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
Nov 192016
 

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

TNW ASR: Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 Posted by at 8:07 pm
Oct 312016
 

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

TNW ASR: More Problems

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

Good morning,

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

Let me know if you have any questions.

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

 Posted by at 11:31 am
Jul 182016
 

Review of the U.S. Optics LR-17 3.2-17×44 Illuminated Optic

BigJimFish logo

Les (Jim) Fischer
BigJimFish

July 18, 2016

Table of Contents:
– Background
– Unboxing and Physical Description
– Reticle
– Comparative Optical Evaluation
– Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
– Summary and Conclusion
– Testing Methodology:  Adjustments, reticle size, reticle cant
– Testing Methodology:  Comparative optical evaluation

 

U.S. Optics LR-17 .32-17x44mm in Bobro dual lever mount atop Remington 5R

U.S. Optics LR-17 .32-17x44mm in Bobro dual lever mount atop Remington 5R

 

Background:

Over the past number of years I have done quite a few reviews of U.S. Optics products. During most of those years, my primary long range scope was one or another U.S. Optics SN-3 3.2-17x44mm scope. This model has since been renamed the LR-17 in a much needed bid to make the USO product line, which had a number of very different designs under the SN-3 designation,  a bit less confusing. Also during that time, U.S. Optics modernized its production methods in order to gain ISO 9001 certification, changed from a totally custom maker to one with some standard models, began to offer it’s products via some retailers, and was purchased internally from the founder’s son by some of its employees. Probably the most important of these was the ISO 9001 certification because of what those changes brought to U.S. Optics. The previous organization of production focused completely on one-off customs was not very efficient. This inefficiency led to higher costs and more QC problems than was possible. Since the change, the greater efficiency has not only improved QC but allowed USO to actually lower prices on a number of models. I probably don’t need to tell you that nobody else has lowered prices on existing models. Do you remember what an S&B PMII 5-25x went for 5+ years ago? I do, and it wasn’t the $3.74k it goes for now. I actually had to add another $500 to this just from the time I started this review to when I finished it. The scope has now basically doubled in price over the years. We in the firearms industry have grown accustomed, in recent times, to increasing prices on existing products though S&B is really in a class of it’s own in magnitude. This general price increase is a byproduct of inflation, currency fluctuations, and most importantly, soaring demand from a series of panic buy events. It is decidedly not the norm for products produced in a capitalist economy to behave this way. The norm is the ever greater efficiency and cheaper prices you see on say flat screen TVs. This year I have seen the reality of this begin to come home for companies in the firearms industry as product stock is soaring and some, seeing the writing on the wall, have slashed prices. Perhaps USO was ahead of the curve in understanding this, or perhaps it is all internal numbers and has little to do with macroeconomics. In either case, USO has lowered prices and quite a few others will have to do so as well.

I often get asked by people what is new and better in optics and this review somewhat addresses that new is not always better. It has been my experience that many new designs, which rely much more heavily on computer simulations than older designs, could have used some more hands-on prototype testing. There are a lot of compromises in optical design that are difficult to quantify and, more and more, I seem to be encountering designs that are difficult to use due to some of the design choices. Of particular concern are problems with having the whole image focus substantially in the same location so that your eye does not have to move around behind the optic to get different parts of the image in focus. I did not see this issue much in the past, but it has become prevalent, particularly in physically short and high magnification multiplier designs. This review looks at a very old optical platform that is a less aggressive design in its physical dimensions than many new competitors but also more thoroughly tested and often better optical design.

 

Unboxing and Physical Description:

For years, USO has been famous for its plain crappy white box with U.S. Optics tape. It has even become something of a cult symbol for its total divergence from the industry trend and complete lack of marketing. It reminds me somewhat of the boxes that Nikkor lenses come in, which have remained unchanged since at least the 1980’s:  black and gold and stylistically obsolete. U.S. Optics has since updated this design to include a snazzy slipcover and more aesthetic end sticker, but has, I think wisely, elected to retain the core, original, classic, tapped white box. The example I am reviewing today was one of the first to bear the new LR-17 designation and, by a printer’s delay, predated this new slipcover as well as new manuals which are a glossy, bound, affair in contrast to the  previous corner-stapled printed loose sheets.

Inside the box whose plainness I am far too enamored with, you will find what I consider the usual adornments of a scope. There are factory marked caps, a manual, and the wrenches necessary for adjustment. In the case of a USO with an EREK knob, you will also get the cap with a hole in it for EREK adjustment.

 

U.S. Optics LR-17 3.2-17x44mm with box and accessories. New manuals and box sleeves were not yet ready at the time I obtained this review sample.

U.S. Optics LR-17 3.2-17x44mm with box and accessories. New manuals and box sleeves were not yet ready at the time I obtained this review sample.

The appearance of the LR-17 itself is unique. The T-Pal (turret parallax) feature makes for a long saddle section of the scope that, at 2.89″, does not accommodate many of the existing one piece mounts. There is no integration of features in this design so elevation, windage, illumination, and parallax are all separate knobs. The usual configuration is with illumination and windage one in front of the other on the right side, but configurations actually exist with left hand windage. The EREK knob itself is very low and very wide. This is a well loved feature of the design and the wide nature makes it easier to read and gives better feel while it remains low and unobtrusive. A joint will be noticed in the objective bell. It is unusual for a scope of this cost to have a multi-piece main tube, but USO does due to material length limitations of the lathes used. At 2.1 lbs and 16.5″, the LR-17 is about average for weight and a bit longer than most competing scopes. The 3.2-17x range comes out to a 5.3x erector ratio. This is still a little above average, but was unheard of when the design first came out.

 

Reticle:

The production LR-17 comes in seven reticles. Two of these are in IPHY. They are the PCMOA and MDMOA reticles. Five of the designs are mil. They are the Gen II XR, MPR, H-102, H-59, and, most popular, GAP design.  These designs represent only a piece of what was once the whole custom catalog, beyond which USO used to actually work with users to create new reticles (this was obviously not free and had substantial minimum orders, so don’t go bugging them about it). The result of this is that some old esoteric reticle designs such as “Jon Beanland” are floating around and some new designs, the Big Dog Steel reticle comes to mind, have been proposed. I mention all of this reticle strangeness because the existing mil reticle options are not what I would like to see. They really whittle down to basic or Horus in nature and it is my hope that at some point the offerings might be improved.

GAP reticle as used in many U.S. Optics models. No exotic dear were harmed for this magnificent photo.

GAP reticle as used in many U.S. Optics models. No exotic dear were harmed for this magnificent photo.

 

Comparative Optical Evaluation:

The USO 3.2-17x design, in one example or another, has been more tested than any other optical design by me. I have used it, with my Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14x, as reference scopes in virtually all of my reviews. This is probably much to the annoyance of many a scope manufacturer as both of these are very solid optical designs in terms either of cost per performance or absolute performance and both are also very old designs.

In my latest set of reviews, I sat a brand new LR-17 side by side with a Vortex Razor HDII 4.5-27×56, Nightforce SHV, Burris XTR II 4-20×50, Leupold MK6 3-18×44, and my trusty Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14×44. To learn more about the exact methodology of the testing, please refer to the testing methodology section at the conclusion of the article.

 

The comparison lineup from left to right- Vortex Razor HDII 4.5-27x56, Nightforce SHV 4-14x56, Burris XTR II 4-20x50mm, USO LR-17 3.2-17x44, Leupold MK6 3-18x44, Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14x44* not pictured*

The comparison lineup from left to right- Vortex Razor HDII 4.5-27×56, Nightforce SHV 4-14×56, Burris XTR II 4-20x50mm, USO LR-17 3.2-17×44, Leupold MK6 3-18×44, Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14×44* not pictured*

 

The LR-17 and Razor HDII were pretty clearly in a league of their own. In many ways, parsing the optical performance of the Vortex Razor HDII 4.5-27×56 vs. the USO LR-17 is splitting hairs. Both were quite exceptional and I doubt very much anyone will be unsatisfied with the optical performance of either. Some of what we are here to do though is split hairs, and since we can probably see those hairs though either of these two scopes, we had best commence – keeping in mind the difficulty of this as the slightest changes in lighting as cloud thickness changed (or whatnot) were enough to constantly make me change and reverse opinions about who had better resolution (USO), contrast (USO), or color rendition (Vortex). A more certain judgment is that the eyebox on the Vortex was more forgiving of head position than the USO and that its edges were better. Also certain is that Vortex suffered more image loss as adjustments were moved near max adjustment range and farther from optical center, though given the much greater range of the Vortex in adjustment vs. the USO, it would be unfair to fault it on this. It should be noted that this USO has the largest field of view for any high power scope I have tested, an especially impressive statistic given its exceptional edge-to-edge clarity.

In general, given the many hours of shooting and testing I have had behind LR-17 designs, I can say with confidence that they are very well balanced and comfortable optical platforms that do not lag in optics relative to the much newer optical designs with which they now compete. It was good fortune that the most recent scope I tested the LR-17 against was the Vortex Razor HDII 4.5-27x, as this is probably the hottest new scope on the market today. The LR-17 is right on par with the HDII in optical performance, though the HDII does have a more aggressive 6x erector ratio.

 

Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:

Here is where we talk about the EREK knob. This was one of the first knobs that could be used in a zero stop fashion. I say could be because the concept of a zero stop was not really a thing when it was designed. It just ended up being about to be used that way when people had a mind to or perhaps people got a mind to because it could be. It is really kind of hard to pin that down. The original intent of the design was to have a low elevation knob and yet still allow full vertical travel of the erector within the main tube. Because of this origin, the EREK, when used as a zero stop, is actually a little tricky to set up. Let’s talk about the parts of the knob. There is a sleeve with graduations that can easily be removed and which is held in place with either a cap with a hole or a solid cap, a knob that clicks when moved, and a plunger in the middle that can be adjusted with a hex wrench and does not click when moved on its own. You probably won’t have any problem figuring out the sleeve part. You can set it wherever you want with no effect on the point of aim. The other two parts are trickier. You would think that you could zero the scope, put the hex wrench in the center hole, and hold it stationary while turning the knob down to stop. This is not the case. Moving the outer knob while the plunger is stationary does move the impact point. That is the trick, both the plunger and the knob independently move the point of aim. To easily adjust the EREK for use as a zero stop, you therefore need another tool:  a magnetic bore sight. What you do is to zero the scope on target as you normally would. You then attach the bore sight to the barrel and make note of where on the grid of the bore sight your point of aim is. You can then bring the knob down to zero and use the plunger to return on the grid of the bore sight to your correct point of aim. It is a step, and a tool more complicated than most current zero stop designs, but it does work and, like most plunger based zero stop designs, it also allows you a choice of how far below zero the stop is set at. This is something many designs do not allow to be changed. I hope you find this explanation helpful, as setting the EREK knob as a zero stop has frustrated many shooters who did not understand that the plunger and knob both independently move point of aim. With the correct understanding and tools, the adjustment can be done with only minor inconvenience vs. newer designs.

The EREK knob itself has a very USO feel to the adjustment. That is to say that the clicks feel very positive but also very smooth. Moving up or down does have a different feel and sound, but both are pleasing to my ears. I am a fan of this feel as some other designs are so stiff that it is hard not to over adjust and they always feel like the thing’s going to break, while other designs are kind of sloppy with play within a click. The USO has positive clicks, but they are not very stiff and are quite smooth. Because of the large diameter nature of the knob, the clicks are also well spaced and easy to read. The knob on newer EREKs is 11mil per turn with no tactical turn indicator. The previous knob was 9 mil. I am not sure why USO chose 11mil as it makes 2nd turn use tricky. Though the 20.5 mil total travel in the LR-17 is less than most new scopes, it is still enough that, with an angled base, 2nd turn use is clearly possible. Obviously, the thought is that the 11mils will be all that is utilized. Perhaps that is fine, as few shooters will ever use more than 11mils and those shooters would presumably be interested enough in high travel to chose a design that excels at that.

Usually, with my adjustment testing, I am not able to supply any sort of sample size as I only have one scope on hand. With the LR-17, however, I have been able to test two, as well as an additional two USO 5-25x designs that may also offer insight.

The adjustments on the newest LR-17 I had on hand were .1 mil small at 10mils, reading 10 mils at 9.9 actually traveled and .2 mils small at the full 14 mils traveled from optical center to stop (this is obviously more than spec for travel, by the way.) The reticle was also 1% small so, to the shooter, there would be no disagreement between the reticle and adjustments out to beyond 10 mil. No deviation in windage was noticeable out to the 4 mils that I can measure, but, given the difficulty of getting the target squared horizontally with the shooter, there is not much to say about that. No shift in point of aim with power change was recorded and the reticle was canted less than .05% counter-clockwise.

In addition to that late 2013 scope, I tested a 2006 5-25x, a 2010 5-25x, and a 2011 3.2-27x. Their respective elevations registered:  .2 mill large at 7 mils (full range), perfect at 10 mils, and perfect at 10 mils. The fist two had correctly sized reticles and the third was small by .05%. None of these scopes had any problems with point of aim changing with power change. The 2006 5-25x notably also would not focus down to the 100yd spec, but would instead only go to maybe 130yd. That is more annoying than you would think.

This sample size gives us some insight into the range of range of accuracy in USO scopes. Only the oldest had what I would consider unacceptable deviation of 2% in adjustment magnitude. The middle two were pretty spot on and the new one deviated in both reticle size and adjustment magnitude by 1%. Errors that, due to consistency with each other, would be unlikely to be noticed by a shooter and, I expect, were probably caused by the same lens positioning as each other.

 

U.S. Optics LR-17 EREK elevation knob with outer sleeve removed.

U.S. Optics LR-17 EREK elevation knob with outer sleeve removed.

 

Summary and Conclusion:

The U.S. Optics 3.2-17x optical platform is now well over 10 years old, but as we can see, gives up nothing to new designs in optical performance. In fact, I would say it is still better than par in that regard, being very comfortable to be behind with exceptionally good clarity and field of view. It remains one of my overall favorite optical designs. In terms of features, this design was one of the first to offer what are currently considered the basics of a long range tactical scope with a zero stop feature, high revolution elevation knob, and matching accurate knobs with reticles. The execution of the elevation knob is starting to show its age as newer models are less confusing to the user, quicker and easier to set, and often offer additional features such as a pop-up turn indicator or lock. I would not complain if USO saw fit to update the design of the EREK knob.

The LR-17 should serve to remind us of a couple truths. Introducing new models is not the only way to improve your product. Improving manufacturing to allow for better QC and lower cost with an existing strong product is also a good way to improve your offerings. Newer is also not always better as anybody can tell you when it comes to the shooting sports in general. The LR-17 remains substantially better than most much newer competing designs and remains one of my favorite long range optics.

Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:

Pros:
Excellent optics
Comfortable for the eye to be behind
Particularly good field of view
Good feel to the adjustments
Excellent warranty and reputation for service

 
Cons:
EREK knob is less feature-laden and more difficult to adjust than many competitive offerings
Reticle designs are very average
Tracking on my sample was average not excellent
Large footprint

 

Testing Methodology:  Adjustments, Reticle Size, Reticle Cant

When testing scope adjustments, I use the adjustable V-block on the right of the test rig to first center the erector. About .2 or so mil of deviation is allowed from center in the erector, as it is difficult to do better than this because the adjustable V-block has some play in it. I next set the zero stop (on scopes with such a feature) to this centered erector and attach the optic to the rail on the left side of the rig.

 

Test rig in use testing the adjustments of the Vortex Razor HD II 4.5-27x56
Test rig in use testing the adjustments of the Vortex Razor HD II 4.5-27×56

 

The three fine threaded 7/16″ bolts on the rig allow the scope to be aimed precisely at a Horus CATS 280F target 100 yds down range as measured by a quality fiberglass tape measure. The reticle is aimed such that its centerline is perfectly aligned with the centerline of the target and it is vertically centered on the 0 mil elevation line.

 

Horus CATS 280F target inverted and viewed though the Leupold Mark 6 3-18x44
Horus CATS 280F target inverted and viewed though the Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44

 

The CATS target is graduated in both mils and true MOA and calibrated for 100 yards. The target is mounted upside down on a target backer designed specifically for this purpose as the target was designed to be fired at rather than being used in conjunction with a stationary scope. Since up for bullet impact means down for reticle movement on the target, the inversion is necessary. With the three bolts tightened on the test rig head, the deflection of the rig is about .1 mil under the force required to move adjustments. The rig immediately returns to zero when the force is removed. It is a very solid, very precise, test platform. Each click of movement in the scope adjustments moves the reticle on the target and this can observed by the tester as it actually happens during the test. It’s quite a lot of fun if you are a bit of a nerd like I am. After properly setting the parallax and diopter, I move the elevation adjustment though the range from erector center until it stops, making note every 5 mils of adjustment dialed of any deviation in the position of the reticle on the target relative to where it should be and also making note of the total travel and any excess travel in the elevation knob after the reticle stops moving but before the knob stops. I then reverse the process and go back down to zero. This is done several times to verify consistency with any notes taken of changes. After testing the elevation adjustments in this way, the windage adjustments are tested out to 4 mils each way in similar fashion using the same target and basically the same method. After concluding the testing of adjustments I also test the reticle size calibration. This is done quite easily on this same target by comparing the reticle markings to those on the target. Lastly, this test target has a reticle cant testing function (basically a giant protractor) that I utilize to test reticle cant. This involves the elevation test as described above, a note of how far the reticle deviates horizontally from center during this test, and a little math to calculate the angle described by that amount of horizontal deviation over that degree of vertical travel.

Testing a single scope of a given model, from a given manufacturer, which is really all that is feasible, is not meant to be indicative of all scopes from that maker. Accuracy of adjustments, reticle size, and cant will differ from scope to scope. After testing a number of scopes, I have a few theories as to why. As designed on paper, I doubt that any decent scope has flaws resulting in inaccurate clicks in the center of the adjustment range. Similarly, I expect few scopes are designed with inaccurate reticle sizes (and I don’t even know how you would go about designing a canted reticle as the reticle is etched on a round piece of glass and cant simply results from it being rotated incorrectly when positioned). However, ideal designs aside, during scope assembly the lenses are positioned by hand and will be off by this much or that much. This deviation in lens position from design spec can cause the reticle size or adjustment magnitude to be incorrect and, I believe, is the reason for these problems in most scopes. Every scope maker is going to have a maximum acceptable amount of deviation from spec that is acceptable to them and I very much doubt they would be willing to tell you what this number is, or better yet, what the standard of deviation is. The tighter the tolerance, the better from the standpoint of the buyer, but also the longer average time it will take to assemble a scope and, therefore, the higher the cost. Assembly time is a major cost in scope manufacture. It is actually the reason that those S&B 1-8x short dots I lusted over never made it to market. I can tell you from seeing the prototype that they were a good design, but they were also a ridiculously tight tolerance design. In the end, the average time of assembly was such that it did not make sense to bring them to market as they would cost more than it was believed the market would bear. This is a particular concern for scopes that have high magnification ratios and also those that are short in length. Both of these design attributes tend to make assembly very touchy in the tolerance department. This should make you, the buyer, particularly careful to test scopes purchased that have these desirable attributes as manufacturers will face greater pressure on this type of scope to allow looser standards. If you test yours and find it lacking, I expect that you will not have too much difficulty in convincing a maker with a reputation for good customer service to remedy it:  squeaky wheel gets the oil and all that.

Before I leave adjustments, reticle size, and reticle cant, I will give you some general trends I have noticed so far. The average adjustment deviation seems to vary on many models with distance from optical center. This is a good endorsement for a 20 MOA base, as it will keep you closer to center. The average deviation for a scope’s elevation seems to be about .1% at 10 mils. Reticle size deviation is sometimes found to vary with adjustments so that both the reticle and adjustments are off in the same way and with similar magnitude. This makes them agree with each other when it comes to follow up shots. I expect this is caused by the error in lens position affecting both the same. In scopes that have had a reticle with error it has been of this variety, but less scopes have this issue than have adjustments that are off. Reticle size deviation does not appear to vary as you move from erector center. The mean amount of reticle error is about .05%. Reticle cant mean is about .05 degrees. Reticle cant, it should be noted, Affects the shooter as a function of calculated drop and can easily get lost in the windage read. As an example, a 1 degree cant equates to about 21cm at 1000 meters with a 168gr .308 load that drops 12.1 mils at that distance. That is a lot of drop and a windage misread of 1 mph is of substantially greater magnitude (more than 34 cm) than our example reticle cant-induced error. This type of calculation should be kept in mind when examining all mechanical and optical deviations in a given scope:  a deviation is really only important if it is of a magnitude similar to the deviations expected to be introduced by they shooter, conditions, rifle, and ammunition.

 

Testing Methodology:  Comparative Optical Evaluation

The goal of my optical performance evaluation is NOT to attempt to establish some sort of objective ranking system. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it is notoriously difficult to measure optics in an objective and quantifiable way. Tools, such as MTF plots, have been devised for that purpose primarily by the photography business. Use of such tools for measuring rifle scopes is complicated by the fact that scopes do not have any image recording function and therefore a camera must be used in conjunction with the scope. Those who have taken through-the-scope pictures will understand the image to image variance in quality and the ridiculousness of attempting to determine quality of the scope via images so obtained.  Beyond the difficulty of applying objective and quantifiable tools from the photography industry to rifle scopes, additional difficulties are encountered in the duplication of repeatable and meaningful test conditions. Rifle scopes are designed to be used primarily outside, in natural lighting, and over substantial distances. Natural lighting conditions are not amenable to repeat performances. This is especially true if you live in central Ohio, as I do. Without repeatable conditions, analysis tools have no value, as the conditions are a primary factor in the performance of the optic. Lastly, the analysis of any data gathered, even if such meaningful data were gathered, would not be without additional difficulties. It is not immediately obvious which aspects of optical performance, such as resolution, color rendition, contrast, curvature of field, distortion, and chromatic aberration, should be considered of greater or lesser importance. For such analysis to have great value, not only would a ranking of optical aspects be in order, but a compelling and decisive formula would have to be devised to quantitatively weigh the relative merits of the different aspects. Suffice it to say, I have neither the desire, nor the resources, to embark on such a multi-million dollar project and, further, I expect it would be a failure anyway as, in the end, no agreement will be reached on the relative weights of different factors in analysis.

The goal of my optical performance evaluation is instead to help the reader get a sense of the personality of a particular optic. Much of the testing documents the particular impressions each optic makes on the tester. An example of this might be a scope with a particularly poor eyebox behind which the user notices he just can’t seem to get to a point where the whole image is clear. Likewise, a scope might jump out to the tester as having a very bad chromatic aberration problem that makes it difficult to see things clearly as everything is fringed with odd colors. Often these personality quirks mean more to the users experience than any particular magnitude of resolution number would. My testing seeks to document the experience of using a particular scope in such a way that the reader will form an impression similar to that of the tester with regard to like or dislike and the reasons for that.

The central technique utilized for this testing is comparative observation. One of the test heads designed for my testing apparatus consists of five V-blocks of which four are adjustable. This allows each of the four scopes on the adjustable blocks to be aimed such that they are collinear with the fifth. For the majority of the testing each scope is then set to the same power (the highest power shared by all as a rule). Though power numbers are by no means accurately marked, an approximation will be obtained. Each scope will have the diopter individually adjusted by the tester. A variety of targets, including both natural backdrops and optical test targets, will be observed through the plurality of optics with the parallax being adjusted for each optic at each target. A variety of lighting conditions over a variety of days will be utilized. The observations through all of these sessions will be combined in the way that the tester best believes conveys his opinion of the optics performance and explains the reasons why.

 

A variety of optical test targets viewed through the Leupold Mark 6 3-18x44
A variety of optical test targets viewed through the Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44