SHOT Show 2011

 

SHOT Show 2011

 

Important Note #1: The text needs another editing run, so there will be some further small changes.

Important Note #2: I put a lot of time and effort into putting this together.  PLEASE DO NOT COPY ANY PORTION OF THIS ARTICLE ANYWHERE WITHOUT MY APPROVAL.

 

Here is my yearly round-up of what I saw at SHOT in January.  This is not necessarily an exhaustive list of every new piece of optic on the show flor, but I HAVE visited every scope maker who was present (except Pentax, who I inexplicably skipped for no apparent reason).  Here are my notes on things that I found interesting from the companies I visited.  The companies are listed in no particular order.

 

Minox

I have been in fairly consistent contact with Terry Moore of Minox USA all through 2010, so I was looking forward to having a nice long chat with him at SHOT.  Although Minox rifle scopes have not been on the market all that long, Minox has a fairly complete model line-up now, ranging from the 1.5-8×32 to 6-30×56 with a variety of reticle including one of my favourites: #4.  I tested a 3-9×40 last year and also have a fair amount of hands-on time with the 4-20x50SF model.  I liked both of them enough to plan a couple more reviews involving Minox in 2011. There were a few new scopes in the Minox booth that I had heard about, but not seen before: 1.5-8×32, 3-9×50, 2-10×50, 3-15x50SF and 6-30x56SF.  As it were, two are of particular interest to me. 

The little 1.5-8×32 is a sweet looking riflescope:

minox1.5-8x32

 I like tweener scopes and this one promises to be among the better ones out there.  I am hoping to take a look at a couple of version of this configuration: #4 reticle and versa-plex.  Both reticles looked pretty good, although in general I prefer a #4 with less widely spaced bars.  Another configuration I take quite a bit of interest in is the 3-15x50SF:

minox3-15x50

 It is a very versatile power range that is suitable for most applications from general hunting to varminting.   The overall design is nicely compact (this is easily one of the lightest scopes with this configuration on the market) and the image looked pretty crisp even at high magnification.  Along with new models, there is also a new reticle: high magnification Minox scopes get a new optional holdover reticle: XR-BDC.

There are several things about all Minox scopes that I like a fair bit.  They all have long (at least four inches) eye relief, and all the ones I have seen had superb centerfield image quality.  Some have that slight turret wobble that I have heard people complain about, so I decided to dig into it a touch more.  Looking at it carefully, the turret-cap can wobble slightly, but the stem itself is rock solid.  On top of that, the adjustments on the scopes I have seen were very repeatable.

There were no particularly new binocular configurations, but most of Minox line-up went through a redesign in the last couple of years, so I took a close look at them.  There are a few that attracted my interest and a couple of them I will likely look at in 2011.  Terry Moore seemed pretty high up on the BL 8×33 BR model.  Perhaps, it is worth my while to compare them to Minox’ own more expensive German-made 8×33 HG.  Maybe I can scrounge up an 8×32 Meopta Meostar while I am at it, and make it a proper across the field comparison of mid-to-high range 8×32 (or thereabouts) binoculars.

Among the larger models, I thought that the mid-range BL BR line offered several interesting pieces.   Generally, BL BR configurations range from the rather compact 8×33 up to a fairly substantial 15×56 model.  All the models with 56mm objectives have single piano hinge bodies.  All of the smaller ones (33mm, 44mm and 52mm objectives) have split bridge bodies.  I liked the very secure rubberized finish and the quality of the focusing knobs.  Glass looked very respectable too, but I can’t make too much out of it without a proper test.  For those who like the handling of split bridge binos, the 8×52 and 10×52 models offer a couple of interesting options, since no one else, to the best of my knowledge, offers split bridge binos with 50mm+ objective lenses.  The only split bridge 50mm binos out there are the very expensive Swarovski ELs (new for this year) and they are not available with magnification less than 10x.

 

March

There were no scopes in Kelbly’s booth that I had not seen before, but then again I was fortunate enough to test one of the very first FFP March scopes in the country.  If you have seen my review, you know how impressed I was, and I have seen nothing to change that opinion so far.  These are the “no compromise” scopes.  I liked them when I first saw them last year.  Now that I have had a chance to spend some time with a couple of them, I am even more impressed.  The latest March scope I tested had a preliminary reticle design that is not going to make it into production scopes.  I fully intend to review a 3-24×42 FFP March with the final reticle design when it makes it to these shores in late spring.  The way March/Kelbly’s  booth was set up this year, you could point the scopes (mounted on a tripod) toward a target taped to a wall a bit more than 60yards away.  While the inside of a convention center is not optimal for judging optical quality, you can’t help but be impressed by the resolution of these scopes when you can clearly read small print 60+ yards away with the lowest magnification model of the bunch.  Both Kelbly’s and Deon Optical (solo distributor and manufacturer of March scopes, respectively) seem to be paying close attention to market feedback, so I expect them to cautiously and carefully add new models to their product line.  I think they have plenty of configurations to serve the target shooting market at this point, so I hope that the range of FFP tactical models will get some new models.  I made an unsolicited suggestion that they make an FFP version of their 5-32×52 scope.  However, I suppose they will first want to see how the 3-24×42 FFP scope does in the marketplace.  Here is a picture of the 3-24x42FFP scope from my earlier testing:

march

 

IOR

There were a few things in IOR booth that I found interesting.

There is a new FFP 4-16×50 scope with a 30mm maintube.  It is fairly long and has the same new turret box I have seen on 35mm scope containing large knobs and digital illumination control.  This is a fairly conventional configuration that looked to be well-executed and a nice addition to IOR’s 30mm scope line.  It is sort of a big brother to the 2.5-10x42FFP that has been around for quite some time.

The other new offerings are somewhat more unusual.  First off, there are the two scopes with 35mm maintubes and  very high erector ratios: 1-10×26 and 1.25-10×26.  1-10×26 is a design with two reticles: ranging reticle in the FFP and illuminated dot in the SFP. Both are illuminated with independent controls.  The scope looks pretty good and could do very well if all the kinks inherent to any new design are properly worked out.  We’ll see what production scopes look like.  The 1.25-10×26 is a similar looking scope, except it has a conventional reticle in the SFP and low covered knobs.  Interestingly enough, these knobs are still quite large in diameter and have very nice feel:

iorknob

 Off hand, they were easily among the better low profile knobs I have seen lately.  Both scopes looked to have pretty clean image across the magnification range, but it is of course hard to tell for sure inside a small ballroom where IOR booth was located.  The 1-10×26 model had a little tunnel vision at 1x, but it was properly gone by the time you get to 1.4x or thereabouts.

Here are the 1-10×24 and 1.25-10×26 side by side (with Scott Cornelia of IOR Valdada posing as well):

ior1-10

The one other new scope IOR has is, in some ways, the most unusual of the bunch.  It is a 12-52×56 design with a 40mm maintube, that they modestly call “Terminator”.  IOR’s US distributor is based in Colorado, so I suppose he does not understand how someone in California might find it not funny at all (then again the Governator’s replacement in Sacramento promises to be even worse by an order of magnitude or two).  IOR guys tell me that this design is aimed at the ultra-long range shooters, the guys who field 50BMGs and 408CheyTacs and shoot more than a mile out.  The reticle is in the SFP and is a MOA-based reticle.  I do not recall seeing it before, so I surmise it is a new design.  The knobs are a variety of the latest IOR large knobs with zero stop.  The collar on those knobs can be swapped out for a unit with BDC markings for a few calibers, 338Lapua being the wimpiest of the bunch.  Most unusual feature of this scope is the means of image focus/parallax compensation.  It is a collar on the maintube, right behind the objective lens.  When I asked why, they told me that this configuration allows them to put in a heavier spring which makes the design hold up better to the pounding of the heaviest kickers.  The scope is pretty big (to put it mildly), so there is still plenty of tube space for attaching the rings.  All in all, it is an interesting design and I am very curious to see how it fares in the market place.  I suspect it is going to be a low volume/high margin product like most niche offerings out there.  However, it also does not have too much competition.  There are simply not all that many high end/ high magnification scopes out there, with a few March models and S&B Field Target scope coming to mind.  However, the catch is that for ultra long range shooting, you also need a fair amount of adjustment range and the IOR with a 40mm tube and 100MOA of adjustment might have an edge over the competition there.

terminator

 

Aimpoint

I did not see anything new there.  A bunch of red dot sights with one now coming in some sort of an LE package.  Last year I predicted that full size red dot sights will slowly move toward obsolescence and I maintain that point of view.  Aimpoint Micro red dot sights will continue to be popular, but as time goes on, I suspect that the rest of their current products will lose relevance.  I hope Aimpoint is working on diversifying their product line in some way.  They make good sights, and I am sure the military buys a lot of them, but that will not last forever.  Aimpoint red dots have ridiculously long battery life which makes them really stand out.  I hope they can take that expertise and port it into other weapon sight types over time.

 

Eotech

Pretty much all of my comments regarding Aimpoint apply to Eotech.  I like the products, but widespread proliferation of high quality low range variable scope is not a good thing for Eotech, unless they diversify.  Eotech does not have Aimpoint’s battery life, but their claim to fame is the holographic reticle that offers more flexibility than a simple dot.  I have heard some reverberating rumors that they have some new tricks up their sleeve, but nothing concrete.  Time will tell.  In the meantime, and EOtech holographic sight combined with a magnifire is a fairly versatile option for close to mid range engagement.  Personally, I sill think that a low range variable scope or switch magnificatoin unit like Elcan Specter DR is a better integrated way to go.

 

Trijicon

Trijicon did not have a whole lot of new stuff for the show this year.  There were no new riflescopes, although there are rumors of new Accupoints in the works.  However, I have not been able to get any concrete information on that, and, truthfully, these are the same rumors that have been going around for a while.  I would love to see ACOG’s holdover reticle in an Accupoint, but I have no idea whether that is happening any time soon, if ever.

The diminutive RMR red dot sight gets a new version that allows you to adjust dot intensity.  The option is going to carry a $50 price premium over the regular battery powered RMR.  I really like the implementation: Trijicon added two big buttons, one on each side of the window housing.  It is very intuitive to use and adds minimal extra size to the diminutive RMR, if any.  Here is an image from Trijicon site where you can see the button on the side of the screen housing. The other side has the “-” button.

trij

Trijicon handguns sights get a new version called “HD” (there are so many “HD” labels in the marketplace now, that they are losing any semblance of significance or meaning) .  These are the same tritium sights with photo-luminescent paint on the perimeter of the dots.  When charged with flashlight or sunlight, that improves visibility.

There is a new bow sight that has a sight picture kinda like the post reticle on Accupoint scopes, but I am not a bow guy, so I’ll let someone more competent discuss that.

However, I am not a shotgun guy either, but I liked Trijicon’s new clip-on shotgun sight.  You can attach it to a rib on top of the shotgun barrel and tighten it via a couple of screws.  The sight is pretty long (looked to be about two inches) and contains a very bright fiber optic dot.  I thought it was very visible and easy to use.

 

Swarovski

Swarovski extended their EL binocular line with a couple of models that have 50mm objective lenses: 10×50 and 12×50.  As you would expect from Swarovski EL, the image looks superb.  Interestingly enough, I have never been quite comfortable with ELs from a handling standpoint.  They never felt right in my hands for whatever reason.  These new 50mm ones have slightly larger barrels that fit me much better.  I wish they had a lower magnification version, but that is a personal preference.  Still, from an optical perspective, EL binoculars have always been superb and I am glad to see the product line expand.  It is also worth noting that the 10×50 version actually has a slightly wider field of view than the 10×42.  That is very unusual since large objective lenses usually make it harder to achieve wide field of view.

As far as rifle scopes go, the news largely pertain to the reticles.  Most interesting to me was the BRT reticle in the 1-6×24 Z6.  It is a holdover reticle expressly aimed at usage on black rifles and is available in both illuminated and non-illuminated scopes.  That is a bit of a departure for Swarovski and I am happy to see them paying some attention to the tactical market.  This Z6 is easily one of the best SFP low range variable scopes out there with highly flexible reticle illumination system that allows two presets: low light and bright light.  For a limited time, the 1-6×24 model with BRT reticle will be equipped with a “cat tail” attachment for rapid manipulation of the magnification dial:

swaroz6

BRH reticle in higher magnification models is also new and is simply a thicker version of their holdover reticle (BRX).  That is another piece of news I am happy to see since BRX is a touch too thin for my tastes.

While I am generally not a major fan of holdover reticles in the Second Focal Plane, Swarovski did a pretty good job with these in order to make them suitable both for ranging and holdover.  When the scopes are at the highest magnification, the spacing between bars and dots is mil-based.  For BRH and BRT, it is 0.5mil between each adjacent bar and dot.  For the BRT, it is 1mil from bar to adjacent dot.  I am very used to mil-based reticles, so this makes it an easy transition for me.

Swarovski spotting scopes, largely, soldier on unchanged.

 

Premier Reticles

Premier is another manufacturer that I have been in touch with a fair bit lately since I tested two of their scopes in 2010.  Premier makes comparatively few designs, but I like the scopes they make.  They are targeted at very specific market segments and I find the offerings well thought out.  Up till now, Premier has been making two models: 3-15×50 and 5-25×56, both built on beefy 34mm tubes and available with a variety of reticle and turret configurations.  Last year, Premier announced that they will be making another fairly specialized model: 1.1-8×24 (technically, it is a 1.06x, but they round it up to 1.1).  The scope is quite unique, since it automatically switches between the illumination of the ranging FFP reticle at magnifications above 3x and a super bright SFP dot below 3x.  As you rotate the magnification ring, the scope automatically switches between these two modes.  Premier planned to put this scope into production late in 2010, but found a potential manufacturing problem and moved the release date a bit.  I am sure they are anxious to get it to the market, but personally, I am happy to see them take the time and do it right.  This promises to be one of the ultimate AR-15 scopes on the market with enough flexibility to work for anything from CQB out to mid-long range.  8x is plenty of magnification for engaging man-size targets out to 700 yards or thereabouts, so I can imagine a variety of suitable applications for this scope.  Since Leupold and S&B also have 1-8x scopes on the market and IOR has a 1-10x, this is likely to be an interesting market segment to watch.

Also new for this year will be a pair of 3-15×50 scopes built on 30mm tubes (a first for Premier).  One is a hunting version with low covered knobs, and another is the “Light Tactical”: same scope as the Hunter, but with exposed adjustable turrets.  Technically, these scopes are neither small, nor particularly light, but they are notably trimmer than the currently produced 34mm 3-15×50.  In terms of optical quality I expect the 30mm scopes to be very similar to the 34mm ones I tested, i.e. excellent.  To the best of my knowledge, the optical redesign required to fit them into 30mm tubes was minimal.  Naturally, these scopes have less adjustment range available than the 34mm tubes, but at 18 mrad, they are adequate for most needs.  I am not exactly sure how the Light Tactical is going to be priced, but I am certain it will be appreciably less expensive than the 34mm scopes.  The Hunter is expected to retail for around $1650 non-illuminated, and around $1850 or so with reticle illumination.  Most interestingly, for another $300 or thereabouts, you can have a custom holdover reticle matched to your rifle and cartridge.  While not, strictly speaking, cheap, I think this scope offers an interesting value proposition without competing with Premier’s existing products in any significant manner.

Here is the 30mm Hunter scope next to the 34mm Tactical (the 1.1-8×24 is in the background):

PR

One unusual feature I saw on a Premier scope that they had in the booth (which may be available as an option), is a creative way to work around one of Leupold’s patents.  Apparently, Leupold owns a patent on any turret design that has a spring-loaded lock on the turrets, i.e. if a turret is normally locked and you need to press a button or squeeze the turret in order to adjust it, you have to pay Leupold royalties.  Premier, came up with a way to put a knurled ring on the turret that rotates freely, but does not adjust the reticle position.  However, if you pull it up first, and THEN rotate the knob, you will adjust the POA.  I am not sure how useful it is, since I can’t imagine regular Premier turrets knocked out of adjustment accidentally; however, it is an interesting design which may be available as an option if you are so inclined.

As far as availability goes, I expect to see the Hunter scope available in late spring or early summer, with Light Tactical following in its footsteps a few weeks later.  The V8 1.1-8×24 scope should be in production by early fall or thereabouts.

I’ll see if I can get my hands on any of these as they become available.

 

Steiner

This was one of the more interesting booths to visit, since Steiner decided to enter the tactical riflescope market with a whole line-up of rather well-conceived designs.  I spent quite a while there talking to Sky Leighton of Steiner/Burris and looking at the scopes (prototypes for now).

As a matter of background, both Steiner and Burris are owned by Beretta and these new scopes seem to be a joint effort of sorts: design and component fabrication are done by Steiner in Germany, while the assembly is done by Burris in the US.  Externally, the scopes look like they have some Burris aesthetic heritage (long mounting length and slightly forward turret box position), although I think these are brand new designs.  The available configurations will be the following: 1-4×24, 3-12×50, 3-12×56, 4-16×50 and 5-25×56. All but the 5-25×56 were displayed in the booth:

Steiner

The 1-4×24 is built on a 30mm tube (and is the only SFP scope in this bunch), while the rest of the models have 34mm tubes.  They should all be available some time during the first half of 2011 last I heard.  All but the 5-25×56 were in the Steiner booth in prototype form.  Optically, the scopes looked all right, although I would rather not judge them based on early prototypes viewed inside a convention center.  I’ll try to get my hands on production units for a more thorough evaluation.  In the meantime, it looks like Steiner certainly spent some time investigating what the competition offers.  I liked several things about the scopes that were on display.  Windage and elevation turrets looked to be inspired by Premier, for example (which happen to be my favourite adjustment knobs on the market).  The configurations are not particularly ambitious from an optical standpoint, so I have high hopes that the execution will be quite good.  Pricewise, these scopes are slated to come in somewhere a touch above Nightforce and a bit below Premier (S&B and Hensoldt are more expensive yet).  Eye relief looked to be quite flexible, although that can be a double edged sword: you can accidentally position your eye in such a way that you see both the image through the scope and some of the insides of the tube, especially at low magnification.  Still, that is better than a scope with critical eye relief.  The reticles are proprietary to Steiner, but they remind me of MilDot Gen II.  All of the scopes have FFP reticles except for the 1-4×24 model.

The 1-4×24 comes with a different reticle design, which is more appropriate for the low range variable, and is equipped with ultra bright daylight visible illumination.  Honestly, with the influx of 1-6x and 1-8x scopes, I am not sure whether a 1-4×24 for ~$2k is a good idea.  On the other hand, if the illumination is executed well enough and the rest of the scope is well put together, there may be a niche for it.

Personally, I am more interested in the higher magnification models.  5-25×56 seems to be aimed straight at S&B and Premier who offer identical configuration.  3-12×56 goes up against the similarly configured Hensoldt and offers an interesting low light option for less money.  4-16×50 looks to be aimed at S&B.  These are lofty targets for Steiner, but then again, this company has been around for a while and is certainly not new to high end optics.  On top of that, they have a long history of supplying binoculars for the military, so I suspect bidding for some military contracts may have gotten a bit more interesting with Steiner in the picture.  The way MSRP pricing usually works, it looks like Steiner scopes are going to occupy a narrow, but presently empty price range.  With Beretta’s deep pockets behind them, they could certainly do well in a pricing competition.

As a side note, Steiner/Burris booth always seemed to be full of people.  Some of them were even looking at scopes:

steiner_blonde

 

or at least I think there were scopes there…

steiner_girls

 

As far as Steiner binoculars go, there some slight changes for 2011 in the Predator Extreme line-up.  Optics have been tweaked slightly and the coatings are new.  They are still designed to suppress green a little and make brown stand out, but the transmission curves are a little different.

While I am not a big fan of Predator binos (I prefer more natural color rendition), I do like the Nighthunter XP series and I am glad to see the line continued with several roof prism binoculars: 8×42, 10×42, 8×56 and 10×56.

 

Burris

Burris did not have anything majorly new for this year aside from the Fullfield E1 riflescopes.   They are not a replacement for Fullfield II, but rather an additional scope line slated right above it.  Fullfield II scopes continue unchanged, except they drop in price a little.  Fullfield E1 scopes come with a redesigned magnification ring (no longer does the whole eyepiece rotate) and new holdover reticle that does away with the thick bars on the outside of the reticle.  While overall E1 scopes looked pretty good, I am decidedly unimpressed with the reticle arrangement.  The reticle itself is an evolution of Burris’ Ballistic Plex, but this version looks suspended in the center of the image and is small and thin enough to likely be effectively useless under challenging light conditions.  Aside from that E1 scopes have somewhat upgraded hydrophobic coatings and tweaked knobs.

The rest of Burris’ scope lines did not see much action this year, but I have a suspicion that we will see an expansion of SixX product line moving forward.  Personally, I like that news since the existing SixX scopes look to be fairly well put together and come with #4 reticles which I like.

 

Leatherwood

Corbett Leatherwood contacted me before the show in order to make sure I come over their booth.   Honestly, I did not know exactly what to make out of it.  I reviewed a couple of Leatherwood scopes in the past and wasn’t especially impressed.  Back when I was looking at those scopes I had forwarded my impressions to Leatherwood and had very little communication with the company since then.  Hence, when they got a hold of me this time around I was mildly curious.  Some companies look at criticism as a chance to improve, while others look at it as a reason to order a hit on someone.  I have encountered both and, historically, I am not very good in predicting how a particular company is going to react beforehand.  It turned out that Leatherwood looks at criticism as a way to get better.  They wanted me to come over in order to show me one of their prototype scopes and in order to talk a little bit about how they are addressing some of my original complaints.  Well, I walked away quite impressed with their efforts and with their apparent drive to get better.

As far as new stuff goes, there aren’t a whole lot of new scopes, but there were quite a few small improvements.  I spent some time looking at the 1-4×24 CMR scope.  Technically, it was introduced last year, but I never spent much time with it aside from taking a quick glance at it.  That turned out to be a mistake.  I saw a fair bit of very positive feedback on this scope in 2010 and I paid more attention to it now.  It looks exceedingly well executed and has an interesting reticle to boot.  The knobs are the best I have seen from Leatherwood yet both in terms of features and execution.  Clicks are well defined and properly weighted.  ZeroStop is easy to set.  Overall turret size allows for ease of adjustment while being inconspicuous enough to be unlikely to get knocked out of adjustment.   I really liked the reticle and how it is executed.  To Leatherwood’s credit, they develop their own reticle designs and seem to put lot of thought into them.  The reticle in the CMR 1-4×24 scope is called AVS-CMR-R1 and it offers a very nice combination of quick target acquisition and holdover for mid-range shooting.  The scope is clearly aimed at AR-15 market, since the reticle is calibrated for holdover with 5.56×45.  However, if you spend a little time with a ballistic calculator, you will see that it works just fine with a number of other calibers within the distances where a scope that tops out at 4x might be used.  Reticle illumination is green in color and is unusually well calibrated for this price range.  There are 11 brightness settings with the lowest one being suitable for low light shooting, while the brightest is easily daylight visible.  All in all, I am not sure I need all 11 brightness levels (I suspect that bottom two and top two along with one in the middle are perfectly sufficient for anything I am likely to do), but it does not hurt either.   Bottom line, is that I liked the scope and I’ll do a review on it in the spring of this year some time.

The other new scope they had was an illuminated 4-16×50.  It was a fairly early prototype, so I cannot make too many conclusions, but it was apparent that they are trying to address a lot of the concerns I had about the earlier scopes.  I will be very curious to see how the production models are going to perform.  It has another new reticle (AVS-ILR-1), and I thought it was very well thought out.  Illumination will be green just like with the CMR.  I hope to see this scope later in the spring.  I am itching to go and really exercise that reticle.  It should work well, but I won’t know for sure until I spend some time with it.  The reticle is in the second focal plane, but will offer some interesting ranging and holdover options.  The mechanical controls are similar looking to Leatherwood’s Uni-Dial scopes, but the execution looks to have undergone a bit of a redesign.  I expect them to be quite improved.

When all is said and done, my most important takeaway from this year’s visit with Leatherwood is that they are paying attention to market feedback and taking it into account as they continuously evolve their products.  I’ll definitely keep an eye on what else they come up with.  If CMR scope is an indication of things to come, I think Leatherwood will do well.

 

Vortex

There are all sorts of new things happening with Vortex.  Some I like, some I am not sure of and some I am absolutely ecstatic about.  I’ll go over them in no particular order.

I reviewed one of Vortex’ Razor HD 5-20×50 scopes last year and liked it a lot.  For about $2k, I thought that was the best allround long range tactical scope I had seen to date.  One criticism that came up was that the eye relief was not particularly flexible on it, although I did not run into any problems.  Apparently, for 2011, Vortex redesigned the eyepiece for much greater ease of eye positioning.  I spent some time with two 5-20×50 Razors that had old and new eyepieces side by side and I think they have a good thing going with the new eyepiece.  As a matter of fact, one of Vortex’ competitors who I talked to later in the show, noted that they looked at the new eyepiece and thought it was exceptionally well-executed.  Most interestingly, Vortex is offering is as a no-cost upgrade to existing owner of Razor HD.  Once they have a reasonable number of new eyepieces available, they will be able to swap them out for existing owners.  There is also a new reticle called EBR2B.  It is an evolution of EBR2 with numbers along the vertical line and thicker “Christmas tree” dots.  It looked pretty nice, but I will reserve judgment until I get to spend some time with it (hopefully later in the year as a part of High End Tactical: Part 3 comparison).

Viper PST scopes that were announced last year are finally going into production now.  There are no new models there, so I will not spend much time on them.  We’ll see how they hold up.

There is a new line of scopes called Viper HS, that are essentially more hunting oriented versions of PST with some unique configurations added in.  These are all 30mm tube scopes with SFP reticle and, in some cases, I actually prefer them to the PST versions.  For example, the 1-4×24 Viper HS has the same TMCQ reticle as Viper PST, but it has covered knobs.  I do not understand the need for exposed tactical knobs on 1-4×24 scopes, so the slightly cheaper HS version makes more sense to me than the equivalent PST:

hs1-4x

HS scopes have a new BDC reticle, that is a little thinner than the original one and use hashmarks instead of dots.  One model that is unique to the HS line is 4-16×44, which is a nice option for a walking varminter where you are looking to mount a scope lower than the 4-16×50 model allow.  Both 4-16×44 and 4-16×50 HS scopes are available with “LR” configuration.  The LR option has an exposed elevation knob with 0.5MOA clicks, while keeping the windage knob covered.  The elevation knob supports the same basic ZeroStop setup as the PST knobs.  I like the overall configuration since I tend to dial in elevation, but hold for wind.  Therefore, a covered windage knob suits me just fine.

Here is Paul Neess posing with the 4-16x44LR:

hslr

And here is a closer look at the turret arrangement of HS LR scopes:

HS LR knobs

 

There are no new red dot sights (and, honestly, I am not a major fan of Vortex’ existing red dots: I just do not like the pushbutton controls on those), but there is a new magnifier mount that allows you to swing the magnifier out of the way very quickly.  I liked the design and if you use a magnifier on an AR15, it is worth a look.  Here it is set up behind the red dot sight:

magnifier1

and here is a snapshot with the magnifier swung out of the way:

magnifier2

 

Solo 8×36 monocular was redesigned and now has a reticle you can focus.  It is nice little piece and I am thinking of getting one to keep in my car.  It is very functional and inexpensive.

Vortex binoculars went through a significant re-design this year.  Razor becomes Razor HD and moves upmarket.  With the original Razor binoculars, I really liked the 8.5×50 model and I am glad to see an HD version of it.  Aside, from optical improvements, the eyecups on Razor HD are new.  They do not offer the same number of click stops as the original eyecups did, but they seem sturdier.  Whether the price increase is a good idea or not remains to be seen.  Once a binocualar is priced above $1k, it ends up facing a different type of competitive pressure.  We’ll see how Razor HD does there.  Personally, I kinda hoped that Vortex would extend the Kaibab HD line-up a little bit, but there are no changes there.  I suggested that the do not have any 7×42 binoculars in their line-up and that it would be a good fit for Kaibab line, but I may be alone here with my affection for top notch 7x binos.

Some Viper models become Viper HD.  The configurations available will be the following: 6×32, 8×32, 8×42, 10×42, 10×50 and 15×50.  Personally, I am very happy to see Vortex keep the 6×32 model in the Viper HD line-up.  I have the original version of it, and it is easily my favourite binocular (and couple with the doubler, a kick-ass 12×32 monocular).  They looked pretty good at SHOT and I think I will try to get my hands on one of the new Viper HD binos for a closer look.  Perhaps, I can add the 8×32 model to a comparison I am planning.

Talon HD line is also new and is a replacement for Fury binoculars.  I thought that Furys were pretty good for the money, so it will be interesting to see how Talons stack up.  The rest of the Vortex binoculars soldiers on largely unchanged.

There are some changes with spotters as well.  Top of the line Razor HD gets a straight eyepiece model, but no new configurations.

Skyline ED spotter is gone the way of the dodo and is replaced by Chinese manufactured Viper and Viper HD spotters.  Both are available in 15-45×65 and 20-60×80 models.  I did not have particularly good luck with Skyline spotters, so I look forward to Viper HD.  I hope it is a more consistent performer.  It looked very decent during the show, but there is really not enough space there to stretch a spotter’s legs, so to speak.  One interesting thing is how the eyepiece on this spotter is marked.  Depending on the focal length of the spotter body, the same eyepiece makes for different magnification.  This particular eyepiece is 15-45x on a 65mm body and 20-60x on a 85mm body and is marked that way.  As it were, the same eyepiece is also marked with a magnification range for use on a 50mm body.  With that in mind, I think it is safe to say that there will be at least one additional configuration in the Viper/Viper HD line.

 

Sightron

Most of the interesting things about Sightron this year pertain to their SIII line.  Every existing configuration gets new versions, so to speak.  There is a new MOA reticle available with and without an illuminated dot that is available in every S3 configuration.  The reticle has a floating ¼ MOA aiming dot in the center and hashmarks at 2 MOA increments.  Technically, there are two MOA-based reticles:

  • MOA-2 is used in the all models except for the 3.5-10×44 and provides for 20MOA (i.e. 10 hashmarks) of holdover.  It is calibrated at the highest power in all scopes except for the 10-50×60, where the reticle is calibrated to have 2MOA hashmarks at 24x and 1MOA hashmarks at 48x.
  • MOA-3 is used in the 3.5-10×44 model and it has 30MOA of holdover (i.e. 15 hashmarks)

The digitally-controlled illumination (only available with MOA-based reticle for now) gets very faint, so I expect it to work well in low light.  The control module sits on the eyepiece and has four buttons that control the illumination color (red or green) and intensity:

sightron illum

SIII scopes with Mil-Dot reticle are now matched with mil-based knobs.  The reticle is calibrated at highest magnification in 3.5-10×44 and 6-24×50 models, while in 8-32×56 and 10-50×60 the Mil-Dot reticle is calibrated at 24x.  10-50×60 scope gets knobs with 0.05mrad clicks (2.5mrad per turn), while lower magnifications have knobs with 0.1mrad clicks (5mrad per turn).  For target shooters, the 8-32×56 model with 1/8MOA target dot reticle now gets 1/8MOA clicks, a first for SIII scopes (other MOA-based S3 scopes have ¼ MOA knobs).  Perhaps, most importantly, all SIII turrets now have vastly improved feel.  The adjustments are not nearly as light as they were before, which was the primary complaint with Sightron SIII scopes to date.  If you have discarded one of these scopes because the turrets were too easy to turn, you should revisit them now.  Here is a snapshot of the new exposed metric knob on the 10-50×60 scope:

metric knobs

 

Somewhat unexpectedly, there was a new scope at the booth: 1-7×24 with #4 reticle and illuminated dot.  It is a true 1x and it makes for a very versatile scope suitable both for DGR use and for black guns.   There were two of these at the booth and I spent a fair amount of time with both.  Image quality looked quite good across the magnification range.  I expect production models to show up some time before summer and I will try to get my hands on one for a thorough test.  

sightron1-7x

I suspect that we will see other SIII scopes based on the 7x erector system in the not so distant future, but I am not sure on what the exact configurations will be.

 

 

Meopta

Meopta is a major player in the sport optics world behind the scenes.  They are the largest OEM optics manufacturer in Europe.  However, they are fairly low key with their own brand.  Still, I always liked their image quality and they have a few models that I find myself recommending with reasonable regularity.

So far there are two product lines: MeoStar and MeoPro (a little less expensive).  There are scopes and binoculars in both product lines.  I have a fair amount of mileage with MeoStar scopes and binoculars.  I have also tested one of the MeoPro scopes last year and liked it.

There are no new binoculars for this year, but it has been a while since I tested one of these, so I am likely to look at the 8×32 MeoStar some time reasonably soon.

For 2011, the shorter version of 1-4×22 MeoStar riflescope is in full production.  Aside from a short body, it also gets a different reticle and knobs.  It also retains the ultra bright reticle illumination that is visible even in bright sunlight.  One of the chief complaints about Meostar scope in the past has been eyerelief that was a bit finicky and short.  Playing around with this new scope, I thought that they tweaked something in the eyepiece to make eye position more forgiving.  The reticle has an aiming dot a holdover chevrons for shooting at mid-range.  I like the chevrons since they combine both precision and visibility (and I spent a lot of time with chevron reticles, so I am comfortable with them).  The knobs on this model also look to be updated and have an interesting design that is low profile, but easy to adjust:

Another new scope Meopta had was actually not displayed, but they let me take a look at it.  It is also a part of the MeoStar lineup.  This one is a 1.5-6×42 with #4 reticle and illuminated dot.  The illumination is calibrated to have three low settings for night hunting and four bright settings should you need to use illumination in bright light.  This scope also has more forgiving eyerelief than earlier Meopta scopes, so I surmise it has an improved eyepiece.  This scope, like the rest of the MeoStar line should retail for less than $1K and makes for an excellent low light hunting scope.  Pig hunters should really take note of this one.  Image quality looked superb with nice contrast and resolution (best I can tell inside the convention center).  I am not sure when it is going to go into full production (and I will post the dates as soon as I have any concrete data), but I will make sure to test one when it does.  I like the configuration and this model promises to be the only high quality scope of this type that retails for less than a grand.

meopta 1.5-6xmeopta1-4x

 

While talking about scopes with Meopta guys, another interesting tidbit came out.  I can not go into a whole lot of detail on this yet, but it looks like Meopta is going to enter the tactical precision market with a new model or two some time in the coming year.  Considering their expertise in making high quality scopes, this could really liven things up for some of their competitors.  I’ll keep track on how that progresses and post an update as soon as Meopta is ready to make anything public.

 

Horus Vision

Horus has a new high magnification scope that is made for them by Bushnell (i.e. LOW).  There were a couple of prototypes of the beefy looking 3.5-21×50 model built on a 34mm tube and equipped with Horus reticle in the front focal plane.  It looked pretty decent, especially considering the fact that it is supposed to retail for $1200 or so.  The knobs are of the pop-up variety, where you pull them away from the turret box in order to make an adjustment.  Then you push them down to lock.  They had pretty decent feel and the large diameter made adjustments easy.  Like many FFP designs, this scope had a little tunnel vision at low magnification, but it was pretty much gone by the time you get to 4.3x or so.  The scope is supposed to go into production some time in the middle of 2011.  There may also be a Bushnell version with non-Horus reticle, but do not quote me on it, I could be wrong.  All in all, I was happy to see this model.  Long range tactical world seems to be fairly “top heavy” with a lot of competition in the $1800 and up price range; hence, I am happy to see some new entries that slot beneath the really expensive stuff.

Here is a snapshot of the non-illuminated prorotype that Horus has (there was an illuminated one that I saw elsewhere on the show floor):

Horus

 

I also took a quick look at the Horus 1.5-8×24 Blackbird with H58 reticle.  I thought it was a pretty nice piece, with clever illumination.  I recently tested a Leupold scope with a Horus reticle and concluded that while I like this reticle at high magnification (it takes a little getting used to, but it does work), it is very hard to see in low light, especially if you dial down on magnification.  With the Blackbird, in low light, the reticle is likely to be less than ideal too, but the scope has an illumination system that lights up the crosshair and several holdover dots on the vertical stadia line.  I think that makes the Horus system a lot more versatile.  I will go so far as to say that as much as I like the concept overall, I would not buy a scope with a Horus reticle that does not have illumination.

 

Leica

No real news for Leica this year.  I think they are still trying to capture some market share with their riflescopes and to that extend they will have some custom dials for their 3.5-14×42 scopes made by G7.  Even aside from collaboration with G7, I liked the adjustable elevation dial available on some Leica models.  It has a well-executed ZeroStop which is a nice touch.  I can’t help but think that with a mil-based reticle of some sort for ranging (perhaps in the FFP), the existing Leica scope could make terrific options for light weight tactical applications.  In other words, I hope the line expands.

leica

 

Zeiss Sport Optics

The only new product they mentioned is a compact Japan-made (I think) Dialyt 18-45×65 roof prism spotter.  It is very light weight and is supposed to retail for $1300 or thereabouts.  I liked how light and compact it is and I suspect it will make a good option for mountain hunters.  Somewhere in the literature it is mentioned that the objective for it is an Achromat which, I think, is a somewhat less complicated construction than is typical for Zeiss’ higher-end spotters.  We’ll see how it does in the market place.  As is, this is one of the few spotters out there that is somewhat usable handheld with minimal support.  That is certainly something to consider.  The design on the Dialyt is done in Germany, as is the lens manufacturing.  The assembly, however, is done in Japan.

dialyt

Zeiss riflescopes and binoculars seem to soldier on largely unchanged for 2011.  That is not necessarily a bad thing since they have a rather complete line-up, but I was secretly hoping for a low magnification Conquest of some sort for US market (or some version of Duralyt scope available in the rest of the world).  Maybe next year.

That having been said, Zeiss has easily one of the most complete product lines in the sport optics business.  The only feature that the competition has that Zeiss does not is the availability of erector ratios higher than 4x.  I am sure Zeiss is working on that as well, but it is probably not quite ready for prime time.

 

Zeiss Optronics (Hensoldt)

No major news there either.  I have it on good authority, the Hensodlt has a kick-ass new scope up their sleeve, but they are not talking about it yet.  We’ll just have to wait.  In the meantime, they have stable of exceptionally nice (and expensive) scopes.  One kinda new thing I saw their was the humongous 6-24×72 SAM scope with a FFP reticle and MTC knobs patented from US Optics.  I seem to recall only seeing a SFP SAM scope last year, so perhaps it is fairly new.  As a reminder, SAM is a fully fledged ballistic computer built into the integrated scope mount of a 6-24×72.  If you have about $12k to spend on a scope, it will give you just about everything other than tying your shoelaces for you.  On a more serious note, it is a very well integrated package aimed at maximizing your first shot hit probability.  However, the price tag is not for the faint of heart.

Here is a snapshot of the knobs:

 

Leupold

This year, I was very impressed with how the people in Leupold’s main booth handled themselves.  I talked to several reps there who knew a fair bit about the product lines they were responsible for.  If I asked a question they did not an answer to, they quickly found someone who did.  Overall, I thought that the booth was very professionally managed.  Leupold’s tactical booth was a different story, but more on that later.  For now, I’ll talk a little about hunting optics.

There are two new riflescope lines: VX-R and VX-6.  I liked both of them.  A lot.  I have been a fairly consistent critic of Leupold for some time, but I think that these two product lines are very well thought out and, at first glance at least, are also well executed.

VX-R scopes have an innovative illuminated dot in addition to rather visible reticles (with #4 being my pick).  Configurations are similar to VX-2, but optical quality looks to be quite a bit better.  It is probably along the lines of VX-3 which is quite good for the price range (VX-R scopes retail in the $400 to $650 range).  All VX-R scopes have 30mm tubes, fast-focus eyepiece and clever illuminated reticles that are usable both during the day and during the night.   They also have motion sensors in them, so that if you forget to turn the illumination off, the battery does not get drained: when the scope is not moving there is no illumination.  The configurations are 1.25-4×20, 2-7×33, 3-9×40, 3-9×50, 4-12×40 and 4-12×50.  I am especially happy to see the 2-7×33 configuration persevere (I like tweener designs).

VX-6 scopes replace the discontinued VX-7 as the highest end hunting scope line Leupold makes.  As the name suggests, these are scope with 6x erector ratios and they come, for now, in two configurations: 1-6×24 and 2-12×42, both built on 30mm maintubes with fast focus eyepieces.  1-6×24 is available with duplex and #4 non-illuminated reticles, while the 2-12×42 comes either with duplex or B&C.  These scopes will retail for a touch under $1000, I think.  Glass looked pretty good and all mechanical controls seemed to be well sorted out.  They kept the weight under control nicely and I expect these to do well in the market place.  Every time Leupold has tried to market a high end hunting scope, it ended up crossing into $1k+ price range and not doing too well.  I really hope that VX-6 will do better.  Here is the rather trim-looking 1-6×24 VX-6:

The other riflescope lines Leupold markets continue unchanged.

Binoculars did not change too much for 2011.  Most get new rubber armor and some slight optical redesign.   New for this year is the phrase “Synergy Built”.  It is mostly just a marketing thing, but there is some meaning behind it.  Apparently in the past, a lot of Leupold binoculars were both designed and manufactured by third party suppliers.  “Synergy Tech” models are specced out and designed by Leupold in Oregon, while the manufacturing is done by their contractors elsewhere.  Since most of the optical changes are likely rather subtle, I could not easily form an opinion on the show floor.  One model seemed new and caught my eye: 7×42 Cascade.  The field of view is not especially wide, but the image looked quite clean.  Overall, I liked the line-up, but I think they have a bit too many different product lines.  I think fewer product lines that are more clearly differentiated from each other would make more sense.  Personally, I like porro binoculars and Leupold’s two porro binocular lines. Yosemite and Rogue, look to be very well sorted out and offer a lot for the money.

There is a new FLP spotter with HD glass and a larger objective lens then previously available: 20-60×80.  It is available with a couple of ranging reticle:  Mil-Dot and TMR.  Despite the 80mm objective, it seemed to have very good depth of field which caught me by surprise.  All in all, it is a nice spotter.

Also new for 2011 are Ventana spotters which replace the Sequoia product line.  There are two configurations: 15-45×60 and 20-60×80.  They looked decent and since I have never been a major fan of Sequoia spotters, a change is a good thing.

After I got done with Leupold’s hunting products, I headed over to the other Leupold booth that had the “tactical” products.  That turned out to be a different experience altogether, and I ended up having to visit it twice.  The first time around, I stumbled onto some guy who could not wait for me to leave.  I did my usual thing and walked over to the first rep I saw in the booth and asked what was new for the show.  That is when he started trying to get me to leave.  Some questions he flat out ignored.  Other questions he only answered yes or no.  I do not think I ever got him to formulate a complete sentence.  Perhaps most annoyingly, the one truly new design they had, the 3.5-25×56 long range scope, he never even mentioned.  I only stumbled onto it when I went there the second time around (at that point, I pretty much ignored the various reps floating around the booth and simply scoured through everything they had there).  Overall impression that I got was that Leupold wants to win military contracts and could not care less if they sell a single new tactical scope to the consumer market.  The other overall impression that I got was that the new stuff Leupold had (other than the HAMR) did not look all that hot.  I suppose that the people in charge of the hunting products learned their lesson and realized that they can not continue to exist on Leupold reputation alone and that they actually need to have good products to back that name up.  I suppose that the tactical division of Leupold has not learned that lesson yet.

Although announced last year, the 1.1-8×24 scopes on 34mm tubes are only becoming available now.  The units they had in the booth this year did not look particularly well executed, especially as far as the reticle illumination goes.  It was bleeding all over the place.  I do not recall seeing that effect in last year’s prototypes.  Based on a rather cursory examination, I fully expect the competing designs from S&B and Premier (that are actually cheaper) to walk all over the Leupold’s CQBSS.  Then again, perhaps there was something wrong with the show floor units.  Externally, there did not seem to be any difference from last year:

CQBSS

The new Mark 8 long range scope, the 3.5-25×56 looked decent, but is built on a 35mm tube for some reason and no one could explain to me why they used a 35mm tube instead of the 34mm like that on their other higher end tactical scopes like the CQBSS.  The scope comes with Horus H58 reticle in the FFP.  Illumination is controlled via a third knob that sits on the maintube right in front of the magnification ring (an obvious rip-off of S&B design).  Adjustments have 0.1mrad clicks and the windage knob has a cover while the elevation knob is exposed.  While I was staring at this scope some Leupold guy was talking about the new scope to a couple of visitors from Australian military (he was pretty nice to them oddly enough).  He also was talking about some new upcoming designs and when he saw me listening and taking notes, he walked over and asked me to not disclose what I heard.  That was pretty much the only time when someone was polite to me in that booth (perhaps because they actually needed something from me, but then again this was a guy I had not talked to before).  Still, I will keep my mouth shut; it is the courteous thing to do.  Here is a snapshot of the scope.  Note where the illumination knob is:

There were a couple of other new scopes there that looked like existing ER/T designs shoved into 34mm tubes for large adjustment range and equipped with locking turrets where you need to press a button in order to make an adjustment.  I would probably need to spend some time in the field with it, but to me, that button at the top of the knob seemed to be distinctly uncomfortable.  I much preferred the “squeeze to be able to adjust” knobs on the 1.1-8×24.  Otherwise, I recently tested an ER/T design with a Horus reticle and found a couple of flaws with it.  I think these 34mm designs make those two flaws even more prominent since they are more expensive.  The first problem is the lack of illumination: most Horus reticles are thoroughly useless at lower magnifications or in low light unless there is an illumination system of some sort.  Second is the optical quality.  With a 34mm tube these scope become heavier and more expensive.  While I can compromise a bit on glass in favor of light weight and lower price, these new scopes give up both of those advantages.  Then again, I could certainly be wrong.  However, looking over the rather crowded tactical marketplace, I am struggling trying to figure out what application I could recommend one of these new Leupold scopes for.  The new 3.5-25×56 is an interesting design no doubt, but it is not clear when, if ever, it will be available to consumers.  Here is the 34mm scope with ER/T guts inside:

Now, the HAMR is a different ballgame altogether.  It is a simple and clean 4×24 design that is going after ACOG and Elcan.  It comes either as a standalone piece or with a Delta point reflex sight mounted on top of it.  Eye relief is pretty flexible and image quality looked quite respectable.  I also like the reticle that is reminiscent of ACOG’s holdover design.  Pricewise, I was told that it would undercut the ACOG slightly, although time will tell.  Overall, together with a Deltapoint, it seemed to offer good performance from door kicking ranges out to 600 yards or so.

hamr

 

Kowa

There wasn’t anything particularly new from Kowa this year.  They have a spotter that doubles as a really fancy DSLR lens, but I am not into digiscoping all that much, so I largely glossed over that.  However, I like the concept and it makes for a nice system.  Essentially, they are packaging the objective lens systems of a top end spotter as a camera lens with several different adaptors available for different camera bayonet mounts.  They are also going to make a separate prism module that you can attach to the objective lens and that takes standard Kowa eyepieces.  In that configuration it becomes a high end spotter.  The idea has definite merit and if I were to get into digiscoping (or telephoto photography), I would give it serious consideration.

Of more interest to me was a single page handout they had on a new binocular line that is supposed to be cheaper than all of their current binos.  It will have both porro prism model with 30mm objectives and roof prism models with 32mm and 42mm objectives.   There was no other information available, but I will keep track of that.

Generally, Kowa binocualr line does not seem to quite generate the attention it deserves.  Kowa Gneesis binos are absolutely world class, with the 8×33 being one of the best ones of its type.

 

Schonfeld Optix

I had never heard of Schonfeld brand before so I stopped by to take a look.  Despite the German sounding name, the products are manufactured in the Pacific Rim somewhere (not sure exactly where).  They retail mostly in the $200 to $270 range and include a few riflescopes, binocular and spotters (~$350).  There were also some tripod mounting adaptors.  The guy who runs the operation (or perhaps IS the operation) was mostly talking about his monoculars which looked all right.  Overall, I was a bit turned off by snazzy scope model names like “Vaporizer” “Xtreme Kombat” and “Starfighter”, and spent very little time in that booth.

 

Bushnell

Not a whole lot of tangible news there, but there are some.

All of the various Elite 3200 and 4300 scopes have been merged into a single Elite scope line and slightly ungraded with better broadband coatings.  Models with ranging reticles and exposed knobs have been separated into an Elite Tactical line.  Elite 6500 scopes retain their separate designation.

New for this year is the 3.5-21×50 FFP design done with Horus (I mention it in the Horus section).  I am not entirely sure whether it is going to be marketed by Horus or by Bushnell since I got two different stories on that in the two booths.  Either way, I am curious to see what the production scopes will look like.  This scope is likely to be priced in a way that avoids a lot of direct competition, so I expect it to do reasonably well.

I also got to see a prototype of a 1-6.5×24 FFP scope with nice reticle design that combines a donut with holdover scale.  It still needed to be tweaked slightly, but I think it has a lot of promise.  There was no obvious tunnel vision and overall it looked like a nice piece that will be reasonably (comparatively speaking) priced.  Another design that, I think, will do well if it gets to the market soon enough.  I’ll definitely get my hands on one as soon as I can.  A compact 1-6.6x or thereabouts deesign with an FFP reticle is just about a perfect scope for a lightweight AR-15.  Since, I am planning to put one of these together some time later this year, I am keeping close tabs on this market segment.  Here is the scope sitting in a LaRue mount:  It looks like the illumination knob will have a couple of night vision settings.  Hence, I am confident that it will be well optimized for low light (my primary complaint about most illumination systems out there).

elite6500

 

Kahles

Kahles scopes and binoculars are distributed by Gamo, so instead of having its own booth, there were a part of a Gamo exhibit.  Honestly, I am not sure it is such a good idea to have Kahles scopes next to BSA which is also distributed by Gamo.  That makes BSA scopes look like junk (more on that later) and makes Kahles scopes look expensive.

With that out of the way, Kahles seems to be making a come back, or is at least making a solid attempt at it.  They had a nice story about an old Kahles scope that was lost in the Alps for a few decades and was recently found in perfect working condition.  While that is impressive, I am more interested in new products and there were a couple.

Apparently, Kahles decided to re-enter the tactical scope market with a couple of FFP designs based on 34mm tubes.  One is a version of existing K312 3-12×50 and the other is a new 6-24×56 model called K624 that really got my attention. 

kahles brochure

Aside the usually good Kahles craftsmanship, it has an unusual way of controlling parallax.  Instead of using a third knob for it, Kahles built it into the elevation knob assembly in an interesting way: it is large diameter knurled disc at the base of the knob.  It is sufficiently larger than the main body of the knob to make it pretty much impossible to confuse the two.  That frees up the turret on the left of scope tube for reticle illumination control and makes for an overall nicely streamlined package.  The parallax knob has detents at 50 meter increments.  While that by itself is not particularly remarkable (it is very rare to have the parallax adjustment sit at one of the marked spots), it does allow you to have a tactile feel of where within the image focus adjustment range you are.  There was no apparent tunnel vision that I could detect.  Turrets had 0.1mil clicks with excellent feel and were nicely calibrated.  There is a visible and tactile indicator that tells whether you are on the first or second turn.  Each turn is 14mrad of adjustment.

kahles

Optically, the image looked very clean, but I expect nothing less from Kahles.  How it will do in the market place remains to be seen.  The Austrian guy who was there said that they are primarily aiming to beat S&B.  That is not an easy task, so I am curious to see how it will do.  Kahles has been in this business for a long time and the know how to make good scopes.

The FFP K312 will get the same turret treatment as the K624 some time this year.  Also, I was told that Kahles will introduce some sort of an “assault rifle scope” in 2011, but no further details were offered.  I suppose that implies a low range variable of some sort, but I am really guessing here.

Also new for this year is the resurrection of a couple of Kahles binoculars: 8×42 and 10×42.  They looked quite decent, although the field of view is somewhat narrow, especially on the 8x model.  However, the focusing knob had a very nice feel.  When I asked a rep who happened to be nearby where these are made, he said that “they are made where Kahles binoculars have always been made: in Austria”.  That confused the heck out of me since I know for a fact that the most recent Kahles binoculars were made in Japan.  However, I could not get any further information out of him.  All that aside, these look to be well-made magnesium body binos that could do well if they are priced right.

kahles binos

 

BSA

There are new scopes from BSA that have 6x magnification ratios.  To be blunt, I have never seen a quality scope from BSA in the past and these new models do not seem to be an exception.  Image quality looked to be somewhere between bad and crappy.  Tunnel vision was prominent at all magnification and on all models I saw.  I got my hands on four samples (I think) and no two knobs felt alike.  The good part is that BSA’s primary competition (Baraska, Leapers, etc) seems to be equally mediocre.

Just about the only thing about these scopes that was well put together was the marketing campaign.  I wish they would put all of that creativity into making better products.

 

Nikon

Pro-staff scopes went through a re-design.  There are now fully multicoated and made in the Phillipines.  They also have a fast-focus eyepiece along with a new knob design.  They looked pretty decent and I think I will re-visit them next time I look at scopes in this price range.  Magnification ranges remain the same.

I did not see anything particularly new in the rest of the Nikon exhibit.  EDG binoculars switch over to a piano hinge from a dual hinge design, but optically they remain the same (quite good).

There is a new ProStaf binocular that looked to be rather well put together for the price point.

 

Carson

Carson has been marketing some Chinese-made, but decent for the money binoculars for some time, but I never paid much attention to them.  This time around, I stopped by for a quick look.  The inexpensive binos were actually decent and I liked the case that unfolds and allows you to use the bino without yanking it out of the enclosure fully.  It is a neat concept.

carson

Aside from that, I think Carson has introduced a few chinese-made riflescopes that looked vaguely familiar to me.  I think I have seen the same designs marketed by other companies, so I did not look at them too carefully.

 

Weaver

Two scopes caught my attention in the Weaver booth: 1-5×24 and 3-15×50.  Both are FFP designs with illuminated reticles.  Illumination was a touch brighter than I would have liked, but that could change on production models.  Both scopes will retail in the $700 – $900 range (I think) and they felt to be very well sorted out both optically and mechanically.  I think these are priced right and well-executed tactical scopes.  There are not all that many good options in the sub-$1k range, and these seem to be among the better ones.

They also had a new 2-8×36 shotgun scope in the Buck Commander line.

 

Hawke

Here is another company that I keep close tabs on, since I like how they do business.  Once again, there isn’t a whole lot of stuff there that I have not heard of before, but that is partially due to the fact that I stay in touch with Hawke on a fairly consistent basis.

New to me was the Endurance 30 1-4×24 scope.  I have an earlier version, which is a 1.25-4.5×24 design and I have been pretty happy with it (and have not been able to break it).  Now they have a model with true 1x on the low end.  I comes with a #4 reticle equipped with a bright (daylight visible, I think) illuminated dot.  Eyerelief is long and pretty flexible.  The scope itself is fairly beefy, but the one I have proved to be quite durable and I expect no less from the newer model.  I suspect it is aimed at DGR use as well as black rifles.  Here is Brad Bonar of Hawke with the 1-4×24:

hawke

Another scope in the Endurance 30 line that caught my eye is the 1.5-6×42 with the same #4 reticle with illuminated dot (L4 reticle in Hawke-speak).  It is a very underrated configuration and I am glad that there is a comparatively affordable scope so configured.

On the binocular front, open hinge Frontier PC binoculars are new.  They slot right underneath the excellent Frontier ED binos.  Basically, if you like the handling of open-hinge Frontier ED binos, but are not willing to pay for them, these offer a very decent alternative with phase-corrected prisms and full multicoating, but without ED glass.

 

S&B

Two of the most recent scopes in S&B line-up are the 1-8×24 model built on a 30mm tube and a 3-20×50 34mm design.  I liked both quite a bit.

Last year’s 1-8×234 prototype was not quite ready for prime time, but this time around it seemed to be almost ready for production.  Of the current crop of scopes with 8x (or thereabouts) erector ratios, this is the only one that is a 30mm design, so it is trimmer than the competition.  Interstingly, the magnification dial is marked for 1.1-8x with a somewhat cryptic “CC” setting just to the left of 1.1x.  Apparently, that is the true 1x setting.  However, aside from lower the magnification, there is also a change in parallax setting that goes along with it.  Ostensibly, that is supposed to help in CQB situations.  The scope is equipped with two reticles: a ranging reticle in the FFP and dot in SFP.  Both can be illuminated, although not simultaneously.  Illumination of both reticles is controlled by a single knob.  Rotating it in one direction illuminated the ranging reticle and is calibrated to be at its most useful in low light.  Rotating the knob in the other direction illuminated the SFP dot and is bright enough for broad daylight.  All in all, I like the system.

There is also a somewhat simpler hunting version of the 1-8×24 scope in the Zenith line.

short dot

The 3-20×50 PMII scope is aimed at longer range shooting.  I have recently reviewed a 4-16×50 PMII and while I liked the design, there were a couple of things that I thought needed to be fixed.  Apparently, I was not the only one to think that since this 3-20×50 design addresses both and does in a more ambitious configuration.  The first thing I did not like was the tunnel vision at low magnification.  This scope does not seem to have any.  The eyepiece is of a notably larger diameter, which helps with field of view and eliminated the tunnel vision.  Also, total adjustment is now 36mrad, which is more than double of what the 4-16×50 PMII has.  The rest of the scope is typical S&B: good glass and crisp mechanicals.  Knobs are of the MTC variety and you need to pull them up to adjust.  Reticle illumination is accomplished via a 3rd knob on the scope body just in front of the magnification ring.

Overall, I think this is a very strong competitor in the high end tactical scope market segment.

3-20x50

 

US Optics

USO did not have any new scopes, but it looks like they will finally have their digital illumination control module available.  That is good news, since I was not very happy with illumination calibration on the last USO scope I reviewed.  With digital control, I think it is going to be easier to set-up the system for varying light conditions.

USO

 

Kruger

There is an upgraded version of Kruger’s “OLSLO”: Odd Looking Scope Like Object.  It is, however, a fair bit more polished than last year’s prototypes and now sports a carbon fiber body.  It is an odd looking thing, but it does have some nerdy appeal.  While, I am not entirely sure how this one is going to pan out long term, I am happy to see people think out of the box.  Also, the unconventional body shape of this design prepares the market for coming fully digital sights that do not need to be in a tube.

It is designed to go onto flat top AR or similar system.  With a flip of a lever you can transition between a non-focusing red dot sight and 2-8×40 conventional scope.  The natural question that arises, of course, is why this is superior to a conventional scope (like the excellent 3-9×42 Super Sniper) with a tiny red dot attached to the tube.  With the Kruger method, you have to move you hand to flip a lever in order to switch operating modes.  With a conventional scope with a red dot, you have to shift your head slightly.  A am not sure which is preferable, but time will tell.

Kruger

 

Nightforce

There were no new scopes (or at least not that I saw).  However, there were new reticles and I liked them quite a bit: MLR2, Mil-Dot2 and MPR-F1.  I always thought Nightforce reticle were a bit on a thin side, and these versions are a little bit thicker without being obtrusive.  I suspect that it will help low light visibility quite a bit.  I especially liked MLR2.

 

Elcan

New for this year are the fixed magnification Specter scopes.  Switch magnification Specter DR models have been around for a couple of years in the 1x/4x and 1.5x/6x configurations.  Now there is also a straight 4x Specter OS which I thought looked very good.  It is available with two reticle options.  One has an illuminated chevron together with holdover hashmarks.  The other has a small illuminated crosshair also with holdover marks.  It also has a choke-style rangefinder.  Honestly, I am not sure which I like more, but both seemed like very clean and functional designs.  Specter scopes have external adjustments that look very beefy.  While I am generally not a fan of external adjustments, these look to be very tough.  Glass looked very nice and I thought that the field of view was very wide, considering the rather decent eyerelief.

Another model that caught my eye was the somewhat more compact 3.1x ATOS 3.0 sight.  It has a somewhat thicker and faster reticle design and looks to be geared more toward close to mid-range target engagement.  Still, one of the reticle options offers holdover marks for 5.56 cartridge, and a BDC knob is also available.  Field of view is a bit narrower than on the Specter models, but I suppose that is a price to pay for compactness.  This sight is available with both picatinny and carry-handle mounts.  The adjustments are internal.

Overall, it looks like there are several interesting fixed power models now on the market and I wonder how these Elcans stack up against the ACOG, Hensoldt 4×30 and new Leupold HAMR.

 

In conclusion, here are some random thoughts on the activity in the sporting optics world

It looks like there is a lot more happening in the tactical market segments than in the hunting world.  I suppose margins are higher there.  The competition is truly heating up with Stener and Kahles jumping into the fray on the high end, Premier extending its product line and S&B coming up with a couple of very polished models.  Meopta is likely to join in although with a somewhat lower price tag.  Bushnell/Horus will have a 34mm tube model as well.  Honestly, I think in a couple of years this will be a VERY saturated market segment.

Scopes with high magnification ratios are here to stay and they are slowly moving into lower price brackets.  I think that will result in a lower number of distinct models needed to cover all useful magnifications, thereby providing manufacturers with better economies of scale.  For example, instead of having six or seven models in a complete scope line, you could easily get away with two or three.  For example, look at the new Leupold VX-R line-up.   It is based on 2.5x erector and the line-up consists of six models, that are primarily aimed at big game hunting.  That gives a lot of SKUs, but for a smaller maker, the economies of scale would not be there.  If I were to spec out a complete mid-range scope line in the current market based on a 6x erector (which is becoming fairly commonplace), I would only have three models: 1-6×24, 2.5-15×42 and 5-30×56.  Different versions of these configurations (SFP and FFP reticles, along with knob variations) could cover almost every conceivable application I can think of whether we are talking about hunting, varmint shooting, or tactical use.

I talked about red dot scopes elsewhere, so I will not go there again.

The low end Chinese makers like BSA, Barska, Leapers, etc seem to be going for more gadgety configurations, but not for higher quality.  Conversely, a lot of inexpensive scopes by well established brand names are simple configurations that are increasingly well-executed whether they are made in Phillipines or China.  As far as gadgety stuff goes, some genius at NcStar, for example, thought that this was a good idea (the camera is looking straight down into the objective lens of a scope):

This monstrosity is supposed to be a good way to add a laser pointer to the scope.  I could be wrong, but something tells me that an asymmetric obstruciton right behind the objective is not an optimal way to go.  Nor is directing a laser beam through the objective lens (near the edge).  On the other hand, since the rest of the scope is also junk, the addition of the laser does not make it a whole lot worse.  After all, you can’t really fall out of the basement.

 

My criticism aside, brands like Leapers, NcStar, etc are clealry doing well based on how much money they spend on their SHOT show booths.  The fact that people actually buy these products is mind boggling to me.

 

This year, I thought I would see a larger number of well-made Chinese scopes, but based on what I saw in various OEM booths, they still have a ways to go in terms of Quality Control.  However, they are making considerable strides with binoculars and spotters.

As far as Chinese-made riflescopes go, in the last couple of years, Hawke seemed to be the only one to maintain good enough QC.  This year, I am inclined to cautiously add Leatherwood, although I will keep track on how their products hold up.

 

Based on what I saw at SHOT, there are a few comparison test I expect to pursue:

  • Modern tweener scopes: Minox 1.5-8×32, Vortex Viper 2-7×32, Kahles 2-7×36 and perhaps one or two others.
  • Mid-size binoculars: 8×32 models from Minox, Meopta and perhaps Vortex.
  • High End Tactical: Part 3 with the new Steiner, another Premier and perhaps Kahles and S&B if I can get my hands on them
  • Low range variables: I am not sure if I can pull this off, but I will try to get my hands on Premier and S&B 1-8x scopes.  After this article, i suspect my chances of borrowing a Leupold CQBSS are effectively zero, but perhaps I’ll look at some 1-6x designs as well.

 

Copyright ILya Koshkin 2011

 Posted by at 9:33 pm