May 312019
 

I have talked a little bit about this on a couple of forums, but I figured that I should not neglect my own website and tell the story of what I am doing with G&A and why.

If you have followed my various ramblings for a while, you may remember that a bit over a decade ago, I had a brief interaction one of the gun magazine publications (admittedly not Guns and Ammo) and in order to write for them, I would have to severely change how I talk about things. They were so afraid of upsetting their advertisers, that I chose to not have anything to do with that. I am not out to slander anyone, but sometimes you have to cal a spade a spade, so to speak. If the product is crap, I have to be able to say it is crap.

Earlier this year, the folks behind the Guns and Ammo specialty editions reached out and asked if I am interested in writing a few pieces for them. The specialty edition magazines are the issues that are published once or twice per year focusing on a particular topic. The specific one that they had coming up was the inaugural Red Dot issue and they asked if I am interesting in writing something that goes over the most common misconceptions people have about reflex and holographic sights.

Red Dot magazine cover (at the newsstands now)

Naturally, the very first question I asked was on the restrictions I would have if I agree. That turned out to be a much shorter discussion than I anticipated. They do not want me to use bad language. That’s basically it. In other words: say what you want to say, but don’t be rude about it. I figured I can do that without sacrificing my journalistic integrity.

I wrote a piece for that Red Dot magazine and they liked it well enough that they asked me to do a couple more articles for the other publications they have coming up. The next one out will be the G&A Rimfire issue that will hit the newsstands toward the end of June.

Upcoming Rimfire magazine cover. This one will be at the newsstands on June 25th.

Probably the weirdest thing about print media for me is having a word budget. Vast majority of my writing has been on the internet where I can be as wordy as I damn well please. Brevity is not one of my virtues, so everything I have written for G&A so far started out as a much longer piece. So far, it takes me more time to pair down to 2000 words than it takes me to put together the original piece. I hope to get better with practice. I always knew I was wordy, but until now, I never realized how really wordy I am.

Beyond the Rimfrie issue, I have written a couple more and as they wrap up with editing and layout, I’ll post updates. For the first two pieces I wrote for G&A, their editing is very light handed, which I am pretty happy with. They move pictures around, obviously, to fit on the pages, but aside from that they just fix my occasionally random capitalization and punctuation.

If you happen to see one of these on the newsstand somewhere, read the article and let me know what you think. I will do a few reviews for them going forward, but most of the topics they want me to address or either educational or overview in nature, which fits me just fine.

 Posted by at 4:28 pm
Mar 302019
 

I field a good number of questions here and there and I like the idea of making some of them as a blog post especially when they touch on something I get asked with reasonable regularity.

Here is a question I received today:

If I can bother you a moment, I do have a quick question on your thoughts about a few optics. As someone who’s been around awhile, I hate asking stuff like this, but with time being limited (you’ll see why in a sec), I was hoping to cut out some of the riff-raff and get right to things.

I’m looking to scope a small-frame (5.56mm) precision AR. I have a S&B 4-16×42 PMII that was supposed to go on it, but I need to free up some funds for career advancement training, so I need to downgrade. I’ll DEFINITELY be looking to replace it when I can, as it’s an amazing optic, but such is life!

Here’s where I’m at. I already have a 34mm Spuhr SP-4616, so I’m heavily considering sticking with a 34mm optic, BUT I’m not at all against snagging an SP-3616 if I opt to go with a 30mm scope. Here’s what I’m considering:

-Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50
-Steiner P4Xi 4-16×56
-Burris XTRII 4-20×50
-Bushnell DMRII
-Bushnell LRTSi/LRHSi
-Vortex Viper PST2 3-15×44
-SWFA SS 3-15×42

I have experience with the two Bushnells and loved them. The LRTSi/LRHSi has slightly better glass, but is a bit darker because of the small exit pupil at full power when I use it (not terribly often, but still a consideration). The DMRII doesn’t have glass quite as nice, but is a 34mm, and does have a higher mag range and is a bit brighter at the ranges I’d most often be in.

The SWFA is on the list because it’s a proven basic optic that would get me by. Stepping down that far is acceptable, but less than ideal coming from an S&B, haha. But if I needed to go that low, it would be my choice.

I’m unfamiliar with the performance (tracking/repeatability, brightness, clarity) of the PST2 and Steiner/Burris offerings. I’ve read your reviews on the P4Xi and am interested, but the lack of a sunshade is worrisome, as I live in AZ and shoot in bright sun quite often. The 5-25x T5Xi sunshade works, but I’m not aware of a way to source one by itself, and I don’t yet know if Steiner/Burris will make one specific to the scope. The 3-15x seems like the next logical option, but the DMRII can be had for less with greater mag range for the rare case it’s needed, but weight becomes a penalty. The XTRII is proven, but has a lower level of clarity and higher CA on average. But you sure can beat the hell out of them, from what I’ve read over the years!

If you have $1K to use, which would you use, or perhaps, how would you rank them? Primary uses would be local PRS-type matches, training, informal plinking, and some varmint hunting. Of utmost importance is tracking/repeatability, brightness, and low weight (I can probably find a used 3-18x Razor Gen2 for $1250 if I’m patient, but I’m not putting a lb+ optic on a small frame AR!). I appreciate your time and input, and hope you have a great day!

For this scenario, the short answer is that I would go for Vortex PST Gen 2 3-15×44. Now, onto the long answer.

Do you like mil-scale reticles like Mil-Quad, SCR or TMR? Or do you prefer some sort of a tree reticle like EBR-2D? In a market with a large number of fairly competitive designs, reticle choice can easily be the deal breaker. I do not like to compromise on reticles too much.

That out of the way, a lot depends on how you plan to use the rifle. I have an accurate small frame AR and it has a 3-15×50 optic on it. I find that to be an excellent magnification range for this gun, but I shoot offhand and from weird positions a lot, which I like to do on lower magnifications, hence the need for 3x on the low end. I really like to keep the low end magnification on gas guns at 4x or lower.

Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50 on an accurate small frame AR

The best bang for the buck in the precision scope world right now is Steiner P4Xi 4-16×56 scope, but it is too big and heavy for a small frame AR in my opinion. If your AR is a dedicated heavy barrel setup, P4Xi would work fine, but based on how the question is phrased, I do not think that is what we are dealing with here.

Bushnell LRHSi was a nice design, but it is discontinued. LRTSi is similar and I like it, but 4.5x on the low end gives me pause. I like to have more FOV on the low end. It is different for everyone, but I would rather give up a little magnification on the high end that lose FOV on the low end in this case. 3-15x works better for me than 4.5-18x.

Bushnell DMR II 3.5-21×50 sounds like it would give you more FOV, but it doesn’t. This scope has some tunneling on the low end, so its FOV on 3.5x is almost the same as LRTSi on 4.5x. The two Bushnell scopes have FOV of around 24-25ft at 100 yards on the low end, while the PST Gen 2 has a hair over 41ft on low magnification. To me, that is a big difference.

Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50 is a compelling design, but I do not think that it is any better optically than PST Gen 2. The 3-15×44 is sort of a sweetspot of the PST Gen 2 line and it is good enough to my eyes that I effectively stopped recommending other scopes of this general configuration until we get over $2k. I think the 3-15×44 PST Gen 2 punches well above its weight class and I happened to like the reticle.

Now, when XTR 3 comes out, these two will something interesting to look at. Same for Optika6 3-18×50 when it gets here. Until then, PST Gen 2 is what I recommend in this price range.

SWFA SS 3-15×42 is an excellent and time proven design. There is nothing wrong with and if you want to save some money, it works well. However, PST Gen 2 is basically a better and more full featured scope for not a lot more money. SWFA SS has more of a track record and focuses closer though.

 Posted by at 11:40 am
Mar 162019
 

The text below was not written by me. It was, a blog post by a gentleman I have know for quite a few years now and I always pay attention to what he says. Admittedly, I do not always agree with him, but I always find his opinion well reasoned and driven by his personal experience. He prefers to stay anonymous. He posts as Rancid Coolaid on various forums. The text in italic is his. A few of my comments are at the bottom.

What began as an inquiry of utility has become a quick primer for pocket knives. Below is the first installment regarding automatic, semi-automatic, and purely manual pocket knives.

For most of us, it happened when we were boys. The first time we saw one, we immediately thought – or yelled – “I want one.” The switchblade is iconic, but is it practical or necessary?
But, before all that, a few housekeeping items.

1. Vocabulary. Every intelligent discourse begins with an agreement on vocabulary – else all the really important points get lost in the ambiguities.

For purposes of this post, we shall consider an “automatic” knife to be one that deploys a blade by way of a button not affixed to the blade. Whether “out the side” or “out the front” – also called “OTF”, these are automatic knives. 

In contrast, there exist now many “assisted open” or “semi-auto” knives with a spring assist, usually associated with a blade protrusion or extension used to overcome initial resistance. It is this resistance that keeps the blade closed and prevents its unintentional deployment. The “semi-auto” is spring-assisted rather than spring-deployed. In many legal respects, this is an important distinction, as is the means of deploying – button not on the blade vs. blade extension.

Finally, the old school manual deploy blade, whether by thumb stud or by 2-handed open, this is the knife we all did have, and we usually have a few.

2. Legal disclaimer. “Automatic knives” are illegal in many jurisdictions for most people; “semi-auto” are as well, though in far fewer jurisdictions. It is the responsibility of the one owning or possessing the knife to know local laws. I write from a free state (Texas), so convey no legal permissions on those choosing to live in a communist state (California) or other. You do the crime, you do the time.

I’ve been asked on a few occasions about automatic knives, “do I need one”, “why should I carry one”, “how should I carry one”, etc.   The long answer is below, the short answer is “it depends.”

When I was a kid in the 70s, a pocket knife was usually a Buck or Swiss Army; they were opened with 2 hands and carried in a pocket, deep in the pocket, at the bottom of the pocket. By the 90s, Spyderco and the likes had introduced us to two new pocket knife features: the pocket clip, and the thumbhole, both paradigm shifts in pocket knife usage and carry.
By the 2000s, spring-assist was catching on, and today one is hard-pressed to not own a few and know of quite a few more options in edged tool/weapon options of the semi-auto type.

And this brings us to one very important practical point: with the advent of very reliable, very well-made semi-auto options, the automatic became far less advantageous. And this might be a good time to address usage, and why an automatic was ever needed (as to whether it still is, we shall get there in time.)

Most people are quite adept at highly dexterous tasks, but only with their primary hand. In normal daily life, that is more than adequate; however, in life-and-death circumstances, the need for a certain measure of dexterity in one’s weak hand can be the difference between surviving and not. For those that have carried a gun professionally, there is – almost universally – a constant companion on the weak-hand side, as well there should be. I’ve had a fair bit of arms training and have taught a bit as well, and the topic always comes up, and I address it in the same way each time: with a gun on your strong-side hip, take the strong-side hand and place it flat on the center of your chest, then prevent or discourage me from taking your weapon and/or your life. As an aggressor, the first thing I will do is immobilize your primary hand – I have trained to do this, I can do it quite efficiently, and will do so probably before you realize there is a threat. As a defender, that means having a plan that begins with no strong-side hand.

The uninitiated and untrained often don’t get that far. And this is why so many fail the first test, and die. Don’t fail the first test.

It is in exactly this circumstance that an automatic knife can literally save your life. Worn weak-side or in an accessible location, the knife can be used efficiently with the weak-side hand to regain control of the weapon or the use of the primary hand. This is why law enforcement and military can carry automatic knives, because they have need to control their weapon in defense of your liberties.

Prior to the proliferation of spring assisted knives, an automatic was the best choice – or a small, fixed-blade option.

On the automatic side, the pros are – in my estimation and experience – these:
1. Easy, no-fumble, one-handed operation.
2. Rapid deployment, great control.
3. These tend to be knives we don’t use to open boxes and envelopes, so they stay sharp by lack of use – or mine do.
4. On OTF knives in particular, the coolness factor is unmistakable. There is a reason John Wick carried an OTF, they are, in simplest terms, cool.

Cons:
1. Legality. If it is on your side, it isn’t a con, but it is seldom on the side of the masses.
2. If poorly designed or improperly carried, it can open unintentionally, and – given #3 above – create problems.
3. OTF in particular, they fail. They get gritty or get hit just right, and the blade does not fully deploy – sometimes not at all. This is the primary reason I own but never carry a few OTFs.
4. It is a mechanical device, and is often designed to not be deployable without working properly (no thumb stud, no designated place to grab the blade, blade locks in when button is not depressed, etc.) 

When you take the good and the bad and compare it to semi-auto knives, the shine on automatics does indeed diminish a bit. I own several semi-auto and have yet to have one catastrophically fail – I have had one OTF fail miserably, and another fail to deploy on many stress-free occasions.

So, highlights and take-aways:

1. Because – for me – the task almost always chooses the tool, I am usually carrying a semi-auto now. With reliable, rapid deployment on the weak side, I can carry with confidence.
2. I have shelved the OTF autos for any real-world use. They are great to pull out at social events, if only to show the normies what cool stuff some of us have. *A note of caution: OTFs can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. As the cutting edge shoots out the front, anything forward of and in the line of the opening will get cut. Ask me how I know…
3A. For hard use, I will almost always have an automatic tucked away on my plate carrier or duty belt. It is the insurance policy, and a well made one will stow better in a non-pocket than will a semi-auto built for pocket carry.

3B: Todays pocket knives, especially those with pocket clips, are usually designed for pocket carry. They are made to ride at the back of the pocket with the blade pressed firmly against the rear seam. If you are carrying on molle gear or in something other than in a pocket, they don’t always carry so well. For non-pocket use, be sure you know how it positions, how/if it shifts, and how it feels in the hand when you need it.

Finally, as it will come up: very pointy pens, always carry, be ready to use. And the TSA has yet to take one from me. I also have one of these (https://countycomm.com/products/persuader-titanium) which can be called a “stylus” if it needs to be, but is extremely useful as a tool of persuasion.

If you need recommendations, here are a few:

1. semi-auto, weak-side or strong-side carry: Zero Tolerance combat folder. 
2. OTF: Microtech. **Skip everything under $500 as these tend to have the weak springs and breakage-prone internals, but the higher dollar OTFs are close to robust enough for real-world carry.
3. “Out-the-side” auto: Protech, the rocking bolster design is my favorite as it takes an inexperienced user time to figure it out – in the rare event you lose your sidearm AND your knife. Their blades are very well made and come from the factory very sharp. Great craftsmanship and dependability. Additionally, the rocking bolster is almost impossible to deploy unintentionally, which is good, because they arrive very sharp.
4. Budget “out-the-side” autos: HK has a collaboration with someone to make some very good knives, their actions are quite robust, they deploy with authority, but the button design isn’t great – mine is rocker that passes through the handle and must be pulled down to release – either a locked in or locked out blade. Mine has deployed once, on a vest, when it was not supposed to. The blades are decent material but not usually the best. Most out-the-side knives have a safety to prevent accidental deployment (as does the HK) but that seems stupid to me, at least in real-world usage terms.

*The OTF that I blew up was a Benchmade, it not only malfunctioned, it came apart in multiple pieces, with the blade uselessly stuck in one of them. It is, in my estimation, a poorly made knife with inferior materials and workmanship.


*The OTF that malfunctions occasionally is a Microtech Troodon. When it deploys and locks up, it is rock solid; when it fails to deploy, a wrist-flicks gets the blade out and locked probably 75% of the time. For real-world use, I would kinda equate that to carrying a 6-shot wheel gun with 4 rounds loaded, and you only have time to draw and squeeze once.

I live in California for the time being and my knowledge of automatic knives is purely theoretical. In this state you can get lynched for just thinking about one. I do, however, have a long history with fixed blade and folding knives. I was interested in knives before I was interested in guns.

I am also a life long martial artist, most of it open hand, but some limtied knife training as well. I regularly practice to deploy a manual folding knife with either hand and can do so fairly well. However, RC’s point above about doing it under stress is important. I am right handed and I suspect that fine motor skills with my left hand will go the way of the dodo before they do on the right hand.

To me, a natural solution to that is a small fixed blade. When properly carried, it requires no manual dexterity to speak of: grab handle, pull out of the sheath, slice whichever portion of the assailant is closest to you. Even a small blade can be extremely effective in the right hands. What is even more important, a sharp blade is extremely effective even in marginally trained hands. Find a local Kali or Escrima school and train there for a few months. If the teacher is any good, you will get a reasonable grasp of the fundamentals of using knife and stick. They usually start doing more complicated things too early and most of them are useless in a real fight when adrenaline is pumping. However, that is still good practice and gets the basics properly grooved in. The rest is all mindset.

There are some small fixed blade knives that can be carried in the pocket and some that can be carried on the belt or as a neck knife. Except that is, apparently, in California where they are illegal as well. I looked at the regulations and unless I am misreading it, a 3 inch fixed blade knife concealed is deemed more dangerous than a 6″ folder. Yes, I know. California is special in that short bus sort of way.

If it is legal where you live, consider a short fixed blade like Esee Izula or KaBar TDI for weak hand carry. Izula is an excellent neck knife and I have seen some pocket sheaths for it. TDI is angled in a way that makes it very viable for belt carry. Indonesian karambit style knives are also angled in a way that can make for some interesting carry options, but these knives require somewhat different training, so I do not recommend them for general purpose carry.

Lastly, please do not rely on me for legal advice: figure out what the laws are where you live.

 Posted by at 6:42 pm
Mar 032019
 

I have mentioned elsewhere that I am not a huge fan of large frame ARs. They are a little harder to shoot and there is a fair amount of mass cycling back and forth, so you kinda have to “manhandle” more so that I am sued to with small frame ARs.

Still, I have built a few and since a friend of mine has asked me how I would go about selecting components for one, I figured I should make a post out of this. First a little about nomenclature: I have only messed with building DPMS-pattern guns, so I will use the term “LR-308” throughout to mean a large frame AR.

My LR-308 is a somewhat specialized set-up since after many changes I settled on a heavy barreled 243Win gun that I use for testing scopes and will also use as a heavy varminter. Here is what it looks like in its latest iteration with a Dracos barrel and an inexpensive, but surprisingly decent Guntec handguard:

Large frame AR: VC Defense upper and lower receivers, Dracos 243Win barrel, Guntec handguard, Juggernaut CA-legal stock

One thing to keep in mind is that I was not looking to save weight with this gun. In the past, I ran it for a bit with an 18″ 308 barrel and had I stayed with that configuration I would definitely go for a somewhat lighter build. In this particular case, I was asked how I would configure such a gun for a use case where it would be utilized for home defense and for occasional hunting. First of all, I will freely admit, that for home defense I would be more likely to use a smaller AR platform with a smaller cartridge. 308Win is a bit of an overkill for home defense. However, if we extend this to “estate defense” and with hunting thrown in for good measure a large frame AR makes reasonable sense (although I have an AR-15 chambered for 6.5 Grendel for this purpose and do not feel undergunned).

Anyway, here are some component considerations:

  1. Make sure you get matched upper and lower receivers. There is no mil-spec standard for large frame ARs and I have seen some variations that do not fit each other. On top of that, I have also seen some fit issue with handguards and upper receivers from different makers. If I were starting a build now, I would probably get a matched kit from Grey Ghost that has a matched upper and lower receivers together with their handguard. Rainier seems to have it on sale right now and I happened to like the camo patterns they have. This pretty much guarantees that the pieces will fit together.
  2. If you decide to not get a fully matched up set above, you can get matched upper and lower receivers with Grey Ghost being a good option again, although Rainier’s own set is quite good too.
  3. Keep in mind that there are multiple DPMS standards out there, so if you buy a handguard separately make sure you pay attention to whether it is a high rail or low rail standard. I prefer to go with “Low rail” everything, but it does not matter too much as long as you stay consistent. Handguard aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, so choose what works for you. I have reasonable mileage with different makers so this is where you kinda have to decide what fits your build. If you are looking for making the gun as light as possible, you may have to spend some money on a Brigand handguard. On the other hand, if weight is less of a concern, options really open up. Since I prefer to have the handguard go over the gas block, I would stick with something around 15″ in length. That all having been said, if I were doing a new build for myself, I would either go light with a Brigand or a little heavier with a Blklbl handguard that has an integrated bipod (or to minimize compatibility issues, see the Grey Ghost links above).
  4. Barrel is also a personal choice, but an important one. There are many good barrels out there and for a general purpose rifle, I would lean toward some light to mid-weight design with 18″ length. I have a Fulton armory 18.5″ barrel that is built on a Criterion blank in a light-ish profile. It is chrome-lined which makes it almost impervious to elements and pretty unlikely to ever be shot out with any normal use. Given the application, I would lean heavily toward either QPQ or chrome-lines barrel, so for a lightweight QPQ option, I think this pencil weight Faxon is one of the better “bang-for-the-buck options out there right now. For hunting/home defense gun, one of these would be my choice.
  5. Gas block: many people opt for an adjustable gas block, but for someone doing it for the first time, I would probably go for a standard low profile gas block, preferably of the clamp-on variety, but a well fitted set screw gas block works just fine. For something a little more dedicated for precision or for a gun that will have a suppressor on it, I might go for an adjustable gas block. However, since we are talking about something that has to be California legal (no suppressors) and used for home defense and hunting, standard gas block is fine.
  6. Furniture: in CA, you can’t have a collapsible stock or regular pistol grip, so this is the grip you have to use (for right handers). With buttstocks, I am a firm believer in using a rifle spring and buffer if you can’t have a collapsible stock. The recoil is going to be a little softer with a rifle buffer. There are a few buttstock options out there that will work fine, but I would probably just get Magpul’s MOE rifle stock and be done with it.
  7. Extension, spring and buffer. The extension is the same as on the AR-15, but buffer and spring are different, so make sure you pick the right ones. Standard weight rifle buffer from anyone reputable (like this one from Brownells) will work fine. With springs, I would go with JP’s tuned and polished spring (part number JPSOSR308 ).
  8. Last, but not least, you’ll need a trigger and lower parts kit. A couple of parts are different between large and small frame ARs, so make sure you get the right one, like this one from DPMS. Technically, this lower parts kit has everything you need, but in practical terms, you should really get a better trigger and an ambidextrous safety (ambi safety is key for California since you can’t have a proper pistol grip). There are many ambidextrous safeties out there and most work just fine. I am partial to the Radian Talon ambi safety, personally. Finally, we get to triggers. I tend to use Geisselle SSA-E in a lot of my builds and I have yet to regret it. I think it is the best general purpose trigger available for the AR Platform right now. It is not cheap, so for the budget conscious, ALG’s ACT trigger is a good option. It is, essentially, a GI trigger that is tuned and adjusted to be about as good as a GI trigger can be.

That takes care of the rifle, so we can spend a minute on optics. Home defense means red-dot or a scope that goes down to 1x. Hunting means low light and large objective. The two requirements are essentially mutually exclusive. Also, for any gun that is intended for defensive purposes I really like to have two independent sighting system.

If you want one scope that goes down to 1x, I think it is wise to start with Steiner P4Xi 1-4×24. It is exceptionally quick on 1x and quite decent on 4x. The reticle is intended for 5.56, but inside of 500 yards, the drops are almost the same.

If you want a little more reach, consider Hawke Frontier 1-6×24. Its reticle is mrad based, so it is not cartridge specific.

If you are willing to consider a dual sighting system set-up, I would suggest something like Meotpa Meostar R1 1.5-6×42 with a micr red dot like Burris FastFire II set-up on an offset mount. Mestar is a great general purpose scope for hunting and all sorts of other use that happens to be quite fast on 1.5x. With an Fastfire mounted on an offset Daniel Defense mount, you ahve a red dot that can be in front of your eye by rotating the rifle just a bit.

 Posted by at 4:46 pm
Feb 272019
 

Written in February 2019

As I was ready to publish this, I noticed that Doug from CameralandNY just put this scope on sale for $849. If you call him and mention Dark Lord Of Optics, you will get an additional $50 gift certificate for anything else from Cameraland (rings, caps, etc). That brings the price of the P4Xi down to a hair under $800.

I have been looking at this scope for some time now and I found myself liking it a fair bit.  It is a little bit of an oddball design in a sense that finding something similarly configured to compare it to.  The only other 4-16×56 scopes I found are the much more expensive Hensoldt and S&B. Most of the 3-15x, 4-16x and 3-18x scopes out there use a smaller 50mm objective (kinda like Steiner’s own T5Xi 3-15×50).  Meopta Optika6 will have a 3-18×56 design, but that is not here yet. In the end, I ended up looking at the Steiner P4Xi next to a couple of higher magnification scopes I have on hand with 56mm objective lenses to get an idea of how it stacks up.

Here is my conclusion in a nutshell: if you can find this scope for around $1K you should pick one up.  At $1500, it would be a bit of a harder sell, but around a grand it is a superb option. It tracked true.  The turret feel is very good and optical quality is very respectable. It especially shined in low light. There is enough magnification to get me pretty far out and the reticle is very well suited for precision shooting where you dial for elevation and hold for wind.

Here is my customary comparison table which is not really useful in this case because of the unusual configuration.

Steiner P4Xi
4-16×56
Hensoldt
4-16×56 FF
S&B
PMII
Ultra
Bright
4-16×56
Meopta
Optika6
3-18×56 (not out yet)
Athlon
Ares
ETR
4.5-30x
56
Delta
Stryker
HD
4.5-30x
56
Length,
in
14.613.1515.214.615.314.37
Weight,
oz
3031.833.836.535.8
Main
Tube
Diam
3434343034mm34mm
Eye Relief, in3.5 – 43.153.543.93.93.2 – 3.8
FOV, ft@
100yds
27.5-6.9 11.04@ 10x26.1-7.5 12 @
10x
28.2-6.9 11.04@10x33.2 – 5.810.4@
10x
24.5 -3.7
11.2@
10x
24.8-3.7
11.2@
20x
Exit
Pupil
a9.5 – 3.18.8 – 1.98.8 – 1.9
Clicks,
mrad
0.10.10.10.10.1 0.1
Adj per
turn, mrad
10
Dual
turn
14.5 14 10 10
Adj
range, mrad
E: 30
W: 16
22E: 27
W: 12
20.432 mradE: 30
W: 15
Reticle
Ill
YesYesYesYes + DichroYesYes
Reticle
Plane
FFPFFPFFPFFP or
SFP
FFPFFP
ParallaxAdj
50 – inf
AdjAdj
30m-inf
AdjAdj
25 – inf
Adj
23 – inf
Price, $~$1000$3200$3800$750$1200$1700

Looking at the numbers, nothing really sticks out.  The scope is reasonably sized for the class and on the light weight side for a 56mm objective design.

There is plenty of internal elevation adjustment available, but the turret is a double turn design, wo you get 20 mrad with proper mounting.  I had it mounted in a Aadmount with 20 MOA incline built in. With that configuration I go the two full turns.

In practical terms, since I do not shoot ELR (yet), I do not need that much adjustment, so most of my testing was over the first 9 mrad.  I did not do a shooting test for the entirety of the 20 mrad adjustment, but I did test on a gun out to 16 mrad with very uneventful results.

The scope spent time on two guns: The Fix with a 24” Proof barrel chambered for 308 and large frame AR with Dracos 243Win barrel on it (below).  Neither is a kicker, but I have spent some time shooting off the bench, prone and sitting with both guns to see how forgiving the scope is. The eye relief is fairly long and quite flexible.  This scope is pretty easy to get behind. That is one of the advantages of a large objective. Even at 16x, the exit pupil is a rather generous 3.5mm

Another nice feature is that the elevation turret does not go up and down when you dial.  It always stays the same height and there is a window at the bottom of the turret that serves as a revolution counter: white for the first turn and green for the second turn.

The numbers engraved on the turret are color coded to match the turn indicator.  0 through 9 are white and 10 through 19 are green.

Side focus adjust the image from 50 yards on out to infinity and infinity is actually infinity.  I was able to focus on some trees a couple of miles out. Depth of field is fairly generous, but still, for shooting inside of 50 yards, lowering the magnification helped.  On 4x, I could shoot quite comfortably and accurately don to 20 yards or so. There was some parallax, but it was manageable.

Reticle illumination control is a rotary knob integrated into the side focus turret.  The illumination level is calibrated to be just about perfect for low light. Only a portion of the reticle is illuminated, making an illuminated “T”, of sorts.  In the picture below, I set illumination on a rather bright level, so that the camera could focus on something. It looks much sharper when you look through the scope.

In general, the SCR reticle that Burris and Steiner use across a wide variety of different scopes is quite thin and well suited for precision shooting.  I think it is a little too thin on 4x, especially as light goes down, but that is where reticle illumination really helps. Here is what the reticle looks like on 4x, 8x, 12x and 16x.

From top left: 16x, 12x, 8x and 4x

Optical quality was very good given the price.  When I compared it next to the Delta Stryker which costs a fair bit more, Delta was the better scope during the day, with better resolution and better CA control.  However, at night, they performed very similarly with Steiner having unusually good flare control for the price range. Compared to Ares ETR, P4Xi had a little more CA and little lower resolution, but the contrast on the Steiner was better.  In the middle of the day Athlon Ares ETR looked a little better, but as the light went down P4Xi was the better scope. Its reticle illumination is also much better in low light than that on Ares ETR.

I think you are beginning to see the drift of my take on the P4Xi at this point: it is easy to get behind, seems solid mechanically and optically and it really shines in low light.  Its only really notable optical flaw is some visible CA on high contrast targets, but I am kidna picking at it a little since there isn’t much else to complain about. It really reminds me of the original Steiner Military scopes a little in terms of the feel of the image.  So many modern designs try to squeeze huge magnification range into a scope ro make it super compact and generally that is a good thing. However, with optics, everything is a compromise. If you are not ready to drop $3k+ for a modern ultrashort, I suggest looking at something with a design that is a bit more on the conservative side of things and this Steiner is exactly that.  If you really want a 4-16×56 Hensoldt, but don’t have the budget for it, consider the P4Xi. No, it is not as good as the Hensoldt. It would be silly of me to claim it was, but it costs less than a third of the Hensoldt, stays zeroed, tracks true and is very good optically.

 Posted by at 11:22 pm
Feb 232019
 

Les (Jim) Fischer
BigJimFish
Written:  Jan 11, 2019

Athlon Midas TAC 6-24x50mm on Kelbly Atlas Tactical

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:

            In reviewing both the Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27x50mm and this Athlon Midas TAC 6-24x50mm this year, I have an unusual situation. Both scopes are from the same brand and, at $849 and $629 street, respectively, I would consider them to be in the same price bracket. This suggests that there will be a lot of overlap in the potential buyers of each scope and begs a great deal of direct comparison as well as an unavoidable degree of re-use of text when discussing things in common such as the background of the company, the near identical manuals, or the very similar adjustment design. My apologies for the overlap, such as the rest of this background section.

            Athlon is one of the newest players in the sport optics industry and it turned some heads a few years ago as it seemed to be born, fully formed, with a complete line of scopes at a wide variety of price points. This is because, in some respects, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, or runner, depending on your metaphor (I know, stretching it). Athlon was founded by (and is still run by) some Bushnell alums. As such, Athlon had the experience and contacts of a major market player at its start. Its business model also essentially differs little from that of its parent. They are both importers and brands – not manufacturers. As with most importers, they offer a broad selection of product lines and price points sourced from a variety of OEMs.

Where Athlon departs from many of the importers, or at least from its parent, is that it is smaller, more nimble, and flatter in terms of corporate organization. The principal players of Athlon are on the floor at tradeshows talking to customers, industry players, and grumpy writers. This is not really a large or small company thing so much as a philosophic thing. Huge companies, like Kahr or Benchmade for instance, can, and do, have founders on the floor. Much smaller and more bureaucratic companies often do not. This shows in the timeliness of the features Athlon puts in scopes:  they have their ear to the ground. My take is that the plan is basically to win on three things:  cost, service, and up-to-date feature sets. So far they appear to be mostly delivering on these points. Athlon scopes are generally less costly than other brands coming from the same OEM, they seem to be building a solid reputation for customer service, and their features are up to date with market trends.

Unboxing and Physical Description:

            Unboxing the Athlon Midas TAC 6-24x50mm reveals the exact same sparse accessories found with the big brother Ares scope:  no caps or covers, just a lens cloth, battery, manual, and invitation for the customer to review the product online. I think I’ll do that.

Athlon Midas TAC 6-24x50mm unboxing

The scope itself is on the smaller side for this magnification range. It features a mid size 50mm objective and is a little longer than the Ares at 14.6″, but slightly lighter at 26.3oz. I am a fan of smaller objective, lighter weight optics. I have the general opinion that traditional objective sizes have never adjusted to the incredible light transmission gains that current generation lens coatings have made possible and this has left many scope makers manufacturing huge, heavy, scopes that gain little additional low light capabilities for all that added weight.

The Midas features a large uncapped 10 mil per turn zero stop elevation adjustment. The design and appearance of the adjustment is nearly identical to that of the Ares though the Midas knob does not include the extra O-ring that the Ares has. The resulting feel is similar to the Ares with the ring removed though the Midas is a bit stiffer. Specifically, it has a little higher ratio of click force / rotation force between clicks. This makes it a little harder to rotate just one click at a time without going over. I would not characterize it as too difficult a scope in this regard, but you are going to occasionally over-rotate with it.  I have a slight overall feel preference for the Ares elevation adjustment. I would characterize the Midas as having an average elevation click stiffness with the Ares on the squishier side. Both have a feel I would characterize as fine but neither excellent. These differences between two scopes’ adjustment feel on exceptionally similar elevation knobs serves to highlight just how touchy a thing the adjustment of feel on the clicks of a scope can be.

In a departure from the Ares, the Midas has a smaller capped windage knob. This knob is a 10 mils per turn knob that is marked 1-5 in each direction. It has good feel and is a nice compromise between a hunting design and a tactical design. That is to say, you could really use it either way and be pleased. The power ring and euro style diopter on the Midas are on the looser side of average with a parallax knob I would classify as perfect.

Looking at the features of the Midas TAC elevation knob specifically, it is 10 mil per turn and features both a zero stop system that is a little different from what I have seen before and markings that can be repositioned. Repositioning the markings is done in a common way. They are located on an outer sleeve that pops off and can be repositioned after removal of a screw. This sleeve is toothed with enough teeth that its markings will properly line up with the actual detents instead of landing between as some others have done. The zero stop system is one that the Midas TAC shares with the Ares BTR but I have not seen on other optics – I am embarrassed to admit that I did not even notice that these scopes had one until halfway through the Ares review. As is common, the whole elevation knob on the Midas screws up and down as the adjustment it rotated. This attribute forms the basis of both the zero stop and the simple scribed turn indicator. The zero stop consists of a brass disc they refer to as the “zero stop locking plate” located under the removable outer adjustment sleeve. This disc can be repositioned using three set screws. So, basically, you zero the scope, remove the outer sleeve, loosen the set screws, and move the disc so that it is lying flat on the saddle with its stop protrusion immediately to the right of the stop protrusion on the scope saddle. You then gently tighten the set screws and replace the sleeve and its screw with the proper alignment of the zero. This zero stop is very inexpensive to make in addition to being quite functional. It also has the same advantage as most plunger style systems in that you can set it independently of the markings to give you a few tenths of adjustment below the zero if you want. It is a well designed system and I’m a fan.

The Mil-stop system used on the Athlon Ares BTR and Midas TAC scopes

The manual included with the Midas scope is the same mixed bag as the Ares and varies little in its text. It includes pretty good sections on focusing, setting eye relief, bore sighting, zeroing (although it mistakenly refers to the “zero stop locking plate” as black when it is actually brass) and a lesser section on mounting. It also has nice dimensioned diagrams of the reticle. There is some lack of clarity in the manual regarding if Athlon’s MOA based scopes are calibrated to true MOA (TMOA) which is 1.047″ @ 100 yds or shooters’ MOA / inches per hundred yards (SMOA / IPHY)  which is 1.0″ @ 100 yds. This is very important as 4.7% error is a lot of error when making long distance calculations. Upon speaking with the guys at Athlon, I found that their adjustments and reticles are calibrated in TMOA. The manual section on troubleshooting tips for accuracy is the most problematic section as it has some poor enough advice in it that I felt the need to write a whole paragraph about the manual. The section advises the shooter to “use a bench rest or sandbag to support the barrel and stock”. Force on the barrel deflects the barrel, causing shots to stray and should be avoided – not encouraged – when seeking to shoot with accuracy. Support of the barrel with sandbags is actually often the cause of inaccuracy and not a solution for it. The manual also says to make sure there is “no excessive grease inside of the barrel”. This suggests to me that there might be a good reason to have a proper amount of grease in the barrel and a novice shooter might then, in error, apply grease to such. Though grease is sometimes used in a barrel for long term storage, there should never be any grease in a barrel when you are shooting. Grease in a barrel can not only cause inaccuracies, but can also cause dangerous and/or unbalanced pressures in a barrel. Grease does not protect a barrel from wear either, as wear is overwhelmingly a product of erosion in the throat of a barrel from powder burning there and not a product of friction with the bullet over the length of the barrel.

Reticle:

            The Athlon Midas TAC 6-24x50mm is available in two mil reticle options, the APRS2 and APRS3, as well as one MOA option, the APLR4. The two mil options are very similar to one another with the APRS3 being comprised of the APRS2 plus a Christmas tree section graduated in one mil increments vertically and .2 mil increments horizontally. The APRS2 is a typical mil hash reticle featuring a floating dot center and .2 mil increments horizontally out to 6 mils then .5 mil increments after that out to 9 mils, at which point there is just a thick crosshairs. Vertically, the reticle is graduated in .2 mil increments for just one mil. At that point, the top half is graduated in .5 mil increments out to 9 mils and then it becomes a thick crosshairs, while the bottom half is graduated in .5 mil increments out to 7 mils where it goes back to .2 mil increments until 10 mils, at which point it becomes a thick crosshairs. While there is probably some rationale for the alternating use of a .2 mil graduation system and a .5 mil one, that is not fully explained anywhere and I likely wouldn’t agree with it over the consistency of sticking with the .2 mil increments throughout, though it probably doesn’t matter a whole heck of a lot anyway. For what it’s worth, I think .2 mil graduations are a pretty good choice on a scope of this power range. Both vertical and horizontal crosshairs are numbered every 2 mils and are on the thinner than average side when it comes to line thickness. Generally, I think users will find both the APRS2 and APRS 3 reticles good choices with the user’s preference regarding a Christmas tree section the dividing factor on choice.

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

Horus CATS 280F test target through Athlon Midas TAC 6-24x50mm scope with APRS2 FFP MIL reticle.

Comparative Optical Evaluation:

            For optical comparisons to this Athlon Midas TAC 6-24x50mm, I had the other scopes in this series of sub $1K FFP mil/mil precision rifle scope review, the Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR Mil and Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH, as well as two that have been used as comparisons by me in previous reviews for context, the Leupold Mk 6 3-18×44 and my old (and now discontinued) Zeiss conquest 4.5-14×44. All of these scopes were lined up together on a five slot adjustable v-block and evaluated using the procedure outlined in the methodology section at the end of this review. This same methodology is used on all long range scope evaluations and has been for several years now.

I have never before had a set of five scopes with such generally close optical performance. Usually, scopes somewhat sort themselves into performance tiers with higher tier scopes being better than lower tier scopes in pretty much all characteristics. That was not even remotely the case with this lineup. No scope was always first or last when evaluating particular performance parameters and the order of the scopes’ rankings changed with pretty much every particular parameter being evaluated. That being said, the Midas was, on balance, on the lower side of average for the group and was bested by its Athlon Ares stablemate in almost all respects. The best aspects of optical performance for the Midas were its larger than group average field of view and better than average contrast. Its weakest points were eyebox, chromatic aberration, and pincushion / barrel distortion. None of these performance aspects were what I would consider problematic, but they were areas where it lagged behind the comparison scopes and, most importantly, its sibling. The Midas scope performed closer to middle of the pack in resolution, stray light handling, and depth of field. Edge to edge clarity was excellent on all the scopes tested and no scope displayed any tunneling.

            It is worth noting here that the Midas is the least expensive scope in this lineup by a significant margin. In that respect, bully to the Midas for keeping up and even beating the average in a few aspects. That is not how I feel about it overall though. Being a 6-24x scope, the Midas is much simpler to do well than its 4.5-27x Ares sibling. At the same design and build quality, the Midas would look much better than the Ares because 6x erector ratios are much, much harder to do well than 4x ones. That is not the case however. The Ares is optically better is almost all respects. It has a truly excellent performance at the price the Ares puts out and merely adequate performance at the  price the Midas provides. It’s hard to feel really good about the Midas optical performance next to the Ares.

Doing the mechanical testing on the Athlon Midas TAC 6-24x50mm

Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:

            As mentioned in the unboxing section, the Athlon Midas TAC 6-24x50mm sports a very feature rich 10 mil per turn zero stop elevation knob where the zero stop and zero are set independently, allowing you to set whatever amount of turn below the zero before the stop that you desire. The windage knob is also 10 mils per turn, though with a lower profile and capped construction. It also lacks a stop and is marked out to 5 mil left and right instead of continuously. Testing the accuracy of these adjustments was done in accordance with the methodology section detailed at the end of this review. This methodology was followed on all the scopes this year and has been in use for a few years now.

In testing, the adjustments tracked monotonously perfectly in all respects. The scope adjusted up from optical center 14.3 mils with no deviation and then perfectly down 8.5 mils. This is not the full range of travel down but rather the travel with the zero stop flush to the center post. There is a little room internally for the zero stop to protrude above the post with no problems. I show a maximum of 12.4 mils down on my example in this configuration though I did not test the tracking out to that point. You could also remove the stop feature entirely and get even more travel. I show a max of 14.1 mils on my example. These numbers would suggest a 30 MOA base should not cause a problem and that some users might be able to do a 40 MOA and still have a 100yd zero though that will depend a lot on the rifle since there is variance in all rifles between the centerline of the rail and that of the bore.

Tracking on both adjustments was repeatable and the scope returned to zero with no problems. The windage and elevation were also properly independent. No zero shift was affected by power change, parallax change, or diopter change.

You don’t get any better than zero deviation so a big win for that. Getting adjustments to exactly match the correct magnitude is one of the most difficult aspects of scope manufacture. As such, most scopes show deviation to some degree measurable with my equipment. The average deviation for precision rifle scopes, based on my past tests, is about 1%.

Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27x50mm on Mesa Precison Arms Crux rifle (front) with Midas TAC 6-24x50mm on Kelbly Atlas tactical (rear)

Summary and Conclusion:

            The Athlon Midas TAC 6-24x50mm is a lot of scope with a lot of features for the $630 street that it goes for. The thing is that its sister scope, the Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27x50mm is a even more scope at its $850 price. This is emotionally hard for me. I understand intellectually that the 35% more that the Ares costs is a very meaningful difference and that the Midas might itself be a budget stretch that represents a new world of possibilities since you are talking about a scope with real long range capabilities in a price range otherwise full of set and forget limited range scopes. The Midas will mean that previously inaccessible game at 400yds is very doable. That could be quality meat for months for a family. It is hard, as an optics geek (even a not so well-heeled optics geek) to connect with that though. It is much easier for me to be really impressed that Athlon managed to get better optical performance out of the Ares while also cramming in a 6x magnification ratio and landing it at the very low price of $850. Sure, a 6x vs 4x magnification ratio might not really translate into much more utility for you, the added illumination on the Ares is no more utility to almost anybody, and the Ares is only a little optically better, but aren’t you moved by how much more lit up some optics geek got about it?

Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:

Pros:
– Optics are significantly better than average at the price
– Tracked perfectly
– Very low price for a full featured FFP Mil/Mil zero stop scope
– Properly sized reticle with very little cant
– Very simple effective zero stop that lets you chose travel below zero
– Lightweight, 26.3oz
– Smaller 50mm objective I prefer
– Full 10 mil/turn knobs
– Good adjustment range, 25mil
– Reticle design in line with current trends
– Good warranty

Cons:
– It’s hard not to recommend its sister scope, the Ares BTR 4.5-27×50, over it for better optics, more features, and a much larger 6x magnification ratio
– Basically no extras like scope caps, sunshade, or bra
– Athlon is a new company with a good, though very short, track record
– Manual has some advice that may lead a novice astray

Athlon Midas TAC 6-24x50mm in on a Mesa Precision Arms Crux Rifle

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. Approximately .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. The erector can be centered with the scope mounted or not mounted. If it started unmounted, I mount it after centering. 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 test rig.

Mechanical testing apparatus and target

            The three fine threaded 7/16″ bolts on the rig allow the scope to be aimed precisely at an 8’x3′ Horus CATS 280F target 100 yds downrange as measured by a quality fiberglass tape measure. The target is also trued to vertical with a bubble level. 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.

            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. These bolts allow the scope to be precisely positioned such that its reticle is perfectly aligned with the test target prior to moving the adjustments. 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 to the target (head bob method) and diopter (after the parallax), 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. At the extent of this travel I can also determine the cant of the reticle by measuring how far off of the target centerline the reticle has moved. I next reverse the adjustment 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 manner, the windage adjustments are tested out to 4 mils each way in similar fashion using the same target and basically the same method. The elevation and windage are then tested in conjunction with one another by making a large box 8 mil wide and as tall as the adjustments will allow. If the scope is one where it is easy to do so (not a pin type zero stop model), I next re-align the test rig to point the scope at the bottom of the target and test the elevation in the other direction for tracking and range. 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.

            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 took years to make it to market. Tolerances are a particular concern for scopes that have high magnification ratios and also for those that are short in length. Both of these design attributes tend to make assembly very touchy. This should make you, the buyer, particularly careful to test purchased scopes that have these desirable attributes, as manufacturers will face greater pressure on these types to allow looser standards. If you test your scope 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. Remember that some deviations, say a scope’s adjustments being 1% too large or small, are easy to adjust for in ballistic software, whereas others, a large reticle cant for instance, are not.

            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 for longer. 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 objective lens position affecting both the same. In scopes that have had a reticle with error, it has been of this variety, but fewer scopes have this issue than have adjustments that are off. Reticle size deviation does not appear to vary in magnitude as you move from erector center although adjustment deviation often does. The mean amount of reticle error is less than .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 21 cm at 1000 meters with a 168 gr .308 load that drops 12.1 mil 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. Lastly, the proliferation of “humbler” type testing units such as mine appears to have resulted in scope companies improving their QC standards. I see less deviation in products now then a few years ago.

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 will be aware of the reasons for that impression.

            The central technique utilized for this testing is comparative observation. One of the test heads designed for my humbler 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, the adjustments centered optically, and the parallax set. 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. Specific notes are made regarding:  resolution, color rendition, contrast, field of view, edge to edge quality, light transmission, pincushion and barrel distortion, chromatic aberration, tunneling, depth of field, eyebox, stray light handling, and optical flare. The observations through all of these sessions will be combined in the way that the tester best believes conveys his opinion of the optic’s performance and explains the reasons why.

Comparative optical testing of this years sub $1k precision rifle scopes behind the adjustable v-block

Feb 232019
 

Les (Jim) Fischer
BigJimFish
Written:  Nov 14, 2018

Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27x50mm on Mesa Precison Arms Crux

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:

            Athlon is one of the newest players in the sport optics industry and it turned some heads a few years ago as it seemed to be born, fully formed, with a complete line of scopes at a wide variety of price points. This is because, in some respects, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, or runner, depending on your metaphor (I know, stretching it). Athlon was founded by (and is still run by) some Bushnell alums. As such, Athlon had the experience and contacts of a major market player at its start. Its business model also essentially differs little from that of its parent. They are both importers and brands – not manufacturers. As with most importers, they offer a broad selection of product lines and price points sourced from a variety of OEMs.

Where Athlon departs from many of the importers, or at least from its parent, is that it is smaller, more nimble, and flatter in terms of corporate organization. The principal players of Athlon are on the floor at tradeshows talking to customers, industry players, and grumpy writers. This is not really a large or small company thing so much as a philosophic thing. Huge companies, like Kahr or Benchmade for instance, can, and do, have founders on the floor. Much smaller and more bureaucratic companies often do not. This shows in the timeliness of the features Athlon puts in scopes:  they have their ear to the ground. My take is that the plan is basically to win on three things:  cost, service, and up-to-date feature sets. So far they appear to be mostly delivering on these points. Athlon scopes are generally less costly than other brands coming from the same OEM, they seem to be building a solid reputation for customer service, and their features are up to date with market trends.

Unboxing and Physical Description:

            Unboxing the Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27x50mm reveals it to be pretty sparse on the accessories:  no caps or covers, just a lens cloth, battery, manual, and invitation for the customer to review the product online. I think I’ll do that.

Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27x50mm unboxing

The scope itself is on the smaller side for this magnification range. It features a mid size 50mm objective and is 13.8″ and long, 27.3oz. I am a fan of smaller objective, lighter weight optics. I have the general opinion that traditional objective sizes have never adjusted to the incredible light transmission gains that current generation lens coatings have made possible and this has left many scope makers manufacturing huge, heavy, scopes that gain little additional low light capabilities for all that added weight.

The adjustments on the Ares have a pretty good feel. The power ring and euro style diopter are on the looser side with the parallax and illumination on the stiffer. As it comes, the elevation and windage knobs are on the mushier side of average with clicks that are tactile but not audible (as if any clicks would really be audible at a shooting range with hearing protection on). However, the adjustments have an o-ring that is user removable and unnecessary for sealing the scope but which can be removed to change the adjustment feel. Removing this results in an adjustment that takes less force to move but has clicks that are audible and feel more defined. Many prefer this feel. The elevation knob is 10 mil per turn and features both a zero stop system that is a little different from what I have seen before and markings that can be repositioned. Repositioning the markings is done in a common way. They are located on an outer sleeve that pops off after removal of a screw. This sleeve is toothed with enough teeth that its markings will properly line up with the actual detents instead of landing between as some others have done. The zero stop system is not one I have seen before and I am embarrassed to admit that I did not even notice that the scope had one until halfway through the review. As is common, the whole elevation knob on the Ares screws up and down as the adjustment it rotated. This attribute forms the basis of both the zero stop and the simple scribed turn indicator. The zero stop consists of a brass disc they refer to as the “zero stop locking plate” located under the removable outer adjustment sleeve. This disc can be repositioned using three set screws. So, basically, you zero the scope, remove the outer sheath, loosen the set screws, and move the disc so that it is lying flat on the saddle with its stop protrusion immediately to the right of the stop protrusion on the scope saddle. You then gently tighten the set screws and replace the sleeve and its screw with the proper alignment of the zero. This zero stop is very inexpensive to make in addition to being quite functional. It also has the same advantage as most plunger style systems in that you can set it independently of the markings to give you a few tenths of adjustment below the zero if you want. It is a well designed system and I’m a fan.

The Mil-stop system used on the Athlon Ares BTR and Midas TAC scopes

The manual included with the Athlon scope is a mixed bag. It includes pretty good sections on focusing, setting eye relief, bore sighting, and zeroing (although it mistakenly refers to the “zero stop locking plate” as black when it is actually brass) and a lesser section on mounting. It also has some nice dimensioned diagrams of each reticle in the line. The section on troubleshooting tips for accuracy is problematic, however, as it has some poor enough advice in it that I am writing about it. The section advises the shooter to “use a bench rest or sandbag to support the barrel and stock”. Force on the barrel deflects the barrel, causing shots to stray and should be avoided – not encouraged – when seeking to shoot with accuracy. Support of the barrel with sandbags is actually often the cause of inaccuracy and not a solution for it. The manual also says to make sure there is “no excessive grease inside of the barrel”. This suggests to me that there might be a good reason to have a proper amount of grease in the barrel and a novice shooter might then, in error, apply grease to such. Though grease is sometimes used in a barrel for long term storage, there should never be any grease in a barrel when you are shooting. Grease in a barrel can not only cause inaccuracies, but can also cause dangerous and/or unbalanced pressures in a barrel. Grease does not protect a barrel from wear either, as wear is overwhelmingly a product of erosion in the throat of a barrel from powder burning there and not a product of friction with the bullet over the length of the barrel.

Reticle:

            Unsurprisingly, for a scope designed to be cost conscious, there is only one mil and one MOA reticle. They call both of these APLR3 reticles and they are similarly styled. The mil one used in this review has .2mil graduations pretty much all around including a cleverly done integration of a floating center crosshair to that scheme. Floating centers seem to be the current trend. The reticle is on the finer side of average, which I like, and has a substantial Christmas tree section with .2 mil graduations left and right every 1 mil of elevation that is a bit busier than I prefer. The biggest thing I am having trouble coming to terms with on the reticle is the ticks between each mil being only up for the first two and down for the second two with the actual mil divisions being both up and down. I get the logic but am not finding it quite as fast and intuitive in practice as I would like. All that said, it certainly has the features and advances of the most popular reticles today and I expect the reticle to be well-liked – at least as well-liked as anything can be when it comes to the personal taste that comes into play when talking about reticles. A tremendous amount of how much a reticle is liked by a shooter comes down to what that shooter is already comfortable with and therefore finds intuitive rather than any better or worse practices and all of the things I am picking about with the APLR3 are in that former ‘taste’ category. Most importantly, when tested, the reticle showed no deviation in size from the correct dimensions and also showed no cant relative to the adjustments.

Horus CATS 280F test target through Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR Mil

Comparative Optical Evaluation:

            For optical comparisons to this Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR Mil, I had the other scopes in this series of sub $1K FFP mil/mil precision rifle scope review, the Athlon Midas TAC 6-24×50 mm and Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH, as well as two that have been used as comparisons by me in previous reviews for context, the Leupold Mk 6 3-18×44 and my old (and now discontinued) Zeiss conquest 4.5-14×44. All of these scopes were lined up together on a five slot adjustable v-block and evaluated using the procedure outlined in the methodology section at the end of this review. This same methodology is used on all long range scope evaluations and has been for several years now.

I have never before had a set of five scopes with such generally close optical performance. Usually, scopes somewhat sort themselves into performance tiers with higher tier scopes being better than lower tier scopes in pretty much all characteristics. That was not even remotely the case with this lineup. No scope was always first or last when evaluating particular performance parameters and the order of the scopes’ rankings changed with pretty much every particular parameter being evaluated. That being said, the Ares was, on balance, on the better side of average for the group. Its best showings were resolution, low light performance, and eyebox, where it was second best in the lineup to two different scopes. Weak points were in distortion, where it had noticeable barrel distortion, and field of view, where it was probably the narrowest, but at least certainly on the narrow side, though this is difficult to be sure of as power ring markings are not actually calibrated. Other aspects where the scope scored mid pack, such as stray light handling, contrast, depth of field, and chromatic aberration were better than I expected at the price and should not be of issue to any shooters. Edge to edge clarity was excellent on all the scopes tested and no scope displayed any tunneling.

            Overall I found the Ares performance quite satisfactory – much better than I expected at the price and far better than I saw a couple years ago in significantly more expensive and less feature rich competitors. The Ares, and in fact all of the sub $1K scopes in this lineup, land solidly in what I consider the mid-range performance tier that I formerly most associated with $1.5-2K price range optics. It should be noted here that the Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 has a massive 6x erector ratio. It shares this ratio with only the many times more costly Leupold Mark 6 in this group. The other scopes had 4x and 3.1x ratio erectors. That large erector ratio significantly complicates design and makes optical performance more difficult to obtain. It is also not something you expect to see in a sub $1K optic. This sort of erector range is usually associated with scopes $2K and up. To see it executed this well in scope of this price is surprising. I will admit to having the false expectation before starting the review of this scope having a lot of optical difficulties and finishing near the bottom of the group instead of on the better half of average.

Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:

            As mentioned in the unboxing section, the Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP sports a very feature rich 10 mil per turn zero stop elevation knob where the zero stop and zero are set independently allowing you to set whatever amount of turn below the zero before the stop that you desire. The elevation knob is also 10 mils per turn and very similarly constructed but lacks a stop and is marked in L and R instead of continuously. Testing the accuracy of these adjustments was done in accordance with the methodology section detailed at the end of this review. This methodology was followed on all the scopes this year and has been in use for a few years now.

In testing, the adjustments deviated from the proper magnitude in the following ways and degrees:

Adjusting impact up from optical center, the scope slowly lost a little for a little while.

At 5.9 mils on target it reads 6.0 on the adjustments.

From that point on, it was constant – adjusting to a maximum of 12 mils on target reading 12.1 mils on the knob.

Adjusting down from optical center, the scope showed no deviation 8.5 mils down to my zero stop with about 5 mils beyond that for a total elevation travel that is probably a little more than the stated spec of 22.2 mils.

Similarly excellent, the windage tracked cleanly out to 4 mils each way.

Tracking on both adjustments was repeatable and the scope returned to zero with no problems. The windage and elevation were also properly independent. No zero shift was affected by power change, parallax change, or diopter change.

I was quite pleased with the almost negligible deviation in adjustment magnitude shown by this scope in testing. Getting adjustments to exactly match the correct magnitude is one of the most difficult aspects of scope manufacture. As such, most scopes show deviation to some degree measurable with my equipment. The average deviation for high-end scopes, based on my past tests, is about 1%. On average, this scope was better than that over its total range and at no point was off by more than one click. You really can’t ask for better than that.

Doing the mechanical testing on the Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR Mil

Summary and Conclusion:

            What would you pay for a mil/mil ffp scope with 10 mil per turn turrets, illumination, a solid lifetime warranty, 6x erector ratio, zero stop, and good glass? I can tell you what you wouldn’t have paid a few years ago was the $850 street the Ares goes for. You would have paid at least twice that. I can’t tell you in the long run how this scope will weather. Athlon is basically a brand new brand so its track record, though good, is very short, but I can tell you that my first experience with their products has been quite good. Both of their scopes exceeded my expectations optically, mechanically, and with regards to feature set. I should also mention, since it is coming close to Christmas and it is unlikely that the Midas TAC review will be posted before then, that the performance was very close between the two models (the Ares optics are a little better but not much) and given that, and some similarities in manufacture, I expect both models come from the same Chinese OEM. So, your preview on that review is that those looking to choose between the two are debating price for features as the quality appears quite close.

In the larger picture, the takeaway I am having from these sub $1k ffp mil/mil reviews is that you can get a whole lot more now at this limited budget than you could before. In fact, I think these lower cost options are going to start to lure a lot of folks from higher price tiers who are willing to give up a little optical clarity, field of view, and sometimes power range, for a scope that is a lot lighter and a lot cheaper.

Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:

Pros:
-Optics are good, better than I expect at the price
-Tracked very well with no zero shifts
-Properly sized reticle with no cant
– Very simple effective zero stop that lets you chose travel below zero
– Big 6x erector ratio usually only seen on much more expensive optics
– Lightweight, 27.3oz
– Smaller 50mm objective I prefer
– Full 10 mil/turn knobs
– Good adjustment range, 22.2mil
– Illumination
– Reticle design in line with current trends
– Good warranty

Cons:
– Field of view on the small side
– Basically no extras like scope caps, sunshade, or bra
– Athlon is a new company with a good, though very short, track record
– Manual has some advice that may lead a novice astray

Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27x50mm in Bobro mount on a Kebly’s Atlas Tactical rifle

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. Approximately .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. The erector can be centered with the scope mounted or not mounted. If it started unmounted, I mount it after centering. 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 test rig.

Mechanical testing apparatus and target

            The three fine threaded 7/16″ bolts on the rig allow the scope to be aimed precisely at an 8’x3′ Horus CATS 280F target 100 yds downrange as measured by a quality fiberglass tape measure. The target is also trued to vertical with a bubble level. 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.

            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. These bolts allow the scope to be precisely positioned such that its reticle is perfectly aligned with the test target prior to moving the adjustments. 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 to the target (head bob method) and diopter (after the parallax), 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. At the extent of this travel I can also determine the cant of the reticle by measuring how far off of the target centerline the reticle has moved. I next reverse the adjustment 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 manner, the windage adjustments are tested out to 4 mils each way in similar fashion using the same target and basically the same method. The elevation and windage are then tested in conjunction with one another by making a large box 8 mil wide and as tall as the adjustments will allow. If the scope is one where it is easy to do so (not a pin type zero stop model), I next re-align the test rig to point the scope at the bottom of the target and test the elevation in the other direction for tracking and range. 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.

            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 took years to make it to market. Tolerances are a particular concern for scopes that have high magnification ratios and also for those that are short in length. Both of these design attributes tend to make assembly very touchy. This should make you, the buyer, particularly careful to test purchased scopes that have these desirable attributes, as manufacturers will face greater pressure on these types to allow looser standards. If you test your scope 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. Remember that some deviations, say a scope’s adjustments being 1% too large or small, are easy to adjust for in ballistic software, whereas others, a large reticle cant for instance, are not.

            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 for longer. 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 objective lens position affecting both the same. In scopes that have had a reticle with error, it has been of this variety, but fewer scopes have this issue than have adjustments that are off. Reticle size deviation does not appear to vary in magnitude as you move from erector center although adjustment deviation often does. The mean amount of reticle error is less than .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 21 cm at 1000 meters with a 168 gr .308 load that drops 12.1 mil 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. Lastly, the proliferation of “humbler” type testing units such as mine appears to have resulted in scope companies improving their QC standards. I see less deviation in products now then a few years ago.

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 will be aware of the reasons for that impression.

            The central technique utilized for this testing is comparative observation. One of the test heads designed for my humbler 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, the adjustments centered optically, and the parallax set. 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. Specific notes are made regarding:  resolution, color rendition, contrast, field of view, edge to edge quality, light transmission, pincushion and barrel distortion, chromatic aberration, tunneling, depth of field, eyebox, stray light handling, and optical flare. The observations through all of these sessions will be combined in the way that the tester best believes conveys his opinion of the optic’s performance and explains the reasons why.

Comparative optical testing of this years sub $1k precision rifle scopes behind the adjustable v-block

Feb 212019
 

Harakiri, also known as seppuku, is a ritual suicide that used to be practiced by the samurai. Benchmade knife company, for whatever reason, decided to exercise the corporate version of it.

Apparently, they assisted Oregon PD in destroying some confiscated guns. I am sure that gun destruction was mandated by law and Oregon PD had no choice, but I am opposed to such idiocy in principle since a gun is a tool and I see no compelling reason to destroy one just because some moron used it in a crime. The gun, not being a person, does not bear responsibility for that.

Naturally, once that came out, someone looked into Benchmade’s political contributions and it turned out they were stupid enough to predominantly donate to anti second amendment candidates in the last few years.

Once the shitstorm started, they issued this official statement:

SEE OFFICIAL STATEMENT BELOW:

Benchmade is aware of the recent post from our local Oregon City Police Department.

We apologize for the confusion and concern that this post created. These were firearms that the Oregon City Police Department had to destroy in alignment with their policies. Oregon City Police requested the use of specialty equipment within the Benchmade facility to follow these requirements, and as a supporting partner of our local police force, we obliged the request.

Benchmade is a proud and unwavering supporter of both law enforcement and Second Amendment rights. These are commitments that we do not take lightly and will continue to support well into the future.


When asked for clarity from Oregon City Police Department, Chief Jim Band made the following statement: “When property is to be destroyed, it is the policy of the Oregon City Police Department to destroy property, including firearms, in accordance to our procedures and ORS. The Oregon City Police Department does not sell firearms.”

According a website opensecrets, here is how Benchmade has been donating to political candidates:

More details are available on opensecrets website linked above

Since I am a firm believer that stupidity should be punished by market forces, I will retire a bunch of Benchmade knoves I own and refrain from buying them for myself or recommending them to others.

When individuals donate to politicians I do not agree with, I could not care less. When a company does, that is like them saying: “we do not give a rat’s ass about those of our customers who disagree”.

In other words, I suspect that there is enough high-fiving at Spyderco, Kershaw, etc headquarters right now that their arms will be sore for a while.

 Posted by at 1:46 pm
Feb 052019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vortex Razor HD 65mm
22-48x or 18x LER
Athlon Cronus
7 – 42×60
Meopta TGA 75
20-60x or 30x WA
Length, in15.613.914.5 (w/o eyepiece),
10″ collapsed
Weight, oz56.846.644
Exit Pupil, mm3 – 1.45.2 – 1.43
FOV, ft @ 1000 yards138 – 84 (w/ 22-48x)
163 (w/ 18x)
284 – 47.6114 (w/30x)
943- 48 (w/20-60x)
Eye Relief, mm17 (w/ 22-48x)
31 (w/ 18x)
3015.5
Close Focus, ft261014
Price$1200 – $1500$1000$1200 – $1500
 Posted by at 2:23 pm