ILya

Jul 312017
 

Written by ILya Koshkin in August, 2017

General disclaimer: you will see a lot of links to Adorama.  I have an affiliate program with them.  I do not use it a whole lot, but if you decide to follow one of my recommendations and Adorama price is competitive, I would appreciate it if you could click on one of my links and buy it that way.  I try to to keep advertising on this website to a minimum, but I do have bills to pay.

It has been a few months since I talked about cameras and, honestly, while there were a lot of camera introductions, my recommendations have not changed a whole lot.

As far as cameras go, I am not an early adopter.  We live in a world where basic camera capabilities are so good across the board that except for some rather specific use cases, it makes almost no difference which camera within each segment you go with.

Ultimately, the photographer makes the most difference.  Between a camera and a lens, in the modern world, the camera bodies are so good, that they almost do not matter.  Get the best lens you can afford and make sure you have some quality primes for when it really matters.  As good as the modern zoom lenses are, for ultimate image quality, you should still go with primes.  If you want some more specific reading on the subject, the best discussion I have seen lately was in the Lens Rentals blog.  I do not agree with everything they say there, but they have a lot of experience and their arguments are well reasoned and well thought out.  Definitely worth considering.

Since I wrote my previous pieces on camera suggestions, I have divested most of my cameras as I look for deals on the stuff I want to get.  The most painful part of that process was selling my Leica Q (compact camera with a FF sensor and 28mm F/1.7 Leica lens).  That camera had an absolutely stunning lens, but my photography needs changed and a fixed 28mm was simply not enough.  If Leica ever makes a “Q Duo” that gives me 28mm and 50mm in one camera, I’ll buy one again.

The only camera I currently have left is a rather beat up Panasonic GX-1 that I have had for a few years.  I retained most of my Micro-4/3 lenses, although in normal use, I only use a few of them.

Before I go through my reasoning and specific recommendations on interchangeable lens cameras, here is a brief rundown of other categories.




Cell phones

If you are planning to buy a cellphone and image quality is a consideration, last several months have changed absolutely nothing for you.  A bunch of new tech is coming out with dual camera phones and all that.  All of that is interesting and none of that is ready for prime time.  Most implementations I have seen are a bit gimmicky.  I would wait.  In terms of basic image quality, My Google Pixel is still at or near the top of the list.

Compact Point-and-Shoot Cameras

If you are looking to get an inexpensive point and shoot camera… don’t.  Just don’t.  There are a couple of exceptions to that.  If you need something that is rugged and go underwater, skiing, etc, get Olympus TG-5 or one of the excellent action cams from Go Pro or YI, depending on what exactly you like doing.  If you are serious about underwater, SeaLife DC2000 is interesting.  I will likely get something along the lines of the DC2000 before I go on my next vacation.

Aside from rugged cameras, the only other viable use case for a point-and-shoot is a situation where you want the most image quality possible in a pocketable camera.  There, your options are either a compact camera with a zoom lens and a 1″ sensor or a camera with a primer lens and a larger APS-C size sensor.  For the former, I like Panasonic LX10 and for the latter the aging Ricoh GR II is still the way to go.

Bridge Style Point-and-Shoot Cameras

The landscape there has also remained largely constant.  I think the aging Panasonic FZ-1000 is a good deal.  Sony RX-10 Mark III is still a technological tour-de-force and I still do not like the user interface.

Generally, with the advent of high zoom ratio DSLR lenses, the need for bridge style point and shoot cameras is going the way of the dodo.

Now, let’s move onto Interchangeable Lens Cameras.

I have spent the last few months trying different cameras My photography needs are as follows:  I take pictures when I travel and I take pictures of my kids.  With my daughter becoming more involved in gymnastics, I am looking for something pretty fast in terms of operation and that I can put a long and bright lens on for indoor sports.  On the other hand, the system has to have excellent quality compact lenses for when I travel.  At the moment, I travel with a Panasonic GX-1 Micro 4/3 body, 14-140mm F/3.5-5.6, SLR Magic 25mm F/0.95 manual focus prime and 14mm F/2.5 pancake lens.  If I think I will need something a touch longer, I also take the absolutely diminutive (and optically excellent) 45mm F/1.8 lens with me.  This basic kit covers almost everything I may need during my travels except for extreme telephoto.

Moving forward, I fully intend to add Olympus E-M1 Mark II which also uses Micro-4/3 mount.  While not ideal for low light, E-M1 Mark II excels in high speed stuff and in terms of image quality the lens assortment is extremely well fleshed out.  One thing that is important is that Olympus makes pretty much the only superzoom lens on the market (for any system) that truly delivers top notch image quality: 12-100mm F/4.  It is not a small lens by Micro 4/3 standards, but it is optically excellent, superbly stabilized, and weather-sealed.  Going forward, I expect my travel kit to consist of E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm F/4 zoom lens and 15mm F/1.7 prime.  Together with the Olympus’ stunning image stabilization, the 12-100mm can satisfy most of what I need and the brighter 15mm prime would work well for indoor and street photography.

That is not an inexpensive combination, but my requirements are fairly specific.  I can not get anywhere near this capability in a package of remotely similar size with any other camera system on the market right now.

However, in principle, if your requirements are a little different, you can get better image quality for similar money.  Some other requirements that I have will not be met, but those may not be important to you.

First step up in image quality, is to go up to an APS-C image sensor size and there, the system I like the most is Fuji’s X-mount.  It will not do well for sports, but it does everything else very nicely and if I did not need to photograph indoor sports and did not need the focal length range for travel, I would likely go for this one.  Both X-T2 and X-Pro2 are excellent cameras with low light performance almost a full stop better than the best of Micro 4/3 bodies.  More importantly, Fuji has a pretty good set of excellent prime lenses and an inexpensive, but compact and optically good 18-55 zoom that you can get as a kit with the camera.  For street photography, architectural, portrait, etc, the Fuji system works beautifully.  Autofocus has gotten much better as well, so for anything other than sports it works well.

If you are after even more image quality at the expense of compactness (but this gets you back into the world class autofocus capability) you should be looking at a full frame camera and it looks like Nikon is on the verge of introducing some new designs.  That means that existing cameras are steadily going down in price.  At the moment, in terms of what you get for your money, Nikon D750 is probably the best option going, ispecially in a kit with Nikon’s very respectable 24-120mm lens.

That is a very respectable zoom range for a travel camera and, naturally, Nikon system is not lacking good primes.  These lenses are appreciably larger than Micro-4/3 and Fuji X, but that is the price to pay.

 Posted by at 3:57 pm
Jul 312017
 

As most of you are probably aware, I live in California.  California is special in many ways, some good and some not so good.  The state is beautiful and the weather is spectacular.  The people here do not have a particularly good reputation for friendliness, but I suspect it is the same thing as we have every place with large cities.  Living in a very densely populated area brings out the inner jerk in most of us, while the further away from a major city you get, the friendlier your neighbors are.

What is not so good about California is the politics.  It is a liberal progressive’s dream come alive and the results are finally coming in: California has the highest poverty rate in the nation if you adjust it by the cost of living.

Another thing that is not so great here is the spectacular stupidity that is our gun laws.  I am not going to bore you with all the details, but basically as of now, if you have a semi-auto centerfire rifle like an AR-15, you either have to register it with the state as an assault weapon (which means that you can not sell it within the state or if something happens to you, the state will confiscate it as it can not be inherited by your children) or you can go “featureless”.



Here is what “featureless” means: the cretins here in PRK who make these laws have decided that certain features in a rifle make it inherently dangerous and the public can not be trusted with them.  In a nutshell, you can not have a rifle with a detachable magazine and a pistol grip (or thumbhole stock).  Other things you can not have are collapsible stocks, flash hiders, bayonet mounts and forward pistol grip.  If you have two or more of these features, it is an assault weapon and, apparently, (sarcasm on) if you own a rifle so configured you are just bound to head out and mow down a bus full of nuns (sarcasm).  If you are trying to figure out how this makes sense, don’t.  It doesn’t.  Everyone knows it doesn’t.  The state of California wants the citizens fully disarmed.  They have, apparently decided that an outright ban is not going to work, so they are simply making owning guns in California sufficiently inconvenient to gradually chip away at it until noone here has them.

I think that their pipe dream is unlikely to come true.  There are approximately 18 million gun owners in California and every time our knuckle dragging, booger eating, mouth breathing elected officials in Sacramento come up with some new insane regulation, within days someone comes up with a workaround.

Basically, everyone is going featureless and to do that, the key thing is to do away with the pistol grip.  There are a few ways to do so and when you see an AR-15 in my pictures with a very funky looking stock, that is why: I had to go featureless.  I have decided to experiment with different featureless arrangements, and have tried most of them at this point.

The three most developed options are, I think, Thordsen FRS-15 stock, Hera Arms CQR stock and Juggernaut Tactical (JT) stock.

FRS-15 stock sorta mimicks the handling of a hunting rifle to a good degree:

Thordsen FRS-15 stock (tested with my 458 SOCOM)

Thordsen FRS-15 stock (tested with my 458 SOCOM)

It looks a little odd, but is reasonably comfortable and gives you a good degree of control.  Safety selector manipulation is a little tricky though.  The deal with wrapping your thumb around the grip is, best I can tell, is as follows:  if it is possible to wrap your thumb around the grip below the highest point of the trigger, you are basically a “mass murderer in waiting”.  On the other hand if the shape of the grip takes your thumb above the highest point of the trigger blade (or trigger pin, I am not sure), then you are no longer a menace to society.  Makes total sense, right?

Hera Arms CQR and Juggernaut Tactical (JT) stocks on the other hand retain the grip angle of the proper AR grip except without the ability to wrap your thumb around the grip:

Hera Rms CQR on the left; JT on the right

Hera Rms CQR on the left; JT on the right

Hera Arms stock is an integrated design that  incorporates the buttstock and grip into a single unit complete with several sling attachment points and potential changes in length of pull via buttpad spacers.  The small black cover on the bottom of the stock toward the back conceals a plastic Picatinny rail that can be used for alternative sling attachment points or a monopod.  The CQR stock in free states is sold as a thumbhole design, but for us in the PRK, it is sold with a black plastic plate that covers the thumbhole.  That plate can be removed in a non-destructive manner in a few minutes of removing screws.  For people like me who go to free states to take classes occasionally, this is a nice feature.  While shooting in California, you get to keep your thumb on the right side of the action, where it naturally rests on the safety selector switch (an ambidextrous safety is a necessity in this case and a short throw design makes for a more comfortable thumbrest).

JT stock quite simply retains the regular AR grip, so you can choose something that works for you.  The metal part right behind the grip is an integral part of the stock, so if you move to one of the three states, you can’t easily remove it.  One interesting feature of this stock is that it does away with the extension tube entirely and since it is made of rather thick aluminum, it makes for a rather smooth shooting experience without the annoying “twang” of the spring.  Another interesting feature of the JT stock is that it comes with a replacement rear takedown pin that incorporates a shelf of sorts for your thumb:

JT Thumbrest

JT Thumbrest

That helps shooting comfort a fair bit, but makes safety manipulation a little more difficult.

On balance all three options work.  I think overall I like the Hera Arms CQR the most so far on a low recoiling gun, but it will take a little more testing to be sure.

For kickers, like my 458 SOCOM, Thordsen FRS-15 has a lot to recommend itself.  Being able to actually have a proper grip really helps control the movement of the rifle (when you light off a 300gr pill heading out at 1900+ fps out of an AR-15, there is a lot more movement to the rifle then you get with 5.56).

The other option that I have not discussed is simply setting up a fixed length stock (remember, in California speak, “collapsible stock”=”mass murderer”) and a separate grip that does not allow you to wrap your thumb around.  The original such grip was the MonsterGrip and there are quite a few newer and cheaper versions that seemingly take a standard grip and add a fin on the back.  If you like your particular grip, you can also wrap it in kydex and create a fin on the back that prevents the wraparound grip.  The advantage of newer such grips and of the wrap around method is that the grip angle is the same as on normal ARs.  The original MonsterGrip slants back more.  I will revisit these in a little bit and post some pictures.

I am sorta attracted to the idea having a kydex wrap for one of my grips.  That way, if you head out to one of the free states to go hunting or for a training class, you can remove the kydex wrap for a few days.

 Posted by at 8:27 am
Jul 252017
 

written by ILya Koshkin, July, 2017

Docter V6 2-12×50 Riflescope

Up until recently I mostly regarded Docter as one of those obscure German brands that predominantly play in Europe and do not do much in the US.  In principle, that is still accurate.  Docter does not have a very large presence in the US and, honestly, that is a bit of a shame.  Docter definitely has more of a name recognition that brands like Nickel AG and Kaps, and that is largely due to their miniature red dot sights.  I do not know if they had the first tiny reflex sight (they market it as DocterSight), but it was definitely among the first to the point that several times I heard people refer to their “Docter”, when the actual reflex sight they had was from a different manufacturer.  I own and use DocterSight III consider it excellent.  Since I liked it so much, I decided to take a look at Docter’s other products.

Docter’s conventional riflescopes and binoculars are not terribly well known in the US although they have been around for a while.  I have seen some of their riflescopes about fifteen years ago and was sorta ambivalent about.  Docter has made some improvements since then, so I dug through their catalog and decided to take a look at the V6 2-12×50 riflescope.



There are a few scopes that compete in the same general $1500 range with the most obviou direct competition being Meopta Meostar R2 2-12×50.  Unfortunately, I did not have the Meopta immediately available to me, so I made do with what I had.  In the table below, I list the scopes I had on hand in bold.  I was also looking at the Leupold VX-6 HD 3-18×44 at the same time, so I looked at them side by side while I was at it.  In terms of price and target audience, Kahles is also a fairly direct competition, although the one I have is a 1” model no longer imported to the States.  It is, however, still available elsewhere as Helia 3.  The two Leica scopes showed up at about the same time as Docter and sorta gave me the means to bracket the V6 with more expensive and less expensive models.  Before I get lynched, I do not expect the V6 to compete with the Magnus that runs an extra grand and, indeed, the Magnus blows every other scope here away in terms of performance.  However, once you get past a grand or so price-wise, you start getting into the world of diminishing returns and the V6 held its own well enough.

 

Docter V6 2-12×50 Kahles KXi 3.5-10×50 Leica ER5 2-10×50 Leica Magnus

1.8 – 12×50

Meopta MeoStar R2 2-12×50
Length, in 14 12.6 14 13.4 14
Weight, oz 23 16.6 22 24.7 21
Main Tube Diameter 30mm 1” 30mm 30mm 30mm
Eye Relief, in 3.6 3.54 3.8 >3.5 3.75”
FOV, ft@1000yards 56 – 9

10.8 @ 10x

33.6 – 12 54.25 – 10.75

10.75 @ 10x

67.5 – 11

13.2 @ 10x

55.8 – 9.6

11.52 @ 10x

Exit Pupil, mm 11.1 – 4.3 14 – 4.7 16 – 5 12.4 – 4.2 11.2 – 4.3
Click Value 0.1 mrad 0.25 MOA 0.25 MOA 0.1 mrad 0.25”
Adjustment range E: 26 mrad W: 16 mrad 48 MOA 100 MOA ~ 51 MOA 70MOA
Parallax 100m 100m 50yds – inf 100m 100m
Reticle Illumination Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Price $1500 $1400 $990 $2550 $1400

Looking at the table above, the V6 seems to be spec’ed out in line with the competition.  6x erector ratios that were very new just a few years ago are now fairly common, although to get a very wide field of view with a high erector ratio, you are still looking at a hefty price tag along the lines of the Leica Magnus.  Lastly, another direct competitor that I did not list is Minox ZEi 2-10×50.  By all accounts, it is a very nice riflescope, but have not had any hands on time with it beyond seeing it at SHOT.  Hence, I am not very comfortable talking about it.

Compared to its closest competitor, the Meopta, the specifications of the V6 are very similar and are largely commensurate with the price tag.  One interesting to note is that the similarly priced Kahles offers a fair bit more FOV, but only has a 3x erector ratio.  Now, Kahles is sorta known for wide FOV scopes, but generally, if you are looking for wide field of view on a budget, high erector ratio scopes may not be your thing.

 

Moving on…

I did most of the testing of the V6 on my Tikka M695 in 280Rem.  It is a hunting scope and I thought the right way to test it would be on a hunting rifle:

Docter V6 2-12x50 on Tikka M695 in 280Rem

Docter V6 2-12×50 on Tikka M695 in 280Rem

 

The rifle is freakishly accurate with just about any ammo I throw at it, so it makes for a decent test platform.  I mounted the scope using high Warne rings that clamp directly onto the dovetail machined into the receiver.  That left a reasonable amount of space between the objective bell and the barrel, so I could slip a cover onto the scope, but not much more than that.  

 

The shape of the objective bell is sorta unique with a machined step instead of a smooth transition like we see on most scope.  I am not sure whether it is simply a cosmetic feature of if there is technical reason for it.  My best guess is that they did it this way to maximize the available mounting length.  The turrets are covered and the scope is really designed to be used in a “set and forget” mode, where you only use the turrets to sight in and never touch them afterwards.  However, I sorta ignored that and spent a fair amount of time ‘touching” the turrets, which turned out to have a good feel and reasonable repeatability.  I did not do an exhaustive tracking test, but based on what I have seen so far I would not hesitate to dial a shot in.  The turrets, once you get the covers off, are easy to grab and have a nice tactile feel:

Docter V6 Turrets

Docter V6 Turrets

 

Once the scope is zeroed the turrets are re-settable and, honestly, if I were Docter, I would consider coming out with a version of the scope that has a covered windage turret and an exposed adjustable elevation turret.  They already have the feel worked out, so it wouldn’t be too difficult.

 

The parallax setting on this scope is fixed at 100m and the setting looks to be accurate.  I experimented with parallax at different distances and it never got too egregious.  Still, without parallax adjustment, this is not intended to be a long range precision scope.  That having been said, I did not have a whole lot of difficulty hitting metal plates of varying sizes (12”, 18” and 24”, I think) out to 600 yards.  At 12x, once you get far from the preset focus distance, the image fidelity does suffer a little, so, somewhat oddly, when shooting past 400 yards, I dialed it back to around 9x or so.  I would be able to make the same shots at 12x, but greater depth of field at lower magnification made the picture more pleasing.

 

As far as getting behind the scope goes, I think that is one of the strengths of this design.  The eye relief is fairly forgiving and there is good latitude for eye placement behind the scope even at the highest magnification.  It was not as good as the Magnus and a little worse than the Kahles, but better than ER5.  If my recollection of the Meopta R2 is accurate, Docter is a touch better in that regard, but it is difficult to say without a side-by-side.

Bottom line is that I found the V6 to be a very user friendly design.  Part of that user friendliness is the illumination control which is extremely well executed.  Like many recent designs I have seen, there are two setting you can maintain, one for low light and another for bright light.  The illumination turret is one when you pull it outward a little from the scope body and from there you can flick it either up or down to choose either low light or bright light setting.  Both setting, naturally, are easily adjustable, so you can finetune your preference.  The dynamic range of the available settings is extremely large and it works beautifully both in very low light and the middle of a sunny day.  The illumination technology, best I can tell, comes from the same Swiss company that a bunch of high end scopes use (Swarovski Z6, etc).  Incidentally, that is the same illumination technology that is used in Meopta Meost R2, so in that regard they are more or less equal.

 

The reticle itself is a fairly simple wide #4 pattern with a small floating dot in the center.  That dot is the only part of the reticle that is illuminated (as it should be on a hunting scope).  The reticle itself is fairly thin, so without illumination, it does not do all that well in low light.  Here is what it looks like at high magnification (I do not recall if this was 12x or something a little lower):

Reticle at High Magnification

Reticle at High Magnification

Ignore the greyed out portion of the reticle, it is an artefact of taking a picture with a cellphone.  In actual use, all the reticle stadia stayed perfectly black.  The target is 100 yards away.

 

On low magnification, you can easily see the barrel in the lower portion of the image, but I did not find it terribly distracting:

Reticle at Low Magnification

Reticle at Low Magnification

Thick outer bars are quite visible as the light fades, but thin center lines disappear quickly and the thick bars are spaced to widely to help with aiming (in that regard, I think Meopta’s somewhat similar but bolder 4c reticle works a little better).

 

Since I was curious how well the reticle illumination works, I did some speed drills at 2x and it worked very nicely.  I suspect, that the 1-6×24 version of the V6, which uses the same illumination is very fast on 1x.  If Docter was interested in making an optic to address the burgeoning AR-15 market, the V6 could be a very nice foundation for it.

 

As is, all the reticle options they have are really aimed at the European hunting market.  The center dot in the 2-12×50 subtends around half inch at 100 yards, so it makes for a fairly fine aiming point.

 

As far as overall optical quality goes, I liked the V6 quite a bit.  Like many traditional Euro optics, Docter really seems to emphasize low light performance, kinda like Kahles has historically done.   In that regard, there are some similarities between the Kahles KXi and Docter V6.  While both are quite good in low light, they do not stand out quite as much as you would expect.  However, when the light gets low, they really come alive.  During the day the V6 performed very nicely, but I do not think it incorporates any ED glass in the design and while it is very nicely optimized, there is some chromatic aberration at 12x that is pretty easy to see on high contrast objects (yellow and purple fringing is what I saw).  I could see two colors of CA and while they are not terribly prominent, they are there.  Since this is a fixed parallax design, it is entirely possible to see CA when you are far away from the parallax free distance.  I went and carefully examined how CA shows up at different target distances and made sure I examine it carefully where the parallax error was minimized (turned out to be right around 120 yards).  At that distance, there was very little CA while my eye was on axis, but any slight movement off axis would result in colored fringing.  I do not think that is a particularly major problem, but in this price range, most of the competition has better CA control (Leupold VX-6 HD and Meopta Meostar R2 come to mind).  Color balance of the image is fairly neutral and colors looked true.  Contrast is very acceptable during the day and is downright excellent at night.  In other words, this is a very good low light scope.  What really helps it in low light is excellent flare and stray light control.

I mounted several  scopes including the V6 on my tripod fixture and spent a lot of time looking at them side by side:

Side-by-Side

Side-by-Side

 

 

From left to right, the scopes are: Kahles KXi 3.5-10×50, Docter V6 2-12×50, Leica Magnus 1.8-12×50, Leupold VX-6 HD 3-18×44, Leica ER5 2-10×50.  All the way on the right is the new HiLux Phenom 5-30×56 which was not a part of this comparison, but was already sitting there from something I was doing earlier (pretty decent scope, by the way).

 

In a direct comparison, as I expected, Leica Magnus blew everything else a way, as it should, being a LOT more expensive.  In terms of basic image quality, Kahles and Docter were the closest, with Kahles being a touch better in low light, largely owing to its larger field of view.  The difference is small though and Docter compensates for that by a much broader magnification range and a more sophisticated reticle illumination control.  

 

Compared to the less expensive ER5, V6 was comparable in daylight and a touch better in low light.  Here, ER5 is helped by its adjustable parallax.  Side by side at 10x, while V6 seemed to have a bit more contrast, the ER5 had less color fringing and similar resolution.  ER5 does not have reticle illumination, which is probably one of the reasons it costs less.  Still, the optical quality you can get for around #1k is getting pretty impressive.

 

One of the more interesting comparisons was with Leupold VX-6HD 3-18×44.  It is not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, since the Leupold has a 44mm objective.  However, with street price of around $1600, both 3-18×44 and 3-18×50 version of Leupold VX-6 HD compete in this market segment.  Honestly, during daylight, I thought the VX-6HD was generally equal to the Docter, except with better CA control.  Leupold is obviously intended for a broader range of shooting distances (due parallax adjustment and more sophisticated reticle options).  In low light, V6 had a bit of an edge (I took care to do this comparison at lower magnifications where I could equalize exit pupils), but the Leupold was no slouch and it’s wider FOV helped.

 

Finally, the question I always have to ask myself is whether this is the scope I would recommend to others, and whether I would recommend it over the competition.  That is not a simple question to answer.  I liked the scope quite a bit and thought it was a very good general purpose hunting scope. 2-12×50 is a very versatile configuration.  The eyepiece is very easy to get behind.  Illumination design is excellent.  Mechanical quality in my experience has been excellent.  There was no POI shift I could see across the entire magnification range.  All SFP scopes have it  to a certain degree, but it was small enough to where I could not detect it while shooting (I measured it on the collimator in the lab and it is indeed very small).

 

There is nothing really wrong with the scope, and it is fundamentally a very solid design.  However, to make onto a list of recommendations I maintain, it needs to be updated a little and the most important part of that is the reticle.  There is nothing wrong with the #4, but it is too wide, in my opinion.  And I would really like to see additional reticle options become available.  Reticle development has been a pretty big deal in the last few years and that is where Docter seems to lag behind the times a little.  If they offer additional reticles and correct CA a little better, this becomes an easy pick.

 

 Posted by at 11:24 am
Jul 162017
 

As a general disclaimer, I have more or less stopped reading optics articles in various gun magazines since they run the gamut from ignorant to fraudulent and virtually all are fluff pieces for whoever spends the most on advertising at any given time.  Every once in a while you stumble onto something accurate, but that is a rarity.  What irritates me the most is that most of what you need to know to write about sporting optics coherently is not that complicated and can be learned with minimal effort.  Yet, if there is a gunwriter out there writing about optics who put in that effort, I am not aware of him.  Even internet bloggers who face a fair amount of competition and, you would think, should pay more attentions, seem to choose technical illiteracy as life goal.  I remember running into a website called OpticsDen or something along those lines a little while back.  I have all the admiration in the world for the guy’s hubris, but enthusiasm is a poor substitution for competence.




This time around, I stumbled onto an article by Petersen Hunting that is linked from SWFA Outdoors blog.  SWFA are good people, so I usually read through whatever they post and that is how I ended up on the Petersen Hunting fluff piece on the new Trijicon IR Hunter thermal riflescope.

This particular article was written by a gentleman named Keith Wood.  I have never met him and have no idea of what his background is.  It is not my intention to call him out, but the only mistakes that were not made in his article are spelling  and punctuation.

I am going to go ahead and assume that neither he nor his editor has ever seen a thermal scope before since he writes about how shocked he was by the compactness of the IR Hunter.  Virtually all of the thermal riflescopes of similar resolution and FOV from different manufacturers use more or less the same optics and image sensors, so they are all about the same size.  They are some variations due to packaging differences.

Then he compares their weight to traditional long range riflescopes.  I am not sure why since they do not compete against each other and do largely different things.

Then it turns out that he does not understand the difference between zoom and magnification (that should pretty much preclude him from writing about optics, but then again, if this was the criteria, the number of gun writers who talk about optics would go down exponentially).  In a nutshell, magnification is how much closer the object will appear through an optic than it does with your naked eye.  Technically, it is the ratio between the FOV going into the optic and FOV going out of the optic when talking about afocal telescopes which riflescopes are.  Zoom, is how broad a range of magnifications an optic supports.  For example, in a 3-9×42 riflescope, the range of magnifications is from 3x to 9x and the zoom ratio is three (9x divded by 3x).  In fixed power 6×42 riflescope, the magnification is 6x and there is no zoom, since it is a fixed pwoer scope.  Magnification does not change.

IR Hunter thermal sights, like virtually all commercially available thermal sights, are fixed power designs.  Their magnification range from 1.5x for the 20mm lens to 4.5x for the 60mm lens (the longer the focal length of the lens, the more magnification).  There is no optical zoom.

Technically, there is a digital zoom, but that is up for a discussion as well, since in thermal riflescope, digital zoom simply magnifies the center of the image, but does not actually give you any more detail: everything looks bigger, but blurrier.  Still, the article again confuses zoom with magnification and misrepresents Trijicon’s specifications.

Then there is the rest of the article where Trijicons marketing is badly re-hashed, like the “special edge detect targeting mode”.  I am not sure what is so special about it, since I distinctly remember it being incorporated into one of the first ENVG systems I used to work on at Raytheon about 15 years ago.  All thermal sight manufacturers have the capability of incorporating it; some do and some do not.  There is no magic pixie dust involved in that.  Oh, and, apparently, a basic MilDot reticle again qualifies as a “advanced design”.  It does, if you have been living under a rock and missed the last twenty years of the evolution of precision shooting.

Last point: Trijicon did not develop this product line.  It was developed by a company called IR Defense and Trijicon inherited the product line when they bought the company.  To the best of my knowledge, the only contribution Trijicon made to these products, was added a Trijicon label and raising the price.

OK.  Rant OFF.

Before I wrap up: while this article for some reason irritated me, the product itself is good.  I looked a bit at the IR Hunter in the past and thought it was the best user interface of all the thermal sights out there and if I were in the market for one, it would be at the top of the list.  As far as actual imaging performance goes, for the same image sensor resolution and FOV, there is virtually no practical difference between thermal sight from different makers.

IR Hunter uses microbolometer cores from BAE (or at least they used to).  FLIR uses their own.  Most quality thermal sight makers use BAE, FLIR, DRS, Raytheon or Sofradir with the first two being most common.  There is little practical performance difference between them.  There is a Chinese microbolometer core maker out there that pops up now and then, and their stuff is a bit worse, so thermal sights with those cores are not quite as good, but they are not quite as common either.

If you are selecting between different thermal sights from quality makers, you should be, essentially, making a decision based on the user interface and some of the features.  In that regard, IR Hunter is worth a look.

 

 

 Posted by at 11:35 pm
Jul 162017
 

Written by ILya Koshkin, May, 2015
This was originally written for a product blog of a now defunct company called TechEyes. Their website seems to be down, so I figured I’ll post it here. I thought of this because of an article I just saw on Trijicon’s IR Hunter thermal sight.  As thermal sight get out there more and more, I figured I should start talking about them a little. There is so much incorrect information on these, that I am inclined to clear a few things up.

FLIR RS32: Thermal Scope in a Texas Blind

I have spent the bulk of my professional career working in and around thermal imaging and I have used all manner of thermal sights in the past. However, my familiarity with thermal riflescopes available to the consumer has been fairly limited, so when I had a chance to borrow a FLIR RS32 and take it with me on a trip to Texas, I jumped at the opportunity.

One of the things I plan to do is an overview of several commercially available thermal riflescopes and I will do so in a different article, but for now I am only going to discuss the FLIR sight and use it as the groundwork for the next article.

Thermal sights have some advantages and some limitation. Those advantages and limitations apply to all thermal scopes, so keep that in mind while I discuss the FLIR sight.




Here is the spec table for all of the FLIR R-series riflescopes that I copied directly from FLIR website:

 

Model RS24,

1x

RS32,

1.25-5x

RS32,

2.25-9x

RS32,

4-16x

RS64,

1.1-9x

RS64,

2-16x

MSRP $3,499 $3,999 $4,499 $7,499 $6,499 $8,999
FPA 240×180 VOx 336×256 VOx 640×512 VOx
Frame Rate (Hz) 30 Hz 60 Hz 30 Hz
Lens Focal Length 13mm 19mm 35mm 60mm 35mm 60mm
Lens HFOV 20° 16° 18° 10°
Focus Fixed Manual Fixed Manual
Electronic Zoom N/A Up to 4x Up to 8x
Color Pallets Black/White/InstAlert™ Black/White/Sepia/Iron/Red/InstAlert™
Eye Relief 3 inches (76.2 mm)
Dimensions 8″ x 3.3″ x 2.9″ 8.5″ x 3.3″ x 2.9″ 8″ x 3.3″ x 2.9″ 8.5″ x 3.3″ x 2.9″
Weight <1.8lb <2.4lb <1.8lb <2.4lb
Reticles Duplex, Fine Duplex, German
Reticle Colors White, Black, Red, Green
Diopter Adjustment +/-6
Operating Temperature -4° to 122° F (-20° to 50° C)
Storage Temperature -40° to 140° F (-40° to 60° C)
Ingress Protection IPX7, Submersible 1m for 30 min
Weapon Interface MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny Rail
Battery Life >4 hours of use
Battery Type Internal Li-ion
Battery Charging Standard USB interface with included wall charger
External Battery Pack Compatible, not included
Display Active Matrix LCD
Display Resolution 640×480
User Interface Simple four button interface
On Screen Symbology Battery charge, ezoom state
Weapon Compatability MSR semi-automatic up to .308 Cal.
Video Out No Yes
Warranty 2 Years Standard, 3 Years (with registration), 10 Years (thermal sensor only)

 

Digital riflescope makers try to describe what you see through them in the same terms as are used for conventional riflescopes: magnification. However, that magnification number (the thermal scope I used is listed as 1.25-5x) does not tell you the whole story. The variable zoom is purely digital: when you zoom in you do not really see a whole lot more detail since all that happens is the increase in pixelation. Now, it does have the reticle blocking less of the target, since the reticle is generated on the rear projection screen, but that is the extent of the advantage.

Affordable thermal imagers do not have very high resolution yet, so unless the zoom is optical, it does not do much and variable zoom infrared lenses are quite expensive. If you want to figure out how far you can shoot something, you have to look at the resolution of the imager and the field of view (FOV) of the lens.

As an example, the FLIR RS32 I used has an imaging sensor that 336 pixels wide and 256 pixels tall. Horizontal FOV is 16 degrees, which means that each individual pixel subtends 0.0476degree or, to stay with terms that most gun enthusiasts are familiar with, 2.857 MOA. That translates to approximately 2.99 inches at 100 yards. For the sake of this discussion, we can safely round that up to 3 inches.

In order to identify your target, it has to be large enough to subtend at least a few pixels. This is where military purposes differ from those of a hunter. In the military application, you do not have to identify exactly each part of your target, so as long as you can figure out the silhouette of what it is you are looking at, you may be justified in pulling the trigger (and modern thermal scopes used by the military are typically of higher resolution anyway). If your target subtend 5-10 pixels, you might have enough information.

For a hunter, in order to make an ethical shot, you need to see a lot more detail than that. A hunter needs to be able to clearly resolve the outline of the animal and get enough information to land an ethical shot into an animal’s vitals.

When I took the FLIR RS32 with me to Texas, I was after a pig, so naturally, deer were all over the place. They came out into a clearing between our blind and the feeder and I spent some time roaming all over the place giving me an opportunity to see how they look in a thermal scope at varying distances.

The feeder was 175 yards away from us (I had a nice Leica LRF binocular with me, so I ranged distances quite carefully), and at 175 yards, using the thermal scope I had, i would not have been able to take a shot at a deer-size animal.

Here is a picture out of the blind taken with my cellphone. The feeder at 175 yards is the small white spot out at the distance.

The blind is 175 yards away

The blind is 175 yards away from the feeder

We had a camera with us, but with an unstabilized lens, the images of the deer turned out to be a little blurry. We had a dozen or so deer roaming between us and the feeder at different times, so here are a few cropped images taken with a 300mm lens on a Nikon DSLR:

Since this was not deer season, they were everywhere

Since this was not deer season, they were everywhere

I think they were simply messing with us...

I think they were simply messing with us…

Posing and everything...

Posing and everything…

If you think of a chest size of a deer or a pig to be 18” or so, at 175 yards it subtended less than 4 pixels. That was not large enough for me to take a confident shot.

With that thermal sight, I would have been comfortable taking a shot out to 50-60 yards, I think. In order to be confident of taking a shot at 175 yards, I would need a different model from the table above.

The same 18” target size at 175 yards would subtend:
-6 pixels with the RS32 that has 9 degree FOV or RS64 with 18 deg FOV
-11 pixels with the RS32 that has a 5 degree FOV or RS64 with 10 deg FOV

Personally, based on my experience, I would say that I want the chest area of an animal to subtend more than 10 pixels for me to be moderately confident in the shot and more is better.

That was a fairly interesting conclusion for me. I have a lot of mileage with thermal sights, but most of that has been in non-hunting applications where hand-held or weapon mounted thermal sights were used at closer ranges.

Another interesting experiment was the use of a thermal sight in broad daylight. Going out to the blind we had two guns: one with a thermal sight and another with a regular daysight. We headed out there before sunrise and stayed out until the late morning. One of the things I wanted to see was how easy it would be to see the screen on the thermal sight when it is bright out. The answer to that is that it was not that easy.

With a conventional scope, the image coming through the riflescopes is typically brighter than the ambient light coming at your eye from around the scope. The reason for that is simple: whatever energy hits the objective lens is condensed onto a smaller (typically) exit pupil of the scope. With a thermal scope, what you are seeing is a small viewfinder screen on the back of the sight. Making that screen super bright is technologically challenging and power hungry.

That is one of the reasons why sights like this are primarily used at night when ambient light going into your eye is minimal. Still, thanks to the eyeshield FLIR provides with the RS32, I did not have a whole lot of issues using it during the day.

Do keep in mind that thermal sights are generally not designed for hard kicking rifles. Aside from the whole recoil tolerance issue, there is the eye relief to worry about. The rear screen is recessed somewhat, so you basically end up keeping your eye very close to the sight housing. The rubber eyeshield helps with recoil mitigation, but after some experimentation I decided to keep the FLIR RS32 on my AR-15 chambered for 6.5Grendel. It is a fairly soft shooting gun, that is still peppy enough for most hunting:

6.5 Grendel with the FLIR on top of it

6.5 Grendel with the FLIR on top of it

Sighting the thermal scope in took a little thinking, since a conventional target is somewhat difficult to see in the infrared spectrum. On a bright sunny day, the black circle on the conventional target is at a slightly different temperature than the rest of the target paper. It can be seen with a thermal scope, but I did not trust that, so I took one of those disposable handwarmers and taped it to the back of the target. That made for a nice bright (i.e. warm) spot for me to aim at.

Aside from that, sighting in was pretty straightforward. The FLIR RS32 uses buttons for control, so to move the reticle to match the POI, you have to press some buttons. The buttons are rubberized and fairly large, so they are not difficult to use. They do make for a fairly streamlined package, but they are not as intuitive as turrets. They sight offers several view modes: White-Hot, Black-Hot, etc. They all work well depending on the situation, but the one I chose to use was the mode where most of what you are looking at is in greyscale, with warmer objects showing as lighter tones than colder objects. However, this mode also made objects significantly warmer than the environment, show up in red. For hunting, I think, this is a better way to go. That way, I can spend some time observing the scene and getting used to the way it looks in infrared, but when an animal shows up, it really stands out. That is the mode FLIR refers to as InstAlert and I found it very useful. Virtually all controls are done with those four large buttons on top of the scope body and after a little experimentation, I had no issue using them by touch:

Control buttons

Control buttons

The same buttons are used to select the reticle style. Between the two different versions of the duplex and a German #4 reticle, I chose the #4. All are perfectly serviceable though.

Aside from what is in the picture above (scope, covers and eyeshield), the FLIR sight comes with a complete set of accessories: cables, chargers, recorder, etc.

I played with them very carefully and, other than the charger, left everything at the camp. FLIR provides a pretty nice recorder that can be affixed to the buttstock of the rifle and connected to the sight via a miniUSB-type cable, but I do not like to hang unnecessary things on the rifle, so I largely ignored it. It works well and is a good accessory for those who want to record their shot. However, personally, I would rather have a card slot for the recorder incorporated into the body of the scope. That is just a personal preference though.

Battery life of the sight was better than I expected. I was worried about and left the auto shutoff on. That ended up costing me a shot, since the only time I saw a pig during my trip, the sight was shut off and while I was turning it on, the pig ran off. Technically, I do not know if I would have had the time to get a shot off, but I like the idea of blaming the sight rather than myself.

Having had this experience, I think I would have rather set the rifle up with a clip-on thermal sight than a dedicated thermal scope. For night time use at reasonably close distances, this thermal sight is a great option. However, for longer distances or daylight applications, I would have rather had a conventional scope.

 Posted by at 10:46 am
Jul 082017
 

written by ILya Koshkin, July, 2017

Hawke Sidewinder ED 10-50×60

 

Lately, I’ve been looking at a few high magnification scopes and the primary reason for that was the fact that I was curious to see what is out there in the sub-$2K price range.

I have long been a fan of Sightron SIII which sorta “brought high mag to the masses” and when they introduced a considerably more expensive SV 10-50×60, my curiosity was peaked.  Then Vortex announced there Golden Eagle 15-60×52 and the guy sat Vortex said something along the lines of: “we know it is not your cup of tea, but we think you’ll be impressed”.  Then I go to SHOT and stumble onto the Hawke Sidewinder ED 10-50×60, which is the subject of this article.  It has an interesting feature where the turrets are removable and you can switch between mrad, and MOA clicks.  I was curious enough to check it out.

These are all priced a bit differently, so the comparison is not really apples-to-apples.  Hence, while I will mention how I think these all stack up, in this article I will focus on the Hawke.  Vortex and Sightron will be the subject of another piece.

Before I continue, my assumption with all of the scopes that I tested is that they are all representative of their product lines and are not outliers of some sort.  If they turn out to be outliers, I will procure another copy and retest (and update this article accordingly).





 

Here is the Cliff’s notes on what I think of the Hawke:

It is the least expensive workable variable scope out there that takes you up to 50x.  It stayed zeroed and adjusted accurately.  While advertised as able to focus at infinity, in practical terms, I could not get it parallax free beyond 400 yards or so, so it is not for people who shoot far away, nor does it have the adjustment range for that.  The whole removable turret business is cute, but seems to be a solution looking for a problem.  Still, if you like to switch between MOA and mrad adjustments for some reason, Hawke is the only game in town and it is a great marketing tool.  Optically, it is a nice scope, but the Sightron SIII 10-50×60 looked better to me at high magnification for not a lot more money.  They are not too far off from each other though.  I do prefer Sightron turrets though.  I liked the TMX reticle.  It is a well conceived design.  Who is it for?  Hawke is a British company with roots in the airgun world.  I think this scope is at its best for closer distance applications where you need the magnification to create very shallow depth of field, i.e. Field Target airgun competition.  It works fine for target shooting within a couple of hundred yards with firearms, but there are better options for that, I think.

 

Now, onto the pesky details.  Here is a comparison table for a bunch of scopes that aim at the same customer.  The scopes that I will be mentioning here and there are in bold font,

Hawke Sidewinder ED 10-50×60 Vortex Golden Eagle 15-60×52 Sightron SIII 10-50×60 Sightron SV 10-50×60 S&B

FTII 12.5-50×56 

Kahles Comp 10-50×56 Nightforce Comp 15-55×52 March 8-80×56
Length, in 18 16.1 16.9 16.9 16.9 16.9 16.2 15.74
Weight, oz 34.6 29.7 30.1 41.8 42 31.4 27.8 29.63
Main Tube Diameter 30mm 30mm 30mm 34mm 34mm 30mm 30mm 34mm
Eye Relief, in 3.7 3.9 3.8 – 4.5 3.8 – 4.5 2.75 3.74 3.15 3.4 -3.7
FOV, ft@100yards 11.7 – 2.4

6 @ 20x

6.3 – 1.7

5.1 @ 20x

9.6 – 2.2

5.5 @ 20x

9.6 – 2.2

5.5 @ 20x

12.6 – 3.3

7.38 @ 20x

8.7 – 1.8

4.5 @ 20x

6.91 – 1.83

5.03 @ 20x

13.2 – 1.3

5.2 @ 20x

Exit Pupil 3.22 – 0.87 5.24 – 1.2 4.55 – 1.18 5.4 – 1.12 3.54 – 0.93 7 – 0.7
Click Value 0.1 mrad or            ⅛ MOA  or           ¼ MOA ⅛ MOA 0.05 mrad 

or ¼MOA or ⅛MOA

0.05 mrad

or ¼MOA

0.1 mrad    or

⅛ or ¼ MOA

⅛ MOA ⅛ MOA ⅛ MOA
Adj per turn 3 mrad

or

3.7 MOA or

7.5 MOA

10 MOA 2.5 mrad or

10 MOA

5 mrad or

20 MOA

Adj range E: 45 MOA

(13 mrad)

W: 45 MOA

E: 55 MOA

(16 mrad)

W: 45 MOA

E: 14.5 mrad

(50 MOA)

W: 14.5 mrad

E: 20.4 mrad

(70 MOA)

W: 17.5 mrad

E: 65 MOA
W: 32 MOA
E: 55 MOA
W: 45 MOA
E: 55 MOA
W: 50 MOA
E: 60 MOA
W: 40 MOA
Close focus 10 yards 15 yards 13 yards 13 yards 7.7 yards 8 yards 25 yards 10 yards
Zero Stop No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Reticle Location SFP SFP SFP SFP FFP or SFP SFP SFP SFP
Reticle Illumination Yes No Optional Optional Yes No No Optional
Price $900 $1500 $1050

$1250ill

$2000 $3400 $2750 $2350 $2970 – $3400

 

As a general background statement of sorts, when we talk about variable high magnification scopes, the almost undisputed king of the hill there is March.  However, March scopes are expensive.  There are other contenders, of course, and they are pretty good, but March seems to rule the roost (I have not looked at everything in this market segment, so there may be something out there I am missing).  If I were buying a target scope and had $3k or more to spend, I’d get a March be done with it.  However, most of us do not have $3k to spare, so I was curious what else was out there. Yes, I have S&B and Kahles in the table above that are both interesting designs that bear further investigation, but from what I have seen so far, March is a better target scope and keeps improving (I really need to spend some time with the new High Master scopes).

For the last few years, in the $1k range, there was Sightron SIII and not much else.  There are some rather decent fixed power competition scopes from Leupold, Weaver and Nightforce, but for my use that is too restrictive.

Hawke Sidewinder ED 10-50×60 undercuts Sightron SIII by a couple of hundred bucks and Sightron SV by a factor of two or so.

As far as magnification per dollar goes, Hawke does well.  Size-wise it is largely on par with the competition (it is a bit longer, but that is hardly an issue for this category).  Notably, with close focus down to 10 yards, it does a bit better than most of its competition (although Sightron offers a separate Field Target version of SIII that focuses from 7 yards to 300 yards).

Adjustment range for the Hawke is the lowest in this group and for its intended use, that is perfectly reasonable.

Field of view is a bit wider than the competition, which is nice.

As is typical for Hawke, it comes nicely packaged and with a bunch of accessories that make total sense for a Field Target shooter:

The Box with the Hawke Sidewinder ED 10-50x60

The Box with the Hawke Sidewinder ED 10-50×60

As soon as you open the box, you immediately see the included sunshade (a necessity), large side focus wheel, focus locator (or at least that is what I call; that is the 30mm ring that is mounted on the scope tube and has a little sharp point sticking out.  The only use for it that I can think of is to have it mounted so that the point tells you the exact position of the sidefocus wheel), and a couple of tools that make mounting the large sidefocus wheel and scope covers easier.

The included rigid scope caps did not look terribly confidence inspiring, but held up quite nicely.  I have a couple of scopes from another Chinese manufacturer and the scope caps on those seem to have a failure later of close to 50% (although the scopes themselves are pretty good).

Hawke scope caps are very functional and can be rotated to open in any direction that suits you, which is a nice touch.

As soon as I got the scope, I looked it over to make sure nothing is obviously falling off, rummaged around my workshop until I found a set of 30mm rings and headed to the range.  For the firing portion of the test, I mounted the scope onto my 308Win Mauser.  It is not a pretty looking rifle, since it was one of my original experiments in rifle building: I bought an intermediate Yugo Mauser action, a short chambered ER Shaw barrel and a Boyd’s stock.  Once all that was in hand, I bought some tools and went to town on it.  Miraculously, the rifle turned out to be fairly accurate and, similarly to most of my more recent and higher quality acquisitions, the limiting factor is probably not the gun, but rather the nut behind the bolt, so to speak.

Mounted on a 308Win Mauser

Mounted on a 308Win Mauser

Honestly, the biggest reason I picked this rifle to do the testing was the simple fact that I ran out of taller rings and the Farrell base on the Mauser is pretty tall.  The only unused rings I had at the moment were the inexpensive Weavers that were low in height.  Since the Hawke has a 60mm objective lens, I needed a rifle with a tall base.

Sighting in was rather uneventful.  The scope I tested came with turrets that had 0.1 mrad clicks and the TMX reticle is mrad accurate at 20x.  I set the target up at 50 yards, fired a shot, measured the offset with the reticle, adjusted to have the POI about half of an inch below center and fired another shot. Then, I moved the target over to 100 yards and fired a ten shot group to see if the scope is holding zero and to get a reasonable idea of where the centroid was.

While the barrel was cooling off, I started getting early signs of odd parallax troubles.  The range where I do most of my shooting has metal plates out to 600 yards, so I spent some time messing with the side focus knob at different distances.  I could not get it to be parallax free at 600 for the life of me, so that made me pay attention.  I carefully re-focused the eyepiece and experimented with parallax again.  Same basic story: I can get the scope to be parallax free at 400 and closer.  At 500, it is almost there, but not quite.  At 600, parallax is obvious and I can not dial it out.

I left it at that and did my usual tracking test for the elevation turret (I do not usually do much with the windage turret beyond making sure it does not affect the elevation adjustment).  For this test, I fire a shot at a zero setting, then go up 1 mrad and fire a shot.  Then back to zero for one shot and up 2 mrad for a shot.  Then back to zero and so on.

This takes a little time and ammo, but is worthwhile.  The tracking seemed decent, but I did not test over a particularly large range of adjustment.  With 3 mrad per turn and no zero stop, I am going to go out on a limb and say this was not designed to dial many turns.  Besides, there were parallax issues at longer distances anyway.

The turrets themselves are interesting.  As I mentioned earlier, they come off which I found to be a little unnatural.  I have seen scopes where after dialing your correction you can accidentally end up with the turret in your hand, detached from the scope.  Usually, that is not a good thing.  With the Hawke, you can do that by design.

Removable turret

Removable turret

The threads that hold the turret to the scope are on the inside of that metal ring at the base of the turret.  There is some spring tension involved, so mounting that turret back on without bungling up the threads took a little practice.  At the top of the turret is the locking knob, so if you choose to have one or both turrets locked down for transportation or as a matter of preference, it is there.  Given an opportunity, I usually lock the windage turret, which I did for most of the testing.

Turrets

Turrets

 

The available turrets have 0.1 mrad or ¼ MOA or ⅛ MOA clicks.  Best I can tell, whichever turrets you go with, you get 30 clicks per turn.  The clicks are widely spaced and reasonably tactile.  There is some slop in the turret, but it is well within one click, so it does not get in the way too much.  I suspect the reason the clicks are so widely spaced is to allow for a tolerance build up that comes with removable turrets.  The downside of that, is that competing designs offer quite a few more clicks per turn, which translates into either much finer granularity or greater adjustment in a single turn.

For example, Hawke’s most direct competitor, SIghtron SIII, has 0.05 mrad clicks in a 2.5mrad per turn turret, which amounts to 50 clicks per turn.  MOA version of the Sightron has 80 clicks per turn for ⅛ MOA turret or 40 clicks per turn for ¼ MOA turret.  You can kinda pick your poison there and since the turrets are not interchangeable, the number of clicks per turn is different for different models.  I am mostly a mrad user, so I stick with those versions.

From that standpoint, while interchangeable turrets are a curiosity item for me, I can’t quite think of a situation where I would want to switch from mrad to MOA turrets.  For someone who wants to use a TMX reticle interchangeable as mrad or MOA design at different magnifications, perhaps this makes sense.

I spent a couple more days at the range with this scope sitting on the same rifle.  Beyond the previously mentioned parallax concerns, there were no issues.

The rest of the testing was done from my house’s upper deck.  I have an old astronomy tripod base to which I hooked up a precision tilt stage from Newport.  On top of the tilt stage is a picatinny rail, so I can mount a scope on it and check its adjustments against the tilt stages micrometer.  The micrometer resolves down to ~0.01 mrad which is comfortably better than any riflescope I know of.

Scope on a tilt stage

Scope on a tilt stage

 

There is a catholic church a bit over 740 yards from my house and I frequently use the cross on the top of its tower as an aiming point (to add a disclaimer that should be obvious to anyone who has not gone to law school: when I am a riflescope at a church, it is not sitting on a gun.  I do not aim guns at churches.  A riflescope is mounted directly onto a tripod for this as in the picture above).  

What I see through a riflescope is usually something like this:

Through the scope

Through the scope

 

The house behind it is a bit over a mile away.  In the case of the Hawke, since I could not dial out parallax at that distance, I had to look for something within a couple of hundred yards to do another tracking test.  That tracking test worked well, but there was a slight amount of hysteresis in the adjustment turrets and in the sidefocus knob.

The reticle is a very thin design with a good variety of hold points without making it look like a mosquito net.  The dimensions are accurate at 20x.  Since the reticle is in the second focal plane, you have to keep track of what magnification you are at.  If you want to use this reticle as a MOA-accurate variant, you can calculate at which magnification you need to be and then verify it with field use.  To map 0.5 mrad dimension into 1MOA, you need to be somewhere near 34x magnification.  So this would be a situation where you want to have matching reticle and turrets at a higher mag: pop on your ⅛ MOA turrets and dial up to 34x or so.  If this sounds like I am trying very hard to find a marginally viable use case for interchangeable turrets…  well, that is exactly what I am doing and I am struggling with it a little.

Reticle illumination while not strictly speaking a necessary feature for target shooting is a nice thing to have and Hawke’s implementation is done well.  It is primarily designed to help in low light situations and can be set sufficiently low to not disturb your night vision.

TMX Reticle

TMX Reticle

 

As far as optical quality goes, for the most part, I was fairly pleased with what this scope offers.  I am pretty certain, that this is the best high magnification performance of any Chinese-made riflescopes I have seen to date.  The image remains fairly clear out to about 35x or so.  Going higher, you lose some image fidelity, but it is still reasonable.  Chromatic aberration is kept under reasonable control (ED glass undoubtedly helps) and, in that regard, it is slightly better than the Sightron SIII, but slightly worse than Sightron SV.  

Where the Sidewinder ED struggles is with stray light control and that is the biggest reason why in terms of overall image quality, SIII edges ahead of it a little bit.  The Hawke scope really benefitted from the sunshade.  Most scopes do, but with Sidewinder ED, it was a pretty significant difference.  When I tried a makeshift aperture reducer, the difference was even more drastic.

Aside from that, the scope resolved well and maintained decent contrast through the lower half of the magnification range.  Going higher in magnification started draining the image of color (this is likely related to stray light control I mentioned above).

Low light performance was quite good as you would expect given a 60mm objective.  Naturally, you have to keep it at the magnification level fairly low to get a reasonable exit pupil.  Hawke ED maintained good contrast levels down into pretty low light levels, but once there were bright sources involved, it did not handle flare terribly well.  There was some veiling flare which is pretty common with larger objective scopes, and other random stray light issues.  Similarly to day light testing, reduced aperture helped with that, but reduced the exit pupil which is not great for low light.

A final question to answer is pretty simple: given what is out there at the moment, would I buy this scope for my personal use?  No, I would not.  Would I recommend it to others? Yes, with a few disclaimers.

This scope simply does not seem to be designed for my use case.  I do not do short distance target shooting or Field Target.  At longer distances, it simply does not work well due to limited adjustment range and parallax limitations. Besides, removable turrets, while cleverly done, do not do anything for me.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if I were shopping for a high magnification scope, I would likely shop in a different price range.  Had you asked me six months ago, I would have told you that ponying up for a March, while painful, is the only way to go.

If someone asks me about a high magnification scope, March is still king, but for my money, I would likely get Vortex Golden Eagle.

In the sub-$1k range, it comes down to Hawke and Sightron S3.  Both have a lot to recommend them and, honestly, this level of performance at this price range in variable scopes would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Lastly, if I were in hawke’s shoes, I would consider bundling an aperture reducer with this scope and looking into parallax issues.  I think they can do quite well with centerfire shooters if they do that.  Revisiting internal baffling may not be a bad idea either.

 Posted by at 2:36 pm
Jun 042017
 

written by ILya Koshkin

I have been waiting for the 1.5-8×32 ER5 to hit the stores for a little while now, but since it is not quite here and I wanted to take a look at the ER5, I asked Leica if I could borrow whichever model is available.

The available model turned out to be the 2-10×50 with the Magnum Ballistic reticle.  While I was at it, I sorta inquired if the Magnus scopes are already here and it turned out that they were.  I was extremely impressed with the Magnus when I saw it at SHOT and while it is a very expensive scope, it is easily one of the best optical systems I have a seen in a riflescope to date.  Since the opportunity was there, I got my hands onto the 1.8-12×50 Leica Magnus as well.




As has been my custom lately, I sat down in front of the camera and recorded some initial thoughts on the two designs as soon as I had received them:

It is not entirely clear to me what would be appropriate comparison items for these scopes, but I have a few that roughly compete in this category and I will procure some others as applicable.  The scopes that I have on hand that are probably most relevant are Kahles KXi 3.5-10×50 and Docter V6 2-12×50 (this scope has been living on my Tikka in 280Rem and I like it a lot).  The Magnus is, of course, in a very different price range and I should probably try to compare it to some of the upper end Swarovski and Zeiss hunting scopes.  While I try to get my hands on them, I can do an image quality comparison against some of the better tactical scopes I have here, like the 3-15×50 Tangent Theta.

 

Docter

V6

2-12×50

Kahles

KXi

3.5-10×50

Leica

ER5

2-10×50

Leica

Magnus

1.8 – 12×50

Meopta

MeoStar R2

2-12×50

Length, in

14

12.6 14 13.4

14

Weight, oz

23

16.6 22 24.7

21

Main Tube Diameter

30mm

1” 30mm 30mm

30mm

Eye Relief, in

3.6

3.54 3.8 >3.5

3.75”

FOV, ft@100yards

56 – 9

10.8@10x

33.6 – 12 54.25 – 10.75 67.5 – 11

13.2 @ 10x

55.8 – 9.6

11.52@10x

Exit Pupil, mm 11.1 – 4.3 14 – 4.7 16 – 5 12.4 – 4.2

11.2 – 4.3

Click Value

0.1 mrad

0.25 MOA 0.25 MOA 0.1 mrad

0.25”

Adjustment range

E: 26 mrad

W: 16 mrad

48 MOA 100 MOA ~ 51 MOA

70MOA

Parallax

100m

100m 50yds – inf 100m

100m

Reticle Illumination

Yes

Yes No Yes

Yes

Price

$1500

$1400 $990 $2550

$1400

Simply looking at the specs, nothing jumps out all that much except that the FOV of the Magnus is substantially wider that all the other scopes I have on hand, and, pending a more thorough check is probably the widest FOV I have seen to date.

I will talk a bit more about my impressions of the performance of these scope once I spend some time with them.  In ‘first look” type articles I generally focus on specs and features, so I will largely stick with that.

Magnus that I have here is equipped with an exposed elevation turret and covered windage turret, which is an arrangement I like.  The exposed elevation turret has a zero-stop and covers 12 mrad in one turn.  When I first saw that, I had some reservations about click quality, since it is not a very large diameter turret and I do not like it when the clicks are too close together.  Those reservations turned out to be unfounded: the feel of the clicks is calibrated very well.  I will spend some time on checking the tracking, of course.

The Magnus I received  is equipped with the Ballistic reticle.  I am sorta on the record as being not a huge fan of ballistic reticles in SFP scopes, but, just like the Kahles KXi, this one works well for me because at top magnification, it basically becomes a mrad scale.  Interestingly, the space from the center of the crosshair to the first has is 1 mrad, but after that, you get hashmarks every 0.5 mrad.  Horizontal hashmarks run 1 mrad and 2 mrad wide.  All in all, it is a prtyt straightforward, but unobtrusive reticle that gives me reasonable ranging and holdover capability without looking messy.

The fact that the space between the center crosshair and the firs hash is a little larger than the rest of the mrad scale, weirdly helps draw the eye to the center crosshair for quick shooting.  That is something which was not apparent to me when I first saw the scope, but mounting it on a rifle helped.  Once you look through the scope and turn reticle illumination on, that reasonably clean center crosshair really helps with speed.  Illumination, while we are at, is done very nicely.  The control turret is low and wide.  It is mounted on top of the eyepiece and is equally easy to use for right and left handed shooters.  There are two preset positions for day and night use (you can tune the presets) and the day setting can be very bright, easily visible in the brightest of light levels.  The low level is very low and does not seem to have any apparent effect on my night vision.  In this regard, I think, all the top end scopes use a similar scheme and it works well.

The reticle I got in the ER5 is called Magnum Ballistic, and it is a more conventional holdover design that I am generally not a huge fan of.  Also, the listed subtensions look a bit odd to me.  They sorta make sense for the high magnification models, but as they are listed for the 2-10×50 that I have here, the do not match any cartridge I can think of terribly well.  It is entirely possible there are some typos there, so I will reserve judgement until I get it on the gun and do some testing.  One thing that is interesting with the Magnum Ballistic reticle is that it is designed to zero at 300 yards or so and it provides both hold over and hold under features.

That is not a bad way to go, since for many typical centerfire hunting calibers, a 300 yard zero gives you a pretty good MPBR when you need to get a shot going quickly, while the additional reticle features aid with precision.

Before I wrap up, I also want to point out that both Magnus and ER5 are pretty easy to get behind with well designed eyepiece.  That really helps usability and as good as ER5 is in that regard, Magnus is one of the best I have seen to date.

 Posted by at 1:28 pm
Apr 272017
 

Written by ILya Koshkin, April 2017

I witnessed something interesting last night that is not related to guns or optics and wanted to offer some thoughts on the subject.

This is an interesting example of how real world throws in quirks here and there.  I am currently in Las Vegas for the NAB show.  I am not a huge fan of this place as I do not gamble, drink very little and do not cheat on my wife.  There aren’t all that many things this city can offer me, but I enjoy meeting friends who come to the same conventions and who I seldom see otherwise, eating good food, and seeing some of the less decadent attractions here.



Last night, my friend Jeff, his son and I were at Caesars at the Peter Lik photo gallery (for the record, while Lik is more famous, I prefer Andrei Duman’s work).  I stepped outside of the gallery and sat down by the fountain to check my e-mail.  I hear yelling and see one guy chasing another one.  Apparently, a guy who works in a store (we’ll call him “good guy”) is chasing another guy who stole a couple of fancy purses or something (perp).  He catches up to him right in front of me, takes him into a headlock and yells “security”.  Since security is somewhere out there taking a break, and the perp is squirming, the good guy transitions into back control and sinks in a reasonable rear naked choke.  There are a few people standing over them (and not blocking my view), so I choose to not interfere.  The perp says that he can’t breath and proceeds to pull a folding knife out of the pocket.  Before he can do anything with it, one of the people standing next to them kicks it out of his hand and away from him (the knife opens somewhere in the process).  There is more yelling, squirming and arguing and after a while security shows up.  As I look at that crack security team, I realize that a shoplifter in Vegas has to only worry about evading the shop employees.  The security forces are unlikely to be an issue.  However, between the three malnoursihed security guards and the “good guy”, and a few good samaritans, they finally manage to figure out how to work the handcuffs and get the perp’s wrists into them.  The perp immediately makes a point that while he took the knife out, he did not actually try to stab anyone with it.  At that point, I sorta lose interest.  Jeff and his son make their way out of the gallery and we walk off in search of an Uber to take us back to the hotel.

As some of you may know, I am sort of a martial artist.  My background is primarily with muay thai and kung fu, with a little judo (when I was a kid) and kali (last few years) thrown in.  I’ve done a few other things here and there as well.  Why “sort of a martial artist”? Because I do not practice as much as I should or used to.  However, I have been at it fairly continuously since 1985, and I pay attention.

I’ve gone over to many different martial arts schools sometimes to just watch a practice or two, sometimes to join in for a bit.  One fairly consistent thing I hear there, especially in BJJ schools, but others as well, is that with grappling skills you can restrain the bad guy without hurting him.  When they talk about restraining someone they always talk about holding someone down in a choke hold or a submission hold until police arrives.

That is all fine and dandy, when there are no weapons involved.  Had other people not been around, the good guy yesterday would have gotten stabbed or cut leading to serious injury or death.  If you are ever unlucky enough to find yourself in a situation like that, view “restrained” as: the perp is either unconscious or his various extremities are properly immobilized, or both (I vote for both).

Simply holding someone down works great in practice or as a team tactic, but might get you killed out there if you are all alone.

In the grand scheme of things this is part of an ever lasting argument between a striker and grapple.  Both sides have a good argument and in the world that has discovered MMA, exposure to both is important.  However, even if grappling is your passion and you are good at it, hitting the bad guy a few times until he is unresponsive and can do no immediate harm to you or anyone else is a pretty good start.

 Posted by at 1:45 pm
Apr 222017
 

Written by ILya Koshkin, April 2017

I have been continuing to look at miniature red dot sights.  I started a while back with the original Leupold Deltapoint and Vortex Razor and continued on to a bunch of others, most recently DocterSight III and Meopta Meosight III.

Since then, DocterSight III has found a permanent place on my primary AR, mounted on top of the Elcan Spectre OS 4×32 as a close range/backup sight.  I took a rifle class with this combination at Frontsight and I am about to take another one in a week or so.




Spec table

Meopta MeoRed DocterSight III Meopta

MeoSight III

Leupold

Deltapoint Pro

Length, in 1.87 1.8 1.9 1.82
Width, in 1.07 1 1 1.31
Height, in 1.02 0.96 1.2 1.3
Weight, oz 1.05 0.88 oz 1.29 1.95 oz
Window Size, mm 23×17 21×15 23×17 25.7×17.5
Dot Size, MOA 3 MOA 3.5 or 7 MOA dot 3 or 5 MOA dot 2.5 MOA dot or 7.5 MOA triangle
Brightness Control Manual, side button Auto, 3 modes Auto and Manual modes, front button Manual, button on top of battery tray, MST
Parallax setting 50 yards 40m (44 yards) 50 yards 50 yards
Battery Life 1000 hours  not listed 1000 hours  not listed
Battery Type CR2032 Side slot CR2032 Bottom mount CR2032

Side tray

CR2032

Top mount

Price $500 $415 $400 $550

Looking at the specs, a couple of things stand out:

-Deltapoint Pro is notably larger than the others here and also sports the largest viewing window of the bunch

-DocterSight III is the only one without a manual adjustment mode

-They all use the same reasonably ubiquitous battery, but use different means of holding it

-They are all parallax free at more or less the same distance.

I have used all four rather extensively and all were with the smaller of the available dot sizes: 3MOA for the Meopta, 3.5 MOA for the Docter and 2.5MOA for the DeltaPoint Pro.  In principle, the triangle available in the Deltapoint is my preferred configuration.   I sight the top vertice in for more accurate shots at 100 yards or so (different for different bore to sightline offsets) and for speed I just use the whole triangle as if it was a dot.  It works great for center of mass hits.  That all worked wonderfully until I developed some astigmatism in my shooting eye.  As it always happens, when real life chimes in, principles fly out of the window.  A triangle works great when it looks like a triangle with clean lines and vertices.  When it no longer does, you go back to using a simple dot.  The dot does not look terribly round either, but you learn to deal with it.  A slightly distorted dot is easier for me to deal with than a slightly distorted triangle.  Generally, if you have astigmatism, a larger dot will usually look cleaner than a smaller dot.  I still lean toward smaller dot sizes, but my astigmatism is not very severe and I am a precision guy at heart.  With all that, when I am looking for a little more precision, I aim with the edge of the dot and that edge is cleaner looking with a larger dot.  I plan to experiment with that a little when an opportunity presents itself.

So far, all of the sights have spent time on both handguns (different Glocks) and rifles (AR15 and/or AR10).  All held zero admirably and did not give me any trouble whatsoever in terms of reliability.  I have not tried them on shotguns, but I suspect that the pounding they take mounted onto a slide of a semi-auto handgun is a more severe torture test of the sight than anything they get on a shotgun (and a much less severe torture test of my shoulder).

If I had to make a guess on which one seems most durable, I would lean toward the Leupold.  However, this is all conjecture since they have all worked fine for me.  The Deltapoint Pro does have a steel shield around the screen and is the beefiest of the three.  That beefiness does have a downside: it is heavier than the other three sights and getting it to co-witness on a handgun is not straightforward.

In the picture above, the Atom slide is equipped with pretty tall sights and they still do not co-witness.  On a handgun that I might use for defensive purposes, co-witnessing is a must.  After some research, I found that there is an even taller front sight out there.  Leupold offers a rear sight that attaches to the back of the Deltapoint (I did not test that), so you could set up cowitnessing, but options are limited.  Another thing, I did not like too much about the Deltapoint is the intensity control.

Dot brightness is controlled by a button integrated into the top of the battery cover.  In the picture above, you can see it marked by a large letter L.  It is right behind the lens.  To adjust dot brightness, you keep pressing the button.  Unfortunately, while you are pressing that button, you finger is blocking the lens and you can’t see the dot.  I found that awkward, at best.  The way I ended up using the DeltaPoint was to set the dot to a medium bright setting that worked adequately well across a range of lighting conditions and avoid messing with it.  However, that means it blooms and has a noticeable forward signature in low light (or if I adjust it too low, it is not easy to see in bright light).  That more or less wraps up with a negatives.  I liked everything else about the sight.  Honestly, if Leupold offered it with an optional auto-adjust mode, I would have purchased it.  One feature I really liked was the motion activated shut-off.  When the sight does not move for a while, the dot shuts off.  When it detects motion, it turns back on again.  In practical terms, what that meant was that I never bothered to turn it off.

When I set it up on my 10mm carbine, the DeltaPoint Pro was absolutely at home.  Of all of these compact sights, the Leupold transitions the best into a primary long arm sight.  A pistol caliber carbine is not exactly a long range weapon, but I was comfortably tagging steel plates at 200 yards with it and would be perfectly comfortable taking it hunting with me.  Leupold offers the DeltaPoint with a bunch of mounting options and with a riser that gets it up to perfect co-witness height on straight stock firearms (AR15s and the like).

Meopta MeoPro is a much smaller sight and is a further development of the MeoSight III I am well familiar with.  The MeoSight III had a control button on the housing, which I generally liked, although it made some mounting options complicated (on my Atom slide, the tall rear sight would have blocked that button).  However, the MeoSight III offered both manual dot intensity control and an auto-adjust mode.  Unfortunately, if you just turned the sight on, it defaulted to the manual adjust option which always seemed like a bad way of doing things.   I would have preferred a single press of the button to turn on the auto mode, with subsequent presses going into manual adjust.  The newer MeoRed does away with the auto mode entirely, which might be an indication that everyone except me prefers the manual adjustment.  The control button of the MeoRed is on the left side of the lens housing.  It sticks out a little and is very easy to engage.  What I do not know is how easy it is to engage accidentally.  It seems like it would be, but I have not done it.  I am having another 10mm slide machined to accomodate the MeoRed.  Once that is done, I’ll be able to do a better test of how well that button is positioned.

While on the outside the MeoRed looks to be about the same size as the earlier Meosight III, it has a slightly lower base, which make c0-witnessing easier.  The battery is inserted from the side, but there is no pull-out tray for the battery.  There is a covered slot.  The cover is held by two screws and seems to be a very secure way of holding a battery.

Up to now, I only tested the MeoRed on a picatinny bases, since I do not have a slide machined to accept it.  It has a similar footprint to Docter, but different screw locations.  I will set up a slide for it and continue testing.

As far as how these three sights compare to each other, that is not a simple answer.  The dot is slightly sharper on the Docter than on others, but since they are not of exactly the same size, it is not an apples-to-apples comparison.  The lens does look a little clearer on the Docter.  Leupold is the fastest on target simply because it has a larger lens.  Between Docter and MeoRed, I can not see any speed difference.  The lens size is about the same between these two despite what the specifications say.  The biggest difference is in the control method, with the Meopta and Leupold having manual intensity control, while the Docter has three auto modes.  For the way I use these sights, I prefer the way DocterSight III works.  What I do not like about the DocterSight III is the bottom mounted battery.  Since the sight has to be removed from the base to change the battery, I have to check and adjust zero every time the battery is replaced.

DeltaPoint is about to head back Leupold.  MeoRed is going to spend some time getting beat up by my 10mm Glock.  DocterSight remains on my AR15 as an accessory close range sight for my Elcan Spectre OS.  It has now survived two carbine classes and many months of practice without skipping a beat, so that is where it will stay.

 Posted by at 7:07 pm