If you’re thinking of spending thousands of dollars on a new rifle scope or spotting scope, do your homework first. You need to understand key design features, such as first focal plane vs. second focal plane, and turret click values. You should learn about light transmission, resolution, and other factors that distinguish a great optic from a not-so-great one. You also need to analyze your specific requirements before making a buying decision: How much magnification do you really need? Is illumination important? How much scope weight can you reasonably tolerate?
Sport Optics, a new book by Alan Hale, helps you answer all these important questions. Hale, former CEO of Celestron Optics, has more than 50 years of experience in the optics industry. His book, Sport Optics, is an up-to-date, comprehensive guide to Riflescopes, Spotting Scopes, and Binoculars. Hale surveys products from dozens of domestic and foreign manufacturers. Hale explains, in easy-to-understand terms, the technical jargon used by optics-makers. This helps buyers make informed decisions.
The new book is full of good, sound advice. Respected gun writer Chuck Hawks says: “Alan Hale has impeccable credentials in the optics industry. Sport Optics is written for the layman in a clear, understandable and interesting manner.” Bill Thompson, co-publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest adds: “Alan Hale is one of the Zen masters of sport optics[.] He knows more about how optics work, how and where they are made, and how to put them to their highest possible use than most outdoor sport optics writers. Read this book before you make any optics purchase[.]“
FREE Book Preview at Amazon.com
The Sports Optics book is offered at Amazon.com for $21.95. To preview the book, go to the Amazon web page for Sports Optics, and click the cover photo that says “Look Inside”. This lets you see front and back covers, complete table of contents, and many sample pages (such as those shown below):
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Swarovski has a new STR 80 spotting scope with an illuminated reticle. That’s right, this new STR 80 spotter has a ranging reticle like a riflescope, with adjustable brightness levels. This 80mm spotting scope can be used for estimating range to targets, using MIL-based or MOA-based stadia lines on the cross-hairs. This allows you to range targets optically, as you could with a ranging reticle in a riflescope.
Revolutionary Reticle “ON”, Reticle “OFF” Technology
The STR 80′s illuminated ranging reticle makes the new STR 80 a fairly unique product among high-end, imported spotting scopes. Thanks to a new technology, Swarovski is the first manufacturer to successfully project a reticle directly in a spotting scope. The reticle (MOA or MRAD) can be activated or deactivated as required. Notably, because the reticle appears via electro-illumination, it can be “turned off” for un-obstructed viewing. So you can have a totally clear field of view when desired, OR a ranging reticle when that functionality is desired. Having the ability to turn OFF the reticle is great — that’s a very intelligent feature.
When viewing targets, the STR 80′s sharp HD (high-definition) lenses will resolve bullet holes at long range. Current Swaro 20-60X and 25-50X (wide) eyepieces can be used with the new STR 80 spotter. Optional accessories include Picatinny mounting rail, digiscoping attachment, and a winged eye cup.
How to Range with STR 80 Reticles
The new STR 80 scope offers a choice of either MOA or MRAD reticles with 15 brightness levels, 10 day levels, and 5 night levels. For convenient ranging, set the magnification level so that the MOA reticle displays ¼ MOA divisions, while the MRAD Reticle displays 0.1 MIL divisions. (NOTE: the reticle will change in size relative to the target at different magnifcation levels. Therefore ranging is normally done at one standard magnification level).
Dustin Woods, Sales Director for Swarovski Optik NA said: “Long range shooters asked for a premium spotting scope with integrated reticle and we have listened. With our new STR spotting scope we now have MOA and Mil-Radian reticle models. Because the reticle is illuminated, the user can have the reticle turned on when they are judging hits and misses but also turn it completely off for an unobstructed view during observation. This product is a real game changer in the precision shooting segment.”
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When shooting at long range, two heads (and two sets of eyes) can be better than one. Teaming up with a buddy who acts as a spotter can speed up your long-range learning process. You can focus 100% on the shot, while your buddy calls the wind and spots your hits and misses.
The NSSF has created a short video that shows how shooter and spotter can work as a team. In the video, the NSSF’s Dave Miles works with Rod Ryan, owner of Storm Mountain Training Center in Elk Garden, WV. As the video shows, team-work can pay off — both during target training sessions and when you’re attempting a long shot on a hunt. Working as a two-person team divides the responsibilities, allowing the shooter to concentrate fully on breaking the perfect shot.
The spotter’s job is to watch the conditions and inform the shooter of needed wind corrections. The shooter can dial windage into his scope, or hold off if he has a suitable reticle. As Rod Ryan explains: “The most important part is for the shooter to be relaxed and… pay attention to nothing more than the shot itself.” The spotter calls the wind, gives the information to the shooter, thus allowing the shooter to concentrate on proper aim, gun handling, and trigger squeeze. Rod says: “The concept is that the spotter does all the looking, seeing and the calculations for [the shooter].”
Spotter Can Call Corrections After Missed Shots
The spotter’s ability to see misses can be as important as his role as a wind-caller. Rod explains: “If you shoot and hit, that’s great. But if you shoot and miss, since the recoil pulse of the firearm is hitting your shoulder pretty good, you’re not going to be able to see where you missed the target. The spotter [can] see exactly where you missed, so I’ll have exactly an idea of how many [inches/mils it takes] to give you a quick secondary call so you can get [back on target].”
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Using a spotting scope seems simple. Just point it at the target and focus, right? Well, actually, it’s not that simple. Sometimes you want to watch mirage or trace, and that involves different focus and viewing priorities. Along with resolving bullet holes (or seeing other features on the target itself), you can use your spotting scope to monitor mirage. When watching mirage, you actually want to focus the spotting scope not on the target, but, typically, about two-thirds of the distance downrange. When spotting for another shooter, you can also use the spotting scope to watch the bullet trace, i.e. the vapor trail of the bullet. This will help you determine where the bullet is actually landing, even if it does not impact on the target backer.
In this video, SFC L.D. Lewis explains how to use a spotting scope to monitor mirage, and to watch trace. SFC Lewis is a former Army Marksmanship Unit member, U.S. Army Sniper School instructor, and current U.S. Army Reserve Service Rifle Shooting Team member. In discussing how precision shooters can employ spotting scopes, Lewis compares the use of a spotting scope for competition shooters vs. military snipers. NOTE: You may wish to turn up the audio volume, during the actual interview segment of this video.
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The ability to read the wind is what separates good shooters from great shooters. If you want to learn wind-doping from one of the best, watch this video with 2010 National High Power Champion (and U.S. Army 2010 Soldier of the Year) Sherri Gallagher. Part of the USAMU’s Pro Tips Video Series, this video covers the basics of wind reading including: Determining wind direction and speed, Bracketing Wind, Reading Mirage, and Adjusting to cross-winds using both sight/scope adjustments and hold-off methods. Correctly determining wind angle is vital, Sheri explains, because a wind at a 90-degree angle has much more of an effect on bullet lateral movement than a headwind or tailwind. Wind speed, of course, is just as important as wind angle. To calculate wind speed, Sheri recommends “Wind Bracketing”: [This] is where you take the estimate of the highest possible condition and the lowest possible condition and [then] take the average of the two.”
It is also important to understand mirage. Sheri explains that “Mirage is the reflection of light through layers of air, based off the temperature of the ground. These layers … are blown by the wind, and can be monitored through a spotting scope to detect direction and speed. You can see what appears to be waves running across the range — this is mirage.” To best evaluate mirage, you need to set your spotting scope correctly. First get the target in sharp focus, then (on most scopes), Sheri advises that you turn your adjustment knob “a quarter-turn counter-clockwise. That will make the mirage your primary focus.”
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While attending the CA Long Range Championship a while back, we had the opportunity to test the performance of a high-magnification (63X) spotting scope in near-ideal conditions (maybe the best I’ve ever witnessed). On the event’s last day we arrived at 5:45 am, literally as the sun was cresting the horizon. I quickly deployed our Pentax PF-100ED spotting scope, fitted with a Pentax SMC-XW 10mm fixed-power eyepiece. When used with the 100mm Pentax scope, this 10mm eyepiece yields 63X magnification. Befitting its $359.00 price, this eyepiece is extremely clear and sharp.
At the crack of dawn, viewing conditions were ideal. No mist, no mirage, no wind. The first thing this Editor noticed was that I could see metal nail heads on the target boards. That was astonishing. As soon as the first practice targets went up, to my surprise, I could see 6.5mm, 7mm, and 30-caliber bullet holes in the white at 1000 yards.
That’s right, I could see bullet holes at 1000. I know many of you folks may not believe that, but there was no mistaking when I saw a 7mm bullet cut the white line separating the Nine Ring and Eight Ring on the target in view. (I was watching that target as the shot was fired and saw the shot-hole form). And when I looked at the 30-cal targets, the bullet holes in the white were quite visible. In these perfect conditions I could also make out 3/8″ bolt heads on the target frames.
The Human Factor
When viewing the bullet holes, I was using my left naked eye (no safety glasses or magnification). I also had a contact lens in my right eye (needed for distance vision). To my surprise, while I could see the bullet holes without much difficulty with my left eye, things were fuzzier and slightly more blurry with the right eye, even when I re-focused the scope.
Then I invited 3 or 4 shooters to look through the scope. One younger guy, with good eyes, said immediately: “Yeah, I can see the holes — right there at 4 o’clock and seven o’clock. Wow.” Some older guys, who were wearing glasses, could not see the holes at all, no matter what we did to the scope’s main focus and diopter adjustment.
The lesson here — if you have to wear glasses or corrective contact lenses, just that extra bit of optical interference may make a difference in what you can see through the scope. Basically anything that goes between the scope eyepiece and your eyeball can degrade the image somewhat. So… you may be better off removing your glasses if you can still obtain good focus sharpness using the diopter adjustment and focus ring. I did the left vs. right eye test a half dozen times, and I could definitely see small features at 1000 yards with my naked eye that I could not see with my right eye fitted with a contact lens. (I did have to re-focus the scope for each eye, since one had a corrective lens while the other did not.)
Mirage Degrades Image Sharpness and Resolution
The “magic light” prevailed for only an hour or so, and then we started to get some mirage. As soon as the mirage appeared I was no longer able to see raw bullet holes, though I could still easily see black pasters on the black bulls. When the mirage started, the sharpness of the visible image degraded a huge amount. Where I could see bullet holes at dawn, by mid-morning I could barely read the numbers on the scoring rings. Lesson: If you want to test the ulimate resolution of your optics, you need perfect conditions.
Chromatic Aberration Revealed
As the light got brighter and the mirage increased I started to see blue and red fringing at the edges of the spotting disk and the large numerals. This was quite noticeable. On one side of the bright, white spotting disc you could see a dark red edge, while on the other side there was a blue edge (harder to see but still present).
The photo below was taken through the Pentax spotter lens using a point and shoot camera held up to the eyepiece. The sharpness of the Pentax was actually much better than this photo shows, but the through-the-lens image does clearly reveal the red and blue fringing. This fringing is caused by chromatic aberration — the failure of a lens to focus all colors to the same point. Chromatic aberration, most visible at high magnification, causes different wavelengths of light to have differing focal lengths (see diagram). Chromatic aberration manifests itself as “fringes” of color along boundaries that separate dark and bright parts of the image, because each color in the optical spectrum cannot be focused at a single common point on the optical axis. Keep in mind that the Pentax does have “ED” or low-dispersion glass, so the effect would be even more dramatic with a cheaper spotting scope.
If you wonder why top-of-the-line spotting scopes (such as the $3900 Leica APO-Televid 82) cost so much, the answer is that they will deliver even LESS chromatic aberration at long range and high magnification. With their exotic apochromatic (APO), ultra-low-dispersion glass, a few ultra-high-end spotting scopes can deliver an image without the color edging you see in the photo above.
The Pentax PF-100ED is a heck of a spotting scope. Any scope that can resolve bullet holes at 1000 yards is impressive. But if you want the ultimate in optical performance, with minimal chromatic aberration, you may need to step up to something like the 88mm Kowa Prominar TSN-883 with Flourite Crystal lenses ($2450.00 body only), or the 82mm Leica APO ($3899.00 with 25-50X eyepiece).
EDITOR’s NOTE: The purpose of this report is to show what is possible… in IDEAL conditions. With this Pentax 100mm, as well as a Swarovski 80mm, we have often been able to resolve 6mm bullet holes at 600 yards. But again, that performance requires really good viewing conditions. By 10:00 am at my range, even with the 100mm Pentax at 75 power, seeing 6mm bullet holes is “iffy” at best. So don’t go out and mortgage the house to buy a $4000 optic with the hope that you’ll be able to spot your shots at 1000 yards. If conditions are anything less than perfect, you’ll be lucky to see bullet holes at 500 yards. The real solution for very long-range spotting is to set up a remote target cam that broadcasts a video picture to a screen at your shooting station.
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At long range, small bullet holes are much easier to see in the white than in the black. When you’re practicing at long range on high power targets, one way to enhance your ability to see your bullet holes is to print a “negative” version of the regulation bullseye target.
How do you create a “negative” of a target image? Many image programs, including the FREE Irfanview software, have a “Negative” function in the pull-down menu. If you don’t see a “Negative” menu option in your program, look for a “substitute colors” option. Many printers also have a “reverse colors” function. If you can’t find a solution with your computer or printer, just take a normal bullseye target to a copy shop, and the staff can easily print you a set of targets with white centers in black fields.
Forum member Watercam uses a Pentax PF-80ED spotting scope. With his 80mm Pentax he can see 6mm bullet holes in the white at 600 yards (in very good conditions), but holes in the black are only visible out to 400 yards or so. Accordingly, Watercam uses a modified “reversed” black-to-white target for 600-yard practice.
Watercam told us: “The view through the Pentax is very sharp and contrasty with great color. Eye relief with the Pentax 10-60 power zoom is 18-22mm (much more than the Kowa zoom), so I can use glasses with no problem. With my 6mm and limited mirage I’m seeing defined, 6mm holes in the white out to 600. In the black, I can see bullets holes at about 400 with my eyes. I am printing reverse-color targets for training without a pit partner at the 600-yard line.”
Brits Use New White-Field Target for F-Class
In the UK, ranges are now using a “reverse-style” target with a mostly white area. Laurie Holland says this allows shooters to see shots much more easily. Laurie reports: “Here’s a photo of the 500/600 yard F-Class match target we use in PSSA comps at Diggle Ranges with club members Chris Hull (L) and Terry Mann (R). We now use this target form at all ranges up to 1K for F-Class, and, yes you can often see your hits at 600 on the target before the markers pull it. Regards from England — Laurie”.
Day-Glo Stick-on Targets
If you’re not concerned with official scoring rings, you can use an all-white target with a bright, fluorescent target dot in the middle. A 2″- or 3″-diameter stick-on target dot is highly visible at 600 yards. With a high-quality scope, you can use the small black diamonds in the center for precise aiming. The Birchwood Casey Target Spots® assortment (item #33928-TSA) offers neon orange target dots in 1″, 2″, and 3″ diameters. This “value pack” includes 72-1″, 36-2″, and 24-3″ self-adhesive circles.
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The Swarovski Optik website features a blog with interesting technical articles. In the “On Target” series of blog stories, Swarovski has provided a handy explanation of how optics systems work, with exploded diagrams of rifle scopes, spotting scopes, and binoculars. CLICK HERE for Swarovski Optics Blog.
Scope Terminology Focusing Lens
The focusing lens is an adjustable lens inside the optical system for focusing the image at different distances…. In the case of rifle scopes, apart from focusing, the focusing lens also facilitates parallax compensation.
For rifle scopes, the reticle can be focused using the diopter adjustment on the eyepiece, thereby correcting any visual impairment. [Editor's Note: Movable eyepiece diopter adjustment is not offered on all rifle scopes. It is a useful feature on Swarovski and other premium scopes. This allows shooters who need eyeglasses to get a sharply focus image even without wearing corrective lenses. Of course shooters should always wear ANSI-certified eye protection. With the diopter, folks who need correction can use inexpensive, non-Rx safety eyewear instead of expensive prescription safety glasses.]
The purpose of the reversal system is to reverse the image by means of prisms in binoculars and telescopes, and lenses in rifle scopes….The lens reversal system is needed in rifle scopes to control the variable magnification and move the exit pupil[.]
Resource tip by EdLongRange. We welcome reader submissions.
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Leica just released an inline power-booster (1.8X Extender) for its APO-Televid spotting scopes. Brilliant! That’s a great accessory we would like to other spotting scope makers offer as well. Hopefully we’ll see the other major brands — Kowa, Nightforce, Nikon, Pentax, Swarovski, Vortex, Zeiss — follow Leica’s lead.
With Leica’s new 1.8X Extender combined with the 25-50X eyepiece, the effective magnification range is 45-90X. That’s right — you can boost the high-end magnification from 50X all the way to 90X. In good viewing conditions (with a solid tripod), we have found you really can use 80+ power or higher on a spotting scope to resolve very small bullet holes at long range. With its 1.8X Extender in place, Leica now offers the greatest magnification of any premium spotting scope. According to the German company: “Leica is the world’s only manufacturer in the premium spotting scope segment to offer such an additional eyepiece for an existing angled spotting scope and such extreme magnification.”
The optical system of the 1.8X Extender consists of a two-lens achromat that mounts securely with an integrated bayonet mount locking mechanism. With the simple push of a button and a quick turn of the wrist, the Extender 1.8x can be quickly and securely mounted between the APO-Televid angled spotting scope and the eyepiece. (NOTE: the 1.8X Extender only works on Leica’s angled spotting scopes — there is no straight version). Leica designed the new 1.8X Extender to be optically, mechanically, and ergonomically matched with the APO-Televid spotting scopes to work flawlessly as a modular kit. MSRP for the 1.8X Extender is $449.00.
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Now through March 12, 2014, you can save big bucks on Nikon optics products. Nikon’s Long Range Precision Promotion offers up to $200 Instant Savings on eligible long-range riflescopes, rangefinders, binoculars, fieldscopes and mounts.
This Instant Savings promotion runs from January 20 through March 12, 2014. The Long Range Precision Promotion covers 49 different Nikon products. Here are some of the deals to be had:
$100 off select M-223 riflescopes
$100 off M-308 riflescopes
Up to $100 off select MONARCH 3 riflescopes
Up to $100 off select PROSTAFF 5 riflecopes
Up to $50 off select PROSTAFF riflescopes
Up to $120 off PROSTAFF 5 Fieldscopes and Outfits
$80 off the PROSTAFF 3 Fieldscope Outfit
$100 off a MONARCH 1200 Rangefinder
$70 off a RifleHunter 1000 Rangefinder
$200 off select MONARCH 5 56mm binoculars
For a complete listing of Long Range Precision Instant Savings eligible products, (with terms and conditions) visit NikonPromo.com. Here is a partial sample of some of the riflescopes on sale:
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Forum members have asked “what’s the best option in a spotting scope in the $500 to $1000 price range?” We’d certainly have to include Kowa spotting scopes on the “short list” for value-priced, high-performance spotters. And now Kowa spotting scopes are cheaper than ever, thanks to Bullets.com’s Holiday Kowa Promotion. Kowa Spotting scope and binoculars are on sale at Bullets.com for up to 26% off regular list prices.
If you need an affordable spotting scope for High Power matches or hunting, consider the 66mm or 82mm Kowas. If you want a no-compromise, ultra-low-dispersion glass, category-leading spotting scope, take a look at the 88mm Kowa Prominars. These have been rated among the “best of the best” in a variety of independent spotting scope comparison tests. Bullets.com is also discounting a wide range of Kowa binoculars.
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Creedmoor Sports is offering two Holiday Specials with complete Spotting Scope systems, including Spotting Scope (with eyepiece), Scope Cover, and Scope Stand. You can choose between two price levels. If you are on a limited budget, go for the Konus 80mm bundle (item ID Konus-bundle). This includes Konus 80mm spotting scope, Scope Cover, and 3/4″-diameter Polecat Stand with two stand extension rods. These items would normally sell for $607.75, but now you can get them all for $545.00 with Holiday Special Pricing.
Creedmoor Sports also has a Holiday Kowa Scope Package (item ID SCOPEPKG) that can save you $112.65 off the regular $1487.65 price. This is really a nice bundle that should meet the needs of even top High Power competitors.
KOWA SCOPE PACKAGE — For $1375.00 you get all the following:
Kowa TSN-82SV 82mm Angled Spotting Scope
25X Long Eye Relief Eyepiece
Creedmoor Scope Cover in blue
Creedmoor 1″-diameter PoleCat Scope Stand
Two Extension Rods for Stand
Creedmoor Scope Stand Bag
See-Through Objective Lens Cover
Kowa Eyepiece Cover
The regular price for all this hardware is $1487.65, so you save $112.65 with this Kowa Scope Package. That’s a pretty significant savings you can put back into bullets and brass.
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