ILya

Oct 222017
 

written in October 2017

Since I was putting together a progress report of sorts, I also realized there are several scopes I have wrapped up with, but havn’t yet written anything about.  Among them are the two Styrka S7 scopes that I looked at late in 2016.





First, a couple of words about the company.  Styrka is, apparently, a Swedish word for “strength”.  It is also a Russian word for “laundry”.  Since I do not speak Swedish, but do speak Russian, I find the name highly amusing.  If you visit Styrka website, it is positively littered with the word “strong” and its various conjugates.  However, all I can think of when when I visit their website is “strong laundry”…  That is probably my personal failing.

Since I mentioned their website (https://styrkastrong.com/), I might as well give a little background on the company.  From a marketing standpoint, they are very good.  Considering how young the Styrka brand is, they have an unusually clear and coherent message aimed at the hunting market (and it is probably quite effective since most people do not think “laundry” when they hear Styrka; OK, I will wrap up with the whole laundry business).  The reason their presentation looks so polished is that Sytrka is, apparently, Celestron’s new attempt to play in the hunting market.  With Celestron behind them, Styrka has every opportunity to do well.  I have not tested their binoculars and spotters, but I suspect they are very well worked out since Celestron has been marketing those forever and a day.  My interest was with riflescopes and their, Styrka has some work to do.

I looked at two of their higher end scopes, both from the S7 product line: 1-6×24 and 2.5-15×50.  I tested the 1-6×24 on my 10mm carbine and on a fairly conventional AR.  The 2.5-15×50 spend some time on an AR and on a 308Win bolt gun.  Neither scope came with exposed turrets, so I did not spend a whole lot of time exploring tracking.  I did a rough check and since nothing objectionable was found, I did not dig into that further.

The 1-6×24 had their plex reticle (non-illuminated), while the 2.5-15×50 had Styrka’s BDC-style reticle.

Optical quality was quite respectable and good for the money.  Both scopes, once zeroed, stayed zeroed.  However, I did not do an extremely thorough test and the reason for that is reticle design.  Best I can tell, Styrka does not have  a whole lot of people with background in sighting devices, so whoever makes the decisions there really does not understand reticles.  For the record, I explained all of that to the very nice gentleman who was my contact there during SHOT 2017.  I have not heard a peep from them since, so I can surmise that they are either hard at work re-working their reticle or they got all poochy-faced because I dared to tell them they made a few mistakes.  Either way, I am too lazy to fig into what they are up to further, so I will keep checking on them every few months to see if they did anything about their reticles.

As they are right now, their reticles are what I would call “designed to fail”.

The plex reticle in the 1-6×24 has a very wide opening and is way too thin for a low range variable.  You can’t really use the thick bars for bracketing anything and without illumination, the reticle really vanishes in low light.  On the flip side of the coin, during the day, it does not stand out either so it does not aid in speed.  If you look at a veritable horde of 1-6x scopes out there you will notice that everyone does something to aid the visibility of their reticle.  Styrka decided to go with a simple hunting reticle (it seem like they are trying to avoid the AR market like the plague, which in itself is a huge mistake), but then they sized it wrong for a scope of this type.  Illumination helps a bit, but not enough.

The reticle I looked at in the 2.5-15×50 is their SH-BDC and, comparatively speaking, it is even worse. It has a few holdover hashmarks, like many modern holdover reticle, but it skips on the thick outer bars entirely.  You can imagine what it does to low light visibility and speed of acquisition.  With all lines being about the same thickness, the eye is not naturally drawn to any spot, so it is not built for speed.  Line thickness is cleverly selected in such a way that it is too thick for precision shooting, but too think to see in low light.

I have been looking at riflescopes on a fairly consistent basis for about 20 years now.  One of the biggest differences between now and 20 years ago, is the evolution of and ever increasing sophistication in reticle design.  Styrka went ahead and soundly ignored these last twenty years of practical experience and decided to go their own way (most likely drawing on expertise of people who have never fired a gun).

All that is the bad part, and, as you may imaging, I do not think I made any friends at Styrka headquarters.  Frankly, I can live with that.  Be that as it may, there is a silver lining.

First of all, while the S7 scopes are made in China, they appear to be made exceedingly well.  Best I can tell, the S7 deisgn is related to Athlon Midas and Hawke Frontier which appear to be made by the same OEM.  That is not a bad company to be in.  If my guess on the OEM is correct, basic optomechanical quality of the S7 scopes should be quite good and my impressions from using the scopes support that.  Now, that also means if you want a scope like the S7, but with a more modern reticle design, you can go to Hawke or Athlon.  That is generally true, but not for all situations.  Athlon’s reticle designs are at their best in FFP scopes (so consider Athlon Ares if you want a more sophisticated reticle in FFP from the same OEM).  Hawke reticle in the 1-6×24 Frontier is excellent, while the LRD dot in the 2.5-15×50 Frontier is also a very good hunting reticle.  What is worth noting though, is that both Athlon and Hawke supply their 1-6×24 with fixed parallax.

The Styrka S7 1-6×24 is one of the few low range variables with adjustable parallax.  While generally adjustable focus is not necessary on low range variables, it is a pretty good idea if you want to a scope of this type for a rimfire or an airgun.  For that application, it is a very respectable option, just make sure you get the model with illuminated reticle.  I am considering one for my 10/22.

With the 2.5-15×50 S7, while the BDC reticle is basically useless, Styrka makes a version with a low tech, but very familiar classic mil-dot reticle.  To be entirely honest, I do not like complicated holdover reticles in SFP scopes.  As much as I like Athlon’s APLR in FFP Ares, I do not think the SFP Midas is a good platform for it.

Simple mrad-graduate reticle, like the classic Mil-Dot, on the other hand, is quite usable if you know what you are doing without being particularly complicated.  Also, since this reticle is pretty well established, Sytrka’s crack engineers did not go to town on it.  It is a bit old school, but it works and works well for a variety of applications.  Here is a link to the specific model on Adorama.

Considering how harshly I spoke of Styrka earlier, you are probably wondering why I am providing product links.  The answer is simple: I usually see the S7 priced lower than Athlon or Hawke offerings from the same OEM.  If you can live with the options I outlined, this is a pretty cost effective way to get your hands on a very nice scope from the standpoint of optics and basic mechanical quality.

 Posted by at 10:10 pm
Oct 192017
 

October 19, 2017.

 

I popped the safe open to do an inventory of sorts of the stuff I have on hand that still needs to be written up.
This somehow creeped up on me, but there is a lot of stuff in there. I will stop accepting new review items for a bit, until I clear this out.
Here is a rundown with some brief comments, in no particular order.




1) Leupold VX-6HD 3-18×44. I am basically done with this one. I like VX-6HD a lot and if Leupold made a version of this scope with FFP reticle and mrad adjustments for similar money, I would own at least two or three. It tracked true, the low profile turret had a good feel and optical quality is commensurate with the price.

2) Leica Magnus 1.8-12×50. This is the best general purpose hunting scope I have ever tested, bar none. Swaro Z8 is in the same league, I think, and both are really expensive. Zeiss V8 is in the same price range, but from a cursory look, Leica and Swaro are better. Anyway, the image of the Magnus really agrees with me. FOV is superb. Ballistic turret is accurate and the reticle illumination is world class. The reticle is mrad delineated, so I do not have to learn new BDC dimensions. If you want a hunting scope with no compromises, this it. It is sitting on my Tikka M695 in a McMillan stock. I took it out to 600 yards with zero issues. I’ll take it out to 1k next.

3) Leica ER5 2-10×50. Optomechanical quality seems very good. I am a bit mixed on the magnum Ballistic reticle, but I will admit I have not spent as much time with this scope as I wanted to. I got it at the same time as I did the Magnus and I have to admit, I spent more time with the Magnus than with the ER5.

4) Athlon Ares 4.5-27×50.  I’ve spent some time with this scope already and so far I like what I see.  It offers a lot for the money, but as the design is new, I want to spend some more time with it before I decide whether I will recommend it or not.

5) HiLux Phenom 5-30x56FFP.  Same general comment as on the Athlon above.  These two scopes cost about the same customer.  I like the design overall, but there is some field curvature that I need to see if I can dial out.  HiLux Phenom and Athlon Ares go directly against each other, so I am looking at them side-by-side.  These are very featured rich design for not too much money.  These are also among the most ambitious designs I have seen come out of China so far.  Naturally, they peaked my interest.

6) Hi-Lux Uni-Dial 5-30×56.   This is sort of a SFP version of the Phenom above and it is looking quite good so far.

7) Vortex Razor Gen 2 spotter.  I am done testing the variable eyepiece and I am now looking at the fixed eyepiece.  This spotter rocks and it is easily going to end up at the top of my list of recommendations.  Vortex should really get a reticle in there.

8) Leica Noctivid 8×42 binocular.  This is the best general purpose binocular I have seen to date.   Now, you can make a reasonable claim that other similarly priced designs are as good, but they all have their own character.  I have looked at Zeiss, Swaro and Leica at reasonable length and while all three are excellent, Leica agrees with my eyes the best.  It has spectacular microcontrast and the most relaxing image I have ever seen in a binocular.

10) Shield RMS miniature red dot sight.  I’ve got this thing incorporated into the slide of my Glock 43 and it is likely to become that sight of choice for my handgun use on smaller handguns.  Generally, I have been looking at a variety of miniature red dot sights recently and for handgun use, I am converging on Shield RMS and DocterSight III as my favourites.  RMS has the lowest sightline of them all, but it is not waterproof.  However, I accidentally tested that feature and it is definitely splashproof.  I will avoid going swimming with it though.  RMS easily lands on my list of recommendations that I will be updating shortly.

11) Shield SIS is to ARs, what RMS is to handguns.  I am extremely impressed and it moves to the top of my list for carbiine use.  The SIS has really impressed more than I thought it would.  There is an interesting (to me) aspect of it that I hadn’t really thought about earlier.  Everyone is trying to make red dot sights with minimal visible housing, so that all you see is a bright red dot surrounded by as little as possible.  With the SIS, at first blush, the window is comparatively small, while the housing is pretty prominent.  However, it does not seem to have slowed me down in the slightest.  However, when I did some house clearing drills, I realized that at these close ranges, that housing is really helpful.  I do not have to worry about the red dot at all.  The moment I see something that needs to be shot through that window, I can pull the trigger and hit it.  At longer ranges it works about as well as most other red dots.  I have a little astigmatism, so the dots are not terribly sharp, but I can still use the holdover reticle well enough.  I have not yet tested it to see if it works well with a magnifier, so that is next.

12) Vortex UH-1.  I will have it in my hands next week, so a First Look article is forthcoming.

13) Vortex PST Gen 2 3-15×44.  It is arriving next week.  When I looked at the new PSTs briefly earlier this year, I thought the 3-15×44 was the best one of the bunch.  We’ll see how it holds up.

14) Docter QuickSight.  This is mostly a shotgun sight, but I fashioned it to a handgun to see how a short/low window will work.  It is an interesting design, and I’ll have more to say about it shortly.

15) Vortex AMG 6-24×50.  Almost done with this one.  It is currently sitting on my 338LM and working great.  EBR7 reticle is not my favourite, but it works.  The horizontal has a bit too much happening on there for my taste, but it is undoubtedly a functional design.  The scope itself is excellent and I fully expect to buy it from Vortex when I am done.  There are a couple of tests I still need to finish, but I am really impressed with what I see so far.

16) Burris RT-6.  Almost done with this one.  This is my favorite budget 1-6x.

17) Hawke Frontier 1-6×24.  I am surprised with how much I like this scope.  Excellent reticle design and overall a very solid product.

18) Burris XTR 2 1-8×24.  I think the reticle needs a little work, but it is functional.  I suspect this the best overall 1-8x scope under $2k

19) HiLux CMR8 1-8X24.  I helped design the reticle for this one, so I like it a fair bit. The scope itself is quite respectable and seems to stay zeroed.  This is likely the best FFP low range variable to come out of China to date.

ILya

 

 Posted by at 5:52 pm
Oct 132017
 

written by ILya Koshkin, October 2017

Earlier this year, I found myself heading over to Colorado to visit a customer (I do have a dayjob after all) and since it looked like I would have a couple of hours to kill, I reached out to Burris to see if I can stop by take a look at the factory.

To be honest, I fully expected that they will politely suggest I take a long walk on a short pier, so imagine my surprise when asked me what time I would like to stop by.



Armed with two things I always have with me, a camera and an attitude, I showed up on their doorstep and got a rare (for me) look at how they do things.  Considering what I do for a living, I have seen a few optical manufacturing facilities, but not too many that make riflescopes, so this was interesting.  For a variety of obvious reasons, I am not going to talk a whole lot about how they do things, but I will post a few pictures I took inside and mention a few things here and there.

Generally speaking, I liked how they go about it.  The factory is intelligently set up.  I did not see any obvious signs of negligence which is extremely rare, frankly.  The production flow made sense and people knew what they were doing.  Most importantly, I got to ask them a few questions as we walked along and, most refreshingly, no one tried to BS me.  Some things they answered; on some they were not sure what the answers were and said as much.  In a few cases, they declined to comment since it involved something proprietary to them and a couple of questions that they answered, they asked me to not talk about (and I won’t).

I had recently had a chance to use Burris’ customer service (I sent in one of my old US made Burris scopes for repair) and my experience was excellent.  However, in years past, Burris did not have a stellar service reputation.  Naturally, I brought that up.  I do not think that scored me any brownie points, but they pretty much said that mistakes were made.  However, since then, the service department has been significantly beefed up.  I had a nice chat with the gentleman who runs it and he knows what he is doing.  Naturally, I asked about support for old scopes, so they showed me this:

Spare part for old products

Spare parts for old products

Apparently, they have diligently sorted through their inventory and organized all the old parts they had (there are a couple of cabinets like this one).  When they take an old scope in that can not be repaired, they pull whatever parts they can and keep them.  I have a couple of old Burris scopes, so that made me feel a lot better.

Here is a box with a bunch of reticle cells for old scope:

Notice how in the picture below, there is a bunch of small windows in the wall on the left.  In front of each window there is base where a scope can be clamped.  Outside the window, there is an unobstructed few to targets that are, I think, about a 100 yards away.  That’s an inexpensive way to check if the scope is working and to adjust focus as necessary:

One of the assembly benches:

And another:

Here is where the scopes are purged:

And tested for leaks:

And here is a recoil testing fixture, where the scopes a clamped and tortured.

It sits inside a chamber that baffles some of the sound that this fixture makes when it slams up and down.  Here is another fixture that REALLY makes for some serious impact when it slams down.  It makes some serious noise, so they try to not use it when the building is full of people:

Final inspection area:

None of the Burris scope currently for sale in the US are made by Burris facility.  The scope that are made their are mostly Steiner products, which are higher priced and are better suited for US manufacturing costs.  However, the scopes that are made for Burris by OEMs, do go through an inspection at the US factory.  Some lines for through a complete check (XTR II, for example), while others ae spot checked.

Finally, I made my way to the warehouse where all the ready-to-ship products are:

I made a valiant effort to “accidentally” walk out with a few boxes, but they were watching me pretty carefully…

 

I usually have some parting thoughts at the end of every post and frankly, this time, I do not have much to offer.  I have been pretty happy with what I have seen from Burris lately and a walk through their factory simply confirms that.  With Beretta owning several optics brands (Burris and Steiner being most prominent), I am very curious how they plan to develop Burris further.  However, any brand development starts with solid products and Burris seems to be doing quite well in that regard.

 

 Posted by at 5:58 pm
Aug 292017
 

I looked at Leupold’s LCO and D-EVO quite some time ago and talked about them here and there.  However, I never did a formal write-up and given my schedule, I won’t for a bit.

So, I talked into the camera for a few minutes and I will add some commentary to this post later.




Here are a couple of pictures:

And here is the video:

 Posted by at 11:29 am
Aug 292017
 

I have long been a devotee of mirrorless cameras and I have sort of gone on the record saying that unless you do sports where high end DSLR autofocus is important, there is little reason to get a DSLR.

I still hold that view, by and large, but now that my daughter does gymnastics, my autofocus requirements are becoming ever more significant.  In principle, I was still planning to stick with mirrorless and get Olympus E-M1 Mark II.  With fast prime lenses it would likely work all right for me.

Then Nikon went ahead and announced the D850 and priced it lower than I expected (pre-order link here).  This has got me sufficiently interested that I am actually considering  getting one instead of the Olympus.

There are two reasons for that.  One is the autofocus system inherited from D5.  I have tried and it is the best in the business at the moment.  Another is the combination of crazy dynamic region and very high resolution.  I am not really that particular about ultra high resolution, but what I like doing is using prime lenses and cropping as necessary.

That 45 megapixel FX  sensor in the D850 gives me exactly that.  For example, if I use Nikon’s excellent and light weight 35mm F/1.8 lens and crop it to DX format, it ends up being a 50mm equivalent 20 megapixel image.  If I crop it to micro-4/3 format, it ends up being a 70mm equivalent 10 megapixel image.  For the record, for years I was using Olympus E510 DSLR and its 10 megapixel image had plenty of resolution.

More recently, I spent a lot of time with Leica Q and its 28mm prime lens.  I did the same type of cropping with it out to about 50mm equivalent and liked the images.

So, D850 got my interest peaked.  While the camera is fairly large, with the resolution it has, I can get a lot of mileage out of two compact and light prime lenses: 35mm F/1.8 and 50mm F/1.8.  The resulting travel kit is more or less the same size and weight as my planned Micro-4/3 travel kit: E-M1 Mark II with 12-100mm F/4 and 25mm F/1.2.

The D850 kit would have an advantage in basic image quality and low light, while the Micro-4/3 kit would still be a bit more flexible in terms of FOVs.

Price-wise, it works out about the same.

Had my daughter not started doing indoor sports fairly seriously, I would stick with mirrorless.

Now, I have some decisions to make.

 Posted by at 10:46 am
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