Nov 232017
 

I usually do not talk about customer service very much since it has generally been getting better for most brands even the ones that were not known for this in the past.

For example, in years past Burris was not famous for great customer service, but they have really stepped up in that department (and my personal experience with them last year was excellent).




 

As far as Leica goes, I was never aware of anything being wrong with their customer service, partly since Leica riflescopes and binoculars I used never needed any.  I did have a Leica camera that needed to be repaired and Leica took care of that quickly and with more courtesy than I expected (or deserved).  It broke right before a trip I needed to go to and after sending it I called an begged for them to move it up the line.  I really did not expect anything, but they stepped up, replaced the lens on my Leica Q and got it back to me in time.

With this as background, I was talking to a friend of mine a little while back and he said he would not buy a Leica scope because of customer service concerns.  Rather than do forensic analysis on the history of their customer service, I reached out to my contact at Leica and politely inquired how they are going to go about fixing that reputation.

Frankly, I liked their response.  They did not offer any excuses and did not spend any time admitting or denying anything or discussing whether that reputation was deserved or not..  Their basic response boiled down to a very simple acknowledgment that they pay attention to the market and they recently made an investment in beefing up their service department both in terms of personnel and resources.

It takes very little effort to get bad publicity and a lot of hard work to regain your good reputation.  I will keep an eye on how Leica does moving forward, but I like what I am seeing from them so far.

 Posted by at 2:48 am
Oct 192017
 

October 19, 2017.

 

I popped the safe open to do an inventory of sorts of the stuff I have on hand that still needs to be written up.
This somehow creeped up on me, but there is a lot of stuff in there. I will stop accepting new review items for a bit, until I clear this out.
Here is a rundown with some brief comments, in no particular order.




1) Leupold VX-6HD 3-18×44. I am basically done with this one. I like VX-6HD a lot and if Leupold made a version of this scope with FFP reticle and mrad adjustments for similar money, I would own at least two or three. It tracked true, the low profile turret had a good feel and optical quality is commensurate with the price.

2) Leica Magnus 1.8-12×50. This is the best general purpose hunting scope I have ever tested, bar none. Swaro Z8 is in the same league, I think, and both are really expensive. Zeiss V8 is in the same price range, but from a cursory look, Leica and Swaro are better. Anyway, the image of the Magnus really agrees with me. FOV is superb. Ballistic turret is accurate and the reticle illumination is world class. The reticle is mrad delineated, so I do not have to learn new BDC dimensions. If you want a hunting scope with no compromises, this it. It is sitting on my Tikka M695 in a McMillan stock. I took it out to 600 yards with zero issues. I’ll take it out to 1k next.

3) Leica ER5 2-10×50. Optomechanical quality seems very good. I am a bit mixed on the magnum Ballistic reticle, but I will admit I have not spent as much time with this scope as I wanted to. I got it at the same time as I did the Magnus and I have to admit, I spent more time with the Magnus than with the ER5.

4) Athlon Ares 4.5-27×50.  I’ve spent some time with this scope already and so far I like what I see.  It offers a lot for the money, but as the design is new, I want to spend some more time with it before I decide whether I will recommend it or not.

5) HiLux Phenom 5-30x56FFP.  Same general comment as on the Athlon above.  These two scopes cost about the same customer.  I like the design overall, but there is some field curvature that I need to see if I can dial out.  HiLux Phenom and Athlon Ares go directly against each other, so I am looking at them side-by-side.  These are very featured rich design for not too much money.  These are also among the most ambitious designs I have seen come out of China so far.  Naturally, they peaked my interest.

6) Hi-Lux Uni-Dial 5-30×56.   This is sort of a SFP version of the Phenom above and it is looking quite good so far.

7) Vortex Razor Gen 2 spotter.  I am done testing the variable eyepiece and I am now looking at the fixed eyepiece.  This spotter rocks and it is easily going to end up at the top of my list of recommendations.  Vortex should really get a reticle in there.

8) Leica Noctivid 8×42 binocular.  This is the best general purpose binocular I have seen to date.   Now, you can make a reasonable claim that other similarly priced designs are as good, but they all have their own character.  I have looked at Zeiss, Swaro and Leica at reasonable length and while all three are excellent, Leica agrees with my eyes the best.  It has spectacular microcontrast and the most relaxing image I have ever seen in a binocular.

10) Shield RMS miniature red dot sight.  I’ve got this thing incorporated into the slide of my Glock 43 and it is likely to become that sight of choice for my handgun use on smaller handguns.  Generally, I have been looking at a variety of miniature red dot sights recently and for handgun use, I am converging on Shield RMS and DocterSight III as my favourites.  RMS has the lowest sightline of them all, but it is not waterproof.  However, I accidentally tested that feature and it is definitely splashproof.  I will avoid going swimming with it though.  RMS easily lands on my list of recommendations that I will be updating shortly.

11) Shield SIS is to ARs, what RMS is to handguns.  I am extremely impressed and it moves to the top of my list for carbiine use.  The SIS has really impressed more than I thought it would.  There is an interesting (to me) aspect of it that I hadn’t really thought about earlier.  Everyone is trying to make red dot sights with minimal visible housing, so that all you see is a bright red dot surrounded by as little as possible.  With the SIS, at first blush, the window is comparatively small, while the housing is pretty prominent.  However, it does not seem to have slowed me down in the slightest.  However, when I did some house clearing drills, I realized that at these close ranges, that housing is really helpful.  I do not have to worry about the red dot at all.  The moment I see something that needs to be shot through that window, I can pull the trigger and hit it.  At longer ranges it works about as well as most other red dots.  I have a little astigmatism, so the dots are not terribly sharp, but I can still use the holdover reticle well enough.  I have not yet tested it to see if it works well with a magnifier, so that is next.

12) Vortex UH-1.  I will have it in my hands next week, so a First Look article is forthcoming.

13) Vortex PST Gen 2 3-15×44.  It is arriving next week.  When I looked at the new PSTs briefly earlier this year, I thought the 3-15×44 was the best one of the bunch.  We’ll see how it holds up.

14) Docter QuickSight.  This is mostly a shotgun sight, but I fashioned it to a handgun to see how a short/low window will work.  It is an interesting design, and I’ll have more to say about it shortly.

15) Vortex AMG 6-24×50.  Almost done with this one.  It is currently sitting on my 338LM and working great.  EBR7 reticle is not my favourite, but it works.  The horizontal has a bit too much happening on there for my taste, but it is undoubtedly a functional design.  The scope itself is excellent and I fully expect to buy it from Vortex when I am done.  There are a couple of tests I still need to finish, but I am really impressed with what I see so far.

16) Burris RT-6.  Almost done with this one.  This is my favorite budget 1-6x.

17) Hawke Frontier 1-6×24.  I am surprised with how much I like this scope.  Excellent reticle design and overall a very solid product.

18) Burris XTR 2 1-8×24.  I think the reticle needs a little work, but it is functional.  I suspect this the best overall 1-8x scope under $2k

19) HiLux CMR8 1-8X24.  I helped design the reticle for this one, so I like it a fair bit. The scope itself is quite respectable and seems to stay zeroed.  This is likely the best FFP low range variable to come out of China to date.

ILya

 

 Posted by at 5:52 pm
Feb 182017
 

Continuing where I left off in Part 1

 

Vortex

I think Vortex is one of the more a forward looking companies in this business and the pace with which they have been growing is pretty impressive.  I think their product strategy for a bit looked somewhat like a shotgun blast: fire off  a bunch of new products at the market and see what sticks.  It worked adequately and they came up with a good product range, but thankfully, it looks like they are moving past.  Their product line-up looks reasonably coherent and logical to me, except for a few outliers.  I wonder if those will develop into separate product lines or remain single product experiments.   Vortex has converged on four discreet quality levels for their products: Razor (made in Japan and/or USA), Viper (made in Phillipines), Diamondback (made in Phillipines) and Crossfire (made in China).  For conventional riflescopes, this gradation stays consistent for both tactical and hunting products and for all four product levels, Vortex offers very compelling alternatives to other brands.  With riflescopes, the outliers are Golden Eagle target scope and Strike Eagle low range variable.  These are very different kinds of eagles with the Golden Eagle being more or less at the Razor-level of performance, while the Strike Eagle is a “me too” OEM product.  I am a little surprised they didn’t call the Golden Eagle “Razor F-Class” and be done with it, so I wonder if it will spawn another product family.  With red dots, the naming is sorta all over the place, but it almost seem like they are beginning to clean that up as well.  There is a pretty nice Razor reflex sight and a new Razor AMG UH-1 holographic sight that sit at the top of Vortex’s non-magnified sight line-up.  With the tube-style red dot sights, the original Strikefire is still there and somewhat more recent Sparc and Sparc AR.  All are pretty compelling products for their price ranges, although I will freeley admit to liking Sparc AR a lot more than the other two.  With compact reflex sights, in addition to the previously mentioned Razor, there are the Venom and Viper.  They cost about the same, but use different batteries,  Venom has a top loading battery and slightly larger lens.  Viper needs to be removed from its mount to change the battery, which may effect zero.  I do not fully understand why I would choose one over the other (in my case, why I would choose Viper over Venom), so I am curious to see how Vortex will work this out.  Lastly, there are the Spitfire prism sights.  I am not sure where they fit in the Razor-Viper-Diamondback-Crossfire continuum.

Razor AMG UH-1

Razor AMG UH-1




Generally, with Razor products, the only new offering is a very interesting looking holographic sight. I liked what I saw and I plan to test one.  This is an interesting time to take on EOtech and I think Vortex will do well with this one.  The optical design looks to be a little simpler from alignment standpoint than EOtech, so I do not expect it to have thermal stability issues.  Controls are pretty straightforward with two pushbuttons on the back of the sight.

UH-1 with VMX3 magnifier

UH-1 with VMX3 magnifier

I am a bit mixed on that since accessing them when used with a magnifier could be a bit difficult.  Generally, magnifier use is one of the advantages holographic sights have over reflex style red dots, so I spent some time trying to convince Vortex to make a high quality magnifier for the UH-1.  We’ll see if they do it.  They did have the UH-1 set up with the VMX3 magnifier (which I just tested with Sparc AR) and while it is a very respectable magnifier and good for the money, I do not think it is quite good enough for the UH-1.  However, in the picture to the left, you can see how accessing the controls could be a bit problematic.  Lastly, since all holographic sights have a significant battery life disadvantage compared to reflex sights, I was happy to see a rechargeable battery option.

The rest of the Razor line is unchanged for now and, honestly, that is a good thing.  These are excellent scopes.  Razor HD LH has become my go to recommendation for hunting scopes (I think they will adda model or two to it next year) and Razor AMG is still almost impossible to get due to all the backorders.  Razor Gen II in the meantime soldiers on as one of the more compelling general purpose precision scopes out there.  I think the decision to round out the Razor line-up with an American-made quick acquisition sight is a good one.  Aside from that, the Razor HD spotters are new(ish) and I am testing the 65mm model.  It is very good.

PST Gen 2 3-15x44 and 1-5x24

PST Gen 2 3-15×44 and 1-5×24

Viper product family probably had the biggest splash in the Vortex booth this year, since the PST riflescopes were redesigned.  They are still made in the Phillipines, but by a different maker.  The new models are 1-5×24, 2-10×32, 3-15×44 and 5-25×50.  They all sport a new larger eyepiece and they are a bit heavier than their predecessors.  1-5×24 is a SFP model only, while the others are available as both FFP and SFP.  The reticles are well conceived and are generally similar to those in the Razor scopes, so someone who uses a Razor on a primary rifle can put a new PST onto a trainer and feel right at home.  The three higher magnification scopes now sport a proper zero stop similar in operation to Gen 1 Razor.  They seemed like well designed scopes at SHOT and I suspect they will be a meaningful improvement over the original PST.  The big question, of course, is whether they will compete well against all the scopes that were designed to compete against he original PSTs.  That question I can not easily answer without doing a proper test.  The Gen 2 PSTs run between $700 and $1100 depending on the model, so they are a bit more expensive than the original ones and go head to head against Burris XTR II and a few others, most notably Athlon Ares and Midas (2.5-15×50 and 4.5-27×50), as well as Hi-Lux Phenom HD 6-30×56 and PentaLux 4-20×50.  There are others, of course, but one of the things I am really curious about is whether the better-made Chinese scopes from Athlon and Hi-Lux can compete adequately well (and consistently enough) against the better-made Phillipine scopes like the PST Gen II and XTR II.  Once I work that out, the next question will be how well they stack up against Japanese competition like Sightron S3 and some of the US competition like Leupold VX3i LRP.  Basically, I am going to have a lot of fun with this, since this is the price range I want to look at this year.

Among the PST Gen 2 scopes, the 3-15×44 and 1-5×24 seemed to be the best ones of the bunch based on a rather cursory look, so I will start with the 3-15×44.  Interestingly, with the original PSTs, the 2.5-10×32 was the best optimized model, followed by the 6-24×50, while the 2.5-10×44 was the runt of the litter.  We’ll see if my original impressions of the Gen 2 are correct.

Rounding out the Vortex news, they introduced a tactilized version of the Diamondback with a ranging reticle and exposed turrets.  I like Diamondback scopes, but unless there is a lot of interest I will likely skip this one over: it only comes with MOA turrets and I really prefer mrad.

Lastly, Vortex now has a rangefinding binocular called Fury HD.  I wasn’t terribly impressed with how it looked, but then again, at around $1200, it is about half the price of the LRF binos I like.  In other words, as far as LRF binoculars go, I am both spoiled and picky.  I will look at it if time allows, but I have a suspicion that these will be difficult to come by for a bit, so a test may have to wait.

 

Hi-Lux Precision Optics

I know these guys pretty well, since I have been talking to them on and off for some years.  The first of their product I looked at many years ago was not great and I was not kind to it.  Rather than getting all poochy-faced about, the guys at Hi-Lux took it as constructive criticism and got better.  The next scope of theirs I looked at was the original 7-30×50 Uni-Dial with an elevation turret that allows to set flags for different distances (they have a patent on this and I am moderately certain that some other people who use this approach pay them licensing fees).  That scope was not a world beater either, but it stayed zeroed and adjusted true.  Some things on it were a bit crude, but it was ultimately a very usable design and I said exactly that.  A bit more time passed and Hi-Lux introduced their CMR and CMR4 scopes, which are generally good and absolutely superb for the money.  These scopes easily landed on my list of recommendations and I spent a fair amount of time and effort beating them up.  They kept working and working well.  Most importantly, they did well for Hi-Lux so there are enough of these out there to give me confidence that Hi-Lux can build these consistently.  Unlike most other companies who make optics in China, Hi-Lux has their own factory, so they control the manufacturing process.  As they continue moving toward more sophisticated designs, I’ve been sorta keeping tabs on what they do and it sounds like this year they have a bunch of new stuff that is of interest to me:

-CMR8 1-8×26 FFP with 34mm tube

-new Uni-Dial 5-30×56 SFP with a 34mm tube (successor to the original Uni-Dial I tested so many years ago)

-Phenom HD 5-30×56 FFP with a 34mm tube

-PentaLux 4-20×50 FFP or SFP with a 30mm tube

-CMR4-based 1-4x34AO Competition scope since you can now use optics for servie rifle competition

-8×42 and 10×42 binoculars with field flattener lenses

All of these will be in the $500 to $900 range, which makes them fairly accessible.

Hi-Lux makes a lot of other stuff as well, but most of it has been around for a bit and I do not have enough time to look at everything.  I will, however, mention the MM2 (Micro-Max 2) red dot sight that I have failed to break for a number of months now.  It is probably my favourite of the sub-$300 tube-style red dot sights (and is one of the reasons I have not bought an MRO).

The new CMR8 is of particular interest to me since late last year, Hi-Lux asked for some ideas on a reticle for the CMR8.  They already had a very nicely executed internal design, but they wanted another option.  I am perpetually dissatisfied with most of the reticles out there, this was an opportunity for me to try a design that I like.  I suggested a few things and they implemented most of them and added a couple of other things that appealed to them.  I will talk a bit more about this reticle in future articles.  At SHOT was the first time I saw it live and I think it is going to work well for my purposes.  I took a couple of blurry handheld pictures at 1x and at 8x, so you can see what it looks like.  I will do better photography when the first production scopes get here.

CMR8 reticle at 8x

CMR8 reticle at 8x

CMR8 reticle at 1x

CMR8 reticle at 1x

My basic design concept was to have a large out horseshow that is outside the FOV at 8x, but salmost serves a ghost ring at 1x. At 8x, the smaller 10 mrad horseshow is the dominant feature designed to draw the eye to its center where there is a mil-scale and a small mrad-grid array that serves as elevation, wind and lead holds for typical 5.56, 6.5Grendel or 7.62×51 load out to 500-600 yards without the need to twist the turrets.  The grid can also be used for quick rangefinding which I will cover in more detail later.  However, the primary rangefinding features are the choke style rangefinders for both horizontal and vertical targets 1m and 1.75m in size.

CMR8

CMR8

Aside from the reticle, the scope looked pretty well executed, but I will reserve judgement until I get a production unit and properly test it. The turrets are easily finger-adjustable with 0.1 mrad clicks.  You can keep them exposed without any undue effects, but I prefer to run scopes like this type primarily with the reticle, so the included turret covers suit me well.  The illumination starts at a couple of night vision compatible settings one one end and gets pretty bright on the other end.  I am not convinced it will be day bright at 1x, but the reticle is designed to be very visible regardless.  I will work it out for a range of lighting conditions once it gets here.  Overall, the scope is fairly compact at only 10″ of length and at 22 ounces is not overly heavy for a 1-8x design.  Field of view looks to be impressively wide and eye relief is longer than on the CMR4.

Hi-Lux Uni-Dial

Hi-Lux Uni-Dial

The new Uni-Dial seems to be a new design and since I liked those programmable turrets originally, I will definitely test this one as well.  The turrets seemed to have decent feel and tool-less reset.  These days, many companies offer custom engraved turrets for their scopes.  Uni-dial’s customizable nature approaches the same problem from a different angle.  I suspect that the new Uni-Dial and Phenom HD are related design differing in reticle location and perhaps a few other design specifics and aesthetic features.

Hi-Lux Phenom HD 5-30x56FFP

Hi-Lux Phenom HD 5-30x56FFP

The turrets are clearly different between the two with the Phenom being ore of a traditional precision scope design with knurled exposed turrets.  Both offer a removable cat-tail for quick magnification adjsutments.  The FFP reticle in the Phenom is a mil-grid style (along the same lines as Sig’s DEV-L, some Horus designs and many others) and generally this scope’s feature set is pretty ambitious.  I think the Phenom and Uni-Dial will be the first of Hi-Lux’s new scopes I look at.  With the CMR8 and the new competition scope following suite in late spring some time.  As I mentioned earlier, between Hi-Lux and Athlon it looks like Chinese-made designs are really coming of age.  Hi-Lux’s Phenom HD and CMR8 are ambitious designs, but if they are executed well could be a pretty major deal simply because of their sub-$1k price.

CMR4-based service rifle scope

CMR4-based service rifle scope

The CMR4-based competition scope is fundamentally a direct response to the change in the service rifle competition rules that now allow magnified optics of no more than 4.5x of magnification and no more than 34mm objective.  Bother March and Nightforce came out with scope specific for this competition, but both are expensive at $1900 for the Nightforce and well over $2k for March.  I am sure they are exceptional, but I was curious to see what will be out there that is a bit more affordable.  Well, this is an interesting design that will be far cheaper.  Best I can tell, it is the regular CMR4 with the objective lens bumped up to 34mm and adjustable configuration to dial out parallax.  The reticle is a fairly clean MOA-based design.  Now that the rules allow for optics, I have been thinking about trying the service rifle competition.  My original plan was to simply use my Elcan Spectre OS, but perhaps I will experiment with this one as well.  Honestly, I think it is a clever way to quickly get a product to market using a proven platform.  Similarly importantly, this is probably the largest objective for a low range variable scope out there.  I am very curious to see how it does.  At 4x, with a 34mm objective, this scope should have far better low light performance than most similar low range variable designs.  While Hi-Lux was thinking of service rifle competition when they came up with this, I can think of a variety of other applications where it can do well.




Sig-Sauer Electro-Optics

I would like to start this with a formal complaint:  I take my sweet time when I test precision riflescopes.  After months of messing with it, I finally concluded that I really like Sig’s Tango6 scopes.  Naturally, Sig responded by introducing an entirely new Tango6 line-up.  The 1-6×24 is not too different, except the tall turrets I did not like are gone, replaced with covered low and wide knobs.  It is also the only one with a 30mm tube.  The rest are 34mm.

New Tango 6 3-18x44

New Tango 6 3-18×44

The 3-18×44 got much shorter and noticeably fatter.  It is now about the same length as the Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44, but a lot heavier.  4-24×50 is new, while the 5-60×56 appears to be similar to other designs coming from the same OEM (you all know who this is, but Tango6’s product manager seemed sensitive to this, so I won’t say it out loud).  Other than the 1-6x, they all have 120 clicks per turn turrets (i.e. 12 mrad for me or some irrelevant number of MOA for the unholy MOA shooters out there…) that also have zero stop and locking capability (pull-up to unlokc, press down to lock).  The 1-6×24 might also have that many clicks, but I did not check.  The turret on the 1-6×24 is now eerily similar to the Vortex Razor HD Gen 2 1-6×24.  I like all of these new turrets.  The feel was good and the feature set is very rich.  There is now an electronic level and, importantly for me, there is now a mil-grid Christmas tree stile reticle called DEV-L.  For me, that is a big deal.  The electronic level has two indicators that appear to be in the reticle plane, that light up when the scope is not level.  They eat a little into the FOV, so I am trying to decide what I care about more: FOV or electronic level.  I asked Sig to keep me in mind when the 4-24×50 shows up.  While in principle a 3-18×44 is more up my alley, the 4-24×50 is only 3 ounces heavier, so I figured I would rather look at that model.

Sig Whiskey5 scopes

Sig Whiskey5 scopes

Whiskey 5 scopes have gone through an update as well.  These are Japan-made hunting scopes that are now black in color (apparently the hunting crowd objected to greyish bodies).  They also gain the previously mentioned electronic level.  They look like fairly well worked out hunting scopes.

Other riflescope product lines (Tango4 and Whiskey3) look to be reasonably unchanged.

Sig’s excellent LRFs get an upgrade in the form of Kilo2200 and Kilo2400.  Kilo2200 looks like its predecessor, but get a little more range.  Kilo2400 doubles the price tag and adds a sophisticated ballistic calculator and a wind meter that plugs into your smartphone.  Essentially, it is an attempt tog et rid of the Kestrel.  I do not spend a whole lot of time looking at LRFs, but this got my interest.

Aside from that, Sig has a new full size red dot sight called Romeo6 that is apparently assembled in the US.  It looks like a nice sight, but full-size red dots are not my cup of tea.  It does have a solar battery, which I like (I just tested solar powered compact Romeo4).  What did peak my interest was the Juliet4 4x magnifier.  However, it seemed like it was a rather early prototype.  There are not that many truly high quality magnifiers out there, so I am very curious to see what Sig came up with.

 Posted by at 10:40 pm
Feb 012017
 

While I work on the pictures and some written commentary, here are the video clips of my ramblings after SHOT.  I apologize about how disorganized these are, but they are mostly intended as a means for me to record my impressions before they fade.

These are long and meandering, so watch at your own risk…




 

 

 Posted by at 10:45 am
Apr 012016
 

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Posted by at 12:40 am
Mar 242016
 

I received a couple of Athlon products to look at:

Cronus 1-6x24FFP riflescope

Ares 7.5-22×50 spotting scope

At first blush both are looking pretty good, but I’ll obviously be doing more testing.

The diminutive Ares spotter is unique in its configuration and appears to be excellent for the money.

The Cronus is a full featured LOW-made scope, so it will be interesting to see how it stacks up.

 Posted by at 4:01 pm
Nov 292015
 

This is not so much a new article as a refresh of the older one.  It was written in 2014, but somehow I neglected to post it here.

A while back I spent some time looking at the available small spotters and came up with some less than acceptable conclusions the most important one being a simple: “why doesn’t anyone make a truly good one?”

Well, there is a truly good one available now from Vortex which fixes most of the shortcoming I saw in the spotters I wrote about originally.  The original article is appended at the bottom, so if you have not seen it before, do take a look.  It is pretty long, however, so here is the synopsis:  none were good enough.  Nikon Fieldscopes 50 had excellent image quality, but the eyepiece made it very hard to use.  Vortex Recon mini-spotters are too limited due to their configuration.  Minox 16-30×50 is a good deal, but I like lower magnification.

Since I wrote that article, I kept on asking various optics manufacturers why they do not make a truly high quality compact spotter and several told me to sit tight and wait because they have something in the works.  Vortex was the first one to bring something to the market and I was so anxious to see it that I immediately got my hands on one rather than wait for other companies to make their products available.  I held onto it for a quite a while and spent a lot of time with it in varying conditions.

For those who do not feel like reading through my, admittedly verbose, ramblings, here is a brief summary of what I think about the Razor HD 11-33x 50 mm spotter:  if you are in the market for a compact spotter, this is the one to get.  If it is outside your budget, save your pennies until it is within your budget.  It gives me the optical performance of the 50mm Nikon Fieldscope with an eyepiece that is actually usable across the whole magnification range.

Now, let’s get into the details.

First of all, let’s spend a couple of minutes thinking about spotting scopes and their applications.  Generally speaking, spotters are there to show the detail of objects that are quite far away and, all thing being equal, optics is a simple science:  bigger is better.  When built the same way, a 65mm objective lens spotter will outperform a 50mm one.  An 80mm spotter will similalry outperform all smaller rivals, once again, assuming same basic build and design quality.

This simplicity comes to a grinding halt when size and weight considerations come into play.  If all you do is sett up a tripod at the range it is probably not a major concern for you.  If you find yourself humping a five pound spotter with an adequately beefy tripod up and down the hill at high altitude…. well, you start caring very fast.

For the longest time, my primary spotter was a 65m Pentax ED.  If I was limited to having only one spotting scope I would probably stick with the Pentax or something of similar size to it.  However, I am not limited to one spotter, so I plan to have two.  My full size spotter is the 82mm Zen-Ray ED2 which I find to be absolutely superb (and even more superb when you consider how much it cost).  That is what I use when I do not venture too far from the car or when I am at the range.

For my travel spotter, I want something portable and I want it to have the following attributes:

  • Compact size capable of fitting in the side pocket of my backpack

  • Light weight: no more than 32 ounces together with the case, eyepiece, etc

  • Low enough magnification to be used as a handheld monocular in a pinch (i.e. no more than 12x or so the low end)

  • High enough magnification to offer a meaningful advantage over a typical riflescope or good quality 10x binocular )i.e. no less than 20x on the high end)

  • Eyepiece capable of good ergonomics and ease of use across the magnification range

  • Ranging reticle

  • Somewhat reasonable price (for me the psychological barrier of “reasonableness” is somewhere around $1k)

These may not sound all that difficult to satisfy, but they are.  The Vortex Razor HD satisfies all of these except for the presence of a reticle and had it been equipped with one, I would have purchased it from Vortex.  In practical terms, it means that I need a small spotter with a straight eyepiece and objective lens diameter of less than 60mm.

There are a few straight eyepiece roof prism spotters out there like Bushnell Elite that could potentially fit the bill with a 60mm objective lens, but their magnification does not go low enough for me.

For the purposes of this test, I primarily compared the 50mm Razor HD to my Pentax 65mm ED spotter.  In the past, I had compared a bunch of other compact spotters against it, so I know how they stack up.

Here is a spec table, the the Razor, Pentax and a few others:

Vortex Razor HD 11-33×50

Pentax PF-65 ED 20-60×65 (with XF eyepiece)

Nikon Fieldscope ED50 13-30×50

Leupold Gold Ring 15-30×50

Minox MD50 16-30×50

Weight, lbs

25

46.3 (with XF Zoom eyepiece)

19.6

21.5

23.3

Length, in

11

12.6 (without the eyepiece)

11.2

11

8.4

Field of View, ft@1000yards

191 – 96

111 – 51

157@13x

136 – 89

160 – 100

Eye Relief, mm

20

15 – 11

12.9@13x

17.5 – 17.1

15 – 11

Close Focus, ft

6.6

16.5

9.8

13.5

16.4

Eyecup

rubber

twist-up

rubber

rubber

twist-up

Price

$700

$848 straight

$898 angled

$830

$400

$300

Looking at the specifications in the table above, the first thing that jumps out at me is how much heavier the 65mm Pentax is compared to all of the 50mm spotters.  Keep in mind that Pentax is easily one of the more compact 65mm spotters out there.  Everything else reads like a Vortex victory march: widest FOV, longest eyerelief and shortest close focus.  It is a touch heavier than the Nikon and a touch longer than the Minox, but still well within my self-imposed size and weight limits.

In terms of image quality, the Razor HD is very similar to the Nikon across the board, except it has a wider magnification range and better eyepiece.  Both stayed remarkably close to the larger Pentax both in terms of resolution and contrast up until 25x or so.  Generally, unless you run into low light issues, I do not think you will be shortchanged by the Razor HD in terms of image quality.  It was better than I expected and i expected it to be pretty good.  I ran into minimal chromatic aberrations, no real flare or stray light issues and an exceptionally precise focusing knob.  Notably, the focuser is a dual speed arrangement with separate coarse and fine adjustments.  I found it be superior to the singe speed knob on the Pentax and Nikon.

I used it in a great variety of conditions from handheld at 11x to mounted on everything from heavy duty tripods to miniature table top contraptions with no issues whatsoever.  Even the little flexible Joby tripod worked well:

To give you an idea of how compact this thing is, here is a picture next to the rather diminutive fixed power AR scopes I was looking at recently:

One thing I did not like a whole lot was the folding rubber eyecup, but I could make it work:

 

As a matter of curiosity, I also used it next to a great variety of riflescopes and binoculars to see if this spotter can truly show me sufficiently more information to justify its use.  I found that when I have my precision rifle out which typically has something like a Premier 5-25×56 or March 5-40×56 on it, this spotter is only useful if I am leery about pointing my rifle with the large riflescope on it at something.  Aside from that, a $3k+ high end tactical scope can double as a spotter without undue stress.  However, when I was out with just about any rifle sporting a riflescope that tops out at 15x or less, the tiny Razor HD spotter was a very useful thing to have.  Same for the binoculars: in principle I prefer to glass using both eyes, but if I really wanted to see the details of something even a 50mm spotter is way ahead of any 8x or 10x binocular I have seen to date.

The only real flow with it that I found was the absense of a reticle option.  I am in no particular rush, so I figured I’ll give until the next SHOT show to see if the spotter I want equipped with a reticle becomes available.  If I can not find such a beat, I will purchase the 50mm Razor HD and be done with it.

 Posted by at 2:31 pm