Note: This is part 1, a final review is found here
Part 1: Initial Receipt and Mounting
I received the new optic on Saturday. I’ll have to admit to some anticipation while I watched the shipping status. UPS chose to drop it off with the Post Office for Saturday delivery (I presume so that I would receive it on Saturday instead of waiting until Monday). The optic was packed in a white box wrapped in plastic. No fancy Pelican cases here.
In the box was a manual, a Duracell battery, and the scope. As a bonus, the scope came with an anti-reflective-device (ARD) already installed. I don’t plan on keeping the ARD mounted, as it reduces the light transmission and dims the scope a bit. But it is a nice bonus since it normally costs around $60. I suppose, on one level, it makes sense to include this since this is the same optic provided to the British Army for use on the SA80 (known as the Lightweight Day Sight), and that kind of environment might warrant an ARD.
For those who don’t know what the ARD does, it eliminates scope flash from downrange. Riflescopes have a nasty tendency to reflect light towards the target, giving away your position if you are not careful. If you’ve ever played Battlefield 4, think of the white light you saw whenever a sniper was aiming at you- that’s pretty much what it is. Historically, this was dealt with via an elongated sun shade, or with an ARD to “catch” the reflection.
The scope feels nice and compact, especially compared to the Trijicon TR24G and the Vortex PST 2.5-10×32 I’ve been using. Put next to the other two, it is noticeably shorter. It feels stout in the hand, almost like a rock that can take some abuse. At 17oz all together with mount and battery, I suppose it’s heavier than other options out there, but it doesn’t feel like it. Perhaps my opinion is skewed because the optics I typically shoot with are quite a bit heavier.
I dropped it on top of the 20″ government musket, and clamped down the two ARMS levers. There was a little bit of resistance when closing them, light enough that I was concerned about the sturdiness of the mount, especially compared to the level of tension I tend to use on my ADM mounts. That said, I pulled back and forth on the mounted optic and found no movement. When I moved it to the well-worn flat top portion of Ascalon’s 16″ upper, though, it was a different story. I was able to quite easily slide the scope back and forth within the confines of the recoil lug’s slot (about 1-2 mm worth of movement). Since the mount has no tension adjustment, I’m just going to have to avoid using it on that upper until I can get a hold of the ARMs Mk 2 levers (which are adjustable). I recall a story about ARMS saying that their mounts work just fine on “in spec” uppers, but might cause problems on “out of spec” ones. In any case, it works fine on the Musket’s BCM M4 upper. I also tried it on a second BCM upper without issue, as well as my 308 AR upper receiver- which offered more resistance than either of the BCM rails.
There are two loops, one next to each latch, that allow you to tie down the levers so that they do not pop up on their own. I would prefer a more modern mechanical lock (a la Larue or ADM), but this is a workable, if low-tech, solution.
I ran into another surprise while setting up the position of the optic for proper eye relief. I found that I actually had to move it quite far back on the rail. Part of my motivation for going with this optic over something like the TA31 was the intent of keeping a folded backup iron sight behind the optic. However, I have found that I am most comfortable with the eye relief when the mount leaves only one slot open (and actually, I like it even better when it’s covering that slot as well). This leaves little to no room for a BUIS.
In light of this, I went back and looked at pictures of how other people are using this optic, and they all have the optic mounted forward on the top rail, with plenty of room for BUIS. I noticed, however, that these people are also all running their collapsable stocks nearly all the way in. This is following the stylized shooting stances of today, but it also might just be how they take pictures. Since I run my stock at about A1/A2 length, I have to move the optic back just a bit. I did try it on both my upper with a MBUS 2 and another with a Troy sight. I found that it works, but my head position is just a hair too far back for best eye relief. The same position works on the 20″ upper, but I would just be a bit more comfortable with the optic a hair further back, which precludes a BUIS.
It does put into perspective the eye relief issues of the ACOGs I was looking at. The Elcan, at 2.7″, has longer eye relief than both the TA11 (2.4″) and TA31 (1.5″). But it is shorter than the TR24G (3.2″) and the PST 2.5-10×32 (4″) that I’ve been used to. I do see others using the TA11 with BUIS, and I believe it’s because of the mounting arrangement. The TA11 mount is under the objective and well forward of the ocular, leaving plenty of room under the ocular for a backup sight. The Elcan’s mount, on the other hand, leaves about an inch between the ocular and where the base starts. With the base coming that far back, it doesn’t leave much room. After seeing this, I checked the manual for its recommendation. Interestingly, it said that the typical M4 or M16 user will find optimal eye relief with two to three slots available in front of the mounted base. I have two.
The mount is about my only complaint at this point. But it could be a significant one for a lot of people. Despite that, there are also some pretty significant things I like about this optic on my first impression.
The glass is quite awesome. Color rendition is excellent, and the detail I can see is quite impressive. My initial impression is that the glass clarity is better than both my Trijicon and Vortex. The field of view is quite good, besting both the TR24 and PST by a fair amount (note, I set the PST to what I would guestimate is 4x for comparison sake). A side effect of the wider field of view is that I have a larger shadow from the fixed front sight base. It’s probably a good thing that I’ve been practicing so much with the TR24, as this shadow probably would have bothered me before. But in this case, it stays well below the center aim point and BDC stadia lines. I also put the Elcan on a BCM standard 16″ midlength upper with fixed FSB, my initial finding is that the FSB shadow is reduced quite a bit on a midlength, since the FSB is closer to the objective.
I am extremely happy with the reticle. The crosshair is clean and easy to see, offering a very nice aiming point. The illumination system is simple, and works well. When I turn the knob forward, the center of the reticle illuminates. On maximum setting, the illuminated
middle is daylight bright and works effectively as a RDS. In full sun, though, I wouldn’t call it as bright as the fiber optics of an ACOG (but, to counter that, a lot of people find the fiber optics almost obnoxiously bright in full sun and have improvised ways to dim it down a bit using bicycle tubing, tape, or something else). If I turn the knob backwards, the entire crosshair reticle begins to glow in “low light” mode. This setting would not overwhelm dark-adjusted eyes as badly as the brightly glowing middle crosshair would in daylight mode. I really like the ability to turn off the illumination completely so that I have a nice crisp center aiming point, something that is difficult to do with an ACOG.
This is the daylight setting. It was about 7:30 PM and the sun was already set when I took this. The dot is on maximum brightness, which works quite well. Don’t worry, the optic was dismounted from the gun, this is just sitting on the armrest of a patio chair
This is the night mode, which illuminates the whole reticle rather than just the center. This is also the maximum brightness for this style of illumination. It is not visible in daylight but, as you can see, works quite well at night
I’m not sure how this illumination works quite yet. I think the center of the reticle is illuminated by a dedicated component. But for the full reticle illumination, I think there is a red LED in the housing that reflects light off of the etched glass to create the illumination effect. I say this based on a red glow that appears below the field of vision inside the optic when using the low light function. There is no such light when using day brightness. In both cases, I can detect some illumination from the front of the optic, but not much.
I’ll also add that my slight astigmatism does cause me some some distortion when looking at illuminated reticles in the dark. It does not affect me during daylight. This is a known issue for me, though, and I had the same issue with the PST and TR24. Illuminated crosshairs tend to start blurring a bit, and I lose fine details (they are still usable for me, but I am unable to read numbers or text etched into the reticle). The brighter the reticle, the more the distortion.
Part 2: First Day at the Range
I received the optic on Saturday, and set out for the range on Sunday morning. I have to admit to a bit of trepidation during the forty minute drive to the range. Part of me was very worried that I had made the wrong choice when it came to spending this much money on this optic. I was worried that my desire to buck the mainstream, and not get an ACOG, would burn me. However, my concerns were more than alleviated by the end of the day.
The day started off nice and overcast, but ended up being sunny. It was about 58 degrees and there was a 5-10 mph wind from the 10 O’Clock. By the time I got to shooting, I had the 100 meter range all to myself. I also brought along the TR24, PST 2.5-10×32, and my EOTech XPS2 for comparison.
I set up my first target at 25 meters, reasoning that I could get close using the 300 meter reference mark in the reticle as my POA at 25 meters and then back it off to 100 meters and zero using the main crosshair. This turned out to be a good plan, but the optic did require quite a bit of adjustment to get there.
The elevation is done via an external drum on the bottom rear of the optic. In order to adjust it, you lift a safety catch up with a tool (a screwdriver or tip of a bullet work equally well), and start spinning. This seems quite secure, and I don’t think there is any risk of it moving on its own once the catch is lowered again. The manual states that it is .5 MOA per click of the drum. The windage is at the front of the optic, built into the base. A coin or screw driver works well here; each click is also .5 MOA. I can’t say how accurate the clicks are, as I did not have the time or sturdy enough setup to do a box test.
Once I got my zero situated, which took a while, I did a couple positional shooting tests from sitting, prone, and squatting. Sitting continues to be my best, but I my skills are clearly a bit rusty. My wobble zone was quite a bit larger than usual. I found my sights bouncing up and left after each shot, but not quite as bad as before. I definitely did better when I slowed down and pre-visualized the shot ahead of time. In all, the scope works well for this type of shooting. I never had any issue locating the eye box and settling into position with it.
View through the reticle with my iPhone. Target is a 4″ black at 100 meters. Click to enlarge.
The manual doesn’t say anything about it, but I’m thinking the center crosshair is about 4 MOA vertical and horizontal. I say this only because the center crosshair almost perfectly quartered the black of my NRA 50 meter small bore targets at 100 meters (which is about 4″). The black reticle on the black of the target did present some contrast issues in this regard. However, turning on the illumination solved that issue, as the center crosshair glowed a clear red. You can see the difference in the two pictures below. I apologize about not getting the illuminated reticle back fully in the black, but my skills are lacking in the photography department while also trying to stabilize the rifle.
After these photos, I started swapping on other optics. In the photo above, the illumination does not look that powerful. To my eye it did look quite a bit brighter. For comparison, this is my EOTech on full power pointing at the same berm.
Obviously, an iPhone is not a great substitute for a good camera that can deal with the washout and light issues. Here is another showing the TR24 with the fiber optic partially covered.
From this, it should be pretty clear that the fiber optic illumination is a good deal brighter than the battery illumination of the Elcan (and brighter than the EOTech, for that matter). But we already knew that, as the fiber optic can get crazy bright to the point of blooming and making precise aiming difficult. The above picture has some blurring in the lower part of the picture, that does not appear with your eye looking through the optic, it was probably my hand shaking.
I also took a picture through the PST set at about 4x (there is no marking for 4x, there is one for 3.3 and one for 5, so I guessed)
For handiness, here is a quick .gif animation quickly comparing the three sight pictures. The TR24 and PST have about the same FOV at 100 meters (about 25 feet), but notice how much wider the Elcan’s is.
After taking these, I dismounted the optics and turned them around to take pictures of something other than a sand berm. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much at my range besides desert brush. There is a space launch pad used for rockets, but the thermal mirage proved to be just a bit too much (of note, though, is that the Elcan was the clearest of the three at looking at the launch pad, which was five miles away).
I did, however, point the TR24 and the Elcan towards the ocean, between two lamp posts. You can see the difference in FOV again in these pictures. The Elcan is first, and you will have to forgive the scope shadow on the upper right. It was not a very stable platform for me to take pictures on, and my hand must have dipped right at the moment the picture was taken.
Between the pictures, the optical clarity is pretty comparable. I would give a slight edge to the Elcan when using the naked eye (photos don’t tell the whole truth). All three of these optics are known for their glass. I actually found myself getting mad at my Bushnell spotting scope that I brought along because it just could not compete with these three. The spotting scope image was just yellow and blurry in comparison.
A side bar on the reticle of the Elcan. The vertical stadia has markings for 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, and 800 meters. Each of these BDC markings has a corresponding horizontal line that represents 19″ (the width of the average man’s chest) at each of these distances. On the lower left of the reticle, you will see a few more horizontal lines with graduated distances between them. These represent a height of 30″ (the average distance of a man’s waist to neck) at each of the corresponding distances. Since this is an optic built for combat, it makes sense to use these kind of references for ranging. A quick google also turned up that 30″ is about the same as a Moose from back to brisket (a medium sized dear is about 15″, so this way of ranging could be usable for hunting)
At the end of the day, I remounted the Elcan and took a few more shots at the target. Bipod prone for this one. I put the first one on a prepositioned plastic bottle, and then put the remaining four on the black target. This was the result:
That’s just a bit over 1″. But, that’s only four shots, and I am in no way going to claim that I am a MOA shooter all day until I can replicate this with ten shots on multiple occasions. But it was a nice surprise.
I will admit that I was a bit concerned at first. But after the range session, I’m extremely happy with the little optic. The glass is fantastic, edging out my Trijicon TR24 and Vortex PST 2.5-10×32 FFP (both known for their high optical quality). Color transmission, edge to edge clarity, and field of view all seem top of the class. I suppose this is expected given the heritage of Elcan glass (Elcan is the military arm of Leica, long known for cameras and other optics).
The illumination is quite good. While not as retina searingly bright as Trijicon Fiber Optics, it is easily on par with an average RDS when out in full sun. Indoors it really shines as a rival to Trijicon’s BAC, providing a bright aim point that superimposes over the non-magnified eye’s vision. The reticle in my crosshair model is also crisper, and doesn’t bloom during illumination (my astigmatism in dark environments notwithstanding).
The reticle overall is very good. The small central crosshair is clean and precise. The stadia lines offer good reference for distance. The optic is calibrated for 62gr M855 out of a 16″ barrel, but it should match up close enough to the 20″ for practical use. I like the options for range finding. The horizontal stadia for chest size, similar to an ACOG is good, but the vertical lines for torso height are also quite nice and unobtrusive.
My greatest concern is the mount. I was unprepared for how much rail estate the base uses on a rifle. Given my preferred head and stock positions, ideal eye relief comes at the expense of room for a BUIS. I may net still find a work around for this by choosing the correct BUIS and maybe adjusting my head position forward just a bit. I am also not terribly thrilled with the ARMS levers. In the myriad of reviews I’ve seen on the Specter series (both DR and OS), reports are pretty varied concerning how tight they clamp down. With the four uppers I tried, the mount clamped down two enough not to move (but not nearly as tight as my ADM mounts), on another it freely slid within the slot, and on the last it clamped pretty tight. I think the adjustable Mk II latches are in order, and I will try to get them within the week.
Lastly, the increased FOV means that there is certainly more FSB shadow than I’ve been accustomed to. It’s not unmanageable, though, as the shadow is unobtrusive and stays out of the main aiming area of the reticle. The shadow is worse on my 20″ government upper than it is on a 16″ midlength. For the short time I put it on my upper with a folding front sight, I much preferred the cleaner sight picture. This would make a great RECCE optic.
This concludes my initial findings. I plan on using this optic extensively for everything i can, from marksmanship fundamentals, to competition, to some pig and deer hunting. I will report back after I’ve gotten a lot more time on the optic.