General

Low Power Variables vs Low Power Fixed Magnification

With my recent purchase of the newest generation of ACOG, and my ignoring the similarly priced low-power variable market, I thought it would be worth posting some of my thoughts on the two competing segments.

Browsing optics discussions on various gun boards would have you think that the age of the low power fixed magnification optic are gone. As one SME in the shooting world put it, “The ACOG was the perfect optic for pre 2004 conflict.” Even in my own article about different types of optics, I opined that low power fixed magnification (which I dubbed Class II optics) represented the skill set of the last generation of riflemen, before our focus turned to more close quartered combat.

Low power variable (LPV) optics have dominated the market in recent years. What started as a new concept useful for competitive shooters slowly worked its way into military units with the leeway to purchase whatever they wanted. Usage by these military units caused the civilian market to take notice. This started cycle whereby many companies entered the market and began innovating and driving prices down through competition.

The downside of the LPV has always been a combination of cost, weight, and durability. The added mechanisms required to change magnification meant introducing complexity and weak points. Combat-grade optics designed to survive harsh conditions necessitated extensive engineering, which increased cost. Up until very recently, you were unlikely to find a combat-worthy LPV for less than $2K. Competition in the market has brought that price closer to $1K, though, which directly competes with the ACOG market.

With that in mind, why would anyone choose to go with a low power fixed magnification optic when it is possible to get a scope of comparable durability and optical quality for about the same amount of money?

Understanding Intangibles

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For the sake of this discussion, I’m ignoring the market segment below $800. For now, I am purely talking about comparing optics like the ACOG and SpecterOS 4x to LPV scopes like the Vortex Razor and Nightforce 1-4x. Below $800, there are a lot of great LPV options from SWFA, Trijicon (the TR-24 has come down in price quite a bit), Leupold, and others. In that price bracket, there isn’t really much a difference between the fixed magnification and variable magnification scopes.

Once we cross into the realm of “enthusiast,” “prosumer,” or “professional” optics, things get more interesting.

We can list out all the specs on the various optics in these categories, examining weights, fields of view, illumination, reticles, parallax adjustment (or lack thereof), and other tangible items. The truth, though, is that those things simply don’t matter as much in this bracket. In this category, it has much more to do with personal preference.

In the category of low power fixed magnification, optics tend to be lighter, brighter, more compact, and simpler in use. Most of the ACOG line, even the tiny TA-33 that weighs a scant 7 oz, have objective lenses wider than the average LPV (24 mm). That makes a difference in low light conditions, especially when it comes to target identification. Small sizes reduce snag hazards and overall bulk.

LPV scopes tend to be slightly more versatile for the roles they can be used in, and they often have more refined reticles, but come at the expense of increased weight and size. In general, I find the illumination to be weaker (and more short lived due to smaller batteries), but that is with a sample size of three. I know there are some LPV options out there that are exceptionally bright (especially if they are fiber optic powered). LPV scopes might be friendlier to those with poor eyes, as things like parallax and ocular lens focus can be adjusted.

These are not absolutes, as there are some overlapping features depending on models in question, but this is a pretty good guideline to understand.

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So who should choose what?

Having spent a lot of time with both LPV and fixed magnification, I can’t really see myself doing without either. Were I to be stuck with one rifle and scope for every task for the rest of my days, I would probably tend towards the variable market. But, since I’m not, I like having the option of taking a lighter and more compact scope with wide field of vision for some tasks. I like the simplicity of shouldering the rifle and firing, without worrying about fiddling with magnification settings or turrets that might have been bumped off of my zero.

In general, I would say the difference between users is this:

  • If you want magnification, but tend to stick to the 1x end of things (either via RDS or leaving a LPV at 1x), then stick to a LPV. I would avoid an RDS with magnifier arrangement.
  • If you tend to want magnification all the time, or have an LPV you leave on the high setting most of the time, and prefer the simplicity of shoulder-and-fire function while keeping a more compact package, consider a fixed magnification scope. You can always pair it with a mini RDS if you want to have that multi-role capability with minimal additional weight.
  • If you want magnification most of the time, precision is a priority, and you intend on fiddling with windage and elevation a lot, go with an LPV designed to do it. These will tend to have better reticles (MRAD/MOA) and matched turrets.
  • If you don’t know where you fall on this continuum, then it doesn’t really matter what you pick. In this case, I would consider getting a more inexpensive LPV and see how you tend to use it. As I said before, the sub $800 bracket has a lot of great options to start with and allow you to explore your preferences.

When I started this journey a few years ago, I was sure that I knew exactly what I wanted. I did my homework on internet, and I purchased quality optics. Ironically, one of those scopes doesn’t get used anymore and the other has been relegated to more of a backup role. The more experience I gain, the more I prefer the simplicity of grab-and-go without knobs and such to fiddle with. For that reason, I’ve been sitting strongly in the camp of fixed magnification scopes.

 

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Reviews

Long Term Review: Trijicon Accupoint TR24G

 

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I started my first AR15 build way back in 2010. I somewhat chronicled that build early on in this blog’s life. At the tail end of that first iteration, I was agonizing over what optic should go on top of my “general-purpose-SHTF-WROL-ZPAW” build (obviously, my priorities and maturity have changed a lot since then). At the tail end of 2011, my choices came down to the TR24G and a TA33G-H ACOG. Obviously, I chose to go with the TR24G. Since then, the number of choices in the 1-4x optic class has grown by leaps in bounds with new reticle designs and all sorts of whiz-bang features. Despite that, the TR24 still holds its own.

I have used this scope in amateur three-gun, mid-range range precision, and my own practical shooting quest right here at this blog. In five years, the only hiccup I’ve had was when one of the turrets popping up from the “locked” position inside the cap and lost my zero right before a three-gun stage. That was easily rectified with a quick field zero.

The optic itself is 10.3 inches long, has a 24mm objective, and a 30mm tube. The tube is IMG_0623made of 6061-T6 aluminum and it weighs in at 14.4 ounces. Add another 7.1 ounces for the ADM Scout Mount and the total comes to about 21.5 ounces. Measuring it myself on my food scale with theTR24G, ADM Scout Mount, and a 3gunstuff cat tail, the total was 20.9 oz. That is on the lighter end of low power variables on the market, but heavier than a quality fixed magnification optic like an ACOG (even the larger ones like the TA11) or my ELCAN SpecterOS 4x.

The TR24 comes in three different reticle patterns: either a triangle post (what I have), a German #4 crosshair, or a simple duplex. The latter two have only a tiny illuminated dot that lends itself to better precision. The lighted triangle of my model is geared more towards speed. Regardless of version, the reticle is in the second focal plane and the capped turrets are in 1/4 MOA.

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Eye relief is advertised at 3.2″. I found it to be about right, if not just a hair shorter. Some will talk about the changing eye relief of the TR24 as you zoom through its magnification range. This is not actually the case, though. Really, what they are seeing is the changing size of the exit pupil. Now, at 1x, you can move way behind the scope and still have a usable sight picture, but that doesn’t mean your eye relief is changing. If you use a proper cheek weld and position the scope accordingly (while at 4x), you will never have to move your head as you zoom back down to 1x.

The field of view at 100 yards is 97.5 ft at 1x and 24.2 ft at 4x, or about 4.2 degrees at 4x. That is eight feet less than my ELCAN SpecterOS 4x, but more than the 19.3 ft of the competing TA33. The pictures show the TR24 on the right and the ELCAN on the left looking down a street in front of my house; you can see what the wider field of view looks like. I will not say that looking through the TR24 is like looking through a straw, but it does feel like a narrower field of view compared to the ELCAN or one of the larger ACOGs (TA11 and TA31, specifically). However, the TR24 has the advantage of zooming down to 1x and practically appearing to be a red “dot” sight.

Please take these two photos with a grain of salt, as I took them through the scopes with my iPhone and then cropped, zoomed, and tried to color correct the images to a better approximation of how it looks-I didn’t do a great job

The glass is Japanese and very clear, as is standard for Trijicon. It is not as clear as the ELCAN, but the difference is very minute and not worth worrying about in realistic terms. I see no issues with edge to edge clarity, or fish-eye effects. Some have complained that the scope is “not really 1x”, but my observation is that they forget that the image is “taken” from the front lens which is a good 14″ in front of your eye. Past about 10 yards, it is effectively zero magnification.

The reticle in the TR24G (like the 24R and 24A) is a simple post and triangle. The triangle on the post is illuminated by fiber optic spool located by the ocular. There is a rotating cover that lets you control the amount of light entering the fiber optic element (something that I wish the ACOG had). This is useful for days where I want maximum sharpness on the reticle, and blocking illumination makes the post become a nice sharp black triangle. In full sun, the fiber optic is almost retina-searingly bright- washout is never a problem.

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Like an ACOG, there is a tritium vial embedded in unit to provide some illumination in a low or no-light environment (you cannot control the brightness of this component). The tritium illumination works best when your eyes are already dark-adjusted, and it work  well. Some people try to judge tritium illumination by walking into a dark room and looking through the optic; this is not a good representation because your eyes need at least thirty minutes of darkness to chemically adjust to the low light environment.

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that slowly decays into helium. It has a half life of about 12 years. how long the tritium in my scope lasts has a lot of factors such as when the vial was made and how much tritium is required in oder to sufficiently illuminate the fiber optic. Here I am at about five years after date of purchase and it is still going strong.

At 4x, the triangle of the reticle is 4.2 MOA tall. The post and triangle design limit the usability of the reticle for holdovers and BDC references. ACOGs have useful stadia lines for a nominal ballistic calculation, and other newer 1-4x scope designs use MOA or Mil markings that are paired with ballistic data for various loads. Due to the lack of usable reference marks, this post-style reticle is best geared towards point blank zero shooting methods (also seen in other methods like the S4G system of the Swiss). I consider the post reticle of the TR24G to be just fine from point blank to about 350 yards (depending on the chosen PBZ).

Obviously, it is nice to have an optic that can be easily used to 400, 500, 600, and 700 yards. Being realistic, the 5.56 cartridge and M16 rifle were developed primarily for warfare at 300 yards and closer. For what it’s worth, the TR24G is a great general purpose optic in this regard for a “set and forget” type of zero, but will be outclassed by some of the newer designs out there.

The adjustments are in 1/4 MOA increment. The turret itself is locked only by pressing it in until it clicks. Once set, the turrets are capped with threaded aluminum covers. Again, “set and forget.” As I said earlier, I once had an issue with the windage turret popping loose within the cap and losing my zero. I cannot explain how it happened, and it has never happened since then.

I’ve tried replacing this optic over the years, yet I keep finding myself coming back to it. The ELCAN I purchased last year has been the best replacement, yet, and it now sits on my “serious use” rifle while the TR24 has found its way back on my marksmanship training rifle (I know…I probably shouldn’t have these as two separate rifles). The next optic I try is going to be a TA11, which gives me the longer eye relief and battery-less illumination along with usable stadia lines for distance.

Trijicon has since come out with a 1-6x optic as well as the Accupower line which are constructed similarly, but using battery power instead of fiber optics. The newer Accupower line has a few new reticle designs that include MOA hash marks or BDC stadia lines in addition to the illuminated center points. If I could have my ideal scope, it would be an Accupoint (1-4 or 1-6) with a fiber optic center aiming point and MRAD hash marks on the vertical and horizontal planes.

The Final Word

20" AR with A5 and AFAB 556

This optic is ‘old reliable’ for me. With a carefully chosen point blank zero, this little scope is very fast to use. It really shines from 0 to 350 yards or so. It is not as precise as a dedicated crosshair, nor as useful at range as an ACOG (or any scope with BDC stadia), but it is faster than both- especially given that it has a 1x setting that effectively makes it a big glowing green-“dot” sight.

The Pros:

  • Great glass
  • Battery-free illumination that is very bright
  • Light weight for class
  • Very fast for usable distances
  • Generous and consistent eye relief through magnification range
  • At 1x, the relief is practically limitless and usable from awkward positions

The Cons:

  • Reticle is rather limited in use
  • Maximum of 4x magnification is lower than competing models

So who should buy this? Well, that’s a tough one. This optic is clearly showing its age in design features compared to scopes that are new on the market. Trijicon itself has updated the Accupoint line with a 1-6x version that is priced about the same. The scope is well designed and tough, and is still on the high end of the market in that regard. It is very fast, and makes an ideal scope for situations in which speed is more important than precision, especially for the realistic distances an AR-15 will be used. However, when precision becomes important, the lack of usable reference marks and covered turrets limits your options.

Would I buy it again? Absolutely, but I would definitely be shopping my options among the ACOG line and other newer battery-powered options.

Reviews

Product Review: ELCAN SpecterOS 4x

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

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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 isARDquarter1 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 Basics

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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 Objectivesurfaces, 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 Ocularmagnification 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.CapLanyard

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).


Reticle Design

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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.Version 2

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

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 Batterycapillumination 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 Day Reticleas 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.

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The “low light” setting, illuminating the entire reticle. It is about 7:30 in the evening.
The
The “daylight” reticle turned up at around 7:30 in the evening.

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.


Optical Performance

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.

WindageAdjusting 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 Adjusting ElevationMOA. 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 Eye Reliefrelief 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.

FOV


The Mount

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.Old Latches

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.

Swapping Out LatchesARMS 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 NewLatchprovide 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.

General

Fiber Optic Pistol Sights

Modern Service Weapons has been running a few pieces about the misconceptions over fiber optic pistol sights (check them here and here). These articles are of interest to me since I’ve been toying with the idea of sending the Beretta 92A1 off to Wilson Combat to have them perform work on it. One of those items would be installing a FO front sight. I had always heard that FO was too fragile, or would eventually just fall out of the housing.

Hilton Yam says those things are possible, but are more likely the result of poorly designed sight housings, improper installation of the FO tube, or cleaning chemicals that are too harsh. Bottom line, a properly installed FO sight that isn’t abused by toxic chemicals will last for a long long time.

Of course, if a FO isn’t something that you’re interested in then this doesn’t apply to you. The Tritium night sights in my FNS are going strong, but the tubes in my 1911 have faded. Perhaps this would be an opportune moment to play with new 1911 sights first (since I don’t shoot it nearly as much as the Beretta).