Minox is entering the rifle scope market with some 3x and 5x erector scopes. They told me that the glass is German, the mechanicals are from Asia (China, I think) and assembly is done in the US (I am not sure by whom). There are four models: 3-9×40, 2-10×40, 3-15×42 and 4-20×50. Optically, they looked all right. I did not like the knobs. I will ask the Minox guy I talked to for a loaner to run against the competition. Given a choice, I would like to evaluate the ZA-3 3-9×42 scope since it is likely to be the biggest seller.
Some of Minox binocular production has been moved from Japan to Germany, but most product lines continue with the same design, so do not expect major changes. However, APO HG and HG binoculars went away from using aspheric lenses in an attempt to gain some field of view. Field of view is indeed wider than it used to be, but still not quite as wide as that of the similarly priced competition. It is good glass though and Minox’ competitive advantage is light weight. HG with 52mm objective lens weighs about the same as a competing 42mm designs. If you are looking for light weight low light binocular, HG 8.5×52 is probably worth looking at. If they make APO HG at some point, it will become even more compelling. I am not sure whether the price will be effected by the manufacturing location. I was told that the labor costs in Germany and Japan are similar right now.
Meopta had a small booth over in the corner of the show floor, so I made it out there fairly late in the show. It was definitely worth the walk. I always liked Meopta glass, but their scopes traditionally have had short eye relief and been fairly heavy. This year Meopta is introducing a line of 1″ tube scopes called MeoPro. All the components are made in the Czech Republic and the assembly is done here in US by Meopta USA. Optical quality is supposed to be similar to the 30mm MeoStar scopes but there is a bit more eyerelief (3.75″ or thereabouts). Knobs are also, ostensibly, redesigned for better accuracy. These scopes are priced to compete against Zeiss Conquest and, I think, Minox. I’ll try to set up a scope comparison using a 3-9×42 version (4-12×50 and 6-18×50 are the other configurations).
Also new is a line up of assembled in US MeoPro binoculars that are substantially cheaper than Meostars. Most welcome is a roof prism 6.5×32 that should retail in the $350 range. It will be interesting to see how it fares against Vortex Viper 6×32. Other models are 8×42 and 10×42.
One of the more interesting scopes in Meopta’s original line-up is the 1-4×22 K-Dot. There is now a second version of that scope, which is slightly shorter and lighter with a new reticle and brighter illumination. This reticle is similar to the original K-Dot, but has three chevrons for holdover calibrated to match 5.56 round at 300, 400 and 500 yards (assuming 200 yard zero).
This was the most exciting booth on the show floor (for me). There was a fair amount of new stuff and most of it is right up my alley. Most of these products were announced a bit earlier, but this was my first opportunity to see them.
Viper PST scopes offer 30mm main tubes, 4x erectors and interesting reticles. The models are 1-4×24 (SFP), 2.5-10×44 (SFP), 4-16×50 (FFP and SFP) and 6-24×50 (FFP and SFP). All models are available with matched Mil reticle/Mil knobs or MOA reticle/MOA knobs configurations (a concept of matching reticles and knobs is finally gaining some ground with many manufacturers). Al models have ~4quot; of eye relief and reticle illumination controlled by a small knob on the eyepiece. I really liked 1-4×24 and 4-16×50. I think these two models will do exceptionally well. 6-24×50 was very good as well. 2.5-10×44 was a bit of a let down since the tunnel vision is quite pronounced That is quite a shame since this is easily one of my favourite allround configurations. It is a decent scope, but to be blunt, is not up to the standards of the rest of the Viper PST line. These scopes should be available some time in the spring and will retail in the $500 to $900 range depending on the configuration. If you are looking for a scope to put on your M4, 1-4×24 Viper PST should be high on your list. With more than 200MOA of adjustment range available this is very versatile scope. For a precision rifle, I think 4-16x50FFP with good glass, solid mechanicals and 75MOA adjustment range rocks. A slightly larger 6-24×50 has 65MOA of adjustment available if you lean toward higher magnification. All of the PST scopes also allow you to set zero stop by means of stacking a series of washers to limit knob movement. It is not perfect, but it works well enough.
Razor 1-4×24 (along with the 5-20×50 model that debuted last year) is also available now. This scope is superb in every way possible. It only comes with 1/4 MOA knobs and two reticle choices, one designed for generic use and another calibrated for 5.56 round. Both are FFP reticles. I prefer the second one since it is a little faster. The reticle is illuminated with the control knob sitting on the left of the turret box. This scope has 200MOA of adjustment and excellent glass. With good glass quality even 4x is suitable for shooting fairly far out. It is about 4 ounces heavier than 1-4×24 Viper PST and is a little longer. I expect Razor 1-4×24 to retail for around $1200, but time will tell what the street prices are. Honestly, I think Razor is a better scope especially for precision shooting. However, it is also a lot more expensive and I suspect Vortex will sell a lot more Viper PSTs. However, the two Razor scopes are squarely aimed at the market segment dominated by Nightforce, and I like them quite a bit more than I do Nightforce.
There is a new red dot sight called Sparc (I think it is an acronym of some sort, but I did not bother memorizing it). Essentially, it is the old Strikefire that went on a serious diet, lost green illumination and added a bit more brightness to red illumination in the process. It is going to be a bit more expensive than Strikefire with retail price of ~$200. Unofrtunately it has retained Strikefire’s worst feature: itty-bitty control buttons. Their feel is a bit better than on early Strikefires, but the whole design leaves me cold (to put it mildly). Red illumination became a little brighter and I welcome smaller form factor, but those buttons useless if you are in a rush. That having been said, I have owned a Strikefire for about a year now and it has held up without any problems. Whether I like the controls or not, there is something to be said about durability. For those who like to use red dots with magnifiers, Vortex offers a 3x VMX3. It is a same type of the device that other red-dot companies offer: a short monocular with roof prism inside. I do not like the whole concept very much, but at least VMX3 is not very expensive (~$130).
Also new are Recon spotters/monoculars. They come in two configurations 10×50 and 15×56. The R/T versions have reticles and winged eyecups and these are the ones I prefer. They are compact, light and easy to use. Each one is essentially one half of a Viper binocular with some additional hardware to enable monocular focusing. Each has a clip on the body for easy transportation and tripod mount. Hunting versions lose the reticle and the winged eyecup in favor of an extendible eyecup identical to the one on Viper binoculars. If you are trying to carry as little weight as possible out in the field, I suggest you give serious consideration to Vortex Viper 6×32 binocular paired with one of the Recon spotters.
The configuration I found most intriguing was the 4-16×50 with illuminated #60 reticle (kinda like 34) and Hunting BDC knob. It is an optically spectacular and very versatile choice. I wish it was available with a MilDot (#43 in Zeiss-speak).
Aimpoint’s new product for the show was their new hunting sight, which left me decidedly underwhelmed. Imagine a maglite flashlight that has swallowed an Aimpoint Micro and you’ll have a reasonable idea of what it looks like. It is now based on a 34mm tube and dot brightness is now controlled by a couple of pushbuttons on the top of the sight. I could not quite figure out the advantage of going to this form factor, so I went ahead and asked the company rep who was standing right next to me. His theory was that due to larger tube diameter the Field of View is appreciably wider. I did not find the argument compelling since one of the advantages of a red dot sight like this is the ability to keep both eyes open. Aside from that it looked like a larger and more expensive version of a good old Aimpoint red dot. I don’t get the idea behind this.
Another new scope is the 10-50×60 S3 aimed at benchrest guys. It comes with a couple of very thin reticles and should be a superb scope for shooting groups.
Largely not worth my time or yours.
New knobs with more clicks per turn were shown at shot. They are nice knobs, but I certainly expect everything mechanical coming out of Nightforce to be well executed.
Steiner introduced rather large 10×50 porro prism binoculars with built-in Laser Range Finder that will run well over $2k. I am struggling with figuring out why I would buy this over similarly priced and superb LRF binoculars from Leica or Zeiss. Rangefinding function itself seemed pretty slow to me when I tried it on the show floor. I like some Steiner products, but this one leaves me confused.
Nice folks with nice custom products. I did not see anything particularly new there, but I did chance onto USO scope sitting on a GAP rifle that had a “Baby EREK” knob: EREK knob of smaller diameter which I liked.
- I think the concept of a red dot as a primary rifle sight (i.e. Aimpoint, Eotech, etc) is dead for all practical purposes. It will linger on for a little bit longer, but these are the death thores of the concept. Low range variables are getting good enough at 1x to supplant the red dot sights while offering better versatility. The only red dot sights I expect to survive for quite a while longer are the miniature ones: Aimpoint Micros and Docter-style sights. They can be used to good effect on pistols and shotguns, as well as mounted on top/side of normal telescopic sights as secondary aiming instruments. Full size red dot sights, in my opinion, will see their market share dwindling. Even US Military that is traditionally slow to react to any remotely useful idea will end up dumping red dots in favor of 1-4x, 1-6x, 1-8x, etc at some point.
- Chinese ED binocular that offer truly competitive performance have been around for a while now and their QC is mostly holding up. They are marketed by several different companies and their product quality is slowly improving (better focusing knobs, etc). They are here to stay. This is significant because the factory making these is not a captive factory for a large non-Chinese company. This is an OEM place that makes binoculars for a number of companies.
- Chinese riflescopes are also slowly inching up-market in both price and performance. I think Hawke Sidewinder 30 Tactical and Endurance 20 are harbingers of things to come, but time will tell. We are entering a phase where products both designed AND manufactured in China are becoming truly competitive.
- US labor costs are sufficiently low to make it attractive for companies like Meopta and Minox to assemble products here (Zeiss has been doing it for a while). That makes them almost as close to “US Made” as Leupold and Burris. They are cheaper than products assembled in Europe and they might get some mileage out of the “Assembled in USA” sticker. Are we going to see more work for other companies done in the US? are we going to see partial re-birth of sporting optics industry in the US? personally, I doubt it, but time will tell.
- Leupold, all out of the blue, is coming out with some innovative products. Their MO for the last few years has been more along the lines of “innovative marketing”. Is this a re-birth of innovation at Leupold here to stay? I sure hope so.
Here is the relevant OpticsTalk discussion:
Copyright ILya Koshkin, January 2010