A note before I get going: Take any of the pictures you see that are “through the scope” with a grain of salt. You are essentially looking at a copy of a copy of a copy. The optic provided one picture, which then went through a camera lens (and in this case, different cameras for different photos), and then got worked through a photo editing program. The color representation and blurriness you might detect in these photos has more to do with my lack of skill with a camera than the optics themselves.
Thanks! – EDM
Not a lot of people know of the SpecterOS 4x. Many have, however, heard of its heavier and more expensive brother, the SpecterDR. The DR model has a military designation as SU-230/PVS-C, and is notable for its throw lever, cam, and prism system that allow the shooter switch quickly between 1x and 4x. The SpecterOS is essentially the same optic, but fixed at 4x without the prism and throw lever mechanism (or the associated cost and weight). I wrote about my initial impressions of the optic through my first range trip last month.
ELCAN stands for Ernst Leitz (Canada). Up until the 1990s, It represented the industrial arm of the broader company, Leica (the trade name for Leitz Camera), a well-known maker of high quality optical glass for cameras and other instruments. The company is now part of Raytheon, but the optical technology is still closely tied to its origins. Armament Technologies imports the optic from Canada to the US. Outside the USA, the SpecterOS 4x served as the basis for the new British Lightweight Day Sight (LDS) that replaced the venerable SUSAT sighting system, and it has seen usage with the Canadian military as a potential replacement for the legacy ELCAN C79.
I suspect the SpecterOS is not more popular mainly because it is in the same category as Trijicon’s ubiquitous ACOG series, which is standard issue with the US military and quite popular among competitive shooters. ACOGs have long been known for their ruggedness, excellent optical quality, and battery-free illumination through the use of fiber optics and tritium. For most US shooters shopping for a military quality optic in the +/- $1,000 range, there just wasn’t much of a reason to look elsewhere.
While that complacency with the status quo is certainly understandable, given the quality of the Trijicon options, I believe that shooters have been doing themselves a disservice by not seriously looking into other optics in the same category. Options such as Browe’s BCO/TCO offerings, the Leupold HAMR, and the Zeiss ZO 4x30i all bring a lot to the table. If you mentioned the name ELCAN among most enthusiasts, the assumption was that you were referring to the SpecterDR model, and therefore a different class of optics all together. I will admit that this desire to see what else was out there was a contributing factor towards my purchasing of the SpecterOS.
Additionally, there just hasn’t been much written about this little optic. In fact, the only reviews I could find were from The Firearm Blog, and Ilya’s excellent comparison over at Optics Thoughts (the latter of which was the one that pushed me over the edge to purchase it). I imagine that most people reading this will be quite familiar with the ACOG series, and perhaps want some comparisons. For that reason, I will be doing a lot of “this versus that” during this review.
I purchased the optic with my own funds from MidwayUSA for $1,224, which is the MSRP minus a $30 coupon code. That is about a $1,000 savings over the SpecterDR model. The savings in the OS model come from the lack of prism and cam system of the DR model. The optic arrived in a nondescript white cardboard box that also included a user manual, anti-reflective device (ARD), and a Duracell DL 1/3N battery. I’m not one to be too picky about packaging, but I will give props to Trijicon for using nice hard sided Pelican cases to package their optics. There is certainly something to be said for the “unpacking experience,” especially when it comes to more expensive products. The ELCAN packaging is strictly utilitarian. It’s not necessarily a plus or a minus; it’s just something I observed.
The optic itself is 6″ long, which is quite compact. In fact, it is absolutely dwarfed by my other optics. Despite its rather diminutive size, it is still a rather weighty 17.4 oz including the integral mount. I believe some of the extra weight stems from the relatively large optical surfaces, forged aluminum housing, and the nearly full-length integral ARMS base. A weight 17.4 oz puts it slightly heavier than a TA-31 with mount, and about the same weight as a TA-11 with mount, so it’s a wash there.
The front objective is 32mm, and the rear ocular is a generous 34mm. A 32mm objective with 4x magnification calculates out to a 8mm exit pupil, which is large enough that there should be zero issued when shooting in low light, as the human eye typically dilates up about 6 or 7mm. The optic came with the ARD already threaded into the front of the housing, but I removed it simply because I do not require it for the type of shooting I do.
There are provisions for a battery cap lanyard via a small stud next to the illumination switch/battery cap and a lip around the battery cap door; however, no lanyard was included. From what I have seen of the user manuals, the lanyard only comes with the SpecterDR and British military versions of the SpecterOS. Regardless, I found it easy to quickly fashion my own out of an inner thread from a short piece of paracord (I later removed it, reasoning that I’m not jumping out of airplanes or facing other conditions where retention is important).
I purchased the crosshair reticle model. I believe this style reticle is more applicable to my practical shooting methods, as it provides a nice crisp aiming point to quarter a target with. There is also a chevron reticle available, which is very similar in appearance to the standard AGOC RCO reticles used by the Army and Marine Corps. The center crosshair is between 3 and 4 MOA wide and tall (I don’t have an exact measurement, as all of my attempts at contacting Armament Technologies to get the specs have been unsuccessful). The center of the crosshair is meant to be zeroed at 100 meters, and serve as the point of aim (POA) for up to 200 meters. Below this center crosshair, there are stadia lines for 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, and 800 meters. The reticle is calibrated for a 16″ barrel firing 62gr 5.56 (again, I don’t have the exact MOA drops, so I can’t tell what velocity and ballistic coefficient were used). Calibrating for a 16″ barrel is a good compromise length, as I have always read that you can “step” up or down one level from the calibrated length and still be “close enough” for BDC use. A 16″ calibration means that the BDC is usable for both 14.5″ and 18″-20″ barrels.
One of the reasons I wanted to go with the SpecterOS was the reticle and glass arrangement. A known “issue” with the ACOG line is that the reticles are etched onto the internal prisms. These prisms are sometimes installed with a slight left to right bias. Many users have found that part of the reticle is slightly more out of focus than the rest of it. Even the manual states this is normal. I didn’t think such a situation was ideal for my purposes. Additionally, the ACOG reticles that have interested me the most (the horseshoe) just aren’t that precise. The crosshair model would meet my needs, but then there is the potential focus issue and the risk of reticle bloom (which I’ll get to in a minute)
As far as ranging capability, there are two options on this reticle. Each horizontal stadia line represents a 19″ width at the stated range, which is roughly equivalent to the average man’s chest width. Anyone who has used an ACOG before will be familiar with this scheme. On the lower left corner of the reticle is ELCAN’s VSOR vertical ranging system, where each bracket represents 30″ of height (the average height of a man’s torso) at each stated range. The 30″ measurement is also good for other things, like the size of light truck tires, or the size of animal torsos from back to brisket. This rangefinding system is user friendly, and does not clutter the sight picture unnecessarily.
On my second range trip, I took the optic out to 700 yards with my 20″ government profiled BCM upper. The BDC matched close enough to easily hit chest-sized (and smaller) steel plates out to 400 yards, and was actually about right for 700 (the wind was more of an issue than drop for that shot).
Illumination is of moderate importance to me. As a practical shooter, I typically want to use only as much illumination as required in order to get a good sight picture. In bright daylight, this often means I don’t want any illumination of the reticle at all. When using my fiber-optically illuminated TR24, for example, I usually have the fiber optic element completely covered in order to produce a nice crisp black aiming point.
The ACOG is well known for its bright fiber optic illumination. However, there are two known downsides to this configuration. In full sun, the reticle tends to “bloom” and make precision aiming difficult. Alternatively, if the shooter is indoors and aiming outside, the reticle tends to “wash out,” not having enough illumination to draw the eye quickly. The former is typically overcome by using tape, bicycle tubing, or other means to limit the light hitting the fiber optic. The latter cannot be overcome. The ability to mitigate both factors as needed was a driving factor for me going to battery power, which the SpecterOS 4x has.
In low light, tritium lamps provide an ACOG’s illumination. These lamps are filled with tritium gas, which has a radioactive half-life of about 8-10 years. After a certain period (and probably less than 8 years), they will have to be replaced in order to continue being usable. I have never seen a published cost of this replacement, but the average has been around $300. And since the only source of tritium in the country is the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site, which is primarily used to maintain the aging US nuclear weapon stockpile, I imagine the future cost of tritium replacement will only go up. Batteries sound like a more economical option for the long term.
On the left side of the optic is the illumination switch and battery cap. The cap threads itself into the switch, and is not easy to unscrew by accident when rotating the illumination rheostat. There are a total of ten illumination settings: five daylight and five low-light, with the “OFF” position being in the middle. There is only one OFF position rather than having one between each of the illumination settings, a la my Vortex PST. Some people prefer to have the off position between each setting, so it is easier to click right on to the normal desired setting, but with only five settings either way and a relatively large and easy to turn knob, I don’t think it would be of any extra benefit, and may in fact only add undesirable complication.
Rotating the switch forward activates the daytime illumination, which brightly illuminates the center crosshair only. The first two are designed for night vision, but I can still see them in the evening. I consider the maximum setting to be bright daylight capable. It works quite well in 90% of situations, and is nearly as bright as a dedicated red dot sight, but may wash out against a bright background like a sand dune illuminated by full sun (this is a difficult scenario for any electronic optic). In such cases, the etched reticle is still quite visible as a heavy black crosshair, which is more than I can say for my EOTech at full power when looking at the same background. In the picture to the left, the house is illuminated in full evening sun. You can see that the reticle illumination becomes more of a contrast than a “Look at me!” aiming point (please forgive the slight blurriness in the surrounding reticle, I was standing on one foot perched on the back of my Jeep trying to manually focus a DSLR). I believe that, in full sun, the ACOG’s fiber optics are going to appear brighter to most people when outside. However, the LED power of the SpecterOS walks all over the ACOG when used indoors for what could best be described as CQB application. Indoors, the center crosshair glows quite brilliantly and rivals every RDS I’ve ever handled.
Rotating the illumination knob to the rear of the optic activates the low-light setting, which illuminates the entire reticle. I do have a bit of astigmatism in my shooting eye that causes illuminated reticles to blur just a bit, not enough to make illumination unusable, it’s just not crisp enough for me to easily read the numbers next to stadia lines and hash marks. The effect is exacerbated for me as the illumination gets brighter in relation to the background. That has been true of every illuminated reticle I have used, including my EOTech, my TR24, and my Vortex PST. With correctional lenses on, everything is very crisp and readable. This may or may not affect you, but it’s something to keep in mind.
The manual states that the battery is good for between 600 and 3000 hours, depending on the setting used. I expect that the battery it came with will last me a long time, as I typically shoot without illumination. And even if the battery does cut out unexpectedly, I still have a nice solid black reticle to use.
The optical quality of the glass is the biggest selling point of the ELCAN for me. Nearly every review I had found talked about the optic “stomping” on the ACOG or other competing designs in the price bracket. I have not been disappointed. The optical quality is outstanding. On my second range trip, where I wanted to stretch out the legs and see what the BDC could do, I was able to spot my own hits and corrections at 700 yards. I could see every little kicked up dust cloud and walk myself in at that range. With a 4x optic, I found that to be pretty impressive.
I don’t have the breadth and depth of experience as someone like Ilya when it comes to comparing optic x to optic y, but I am fully confident that this is outstanding glass that is more than up to the task for just about any need I might have. Resolution, color transmission, and brightness are all best in class, topping the other magnified optics I own. However, that may or may not mean anything to you, as I do think that once you get up to a certain quality of glass, which one is “better” becomes more subjective for most users. I’m sure there are those who have the knowledge, experience, and know-how to make a scientific method of comparing glass, but I’m not one of them.
Aside from the quality of the glass itself, I believe that a contributing factor to that optical clarity is actually the mount and external adjustment system. Not a lot of people are aware that optics will perform at their best with regards to resolution and clarity when the optical elements are mechanically aligned and centered inside the housing. Every bit of adjustment of an optic away from mechanical center degrades the performance of the glass just a bit. The farther from mechanical zero, the worse the performance gets. That is something to keep in mind before throwing 20 or 40 MOA mounts on everything even when not needed.
The ELCAN glass and housing are one fixed piece that is locked into mechanical center. Most modern optics use internal adjustments controlled by external turrets. The zeroing of the SpecterOS, however, is done via external adjustments that actually move the entire housing relative to the base. This guarantees that the optical elements themselves are always aligned and producing the best image possible. Having all of the internals fixed in place also makes the optic extremely tough. ELCAN rates the optic to withstand up to 450 Gs of acceleration, and claims water resistant for up to 2 hours at 66 feet.
Adjusting windage is done at the front of the mount via a flat head screw, or a coin, in front of the objective. Each click is ½ MOA. Elevation is done via a wheel at the rear of the mount, under the ocular. To adjust the elevation, the shooter uses a pointy object (such as a bullet) to lift a mechanical “catch” that locks the wheel in place. Once lifted, the wheel is adjusted in a similar manner to a M-16 rear sight drum. Again, each click represents ½ MOA. There is enough tension on the wheel itself that I do not foresee the wheel coming off of zero under normal use; the locking latch on the wheel simply adds to that strength.
These adjustments are not marked in any way, so using them on the fly as you would a tactical precision rifle scope is probably not going to happen. This is not really that kind of optic anyway. If you really needed to do it in a pinch, though, I suppose it is possible to do the math and count the clicks of the wheel as needed. I do not have the equipment or know-how to do a proper box test of the adjustments to check for uniformity; but my sessions so far have shown them to be about right.
I have read some criticism concerning the durability of the external adjustment system. However, this criticism seems entirely speculative in nature, or relates to the much older C-79 optic. The two most common I’ve seen are the shooter having to adjust cheek weld for elevation changes, and the hazard of the knobs turning on their own or by being unintentionally bumped. To the former, I simply have to ask if that person adjusts their cheek weld when they adjust their iron sights (they don’t). We’re talking fractions of minute of angles here; the reality is that moving the POI a few MOA is a minuscule amount of movement to the optic, practically imperceptible to the shooter. To the latter concern, I see the ELCAN’s adjustments being less susceptible to being bumped than external target turrets; rotating iron sight elevation drums (as on the M16); or the flathead screwdriver adjustments on an EOTech– especially when you account for the mechanical locking system. If it’s that big of a concern, then a paint pen is always a useful tool for index marking.
The SpecterOS is advertised as having 70mm of eye relief, or roughly 2.75 inches. This was a selling point for me, as I did not want to deal with short eye relief of something like a Trijicon TA-31 and its 1.5 inches of relief, which is the biggest complaint among the TA-31’s detractors. Since I was planning on keeping a folding back up sight on the rifle, I wanted the longer eye relief to accommodate it. I have seen a few a few people complain about the eye relief of the Specter series, which seemed odd to me given the stated eye relief compared to other optics in the same category. Measuring it myself, I found the stated eye relief to be about right from the lens to the best focal point, and about 2.6 inches from the focal point to the optic housing, with a little bit of fudge room in there.
What I have found, however, is that I still have to get my face pretty far up the stock and shoot nose to charging handle (NTCH) if I want to keep the back up sight. This is not explicitly the optic’s fault; it has the advertised longer eye relief. Rather, it is the fault of the mount. Due to the external adjustments, the mount runs nearly the full length of the optic, which doesn’t leave a lot of room behind it. On similar optics, such as the ACOG, the mount is nearly completely under the objective end of the scope, leaving a significant amount of space under the ocular to fold a backup sight. There is much less space on the ELCAN, meaning you have to push the optic farther forward on the top rail in order to accommodate a backup sight. Obviously, this eats into the available eye relief.
If you don’t mind forgoing a rear backup sight all together, then you can mount the optic as far back as you desire and have a lot of room to play with head position. Many folks will probably have no issue with the latter option, as the optic is tough enough that the likelihood of actually needing to use a backup sight is very slim. I have seen many pictures of military users of this optic (and the DR) without backup sights, just as I have seen with Marines and the ACOG. If all of these military users are comfortable with that configuration, it is probably more than good enough for the civilian marksman.
If you absolutely feel the need for another backup sighting solution, but don’t have the room behind the optic for one due to your shooting style, you can always mount an offset red dot sight in front of the optic. Additionally, ELCAN sells a mount for the top of an optic for miniature red dots, just like the ECOS model ACOG.
For the record, I have mounted the Specter in front of a Magpul MBUS2, MBUS PRO LR, and Troy backup sight. They are all short enough to fit under the ocular.
The SpecterOS 4x has a 6 degree field of view, which amounts to a respectable 34.2 feet at 100 yards. That is more than most any other comparable optic in this category, except for the TA31 and the Zeiss ZO 4x30i. When playing with eye relief, I’ve found that I can still move about a quarter inch behind the sweet spot and not really lose much field of view. The optic seems pretty lenient as far as eye relief and any distracting shadowing. There were times where I brought it up to my eye and didn’t even realize I wasn’t looking at the full field of view until I happened to scoot my face closer to the ocular and saw the reticle’s label etched across the very top. The usable eye box is quite good.
Below is a quick .gif comparing the field of view between the SpecterOS, a TR24, and a Vortex PST 2.5-10×32 set at about 4x. The Specter bests the others by a fair amount.
The optic’s ARMS mount is integral. I have to admit this was probably my biggest concern before purchasing the optic. ARMS has a less than stellar reputation among AR enthusiasts. What I could not immediately determine, however, was if this reputation was actually earned or if it was the result of a few haterade-drinking individuals spreading strongly worded opinions on the Internet. Invariably, it only takes a few of these types to get others parroting what they heard “from guy who knows what he’s talking about.”
What I discovered is that the owner of ARMS has a reputation for filing lawsuits against other manufacturers over perceived trivial matters. One of the individuals on the receiving end of those lawsuits was Mark Larue, of Larue Tactical, whose own loyal followers also have a reputation for their fanaticism. It stands to reason that some of these followers are practically single-handedly responsible for the loudmouthed denigration of ARMS. I’ve seen and heard many an internet commando openly declare that they will trash another company’s product for no other reason than it competes with their favored widget. With that in mind, I decided to go ahead and take the risk.
Did it pay off? Well, that’s a mixed bag. The mount itself certainly feels solid. However, the attachment system is rather simplistic and certainly dated when compared to newer designs like American Defense Manufacturing and Bobro Engineering. That said, it still works…if your rail is in spec.
On three of my four uppers (two M4-marked BCMs, and a Tactical Machining TM-10), it locked up just fine. The fourth, a well-worn Spikes Tactical, had a lot of movement; the optic freely slides back and forth within the picatinny slot. This disappointed me, as that particular upper has a 16″ Centurion LW-CHF barrel and folding sights (the so-called RECCE configuration), and is absolutely perfect for this optic. When the problem of loose mounts was brought up to ARMS in the past, they stated that their mounts were designed for mil-spec rails, and that users should simply purchase quality in-spec equipment rather than complain. Obviously, this isn’t a great marketing tactic in a world with adjusting mounts.
The mount appears to latch onto the underside of the picatinny rail’s “lip.” If this lip is too thin, the mount will have trouble clamping down on it. An improvised solution I’ve seen is to shim it with some aluminum foil. It seems to be a workable solution; but for an optic in this price range, we shouldn’t have to resort to improvised fixes like that.
ARMS has since recognized the fault with their lever design, and released the MK II levers, which are adjustable for tension via a locking wheel. I purchased a set for about $40, in hopes that it would improve the fit. Installing the levers would be no more than a 10 minute job with proper documentation and pictures; but the lack of pictures in the instructions meant that it ended up taking me about 40 minutes. Once installed and adjusted, the new MK II levers did provide a significant improvement in tension on the three uppers that it already fit, but the problem on the Spikes receiver persisted.
Looking at the shape and design of the ELCAN’s base, it would appear to be a simple enough task for another scope base manufacturer (Larue, ADM, Bobro, GDI, etc) to come up with an aftermarket design. All it would take to swap them out is a “key” to remove the attachment screws from the elevation and windage adjustments. The only two reasons that I think this hasn’t already happened is the cost of doing so, due to increased material usage and relatively low sales volume, or that ARMS is jealously guarding the rights to be the sole-source for the base and does not want competition.
Regardless, the mount is doing its job for me, just as it is for all the professional users in the world using the same optic in either SpecterDR or British LDS form. On the uppers it does fit, it clamps down very tightly and I don’t think it will be going anywhere soon unless I want it to.
The Final Word
I really like this optic.
I’ll be honest, though, it took me a few range trips to get there. In my mind, I had it built up to be absolutely better in nearly every way when compared to the ACOGs I was looking at (primarily the TA11 series). At first, I was almost panicking that I had spent so much on an optic that I might not end up liking. Thankfully, that phase passed. Here’s how I have things broken down…
In the definite PRO column:
- Outstanding optical clarity
- Great field of view
- Nice compact size
- Common battery with good life
- Good (but not outstanding) illumination
- Easy to use BDC and ranging system
- Built tough enough for armed conflict
In the Take-It-Or-Leave-It column:
- The eye relief is good on paper, but in practice it may feel shorter than it actually is if you plan to mount a back up sight behind it
- The illumination is not quite as bright as fiber optic competitors when outdoors in bright sunlight; but it does work brilliantly indoors or in less intense sunlight, performing far better in CQB applications than the fiber optic competitor, and is every bit as bright as a RDS
- At 17.4 oz of weight all together with mount, it’s honestly kind of a middleweight. It’s more than a TA31 or compact ACOG like the TA33, about the same as a full sized TA11 with mount, but less than quality variables.
The Definite Cons
- The ARMS mount will probably be fine for 99% of users, but when you start spending this much on optics, you want things to just work right. This would be completely solved by another manufacturer jumping into the pool to design a competing base
The Bottom Line: Who Should Buy This Optic?
First off, I definitely suggest this optic is worth purchasing.
It truly is an outstanding optic in nearly every respect. If I had to pick one category that really separates it from the pack, it would be the quality of the glass and its compact size
If you are looking for a combat-tough optic with outstanding glass, fixed magnification (for simplicity), battery powered illumination (for economics and versatility), and attention-grabbing looks– I strongly suggest checking out the ELCAN SpecterOS 4x.
If you are concerned that your upper receiver rail is not machined to military spec, and therefore will not fit right with the mount; or if you need retina-searing brightness during daylight, then you should probably pass. If you absolutely need to keep a folding backup sight behind your optic, and you absolutely cannot shoot any other way than having your nose an inch or more behind the charging handle, then you should probably pass.
That’s all I’ve got, thanks for reading.