Saturday, January 23, 2010
Nothing earth shattering today in a short day, but I did manage to be productive.
Inked the deal with Aimpoint, we will be a "LE" designated dealer. We bought a little of everything.
Burris: I've been harsh on Burris in the past, for good reason, but I haven't called the current weather yet, so I sought them out at the Steiner booth and for the first time in 4 years I really checked them out, especially the Euro Diamond and Tactical which is their best. Conclusion: Still junk. Love the "Invisible knobs" where you can hear the clicks but can't feel a darn thing. The wire reticles are so badly finished is looks like someone painted them with a brush, with different colors. The optics were simply OK. I think these are made to make someone money and there is little to no effort in making these a good product. If you have to have one, you won't get it from us.
Meopta: These guys have always had decent glass and are an OEM manufacturer for many "name brand" optics. The manufacturer behind the curtain, so to speak. Nice hunting scopes with crappy turrets. One scope had stated 1/4moa knobs but the numbers were not correctly marked (a common problem with Meopta SHOT show samples, it seems). They do have a new 1-4x K-Dot variant with holdovers with very bright daytime illumination, but the reticle is very faint without it. Overall, these are still decent European optics but nothing special and no real tactical value. Some things never change.
Barrett: Always been a fan of Ronnie Barrett, both of his products, his personality, and his politics. His relatively new Director of Sales, Kyle Lynch, epitomizes "stand up". We won't be selling their rifles, but we will be offering their rings. 30 and 34mm alloy designed for hard kicking guns and long picatinny top rails, like for Barrett, DTA, and more. The 34mm will be available in two heights and the 30mm will be had in four. Alloy rings with T25 Torx screws, "zero gap" technology, over 1" wide, price point around $199, these rings I predict will be a "go to" solution for many long range shooters in 2010.
Zero Tolerance Knives: I remember when these first debuted and I reported on it on my first SHOT Show report. I've been strictly optics since we started but maybe it's time to test the waters. Great quality knives and a consistent dealer pricing structure. Good people too.
Rokon: I still want one, but should have bought it last year, as this year's "SHOT Show Special" is nothing special at all. The olive drab Trailbreaker I'm told is the one to get, with the Kohler engine. It sure looks cool. Looks perfect for the NW Montana mountains.
BAE Systems: Their first SHOT show, these guys specialize in mobile security i.e. armored SUV's and trucks. For $160,000 you can get a grenade resistant Toyota Land Cruiser, brand new from the factory, with all required axle/tranny/suspension/engine upgrades to haul around the 3500 pounds of armor plating you now carry. Armor piercing bullet protection is an optional upgrade, not standard, so be sure to ask questions if you seek to create your own Batmobile. Nice people and a fascinating industry.
Well, that about it. I will conclude that overall there was very little really new and exciting optics, except for the Vortex PSTs. Vortex is the tip of the spear right now. There is a trend to make a 1.1-8 or 1-8x versatile riflescope for tactical applications but no one on the show floor had the finished product. And I bet Trijicon will steal all their thunder down the road anyway.
Also, I learned for the first time today that Kowa spotters are widely used by the US military, including the Navy SEALS, Army and Navy shooting teams, Secret Service, and USMC. This is not very common knowledge but even further validates why we recommend Kowa spotters!
Thanks for stopping by. I'll be posting pretty regularly here this year and look forward to interacting with you.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Got my "show legs" under me, and we're over the hump now. Today was slower paced, but lots of QT with some choice manufacturers.
Sightron: Sightron has a vast array of scope choices, but for our purposes we recommend and sell the SIII long range model the most. For the money, the combination of glass quality, reticle travel, ruggedness and repeatability can not be beat. In the SIII series, three new 8-32x56 and new 10-50x60 models debuted. The 8-32 have exposed 1/4moa knobs with 70moa of travel, and finally a mildot reticle, in addition to a fine crosshair and a long range target dot (about half the size of crosshair as the previous dot reticle). The new 10-50x60 are big scopes with 1/8moa knobs, 50moa of travel, and either a target dot or fine crosshair reticle. While these types of scopes aren't my cup of tea, I know darn well there is a market out there for magnification junkies and the SIII are sure to please at a fraction of the price of competing brands.
For me, the surprising news was the arrival of a trio of tactical 30mm fixed power scopes, the 1042, 16x42, and 20x42. These have EXPOSED 1/4 moa knobs with 150moa of travel, a new mildot reticle with 1/2 mil hashes in between the dots, rear parallax adjustment (right where you'd expect the mag ring to go) that focuses down to 10 yards, great glass! These definitely seem like an offshoot of the Super Sniper series and I'm guessing that is squarely where they are aiming for market share. I do not have prices yet but these scopes have such a wide range of applications and quality fixed power scopes at a decent price aren't too common, so I'm glad these are here!
Talked to Alan Orr and met Eden at the booth, and these are great folks. I will say I viewed a prototype variable "tac" scope that I can't comment on but I assure you Sightron is listening to the needs of shooters and they will get there with styles and features you want. I did officially beg them to stick the new mildot in the fixed powers in all the SIII LR variables. A very nice and practical reticle.
Another new product for these guys is the S33 Mil electronic sighting device, with a 5moa red dot and 8 position rheostat, plus a new Auto setting which adjusts the dot intensity based on ambient conditions (there is a mini-sensor in the illumination knob) plus two NV compatible settings. Since the Millet/Bushnell zoom dot is now assembled in Mexico (and not made here anymore), the S33 is my new hip pick for a rugged mid-priced red dot sight.
Swarovski: Of course, other than their high performing LRF, there is nothing really in the House of Optik that we would be interested in selling. Of course, looking through a few hunting scopes will get you an education on what top notch glass looks like. The real news for me was a conversation with Clay Taylor, the Naturalist Markets Manager for Swav. This guy is a fellow optics junkie and was refreshing honest and real when it came to assessing the state of the industry and how products have evolved. He explained the meaning and practical significance of what manufacturers mean by "HD" or "ED" glass as well as anyone I've ever seen. He understands the dynamics of designing and marketing top shelf glass and the challenges manufacturers face when deciding what compromises they will choose when designing a new optics system. The conversation turned to spotters and the use of fluorite crystal in eliminating chromatic aberration. Kowa is still the only one to use pure fluorite in a spotting scope (or any sporting optic for that matter) in the 88mm Prominar series. This material poses many practical challenges for a field use optic , but the results, in terms of pure image quality, are second to none. Apparently, in Swavs own in-house testing, the Prominar 88mm came out tops in pure image quality! I've been saying this all along and Clay's honesty was a revelation. Obviously, Swarovski's spotters are top shelf and their 65mm models consistently rank at the top of the heap. In technical terms, with the short focal length the Kowa does make sacrifices in other areas, but for you and I the practical result is that the Prominar 88mm is the envy of the industry. Anyway, this is the first friendly conversation I had at the Swav booth in years and I appreciate it.
Aimpoint: Playing it close to the vest in a shaky economy, we haven't gone crazy adding new stuff to our bag of tools lately. However, we do lack a consistent red dot brand, and Aimpoint easily has the best brand recognition of any of them. I think we will be an authorized dealer before the show is finished. That and USO are the targeted new brands for the portfolio. The Aimpoint reps spent a great deal of time with me and Ilya and we were treated very well. Aimpoint has new "Hunter" sights with 30mm and 34mm tubes, digital illumination controls and lots of marketing hype, but it's a red dot, keep in mind. The T-1 and H-1 micro series do everything you need them to. I even learned to use the Aimpoint with both eyes open, and I'm cross-dominant. Drop me a line if there are particular models you favor, as I admit the "long range game" is my thing and I'm not too hip on the CQB stuff....
Trijicon: We had a good year with Trijicon, and they are a key cog in the Liberty Optics business model. Practical weapon sights for any carbine or battle rifle, we have been slow to get them in stock and quick to move them. The real debate is the red vs. green reticle color. I like the red; Trijicon tells me green is the best. While it is bright and easy to pick up and works well at night, I don't like the green for general field use; perhaps I am being stubborn. But make it red for me. There are no really new products at SHOT for Trijicon except they will be selling an OEM Bobro mount, very slick little QD mount that obviously meets Trijicon's standards. I've heard great things about the Bobro design but never saw one before. The ring caps screws tighten from underneath, so the rings have a seamless profile with no holes on top.
The real exciting news was the whispers of a 1-6x or 1-8x Accupoint with BDC reticles like the ACOG. I'll go out on a limb here and say if Trijicon pulls that off that will be a game changer. Probably the last scope you would ever own for many battle rifle setups. Keep your fingers crossed!!
Schmidt & Bender: I've always held these scopes in high regard, but the news today will make you (and me) question my sanity. I looked closely at three scopes: The 3-12x50 SDSS, the 1-8x24 PM ShortDot (new), and the new 5-25x56 PMII/LP/MTC/Lt.
The 5-25 has a new "sand" ceramic coating, new 14mils per turn lockable turret (there is a collar around the turret that lifts up to free the turret, and snaps down to lock), with 26mils total travel, MTC knobs, 10 meter focus (whatever the hell for), an MTC click at the "zero" setting on the windage knob, and a Horus (did I say that again?) reticle with illumination. This is a dandy scope but for less $$ the Premier 5-25 will work just as well.
The biggest shock was the $3500 3-12x50 SDSS with Gen 2 XL and MTC knobs. I was all set to buy this from another dealer for $3200 for my personal stick until I actually examined the darn thing. It just feels different than the other S&B scopes. Very light and tinny. I noticed some ghosting and a less then eye-popping image when looking through the darn thing. My gut screamed that this scope was not worth the money. I have no idea what the heck is going on but this scope is not like other, traditional PMIIs IMHO.
The biggest turd was the 1-8x24 ShortDot. Note to manufacturers: IF your scope on the table in the biggest trade show of its type in the world is indeed a true prototype then PLEASE mark the darn thing as such. I was very critical of this scope on the show floor and someone chimed in "it's just a prototype" (not the S&B booth personnel, mind you). This scope was just really weak. The distortion was noticeable in the NW quadrant of the field of view, the illumination had major issues with "smearing" or "ghosting" and was poorly done, and overall the scope did not justify its high price tag. In fact, none of the "1-8" scopes on the table throughout the show by any manufacturer were impressive at all; is technology not capable of getting such a sight done right?
The good news is that S&B announced a new US service center in Newington New Hampshire. This is a good thing, and puts it on par with Premier and ahead of Hensoldt in this game.
Kowa Optimed: Kowa has been our flagship spotter for the last two years now, and although there is nothing new for 2010, the product lineup is excellent. There is an ongoing rebate program for the Genesis binoculars. And, like Carl Zeiss, Kowa is the 2nd manufacturer we handle to announce no new price increases for 2010. This is a conscious decision and one that Kowa mgmt needs to be lauded for. Josh Lazenby is Kowa's on the ground product manager and he is one savvy operator. His mojo has guided him to slash inventory on slow-moving products and keep the better movers, which has kept operations for Kowa on track in difficult times.
We want to sell more Kowa than ever in 2010. I will tell you that my observations of the 82SV has resulted it in moving up in our rankings and it still is probably the best non-ED spotter on the market today.
Leica: Leica had new (to us) riflescopes on display, two hunting models, a 2.5-10x42 and a 3.5-14x42 with side focus. While the turrets are nothing to write home about, the optical system is very impressive indeed. No tunnel vision, a bright, clear and very contrasty (is that a word?) image, "Hensoldt-like" non-critical eye relief. A very nice platform to launch from and if Leica will grow a pair and tune in to the tactical market these scopes hold a lot of promise. Of course, I have zero data on reliability, but the scopes are damm impressive in the showroom.
Kahles: Back from the dead, it looks like Gamo Outdoor USA is the new importer/distributor of Kahles scopes. The scopes on the stand were the exact same scopes I saw three years ago. Excellent optics, but still a time warp.
Burris: I though I had an amazing story when Burris was not listed in the SHOT program or visible on the floor. Turns out they are sharing a booth with Steiner, and are both owned by Beretta. I've shied away from Burris for sometime but its time I take a closer look at these, which I hope to tomorrow. I haven't checked them out in awhile.
Shepherd Enterprises: OK, I've been keen on these for quite sometime, but our customers have never really demanded them. I spent some time there and Sally and Glen Shepherd were noticeably absent from the booth. But Dan Shepherd was there and the fill-in crew was very pleasant. Bottom line: they have the same products since I first started doing business almost 7 years ago. I pick on Nightforce for being slow to change, but these guys are sitting firmly on their haunches. Talk about complacency....
Doug at CameraLand: Doug frequents many forums I post on, but he does so many more than I do. I was once critical of him and resentful of the competition on the shooting forums, but I've grown up. We met today for the first time for about 45 minutes (he's a busy man who seems to thrive on little sleep). I did my best to speak little and listen much. The guy is a master businessman, with loads of experience and lots of great advice. He gave me much food for thought. Suffice to say I've turned over a new leaf and I've grown to greatly respect him.
What is exciting for me is we have completely different takes on the Minox riflescopes. He says it will be a "huge" seller. I say the scope is total crap, and has no place in a serious rifleman's battery. His customer base is much bigger than mine, so I could be wrong.
But I shouldn't be.
Time will tell, and I can't wait for the results!
Thanks for your time Doug. And for your sake, Go Jets!
Tomorrow, I'll be wrapping up, and I'll try to have some fun. Necessary visits are Barrett, Meopta, Burris, and Kruger Optical. Optional visits are any darn gun and knife booth I can get my hands on.
See you tomorrow (actually, later today!)
Just talked to Paul at Premier and the ECP for the 3-15x50 was approved for the SDSS. The 3-15x50 Heritage will soon be issued an NSN number, so no exports soon, at least from us.
This is great news for Premier. The bottom line is that this is a big kick in the pants for them from a monetary standpoint and hopefully lay to rest the rumors of their impending demise.
Just talked to Chris and he expects this to increase commercial availability in the future due to production demand and the need for parts and other services to back up the contract. So that is good news for us and our customers who demand them.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
A much better day today. Hung out with the Dark Lord of Optics aka Ilya Koshkin and we covered a lot of ground. I'm focusing on mostly the new stuff from these manufacturers today.
A modification of my Day 1 post is that the main room in Level 2 of the show is actually much like the old Convention Center in either Vegas or Orlando, tall ceilings with sodium style lighting and about 150 yards of line of sight possible, but this location is the only decent one at the Sands for checking out glass. The rest of the floorplan is BRUTAL for optics evaluations.
Let's get to it....
Premier Reticles: I posted here last year the "discovery" of the Premier Heritage scopes and the amazing glass and features they had. Fast forward one year and we sold more than anybody for 2009. Both the 3-15x50 and the 5-25x56 have been dandy scopes for us, and our data indicate 97.4% of all Heritage sold have given us zero issues. Premier's own data gives about a 1% defect rate. Overall, these scopes have worked very well for us and most importantly they have worked for our customers. I understand there has been a whirlwind of rumors about the health of PR and its President is a bit HTL (Hard to Love) but we've received every scope we ordered and we are onboard for 2010.
The new scope on the table for 2010 is the 1.1-8x24 V8. This is quite possibly the oddest looking scope we've seen in awhile. The turret housing is placed way forward on the 34mm tube with a stubby tube in front of it and a looooooong mounting area behind it, with mini-sized turrets with the lever-lock and 86moa of travel. The reticle is very unique in function, with a FFP mildot type reticle with hollow circles and full-line illumination at 3x - 8x. When the scope is turned below 3x, a second focal plane projected red dot kicks on for CQB use! The idea is that the transition from FFP long range precision reticle to SFP red dot is as seamless as turning the mag ring. The rheostat is 11 position with "off" settings between each one, with the three lowest settings being for NV.
I think this scope has interesting potential but I'd like to see the finished product first before commenting further. Same great Premier glass, though.
The 5-25 had the Horus reticle in it; I wish I had bought stock in Horus last year. No less than four brands of scopes (PR, Leupold, USO, and S&B) displayed the H37 reticle or variant in them at the show today!
David at Premier had a nice moa reticle drawing for me to look at; I told him that moa/moa scopes were desired by probably only a max of 10% of our clientele right now; more like 5%,mil/mil is in! Let me know if you disagree.
We are happy to be selling the Premier riflescopes and look forward to their continued growth and success.
Hensoldt: Ironically, Hensoldt was located right next to Premier for the show (delicious irony for Sniper's Hide members). Both manufacturers were stuck in a ballroom which really didn't do the scopes justice, no way they could stretch their legs, so to speak. I reported last year about purple halos around the point sources of light when looking through the scopes in Orlando, it is apparent to me that the light source definitely had a role to play, as I could not induce this type of chromatic aberration in the current environment. To be sure, Hensoldt does have an "easy" sight picture with "zero" tunnel vision effect, very sweet glass and highly advanced optical systems. For the money, the knobs lack a zero stop and they are nothing special, and the choice of reticles is pretty limited. But the quality is there and Ilya feels these are close to perfection as can be had. No doubt they belong in the top tier of the tactical scope world.
The Spotter 60 has resolution and contrast that is off the charts, but it is $5K+.
For those that have the coin, and are comfortable with the features, Hensoldts won't disappoint. But for "working class" folks the value really isn't there, IMO.
Zeiss: One thing I want to say right up front is that Carl Zeiss Sport Optics needs to be lauded for their express commitment to not raise prices in 2010. ALL 2009 pricing applies for all the models in the lineup. This was a corporate decision in the face of the current troubled economy and Zeiss will not toot their horn about it but I will, as looking at 2010 pricing for all other makes shows increases across the board. Kudos to Zeiss.
Some big news is the introduction of the trick, but pricey 8x56 and 10x56 T* RF laser rangefinding binoculars. I'm not crazy about an "all in one" solution in the field, if something happens to the piece of equipment you are out money and functionality but for the man who craves the latest technology in the field these are the answer.
We have enthusiastically supported and endorsed the Victory 8x26 PRF laser rangefinder since its introduction, it performs its job very well, with great optics, speed and precision, at a fair price. For 2010, this baby gets LotuTec coatings for even better fieldabilty. Did I mention no increase in price?
Finally, the most impressive new item to me was the Victory FL riflescopes, which are slowly but surely blurring the lines between the "civilian" and "tactical" Zeiss riflescopes, with SFP reticles, FL apochromatic optics, a beefed up turret housing, LotuTec coatings, and new turrets!
Three models are available - the 4-16x50, the 6-24x56 and the 6-24x72 (34mm tube!). Six different reticles are available, with four of them illuminated. The illuminated mildot is available in either 6-24 model (I wish it was in the 4-16!!) and would be "my guys" reticle of choice. The new turrets feature 20moa per turn, 1/4moa in the 6-24 and 1/3moa (1/10mil?) in the 4-16. They actually lock in place, with a pull-up or pull-out ring that allows turning of the knobs. In the "hunting" BDC turret, you can turn one revolution after setting your zero. In the "shooting" BDC knob, you may turn the knob all the way to max travel. Both of these knobs are uncapped, exposed. Reticle adjustment is just under 60moa so mount up on a 20moa base for maximum utility.
New spotting scopes are on tap in all black, the old green and silver ones were made by Meopta in the Czech Republic so I'm not sure what is new about these spotters, whether they are built in Germany again or something else. I'm going to visit their booth again, to answer these questions and to check out their new night vision 5.6x62 LT*.
Bushnell: I reported here last year that Bushnell seemed to be the most innovative optics company out of the "Big 3" (Leupold, Nikon, Bushnell) and that their new mildot FFP spotter held a lot of promise for a budget tactical spotter. Well, the FFP mildot Excursion was a disaster, to say the least, with a 15% return/defect rate on the 50 units we received, including water inside a couple of the spotters, right out of the box. I'm not talking "vapor", I'm talking "aquarium". Worst yet, was how this issue (and a couple of minor issues with the Elite 6500 scopes) were handled. Badly. For some odd reason, Bushnell's customer service and warranty claim service plummeted off a freaking cliff. Something's wrong at Bushnell. It looks like they have gone corporate, where the left hand doesn't know where the right hand is doing; and worse, doesn't seem to care. Buyer beware, just sayin.
Nevertheless, my focus is on the product, and a customer tip led me to the new Elite 4200 FFP riflescopes. Two models: a 6-24x50 (13mils of reticle travel) and a 3-12x44 (20mils of travel). Exposed 1/10 mil tactical knobs, 30mm tube, very decent glass. The knobs are simple and effective, with decent clicks. Reticle is a standard mildot. All was good until I switched on the illumination...green only. Why is so much green illumination koolaid being drunk nowadays?? Maybe in a CQB optic (a la Trijicon), but for long range low light work red is still king. At a price tag of $700-$800, just wait for the Vortex Viper PST if you can and all the goodies in a logical arrangement,
The other new product of note was the new Fusion 1600 LRF binos, with a 1200 yard laser. The glass has a slight greenish tint when viewed through it, and the LRF worked OK enough, but at $700+ street price, I’d just get a Zeiss PRF and be done with it.....
Redfield: Owned by Leupold, and made here (I'm sure some imported parts apply), the new Redfield scopes are actually pretty decent glass for under $200. The knobs and mechanics do not excite me at all, but my overall assessment is these are pretty good for the coin. If you want a cheap hunting scope and these come truly marked "Made in the USA" for production models, go for it. However, if you want a superior hunting scope for under $200, look no further than the Vortex Diamondback, the best kept secret in the industry....
Leupold: Maybe, just maybe, someone at the "Big L" has felt the twinge of all the cyber-bashing they've taken over the last couple of years (deservedly so). Looking at the Mark 4 series, I see a new generation illumination with NV-compatible settings, "off" setting between illumination settings, a common-sensical CR2032 battery for all scopes, the return (after only a 1-year hiatus) of the "fast-focus" diopter eyepiece, M4 (0.05 mil) and M5 (0.1 mil) knobs (look and act just like the M1 models), new Xtended Twilight optics, new FFP models, people in the tactical booth who actually have a clue (thanks, Brad Brumfield). So, it looks like progress is finally being made.
Of serious interest are two new models, one long range in a coyote finish (both 8.5-25 and 6.5-20 models) and the other a versatile 1.1-8x24 model.
For the long range model, this was a very big scope. FFP. 34m tube, a massive elevation knob (1/10 mil) with a locking turret; push down on the button centrally located on top of the turret to rotate it, release to lock it. Large capped windage knob, a great side focus, 20mils total travel. A Horus reticle completed the package. Honestly, the optics weren't all that great, and this scope seems to be built in response to a military contract, but to see something that is such a radical departure for Lupy is encouraging. The final product should be available in the summer, but the expected price tag (just under $3k) puts it at odds with well established Euro competitors and I'll wait and see with this.
The other scope is a 1.1-8x24, with a 34mm tube (yes, seems odd), the CQBSS model. Mil/mil. 40 mils of adjustment, FFP, two reticles: A TMR with some type of telemetric scale at the bottom, with the outer bars (not the TMR portion itself) illuminated, and a Horus H27 with a CQB style holographic red dot projected over the crosshairs. On this model, there was a definite "uneveness" of the illumination on the etched reticle piece. When you panned the scope in a vertical motion the holograph got bright, then dim, then bright. Not sure what was going on. The knobs are yet another twist...lockable, but you squeeze the sides of the turrets to unlock them (pics will really help here, we'll get 'em up soon) on two movable halves to unlock, and turn the knob. The ocular is large, knurled, and straight. The optical performance/sight picture was just OK. The estimated price tag is over $3K. It looks like this scope is yet another entry into a military contract. It's definitely different and it definitely holds a lot of promise!
Minox: Good news: The Minox HG binos are now being manufactured in Germany, and a new APO series (8x43 ands 10x43) makes their debut and I'll say these are some really sweet new spyglasses. Really a great value for the money, a hopefully flagship return for Minox to bino prominence.
Bad news: I really checked out the new Minox riflescopes. They proclaim Schott glass and Minobright coatings in the optics. The rest is sketchy. I'll tell you where the tube and mechanics are made: China. The optics were unimpressive. The turrets were off the shelf Chinese and they sucked. The overall impression of the scope was pretty poor. Lots of ghosting and flare with the optics and mushy, weak knobs, so you need to run like the wind. Tell you what; buy one of these and tell me where you live so I can bring an offering basket so you can throw your money away for a good cause instead.
March scopes: These highly regarded benchrest scopes have had quite the buzz in 2009, and after Ilya saw them yesterday and was highly excited about them. I had to take a peek myself. These are high quality Japanese semi-custom scopes with obscene 10x multiplier ranges, like 1-10x, 2.5-25x, 5-50x, etc, with parallax adjustments down to 10 yards in many cases. In other words, these were extremely engineered scopes.
I looked primarily at the 1-10x and 2.5-25x models. These scopes are very nicely made, with positive click turrets in 1/4 moa with 25moa per turn, a simple but effective collar that functioned as a zero stop, superb side focus knobs that housed a 4-setting rubber covered illumination knob, and excellent fit and finish.
Where I struggled was the sight picture. I really hated it. To my eyes, it was dull, fuzzy, and the image had some distortion along the edges. This really bothered me b/c Ilya was really impressed, but I spent a lot of time with these scopes. The reticles were too fine for my tastes, and I could rarely get a good clear image. Ilya lauded the pure resolution of the optics but for my eyes there was such poor contrast I couldn't get to the point of assessing resolution. There simply was no "wow" factor for me......YMMV....
For over $2000, I expected much more. Granted, the Sands environment did the glass no favors, but even so, these scope just didn't work for me.
That'll do it for tonight. Tomorrow, we'll post on Trijicon, Sightron, Kowa, Aimpoint, S&B, Hawke, Weaver, and more....
Thanks for stopping by. See you tomorrow.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Day 1 has come and gone. Right up front I'll say I didn't have my "A" game today. I've come to the realization that I really do not dig Vegas at all. After nearly 2 years in Big Sky country coming to a place like this is like landing on another planet. It started with the rude, foreign cab driver that picked me up at the airport (after being herded by an obnoxious security guy to a numbered waiting station to wait for a cab). I asked him to take me to my hotel (on the strip)and not use the interstate (a common ploy where they drive fast but take the long way to get to your destination, for extra fare). He didn't like my suggestion, but off we went. I asked him how he was doing, he said fine, then cranked up the radio. Hey, I can take a hint. Then he took a call on a cell phone and spoke in I don't know what language until all the way to the hotel. My fare was $19.30. I gave the jerk a $20.
I'm at the Venetian, which is fairly luxurious digs for this country boy. It better be for $250 a night. The advantage is the SHOT show is walking distance from my room. The disadvantage is no refrigerator. I mean, not one fridge in the entire place, and here in Vegas, where anything and everything is for sale, I can't BUY a fridge for my room. $250 a night and no way to stock up on cold beverages, are you freaking kidding me.
Add in the crowds, the smoke, the high prices for everything, the new venue (more on that shortly) and forgetting my map and I wasn't on fire for opening day.
Two silver linings: 1) The housekeeping lady did an awesome job, even folding and stacking my dirty clothes, arranging the bathroom toiletries on clean towels and tucking my dirty socks into my shoes. 2) The Canyon River spa, which I paid $20 extra on top of my daily $15 resort fee to use the steam and sauna facilities. The steam room did wonders for the aching muscles, but they also had two new items, "Experimental rain" where you stand in a stall and push a button on either "Cool fog", "Caribbean rain" or "Tropical storm" and down comes the cool water, scents, and lighting to simulate the aforementioned scenarios, very refreshing, just like getting caught at the beach in a downpour; and then "The Igloo" which is a 35-40 degree room with more cool water, with the choices of scents being "Aroma 1", "Aroma 2", or "Aroma 3". Now that's descriptive. For the record, Aroma 2 has a minty smell and feel that is the "go to" choice here....
Obviously, this has nothing to do with optics, but hopefully you are channeling my mood, and giving me a mulligan for a somewhat unproductive day.
On to the show...
First off, I want to tell you the Sands Expo is a terrible choice of venue for evaluating optics. The show floor is broken up into 10 different rooms of all sizes, from very large to very small, with very low ceilings, high walls between manufacturer booths, and uneven "ballroom" style lighting and fixtures. There are few lines of sight of any appreciable distance, and no windows to the outside world. It's pretty lame. At least in the old Convention Center or even in Orlando you had real tall ceilings, with tons of point source lighting, dark shadows and nooks and crannies up in the rafters, and the ability to focus on objects from 200-300 feet away. You also had the ability to peek outside sometime. But all that is out with the Sands. So the subjective evaluation of the glass just got a whole lot more difficult. We'll see how it pans out after a few more days, but I didn't get all warm and fuzzy playing with the glass today.
The first stop was Vortex Optics, who had a small booth in the 2nd level LE section and a larger spot on the first level section. I've been ringing the bell on these guys since their debut at SHOT a few years ago, and I must say they have not disappointed. Still the best folks in the industry, great business model, strong ethics, a pattern and history of innovation and listening to the customers needs, and great quality for the price, Vortex is where most of you should look when in need of glass, at any price point.
Vortex introduced the Razor HD 5-20x50 riflescope late in 2009, and those of who aren't hip to this beastly scope, are really missing out. Featuring an excellent rangefinding FFP illuminated reticle in either milrad or moa subtensions, 125+moa of travel, huge exposed 1/10 mil or 1/4moa knobs with patent pending zero stop, top notch Japanese glass, 35mm tube, and construction and tolerance specs similar to a Swiss watch, the Razor HD is a combat-ready optic for under $2K. We have this scope in stock, and it will earn its due in the near future.
Debuting at the show was the 5-20's little brother, the 1-4x24 Razor. 30mm tube, all the quality of Vortex's best, this little scope features either a CQMR-1 MOA reticle (sort of a crosshair) with a customized elevation knob (BDC for XM193 and M855) or the EBR-556 moa BDC reticle (a smart design but an asymmetrical reticle that would be an acquired taste in an .223 optic). Both reticles are illuminated FFP, with a 11-position rheostat on the side, and feature 200moa of adjustment. While wonderful little scopes that MAP in the $1200 range, with the choice of reticles provided, I must say "But Chuck, there just was no love connection!" Another factor influencing this is the introduction of the Razor's poorer, but sweeter cousin, the Viper PST 1-4x24 with the fast and furious TMCQ reticles in either moa or mils.....a decent segue into the long awaited Viper PST line...
The Viper PST (Precision Shooting Tactical) are a highly anticipated line of scopes that feature all the bells and whistles "my guys" want today; FFP, illumination, exposed knobs in increments that match the reticle subtensions, rugged construction, good glass, all without breaking the bank. While all I viewed were prototypes...
...I'll say Vortex has succeeded in their mission, which is good news for us!
My first impression of the new PST were "NXS Lite" as in Nightforce. The four models offered asr the aforementioned 1-4x24, the 2,5-10x44, the 4-16x50, and the 6-24x50 (the latter two available in FFP). All business in matte black, the eyeboxes are all Razor and the knobs are reminiscent of the excellent NXS turrets. While the clicks were a bit light for my tastes, Vortex has assured me they will be tightened up before the production models hit the showroom. The reticles in the long range models are similar to the Nightforce MLR and are well executed. All models a CRS (Customizable Rotational Stop) which is a somewhat crude, but effective zero stop system using stackable washers. In the SFP models there are even numbers on the back side of the magnification ring that correspond to the multiplication factor needed to correct for ranging on powers other than the synchronized one!
The 1-4x model has a great reticle and great eye relief!
All in all, I'm having a tough time imagining anyone being disappointed with the Viper PSTs. With pricing from $500 - $900, there is a ton of value in these scopes and I expect demand to be high, even with a good supply projected this year. Arriving in April or May of this year, order yours early!
Vortex wasn't done, though...
The recently introduced Viper R/T 10x50 binos were on display, featuring Armor-Tek lens coatings and the R/T rangefinding reticle. There are outstandingly clear binos, with a reticle focus, dipoter, and central focus, getting the reticle and image in sharp focus an easy task. Like most of the Viper line, the image does exhibit some distortion at the extreme tops and bottoms of the field of view, which affects the reticle also, but overall these are sweet binos. My only other nitpick are the eyecups, stiff and unforgiving, they will gouge the inside of your eyesockets; I am told a new silicon rubber matter (softer) and/or a possible redesign in the works, which would be a good thing. They do fold down or remove if you want. Price is about $680 MAP.
I think the stealthy new product for Vortex are the Recon Mountain R/T spotting scopes. These come in 10x50 and 15x50 flavors, 7 inches long, under a pound, with both a belt/Molle carry clip and a hand strap, Pic rail mounting and attachment points, Viper level glass and coatings with ArmorTek (sweet) and the R/T reticle, these things are a versatile tool. The icing on the cake is the new VMS (Versatile Mount System) which stabilizes the Recon for field use, allows an array of accessories and/or other optics (NV, thermal imaging, etc) and is totally modular. Don't wanna take my word for it? I've got it on good info that one has already been squirreled away by Jacob Bynun of Rifles Only and Frank Galli, owner of Sniper's Hide, for T/E at RO. That didn't take long. Lightweight, functional, quality made in Japan, the Recon R/T has all the looks of a real winner at $600 MAP, without VMS, and $800 with it
Vortex's innovation even extends to the lower price point Solo R/T 8x36 monocular, 10 ounces, 5.3 inches, super handy with very decent optics, the Solo R/T has a clip too and the rangefinding reticle of it's big brother, without the telemetric silhouettes.
Another new system that made it's first appearance is the VOTRS (Vortex Optics Tactical Reconnaissance System), which is a fancy moniker for a series of kits that feature the Razor HD spotter with new 30x R/T eyepiece, either the 15x56 Kaibab or 10x50 R/T binos, choice of the CBX or Dakota tripods, adaptors for cameras and mounts, instructions, all in a fitted Storm case. I'll presume there is a cost saving in the package deals but I haven't crunched the numbers yet in the $3600-$4200 package prices.....
The last item I checked out was the SPARC, a fancy acronym for Speed Point Aiming for Rapid Combat, which is a fancy name for what is basically a smaller version of the Strikefire red dot, except it costs more, $199. A little Chinese made red dot for $200, OK, color me not excited, I'm yawning now, we'll sell 'em if you want 'em :)
That's all I have for Vortex, but it's a lot. I expect them to have a good show and to see a groundswell of dealer and customer interest in what they are doing. The kicker is....they assure me, the best is yet to come!!!!
Please, for more info, visit http://www.vortextactical.com/ and then visit our newly redesigned website when you are ready to purchase :+)
Nightforce Optics - I'm a broken record with Nightforce, great track record of reliability, precision, performance, a great rifle sight but in my experience a mediocre optic. I'm convinced there are two grades of NXS scopes out there, those for the hotshots and mouthpieces and those for thee. At least when it comes to sight picture. I can't prove it but empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. I'm not a fan of the "rheostat-less" illumination and the rotating eyepiece, features which many shooters regard as quirky but Nightforce seems to view as the penultimate in function.
Like last year, "Nightforce Ken" spent some time with me - this guy is a class act, very polite, very professional, a real credit to Nightforce. He understands the difference between business and personal. He went over what's new. The first is the new Velocity series SFP reticles, for all intents and purposes a reticle in the mold of the PFI Rapid Reticle or the Zeiss Rapid-Z. The subtensions come in three flavors for low, medium and high velocity cartridges. From what I can gather these will debut in the 2.5-10x models of the NXS line, with expansion into the longer range models sometime later. I did see the 2.5-10 models in two new colors, a dark earth and a coppery brown finish.
The other "new for 2010" are the "hi-speed adjustments" knobs, which feature 1/4moa (20moa per turn), 1/10 mil (10 mils per turn), and 1/8moa (I believe 20moa also). I heard a whisper that these new knobs might be a problem due to the close spacing.
I'm here to say that won't be the case. The knobs (even the 1/8moa) are very distinct, tactile, precise, and will please every NXS aficionado. No worries on the new knobs.
That's pretty much it for Nightforce. It's easy to criticize, but IMO Nightforce is starting to walk a finer line here. On one side of the line is the great success and accolades the brand has accomplished over the years, on the other side is complacency and stagnation. Heck, even the F-150 pickup has been the number one selling truck for how many years? And every few they change things up with no loss of loyalty. It's obvious Nightforce takes a lot of pride in their product, but it's also apparent change is slow to come in Orofino.
Of course, they give a rat's butt what I think!
IOR-Valdada: Val has never been one to let the grass grow under his feet, but this show they introduced a trio of truly new scopes for the first time since the 2-12x32 made it's debut in Vegas back in 2004.
A new 6-24x56 illuminated FFP mil/mil leads the pack. Featuring a HUGE eyebox, long mounting areas, 35mm tube, digital illumination (two rubber buttons on the side of the turret housing behind the side focus, a "+" and a "-" button stacked one over the other), new knobs with a prototype zero reference system, new, smooth mag ring adjustment, and the MP-8 A5 reticle that all interior lines light up, this is an impressive scope. Even more impressive, were the ring marks on the scope. I was told this scope was tested on .338 edge, .338 Lapua, and .50 cal to the tune of 800 rounds by Mike McIntyre of MPI Rifles in Dillon Montana with nary a hiccup. I'm glad to see this type of testing prior to release of the scope. IOR has new internals for the 3-18x42 FFP, 2.5-10x42 FFP, and these new scopes. IOR glass and reticles, tracking, etc, have never been an issue, but the durability has been suspect in some models. Val is looking to dispel these notions with the new design. The new 6-24x56 will MAP for under $2000 with rings, and will be available in a few months.
A new 3.5-15x50 illuminated FFP mil/mil and SFP moa/moa were the other two surprises. Same digital illumination as above, these scopes have a longer rear tube to counteract the previous mounting issues some experienced with the 3-18x42, new mag ring and massive eyebox. The FFP mil/mil features the MP-8 A5 (designed by the guys over at Sniper's Hide) and the SFP moa/moa version features a sweet new moa reticle, with a floating dot and 20moa windage lines on either side of the crosshair and 30moa of holdovers. In the SFP model only the center dot is illuminated, which I like.
The digital illumination allows you to memorize your last setting, or press the "+" button for brightest setting on or the "-" button for a lowest setting that won't shock your night vision.
The lines of the new models also offer a more "German" look, really pleasing appearances here.
Prices on the new 3.5-15x50 will be $1895 MAP, which is less than the 4-14x50 ultra and the 4-28x56 MX-7. Better scopes for less money = my kind of value.
US Optics: You know, I had an epiphany with these guys, I've been doing this for seven years and each SHOT I see the same faces and names....that says a lot about a company when you have little turnover. Always as friendly and down to earth as it gets, too. I've always liked the guys at USO, and their scopes can compete with the best in the world, but it didn't make sense for us to do business with them in the past, for business reasons....and sometimes for product reasons.
I think things are changed now.
First, I took a lot of USO scopes in trade this past year, and I'll say guys gave up some real gems in long range precision optics. Wonder glass, features, controls, ruggedness, as close to 100% made in the USA as one can get. Ever check out the purity (yes, I said purity) of the illumination of a USO scope? It's among the finest illumination I've ever seen. So clean and precise, with brilliant color saturation.
I spent a lot of time talking to JW3 and Jeff, and I'll say I'm gonna rack my brain on what we can offer as a Liberty Optic edition USO.
Crack open the USO catalog and you have a choice of, oh, 26 reticles...but who's counting?
Check out the RDP mil and RDP moa reticles, with super fine center crosshairs. I really liked this reticle!
I also like the mil scale MPR for ranging....it may be a little busy for some but when ranging reticle precision is a requirement it's right at the top....
A couple of the scopes featured at the booth had a new internal bubble level, one at the top of the FOV inside the scope, the other had it on the bottom of the FOV. Suffice to say it's a work in progress :+\
- An MP-8 A5 reticle clone with Horus-like windage points
- Circle dot reticle with BDC holdovers
- A new "baby EREK" elevation knob. All the functionality of the EREK, in a compact knob. If you're at the show, G.A. Precision has got 'em mounted up.
Upcoming: Electronic Push button rheostats with 48 illumination settings.
Seriously, USO has been around a long time, and have elevated their game to new levels. We will do our best to get in on the action for 2010.
SnipersHide.com : I made the mistake of seeking out Frank aka "Lowlight" on the first day of the show. As usual he was gracious and we got some QT in but he knows about anybody and everybody and gets swept away in the current of humanity. After losing him for awhile, I asked Jacob Bynum if he knew where he was. "Sure" he said, "right down the row here in front of Badger Ordnance." "Can't you see him?"
I turned around, and easily spotted the bald guy whose white dome looked like it was polished with Zymol wax, with long flowing goatee and a very dark designer suit. Lowlight literally stood out from the crowd.
OK, not literally. heehee
Thanks for the time, Frank.
Team Blaster was spotted in the house! Rob, Tony, and Kevin were all smiles. Well, Rob and Tony were anyway. Kevin had his poker face on. Good to see you guys.
Had quite a few people "recognize" me through the name tag and introduce themselves, including many former/current customers. A very gratifying experience!
That's all for tonight folks. Up on the agenda tomorrow, I'll be hanging out with Ilya Koshkin from Opticstalk and checking out Premier, Hensoldt, possibly Zeiss, Bushnell, Lupy, and whatever else crosses our path. See you tomorrow.
Monday, January 18, 2010
I'm here, the buzz around the show is deafening, with 1800 exhibitors under 700,000 square feet (that's 16 acres for you farm boys) this is the biggest SHOT ever. I'll be scouring the floor for the best new optics products for 2010 as well as all the goodies, scuttlebutt, and latest news from yours (and mine) favorite manufacturers.
I'll be posting a report every night of the show, right here. Thanks for stopping by!!
HERE WE GO!!!!!!
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Those who have followed me through the years know where I stand on our Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and know how much I have hated using ebay and PayPal as a sales and payment tool for Liberty Optics. PayPal's "acceptable use policy" is anti-gun and anti-freedom, to put it bluntly. We've accepted PayPal begrudgingly as a convenience for our customers (and international customers especially) mostly because no real alternatives have existed. Until now.
Here's a synopsis:
"GUNPAL is an online payment processing alternative that donates a portion of the proceeds from every transaction to a Non-Profit Organization or Charity.
GUNPAL does not discriminate based on the nature of your transaction, requiring only that the merchandise or services you buy and sell be legal. See our User Agreement for more information."
GUNPAL is here, it's live, and we have established a business account with them. GUNPAL let's you buy sell, guns, ammo, knives, nunchuks, whatever the heck is legal in the good 'ol US of A. Don't forget your favorite optics too! :)
I highly encourage you to sign up for a GUNPAL account! It's quick, easy, and it's run by gun people like ourselves. At any rate, to put our money where our mouth is, after June 30, 2010, we will no longer accept PayPal as a payment option for business. Hopefully, 6 months is enough time for GUNPAL to take root and blossom. At any rate, we are taking the plunge and taking point, so to speak. We all need to stick together and support each other, and IMHO GUNPAL deserves our support as a payment vehicle for conducting our business.
For more information click here: GUNPAL
It's been a long time, and many of you wonder where I've been, or if I've been lazy with this blog. The truth of the matter is sometime in April 2009 business took off like a rocket and you've kept me hopping all year long. Your support has been overwhelming, and highly appreciated. We got lots of comments, with the main theme of "Keep up the good work!"
It's been an honor to serve, but this year I'm going to re-commit to optics evaluations and keeping an active presence on here. It's part of what got us where we are, and I really enjoy connecting with readers and customers.
My next post will be a short report on "2009, the year in review" and then we kick off the 2010 festivities in a big way with the return of our 2010 SHOT Show report, live from Las Vagas, beginning the night of Tuesday January 19.
Good to see you again, and I look forward to talking to you soon.