ILya

Jan 242021
 

January, 2021

Recommending a camera to people in the age of ever improving cellphones is kinda rough, especially since it really depends on what you are looking to do.  This is more of an explanation of what I use and why.

Before I begin:

1) do not buy a DSLR.  Their day is done. If you are looking for a system camera, mirrorless is the way to go

2) except for a few very specialized circumstances (underwater or action cam or ultralight travel or you are a crazy camera geek like me), do not buy an all-in-one camera or point and shoot camera

For general purpose picture and video taking, your best bet is to get a smartphone with the best camera available.  For years, I used Google Pixel phones, but a few months ago, after Google screwed up with Pixel5  I said screw it and got the new iPhone 12 Pro Max.  I despise everything about iOS, but it takes excellent picture an videos.  It also has good battery life and a superb screen.  I care more about that then about the rest of this phone put together.  It is expensive, but it is still cheaper than a camera that would give you appreciably better image and video quality.

I happened to have one of those too, so let’s go over that next.  For years, I stuck with the Micro-4/3 mount since it have me a good compromise of image quality and portability.  I was willing to sacrifice some low light performance to get that.  Well, after years of gross mismanagement by Olympus, I finally called it quits (for the most part) and switched systems.

I still have a couple of Micro-4/3 cameras, both are now discontinued, so I will not go into any detail on them.  One is a Z-cam E1 that I have set up to take “through the scope” videos.  Another is an old Panasonic GX-1 that I am using to teach my daughter to take pictures.  I sold off all of my lenses, keeping only four of the more compact ones:

Panasonic Lumix 15mm F/1.7 (excellent image quality and color)

Panasonic 14mm F/2.5 pancake (super compact and unfortunately discontinued)

Panasonic Lumix 12-32mm F/3.5-5.6 (strangely good collapsible kit lens)

Olympus Zuiko 45mm F/1.8 (90mm equivalent fast prime for portraits and telephoto use)

In terms of stills image quality, I do not think Micro-4/3 system is overall viable any more.  High end cell phones got too close and offer much better workflow.  One exception to that is telephoto.  You can get really impressive telephoto reach with a much smaller optic than you would otherwise be able to do with a larger sensor camera system.  I do not do a ton of telephoto, so I switched to a different system in order to get something that is more of a step up from my cell phone.

Micro-4/3 is a perfectly viable video system, however, and Panasonic makes a couple of excellent video-centric mirrorless cameras.

Once you go to larger image sensor size, there are three categories to choose from: APS-C, FullFrame (same size as old 35mm film) and medium frame.  The larger the image sensor, the larger the lenses.  Also, the larger the image sensor the more heat the sensor generates when filming video.

For me, both stills an video are important and, having used larger systems before, I was not comfortable with hernia inducing lenses.  Also, I do not have unlimited budget.  If I wanted ultimate image quality, I would probably just bite the bullet and ump to medium frame.  However, my camera has to be a general purpose system that does everything well.

I ended up going with an APS-C sensor system from Fuji.  More specifically, Fuji X-T4 that is probably the best hybrid still/video camera at the moment.  My brother has a few Fuji lenses including the 100-400mm telephoto that I occasionally use to look for bullet holes or to take pictures of the moon.  That saved me a ton of money.

The lenses I use the most are the 16-80mm F/4 that is my general purpose lens and 23mm F/2.  Both have very respectable optical quality and are weather resistant, just like the camera body.  I plan to acquire a 90mm F/2 at some point for portraits and low light telephoto, but that is largely it.  I try to keep the number of lenses I own to a minimum.  I want them to be reasonably compact AND weather resistant.

Finally, the camera I really wanted is a fixed lens Leica Q2.  I used to own the original Q and I took the best pictures of my life with that camera.  I finally sold it because it was not weather proof and with a fixed 28mm lens I needed a few more pixels to crop.  Q2 resolves nearly every complaint I had with the original Q, while keeping that spectacular lens and user interface.  I worked hard to convince myself to pony up the cash for a Q2, but could not make the leap.  I’ve played with it and it is glorious.  Maybe some day.

If you have some more exotic camera requirements, something else might be a better fit.  I used to develop image sensors and cameras, so this is sort of my field of expertise.  If you have specific requirements, let me know and I will do what I can to help.

 

 Posted by at 4:25 pm
Jan 022021
 

And hopefully a better one than 2020.  There is an old joke about life being like a zebra skin where light and dark stripes alternate.  The implication is that when things look particularly aweful (i.e. dark stripe) they are usually followed by something good (i.e. light stripe).

Let’s all hope that 2020 was a dark stripe!

Anyway, most of my new content will be on my new site, although this one will stay up and receive occasional updates (mostly where my recommendations are).

Here is my latest post:

https://darklordofoptics.locals.com/post/312471/lpvo-value-proposition

 

 Posted by at 8:51 pm
Sep 282020
 

2020 has been an interesting year.

Between the sorry state of our politics, the Left finally admitting what they are and COVID-19, nearly everyone’s life has changed in some significant way.

I am no exception to that.  I have had to make some significant decisions regarding how I want to proceed with my online presence and one of the main realizations of that was that it is difficult to combine the long form written articles I have been publishing for all these year with the way content is distributed in the modern era.

Another thing that happened was my introduction to print media.  I have been writing for Guns and Ammo’s Special Interest Publications for a little while now and I have to grudgingly admit I enjoy that immensely.

There have also been other demands on my written musings.  As a result of that, my ability to put together long written reviews has been diminished.  Partly it is due to time constraints and partly due to me simply needing a change of pace once in a while.

“Change of pace” ended up taking the form of making more videos for my Youtube channel.

Another realization I had as I went along was that I am not a huge fan of the affiliate marketing model.  Affiliate marketing is where you click on one of the links I post and I get a small percentage of whatever you buy.  It turned out that in order to be successful with that I have to follow market trends and post links to stuff that people are already looking for.

Well, that sorta runs counter to what I do here: I look at products I find interesting, analyze them to considerable depth and share my impressions the best I can.  I really have no interest in trying to follow market trends and I am not nearly well known enough to set those trends myself.

Affiliate marketing business introduces a set of split loyalties that I am not hugely comfortable with.  I believe I should only be responsible to my audience and noone else.

From that standpoint, Youtube was interesting in a sense that I have no control over what type of advertising they add to my videos, so I can focus on content.  Also, Youtube opened my channel up to offer paid memberships which is an approach I prefer.  If I am directly supported by people I make this content for, there are no split loyalties.

The way it works, Youtube takes 30% of what people pay and I get 70%.   As a thanks to people who financially support my channel I have negotiated discounts with a few companies for my supporters.  There is no kickback to me.  I am just trying to get a you a better deal.  Another perk of being a paying member is access.  I am facing an increasing number of questions and channel members have dibs on my time.

However, Youtube is generally hostile to 2nd Amendment people, so eventually I see them pushing people like me out.

That is where my latest idea comes in.  I stumbled onto a website designed for creators.  It is the initiative started by Dave Rubin and it purports to be everything that Big Tech is not.  They also offer a “supporter” model, but I get to keep a lot more than I do with Youtube and they have a healthy respect for both 1st and 2nd amendment.  And on top of that, I can combine a blog with video stuff on a community page there.

They finally approved my community there and it resides at darklordofoptics.locals.com

www.darklordofoptics.com is pointed there as well.

Starting now, opticsthoughts.com remains here as a database of legacy material I have written, while darklordofoptics.com becomes my new start.

I hope to see you all there.

 Posted by at 9:28 pm
Sep 132020
 

I am officially kicking off the testing of the SwampFox TriHawk Prismatic 3x scope.  Here are the first couple of image I posted on Instagram.  More to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Posted by at 2:55 pm
Jul 202020
 

I seldom do posts pertaining to product availability, but in this crazy market we live in, getting some of the AK and AR rifles and products has been interesting.

I accidentally noticed that Palmetto has their AK-103 clone miraculously in stock. Not sure for how long.

This gun uses the FN barrel, presumably the same one as I have in my Palmetto AK-E. If you are in the market for an AK, I suggest you jump on this. This is easily the most accurate AK barrel I have seen to date.

 Posted by at 1:19 pm
Jun 162020
 

I’ve been talking about the Optika6 riflescopes for a little while now and figured I should sorta summarize my thoughts.

I have not tested any low powered Optika6 scopes. The scopes I have tested are one 3-18×50 with MRAD1 reticle and two 5-30×56 with MRAD reticle. I designed these reticles for Meopta, but I did not have anything to do with the design of the riflescopes. A few people asked me, so to clear things up: I have exactly zero inside knowledge on these and everything I know comes from spending time with the three scopes mentioned above. Moreover, Meopta kinda went silent on me since SHOT, so if you ask me a question about a different product I have not tested, my chances of getting any information from them are not very good. We had a nice conversation at SHOT, but I reached out to them a few times since with zero success.

With that out of the way, the Optika6 scopes I have, I happened to like a fair bit and I think they do quite nicely in their respective price ranges.

Optically, both Optika6 models I have seen demostrate excellent, probably class leading resolution, but midpack contrast. Eye relies is long and reasonably forgiving. FOV is midpack, but at a slightly longer than average eye relief. BigJimFIsh had some issues with flare. There must be sample variation since the scopes I have control flare very nicely for sub-$1k designs.

Low light performance is respectable, but if you step up in price to around $1200, that is where you will see improvements, along with contrast.

Reticles are in the eye of the beholder, but I obviously like the ones in Optika6.

Mechanically, none of the Optika6 scopes gave me any issues. There is a slight amount of slop in the elevation turrets due to the locking mechanism, but it did not get in the way. 5-30×56 has an exposed non-locking windage turret, while 3-18×59 has a low profile covered windage turret. I much prefer the latter. The only real problem I have with the turrets is the lack of the rev counter.

Here is the spec table for the 3-18×50. There isn’t really a lot of direct competition for this scope, so most other ones listed are more expensive.

Tract Toric UHD 4-20×50Element Nexus 5-20×50SWFA SSHD 5-20×50Meopta Optika6 3-18×50Burris XTR III 3.3-18×50Brownell MPO 3-18×50
Length, in13.713.814.6514.613.313.5
Weight, oz342831.43029.830.5
Main Tube Diameter30mm30mm30mm30mm34mm34mm
Eye Relief, in3.93.7 – 343.943.25 – 43.4
FOV, ft@100yds24.5 – 4.9
9.8@10x
23.3 – 5.8
11.6 @ 10x
20.1-5.1 10.2@10x33.6 – 5.7
10.3 @ 10x
37.7 – 6.8
12.24 @ 10x
35 – 6.2
11.16@10x
Exit Pupil8 – 2.59.5 – 2.88.6 – 2.7
Click Value, mrad0.10.10.1 0.10.10.1
Adj per turn, mrad101010101010
Adjustment range, mrad19E: 23.2
W: 14.5
3026E: 35
W: 16
E: 40 
W:30
Reticle IllYesYesYesYesSoonYes
Reticle LocationFFPFFPFFPFFPFFPFFP
Close Focus, yds251035102525
Price$1200$1500$1500$800$1700$1000

With the 5-30×56, there also isn’t a ton of direct competition with the somewhat more expensive Ares ETR being the closest. The big question there is whether it is best to stay around $1k with Ares and Optika6 or step up to Cronus or Stryker. All four are nice scope. In the lower price ranges, only the new Strike Eagle is kinda competitive with Optika6, but I have yet look at the side-by-side. Soon though. Strike Eagle does have really wide FOV and is generally a very competitive design

Meopta Optika6 5-30×56Athlon Ares ETR 4.5-30×56Delta Stryker HD 4.5-30×56Athlon Cronus BTR 4.5-29×56Vortex Strike Eagle 5-25×56
Length, in15.415.314.3714.314.5
Weight, oz36.736.535.835.830.4
Main Tube Diameter34mm34mm34mm34mm34mm
Eye Relief, in3.943.93.2 – 3.83.6 – 3.83.7
FOV, ft@100yds24.6 – 3.65.4 @ 20x24.5 -3.7
55.65 @ 20x
24.8 – 3.7
25.58 @ 20x
24.8 – 3.8
35.55 @ 20x
24 – 5.2
6.2 @ 20x
Exit Pupil9.5 – 1.98.8 – 1.98.8 – 1.98.8 – 1.9
Click Value0.1 mrad0.1 mrad0.1 mrad0.1 mrad0.2 mrad
Adj per turn10 mrad10 mrad10 mrad10 mrad10 mrad
Adjustment range32 mrad32 mradE: 30 mradW: 15 mradE: 32 mradW: 18 mradE:31 mradW”23 mrad
Reticle IllYesYesYesYesYes
Reticle LocationFFPFFPFFPFFPFFP
Close Focus25 yards25 yards23m25 yards15 yards
Price$950$1200$1700$1700$700

Here are the videos I made about these. Please be forewarned: I speak with an accent and editing videos and sound is not something I do well or a lot of. I am getting better though, so bear with me. For now, combination of less than optimal sound and my accent does not make things easy. THe accent is not going anywhere any time soon, I am afraid.

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jun 102020
 

Element Optics is a fairly new riflescope company. They are backed by FX Airguns, which is a pretty decent recommendation right there. FX makes exemplary airguns.

I met with them during SHOT earlier this year. They seemed like a good group of people, so I figured once they have something to look at I should pay attention. The guys behind the company are all shooters and have technical tendencies, which usually yields good results.

So far, my initial cautious optimism is probing to be accurate. Their first product is a Japanese-made Nexus 5-20×50 and it is a really nice scope. For a first scope from a new company, it is downright outstanding.

It is intended as a precision scope, but given that it weighs in at a comparatively svelte 28 ounces, it is more of a crossover design by modern standards. While not as light as traditional hunting scopes, it is light enough to be used for hunting, while having the feature set appropriate for precision shooting. In other words, you can use for pretty much anything that does not require 1x (and even that is kinda doable with an offset red dot were I so inclined).

I liked the scope enough to place, albeit provisionally for now, on my list of recommendations which is really unusual for a new product from a new company. The recommendation is provisional because I want to see how it holds up over long term. However, given that the scope is OEM’ed by Light Optics Works in Japan, I do not anticipate any major issues.

The big thing that jumped out at me is that, somewhat unusually, nothing bad jumped out at me. This is a really well rounded design. It does everything well and, given the price, very well. Most importantly, there are no glaring weaknesses. It is not going to make me give up my Tangent Theta any time soon, but it doesn’t cost like on either.

Here is the spec table:

Tract Toric UHD 4-20×50Element Nexus 5-20×50SWFA SSHD 5-20×50Meopta Optika6 3-18×50EOTech Vudu 5-25×50 Burris XTR III 3.3-18×50Crimson Trace 5-series 3-18×50Brownell MPO 3-18×50
Length, in13.713.814.6514.611.213.31413.5
Weight, oz342831.43029.529.830.330.5
Main Tube Diameter30mm30mm30mm30mm34mm34mm34mm34mm
Eye Relief, in3.93.7 – 343.943.53.25 – 43.54 – 3.823.4
FOV, ft@100yds24.5 – 4.9
9.8@10x
23.3 – 5.8
11.6 @ 10x
20.1-5.1 10.2@10x33.6 – 5.7
10.3 @ 10x
23.3 – 4.7
11.8 @ 10x
37.7 – 6.8
12.24 @ 10x
33.2 – 6.2
11.6@10x
35 – 6.2
11.16@10x
Exit Pupil8 – 2.59.5 – 2.85.5 – 2.18.6 – 2.7
Click Value0.1 mrad0.1 mrad0.1
mrad
0.1 mrad0.1
mrad
0.1
mrad
0.1
mrad
0.1
mrad
Adj per turn10 mrad10
mrad
10
mrad
10 mrad10 mrad10
mrad
10 mrad; no rev counter10
mrad
Adjustment range, mrad19E: 23.2
W: 14.5
30 26 33E: 35
W: 16
E: 40
W: 20
E: 40 
W:30
Reticle IllYesYesYesYesYesSoonYesYes
Reticle LocationFFPFFPFFPFFPFFPFFPFFP FFP
Close Focus25 yards10 yards35
yards
10 yards50 yards25
yards
10
yards
25
yards
Price$1200$1500$1500$800$1700$1700$1600$1000
Spec Comparison Table

The closest competitors Nexus has in terms of price and specs are Tract Toric 4-20×50, SWFA SSHD 5-20×50, Burris XTR III 3.3-18×50 and EOTech Vudu 5-25×50. I have tested all except for the XTR III which is not yet available with illumination.

Simply looking at the specs, Nexus is one of the better rounded ones here. Toric and SWFA have narrow-ish FOV. XTR III does not yet have illumination. SWFA and EOTech do not come with decent tree reticles (Horus’ mosquito net in the EOTech is not my cup of tee). SWFA does not have zero-stop.

The only weakneses Nexus has spec-wise are non-locking turrets and lack of a track record. Track record comes with time, and locking turrets can be a little controversial since they often make click feel worse. Personally, I would leave the zerostop equipped elevation turret as is and make windage turret either covered or locking.

Turret feel is very good. The turrets are not very loud, but very tactile. Tracking is just about spot on, but I’ll be keeping track of how that holds up with use. The turrets are not very large which is helpful for the whole crossover business, but with 10 mrad per turn, those 0.1mrad clicks are nicely spaced out.

Optically, the scope is similarly well rounded. Color is pretty neutral. Resolution is very respectable as is contrast. Edge performance is a little better than average. There is some chromatic aberration at higher magnifications, but not too much. It is similar to SWFA and Tract in that regard and better than the shorter Vudu. Low light is a little better than I expected, largely owing to well controlled flare. All scopes have some flare, so if space allows it, use the included sunshade. Nexus is no exception there, but it is a little better than average.

It is available with four different reticle, two in MOA and two in mrad. I tested their mrad tree reticle called APR-1D. It is generally a pretty decent design, but there are a couple of incongruencies there. I go over all of that in the video below that has a bunch of “through the scope” imagery.

In a nutshell, the tree goes all the way to the edge of the image on low power (30+ mrad) which is both useless and distracting. Also, the tree is based on 0.2mrad base unit, while the main stadia are based on 0.5mrad. it is common problem with many reticles, but I find it a little bipolar.

The guys behind the brand are shooters and they are getting a lot of input from other shooters. Reticles are a personal thing and this one is better than most I have seen. I am sure they will be listening to market feedback and making changes if needed. I could be wildly off-base here anyway.

Here is the video. Let me know if I missed anything that should be covered.

 Posted by at 6:45 pm