridge that far.  I’ll drag it out to the range again tomorrow and see how it goes.

I am also using it as a platform to test Leupold DeltaPoint Pro red dot sight and the two make a good combination.

 

 Posted by at 8:07 pm
Oct 312016
 

As I mentioned, I sent an e-mail off to TNW to get their take on what is happening with my rifle.

TNW ASR: More Problems

The e-mail was sent off on Friday in the afternoon.  At 8AM on Monday morning, I had a reply from the general manager of TNW:

Good morning,

I apologize for the inconvenience. I would like to get this in for repair/replacement. Scott will contact you within the next 24 hours, to issue a call tag, and get you an RMA number.

Let me know if you have any questions.

That is a pretty good response time.  I’ll have it headed their way shortly and will let you know what happens when it gets back.

 Posted by at 11:31 am