Dec 112017
 

Written by ILya Koshkin

 

Revisited in December 2017: If I could Have Only One, Alternate Scenario

 

This is a follow up to the post I wrote earlier where I think my way through three weapons (handgun, rifle and shotgun) that are all supposed to do a bit of everything.

Now, I am going to change my boundary conditions a bit: this time around I am not looking to have everything do everything.  I like having some crossover, but I am not going to mandate maximum versatility for every weapon system.  Also, I am going to open the door to potential carry, concealed or otherwise, for the handgun.



When I was looking for maximum versatility for everything I settled on Remington 870 with ghost ring sights, AR-15 in 6.5 Grendel and long slide 10mm Glock.

I will leave my choice of a shotgun alone since I am not a shotgun guy and a pump gun with ghost ring sights covers defensive scenarios and hunting within a reasonably close range well enough for my needs.

The selections for handgun and rifle, however, change.

A handgun for me is primarily a defensive and plinking weapon.  Hunting with a handgun, while interesting, is not much of a priority, so if I have a different weapon system for hunting I can compromise on that.  Also, once you need to carry a handgun, a longslide Glock is less than ideal, and a 10mm cartridge in a smaller gun is a bit more pop than I am looking for.  I have experimented with it a little and the after shot recovery is slower than I like.

With that in mind, the choice of a handgun changes to a different Glock.  The ideal option would probably be Glock 19 with co-witnessed red dot and irons, but I do not own one of those (something I may rectify if I manage to get my hands onto a Gen 5 Glock).  So, in the spirit of trying to work with the guns that I actually own, I will settle on my Glock 17.  Mind you, it is a bit modified, which makes it very suitable for this.  The grip is made a bit smaller and shorter, so it can accept both Glock 19 and 17 length magazines.  It also prints quite a bit less when you carry (not that I can carry in public in California, but that does not prevent me from experimenting at my own house and where legal).  The slide is the Atom from Unity Tactical, which makes it fairly easy to mount a red dot, co-witnessed with iron sights.  At the moment, I have Insight MRDS on there, which is not an ideal choice.  It is a nice red dot, but it is bulkier than I like, uses a battery that noone else uses, and mine has a 3.5 MOA dot.  On a handgun, I use primarily for defensive purposes, I prefer a larger dot (7-8 MOA seems ideal).  With handgun mounted red dot sights, out of all I have seen, the two I like the most are Doctersight III and Shield RMS.  My Doctersight III also has a 3.5 MOA dot, but since it sits on a long slide 10mm that I built for hunting, I am OK with that.  Shield RMS sits on a Glock 43, which was one of my contenders for this and if concealed carry was the primary purpose, it would be my choice.  Hence, until such time as I get my hands onto another Doctersight or Shield, Insight MRDS it is.  I just took a class with it at Frontsight and it worked well enough, but eventually it will end up on a carbine of some sort.  I think it works better there.

The trigger is, again, Travis Haley’s excellent Skimmer design.  It is about as good as non-competition Glock triggers get.

A natural question, of course, is why I am going with a 9mm vs a host of other cartridges people like.  While cartridge discussions can go on forever, all data suggests that with modern bullets there is no practical difference between 9mm, 40S&W, 45ACP, etc for defensive use.  I’ll leave it at that.  I can shoot 9mm well, with rapid follow up shots and reasonable accuracy.  It does not hurt that it does not jam.  For basic defensive use, anything smaller than a 9mm seems to compromise effectiveness, while anything bigger compromises shot-to-shot speed.  With hunting out of the picture, 9mm seems to be the sweetspot.

With rifles, I am probably going to make the most radical change of all.  As much as I like my ARs, if I have a shotgun and a handgun aimed at home defense, my rifle becomes a bit more dedicated for hunting and precision shooting and that means “bolt action”.  Also, since the shotgun covers closer distances quite nicely when hunting is concerned, I want the rifle to be able to reach way out there.  If it was precision shooting only, the choice would be obvious: I have a DTA SRS bullpup precision gun that is freakishly accurate with both barrels I have (338LM and 6.5x47L).  It is, however, kinda heavy.  

My general purpose hunting rifle is an old Tikka M695 in 280Rem that sits in McMillan.  It is more accurate than any gun this inexpensive has any right to be, but the barrel is on a thin side.  While it is an absolutely superb hunting rifle (especially with the stunning Leica Magnus 1.8-12×50 scope on it), it is not the best fit for target shooting since the barrel heats up pretty quickly.  It maintains accuracy well enough, but I do not want to overheat it.

Enter The Fix.  It is a new bolt action rifle designed by a company called Q out of New Hampshire.  It appears to be a very new take on boltguns and with their design I get a 7lbs rifle with a 20” 6.5 Creedmoor Bartlein barrel, AR-style ergonomics, compatibility with AR-10 magazines, fully adjustable folding stock and an excellent two stage trigger.  With the Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50 scope in an Aadmount and a sling, it will weigh less than 10lbs.  That is something I can use for both hunting and target shooting, with 6.5 Creedmoor taking me out to 1200 yards on targets and further than I need to on game.

 

The Fix has a very short lift bolt ( 45 degrees), so it remains to be seen how quickly I can manipulate it.  Another nice feature is that the barrels are easily user replaceable, so I plan to take advantage of that and add a 300WSM barrel/bolt combination to it for hunting purposes (and a wider, softer recoil pad…).  Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, The Fix is still sitting at my FFL, so I can not make any pronouncements on how well it really works.

Until I spend some time with it, my choice is the DTA SRS.  It is a bit on a heavy side, but the bullpup configuration makes it surprisingly well balanced.  Besides, I do a hell of a lot more target shooting than hunting anyway.  I have two barrels for it: 338LM and 6.5x47L.  While the  6.5x47L is a very pleasant cartridge to shoot, the 338LM is a bit of a handful, while still manageable.  The reach, power and stability at distance with the 338LM though is something you simply do not get with smaller calibers.  With a If I can see it, I can hit it.  With a 250gr Bulldozer bullet from Badlands Precision moving out at close to 3000fps, if I can hit it, I can destroy it.  Here is a picture of the DTA with the excellent VORTEX Razor HD AMG 6-24×50 on it:

 

While with a smaller caliber, I would default to the Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50, with the 338LM, I want a bit more magnification.  On a rifle where weight did not matter, I would just step up to the Tangent Theta TT525T 5-25×56.  This is where the AMG 6-24×50 comes in.  It is barely an ounce heavier than the TT315M, while offering excellent optics and turrets.  On a gun where I want more than 20x of magnification and that might be carried into the field, the AMG is an easy choice.

 Posted by at 5:08 pm
Oct 292017
 

written in October 2017

I was talking to a friend of mine about reticles and the discussion, as is often the case, turned to reticle design.  Reticle design is important and, overall, has improved dramatically in recent years.  However, I still see some spectacularly boneheaded reticle design decisions on a regular basis (see a recent post on Styrka scopes).   One of the key factors that determines reticle design is whether the reticle is located in the Front Focal Plane (FFP) of the scope or in the Second Focal Plane (SFP) of the scope.  In this post, I will refrain from addressing specific reticle designs beyond an example or two, but rather focus on which is preferable for which application.



If I only need the reticle as a single aiming point, I want some sort of a simple and visible design, likely in the Second Focal Plane.   If the reticle is intended to be used for rangefinding and wind/elevation compensation in addition to single point aiming, than I definitely prefer more complicated patterns in an FFP design.  When the reticle is placed in the Second Focal Plane, it looks the same regardless of which magnification the scope is set on.  When your turn the zoom ring, the image will either shrink or magnify; however, the reticle will appear to be the same size (although its size changes with respect to the image).  It makes for a consistent aiming point (most of the time), but reticle dimensions (compared to the image) are different at every magnification setting.  When the reticle is in FFP, it shrinks and magnifies together with the image.  Hence, reticle subtensions cover the same portion of the image regardless of magnification setting (very helpful for ranging among other things).  Also, if there are holdover points in the reticle, they will represent the same holdover values at ALL magnifications.  Holdover reticles are very popular these days in SFP scopes.  The way they work is as follows: since relative reticle dimensions change with magnification, you tweak your scope’s zoom ring until the reticle subtensions work for holdover with your cartridge at the ranges you are interested in.  Once that is determined, you are pretty much stuck using that magnification if you need to make a long shot, forcing you to use a variable power scope as a fixed power one.  I am not a big fan of that scenario.  I think that magnification setting should be chosen based on the conditions (like lighting) and holdover points should work at all magnifications. However, opinions differ.  That having been said, I am sort of “on the record” that I think holdover reticles in SFP scopes, in most cases, offer a sub-optimal situation.

The are a couple of exceptions to that, of course.  The most obvious is a situation where you are only likely to use various reticle features at a magnification setting defined by a hard stop.  Excellent examples of that are various low range variable scopes commonly used on ARs: 1-4×24 and 1-6×24.  Most of these are equipped with reticles that offer some manner of holdover points of either BDC style or mrad-delineated variety.  One of the better examples out of the scopes I have seen lately is the Tactical Dot reticle in Hawke Frontier 1-6×24 scope (picture below is shamelessly copied from Hawke website):

This reticle deesign is comparatively straightforward and the intended use for it is as follows:  Use the prominent center-dot aiming point when you need to go fast (i.e. when you are not shooting very far away).  When you need to make a longer shot, grab the magnification ring and spin it up until you get to a hard stop (which is 6x in this case).  At that magnification setting you have a mrad-based reticle that you can use for holdover, POA correction, etc.

Another exception is target shooting of all sorts where you are shooting at targets at known distances (or in case of a lot of airgun use, at distances that you will be measuring using the parallax ring of your scope; i.e. close range by the standards of a precision/tactical shooter).  Target shooters tend to shoot at very small targets and use very high magnification.  Because of that, they really benefit from SFP reticles that can be made very thin.

If you have a complex reticle in a scope where you may called upon to use holdover points at settings where there is no hard stop (and frequently under time pressure), things get a bit more complicated.  Now, it is a perfectly doable thing and people have been using SFP scopes for this years.  However, that does not mean it is the best way to go.  A fundamental problem with using SFP scopes between the maximum and minimum magnifications is that to use the reticle effectively, you have to know exactly what magnification you are at.  To know exactly what magnification you are at, you have to stop looking through the scope and look at the magnification ring.  Sometimes, that means you break your shooting position.

When using an FFP scope, the reticle subtensions mean the exact same thing at all magnifications, so ultimately, I neither know nor care which magnification I am at.  If I have to shoot at a target at an unknown distance that I have to find first, I will start at a comparatively low magnification where I have a wide enough field of view to locate this target.  Then, I can increase magnification a bit and make some educated guesses on how far the target is and what the conditions look like.  Then, if needed I can further tweak the magnification until I get the look I want prior to pulling the trigger.  Or I might not have the time for any of that and with the target being sufficiently close, I will bump the magnification up a bit after locating the target and fire.  Or, if I am spotting for a shooting partner, I might keep the magnification as high as the conditions allow for helping him spot his shots and call out corrections.  With a FFP reticle, I do not need to know what magnification any of that is happening at.  I never have to take my eye from the target, and I never have to change my shooting position.

Similarly, if I miss and see the impact, I can immediately determine how far away from each other POI and POA are using the reticle subtensions and adjust for the next shot.

All of that is doable with SFP scopes, but unless you are setting the magnification ring at a hard stop of some sort, it is a bit more involved.

Now, onto the downsides:

-FFP reticle that looks appropriately thin at high magnification will look very thin at low magnification.

-From a manufacturing standpoint, the physical size of the reticle cell is smaller for FFP vs SFP, so it is usually more expensive to make.

-Because of that smaller size, it is often harder to make a brightly illuminated FFP reticle

In my opinion, all of these issues can be overcome with good reticle design and engineering; however, all of that costs money.  For example, with FFP scopes, especially ones with broad magnification range, I insist on having reticle illumination.  It really helps in low light at low magnification.  Another thing that many reticle designers do it incorporate some fairly thick and visible features into the reticle that are outside the FOV when you are at high magnification.  If you need a brightly illuminated aiming point, you need a sophisticated design where you may end up with an additional bright dot in the SFP combined with a ranging reticle if FFP (think Minox ZP8).

Lastly, it is worth considering which scope configurations benefit the most from having a FFP or SFP reticle.

As I mentioned above, if you have a 1-4×24 or 1-6×24 AR scope, a good SFP reticle design will save you some money and you will be using the scope at either 1x or whatever the top end magnification is 99% of the time.  However, once we get to 1-8x or 1-10x designs, I start leaning toward FFP, simply because the exit pupil gets pretty small at 8x or 10x, so I will be spending a fair amount of time using the scope at some intermediary magnification setting especially if the lighting conditions are questionable.

If you are looking at a hunting scope where you are unlikely to ever take a shot beyond MPBR of your rifle, SFP will work fine for you, although FFP in most cases will too.  If you go with a SFP design, make sure your point of aim does not change significantly with magnification.  Every SFP scope changes POA slightly with magnification, so that is something you want to check.  On quality scopes, this shift should be sufficiently small that you can not easily find it by shooting (I can virtually always see it when testing a scope in my lab).  FFP scopes, by definition, do not have that issue.  These scopes are along the lines of 3-9×42, 2-10×42, 2-12×42, etc.  Now, these scopes can be extended to longer distances if need be, but for that, I will dial it up to top magnification.

If you are planning to take longer shots at the range, but the distances are always known, both FFP and SFP will work fine.  Choose what looks better to you.  I lean toward FFP, but that is mostly because I am lazy and I do not want to worry what magnification I am on.  Where I live, it gets pretty hot so mirage is a problem.  Because of that, I am seldom at top magnification of a scope.

For example, I’ve got a Leica Magnus 1.8-12×50 on my hunting rifle.  The reticle is absolutely day bright and on 1.8x it is exceptionally fast to acquire.  It is not quite like a red dot, but not far off.  However, at 12x, it is a mrad-based reticle and, for practice purposes, I have shot that rifle with that scope out to 600 yards with good results.  I will take it to 1000yards whenever an opportunity presents itself.  Of course, it does not hurt that the optomechanical quality of this scope is just superb (and it better be that good considering how much it costs).  However, even with warm conditions, I can almost always use 12x.  If this scope extended to higher magnification, this would not be so easy and I would lean toward FFP reticle designs.

The most popular configuration for PRS-style shooting is something along 5-25×56 (that includes similar configurations like 6-24×56, 4.7-28×56, 4.5-27×50, 5-30×56, etc).  This type of scopes is really well suited for FFP reticles and for tactical/precision shooting.  Personally, I use the magnification range along the lines of 3-15×50 the most and prefer it with the FFP.  The reason for that is simple: right now around 30% of my shooting practice is done either entirely unsupported or from various screwy shooting positions.  For those situation, I really prefer to have 3x available. At low magnifications, the reticle looks steadier and I am less tempted to jerk the trigger.

Once you get into very high magnification: 10-50x, 15-60x, etc, you are dealing with an entirely different shooting discipline.  Here SFP reticle rule.

 Posted by at 9:54 pm
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 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 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
Jun 042017
 

written by ILya Koshkin

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

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




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

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

 

Docter

V6

2-12×50

Kahles

KXi

3.5-10×50

Leica

ER5

2-10×50

Leica

Magnus

1.8 – 12×50

Meopta

MeoStar R2

2-12×50

Length, in

14

12.6 14 13.4

14

Weight, oz

23

16.6 22 24.7

21

Main Tube Diameter

30mm

1” 30mm 30mm

30mm

Eye Relief, in

3.6

3.54 3.8 >3.5

3.75”

FOV, ft@100yards

56 – 9

10.8@10x

33.6 – 12 54.25 – 10.75 67.5 – 11

13.2 @ 10x

55.8 – 9.6

11.52@10x

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

11.2 – 4.3

Click Value

0.1 mrad

0.25 MOA 0.25 MOA 0.1 mrad

0.25”

Adjustment range

E: 26 mrad

W: 16 mrad

48 MOA 100 MOA ~ 51 MOA

70MOA

Parallax

100m

100m 50yds – inf 100m

100m

Reticle Illumination

Yes

Yes No Yes

Yes

Price

$1500

$1400 $990 $2550

$1400

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Posted by at 1:28 pm
Mar 282017
 

I have been looking at red dot sights quite a bit lately.   Originally, I mostly tested them on rifles, since I am more of a rifle guy.  However, since my interest with red dot sights leans heavily toward the more compact ones. I like the miniature red dot sights, I figured that the best way to test them is cover both rifles and handguns.

Now, I train with handguns a fair bit, simply from the standpoint of maintaining reasonable proficiency with whatever happens to be your home defense weapon.  For me, that happens to be a handgun (yes, I know that a long gun is a more effective weapon, but it is a less convenient one inside a house).  However, until recently, I did not experiment much with anything beyond irons sights on them.




Well, I could not let that stand, so I over time built myself two separate Glocks with different means of attaching a red dot on them.  One involved buying an Atom slide from an outfit called Unity Tactical.  I saw mention of it somewhere and looked into it.  The idea is very sound and I think the quality of their product is pretty good.  I had a few issues since the DocterSight III I was testing ended up not working with their mount, but if they have a mounting plate for your reflex sight of choice, Atom slide works well.

Overall, despite a couple of issues I had, I like the thinking behind the Atom slide and I will likely purchase and test some of their other products, the Clutch belt being first on the list.

 Posted by at 1:15 pm
Nov 252016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Posted by at 10:45 pm