SHOT Show 2009

 

SHOT Show 2009


I originally planned to start at one end of the convention center and work my way over to the other end.  That did not quite pan out since there were a few people I wanted to get together with, so I ended up running back and forth a fair bit.  It is a good idea from an exercise standpoint, I suppose.

 

Here is a brief rundown of the new stuff:

 

Vortex:

They have new high magnification 15×56 binoculars called Kaibab.  This may be a beginning of a new line higher up than the Razor, although visually Kaibab looked like a Viper on steroids.  Mechanics were very smooth and glass looked pretty impressive (the best I can tell on a show floor).  Kaibab has some sort of a new-for-Vortex coating that is hydrophobic and scratch resistant.  The same coating is also added to the Razor line of binoculars.

Vortex is also introducing a new high end spotter called Razor HD.  It is a 20-60×85 model  (also available with a 30x eyepiece, I think).  Looking at those halogen lights near the roof, I was able to comfortably resolve the inner detail on the reflectors with no haze or evidence of CA.  Beyond that I would need to test the spotter outdoors.   Mechanically it looked good.  Focus knob is nice and smooth and it looks like it has enough eyerelief for eyeglass wearers.   It should be a strong competitor to similarly sized Nikon and Pentax spotters.  Money-wise it may end up being a bit more expensive than those two, so it may come into competition with some more expensive Kowa and Euro spotters.

 

Update on upcoming Vortex tactical scopes: Vortex guys asked me to stop by again a couple of days into the show to talk about their upcoming line tactical scopes.  It turned out that they planned to do more than just talk: they had two nearly-fully-done prototypes of the new Razor line of scopes to show me.  The scopes I saw were: 5-20×50 with a 35mm tube and 1-4×24 with 30mm tube.  Both scopes have FFP illuminated reticles and exposed knobs and are made in Japan.  It certainly looked like a lot of thought went into their design, since I had comparatively little to pick on (and I assure you I can usually find something to pick on).  The knobs had very nice feel to them.  The glass looked good to the extent that I could tell.  The reticles had interesting designs, that I think are very functional.  In terms of user friendliness, every scope is an exercise in compromises: on one hand you want a streamlined appearance so that the various protrusions do not catch on stuff.  On the other hand, you need those protrusions to be able to make adjustments easily and without looking if need be.  I think these new Vortex scopes strike the right balance.  Beyond that, there is really not much I can say about performance until I get to put them onto rifles and torture them a little.  When these are ready for production I should be able to get my hands on them.  The prices still need to be set, but it seems like they will undercut their competition by a non-trivial amount.  Performance wise, I think these will go after IOR and Nightforce above all else, and I would not be surprised if they take some sales from the really expensive scopes like Zeiss/Hensoldt, Premier and S&B.  The first version of the 5-20×50 will have MOA reticle and MOA knobs.  Mil/mil version will follow.  Further out, there will be other models in the Razor line to fill other niches.

 

 

Hawke Optics:

Hawke is a pretty well established British company that is just now making inroads into the US market.  I have previously acquired a set of their 8×43 Frontier ED binoculars (a review is forthcoming).  I had never seen their scopes before though.  Frontier and Frontier SF scopes are made in Japan by Kenko (same outfit, I think, that makes Super Sniper scopes, some Sightrons and a few others).  The rest of the scopes are made in China.  Several scope lines (Chinese made ones) have an interesting holdover reticle called MAP.  I will not go into detail on that since there is a bunch of information on it on their website.  It is kinda like Zeiss’ Rapid-Z  for people who can not afford Zeiss.  The people in the booth were pretty friendly and I will look to get a couple of their scopes for review.  I will decide which ones later on.  Frontier is a dead ringer for Sightron S1, so I am pretty familiar with that one. Frontier SF looks very nice and 4-16x versions were impressively compact.  I will definitely look at one of those and one of the Chinese made scopes with MAP reticle.

 

 

Zeiss:

There are now top-end Victory scopes with SFP reticles including Rapid-Z.  I suppose they are trying ot expand their influence in the US hunting market.  They have a BDC knob of some sort called ASV and a couple of new version of the Rapid-Z reicle.   There is also a new pistol scope (a first from a Euro maker) in the Conquest line.  It looked very nice and I wonder if it will work well as a scout scope (which is a bit more up my alley).  There is a new 8×26 rangefinder with trajectory information built in (same as in the 8×45 Victory RF binocular/rangefinder).  It looks like Zeiss is not happy with the fact that Swaro 8×30 is the highest end LRF on the market.  The new Zeiss LRF looks like a worthy competitor for it.

Zeiss also had a prototype of a combination camera spotter, called Photoscope 85 T* FL (15-45×85).  It is an interesting design since the variable magnification is achieved by varying the focal length of the objective not the eyepiece.  I have somewhat mixed feeling on how it is executed.  We’ll see what the production model looks like.

 

 

Swarovski

There were some new variants of Z6 scopes on display, which looked as good as other Z6 scopes (which is pretty good).  3-18×50 is a nice configuration that can satisfy a lot of different needs.  Otherwise, there was not much new there.  Top notch (and top price) products.

I got to mess with the Ballistic knob a little and it seemd like a nice thing.  Then again, I also like Kahles’ Multizero.

 

 

Trijicon:

A couple of new Accupoint scopes: 1-4×24 and 5-20×50, both with SFP reticles.  They seem like nice scopes with nothing exceptional except for Trijicons highly visible reticles.  I am not sure if the ones I saw are production models or prototypes, but the 5-20×50 needs better knobs.  Otherwise, good scopes with Trijicon’s trademark reticle.  As far as the 5-20×50 goes, I kinda have mixed feelings.  It is a nice scope, but Trijicon’s “special” feature is the reticle.  I am not sure how important that is in a high magnification, long range scope.  Now with a 1-4×24, that super visible reticle can really help Trijicon stand out among the competition.  S&B Short Dot made its reputation on having a very bright dot at 1x making it super fast.  Well, here comes Trijicon with a scope that has true 1x with very wide field of view and a super bright dot making it impressively fast.  Oh, and here is the kicker: there are no batteries to worry about.  We’ll see how this scope performs in real life, but this could be an interesting option.

ACOGs and Compact ACOGs got a couple of new reticles.  Circle-Dot in the redesigned (made even smaller)  1.5×16 Compact ACOG and Horseshoe-Dot with holdover marks in the 3×30, 3.5×35 and 4×32 ACOGs.  I will go out on a limb and say that I think these are THE reticles to choose if you want one of these.  Also, for the record, I think 3×30 is the best one in the ACOG family.  It has by far the most flexible and longest eye relief.  Trijicon lists the eyerelief at around 2″ or so and every 3×30 ACOG I have seen has 3-4″ of eye relief.  I think Trijicon does not advertise it a whole lot since it is not the model with the military contract, but if you are in the market for an ACOG and especially if you plan to put it onto something with more kick that 5.56×45, check the 3×30 out.

Reflex site has a new configuration that is bigger and has fiber-based illumination.  It looked pretty good.  There is also a newer version of the “Docter” sight called RSR with a couple of different illumination versions: fiber-based and LED-battery based.  It is a nice little sight.

 

 

IOR-Valdada:

3×25 scope has a redesigned turret housing, so it is a little slimmer and lighter.  It is also now available with and without the built in mount for additional mounting versatility.

There is a new 2-12×36 scope.  This one has a BDC calibrated for 308Win and does not have a side-focus knob.

Also, IOR is introducing a dual magnification 1x/4x  scope aimed at Elcan Specter DR (very different design though).  1x is quite clear with a very wide field of view.  4x has some distortion in the outer 10% of the field of view, but is pretty good otherwise.  This is an interesting piece.  It is very short, so it may offer some interesting mounting possibilities.  In order to change magnification between 1x and 4x, you have to rotate a ring that is at the same location as the regular magnification ring on normal scopes.  It is not as fast as the lever on Elcan Spectre DR, but it is a pretty positive adjustment.

Also new is a 36×42 benchrest scope with MOA reticle and MOA knobs.  I was surprised with high light it is.  I am not a benchrest shooter, so it is not my cup of tea.  I will let the benchrest guys play with this one.  One thing I found interesting is that it has worm-drive side focus with no stop to it.  Interesting design.

There is now also an eyepiece with a reticle in it available for 80mm Optolyth spotting scope that Valdada sells.  This is a fixed 30x eyepiece.

Apparently, Valdada now imports a few Kaps scopes.  They had 10×56 and 2.5-10×50 on display.  There is also a 8×56 model, but it was not on display.  Interesting designs: very nice looking glass, very slim but well executed eyepieces.  Knobs, I was not impressed with: a bit too much slop.  2.5-10×50 scope has a BDC for 168gr 308.  I am kinda mixed on these scopes: beautiful craftsmanship and the glass appears very good, but the knobs are a bit disappointing.  We’ll see how they fare.

 

 

Leica:

They have a couple of prototype riflescopes there: 2.5-10×42 and 3.5-14×42.  They seem like nice scopes, but one of them had some very uncharacteristic CA in it. I hope it is not present in the production scopes.

Also new for the show are Geovid HD rangefinding binoculars with improved glass, that looked very good, and a new rangefinder model with a bit more reach (1500 meters, I think).  Leica rep spent a few minutes trying to convince me that the 7×26 rangefinder has 4x magnification which makes imminently more suitable for long distance ranging than the competition.  He also did not take my criticism of the new Leica riflescopes too kindly.  Still, he was very civil despite me pointing out that he should check out their catalog for the specs for the rangefinder rather go ahead an invent them.

 

 

Kowa:

There is a new spotter available: TSN-82SV.  I think it is a little more compact that the earlier spotter of the same size.  It uses the eyepiece from Kowa’s smaller 60mm spotters.

The big news was the binoculars: Kowas introduced 33mm objective lens versions of their superb Genesis XD binoculars.  I spent a bit more time with the 44mm binoculars and then looked at the 33mm ones in some more detail.  I think I will need to put together a review with these.  Color and contrast are as good as anything I have ever seen.  I am surprised these binoculars are not more popular.  Truthfully, there are a lot of excellent full size binoculars available, but the 33mm Kowas really stood out to my eyes among the mid-size binos (it would be interesting to have Ted pit these against his 8×32 Leica Ultraivd HDs; if I get my hands on a pair, I’ll send them over to him).

 

 

Sightron:

Sightron does not have too much stuff that is new for the show, but they told me a couple of new things they are working on.  I was asked to not disclose it yet, but it sounds interesting (and is right up my alley).  There are a few new scope configurations and a few new binoculars.  Still, Sightron has a pretty complete line-up and if you have not seen them yet, I highly recommend you check out Sightron’s S2 Big Sky and S3 scopes.  Of the currently in production stuff, I think these Sightrons are ultimately the best Japanese scopes in terms of optics.  Keep your eyes out for upcoming models.  They sound like they can cause quite a stir in their respective markets.

The binoculars that attracted my attention are the redesigned SIII binoculars, that now have ED glass in them.  They looked good optically and had the now-popular split bridge design.

 

 

Meopta:

Meopta displayed 8×32 and 10×32 binoculars which are very good in typical Meopta fashion.

They also have some sort of new spotter eyepiece that allows you to snap photographs and look through the scope at the same time.  I have not spent much time with it since digiscoping is not my thing, but it is a pretty need idea.

In terms of riflescopes, there was not much new except for a 10×42 ZD scope, but it was an early prototype of some sort.

Lastly, Meopta jumped on the mini red-dot bandwagon and produced their own version of what is typically known as the “Docter sight”.  There is a bunch of these on the market now and most look the same to me.  There are minute differences, but I have got to think that in a year or two at least half of these will no longer be in production.  That having been said, perhaps I should a get one of these miniature red-dot sights for myself.   Still, I doubt that I will get the Meopta version: it has the red dot that is nowhere near round. Rather it is some sort of a cross-shaped small plane looking thing.

 

 

Pentax:

I did not see anything particularly captivating in the Pentax booth.  Their binoculars are decent, but not longer my top choice in any category: the competition has passed them by.

Spotters are still good though.  Here is the kicker: the scopes they had on display had either XF or SMC Zoom 20-60x eyepiece.  They did not have a single fixed focal length XW eyepiece in the booth (I asked).  SMC zoom eyepiece is absolutely top-notch, of course, but the assortment of XW eyepieces are I think, one of the things that makes Pentax spotters really stand out.  Then again, what do I know?

With riflescopes, there is a new 5x erector scope in their cheap Gameseeker line, which kinda makes no sense to me.

 

 

Nikon:

New EDG spotting scopes with 65mm and 85mm objective lenses.  These are accompanied by new EDG eyepieces which I actually like.  As  a matter of background I consider currently available Fieldscope eyepieces to be pieces of excrement that ruin otherwise very nice spotters; these new EDG eyepieces are larger in diameter and have a lot more eye relief.  Nice stuff.  Then I looked up how much these are going to cost. They better be bloody amazing for that kinda money.  Time will tell.

Premier LX-L binoculars have been resurrected as a binocular line one step below the EDGs.  The sample they had on hand was not great: noticeable CA, but they assured me it is not a production piece.  One step below the Premier LX-L binoculars there is a new line of Monarch-X binoculars that I found thoroughly underwhelming.

With riflescopes, there are a few new low-range variables labeled “Monarch African”: 1-4×20, 1.1-4×24 and 1.1-4x24IR.  All have #4 reticle and nice wide field of view.  The specs are not available yet, but these look like “me too” products.  Still these are pretty nice “me too” products and if priced well could do quite all right.

I still think that the 2-8×32 is the best Monarch scope in the whole line-up, but that is just me.

 

 

Optolyth:

Optolyth had a separate booth, but they also show their products along with IOR’s stuff (see the original post).  I stopped by to take a look at their binoculars.  There is nothing especially new there except the Via Nova binocular had an especially crappy focus wheel.  Disappointing, I always thought these were pretty nice.

 

 

Leupold

I did not spend too much time there, but I looked at the new VX-3 scopes.  Clicks are a little crisper and glass is perhaps a touch better.  I will try to get my hands on one for review, but so far I do not see what all the hubbab is about.  I stopped by Leupold one more time to take a look at the new scopes in more detail.  This was supposed to be one of the BIG stories of the optics end of the show, and I wanted to give it a fair shake. I looked over several models in the new VX-3 line-up and I looked at the 4.5-14x one very thoroughly. At low mag there was some odd distortion. At high mag, there was strong chromatic aberration. Knobs did something funky when you reverse direction. Some time in the spring I will try to put together a scope comparison involving 4-14x type scopes. I’ll add the Leupold to the mix. Leupold had a few binoculars with new names. They were not sufficiently memorable to list here. The rangefinders, on the other hand, had some new designs. I especially liked the RX-1000. If has a nice, small and handy, form factor.  It is supposed to be able to range deer out to 700 yards or so, but I can’t confirm that inside the convention center.

 

 

Bushnell

Once again, I only had a cursory overview, since I mostly stopped by to look at the new 1.5-8×32 Elite 6500 scope, which looked pretty good, but was very dirty.  Still I like that configuration.  It has gobs of eye relief and should work well on a kicker.  I am not sure what reticles are available for it, but the plex reticle in the scope on the show floor is entirely too thin.  Aside from that I spent some time with the Millet guys, who are now a part of Bushnell.  Nothing new there, but the latest generation of DMS, TRS and LRS scopes looked pretty good.  I made another stop at Bushnell booth to look at their folded path spotter with a reticle.  It actually looked very nice.  Definitely worth looking at in the future and the price looked very attractive.

Now that Bushnell has acquired Millett, I am kinda utilizing a wait and see attitude toward some Millett products that I generally recommend in their respective price ranges.  I would like to see how the integration of the two product lines will continue in the future.

That having been said, one Millett product that I think you should definitely check out if you are in the market for a red dot is Millett ZoomDot.  It is unlike any other red dot on the market and I think it is made very well.

 

 

Aimpoint

I suppose this the right time to talk about Aimpoint, now that I suggested people look at the Millett ZoomDot.  Aimpoint makes excellent red dot sights.  They are well made and have incredibly efficient illumination circuits.  I am pretty sure that vast majorit of users will not have to change the batteries for at least five years.  Probably longer.

For the SHOT Show this year, Aimpoint really did not have any especially new products.  They did have some new mounting options for the their micro red dot sights: R1, T1 and H1.

I have been very impressed with those miniature sights.  There are a few reasons for that: the battery lasts almost as long as in the full-size model.  The biggest thing for me is that the rather large knob that adjusts dot brightness is, to me, a fair bit easire to oeprate than the knob on full-size Aimpoints.  That is one of the big reasons why I ended up switching from a full size Aimpoint to Millett ZoomDot.  Now with the Micros I think Aimpoint really has something special on their hands.

Eotech
The model with the N-battery is being phased out.  It is being replaced with a similarly sized model that uses a lithium 123 battery. Also, the magnifier is slightly redesigned: it seems to have a bit less edge distortion than I recall and it has fine adjustment to tweak alignment with the sight itself.

Weaver/Nitrex
Weaver has just been bought back by ATK which is good news in my opinion.  I do not think they were quite ready for the SHOT Show, but I think there are some good things happening there.  Ultimate Slam scopes are new and feature 5x erectors.  The field of view is a bit narrow, but eye relief is pretty long at 4″.  All scopes with magnification above 10x get side focus.  Optically, the look like decent Japanese scopes along the lines of the Grand Slam.  The Tactical scope line with FFP reticles and 5x erectors was announced but not available yet.  I am hopeful that Weaver is back on a road to recovery.
Nitrex scopes will be essentially identical to Weaver ones, but with a different distribution model.  I do not think Nitrex will get FFP scopes, but TR2 and TR1 are equivalent to Weaver’s Ultimate Slam and Grand Slam respectively. 
Both brands get a new EBX reticle which is another twist on a holdover reticle.

Burris
Generally, I have been a little disappointed with Burris lately.  I think the company has been sliding a bit after being purchased by Beretta.  
For the show this year, Burris came out with a bunch of “me too” products, but I think they have their place in the marketplace and some could do well.
First of all, there are two SixX scopes: 2-12×40 and 2-12×50.  Everyone is gong toward more complicated erector tubes, so Burris had to join the mix.  That having been said, the scopes actually looked all right.  They are reasonaby compact and have good eye releif.  They will be available with two reticles: Ballistic Plex and #4.  I certainly applaud that effort since I tend to find the regular thin plex reticle so popular in the US to be moderately useless for anything other than target shooting.  A nice thick #4 reticle is much better in low light.
The FastFire micro red dot sight gets a water proof version, which is a worthwhile improvement in my book.
Burris binoculars I probably should not talk about. If Burris decides to sue me for slander, they can afford more lawyers than I can….
For regular size red dots, Burris is introducing their version of a magnifier: 3x Tripler with fine adjustments for better alignment with the sight itself.
Perhaps more interesting is the AR-332 prismatic 3x sight. It is kinda a mix of Trijicon ACOG and Leupold prismatic: there is magnification, but the reticle is illuminated by the battery, instead of fiber optics.  If your battery dies you still have a pretty thick and useable black reticle.  The reticle is dominated by an outer circle that is 1 mil thick.  Inside it there is a center dot 1 mil in diameter and some holdover marks. The illumination is either red or green depending on which direction you turn the knob in (the green/red thing is kinda cheesy to me, I would prefer red with more settings from low to high).  This is an interesting little sight and should be quite affordable.  I would like to wring it out in low light some time.  It has a built-in carry handle mount a la ACOG which is definitely a minus as far as I am concerned.  That means that there is no way to mount it low in case your rifle is not an AR.

Leatherwood
Since I recently had to face a lot of questions about Leatherwood scopes, I spent a fair amount of time looking at them.  If you want details about a particular scope line, I may be able to address it, but in a nutshell, here is what I think:
-Optically, quality is better than it was a couple of years ago when I last looked at them, but still not where I would recommend these scopes.
-Knobs were pretty bad on every scope on display.
-There are sound ideas behind the designs, but execution is not good enough.

Now onto the good part: the guys at the booth (including Corbett Leatherwood) were very receptive of criticism.  I hope that they will feed it back to the factory.  I will perhaps revisit Leatherwood scopes in a few months and see where they are.  For now, I do not think I am going to spend much time on them.  There was a dozen of scopes on display and not a single decent knob.

Steiner
Wildlife porro 8×30 binoculars are new.  They are a bit better than Military/Marine binos and have an interesting focusing arrangement: there are the individual focusing rings on both oculars AND a center focus.  I have not quite seen that before.

Minox
Minox seems to be suffering from an identity crisis of a sort.  In 2009 they will have an updated version of HG binoculars with wider field of vew and fluorite glass lenses.  The specs looked good, we’ll see how good the image is.  Minox now also has a straight eyepiece 50mm spotter that is pretty decent optically and very lightweight.

Nightforce
2.5-10×32 has been around for a couple of months.  It is a nice little scope.
Also, Nightforce FFP scope was on display.  Mechanically, Nightforce scopes have always been superb.  Optically, well, let’s just say that in my opinion a scope that expensive should have appreciably better glass.
Interestingly, Nightforce is the one booth where I got pretty close to getting kicked out.  At just about every booth I would offer some feedback on what I saw in the scope.  It looks like with Nightforce folks you are either a die hard fan or a mortal enemy, nothing in between.  Unless you think their scopes are the best thing since sliced bread, they will not give you the time of day.  Quite frankly, I do not think that attitude is constructive, and I hope Vortex eats their lunch.
Just for the record, I think I am the only person in the world who does think too highly about all those skeleton reticles.  With illumination off, they are difficult to see in anything, but the brightest light.

US Optics
There is a new 1.7-10×37 scope which looks to be well made and is pretty compact.  In typical USO fashion, they will make it with any options you want.  This year it is available with T-Pal in addition to AO.  I have mixed feeling toward some USO scopes due to their size and weight, but I liked this one.

Shirstone
There were two people in the booth: a pretty girl with good English who has never seen a scope before and an older Japanese guy who knew something about the scopes, but spoke comparatively little English (and could not work through my accent any better than I could work through his).  The scopes themselves looked like pretty decent Japanese made scopes.  Not sure what their competitive advantage is: there is a bunch of scopes just like that already.  Basically, the scopes looked OK, but I am adopting a wait and see approach on what they want to do in this market.

Elcan
I only stopped by Elcan’s booth briefly.  I looked at the Spectre DR 1x/4x and the new Spectre DR 1.5x/6x as well as a 3x Spectre OS.
In principle, I like the Spectre DR sights. The execution, however, I am not as crazy about.  Optically, they are OK.  There is some edge distortion, but I am not too bothered by it.  I am a bit bothered by very thin reticle.  If the illumination is off, it is hard to see with a wide variety of backgrounds.  I am also not big on ARMS mounts that are integrated into the sight.  Perhaps, that is just a personal thing, but I have had enough trouble with ARMS rings to not use them.  Another thing that I do not like is the fact that elevation adjustment is external.  I generally dislike adjustments that can easily get clogged with dirt, mud, etc (yes, I am clearly in the “internal adjustment” ACOG camp).
With that out of the way, the 1.5x/6x sight is new this year.  It is slightly larger than the 1x/4x one, but otherwise is functionally almost the same (aside from the obvious magnification difference).
The Spectre OS sight is a red dot sight with a built in 3x magnifier: if the illuminated dot is off, there is no reticle.  Field of view is quite narrow and you generally feel like you looking through a straw.  On a plus side, it is quite flexible for eye position and a lot more compact than Aimpoint with the separate magnifier.

S&B (non-tactical scopes)
I think the only new scope S&B had for this show was the Summit: 2.5-10×40 with 1″ tube.  I think this is essentially the Zenith shoved into a 1″ tube, which is a good thing.  That probably makes it the best 1″ tube hunting scope in the world.
Aside from that, I do not think there is anything new in the S&B line-up.  I spent some time looking at their line-up fo fixed magnification scopes: 4×36, 6×42, 8×56 and 10×42.  
There are not a whole lot of high quality fixed magnification scopes left out there and I can’t help but lament that.  These fixed magnification scopes by S&B are absolutely superb.  I can think of very little shooting out there that can not be comfortably doen with either a 4×36 or a 6×42 fixed magnification scope by S&B.  Interestingly, Kaps (which is across the street from S&B) also makes similarly configured fixed magnification scopes.  Aside from that, all that remains are the very good IOR line-up and a lone 4×32 Zeiss Conquest.

Now we are getting to the part of the SHOT Show that I really spent a lot of time on.  I was shuttling between Premier, S&B and Hensoldt booths for quite a bit looking at their scopes and trying to make up my mind on these.  In a nutshell, the shooter in me would probably go with Premier while the engineer in me would definitely go with Hensoldt (both the shooter and the engineer would feel some mild curiosity about the future of S&B tactical scopes).

Here is a brief summary of the product offerings, and after that I will offer some thoughts on how these scopes compare, based on an admittedly limited “show floor” evaluation Before I get too much flak for my observations, I have to make a disclaimer: I am not a LEO, and I am not in the military.  I am a self-professed shooting diletante.  However, I have seen just about every decent scope out there and I like to think that my understanding of optics is a touch above average.  

Still, this is just one guy’s opinion, so do not read too much into it.

Zeiss/Hensoldt
This year, Hensoldt scopes are finally coming to our shores. For the most part, Hensoldt scopes are Zeiss designs with a Hensoldt twist, so to speak, although a couple of scopes do not necessarily have an analogous Zeiss-branded copy. Hensoldt scopes come in following configurations:

3-12×56 FFP and SFP with 34mm tube
3-12×56 SSG-P, with FFP reticle and built-in mount (30mm tube)
4-16×56 FFP and SFP with 34mm tube
6-24×56 SFP with 30mm tube
6-24×72 SFP with 34mm tube
6-24×72 SFP with 34mm tube and with SAM (SAM is a computing module that measures temperature, humidity, inclination, level, etc)
A folded path 20-60×72 spotting scope with illuminated reticle.  This is quite simply the best scope of its type in the world and, likely, the most expensive one.  It is optically superb and very rugged.  

All Hensoldt products are certified to Mil-standard.

All of the 34mm tube Hensoldts are designed to be as short as possible, and considering that the smallest objective in the line-up is 56mm, they are very short indeed.  30mm tubed models are notably longer than their 34mm tube brethren. They have illuminated reticles, side focus and triple turn knobs with multi-clor markings.  SSG-P scope has an itnegrated mount and magnification indicator within the filed of view (very neat).
6-24×72 scopes, apparently have objective lenses made of fluorite crystal for better CA control.
The SAM module is integrated with the scope (sits under it in the form of a base with rings) and is not very difficult to use.  Still, there is a learning curve.  You need to set it up with some information on the ballistics of your cartridge.  Beyond that, you just need to tell it how far the target is.  The output of the SAM is projected into the image as you look through the scope.  I think for a well trained shooter this can definitely increase the probability of the first shot hitting the target and probably speed up firing that first shot.  Oh, and if you have to ask how much this costs, you probably can not afford one. 

Premier
Heritage 3-15×50 scope has been out for a couple of months now.  For the show, Premier has unveiled a 5-25×56 version of the scope.  In terms of image quality, I think this scope is the best I have ever seen, bar none.  We took it outside of the convention center mounted on a tripod and spent a little while looking at distant and not so distant objects.  I was stunned at the depth of field on it.  Premier really did their homework on this one.
Both scopes are big and heavy.  The dual turn elevation knob is spectacular.  All knobs have excellent feel.  
Basically, for an allround tactical scope with no electronics involved, this is as good as it gets.

S&B
S&B line-up is fairly well known.  Here I will touch on the three models: 3-12×50, 4-16×50 and 5-25×56.  These three compete directly against the Premier and Hensoldt scopes above.  The 5-25×56 is the most recent design and offers the ebst image quality of the three.  It is almost on par with Premier.  3-12×50 and 4-16×50 are truly sperb, but in all honesty, I think both the 3-15×50 Premier and the similary configured Hensoldt scopes are a bit better.

With that basic summary out of the way, what do I mean when I say “optically better”?  There is not a whole lot of resolution testing you can do during the show.  However, these are the most optically advanced scopes in the world and I suspect that there is little to set the apart resolution-wise.  Distortion is equally well compensated.  All have very sharp images edge-to-edge.  Just about the only thing I can find that differentiates them is color management and, to a certain degree, width and depth of field.  There, Premier scopes were ahead of the pack ever so slightly, but noticeably. Field of view on the Premier scopes is about the same as on the similarly configured Zeiss scopes and wider than on S&B scopes.

What complicates matters is that the design philosophy between these scopes is different.  S&B scopes, historically, utilize somewhat simple optical systems with absolutely top notch components.  Premier scopes do the same things, only a bit better.  I am struggling to think of a situation where I would go for a more expensive S&B scope now that Premier is on the market.

Situation with Hensoldt is different: in their attempt to combine large objectives with short scopes, Hensoldt engineers created a set of new problems on their collective behind.  This engineering feat makes color management much more complicated.  It also makes depth of field shallower.  These are the unavoidable compromises with shortening the focal lengths in a scope.  For me, here is the kicker: what is the purpose of making a scope with a 72mm objective lens 15 inches long, vs 18″ long?  It is not exactly going to be mounted on a light weight mountain rifle.  It will likely be sitting on a 15 pound rifle with an overall length of 40 to 50 inches.  I agree that weight of the scope makes a difference and Hensoldt scopes are lighter than their counterparts from Premier and S&B.  However, adding a couple of inches of aluminum tube would not likely effect the weight a whole lot and I suspect it would simplify the design a bit.  In all fairness, that is mostly conjecture on my part, a guess, really, but a fairly educated guess at that.

As they are, I think that Premier makes the best allround tactical scope I have seen.
However, depending on your needs, Hensoldt also has a lot to offer.  If low light is the higest priority, than the larger objective lenses of Hensoldt scopes will give you an advantage.  Similarly, if this is what you do for a living and you can afford the 6-24×72 with the integrated SAM, this is your best tool for making the first shot hit the target, especially when the light gets low.

For those of you who managed to slog through the 6000+ words of my barely coherent SHOT Show ramblings, I feel for you.  The amount of information I ran into at SHOT is absolutely staggering and in order to make it truly coherent, I would have to double the size of the write-up.  Then I can pretty much guarantee that no one in his right mind would read it.

As is, if I did not mention a particular scope you are interested in, please post a question in the thread.  If I have indeed looked at it, I will dust off my recollections the best I can.

ILya

 

P.S.  Here is the OpticsTalk discussion thread on this:

http://www.opticstalk.com/forum_posts.asp?TID=14733&KW=SHOT+2009

 

 Posted by at 8:23 pm