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

 

Jul 122016
 

Written by ILya Koshkin 7/12/2016

 

A little while back, a gentleman named Matt contacted me with questions regarding the Razor HD LH.  While my full review is not out yet, I have spent a fair amount of time with these scopes and like them a lot.  They are about to land on my list of recommendations and from what I’ve seen so far, I can’t recommend them enough.  They are simply excellent.

Needless to say, I suggested that Matt give it a shot, which he did.  He bought a Razor HD LH 3-15×42 and proceeded to put it side by side with a few other scopes he and his friend have.

We communicate via Facebook messenger and here is a copy of that conversation.  The only real edits I made when I copied it here pertain to formatting.  I also took out my side of the conversation, since it was mostly me asking for permission to post Matt’s  resutls here and agreeing that I like the VX-R as well.  The rest is an exact copy with occasional punctuation corrections:

 
Here is my very unscientific take on the new Razor HD LH. I have owned 5 Vortex scopes over the last 5 or 6 years, and have collectively owned them a total of maybe 2 months, including 2 PSTs.  Although build quality and mechanics have always seemed above average for the price, I have never been able to get past how poor the glass is, or the overly sensitive eye boxes.  I just always felt it was lacking, and was left slightly disappointed.  I am, afterall, a hunter more than a precision shooter, and glass has always been top on my list when shopping.  The Razor HD LS, I can safely say, has a permanent home on one of my hunting rigs.  I compared a Conquest 3-9×40, Conquest HD5 3-15×42, Leupold VXR 4-12×40, Sightron SII Big Sky 6×42 and 3-9×42, and a Monarch 4-16×42.  I set all scopes to 100 yards, and placed them on a table.  I can look down to the end of my driveway, 100 yards away.  I have a resolution chart and various things to look at, like the detail in a cedar fence and the various hardware attached to it.  To make it short and sweet, Ill sum it up in 3 categories: resolution, low light brightness, and ease of use. Resolution: The Vortex and Big Sky were very close, both having superb clarity edge to edge in the entire magnification range. The Leupy is a step behind, but not by much surprisingly.  The HD5 has better edge to edge resolution then the VXR, but center resolution on the VXR was a noticeable amount better in the center of the image, with about 20% of the edges being slightly blurry.  The good old Conquest 3-9 falls behind that, and then the Monarch a good bit back.  So…
1. Razor
2. Big Sky
3. VXR
4. HD5
5. Conquest
6. Monarch
Low-light brightness: The VXR, HD5, and Razor appeared ever so slightly brighter than the Big Sky, followed by the Conquest, and Monarch. The Top 3 were so close, I would have to spend more time with them to tell a difference. I will say that the G4 BDC reticle and the Leupy LR Firedot (not illuminated) are both much easier to pick up than the BDC 600 in the HD5, with the slight edge going to the Razor.
Ease of use:
1. Razor – by a long shot. THIS is where it shines. Even at 15X, the Razor is VERY forgiving and very easy to get behind. This is a complete 180* spin from my previous experiences with other Vortex. There is very little “tunneling”, even down to 3X. Eye relief is great, and the eye box is very forgiving (especially for a 15X). It’s the type of optic you look for in a field rifle, something you can throw up in a split second and get a shot off.
2. VXR and Big Sky, tie. Both I feel are excellent, and are usually my personal favorites in this category.
3. HD5
4. Conquest – Borderline Horrible compared to the others above.
5. Monarch – Horrible!!!
I don’t, however, like the textured satin finish on the Razor. It looks and feels cheap. The clicks aren’t as positive as I expected, and there was a hint of flare at dusk that some of the others didn’t exhibit, but nothing to be upset about. The ease of use of the Razor combined with the awesome glass, EXCELLENT G4 BDC reticle, and tracking ability make is a darn near ideal mountain rifle optic. It weighed 16.6 OZ on my scale, which is the icing on the cake. I also want to point out that the performance of the VXR was surprising, and 2 OZ lighter with an illuminated reticle, 30mm tube, and a couple hundred bucks cheaper. It would be my 2nd overall choice here. The Razor will go with me to Colorado this year on an Ultralight .280AI, and I am stoked. 
 
The HD5 is a Buddy’s scope, and is mounted on a rifle, and therefore not pictured.
 
Also, the VX3i 4.5-14×50 and Super Slam 4-20×50 are both unimpressive. I like the VXR a good but better than both, and the Razor leads and bounds more. Very disappointed with the VX3i. Maybe I got a lemon, it’s only 2 weeks old.
  
I might add that the 2nd category should be “Low-light Performance”. Brightness wasn’t the only factor, contrast and color rendition obviously matter aswell. I should have worded that differently. I was in a hurry.
 
I just finished comparing the LH to the VXR. Both scopes set to 12X. Took a couple pics with a cell phone, tell me what you think. It appears to me the LH has a touch better resolution, and is doing a better job at suppressing chromatic aberrations. Overall, I am both surprised at the resolution of the VXR and LH, and to 95% of guys… I don’t think they could tell a difference. If I could 100% trust the tracking in the VXR with an animals life, it would be very hard in my opinion to opt for the heavier and more expensive Razor. Distance to fence is 80 yards, 150 to the mailboxes. Couldn’t get a great pic out of the Razor at the mailboxes.
 
The VXR also appears brighter, but that may be some of the CA that my eye is perceiving as brighter.
  
I must have a really good example of the VXR. It, and this may sound weird, absolutely looks better than my VX3s and VX3i in terms of resolution. I don’t own a VX6 to compare to. The Razor definitely has an edge in resolution and edge to edge performance. I am young, and have only been an optics nut for a short time, but I realized I had a problem when I had a safe full of scopes and no rifles to put them on. I bought a pair of Zen-ray Prime HD binos, and I have been hooked on glassing since. The tracking of the Razor and generous eye box is what I am so stoked about. My McMillan Edge should be here any day for my 280 build, and ill run it through its paces. Thanks for your help.
 Posted by at 10:44 am
May 212016
 

Review of the Minox ZP8 1-8x24mm Illuminated Optic

BigJimFish logo

Les (Jim) Fischer
BigJimFish

May 21, 2016

 

Table of Contents:
– Background
– Unboxing and Physical Description
– Reticle
– Comparative Optical Evaluation
– Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
– Summary and Conclusion
– Close Quarters Speed Testing and Illumination
– Testing Methodology:  Adjustments, Reticle Size, Reticle Cant
– Testing Methodology:  Comparative Optical Evaluation
– Testing Methodology:  Close Quarters Speed

 

Background:

If any scope was a white whale to any writer, this is probably the scope and I am probably the disagreeable old salt. You see, the story of 1-8x scopes doesn’t start with the Leupold CQBSS, the first actually released, but rather with the S&B short dot 1-8x that probably never will be, in original 1fp reticle 2fp dot configuration.

I first heard of the S&B short dot 1-8x in 2010 when it debuted at SHOT Show. At that same show, Premier Reticles debuted a 1.1-8x. That second scope came about through a partnership between Premier Reticles and Optronika, a company formed when an engineering team left S&B to strike out on their own in 2008. At that time it looked to be a compelling race both in technical terms, as it was a race to make what I considered the first all-in-one daytime optic, and in human terms, as former teammates competing against each other always introduces another dynamic.

As often happens though, history would not become what people expected. S&B would kick around their design for years and eventually decide that the costs of production in original first focal plane with projected red dot configuration was too cost prohibitive. They would instead split the concept and produce two separate models disappointing many folks who were desirous of a first focal plane scope with a projected dot. Premier would scrap the 1.1-8x design and debut a 1-8x only to never produce either on a large scale (I believe a few 1.1-8x’s were sold to individuals who preordered and put money down). Premier Reticles would eventually be bought by an industry veteran, take up a more northern address, and become Tangent Theta. I would go on to review three 1-8x designs produced by other makers, but could not forget about those original two that seemed destined never to exist.

This summer, when watching Ilya’s SHOT 2015 notes, I learned that the Minox 1-8x which I had caught wind of was a product of the Optronika folks (now working with Minox) and actually existed. I would later find out that this Minox 1-8x was actually the refined descendant of the Premier 1-8x design that Oprtronika had retained the rights to. I was quite pleased that some product of this ill-fated contest had eventually born fruit and I obtained one for testing. Let us see if it has been worth the wait.

 

Unboxing and Physical Description:

Most of the scopes that I have reviewed in the past arrive on my doorstep new in wrapping. The exceptions to this have been three late gen prototypes, three designated test scopes, and the personal scope of one of Leupold’s marketing guys. Each exception to the typical shrink-wrapped shiny has tended to foster further exceptions. I have had prototypes without final lens coatings, with different than final markings, with perhaps more careful than normal assembly, and even custom shop produced scopes that should not have met the QC standards of the run of the mill. I have had designated test scopes that came with plastic insert lined rings to stay minty fresh and some that looked like they had already seen battle.

This particular exceptional scope came dressed only in unmarked Tenebraex caps in a brown shipping box with a separate package of Warne quick detach rings that I presume are a result of my request to provide rings with all test scopes as I otherwise frequently run short when several scopes are simultaneously on hand. I would later find, as is relatively common in testing, that this test scope was an early production model and a few changes have been made since then that the reader will find informative. As a result of customer feedback, maximum illumination brightness has also been increased. Additionally, the knurling on the turrets has been improved and their clicks have been made more tactile. Those buying the scope today will receive a product with these changes packaged with Tenebraex caps, a manual, spare battery, lens cloth, and hex wrench. I was able to download the manual online. It is a pleasingly technically detailed affair entirely devoid of marketing attempts to get me to buy the scope I have obviously already bought since I have the manual. The manual even goes so far as to chart the maximum possible parallax deviation for ranges from 0-1000 meters. I would characterize it as being in the European style, which is to say that it contains actual information where an American manual would have warnings and/or advertisements.

 

Minox ZP-8 1-8x with included Tenebraex flip caps

Minox ZP-8 1-8x with included Tenebraex flip caps

As for the optic itself, the ZP-8 1-8x24mm bears a great deal of resemblance the stillborn Premier 1-8x design that is it’s forbearer. The location of the saddle towards the front, illumination turret design, and angular eyepiece with locking diopter are all familiar. The greatest point of divergence from the old specification is the turret design. Both designs have 10 mil .1 mil per click single turn turrets that I have been informed are in response to a particular military requirement. The Premier version had the additional feature of a semi-toolless zero and zero stop reset whereas the Minox features a locking function that holds the turret at zero while engaged. Ergonomically, I like the built-in low profile cattail, but think that the turrets and illumination control are a bit large for their feature content. The illumination control is the size of others I have encountered that also include a parallax and the turrets are similar in size to turrets including second rotations and pop-up indicators for those additional rotations. Also, though the low profile cattail is a nice grip, it is rather alone in this pursuit. Though the power ring is quite large, it is otherwise almost entirely smooth where I find myself wanting for some grip. The positioning of the cattail is good, having about a 220 degree throw which starts exactly where the thumb of your right hand will be when you change the power from 8x to 1x with an overhand grip. However, the 220 or so degrees will probably be further than you typically rotate with one grip and when you re-grasp, things will line up less advantageously leaving you to wonder why, with all that potential space for it, there is no more grip. The appearance of this arrangement is nice but ultimately I prefer the entire power ring to be grippy.
Reticle:

Designing the reticle for a 1-8x ffp scope is a significant challenge since at 8x that reticle will appear eight times the size that it appears at 1x and only 1/8th of it will be visible. It is also a challenge because with an 8x erector system between the reticle and the user, you can expect that the reticle would have to be etched very finely indeed to appear at all crisp to the user. Etching this fine is certainly possible, as illustrated by the Leupold CQBSS, though I have seen other 1-8x scopes that had reticles with a very thick “hairy caterpillar” appearance so I expect such etching is neither common nor inexpensive. The review ZP8 I have has the MR10 reticle and it does not have a hairy appearance, but is still rather thick looking at 8x and lacks much in the way of design. It is basically a mil hash with dot center crossed with a German #4. There are only two line widths:   the hash, dot, and top post are one line width and the other three posts are thicker. Divisions are in full mils with an extra wide line for the 5th. Though it is not a very creative design, in testing I found the MR10 to not interfere with the speed of the optic as the posts were thin enough at 1x not to be distracting and at that point you are pretty much just going on the projected red dot, which is good. At high power, the lines were a bit thick for the kind of precision I like to have, but from a practical standpoint were fine. I just really like the experience of shooting with fine lines even though the actual difference in my performance is small.

In addition to the MR10 reticle I tested, the ZP8 also comes in an A8-D reticle and an MR10+ reticle. The A8-D is basically a duplex design. The MR10+ is the MR10 I had with the addition of a limited 1mil grid below the primary aiming point for the same purpose as a Christmas tree and rapid ranging feature in the 9:00 quadrant. I like both of these concepts, especially as its 1mil grid is very sparse. The rapid ranging feature is, like most such features, dependent on the user’s understanding of the markings and what they stand for. The markings, in this case, are based on 1 meter vertical or .5 meter horizontal target dimensions. My biggest criticisms of this particular feature in this particular design are as follows. First, it is one of the more difficult to intuit arrangements I have seen and the user may forget how to use it between the time the manual is read or training administered and its actual use. Second, its arrangement does not allow the easy off-label calculations that it would if all markings were paired with their exact halves such as 300 and 600 meters or divided in half as is sometimes the case on other designs. Finally, in my past experience, 1 meter has not proven to be a large enough stadia to easily range, though with 8x max magnification, the Minox may somewhat mitigate this. What I liked most about this rapid ranging feature was that, in addition to existing (I like rapid ranging features), it was very cleverly and efficiently laid out in terms of real estate used and therefore obscured very little. In addition to the additional ranging and distance compensation features over the MR10, the MR10+ also has double the thickness outer posts on the reticle. I was sad to hear of this as thick posts in all forms have consistently proven to be a speed killer in my close quarters testing despite the common belief that they will increase speed by being more noticeable at low power. Close quarters speed seems to have more to do with seeing the target than the aim point. Those who have become proficient at skeet shooting or sporting clays probably expect this, though most will find it counterintuitive. This leaves me with mixed expectations for the MR10+. It is a significant step up from the MR10 in terms of its ranging and distance compensation features, but I expect it may be slower due to the thicker outer posts.

 

MR10 reticle in the Minox ZP-8 1-8x scope as viewed through the scope at 8x during mechanical testing

MR10 reticle in the Minox ZP-8 1-8x scope as viewed through the scope at 8x during mechanical testing

 

Comparative Optical Evaluation:

It is a shame that I did not still possess any of the 1-8x scopes from my review a few years ago at the time I tested this optic. That being said, I did still have quite a few optics to compare it to. At the time of testing, I had 1-6x designs from Optisan and GRSC / Norden Performance, a 1/4x Elcan Specter DR, and a few high powered designs in the Leupold MK 6 3-18x and Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14x. While in no cases was this an apples to apples comparison, it was quite sufficient to give me a sense of where the ZP8 fits in the grand scheme of things as relates to optical performance.

My initial impressions as I started testing the ZP8 were not good. The eyebox at maximum power is quite critical, even for a 1-8x. This makes testing more difficult and less comfortable. You will note that the through-the-lens photo in the reticle section appears just a little off axis. It took a great deal of effort to get a picture that good and it is still well below my average quality for such photos. Adding to the difficulty of good eye position was an issue with stray light. Usually, the blacker the blacks and deeper the greens, the better scope will prove to be in most optical respects. Scopes that have a bleached out look suffer from stray light from internal reflections. Most scopes that are high on the stray light issues suffer from just about every other issue as well. Since these are amongst the first things I notice in an optic, it was not looking good for the ZP8.

With this sense of foreboding, I trudged on testing each of the many optical issues that I usually look for. I was surprised when the Minox showed no noticeable chromatic aberration and further surprised when the resolution proved to be good, better even than the Elcan. The field of view also seemed sufficient. It was not even the smallest in my group despite the much more difficult 1-8x design. The color rendition appeared to be fairly even and it rendered blue as blue instead of the common rendition as black. The barrel and pincushion distortions were also not of large magnitude as is common with many aggressive optical designs.

So, in the end, the ZP8 did not bomb out on the optical performance, though it did have a rocky start. With the stray light issue, I would certainly recommend a sunshade or ARD and, because of the small eyebox, it is not very comfortable to use at max power, but it does resolve very well and does not have any other major optical issues. Without trying to run the risk of comparing it directly to any of the 1-8x designs I have reviewed in the past, I would venture to say its overall performance is on the lower side of the middle of 1-8x designs. My initial impression was misleading regarding optical performance just as it would later be misleading in close quarters performance.

 

The comparison lineup from left to right- Leupold MK6 3-18x44, Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14x44, Optisan CX6 1-6x, Norden Performance GRSC CRS 1-6x, and Minox ZP8 1-8x, *Elcan Specter DR 1/4x  not pictured*

The comparison lineup from left to right- Leupold MK6 3-18×44, Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14×44, Optisan CX6 1-6x, Norden Performance GRSC CRS 1-6x, and Minox ZP8 1-8x, *Elcan Specter DR 1/4x not pictured*

Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:

The practical distinction of most 1-8x designs from 1-6x designs is usually that the former is equipped for use at long enough range for significant drop and drift compensation. A 1-6x design is typically just a 1-4x close quarters scope with a little more magnification, perhaps for observation or target identification. Most 1-8x designs are actually precision rifle scopes with large turrets, zero stops, and 10mils per turn precise click adjustments. The ZP8 does feature fairly large turrets with .1mil clicks, a zero stop, and a push-down pull-up lock at zero only. The only surprising feature of the elevation knob is the single turn limitation. I found this strange as the internal travel is far more than 10 mils and was later informed that the limitation is the result of a particular set of military requirements. The windage is also limited to half a turn, 5 mils each way though this is common among precision scopes. In the case of both adjustment knobs, zero is reset using three set screws, a common (though inelegant) solution. The feel of the adjustments is acceptable. They move with about average force with clicks that are lightly tactile though barely audible. I am not a real stickler on adjustment feel so I will call them fine. I have been told that the turret feel has been significantly improved since the production of the test scope I used so I do not anticipate that a prospective buyer would be displeased even if a bit more picky about turret feel than me.

In testing, I found the adjustment magnitude small by .2mils at 10mils, measuring 9.8mil traveled at 10mil on the scale. Windage out to 4mils appeared fine left and .1mil small right. I expect that the actual windage deviation is the same magnitude elevation, however windage deviation is much more difficult to test in practice as the target and elevation knobs have smaller travel ranges and, more importantly, it is difficult to square the target precisely to the shooter. Both adjustments returned to zero properly. My testing further found accurate reticle dimensions, no zero shift with power change, and no measurable reticle cant. In order to further test the elevation travel, I reset the zero stop at 10mils to measure the travel from 10-20 mils from optical center. The same .2mil @ 10 mil deviation was noted. Also noted was a significant diminution of optical clarity becoming very noticeable around 15mils from optical center. All scopes deteriorate optically as they diverge from optical center, so this was not abnormal or alarming in any way.

Overall, the magnitude of adjustment deviation in the ZP8 is greater than the average I have found in testing high powered precision scopes, though it is by no means the greatest. It would be very interesting to have tested all the other 1-8x scopes in this manner when I reviewed them a few years back, but I did not yet have the capability at that time. For those interested, this 2% deviation comes out to a little less 20cm at 800 meters for a .308 cartridge though, since the deviation is linear, it could easily be eliminated in practice by adjusting for it during the process of creating the ballistic table. In such a scenario, no ill effects result from the deviation in adjustment magnitude.

Minox ZP8 1-8x adjustments

Minox ZP8 1-8x adjustments

 

Close Quarters Speed Testing and Illumination

My initial expectation for the Minox in close quarter testing was that it would be rather slow. This expectation was based on the conventional crosshair type reticle design, and illumination that initially did not seem bright enough to me.

Though the illumination of the Minox is based on the new diffraction grating technology you may have heard me talk about in my SHOT 2014 blog, a technology capable of being obviously daytime bright, Minox initially did not provide a setting which had this obvious daytime pop. I thought it would not be enough and, for the most illumination sensitive of our testers, it wasn’t. However, for all other testers the scope functioned as daytime bright even when testing was in the direction of the sun. My conclusion was that the illumination was bright enough to get most users’ attention in daytime use and my initial impression was therefore incorrect, though common. In the end, it was a common enough impression that Minox has since decided to include brighter illumination settings anyway, rendering arguments on the point moot. I should mention that this daytime bright dot is in addition to a non-daytime bright illumination of the reticle scheme and that which illumination is present automatically switches with the power ring at about 2x. This is a very seamless and intuitive way to accomplish the switch.

Similar to my mistaken expectations regarding the illumination sufficiency, I proved to be too hasty on the reticle judgment as, at 1x, it was so fine as to not be a distraction to close quarters use. Furthermore, at low power the scope did not have any of the issues with stray light it had exhibited at high power, so do not expect any whiteout lens flare from difficult sun angles. Only minimal image distortion was present (there is always some distortion in any scope), allowing for good left/right eye merging in both eyes open use. Field of view was middle of the road, which is pretty good when you’re the only 1-8x scope in a lineup that includes the massive FOV of the unconventional Elcan Specter DR design. Eyebox at 1x was in line with what I am used to from 1-4x and 1-6x designs and therefore better than 1-8x designs I have tested in the past.

On balance, the Minox averaged on the faster side of a test group which was notably skewed toward scopes that have, in the past, been on the better sides of previous close quarters testing. I believe all the scopes used as references against the Minox in this close quarters testing are actually in the top 25% of all scopes I have tested in that regard. Given that most 1-8x scopes I have tested in the past have not been in the top 50% of scopes tested, the Minox, being better than average for this difficult lineup did very well overall indeed and I expect will do even better with the brighter illumination setting.

 

The Minox ZP8 1-8x during close quarters testing

The Minox ZP8 1-8x during close quarters testing

 

Summary and Conclusion:

It is difficult to write this conclusion as it is always hard to be objective when you are emotionally involved. Having seen prototypes for years along the way and following the twisting and turning of who works for whom and is producing what, I really wanted something that was probably entirely unrealistic. I wanted a 1-8x that was the size and weight of a 1-6x and had the mechanical performance of a sniper scope, all with uncompromising optical performance. This is wholly unrealistic and none of the 1-8x designs that I have tested in the past have come close to achieving that. In practice, the Minox represents a 1-8x of similar size and weight to most other scopes in this category. I believe it is faster in close quarters testing all of those and I expect that if it were stacked up to them optically, it would be average. In short, I do not feel that any of the 1-8x designs on the market has yet achieved the goals of the one rifle one optic dream. However, this is one of the top 1-8x scopes, performing particularly well in close quarters testing and also having a good feature set for use at range.

 

Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:

Pros:
Excellent close quarters performance, probably the best 1-8x in this respect
High resolution, low distortion, and low chromatic aberration
Diffraction grating based illumination system that will be daytime bright on new scopes
Illumination system automatically switches from dot to whole reticle with the power ring
.1mil per click, 10 mil total locking click adjustments
Reticle was spot on accurate and had no measurable cant
Included Tenebraex caps and a good warranty make for nice extras

Cons:
Weight, size, and cost are in line with other 1-8x designs – high
Small eyebox at high power makes it uncomfortable to be behind
I can’t find myself loving any of the reticle designs
Illumination on the first production run may not be seen as daytime bright by some users
Haze from stray light makes the image less dynamic at high powers > about 6x
Adjustment accuracy deviation of 2% was high for precision rifle scopes

 

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

 

Testing Methodology:  Close Quarters Speed

As with the assessment of optical performance, the assessment of close quarters speed is a subjective process similarly involving a lineup of comparison scopes. Each scope is affixed in turn to an airsoft AR15 and used to engage an array of targets arranged in a 180 degree field of fire from the shooter. The use of a quality airsoft rifle as the test vehicle both reduces cost and virtually eliminates safety concerns relating to such a wide field of fire. Central to this testing is the use of multiple shooters and multiple firing scenarios. These firing scenarios involve movement on the part of the shooter, mounting and unmounting of the rifle, target to target transitions, and firing from the non-dominant side. Scopes are assessed with and without their illumination active. The panel of shooters has proven invaluable in this testing as different shooters have proven to have different tolerances to differing aspects of optical comprises. For instance, I am relatively insensitive to poor or absent illumination but very sensitive to barrel and pincushion distortion of the image. One of my other testers is relatively insensitive to this distortion but very sensitive to bright illumination. I also have a tester who seems very sensitive to reticle design and another for whom eyebox seems quite crucial. Gathering together the rankings and comments of all these shooters on a test lineup of scopes after a few hours of swapping them on and off the test rifle provides enough data to write something intelligent on the general performance of a particular optic relative to its peers as well as some specific information about which aspects of design that scope excelled in or was deficient in.

 

An over-the-shoulder view of close quarters speed testing in progress

An over-the-shoulder view of close quarters speed testing in progress

 

Apr 122016
 

I received a couple of items from Sig Electro Optics to look at:

Tango 6 3-18×44 riflescope and Romeo 4C red dot.

I did a very brief side by side of the Tango 6 against Leupodl Mark 6 3-18×44 and Nightforce ATACR F1 4-16×42 and the Tango6 is holding its own pretty well.  It is not a small scope:

But it looks very well sorted out.  I like the turrets and during a brief night time test the optical quality looked very respectable for the money.

 

Romeo 4C is OEM’ed by Holosun for Sig (I think), although Sig has its own cosmetics and color scheme.  I asked for this one because it can work off of its solar battery.  I thought it was an interesting twist, so I figured I should try it.

 Posted by at 2:48 am
Apr 012016
 

I mounted the Cronus 1-6×24 on my 458SOCOM and headed off to the range.  45 Cal bullet holes are not very hard to see even with 6x, but since I had a smaller caliber rifle with me as well, I took the diminutive Athlon Ares 7.5-22.5×50 spotter along.





At first blush, I like both optics a fair bit.

The Cronus 1-6×24 looks to be very a similar design to Norden Performance 1-6×24 and SWFA SS 1-6×24, except with Athlon’s own reticle and exposed 0.2 mrad per click turrets.

All three of these scopes are made by LOW.  All three have identical FOV and all three exhibit fairly similar optical characteristics at 6x, which is to say that optically they are very good, with some evidence of CA at 6x, but good contrast and resolution.

Very importantly, eye relief is long and flexible.  The 458 SOCOM kicks quite a bit, but I never got even close to getting kissed by the scope and it held zero without any issues.

The reticle works well at higher magnifications, but gets a little small at lower mags.  I think brighter illumination would help, or, alternatively, some thicker reticle features.  I’l mess with it some more and see how the reticle works across the range of magnifications.

The tiny Ares spotter seems to perform better than I expected of it based on size and price.  Depth of field is a bit shallow and focus can get a little touchy at top magnification.  However, the basic image quality is respectable and it is easy to use handheld at lower magnifications.  I would probably like it more with a straight eyepiece and I have a few other things to nitpick, but overall, this little spotter will find a permanent place in my kit next to my lightweight AR that is equipped with a 4x scope.

To get an idea of how tiny this thing is, here is a picture of it with a cellphone hooked up to take some pictures.  The cellphone is Lumia 1020, which is not a very large phone to begin with.

 Posted by at 12:40 am
Oct 252015
 

BigJimFish logoReview of the Vortex Razor HD II 4.5-27x56mm Illuminated Optic

Les (Jim) Fischer
BigJimFish
Oct 25, 2015

 

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

 

 Background:

I believe the greatest strength of the Vortex Company is its attunement to the market. Optics companies in general do not have the best track record with this. Many of the European companies, in particular, draw a good deal of criticism from myself and others for being completely unaware of (or are unwilling to provide) the features demanded by the market in their optics. This is perhaps not surprising from companies whose sporting optics are often handled by small divisions of what amounts to camera, eyeglass, or, not too long ago, decorative crystal companies. Vortex is quite different from this, being a small family owned company with family members who are actually actively competitive shooters and who are also regular contributors on the variety of forums dedicated to the same and similar pursuits. This degree of connection with the intended customer, at this level in the company, is both unusual and quite effective when it comes to providing compelling products. I tend to view the Razor HD II line as the child of this unparalleled industry connection and the rapidly improving manufacturing capabilities of Japanese optic OEMs, though, this somewhat shortchanges Vortex’s increasingly central role in the design of these products. They were very excited to show me the HD II line of products and particularly the 4.5-27x model. Now that I have spent some time with it, I am not surprised.

 

Unboxing and Physical Description:

The Razor HD II 4.5-27x56mm comes in an ample double wide textured cardboard box with a very nice cut out foam lining for protection. In with the scope are:  a shade (non-honeycomb), caps (not flip, but rather slip), a lens cloth, an adjustment wrench tool, battery, bumper sticker, inspection card, and two manuals (scope and reticle). This is a very complete set of extras, although with the shade being non-honeycomb, and especially the caps slip rather than flip, I am left a bit wishing for fewer and better as I do not have much need for slip caps:  they really don’t serve much purpose beyond initial shipping and, given the quality of the padding, are wholly unnecessary in that role for this scope. Taking a look over the manuals, I found them both well thought out, with clear explanations and diagrams of the basic information necessary for scope and reticle use. Along with the scope, Vortex sent me a set of their “precision matched riflescope rings” for testing. These appear to be Seekins rings. This again illustrates the market involvement of the guys at Vortex in picking a partner, as Seekins are probably the most popular basic aluminum rings.

 

Vortex Razor HD II 4.5-27x56mm with box and accessories (Vortex / Seekins rings and box pictured but not included)

Vortex Razor HD II 4.5-27x56mm with box and accessories (Vortex / Seekins rings and box pictured but not included)

The Razor HD II 4.5-27x56mm itself is rather nice looking, being the grayish tan the Vortex has adopted in lieu of the typical black, and having nice proportions. It is fairly short at 14.4″, but utterly obese at 48.5oz. That is not a misprint. Vortex uses steel in its turrets in place of the brass most companies use or the aluminum some use and that, combined with the 4 lens objective system, makes this optic substantially the heaviest I have ever used.  This is strikingly illustrated by the fact that it actually weighs a little over twice as much as the Leupold Mark 6 3-18x I last reviewed. The controls of the Vortex are nicely laid out and designed with the side parallax knob also housing a locking illumination control system and the turrets being a non-spring-loaded pull up to adjust, push down to lock, design. The turrets are 10 mils per rev, zero stop, and actually feature three turns with a visual and tactical indicator for the second and third turn. In testing, I measured 16.8 mils from optical center to elevation stop, so it is actually conceivable that, with an extreme base, and a crazy long shot, you could possibly use that 3rd turn.

Probably the only element of the adjustment system of the Razor HD II 4.5-27x that I found unusual was the setting of the zero stop on the L-TEC turrets. You do not really set the zero stop, per se, rather, with the turret set on zero, you actually zero the scope using the center adjustment screw under the cap. You do this with the turret set screws loose. While this is not what I was used to, it actually worked quite well and was in some ways better than the typical zero the scope, loosen the screws, and move the scale to zero, procedure. The whole zeroing procedure can be accomplished using the two-sided tool provided with the scope for that purpose.

 

Reticle:

At the time of this writing, three reticle options exist in the Razor HD II 4.5-27x. I should probably chastise the relative paucity of options, but because I really like one of them, I’m not going to. The options are a mil hash, mil hash with tree, and MOA (Vortex uses true MOA not shooters’ MOA) hash with tree. I chose the EBR-2C MRAD reticle which is the mil hash with tree option. There are a number of things about this reticle that I like. Firstly, it is a fine reticle and this allows for very precise aiming. I tend to prefer this to coarser designs that, I gather, must appeal to someone. The reticle also offers a .1mil fine scale section that I can use to most accurately measure my target for ranging. This is not offered in most scopes, although I believe it should be a more common feature. Lastly, the scope offers a Christmas tree section that isn’t too busy, though, probably still a little more than I would do. Sometimes you simply don’t have the time to dial everything in and you just have to hold, so I like to have a decent Christmas tree for these less than ideal situations. All in all, I am quite satisfied with the design.  I think it will appeal to competitive shooters in particular as the design features appear selected with that specifically in mind.

 

Horus CATS 280F target inverted and viewed though the Razor HD II 4.5-27x56mm with EBR-2C MRAD reticle

Horus CATS 280F target inverted and viewed though the Razor HD II 4.5-27x56mm with EBR-2C MRAD reticle

 

Comparative Optical Evaluation:

The guys at Vortex were very confident I was going to be pleased with this scope’s optical performance. This model in particular they were very proud of and they were quite eager to have me put it up against anything at all I cared to. At the time I tested the Vortex Razor HDII 4.5-27×56, I had quite a variety of optics on hand to compare side by side with it. These optics were the:  USO LR-17 3.2-17×44, Nightforce SHV, Burris XTR II 4-20×50, Leupold MK6 3-18×44, and an older Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14×44. This suite of test optics varied widely in price and included both scopes aimed at the tactical market and those designed to appeal to hunters. 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*

Pretty early on in the optical evaluation, it became apparent that the scopes were sorting themselves into three groups. The USO and Vortex were clearly optically superior to the others. They had bigger fields of view, higher resolution, better contrast, and lower chromatic aberration. They were also very close to each other in performance. After a bit of a gap in performance, the next group was also very close to each other and included the Leupold, SHV, and Zeiss. The Burris brought up the rear, not really comparing closely with anything else in the analysis despite its price being very close to that of the SHV and almost double that of the Zeiss. Because of these clear tiers, I spent most of my time comparing this Vortex to the USO LR-17.

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. At 14 mils, things were indeed pretty hairy for the Vortex. This drop-off was precipitous rather than gradual though, so, through most of the adjustment range, things looked very good. Following the optical testing, it was apparent to me why the Vortex guys had been so excited about this Razor HD II. It represents a clear advancement over the past Razors that I have seen and appears quite competitive with scopes formerly considered in a class of performance beyond the Vortex Razor line.

 

Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:

The Razor HDII 4.5-27×56 comes with Vortex new L-Tec turrets. I am not sure why every maker now comes up with a meaningless acronym for their turrets, but L-Tec is what Vortex settled on. When compared to the turrets on Gen 1 Razors (these turrets apparently predating the appointed time at which all turrets must be given an acronym), the Gen 2 L-Tec turrets are a bit shorter and significantly larger in diameter. They are also more feature rich, including an indicator for the second and third turns, as well as a push-down-to-lock feature. The feel also seems to me to have been improved. The L-Tecs turn with a nice degree of resistance, have positive tactile and audible clicks, and generally just feel good. The zero adjustment has also been changed, as I mentioned earlier. The windage L-Tec knob is quite similar to the elevation one except that the stop is after 7 mils each direction. The Parallax knob is styled very similarly to the adjustments and is of almost identical size. Also incorporated in this knob is the illumination control. This is a nice upgrade from the last generation Razor which was fitted with a wart style unit. The new illumination control is also a push-down-to-lock unit, which should prevent any inadvertent activation and subsequent battery drain. Aside from the weight imposed upon the unit, I have no complaints about the controls. They are well laid out and the fit, finish, and feel leave nothing to be desired.

In testing, I found the reticle markings on the Vortex Razor HDII 4.5-27×56 to be correctly sized. The power ring caused no shift in POI and it returned to zero without issue when adjusted. In the tracking testing, the scope gained .1mil in 10 mils, measuring 10.1 mils on the target at 10 mils on the adjustments. At 15 mils, it had gained .2mils. Image noticeably began to deteriorate at 14mils from optical center, even though the scope adjusted out to 16.8. In windage testing, the adjustments appeared to gain .05 mils in the 4 mils of adjustment each way, although I question the veracity of this as it is much more difficult to square a target to the tester horizontally than vertically and I am not convinced the target was totally square. I believe the scope had less deviation in windage than suggested and that the target was slightly canted. Also of note is that the elevation set screws loosened up once during testing. The user should be advised to pay special attention to the tension of those. The reticle measured a .95 degree cant counter-clockwise.

When I finished my mechanical testing, I sent the results and a draft of the review to Vortex as I always do for scope testing. Usually, the response I receive from these review drafts is limited to the background section and has to do with either a request to share less insider baseball stuff or to tweak it in some other way that makes it sound like boring marketing jargon. I usually acquiesce to the first request and ignore the second since I figure there is a reason you have to pay money to print ads for people to read that stuff. It’s not very good. I do not usually get much interest in the actual testing. However, Scott was interested in having the scope back so he could test it. I thought this was interesting as he has a fancy collimator and he seemed genuinely alarmed at the relatively small deviations I found and suspicious of my testing. So, I sent the scope back with a request that he forward me his test results. His testing found a .83% deviation in tracking and substantial agreement on the reticle cant measurement. He also found no travel in the knob beyond the point at which the reticle movement stopped whereas I had noted .5 mils of travel. I began obsessing about this as I didn’t think Scott was trying to pull one over on me, but that left me with no suitable explanation for the discrepancy and I don’t like discrepancies. Scott mentioned some travel like this being a part of the design with the windage well off center, but I was quite certain that it was centered and could not be the issue. I pulled out my notebook in an effort to try to jog my now fuzzy memory and noticed that the very next note on my test page after the .5 mil travel note was “Elevation knob set screw did not come completely tight and loosened during testing, requiring a retest for return to zero”. Putting two and two together, it seems most plausible that the .5 mil of knob travel after reticle movement was probably it loosening up on me and in going from focusing on one thing to another with the return to zero testing, I failed to discover my mistaken attribution. So, two points for me on my testing and one for Scott on questioning my results. Maybe it’s not a competition, but competition makes people better so I’ll call it one and perhaps I will improve for next time. I think the takeaway for the user is that I believe Scott when he says that the deviations in this particular example were higher than normal, and even at that they were not outside of average in magnitude relative to other optics I have tested.

 

Vortex Razor HD II 4.5-27x56mm showing L-Tec elevation knob with cover removed, revolution indicator showing second revolution, and supplied adjustment tool

Vortex Razor HD II 4.5-27x56mm showing L-Tec elevation knob with cover removed, revolution indicator showing second revolution, and supplied adjustment tool

 

Summary and Conclusion:

Can a scope at $2,500 be a value proposition? I guess that is kind of a strange question as all items at all prices must be something of a value proposition being that, by definition, a customer must think that they are a value if he buys them. Regardless, in the course of my review, I found more cause to compare the HDII with brands more costly than itself rather than less costly. I found the optical performance of the HDII excellent. The Razor HDII 4.5-27×56 will definitely be in the decision matrix of those looking at scopes in the $3.5k range with the argument that $1k buys a lot of bullets, powder, and cases and, are you really giving up much in the way of optics to get all that?

The features of this scope seem particularly amenable to competition shooting. The reticle is fine, has a .1mil precision range finding section, and has a Christmas tree section for when you are just out of time or not allowed to touch the adjustments. It plays to a lot of the situations a match maker might want to concoct with these features. Along these lines, its adjustments allow you to leave them unlocked for fast adjustment and no futzing. Scott was proud to inform me that this year the Razor HDII 4.5-27×56 was the used by the significant majority of the top 15 ranked PRS shooters. Given the past tallies in dramatic favor of S&B over all comers, this indicates a dramatic market swing. The weight of the Razor HDII, while probably a non-starter for anyone who intends to hunt with the optic, is of little concern to most PRS type competitors. That weight is the only real strike I see against the HDII as a general purpose long range optic as its features and optical performance are excellent.

 

Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:
Pros:
Excellent optics, competitive with more expensive brands
-Comfortable for the eye to be behind
-Well laid out controls with excellent feel
-A reticle I like very much
-Excellent warranty and reputation for service
-Competitive pricing

Cons:
At 48.5oz, it is the heaviest optic I have ever used
-Tracking on my sample was average not excellent

 

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

Jan 072015
 

I received the following question regarding the rimfire scope article (here):

I recently read the rimfire riflescopes post on this page and loved it. I was wondering what your thoughts were for a vortex viper 6.5-20×50 with dead hold bdc for a cz tacticool in .22lr. I plan on shooting some tactical precision competitions with rounds at various ranges from 50 to 150 yards. I am torn between getting this scope or one that has mil adjustments and a mil reticle. I would appreciate any insight you can offer about what I should be looking for in a scope. I respect your opinion. Thanks!

The choice of the scope in this case largely depends on whether you want to use holdover or dialing with the turrets for this.  I really like the 6.5-20×50 Vortex Viper, but for this application this would likely not be my top choice.  22LR has about 20 – 25 inches of drop at 150 yards with a 50 yard zero.  The Viper can definitely work for that, but it is not designed with constant turret twisting in mind and for precision shooting competition, my inclination would be to either twist turrets or utilize some sort of a reasonably sophisticated holdover reticle that takes care of both elevation and wind holds.

Since you are looking at the Viper, I assume that your price range is in the ballpark of $500.

If I were you would look at scopes like Vortex Viper HS LR 4-16×44, Hawke Sidewinder 30 Tactical (I would look at the 6.5-20×42 model) and Nikon Monarch 3 4-16×42 with a custom XR turret that can be customized for your chosen ammo.

If you absolutely do not want to twist turrets, you either need to seriously step up in price or go with more or less only somewhat  inexpensive scope that has a sophisticated reticle for distance and wind compensation: Pride Fowler Rapid Reticle 3-12×42 22LR .  I have not tested this specific scope, but I plan to.  I do have a fair amount of experience with their reticle and it works well.

Lastly, if you want to move up a bit in price and you want to use some combination of reticle holdover and turret twisting, SWFA SS 3-15×42 is a very good way to go.

 

ILya

 

 Posted by at 2:38 pm
Dec 032014
 

After a fair amount of testing, here is my take on three compact AR scopes: Trijicon ACOG 4×32, Elcan SpectreOS 4×32 and Leupold HAMR 4×24

http://opticsthoughts.com/?page_id=1344

One thing I want to add is that after I got done with my tests, i was approached by Mark from Macedon Defense, who makes an adapter (called KRAM) that resolves many of the mounting issues I had with the ACOG.  I wish I had it for my testing, but I am afraid it was too late.  Check it out here:

https://www.facebook.com/MacedonDefense

 

 

 

 Posted by at 11:29 am
Apr 302014
 

Here is a question I received via e-mail:

“Not having had the opportunity to have hands on experience with as many scopes as you have, I thought I’d see if you could recommend one (or several) to me. Here’s the situation: I have a 1.5-6 Spectre DR on a SCAR16, and another on a SCAR17, a 1-4 Spectre DR on a 18″bbl TAVOR, and an AUG A3 with both 24″ and 16″ bbls but with no optics mounted. I can use either of the existing 5.56 DR’s on the AUG but I think the BDC reticle will be off for the 24” bbl. That being the case, I’m thinking about a variable power scope with a Mil reticle / Mil turrets that I can use on any of the guns. That means something appropriate for both 7.62 and 5.56. Any thoughts? “

Good question.

You did not mention your budget, but since you a running Spectre DRs, I will go ahead and assume you want something no more expensive than that.  With Spectre DRs running at a bit over $2k, I think you have a lot of options to choose from.

If you want a low range variable with a mil-scale, you should take a close look at SWFA SS 1-6×24.  It offers a lot for the money and it is built like a tank.  The SS is a FFP scope.  My favourite SFP option in this general price range is the Vortex Razor HD Gen 2 1-6×24 with VMR-2 reticle.

For my money, I would be going for one of these two.

If you would prefer a little more magnification on the top end, you can splurge for March 1-8×24 (FFP) or March 1-10×24 (SFP).  Both are compact and exceptionally well built.  They are expensive though.

If having 1x on the low end is not critical, you have a variety of other options in different price ranges, but the scopes get a bit bigger, and I am not sure I would necessarily go for that on rather compact AUG rifles.  If that is something of interest to you, I can offer some additional recommendations.

ILya

 Posted by at 4:39 pm