ILya

May 312019
 

I have talked a little bit about this on a couple of forums, but I figured that I should not neglect my own website and tell the story of what I am doing with G&A and why.

If you have followed my various ramblings for a while, you may remember that a bit over a decade ago, I had a brief interaction one of the gun magazine publications (admittedly not Guns and Ammo) and in order to write for them, I would have to severely change how I talk about things. They were so afraid of upsetting their advertisers, that I chose to not have anything to do with that. I am not out to slander anyone, but sometimes you have to cal a spade a spade, so to speak. If the product is crap, I have to be able to say it is crap.

Earlier this year, the folks behind the Guns and Ammo specialty editions reached out and asked if I am interested in writing a few pieces for them. The specialty edition magazines are the issues that are published once or twice per year focusing on a particular topic. The specific one that they had coming up was the inaugural Red Dot issue and they asked if I am interesting in writing something that goes over the most common misconceptions people have about reflex and holographic sights.

Red Dot magazine cover (at the newsstands now)

Naturally, the very first question I asked was on the restrictions I would have if I agree. That turned out to be a much shorter discussion than I anticipated. They do not want me to use bad language. That’s basically it. In other words: say what you want to say, but don’t be rude about it. I figured I can do that without sacrificing my journalistic integrity.

I wrote a piece for that Red Dot magazine and they liked it well enough that they asked me to do a couple more articles for the other publications they have coming up. The next one out will be the G&A Rimfire issue that will hit the newsstands toward the end of June.

Upcoming Rimfire magazine cover. This one will be at the newsstands on June 25th.

Probably the weirdest thing about print media for me is having a word budget. Vast majority of my writing has been on the internet where I can be as wordy as I damn well please. Brevity is not one of my virtues, so everything I have written for G&A so far started out as a much longer piece. So far, it takes me more time to pair down to 2000 words than it takes me to put together the original piece. I hope to get better with practice. I always knew I was wordy, but until now, I never realized how really wordy I am.

Beyond the Rimfrie issue, I have written a couple more and as they wrap up with editing and layout, I’ll post updates. For the first two pieces I wrote for G&A, their editing is very light handed, which I am pretty happy with. They move pictures around, obviously, to fit on the pages, but aside from that they just fix my occasionally random capitalization and punctuation.

If you happen to see one of these on the newsstand somewhere, read the article and let me know what you think. I will do a few reviews for them going forward, but most of the topics they want me to address or either educational or overview in nature, which fits me just fine.

 Posted by at 4:28 pm
Mar 302019
 

I field a good number of questions here and there and I like the idea of making some of them as a blog post especially when they touch on something I get asked with reasonable regularity.

Here is a question I received today:

If I can bother you a moment, I do have a quick question on your thoughts about a few optics. As someone who’s been around awhile, I hate asking stuff like this, but with time being limited (you’ll see why in a sec), I was hoping to cut out some of the riff-raff and get right to things.

I’m looking to scope a small-frame (5.56mm) precision AR. I have a S&B 4-16×42 PMII that was supposed to go on it, but I need to free up some funds for career advancement training, so I need to downgrade. I’ll DEFINITELY be looking to replace it when I can, as it’s an amazing optic, but such is life!

Here’s where I’m at. I already have a 34mm Spuhr SP-4616, so I’m heavily considering sticking with a 34mm optic, BUT I’m not at all against snagging an SP-3616 if I opt to go with a 30mm scope. Here’s what I’m considering:

-Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50
-Steiner P4Xi 4-16×56
-Burris XTRII 4-20×50
-Bushnell DMRII
-Bushnell LRTSi/LRHSi
-Vortex Viper PST2 3-15×44
-SWFA SS 3-15×42

I have experience with the two Bushnells and loved them. The LRTSi/LRHSi has slightly better glass, but is a bit darker because of the small exit pupil at full power when I use it (not terribly often, but still a consideration). The DMRII doesn’t have glass quite as nice, but is a 34mm, and does have a higher mag range and is a bit brighter at the ranges I’d most often be in.

The SWFA is on the list because it’s a proven basic optic that would get me by. Stepping down that far is acceptable, but less than ideal coming from an S&B, haha. But if I needed to go that low, it would be my choice.

I’m unfamiliar with the performance (tracking/repeatability, brightness, clarity) of the PST2 and Steiner/Burris offerings. I’ve read your reviews on the P4Xi and am interested, but the lack of a sunshade is worrisome, as I live in AZ and shoot in bright sun quite often. The 5-25x T5Xi sunshade works, but I’m not aware of a way to source one by itself, and I don’t yet know if Steiner/Burris will make one specific to the scope. The 3-15x seems like the next logical option, but the DMRII can be had for less with greater mag range for the rare case it’s needed, but weight becomes a penalty. The XTRII is proven, but has a lower level of clarity and higher CA on average. But you sure can beat the hell out of them, from what I’ve read over the years!

If you have $1K to use, which would you use, or perhaps, how would you rank them? Primary uses would be local PRS-type matches, training, informal plinking, and some varmint hunting. Of utmost importance is tracking/repeatability, brightness, and low weight (I can probably find a used 3-18x Razor Gen2 for $1250 if I’m patient, but I’m not putting a lb+ optic on a small frame AR!). I appreciate your time and input, and hope you have a great day!

For this scenario, the short answer is that I would go for Vortex PST Gen 2 3-15×44. Now, onto the long answer.

Do you like mil-scale reticles like Mil-Quad, SCR or TMR? Or do you prefer some sort of a tree reticle like EBR-2D? In a market with a large number of fairly competitive designs, reticle choice can easily be the deal breaker. I do not like to compromise on reticles too much.

That out of the way, a lot depends on how you plan to use the rifle. I have an accurate small frame AR and it has a 3-15×50 optic on it. I find that to be an excellent magnification range for this gun, but I shoot offhand and from weird positions a lot, which I like to do on lower magnifications, hence the need for 3x on the low end. I really like to keep the low end magnification on gas guns at 4x or lower.

Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50 on an accurate small frame AR

The best bang for the buck in the precision scope world right now is Steiner P4Xi 4-16×56 scope, but it is too big and heavy for a small frame AR in my opinion. If your AR is a dedicated heavy barrel setup, P4Xi would work fine, but based on how the question is phrased, I do not think that is what we are dealing with here.

Bushnell LRHSi was a nice design, but it is discontinued. LRTSi is similar and I like it, but 4.5x on the low end gives me pause. I like to have more FOV on the low end. It is different for everyone, but I would rather give up a little magnification on the high end that lose FOV on the low end in this case. 3-15x works better for me than 4.5-18x.

Bushnell DMR II 3.5-21×50 sounds like it would give you more FOV, but it doesn’t. This scope has some tunneling on the low end, so its FOV on 3.5x is almost the same as LRTSi on 4.5x. The two Bushnell scopes have FOV of around 24-25ft at 100 yards on the low end, while the PST Gen 2 has a hair over 41ft on low magnification. To me, that is a big difference.

Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50 is a compelling design, but I do not think that it is any better optically than PST Gen 2. The 3-15×44 is sort of a sweetspot of the PST Gen 2 line and it is good enough to my eyes that I effectively stopped recommending other scopes of this general configuration until we get over $2k. I think the 3-15×44 PST Gen 2 punches well above its weight class and I happened to like the reticle.

Now, when XTR 3 comes out, these two will something interesting to look at. Same for Optika6 3-18×50 when it gets here. Until then, PST Gen 2 is what I recommend in this price range.

SWFA SS 3-15×42 is an excellent and time proven design. There is nothing wrong with and if you want to save some money, it works well. However, PST Gen 2 is basically a better and more full featured scope for not a lot more money. SWFA SS has more of a track record and focuses closer though.

 Posted by at 11:40 am
Mar 162019
 

The text below was not written by me. It was, a blog post by a gentleman I have know for quite a few years now and I always pay attention to what he says. Admittedly, I do not always agree with him, but I always find his opinion well reasoned and driven by his personal experience. He prefers to stay anonymous. He posts as Rancid Coolaid on various forums. The text in italic is his. A few of my comments are at the bottom.

What began as an inquiry of utility has become a quick primer for pocket knives. Below is the first installment regarding automatic, semi-automatic, and purely manual pocket knives.

For most of us, it happened when we were boys. The first time we saw one, we immediately thought – or yelled – “I want one.” The switchblade is iconic, but is it practical or necessary?
But, before all that, a few housekeeping items.

1. Vocabulary. Every intelligent discourse begins with an agreement on vocabulary – else all the really important points get lost in the ambiguities.

For purposes of this post, we shall consider an “automatic” knife to be one that deploys a blade by way of a button not affixed to the blade. Whether “out the side” or “out the front” – also called “OTF”, these are automatic knives. 

In contrast, there exist now many “assisted open” or “semi-auto” knives with a spring assist, usually associated with a blade protrusion or extension used to overcome initial resistance. It is this resistance that keeps the blade closed and prevents its unintentional deployment. The “semi-auto” is spring-assisted rather than spring-deployed. In many legal respects, this is an important distinction, as is the means of deploying – button not on the blade vs. blade extension.

Finally, the old school manual deploy blade, whether by thumb stud or by 2-handed open, this is the knife we all did have, and we usually have a few.

2. Legal disclaimer. “Automatic knives” are illegal in many jurisdictions for most people; “semi-auto” are as well, though in far fewer jurisdictions. It is the responsibility of the one owning or possessing the knife to know local laws. I write from a free state (Texas), so convey no legal permissions on those choosing to live in a communist state (California) or other. You do the crime, you do the time.

I’ve been asked on a few occasions about automatic knives, “do I need one”, “why should I carry one”, “how should I carry one”, etc.   The long answer is below, the short answer is “it depends.”

When I was a kid in the 70s, a pocket knife was usually a Buck or Swiss Army; they were opened with 2 hands and carried in a pocket, deep in the pocket, at the bottom of the pocket. By the 90s, Spyderco and the likes had introduced us to two new pocket knife features: the pocket clip, and the thumbhole, both paradigm shifts in pocket knife usage and carry.
By the 2000s, spring-assist was catching on, and today one is hard-pressed to not own a few and know of quite a few more options in edged tool/weapon options of the semi-auto type.

And this brings us to one very important practical point: with the advent of very reliable, very well-made semi-auto options, the automatic became far less advantageous. And this might be a good time to address usage, and why an automatic was ever needed (as to whether it still is, we shall get there in time.)

Most people are quite adept at highly dexterous tasks, but only with their primary hand. In normal daily life, that is more than adequate; however, in life-and-death circumstances, the need for a certain measure of dexterity in one’s weak hand can be the difference between surviving and not. For those that have carried a gun professionally, there is – almost universally – a constant companion on the weak-hand side, as well there should be. I’ve had a fair bit of arms training and have taught a bit as well, and the topic always comes up, and I address it in the same way each time: with a gun on your strong-side hip, take the strong-side hand and place it flat on the center of your chest, then prevent or discourage me from taking your weapon and/or your life. As an aggressor, the first thing I will do is immobilize your primary hand – I have trained to do this, I can do it quite efficiently, and will do so probably before you realize there is a threat. As a defender, that means having a plan that begins with no strong-side hand.

The uninitiated and untrained often don’t get that far. And this is why so many fail the first test, and die. Don’t fail the first test.

It is in exactly this circumstance that an automatic knife can literally save your life. Worn weak-side or in an accessible location, the knife can be used efficiently with the weak-side hand to regain control of the weapon or the use of the primary hand. This is why law enforcement and military can carry automatic knives, because they have need to control their weapon in defense of your liberties.

Prior to the proliferation of spring assisted knives, an automatic was the best choice – or a small, fixed-blade option.

On the automatic side, the pros are – in my estimation and experience – these:
1. Easy, no-fumble, one-handed operation.
2. Rapid deployment, great control.
3. These tend to be knives we don’t use to open boxes and envelopes, so they stay sharp by lack of use – or mine do.
4. On OTF knives in particular, the coolness factor is unmistakable. There is a reason John Wick carried an OTF, they are, in simplest terms, cool.

Cons:
1. Legality. If it is on your side, it isn’t a con, but it is seldom on the side of the masses.
2. If poorly designed or improperly carried, it can open unintentionally, and – given #3 above – create problems.
3. OTF in particular, they fail. They get gritty or get hit just right, and the blade does not fully deploy – sometimes not at all. This is the primary reason I own but never carry a few OTFs.
4. It is a mechanical device, and is often designed to not be deployable without working properly (no thumb stud, no designated place to grab the blade, blade locks in when button is not depressed, etc.) 

When you take the good and the bad and compare it to semi-auto knives, the shine on automatics does indeed diminish a bit. I own several semi-auto and have yet to have one catastrophically fail – I have had one OTF fail miserably, and another fail to deploy on many stress-free occasions.

So, highlights and take-aways:

1. Because – for me – the task almost always chooses the tool, I am usually carrying a semi-auto now. With reliable, rapid deployment on the weak side, I can carry with confidence.
2. I have shelved the OTF autos for any real-world use. They are great to pull out at social events, if only to show the normies what cool stuff some of us have. *A note of caution: OTFs can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. As the cutting edge shoots out the front, anything forward of and in the line of the opening will get cut. Ask me how I know…
3A. For hard use, I will almost always have an automatic tucked away on my plate carrier or duty belt. It is the insurance policy, and a well made one will stow better in a non-pocket than will a semi-auto built for pocket carry.

3B: Todays pocket knives, especially those with pocket clips, are usually designed for pocket carry. They are made to ride at the back of the pocket with the blade pressed firmly against the rear seam. If you are carrying on molle gear or in something other than in a pocket, they don’t always carry so well. For non-pocket use, be sure you know how it positions, how/if it shifts, and how it feels in the hand when you need it.

Finally, as it will come up: very pointy pens, always carry, be ready to use. And the TSA has yet to take one from me. I also have one of these (https://countycomm.com/products/persuader-titanium) which can be called a “stylus” if it needs to be, but is extremely useful as a tool of persuasion.

If you need recommendations, here are a few:

1. semi-auto, weak-side or strong-side carry: Zero Tolerance combat folder. 
2. OTF: Microtech. **Skip everything under $500 as these tend to have the weak springs and breakage-prone internals, but the higher dollar OTFs are close to robust enough for real-world carry.
3. “Out-the-side” auto: Protech, the rocking bolster design is my favorite as it takes an inexperienced user time to figure it out – in the rare event you lose your sidearm AND your knife. Their blades are very well made and come from the factory very sharp. Great craftsmanship and dependability. Additionally, the rocking bolster is almost impossible to deploy unintentionally, which is good, because they arrive very sharp.
4. Budget “out-the-side” autos: HK has a collaboration with someone to make some very good knives, their actions are quite robust, they deploy with authority, but the button design isn’t great – mine is rocker that passes through the handle and must be pulled down to release – either a locked in or locked out blade. Mine has deployed once, on a vest, when it was not supposed to. The blades are decent material but not usually the best. Most out-the-side knives have a safety to prevent accidental deployment (as does the HK) but that seems stupid to me, at least in real-world usage terms.

*The OTF that I blew up was a Benchmade, it not only malfunctioned, it came apart in multiple pieces, with the blade uselessly stuck in one of them. It is, in my estimation, a poorly made knife with inferior materials and workmanship.


*The OTF that malfunctions occasionally is a Microtech Troodon. When it deploys and locks up, it is rock solid; when it fails to deploy, a wrist-flicks gets the blade out and locked probably 75% of the time. For real-world use, I would kinda equate that to carrying a 6-shot wheel gun with 4 rounds loaded, and you only have time to draw and squeeze once.

I live in California for the time being and my knowledge of automatic knives is purely theoretical. In this state you can get lynched for just thinking about one. I do, however, have a long history with fixed blade and folding knives. I was interested in knives before I was interested in guns.

I am also a life long martial artist, most of it open hand, but some limtied knife training as well. I regularly practice to deploy a manual folding knife with either hand and can do so fairly well. However, RC’s point above about doing it under stress is important. I am right handed and I suspect that fine motor skills with my left hand will go the way of the dodo before they do on the right hand.

To me, a natural solution to that is a small fixed blade. When properly carried, it requires no manual dexterity to speak of: grab handle, pull out of the sheath, slice whichever portion of the assailant is closest to you. Even a small blade can be extremely effective in the right hands. What is even more important, a sharp blade is extremely effective even in marginally trained hands. Find a local Kali or Escrima school and train there for a few months. If the teacher is any good, you will get a reasonable grasp of the fundamentals of using knife and stick. They usually start doing more complicated things too early and most of them are useless in a real fight when adrenaline is pumping. However, that is still good practice and gets the basics properly grooved in. The rest is all mindset.

There are some small fixed blade knives that can be carried in the pocket and some that can be carried on the belt or as a neck knife. Except that is, apparently, in California where they are illegal as well. I looked at the regulations and unless I am misreading it, a 3 inch fixed blade knife concealed is deemed more dangerous than a 6″ folder. Yes, I know. California is special in that short bus sort of way.

If it is legal where you live, consider a short fixed blade like Esee Izula or KaBar TDI for weak hand carry. Izula is an excellent neck knife and I have seen some pocket sheaths for it. TDI is angled in a way that makes it very viable for belt carry. Indonesian karambit style knives are also angled in a way that can make for some interesting carry options, but these knives require somewhat different training, so I do not recommend them for general purpose carry.

Lastly, please do not rely on me for legal advice: figure out what the laws are where you live.

 Posted by at 6:42 pm
Mar 032019
 

I have mentioned elsewhere that I am not a huge fan of large frame ARs. They are a little harder to shoot and there is a fair amount of mass cycling back and forth, so you kinda have to “manhandle” more so that I am sued to with small frame ARs.

Still, I have built a few and since a friend of mine has asked me how I would go about selecting components for one, I figured I should make a post out of this. First a little about nomenclature: I have only messed with building DPMS-pattern guns, so I will use the term “LR-308” throughout to mean a large frame AR.

My LR-308 is a somewhat specialized set-up since after many changes I settled on a heavy barreled 243Win gun that I use for testing scopes and will also use as a heavy varminter. Here is what it looks like in its latest iteration with a Dracos barrel and an inexpensive, but surprisingly decent Guntec handguard:

Large frame AR: VC Defense upper and lower receivers, Dracos 243Win barrel, Guntec handguard, Juggernaut CA-legal stock

One thing to keep in mind is that I was not looking to save weight with this gun. In the past, I ran it for a bit with an 18″ 308 barrel and had I stayed with that configuration I would definitely go for a somewhat lighter build. In this particular case, I was asked how I would configure such a gun for a use case where it would be utilized for home defense and for occasional hunting. First of all, I will freely admit, that for home defense I would be more likely to use a smaller AR platform with a smaller cartridge. 308Win is a bit of an overkill for home defense. However, if we extend this to “estate defense” and with hunting thrown in for good measure a large frame AR makes reasonable sense (although I have an AR-15 chambered for 6.5 Grendel for this purpose and do not feel undergunned).

Anyway, here are some component considerations:

  1. Make sure you get matched upper and lower receivers. There is no mil-spec standard for large frame ARs and I have seen some variations that do not fit each other. On top of that, I have also seen some fit issue with handguards and upper receivers from different makers. If I were starting a build now, I would probably get a matched kit from Grey Ghost that has a matched upper and lower receivers together with their handguard. Rainier seems to have it on sale right now and I happened to like the camo patterns they have. This pretty much guarantees that the pieces will fit together.
  2. If you decide to not get a fully matched up set above, you can get matched upper and lower receivers with Grey Ghost being a good option again, although Rainier’s own set is quite good too.
  3. Keep in mind that there are multiple DPMS standards out there, so if you buy a handguard separately make sure you pay attention to whether it is a high rail or low rail standard. I prefer to go with “Low rail” everything, but it does not matter too much as long as you stay consistent. Handguard aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, so choose what works for you. I have reasonable mileage with different makers so this is where you kinda have to decide what fits your build. If you are looking for making the gun as light as possible, you may have to spend some money on a Brigand handguard. On the other hand, if weight is less of a concern, options really open up. Since I prefer to have the handguard go over the gas block, I would stick with something around 15″ in length. That all having been said, if I were doing a new build for myself, I would either go light with a Brigand or a little heavier with a Blklbl handguard that has an integrated bipod (or to minimize compatibility issues, see the Grey Ghost links above).
  4. Barrel is also a personal choice, but an important one. There are many good barrels out there and for a general purpose rifle, I would lean toward some light to mid-weight design with 18″ length. I have a Fulton armory 18.5″ barrel that is built on a Criterion blank in a light-ish profile. It is chrome-lined which makes it almost impervious to elements and pretty unlikely to ever be shot out with any normal use. Given the application, I would lean heavily toward either QPQ or chrome-lines barrel, so for a lightweight QPQ option, I think this pencil weight Faxon is one of the better “bang-for-the-buck options out there right now. For hunting/home defense gun, one of these would be my choice.
  5. Gas block: many people opt for an adjustable gas block, but for someone doing it for the first time, I would probably go for a standard low profile gas block, preferably of the clamp-on variety, but a well fitted set screw gas block works just fine. For something a little more dedicated for precision or for a gun that will have a suppressor on it, I might go for an adjustable gas block. However, since we are talking about something that has to be California legal (no suppressors) and used for home defense and hunting, standard gas block is fine.
  6. Furniture: in CA, you can’t have a collapsible stock or regular pistol grip, so this is the grip you have to use (for right handers). With buttstocks, I am a firm believer in using a rifle spring and buffer if you can’t have a collapsible stock. The recoil is going to be a little softer with a rifle buffer. There are a few buttstock options out there that will work fine, but I would probably just get Magpul’s MOE rifle stock and be done with it.
  7. Extension, spring and buffer. The extension is the same as on the AR-15, but buffer and spring are different, so make sure you pick the right ones. Standard weight rifle buffer from anyone reputable (like this one from Brownells) will work fine. With springs, I would go with JP’s tuned and polished spring (part number JPSOSR308 ).
  8. Last, but not least, you’ll need a trigger and lower parts kit. A couple of parts are different between large and small frame ARs, so make sure you get the right one, like this one from DPMS. Technically, this lower parts kit has everything you need, but in practical terms, you should really get a better trigger and an ambidextrous safety (ambi safety is key for California since you can’t have a proper pistol grip). There are many ambidextrous safeties out there and most work just fine. I am partial to the Radian Talon ambi safety, personally. Finally, we get to triggers. I tend to use Geisselle SSA-E in a lot of my builds and I have yet to regret it. I think it is the best general purpose trigger available for the AR Platform right now. It is not cheap, so for the budget conscious, ALG’s ACT trigger is a good option. It is, essentially, a GI trigger that is tuned and adjusted to be about as good as a GI trigger can be.

That takes care of the rifle, so we can spend a minute on optics. Home defense means red-dot or a scope that goes down to 1x. Hunting means low light and large objective. The two requirements are essentially mutually exclusive. Also, for any gun that is intended for defensive purposes I really like to have two independent sighting system.

If you want one scope that goes down to 1x, I think it is wise to start with Steiner P4Xi 1-4×24. It is exceptionally quick on 1x and quite decent on 4x. The reticle is intended for 5.56, but inside of 500 yards, the drops are almost the same.

If you want a little more reach, consider Hawke Frontier 1-6×24. Its reticle is mrad based, so it is not cartridge specific.

If you are willing to consider a dual sighting system set-up, I would suggest something like Meotpa Meostar R1 1.5-6×42 with a micr red dot like Burris FastFire II set-up on an offset mount. Mestar is a great general purpose scope for hunting and all sorts of other use that happens to be quite fast on 1.5x. With an Fastfire mounted on an offset Daniel Defense mount, you ahve a red dot that can be in front of your eye by rotating the rifle just a bit.

 Posted by at 4:46 pm
Feb 272019
 

Written in February 2019

As I was ready to publish this, I noticed that Doug from CameralandNY just put this scope on sale for $849. If you call him and mention Dark Lord Of Optics, you will get an additional $50 gift certificate for anything else from Cameraland (rings, caps, etc). That brings the price of the P4Xi down to a hair under $800.

I have been looking at this scope for some time now and I found myself liking it a fair bit.  It is a little bit of an oddball design in a sense that finding something similarly configured to compare it to.  The only other 4-16×56 scopes I found are the much more expensive Hensoldt and S&B. Most of the 3-15x, 4-16x and 3-18x scopes out there use a smaller 50mm objective (kinda like Steiner’s own T5Xi 3-15×50).  Meopta Optika6 will have a 3-18×56 design, but that is not here yet. In the end, I ended up looking at the Steiner P4Xi next to a couple of higher magnification scopes I have on hand with 56mm objective lenses to get an idea of how it stacks up.

Here is my conclusion in a nutshell: if you can find this scope for around $1K you should pick one up.  At $1500, it would be a bit of a harder sell, but around a grand it is a superb option. It tracked true.  The turret feel is very good and optical quality is very respectable. It especially shined in low light. There is enough magnification to get me pretty far out and the reticle is very well suited for precision shooting where you dial for elevation and hold for wind.

Here is my customary comparison table which is not really useful in this case because of the unusual configuration.

Steiner P4Xi
4-16×56
Hensoldt
4-16×56 FF
S&B
PMII
Ultra
Bright
4-16×56
Meopta
Optika6
3-18×56 (not out yet)
Athlon
Ares
ETR
4.5-30x
56
Delta
Stryker
HD
4.5-30x
56
Length,
in
14.613.1515.214.615.314.37
Weight,
oz
3031.833.836.535.8
Main
Tube
Diam
3434343034mm34mm
Eye Relief, in3.5 – 43.153.543.93.93.2 – 3.8
FOV, ft@
100yds
27.5-6.9 11.04@ 10x26.1-7.5 12 @
10x
28.2-6.9 11.04@10x33.2 – 5.810.4@
10x
24.5 -3.7
11.2@
10x
24.8-3.7
11.2@
20x
Exit
Pupil
a9.5 – 3.18.8 – 1.98.8 – 1.9
Clicks,
mrad
0.10.10.10.10.1 0.1
Adj per
turn, mrad
10
Dual
turn
14.5 14 10 10
Adj
range, mrad
E: 30
W: 16
22E: 27
W: 12
20.432 mradE: 30
W: 15
Reticle
Ill
YesYesYesYes + DichroYesYes
Reticle
Plane
FFPFFPFFPFFP or
SFP
FFPFFP
ParallaxAdj
50 – inf
AdjAdj
30m-inf
AdjAdj
25 – inf
Adj
23 – inf
Price, $~$1000$3200$3800$750$1200$1700

Looking at the numbers, nothing really sticks out.  The scope is reasonably sized for the class and on the light weight side for a 56mm objective design.

There is plenty of internal elevation adjustment available, but the turret is a double turn design, wo you get 20 mrad with proper mounting.  I had it mounted in a Aadmount with 20 MOA incline built in. With that configuration I go the two full turns.

In practical terms, since I do not shoot ELR (yet), I do not need that much adjustment, so most of my testing was over the first 9 mrad.  I did not do a shooting test for the entirety of the 20 mrad adjustment, but I did test on a gun out to 16 mrad with very uneventful results.

The scope spent time on two guns: The Fix with a 24” Proof barrel chambered for 308 and large frame AR with Dracos 243Win barrel on it (below).  Neither is a kicker, but I have spent some time shooting off the bench, prone and sitting with both guns to see how forgiving the scope is. The eye relief is fairly long and quite flexible.  This scope is pretty easy to get behind. That is one of the advantages of a large objective. Even at 16x, the exit pupil is a rather generous 3.5mm

Another nice feature is that the elevation turret does not go up and down when you dial.  It always stays the same height and there is a window at the bottom of the turret that serves as a revolution counter: white for the first turn and green for the second turn.

The numbers engraved on the turret are color coded to match the turn indicator.  0 through 9 are white and 10 through 19 are green.

Side focus adjust the image from 50 yards on out to infinity and infinity is actually infinity.  I was able to focus on some trees a couple of miles out. Depth of field is fairly generous, but still, for shooting inside of 50 yards, lowering the magnification helped.  On 4x, I could shoot quite comfortably and accurately don to 20 yards or so. There was some parallax, but it was manageable.

Reticle illumination control is a rotary knob integrated into the side focus turret.  The illumination level is calibrated to be just about perfect for low light. Only a portion of the reticle is illuminated, making an illuminated “T”, of sorts.  In the picture below, I set illumination on a rather bright level, so that the camera could focus on something. It looks much sharper when you look through the scope.

In general, the SCR reticle that Burris and Steiner use across a wide variety of different scopes is quite thin and well suited for precision shooting.  I think it is a little too thin on 4x, especially as light goes down, but that is where reticle illumination really helps. Here is what the reticle looks like on 4x, 8x, 12x and 16x.

From top left: 16x, 12x, 8x and 4x

Optical quality was very good given the price.  When I compared it next to the Delta Stryker which costs a fair bit more, Delta was the better scope during the day, with better resolution and better CA control.  However, at night, they performed very similarly with Steiner having unusually good flare control for the price range. Compared to Ares ETR, P4Xi had a little more CA and little lower resolution, but the contrast on the Steiner was better.  In the middle of the day Athlon Ares ETR looked a little better, but as the light went down P4Xi was the better scope. Its reticle illumination is also much better in low light than that on Ares ETR.

I think you are beginning to see the drift of my take on the P4Xi at this point: it is easy to get behind, seems solid mechanically and optically and it really shines in low light.  Its only really notable optical flaw is some visible CA on high contrast targets, but I am kidna picking at it a little since there isn’t much else to complain about. It really reminds me of the original Steiner Military scopes a little in terms of the feel of the image.  So many modern designs try to squeeze huge magnification range into a scope ro make it super compact and generally that is a good thing. However, with optics, everything is a compromise. If you are not ready to drop $3k+ for a modern ultrashort, I suggest looking at something with a design that is a bit more on the conservative side of things and this Steiner is exactly that.  If you really want a 4-16×56 Hensoldt, but don’t have the budget for it, consider the P4Xi. No, it is not as good as the Hensoldt. It would be silly of me to claim it was, but it costs less than a third of the Hensoldt, stays zeroed, tracks true and is very good optically.

 Posted by at 11:22 pm
Feb 212019
 

Harakiri, also known as seppuku, is a ritual suicide that used to be practiced by the samurai. Benchmade knife company, for whatever reason, decided to exercise the corporate version of it.

Apparently, they assisted Oregon PD in destroying some confiscated guns. I am sure that gun destruction was mandated by law and Oregon PD had no choice, but I am opposed to such idiocy in principle since a gun is a tool and I see no compelling reason to destroy one just because some moron used it in a crime. The gun, not being a person, does not bear responsibility for that.

Naturally, once that came out, someone looked into Benchmade’s political contributions and it turned out they were stupid enough to predominantly donate to anti second amendment candidates in the last few years.

Once the shitstorm started, they issued this official statement:

SEE OFFICIAL STATEMENT BELOW:

Benchmade is aware of the recent post from our local Oregon City Police Department.

We apologize for the confusion and concern that this post created. These were firearms that the Oregon City Police Department had to destroy in alignment with their policies. Oregon City Police requested the use of specialty equipment within the Benchmade facility to follow these requirements, and as a supporting partner of our local police force, we obliged the request.

Benchmade is a proud and unwavering supporter of both law enforcement and Second Amendment rights. These are commitments that we do not take lightly and will continue to support well into the future.


When asked for clarity from Oregon City Police Department, Chief Jim Band made the following statement: “When property is to be destroyed, it is the policy of the Oregon City Police Department to destroy property, including firearms, in accordance to our procedures and ORS. The Oregon City Police Department does not sell firearms.”

According a website opensecrets, here is how Benchmade has been donating to political candidates:

More details are available on opensecrets website linked above

Since I am a firm believer that stupidity should be punished by market forces, I will retire a bunch of Benchmade knoves I own and refrain from buying them for myself or recommending them to others.

When individuals donate to politicians I do not agree with, I could not care less. When a company does, that is like them saying: “we do not give a rat’s ass about those of our customers who disagree”.

In other words, I suspect that there is enough high-fiving at Spyderco, Kershaw, etc headquarters right now that their arms will be sore for a while.

 Posted by at 1:46 pm
Feb 052019
 

Every year I tell myself that I will look at spotting scopes more since they are interesting and since it is easy for me to look at them: set up a few tripods on the deck and go for it. This year, I am actually going to do something about it.

One thing that is of interest to me is looking at different spotting scope types, which is exactly what I did in the video below.

65mm Vortex Razor HD is a conventional spotting scope, albeit with a new wide angle variable eyepiece (I also have the absolutely excellent fixed power eyepiece for it).

Athlon Cronus 7-42×60 is built more like a regular riflescope inside except without the need for moving the reticle and with short eye relief. US Optics used to have a spotter like this and Bushnell’s LMSS is a somewhat similar design. There is an optical compromise there: spotters of this type usually have a little worse image quality (multi-lens erector system instead of the prism), but they have an advantage in magnification range. In the case of the Cronus, I can use it handheld on lower powers or off a backpack or tripod as magnification goes up. These are also comparatively rugged inline systems, so the Cronus lives in the side pocket of my backpack and does not seem to be adversely affected in any way.

Meopta TGA 75 is another in-line design except it is does use an erecting prism. The interesting part about this one is the collapsible body. There aren’t a whole lot of these out there, but I am pretty impressed with this one, especially with the 30x eyepiece that has a reticle in it.

This is not really intended as a comparison, per se, since these are very different designs, but looking at them side-by-side is interesting as they work best for different applications. There is a lot of personal preference in selecting the right ergonomics. For example, modern wide angle eyepieces are excellent, but they bump my nose, so I have to look through the scope sideways, which induces strain. In other words, there is no replacement for actually using these things. A wide angle eyepiece may look great, but it gives me trouble for prolonged observation. Generally, for a lot of what I do, I really find myself drawn to fixed power eyepieces with longish eye relief. Meopta with a fixed power 30x eyepiece is a little limiting since it is a little wider than I like for scanning, but it has good FOV, so it works well for me. Vortex Razor HD with a fixed power eyepiece is just a joy to use, but 18x is a little on the low side for a spotter. A good 15x “Big Eyes” binocular will give you about the same image quality with less eye strain due to using two eyes and you need a tripod for either of these. The same eyepiece with the larger 85mm Razor is a 22x and you can get it with a reticle. That is a very nice setup.

In terms of sheer flexibility though, Cronus with its 7-42x magnification range is really difficult to beat.

One of the things I have been trying to ascertain last year, is how using a high magnification binocular compares to using a spotter. There is a tradeoff between magnification and using two eyes. What I found is that exit pupil still matters. I played around with a nice 20×56 binocular and some 15×56 ones and found that for reasonably relaxed viewing with big binoculars, I need more than 3mm of exit pupil. I can see more with a nice 15×56 binocular than with 18-20x spotter with 50-60mm objective, for example. However, Vortex 18x eyepiece with a 65mm spotter has some significant advantages in low light even with only one eye in use.

One approach I have not spent too much time looking into usign a doubler or tripler with a “Big Eyes” binocular. That could be an interesting “jack of all trades” approach.

Here is a spec table for the spotting scopes I discussed in the video above.

Vortex Razor HD 65mm
22-48x or 18x LER
Athlon Cronus
7 – 42×60
Meopta TGA 75
20-60x or 30x WA
Length, in15.613.914.5 (w/o eyepiece),
10″ collapsed
Weight, oz56.846.644
Exit Pupil, mm3 – 1.45.2 – 1.43
FOV, ft @ 1000 yards138 – 84 (w/ 22-48x)
163 (w/ 18x)
284 – 47.6114 (w/30x)
943- 48 (w/20-60x)
Eye Relief, mm17 (w/ 22-48x)
31 (w/ 18x)
3015.5
Close Focus, ft261014
Price$1200 – $1500$1000$1200 – $1500
 Posted by at 2:23 pm
Jan 262019
 

I am back home from SHOT 2019 and working on getting all my impressions and pictures processed. I recorded a few videos via Facebook Live already and uploaded them to Youtube already. They are linked on a dedicated SHOT 2019 page here. The page is accessible via menus up top and via this link:

SHOT 2019

 Posted by at 4:05 pm
Dec 302018
 

As 2018 draws to a close, I am in Hawaii with my family wrapping up with a few days of much needed vacation. In the past, every time I went on vacation, I had a camera bag with me. I am not a good photographer by any stretch of imagination, but I am definitely a camera geek and I have a fair amount of inside knowledge into the camera world having worked in it for a good number of years. I still maintain an interchangeable camera system (Micro-4/3) and also use an older Nikon DSLR that I pilfered from my brother. However, like most people these days, I take most of my pictures with a cell phone. This was the first vacation I have taken where I left my system camera at home. There are two reasons for that. One is that I have two fairly small children, so I have enough stuff to carry around. My enthusiasm for carrying an extra (camera) bag is a bit low. It is not like I can get the kids to pose anyway. Definitely not long enough to set-up a tripod. Another and probably more important reason is that my new Pixel 3 cell phone takes pretty remarkable pictures. Its built in HDR mode makes for stunning dynamic range. Night Sight mode does well in low light. Portrait mode does a decent job of blurring the background and a wide angle selfie camera on the front is responsive enough to capture my whole family. Primary camera is responsive enough to capture my kids when they are sitting still for a few microseconds.

Pixel 3 using Night Sight mode

Every time I take a picture, I get a very respectable JPEG and an HDR Raw that I can later dump into Skylum 3 (I just cancelled my Adobe Lightroom subscription) for some extra editing. Basically, as far as I am concerned, computational photography has arrived.

Do not get me wrong, the pictures I get from my Pixel 3 are not as good as the ones I was able to take with Leica Q (which I probably shouldn’t have sold), but they are good enough.

Pixel 3. Cook Bay.

Now, I am fibbing a little. I sorta have an interchangeable lens system for my cell phone since I use Moment’s excellent add-on lenses.

Moment Amazon Page

I use a Moment case with telephoto lens fairly frequently, but I also have some mileage with their similarly excellent wide angle lens. Effectively that gives my phone camera an equivalent focal length of 18mm with tthe wide angle lens, native 28mm and 60mm with telephoto lens. However, since google started offering super-resolved digital zoom, I get pretty good performance at a good range of intermediary settings as well. Moment lenses are tiny, so I can shove them into my pocket and barely know they are there.

To re-iterate, if you are looking for ultimate image quality with seamless control of the depth of field and perspective, get a proper camera with proper set of lenses. Lugging all that stuff around will save you some money on weight lifting equipment. In my case, I do not need one for 90% of my photographic needs.

With that in mind, I figured I should examine the situations where I do still need to take a standalone camera with me. Of course, there will be situations where I will take a proper camera with simply because I like to take pictures

The first and most obvious is harsh environment use. We did some of that during this vacation and I did not prepare quite adequately for it. In retrospect, I should have bought a proper low light capable ruggedized and waterproof camera. Notice, I said “low light capable”. That limits the field considerably. There are plenty of waterproof and ruggedized cameras out there (like Olympus TG series) that are quite decent if you have enough light. If you need a camera for your ski vacation or to take pictures in a well lit pool, one of these will work fine. If you are more interested in video than stills, you can also consider various action cams like the latest GoPro. I gave one some serious thought, but my basic problem is handling. These are really designed to be mounted on something (helmet, bike, small gymbal) rather than be handheld. I have a camera with such a form factor (Z-Cam E1) and it is really not ideal for handheld use without some additional hardware that makes it a lot more expensive and quite a bit bulkier. However, it is a much large image sensor than any action cam and it takes the same interchangeable lenses I use with my regular Micro-4/3 camera. It was recently replaced with a much better Z-Cam E2 which is more than double the price. Neither of these cameras is easy to use, but if you are willing to put in some work, you can get good results.

During our stay in Hawaii, we went on a night snorkle to see manta rays. I do not own a proper underwater camera, so I bought an underwater housing for my DXO One camera. It has been discontinued, unfortunately, but it takes good pictures and uses a large-ish 1″ image sensor. The basic problem with using it underwater is that I can not change shooting modes, like switching between stills and video without opening the waterproof case. It gave me OK results and was much better than nothing, but I really missed having a proper camera.

That is something I will need to investigate a bit further, but unless you are willing to shove your system camera into a waterproof housing, your options are slim. There is the DC2000 from SeaLife which use the same sensor as my DXO One, but it seems to have focus issues. That leaves me looking at the two year old and very expensive Leica X-U. I have looked at it before and balked at the price, but now I wonder if I should just bite the bullet.

The X-U is a couple of years old now, but it takes good pictures and average looking videos. However, the lens on it is very sharp and it is good in low light. As far as price goes, if I get a waterproof case for one of my system cameras, the total price will get into Leica territory as well and the whole package will get a lot bigger. Another factor to consider is that Leica X-U is small enough and ruggedized enough to be use for general purpose outdoors photography where I would not be able to take a proper system camera with me, like skiing.

Another use case where I still need a standalone camera is anything requiring long reach. Once you get beyond 100mm equivalent, even with add-on lenses, a cell phone does not really do it any more. Perhaps that will be resolved in the future with some folded optics, but not quite yet and that is where I still use my Micro-4/3 camera with an inexpensive telephoto zoom and a F/1.8 prime where I need a little more reach in low light.

With all that, as I said, this was my first vacation without a dedicated camera and I really enjoyed the convenience.

Pixel 3. Cook Bay.
 Posted by at 9:23 am