Mar 292020
 

I get asked questions about different brands all the time and, recently, Hensoldt came up a few times.

Hensoldt is kind of an odd duck in the civilian market. The brand is very famous and has been around for a long time. It really gets a lot of the mystique from how deeply integrated it has always been with German military, but the part of Hensoldt product line that most of us see in the shooting world is kinda like a small pimple on the ass of an elephant compared to all the military stuff they do.

Hensoldt used to be a part of Zeiss, but since Zeiss Sport Optics has always looked at anything related to the military with the same kind of enthusiasm with which Bernie looks at capitalism, they sold Hensoldt to Airbus Defense. Airbus Defense spent a few years mismanaging it and then sold the entirety of they defense electronics business, including Hensoldt Optronics, to a private investment firm which named the whole billion dollar electronic warfare conglomerate Hensoldt. Today Optronics is one of the ten-or-so Hensoldt Group companies and day optics comprise a miniscule portion of Optronics and an even smaller portion of Hensoldt overall.

Why am I telling you all this? To make it clear how little the civilian market matters for Hensoldt. When they make a new product or a modification to an existing product, they do it because there is an opportunity somewhere in the military world. If the product happens to be something unrestricted, they will happily also sell it to civilians. That is not a bad or a good thing. It is what it is and if you are looking at Hensoldt products you have to keep these things in mind. If your Hensoldt product requires warranty service or repair, it will take a while. If you are thinking about contacting the company in Germany with questions… that may be hit and miss.

On the plus side, while Hensoldt in the US is only available through one distributor, Eurooptics, they are friendly and very customer focused. If you have Hensoldt questions, you will have much better luck with them.

Hensoldt makes several riflescopes and a couple of spotting scopes. I have tested some of the riflescopes over the years and generally liked them. In many ways they were really ahead of the curve: they were the original short overall length designs with large objectives and absolutely exceptional eyepieces. In terms of optomechanical designs the 3-12×56 and 4-16×56 are still very competitive and exceptionally easy to get behind. However, the reticles are kinda outdated by modern standards. They still work fine, but it is a competitive marketplace and the competition has been moving rapidly. The 4-16×56 was updated at some point to incorporate locking turrets and a couple of Horus reticles, but that pushed the price up to around $5k and for that amount there are other scopes I like a little more.

Most questions I get about Hensoldt pertain to their latest 3.5-26×56 design. I have not done a full test of it and do not plan to. There are several reasons for that. The most obvious one is that it costs nearly $8k and I can find better uses for that. If I wanted to drop a lot of money on an optic, I would buy N-Vision’ Halo or Halo LR thermal scope and probably have some cash leftover. For a fairly conventional dayscope, I really think that going over $5k is unwise and even at $5k you have to really want something. My primary precision scope is Tangent Thetat 5-25×56 that costs about that much and I really enjoy using it, but when people ask me for recommendations… you can do really well for less money. Now, in some ways TT is still better, but once you get past $2k-$3k, you really get into the realm of diminishing returns. The 3.5-26×56 Hensoldt was designed for a particular military tender that imposed strict limitations that to me are absolutely not worth it. I have seen several prototypes of this scope. The first two or three were optically atrocious. The most recent ones seem OK. 18 mrad per turn turret looks good on paper and was a requirement, but the clicks are close together and the feel is not very good at all. I have heard people rave about this scope, so I figured maybe they finally got it worked out and I should take a look. I took a quick look and I still don’t like it, so I do not want to spend the time reviewing it. My initial impressions could be wrong of course, but at $8k per scope I am not itching to dig into it.

I did like the prismatic 4×30 ZOi scope a fair bit, but I am not sure how many of these are out there.

Some Hensoldt designs are really unusual and do not really have a direct comparable among other brands. While all Hensoldt scopes are really good in low light, the 6-24×72 is absolutely exceptional. It has been out for a while and it is still the best dedicated low light scope out there (I have been diligently waiting until EuroOptics puts a demo or some other discounted version of it on sale).

Once we get to spotters, Hensoldt also marches to the beat of their own drum and in this case it is a good thing. They make two versions of the their 72mm objective spotting scope: 20-60×72 Spotter 60 and 15-45×72 Spotter 45 and both are exceptional. The only other difference between them is the reticle. These are folded light path scopes with ranging reticles and absolutely remarkable depth of field and overall image quality. They are expensive, but if you want the best spotter out there for looking at bullet trace, this is it.

Hensoldt does not make any low end products. Everything they make is expensive and very good… for their specific design purpose. If that design purpose matches what you are looking for, Hensoldt is a good option. Otherwise, there are other alternatives.

 Posted by at 9:32 pm
Feb 232020
 

A few months ago, I stared compiling a list of video explanations I need to put together: http://opticsthoughts.com/?p=2574

Then, life happened and I did not get to do most of those. I did address some and over the course of the next few weeks I plan to do some more.

Please let me know if there is something specific you want covered. The Youtube playlist where these videos will be added is called DLO Explanations and all the videos are automatically copied onto the gunstreamer website as well.

The ones I am looking to do next are on the following topics:

  • Apparent FOV in riflescopes
  • Low light performance of LPVOs
  • Why is the exit pupil calculation breaks down on low power and some other general exit pupil considerations
  • Tube diameter. This lunacy comes up again and again, so it has to be revisited

Any other suggestions?

 Posted by at 3:17 pm
Feb 212020
 

It is official. Element Optics website went live and it looks like they have a good number of scopes out in the reviewer’s hands.

I had a nice meeting with these guys at SHOT and I really liked what I saw. The key people behind the brand are smart, well funded and full of energy. Most importantly, they are shooters so they understand the end goal. In too many optics companies there is a strong disconnect between shooters and engineers. I know this will sound odd, but I mean it as a compliment. The guys behind Element, while hunters and shooters, have enough of a nerdy streak to stay on top of the technical stuff.

In other words, I have high hopes that they will do it right.

The first scope available will be the Japanese-made Nexus: https://element-optics.com/product/nexus/. The rest will be along shortly, I am sure. A brief look at the initial dealer list seems to be taking advantage of the existing FX Airguns (FX is behind Element Optics) dealer network which is a pretty good thing. I am sure that will grow.

Given that NRL22 competitions now have an airgun, I have a hunch we will start seeing FX airguns with Element optics scopes on them. I have two small kids and NRL22 is where I want them to start shooting. Perhaps, I will start them with airguns. FX airguns are likely the most accurate long range air rifles on the market now, so perhaps that is a good place for my kids to start.

 Posted by at 4:32 pm
Feb 152020
 

This came up elsewhere, but it got my interest peaked, so I think I will look into that a little more.

I have a lot of experience setting up my rifles in a dual optic configuration. Usually, I go for a magnified primary (either prismatic or LPVO) and an offset small red dot.

Crimson Trace CTS-1100 with offset Hawke Micro RDS

I have also been messing a bit with a piggybacked red dot set-up. That has an advantage of being ambidextrous, but I find rolling the rifle a little bit easier than lifting my head up. I am still experimenting with the options though.

Elcan Spectre OS 4x with Doctersight III

With all that, the paranoic in me still wants some sort of a back-up sight that does not depend on batteries. I have played a little bit with fixed offset BUIS from Dueck Defense and they worked OK, but were a little bulky. The obvious solution to that is the folding offset BUIS made by Magpul, Troy, MI and several others. I have been planning to look at a couple for a little while, but one thing where I am sorta mixed is that folding sights are not “always on”. They need to be deployed. With RDS or fixed offset sights, all I need to do is roll the rifle a little and I am there. Just now I have accidentally stumbled onto the XS Sights’ XTI DXT/DXW setup that looks to be lower profile than the Dueck sights, but they are always there.

I will probably pick up a set and do some experimentation. Any of you have experience with these?

I have used the Big Dot sights from XS on handguns (back when they were still called Ashley Outdoors) and thought they worked quite well. The sight picture is styled off of old express sights used on large and dangerous game so it should be quite effective at close distances. I have used those old iron sights a little and liked them.

Honestly, I don’t need more projects, but this looks interesting.

 Posted by at 3:24 pm
Jan 262020
 

I’ll do a series of videos on my takeaways from SHOT and add all relevant links and pictures into this post.

The first video is up on Youtube.

Recording of the first FacebookLive session I did on this.
Part 2
Part 3
Tangent Theta 3-15×50 Hunter with MOA turrets and reticle
 Posted by at 4:50 pm
Jan 142020
 








Athlon Midas TAC 5-25x56mm on Kelbly Atlas Tactical with it’s Favorite Lapua Ammo

Les (Jim) Fischer BigJimFish Written: Dec 18, 2019
Les (Jim) Fischer BigJimFish Written: Jan 14, 2020

Table of Contents:
– Background
– Unboxing and Physical Description
– Reticle
– Comparative Optical Evaluation
– Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion
– Summary and Conclusion
Testing Methodology

Background:

This Midas Tac 5-25×56 is the third scope I have reviewed from the relatively new Athlon optics company. Started and run by a couple of optical industry alums, Athlon sources optics from a number of different overseas OEM’s which are made to the companies’ specifications. Based on the company’s growth rate and customer satisfaction, the Athlon guys appear to be quite good at this. Certainly the scopes I have seen from them have proven predictably reliable and with features that I judge to be well chosen for the marketplace. Furthermore, Athlon appears to have a very rigorous quality control apparatus in place, as the scopes I have seen have much lower than average deviation from specifications when it comes to adjustment magnitude, reticle size, and reticle alignment. The predictability of their function is starting to make them rather dull to test.

Today’s scope, the Midas Tac 5-25×56, is a new scope being added to their existing Midas TAC line. It’s sort of a gap-filler. It is of similar glass quality and magnification to the existing Midas TAC 6-24×50, but has a larger 56mm form factor more in line with the higher end ARES ETR 4.5-30×56. You could choose to see it as a lower cost alternative to the ARES ETR 4.5-30×56, which it is similar in size to or as a larger alternative to the Midas TAC 6-24x that it shares relative glass quality with.

Unboxing and Physical Description:

We may as well start the theme of this review right here. There were no surprises in the unboxing. The Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 comes with a lens cloth and manual just like its little brother the Midas TAC 6-24×50 did. It is styled very similarly and, from the objective to the tube to the eyepiece, it just appears to be a slightly bigger version of the same idea. The 5-25×56 is about 4oz heavier, just under an inch longer, has a 34mm instead of 30mm tube, and, of course, has a 56mm objective instead of 50mm. Probably, the biggest highlights are the 32mil instead of 25mil total elevation adjustment and the larger 5x instead of 4x magnification ratio.  32 mils is actually a pretty large adjustment range at any price these days, and the Midas TAC 5-25×56 is not a high cost optic.

The manual included with the Midas TAC 5-25×56 I received for testing appears to be the same one as the Midas TAC Athlon Midas TAC 6-24×50 from last year. In fact, its section with scope dimensions has not been updated to include the 5-25×56. I received this scope just before they hit the market generally, so it is likely from the first run and the manual you will receive had not yet been printed. Hopefully they update the troubleshooting section of the new one to remove the suggestion to directly support the barrel with a sandbag, as well as the text about excessive grease in the barrel. There should be no grease at all in a barrel at the time of firing.

Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 (foreground) with the TAC 6-24×50 (background on Mesa Precision Arms Crux rifle)

Reticle:

The Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 is available with just one mil and one MOA reticle option. The mil option, the APRS3, is a typical mil hash Christmas tree reticle with a floating dot center and .2 mil increments horizontally out to 6 mils then .5 mil increments after that out to 9 mils, at which point there is just a thick crosshairs. Vertically, the reticle is graduated in .2 mil increments for just one mil. At that point, the top half is graduated in .5 mil increments out to 9 mils and then it becomes a thick crosshairs, while the bottom half is graduated in .5 mil increments out to 7 mils, where it goes back to .2 mil increments until 10 mils, at which point it becomes a thick crosshairs. While there is probably some rationale for the alternating use of a .2 mil graduation system and a .5 mil one, this is not fully explained anywhere, though even if it were, I likely wouldn’t agree with it over the consistency of sticking with the .2 mil increments throughout. Both vertical and horizontal crosshairs are numbered every 2 mils and are on the thinner than average side when it comes to line thickness. The Christmas tree section has rows of dots every mil below the central crosshairs. Each row is graduated in fine dots every .2 mils and a thicker dot every mil. The MOA based reticle, the APLR4 FFP MOA, has essentially the same appearance as the mil reticle. Unsurprisingly, its graduations are spaced 1 MOA apart. The APRS3 Christmas tree mil hash reticle is very much in line with what I see the industry converging to and the alternation between .5 and .2 mil increments at places is really the only bone I have to pick with it.

When tested, the reticle showed a very slight cant of ~.5 degrees counter-clockwise relative to the adjustments. This is not an amount of deviation I would be concerned about. The reticle graduations were correctly sized.

Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56’s APRS3 Mil-Hash reticle on the HORUS CATS target at (magnification set at roughly 18x)

Comparative Optical Evaluation:

For optical comparisons with the Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56,I had the entire suite of sub $1K FFP mil/mil precision riflescopes that have been part of this ongoing series of reviews. In order of arrival, they are the:  Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH, Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR Mil, Athlon Midas TAC 6-24×50, Meopta Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP, Sightron S-TAC 4-20x50FFPZSIRMH, and Nikon Black FX1000 6-24x50SF Matte IL FX-MRAD. It should be noted that, at the time of this writing, the Nikon was not present to be compared as the example. It had proved defective, was returned, and its replacement had not yet arrived. Testing of all the scopes was done in accordance with the same methodology that I have used now for a number of years.

All seven sub $1K FFP mil/mil long range precision rifle scopes. S-TAC is 3rd from the right.
All seven sub $1K FFP mil/mil long range precision riflescopes. Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 is on the far left.

All seven sub $1K FFP mil/mil long range precision riflescopes. Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 is on the far left. On balance, the Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 is optically the best of the Athlon scopes tested and on the better side of the field of sub $1K scopes overall. Its strongest points were field of view, depth of field, low light performance, and contrast. In these aspects it was either the best performer or close to it. The TAC 5-25×56 was more middle of the pack when it came to resolution, eyebox, barrel distortion, stray light handling, and chromatic aberration. In no aspect of optical performance that I measured did the TAC 5-25×56 test in the bottom 3rd of scopes tested. I think that the avoidance of any real weaknesses might speak as well for the scope as the overall above average finish. There is something to be said for an optical design balanced well enough that it really doesn’t stumble in any single design criterion.

Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:

The Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 features a virtually identical large uncapped 10 mil per turn zero stop elevation adjustment to that of the Midas TAC 6-24×50. Both scopes adjustments have the firm, postitive, “clicky” feel.  that comes from a high ratio of click force / rotation force between clicks. This does mean that you will occasionally over-rotate with them or lose click count and have to look at the dial. The Midas scopes are not the most difficult in this regard, but it will happen occasionally. I think the ratio of click force / rotation force between clicks is a difficult decision for optics makers. People generally greatly prefer this “clicky” feel and dislike the squishy feel that you get if the ratio of click force / rotation force between the clicks is low. However, it is difficult to have that positive “clicky” feel and also have a knob that the user won’t occasionally over rotate or loose count and have to break position to check on. Athlon has experimented both ways on this in the past and has understandably gone with the customers preferred feel. You do not make money telling people what the ought to want, you make it by producing what they already want.

Just like the smaller Midas, the 5-25×56 has a smaller capped windage knob. This knob is a 10 mils per turn knob that is marked 1-5 in each direction. The windage knob on my 5-25×56 is significantly stiffer and “clickier” than it was on the TAC 6-24×50, and, as a result, is easier to over-rotate or lose click count on. The power ring and parallax knob on the Midas are on the looser side of average with the euro-style diopter ring about average. The diopter rings on both Midas scopes seem to have a bit more correction range than on most scopes which I classify a win since I recently had an issue with a competitor who had so little range that I couldn’t even focus my 20/20 uncorrected eye all the way back to its optimum 20/15 or so.

The zero stop system used on the Athlon Midas and Ares scopes (this pictured on an Ares BTR 4.5-27x50 FFP IR Mil, O-ring no longer present in either scope line)
The zero stop system used on the Athlon Midas and Ares scopes (this pictured on an Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR Mil, O-ring no longer present in either scope line)

The Midas TAC 5-25×56 elevation knob’s features and design are common to all of the Athlons I have tested so far. They are 10mil per turn and feature Athlon’s particular zero stop system, as well as an outer knob with the mil graduation markings on it that can be repositioned. Repositioning the markings to read zero at the rifle’s zero is done in the common way. The outer knob pops off and can be repositioned after removal of a single screw in the top. This outer knob is toothed with enough teeth that its markings will properly line up with the actual detents instead of landing between as some others have done. The zero stop system is one that both Midas TAC scopes share with the Ares BTR but that I have not seen on other optics. As is common, the whole elevation knob on the Midas screws up and down as the adjustment it rotated. This attribute forms the basis of both the zero stop and the simple scribed turn indicator. The zero stop consists of a brass disc they refer to as the “zero stop locking plate” located under the removable outer adjustment sleeve. This disc can be repositioned using three set screws. So, basically, you zero the scope, remove the outer sleeve, loosen the set screws, and move the disc so that it is lying flat on the saddle with its stop protrusion immediately to the right of the stop protrusion on the scope saddle. You then gently tighten the set screws and replace the sleeve and its screw with the proper alignment of the zero. This zero stop is very inexpensive to make, in addition to being quite functional. It also has the same advantage as most plunger style systems in that you can set it independently of the markings to give you a few tenths of adjustment below the zero if you want. It is a well designed system and I’m a fan.

In testing, the scope tracked absolutely dead nuts from 0 up to 17.4mils, returned to zero fine, and then tracked down from zero right on the money to 17.1mils for a total travel of 34.5mils. This travel range is even a bit more than the already generous 32mils advertised. Unsurprisingly, the Midas TAC 5-25×56 also tracked fine to the 4mils each way that I can measure horizontally and showed no zero shift with adjustment of the parallax, diopter, or power ring. The parallax knob even showed exactly 100yds when focused at 100yds and those things are never right.

Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 during mechanical testing

Summary and Conclusion:

The pattern emerging with these Athlon scopes is that they are solid predictable performers with good value at their price points and with the most in-demand features. The quality control on the three scopes I have seen has been superb, as two of the three showed no measurable deviation at all from perfect in adjustment increment and the other was still better than average. Similarly, all three had properly sized reticles and none had cant of more than .5 degrees. This is a rather impressive record.

Optically, all the Athlons I have tested have met or exceeded my expectations. Overall, this one was the best performer, landing well on the higher performing half of all the sub $1K scopes tested. Larger 56mm scopes are not my favorite, as I typically see little gain for the extra size and weight of over 50mm scopes. In this case though, you do get significantly more elevation range, and the optical design itself is a little better optimized than either of its 50mm brethren.

The street price on this Midas TAC 5-25×56 is around $850, making it about the same as the Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 and ~$200 more than the Midas TAC 6-24×50. All three of these scopes make good arguments at their price points so I think that Athlon has done a pretty good job of the tricky work of product positioning. It is not hard to see why the company is having such success.

Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:

Pros:
– Optics are significantly better than average at the price and well optimized
– Tracked perfectly
– Properly sized reticle with very little cant
– Athlon’s QC is starting to look pretty superior
– Very simple effective zero stop that lets you chose travel below zero if you want.
– Full 10mil/turn knobs
– Superb 32mil elevation travel
– Reticle design in line with current trends
– Good warranty and reputation

Cons:
– 56mm objective does add size and weight
– You will occasionally lose click count on the “clicky” adjustments and need to look at the graduations.
– No illumination.
– Basically no extras like scope caps, sunshade, or bra
– Relatively new company with short, though good, track record

Testing methodology link

Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 (background on Kelbly’s Atlas rifle) with the Midas TAC 6-24×50 (foreground on Mesa Precision Arms Crux rifle)
Jan 122020
 

I have a confession to make. I have quite a few AR-pattern rifles and my interests in them have always leaned heavily toward the latest and greatest. I have another confession to make. For the most part I still do. I am a techy guy and I like techy stuff.

However, when I was working on a couple of optics articles for Guns and Ammo’s Retro magazine, I took a closer look at Vietnam-era M-16s and there is definitely some nostalgic appeal there. Now, the articles I did were on the Occluded Gun Sight (OEG) like the ones made by Armson and on the first night vision scope. The original night vision is out of my reach, but Armson OEG is in production, so I started conceiving a retro build.

At around the same time, I decided to review Brownells’ new 3-18×50 MPO scope, which is really growing on me. That is when I discovered that Brownells really put some time an effort into supporting the retro replica market. They have a bunch of AR variants that seem to be rather faithful reproductions of many originals including some prototypes that I have barely heard of. To people who are into retro builds none of this is news, I am sure, but it was news for me.

Also, it turned out that Brownells sells a re-incarnation of the original Colt 4x scope made by the original manufacturer. Me, being a nerdy optics guy, I kick off gun reviews based on what optics I want to look at, so between Briwnells’ Retro and Armson OEG, that was enough for me to start making detailed plans.

Brownells Retro 4×20 (Butler Creek’s tini bikini scope cover did not come with it, but fits perfectly)

Originally, I was going to procure the pieces and build one up from scratch, but now I am sorta questioning that plan. As much as I like working on guns, I am not convinced I can do better than Brownells has done and if I procure good quality components, I am not at all convinced it will be cheaper.

To be entirely honest, the variant I am really curious about the the BRN-PROTO Rifle with its vertical charging handle, but that will not work with carry handle mounted optics, so I will file this one away into the “some day” folder. For a bit there, I was just going to buy one of Brownells’ retro builds and be done with it, but then I stumbled onto something that changed my mind.

The original M16 had a 1-14″ barrel twist. Most of Brownells’ retro models utilize a 1-12″ twist to make the bullet a little more stable at distance. All of the complete 5.56 rifles they have are bult with that barrel twist.

However, as it turned out, one of the complete uppers they have utilizes a 1-7″ twist. While it is not historically accurate, it is imminently more practical for me since I have quite a lot of 5.56 ammo of all manner of bullet weights and I would like to be able to shoot whatever ammo happens to be on hand with this retro build.

With all that in mind, my plan is as follows:

  1. Get a complete upper assembly from Brownells with 1-7″ twist when it is back in stock.
  2. Get retro appropriate grip and stock
  3. The rest I can procure locally. I’ve built enough lowers over the years that I probably have enough pieces in the spare parts bin to complete a couple of lower assemblies. All I need is a mil-spec stripped lower receiver.

I think that will be retro enough for my purposes.

Lastly, Brownells is not the only game in town for this kind of stuff, but they seem to have the most extensive assortment of relevant pieces. JSE Surplus seems to be another good source and, of course, a few minutes of searching the web will yield a ton of information on different retro builds.

Generally, there is so much information out there on AR-15s and how to select the right components that it is sometimes difficult to filter through the BS. If you are new-ish to ARs, I strongly recommend checking out the AR-15 article series on Everyday Marksman website. Matt knows his stuff. Except for those time when he disagrees with me. Then, he is just plain wrong.

 Posted by at 2:15 pm
Jan 052020
 

One of these scopes is about to go onto my list of recommendations. Somewhat unusually, it is about to land there before I fully finish with my review, so I figured I should qualify that a little.

Here is the qualification: I really like this scope.

MPO stands for Match Precision Optic and that is Brownells’ house optics brand. They are starting out with two models aimed at general purpose precision shooting for people who are not inclined to drop upwards of $3k on a really fancy scope. The two models they have are 3-18×50 and 5-25×56, both built in Japan on 34mm tubes.They had sort of a soft introduction earlier on, but now both models are available.

Before I move on, apparently Brownells also sells a retro 4×21 scope that fits onto an AR handle. I never quite paid attention to that, but I have a retro AR project that I am conceiving. I think that will be a perfect opportunity to test Brownells’ Retro scope.

Getting back to the MPO…

The model I have been testing is the 3-18×50 with the N-OMR reticle. Honestly, for a general purpose scope under $1k, this is probably the one to beat. By going directly to the OEM and being the only retailer, Brownells is able to keep the price lower that similarly configured competition. I started talking about these a little since the MPO is part of a 50mm Precision Scope article I am working on.

In a nutshell, the MPO 3-18×50 I have here, is as good as or better than any similarly configured and similarly priced FFP scope I have seen to date. To be clear: I have probably seen all of them, so do not take this statement lightly. It is not the shortest, nor the lightest. Size-wise, it is decidedly midpack and given the moderate price, I am very comfortable with that. I am leery of excessively ambitious designs on a budget. Everything in this scope just works. Image quality is very good. Turrets track as they should with a zero stop integrated into the elevation turret and windage turret covered. The reticle, while looking somewhat unusual with its double lines, works very well across the entire magnification range. Illumination is well calibrated to keep the reticle visible even in low light. In other words, the MPO 3-18×50 is both intelligently configured and well executed.

To be clear, it is not going to outperform most $3k+ scopes. As much as I like the MPO, it is not going to make me give up my Tangent Theta 3-15×50 or March-F 3-24×52. These are better than the MPO, but at triple the price, they better be. When people ask me whether the ultra high end scopes are worth it, the answer is usually “Yes, No and Maybe”. When I am about to drop $3k on a scope, I typically have a specific application in mind where something less expensive will probably not do. The March 3-24×52 is the lightest FFP crossover scope on the market with the broadest magnification range while maintaining excellent image quality. That’s why I have it. Tangent Theta is the best optimized 3-15x scope I have seen to date and it is lighter than everything similar other than March. TT315M is the perfect scope for a precision gas gun and that’s how I use it.

However, if someone comes to me without a very specific application in mind, I will usually steer them toward something less expensive that works well overall. Brownells MPO is exactly that and I can buy three of these for $3k. If, for example, I was getting into PRS-type shooting, for $3k I can equip three platforms: 5-25×56 for the bolt gun, 3-18×50 for a precision semi-auto and either one for an accurate rimfire. Add some appropriate rings and you are good to go. Most importantly, the sight picture you get is exactly the same on all three platforms and you are likely to manage it without mortgaging your kidneys to finance the whole thing.

The MPO punches above its weight class. Looking at what is out there, I am not sure what I would take in the under $2k market over the MPO. I think MPO 3-18×50, Tract Toric UHD 4-20×50 and SWFA SSHD 5-20×50 are the 50mm objective precison scopes under $2k, with an honorable mention going to the EOTech Vudu 5-25×50 that I am also impressed with due to how compact it is.

Here are a couple of videos from my Youtube Channel that touch on the MPO among other designs:

Here are some through the scope videos as well. I will probably redo some of these to get better focus, but for now they will do.

 Posted by at 11:26 am
Dec 182019
 
Sightron S-Tac 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH on Kelbly Atlas Tactical with it's Favorite Lapua Ammo








Sightron S-Tac 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH on Kelbly Atlas Tactical with it’s Favorite Lapua Ammo

Les (Jim) Fischer BigJimFish Written: Dec 18, 2019
Les (Jim) Fischer BigJimFish Written: Dec 18, 2019

Table of Contents:
– Background
– Unboxing and Physical Description
– Reticle
– Comparative Optical Evaluation
– Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion
– Summary and Conclusion
Testing Methodology

Background:

Sightron is best known in the target shooting community for producing solid no frills scopes at prices lower than comparable competitors. Sightron has always appeared to be low on advertising expenditures and behind the curve on features, but their quality, price, and customer service has been good. Sightron was very late to the party with ffp, mil/mil offerings, and zero stops. For years I talked to them about this and, finally, two years ago, they came out with an SIII in mil/mil ffp. That SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH was one of the sub $1K, ffp, mil/mil scopes I reviewed last year. Since then, they have come out with both a higher cost SV ffp design and this, lower cost S-TAC which sits at $700 street with an MSPR of $1k at the time of this writing.

Unboxing and Physical Description:

At first glance, the S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH appears to share a lot of similarities with the SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH. They are both long and light scopes with very plain and subdued styling. The S-Tac comes in at 15″ in length and 25.6 oz weight. Both scopes’ turrets are also very similar, being 5 mil / turn with similar styling and feel. The S-TAC, however, comes standard with the better labeled and higher visibility text found on the “tactical” turrets which were an aftermarket option on the SIII and also include a zero stop. I should note that you can now get these updated adjustments (zero stop and tactical labeled turret) in the SIII with the SIIISS624X50LRZSFFP/MH model. These are the only changes from the SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH I reviewed last year. Unfortunately, to get these additions adds a hefty $150 to the price. To that set of features, the S-Tac additionally has illumination and a flip-up throw lever on the power ring. Neither of these features is to be found on either higher cost SIII scope. In the box with the S-Tac is a lens cloth, plastic flip-up covers, two hex wrenches, a battery, and the same generic-to-all-Sightron-scopes manual that I received with the SIII last year. Said manual was supposed to have been updated to fix a minor error pertaining to angular and linear measurements in the windage and elevation movement table section, but evidently was not, as they are identical manuals. This update not happening could be worse, as it is basically a typo. However, each scope also includes a second supplemental sheet which has a reticle diagram and dimensions for said reticle, as well as a mil ranging formula. The ranging formula was wrong in the SIII’s supplemental sheet and is now somehow wrong in a different way on the S-Tac’s. These are not mere typos either, these are incorrect, non-functional, and non-sensical formulas. The correct formula should be: (target height (meters)/angle subtended (mils)) *1000 = range to target in meters. I am dismayed at both the persistence of the Sightron folks in getting this wrong and the misplaced creativity demonstrated by getting it wrong in a different way.

Sightron S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH Unboxing
Sightron S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH Unboxing

Reticle:

The Illuminated MH-4 reticle on the S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH is very similar to that which was on the SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH. Both are very simple mil hash reticles with .5 mil subtensions over most of the reticle and .25 for the first mil from the center. The MH-4 in the S-TAC improves on the reticle in the SIII by adding some number labels for the divisions. This may seem like a minor improvement but in practice it helps greatly in avoiding mis-counting and can also save valuable time when making adjustments. Neither reticle has a Christmas tree section, which I am not sure is a bad thing as tree sections can interfere with how well you can see the splash on a miss. The reticle on the S-TAC is also illuminated and it is substantially thicker. I expect these two may be linked since the SIII had a very fine reticle that I doubt would have illuminated well. The illumination on the S-TAC is not just on the center area but instead on the whole of the graduated section of the reticle. I prefer this arrangement. In general, I feel very much the same about the S-TAC’s reticle that I felt about the SIII”s. There is little to either enthuse or repel a prospective buyer in the design. In testing, the reticle was correctly sized and showed no cant relative to the adjustments.

Sightron S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH's Mil-Hash reticle on the HORUS CATS target at 20x
Sightron S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH’s Mil-Hash reticle on the HORUS CATS target at 20x

Comparative Optical Evaluation:

For optical comparisons with the S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH, I had the entire suite of sub $1K FFP mil/mil precision rifle scopes that have been part of this ongoing series of reviews. In order of arrival, they are the:  Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH, Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR Mil, Athlon Midas TAC 6-24×50, Meopta Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP, Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56, and Nikon Black FX1000 6-24x50SF Matte IL FX-MRAD. It should be noted that the Nikon was not present to be compared. The example I was originally sent proved defective, had to be returned, and its replacement has not yet arrived at the time of this writing.

Testing was done in accordance with the same methodology that I have used now for a number of years.

All seven sub $1K FFP mil/mil long range precision rifle scopes. S-TAC is 3rd from the right.
All seven sub $1K FFP mil/mil long range precision rifle scopes. S-TAC is 3rd from the right.

The S-TAC was one of the scopes I was most interested in doing an optical evaluation of. This was because the SIII I tested last year was, on balance, the strongest performer optically in this sub $1K series of reviews. The SIII’s consistently good performance across virtually all of the aspects of optical performance tested coupled with its light weight left me quite fond of that optic despite the features that it lacked compared to most of the other scopes in the field. Superficially, the S-TAC appeared to share some of the same design heritage; perhaps it would do well.

Suffice to say, this was not the case. I will go into more detail. Setting aside the currently-absent-soon-to-be-replaced-because-it-was-defective Nikon, the S-TAC significantly under performed all other scopes in the field. It was rather consistent in this, being at or adjacent to the bottom in resolution, FOV, depth of field, low light, contrast, stray light, and chromatic aberration. Its performance highlights were eyebox and barrel distortion, where it came in just behind its sibling. It is not an uncomfortable or tricky scope to sit behind, it just doesn’t resolve things are well as most of the other scopes I tested.  The sum of all this is that the S-TAC was very obviously a tier below any of the other scopes optically and, I would say, was significantly further from the next scope above it in performance than that scope was from the top performer. Given its sibling, I was pretty surprised at this. The performance difference was enough that when I first picked it up and looked though it without a lineup of scopes, I was already pretty sure how it would stack up.

Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:

The S-TAC’s knobs are very similar to those on the SIII with the addition of a zero stop. The knobs are 5 mil / turn and have clicks that feel and sound positive, but are not so stressed out that they will skip over detents and make you miss count. I would therefore say that the feel is a win. As on most of the sub $1K series, the zero indicator adjusts independently of zero stop. In this case, you loosen the top screw to change the indicator setting. The knob is only fastened to the adjustment by this screw and so can be easily turned when it is loose but must be carefully lined up while being tightened as there is no indexing. The zero stop is a collar under the knob that locks into place with three set screws. Once you have zeroed the scope, you just loosen up the set screws on the collar and turn it until it snugs under the knob. The actual threading for this collar is above the section that the set screws interface with so the set screws won’t mess up the threads. Probably the best thing about this system is that the zero stop collar has a line on it for each turn above zero. This is very handy, especially since the 5 mil / turn knobs mean you will often be a few turns above. I find this a substantial improvement over designs that have lines but where you are already several up from the bottom at zero and often also at some odd increment between them. Because the lines are on the collar piece that is the zero stop, they always line up right. The least attractive feature is that the collar feels a bit like a jam nut in that the knob will jam itself onto the stop when you turn to it and stick a bit pulling it off. Overall I like the adjustment mechanism with the exception of being only 5 mil / turn and only being labeled for that first turn.

When tracking, the adjustments deviate from true in a non linear fashion.

Going up from optical center:
-At 5.0 mils on the adjustments, the scope is at 5.1mils on the target.
-At 10 mils on the adjustments it is at 10.1 mils on the target.
-Its full range is 11.5 mils on the adjustments at which point it is at 11.6 mils on the target.
-It returns to zero fine and shows no slop in the adjustments going back to center.

Going down from optical center:
-At 6.0 mils on the adjustments, it is at 6.1 mils on the target.
-At 10.0 mils on the adjustments, it is at 10.1 on the target.
-Its full range is 11.9 mils on the adjustments 12.0 on the target.
-It returns to zero fine and shows no slop in the adjustments going back to center.

On the windage, it also seems to deviate a little, showing ~3.05 mils on the target when it is 3.0 on the knobs. I expect it would prove to follow the same pattern as the elevation if I had a target that went out that far.

There is no zero shift with parallax, diopter, or power ring and I saw no reticle cant. The reticle graduations are also the correct size. This degree of deviation from true in the tracking is about average for all the scopes I have tested over the years.

Sightron S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH during mechanical testing
Sightron S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH during mechanical testing

Summary and Conclusion:

There is no getting around that the Sightron S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH left me a little disappointed. This is because it was optically a clear step below its peers in almost every dimension tested and, given the performance of its sibling SIII last year, I did not expect that. Though not the cheapest, its ~$699 street price is one of the lower costs in the field and it does have some features not present in all other scopes. Illumination is the most notable of these features, which also include a pull out throw lever and zero stop. The S-TAC is one of the only scopes to be limited to 5 mils / turn though. I don’t think that there is one universal answer in this sub $1K price range of ffp mil / mil scopes. If cost and illumination are important to you and optical performance is less important, the S-TAC has what you are looking for. Ironically, it has precisely the opposite strengths and weaknesses from its sibling SIII. I guess they were separated at birth.

Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:

Pros:
-Has some features not all have: Illumination, zero stop, and a detachable throw lever
-It’s zero stop system provides a good indicator of which turn you are on
-Adjustments have a good feel and the correct resistance to them so you don’t miss count clicks
-Sightron has a good warranty and reputation
-At ~$699 street, it is one of the lower cost options

Cons:
-Optically a clear step below the other sub $1K optics tested
-Only 5 mils / turn
-Significantly below average total elevation adjustment range
-Manual is lacking and contains basic errors

Testing methodology link

Sightron S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH on Mesa Precision Arms Crux (front) and Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH on Kimber 82g (back)
Sightron S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH on Mesa Precision Arms Crux (front) and Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH on Kimber 82g (back)
Dec 092019
 

A while back I wrote a little bit about two articles I did for the Guns and Ammo Retro magazine: http://opticsthoughts.com/?p=2577

I just stumbled onto one of them available online.

If you havn’t had a chance to see it in the magazine, here is the link: https://www.gunsandammo.com/editorial/single-point-dot-sight/368936

I am now thinking about doing a retro AR-15 build with an Armson OEG on top. I think Brownells has a several models of retro ARs, so I could probably just pick up one of theirs.

I’ve built a ton of ARs for myself and they are all fairly modern in appearance and design: free floated handguards, nice triggers, updated stocks, etc. The one variety I do not have is a classic Vietnam era configurations with fixed sights, fixed stock and plastic handguards. Maybe it is time I pick one up, put an ArmsonOEG on it and be an entirely different kind of a poseur…

 Posted by at 2:07 am