Feb 052019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHOT 2019

 Posted by at 4:05 pm
Dec 302018

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

Pixel 3 using Night Sight mode

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

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

Pixel 3. Cook Bay.

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

Moment Amazon Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pixel 3. Cook Bay.
 Posted by at 9:23 am
Nov 232018

Black Friday has always been a good time of the year to visit SWFA website (or stop by if you are local to them).  This year is no different.  They always have really significant discounts on their SS products and while I am not in the market for any (I already have more scopes than I know what to do with), I glanced and one really stood out to me.

They have 25% off on their excellent FFP 3-9×42.  I have two of these and they absolutely rock:


I buy and sell scopes all the time and yet these two will some day be pried from cold dead hands, so to speak.

Here is a link to the whole Black Friday listing for SWFA, just in case:


 Posted by at 7:43 am
Nov 202018

I am getting ready to do a video on resolution as it pertains to riflescopes and I stumbled onto this nice tidbit from quora:


While I think of a good way to explain this, consider a concept of “acuity vs superacuity”.  It is directly relevant to observation devices and riflescopes.  Human eye acuity is roughly equivalent  to 3000×3000 pixels seen on a 19″ screen, two feet from your eye, while superacuity bumps it up to 18000×18000.

Let that sink in, while I plan a video on the subject.


 Posted by at 1:25 pm
Nov 122018


I am pretty open with the fact that I am Jewish and unlike majority of Jews in America, I have never voted for a left wing candidate and do not expect to any time soon.

I grew in the Soviet Union, so I have a very dim view of the left wingers’ paradise.  I grew up in one.

I want Jews to be armed and capable of preventing the next Holocaust.  I sure would have preferred if it did not take a massacre to get American Jews to open their eyes, but apparently they are hard to shake from their slumber.

 Posted by at 4:59 pm
Aug 252018

I have been playing with the plex version of this scope for a little bit now and have published a first look article a while back.

Now, the good people from SWFA sent me a prototype with the BDC reticle to play with.  The specific reticle in this scope is not quite the same as what will go into production models, but it is extremely close and the subtensions will not change.  The tree in the reticle is designed around the 55gr M193 5.56×45 load, so I took it to the range and spent some quality time shooting at plates out to 500 yards.

Here is what the reticle in this scope looks like (left) next to the original plex reticle:

BDC Reticle

Plex Reticle





I have not yet had a chance to try them side by side in low light, but I suspect that the BDC reticle will do really well, given that I had no problems whatsoever with the thinner plex version.  In the picture with the BDC reticle, the plates you see are at 300 and 400 yards and it was a rather warm and hazy day at the range.  Still, I could see the plates well enough to hit pretty much everything I aimed at out to 500 yards using MEN and IMI 55gr ammo.  For the record, the berm int he picture with the plex reticle is 100 yards away.

I did some off hand shooting with the BDC reticle, with the scope set on 2.5x.  The thick lines really help with quick target acquisition and the eye is naturally drawn to the primary aiming point.

There are a couple of features that this BDC reticle has that are not going to make it into production scopes.  Here is a close up, so that you can see what I am talking about:

The “M193” on the top left is not going to be there.  Also, the small numbers “5” and “10” on the bottom right of the tree are not going to be there.  It is sorta self explanatory once you read the manual that wind hashmarks are for 5 and 10 mph winds.  Also, I am kinda conflicted on whether I like the numbers 200, 300 and 400 next to the tree.  I wonder if it would be better to just use 2, 3 and 4 instead.

The hashmarks worked pretty well.  The shooting range where I was testing the scope is in a narrow valley, wit frequent wind gusts that can change direction.  The wind changed from almost nothing to around 8mph during my time there and the hashes seemed to be accurate (or at least they matched my read of the wind well enough to hit plates).

I sighted the scope in to be dead on at 200 yards and the holdover worked nicely.  The two hashmarks on the horizontal line are 2MOA away from center and the thick bars start 6MOA away from center, so there are reasonable lead references there.  All my shooting using the tree was done at 10x.

While the scope with the BDC reticle on it is on my AR, the scope with the plex has been moved to a heavily butchered Mosin Nagant to see if the eye relief gives  me any trouble or if the zero shifts.  So far, it is stayign zeroed and despite shooting from variety of unorthodox shooting positions, I have not gotten hit by the scope.

It is too early to make any profound conclusions, but so far I like this little scope.  I think it is a good match for plinking ARs, walking varminters and micro action boltguns (CZ527 et al).

I’ll leave the plex reticle scope on the Mosin for a bit to see how it does, but now I am kinda curious how it will do a 458SOCOM.  Perhaps, I will try it there afterwards.


 Posted by at 10:19 pm
Mar 192018

Another post prompted by what I saw on the Hide.  That place is just a gold mine of discussion topics.

Let’s define, somewhat arbitrarily, what an Ultra Short riflescope is.

The phrase “Ultra Short” was originally coined by S&B and they have been trying to do this the longest.  Naturally, there is a whole slew of cheap crappy optics out there that are very short.  I am going to ignore those.

In principle, how short you can make a scope is a function of how large the objective and ocular lenses are.  The larger they are, the harder it is to make scope short.  Also, keep in ind that short does not have to mean light.

With that in mind, let’s make some educated guesses on what overall scope length qualifies it to be called UltraShort for different objective lens sizes:

Greater than 50 mm Objective: Under 15″

40 to 50 mm Objective:  Under 13″

30 to 39 mm Objective:  Under 11″

Under 30mm Objective: Under 9″  (March 1-8×24 Shorty, Nightforce NX8)


I reserve the right to make changes once I do some more research on the subject…

 Posted by at 9:36 am
Mar 152018

I just saw the EuroOptic marked down the 3-15×50 TT315P scope. That does not happen very much, so if you are int he market, this a really good opportunity:

 Posted by at 12:13 pm