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
May 032020
 

I’ve been busy as all get out with no time to write anything significant, so I figured a short update is worthwhile.

I published my video review of the Leica PRS 5-30×56 riflescope and the full write-up will follow as soon as I get a little time. Hopefully not too long. Here is the Youtube video:

Leica PRS “Through the scope”

I am friendly with a few other firearm bloggers and one that I pay attention to most is probably Matt at Everyday Marksman. I recorded a podcast with him a couple of days ago. Not sure when he will have it ready to go, but his podcast is generally worth paying attention to, so check it out if you have a chance.

I was curious about his take on a a couple of scopes, so I sent him Meopta Optika6 5-30×56 and Athlon Ares ETR 4.5-30×56 to look at. He thinks about optics differently than I do, so it was interesting to see his take on this.

I am working on a bunch more reviews that will be coming out over the next couple of months. I am almost done with the write-up on the new Vortex Razor Gen 3 1-10×24 and S&B 1-8×24 dual CC (and some more on the March 1-8×24 Shorty that I have been using for some time now). Gen 3 is definitely going on my list of recommendations. The Schmidt is probably the best engineered tactical LPVO I have ever seen, but the price is hard to swallow. Still, if you want the best, this is it.

I am also testing the new Nexus 5-20×50 from Element Optics and it is really growing on me. I think this will end up being my go to recommendation for a 50mm precision scope, barring something unforeseen

 Posted by at 11:33 am
Mar 292020
 

I get asked questions about different brands all the time and, recently, Hensoldt came up a few times.

Hensoldt is kind of an odd duck in the civilian market. The brand is very famous and has been around for a long time. It really gets a lot of the mystique from how deeply integrated it has always been with German military, but the part of Hensoldt product line that most of us see in the shooting world is kinda like a small pimple on the ass of an elephant compared to all the military stuff they do.

Hensoldt used to be a part of Zeiss, but since Zeiss Sport Optics has always looked at anything related to the military with the same kind of enthusiasm with which Bernie looks at capitalism, they sold Hensoldt to Airbus Defense. Airbus Defense spent a few years mismanaging it and then sold the entirety of they defense electronics business, including Hensoldt Optronics, to a private investment firm which named the whole billion dollar electronic warfare conglomerate Hensoldt. Today Optronics is one of the ten-or-so Hensoldt Group companies and day optics comprise a miniscule portion of Optronics and an even smaller portion of Hensoldt overall.

Why am I telling you all this? To make it clear how little the civilian market matters for Hensoldt. When they make a new product or a modification to an existing product, they do it because there is an opportunity somewhere in the military world. If the product happens to be something unrestricted, they will happily also sell it to civilians. That is not a bad or a good thing. It is what it is and if you are looking at Hensoldt products you have to keep these things in mind. If your Hensoldt product requires warranty service or repair, it will take a while. If you are thinking about contacting the company in Germany with questions… that may be hit and miss.

On the plus side, while Hensoldt in the US is only available through one distributor, Eurooptics, they are friendly and very customer focused. If you have Hensoldt questions, you will have much better luck with them.

Hensoldt makes several riflescopes and a couple of spotting scopes. I have tested some of the riflescopes over the years and generally liked them. In many ways they were really ahead of the curve: they were the original short overall length designs with large objectives and absolutely exceptional eyepieces. In terms of optomechanical designs the 3-12×56 and 4-16×56 are still very competitive and exceptionally easy to get behind. However, the reticles are kinda outdated by modern standards. They still work fine, but it is a competitive marketplace and the competition has been moving rapidly. The 4-16×56 was updated at some point to incorporate locking turrets and a couple of Horus reticles, but that pushed the price up to around $5k and for that amount there are other scopes I like a little more.

Most questions I get about Hensoldt pertain to their latest 3.5-26×56 design. I have not done a full test of it and do not plan to. There are several reasons for that. The most obvious one is that it costs nearly $8k and I can find better uses for that. If I wanted to drop a lot of money on an optic, I would buy N-Vision’ Halo or Halo LR thermal scope and probably have some cash leftover. For a fairly conventional dayscope, I really think that going over $5k is unwise and even at $5k you have to really want something. My primary precision scope is Tangent Thetat 5-25×56 that costs about that much and I really enjoy using it, but when people ask me for recommendations… you can do really well for less money. Now, in some ways TT is still better, but once you get past $2k-$3k, you really get into the realm of diminishing returns. The 3.5-26×56 Hensoldt was designed for a particular military tender that imposed strict limitations that to me are absolutely not worth it. I have seen several prototypes of this scope. The first two or three were optically atrocious. The most recent ones seem OK. 18 mrad per turn turret looks good on paper and was a requirement, but the clicks are close together and the feel is not very good at all. I have heard people rave about this scope, so I figured maybe they finally got it worked out and I should take a look. I took a quick look and I still don’t like it, so I do not want to spend the time reviewing it. My initial impressions could be wrong of course, but at $8k per scope I am not itching to dig into it.

I did like the prismatic 4×30 ZOi scope a fair bit, but I am not sure how many of these are out there.

Some Hensoldt designs are really unusual and do not really have a direct comparable among other brands. While all Hensoldt scopes are really good in low light, the 6-24×72 is absolutely exceptional. It has been out for a while and it is still the best dedicated low light scope out there (I have been diligently waiting until EuroOptics puts a demo or some other discounted version of it on sale).

Once we get to spotters, Hensoldt also marches to the beat of their own drum and in this case it is a good thing. They make two versions of the their 72mm objective spotting scope: 20-60×72 Spotter 60 and 15-45×72 Spotter 45 and both are exceptional. The only other difference between them is the reticle. These are folded light path scopes with ranging reticles and absolutely remarkable depth of field and overall image quality. They are expensive, but if you want the best spotter out there for looking at bullet trace, this is it.

Hensoldt does not make any low end products. Everything they make is expensive and very good… for their specific design purpose. If that design purpose matches what you are looking for, Hensoldt is a good option. Otherwise, there are other alternatives.

 Posted by at 9:32 pm
Feb 232020
 

A few months ago, I stared compiling a list of video explanations I need to put together: http://opticsthoughts.com/?p=2574

Then, life happened and I did not get to do most of those. I did address some and over the course of the next few weeks I plan to do some more.

Please let me know if there is something specific you want covered. The Youtube playlist where these videos will be added is called DLO Explanations and all the videos are automatically copied onto the gunstreamer website as well.

The ones I am looking to do next are on the following topics:

  • Apparent FOV in riflescopes
  • Low light performance of LPVOs
  • Why is the exit pupil calculation breaks down on low power and some other general exit pupil considerations
  • Tube diameter. This lunacy comes up again and again, so it has to be revisited

Any other suggestions?

 Posted by at 3:17 pm
Feb 212020
 

It is official. Element Optics website went live and it looks like they have a good number of scopes out in the reviewer’s hands.

I had a nice meeting with these guys at SHOT and I really liked what I saw. The key people behind the brand are smart, well funded and full of energy. Most importantly, they are shooters so they understand the end goal. In too many optics companies there is a strong disconnect between shooters and engineers. I know this will sound odd, but I mean it as a compliment. The guys behind Element, while hunters and shooters, have enough of a nerdy streak to stay on top of the technical stuff.

In other words, I have high hopes that they will do it right.

The first scope available will be the Japanese-made Nexus: https://element-optics.com/product/nexus/. The rest will be along shortly, I am sure. A brief look at the initial dealer list seems to be taking advantage of the existing FX Airguns (FX is behind Element Optics) dealer network which is a pretty good thing. I am sure that will grow.

Given that NRL22 competitions now have an airgun, I have a hunch we will start seeing FX airguns with Element optics scopes on them. I have two small kids and NRL22 is where I want them to start shooting. Perhaps, I will start them with airguns. FX airguns are likely the most accurate long range air rifles on the market now, so perhaps that is a good place for my kids to start.

 Posted by at 4:32 pm