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The great riflescope and binocular fading light test! (A bit of fun)

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A shooting friend and I were interested to see just how a cross-section of our mixed collection of mounted scopes and binoculars fared when the light started to fade, so duly set up overlooking some fields with a dark woodland fringe in front of which was a barbed wire fence strung across Larch poles some 160 yards distant. We thought it would be an interesting challenge to compare some good optics of a few years back with mid priced ones today and some pretty high end optics. We included several pairs of binoculars. Light conditions started around sun-down with plenty of ambient light left, but with light fading fast, followed by almost complete darkness by gone 7:30pm and on to 8pm.

 

The results were rather interesting ;)

 

Brownie points for anyone correctly able to identify each scope and the two (of three) pairs of binoculars just on view (unfair I know!...not much to go on but lets see who gets close).

 

Extra brownie points for anyone correctly able to rank the performance of the optics :)

 

The test was two-fold:

 

1. To be able to pick out texture in a large tree trunk some 240 yards distant, and clearly make out the small branches;

2. To clearly be able to pick out the larch fencepost at 160 yards distant AND the top wire and fixings. This was a particularly good test of resolution as well as optics low light "brightness".

 

I won't reveal the answers just yet. Interested to see first if the optics are correctly guessed. If not, I'll fill in the blanks a little later on.

 

It may be of little help, but there's between £11,000 and £12,000 of kit on that table, perhaps a little more.

 

IMG_1293_zpsd8c9omsz.jpg

 

 

IMG_1294_zpsnencdq8r.jpg

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And the answer is ?

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No-one want to warrant a guess?

 

Okidoki.

 

Scopes: Front to rear - Optima Electropoint 8-32 x 56 IR front PA (similar to older Nightforce scopes); Delta Titanium HD 2.5-15 x 56 IR; Zeiss Diavari FL IR 4-16 x 50T* IR; Nightforce NSX 5.5-22 x 56 IR NP-1.

Bins: Leica Geovids 10 x 42; Steiner Skyhawk 3.0 8 x 42

 

Who want's to have a go at ranking performance wrt resolution and brightness at dusk & near dark?

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Interesting!

 

I'll give away that the £350 Steiners were actually brighter than the more expensive Leica bins, but to be fair, the Leicas (not mine) lose some light transmission as a factor of their built in rangefinder (hence I use a separate rangefinder when stalking). My mate an I were both gobsmacked at the quality of the Steiners which were a quarter the cost of the Leicas. They had great field of view too. Can't recommend them highly enough for stalking/hunting. Waterproof and armoured too and with their own lens rain covers.

 

As to the scope ranking, I can tell you that you weren't on the money.

 

The test was in two parts:

 

1. Resolution (ie not which was brightest but which had the greater detail resolving power at distance once the light started dropping) and

2. Brightness (which held the image longest as it got dark....not necessarily with the best resolution).

 

First part....Your ranking wasn't correct.

 

Second part, your ranking again was not correct! ;)

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Well, I'll wait for you to reveal all.... ;)

 

As a matter of interest...How did you conduct the test and how long did it take you to check all four scopes?

 

It was just a bit of fun and from interest. A shooting buddy and myself pooled our rifles and bins and sat waiting for dusk. The "test" wasn't anything too scientific. We commented at the time that having an A4 sheet of paper with lettering and symbols at different sizes and spacings (typical scope test sheet) would have been quite useful. We selected a few objects. One at 160yds and one at 240 yds as we both felt it unlikely that we'd probably shoot farther out than this with normal scopes at dusk. At 240yds we were looking into a large Scots pine, and set an area of the trunk with pronounced texture as a reasonable longer distance resolution test, that and smaller individual leave fronds and branches.

 

For the closer target, it was a larch fencepost with a thick wire strung along the top supporting a mesh link fence below, and the post had clearly definable features like small but obvious knots and of course the fixing for the wire along the front top section facing us. Behind it were trees with plenty of detail in the shade just as dusk fell, and a steeply rising backstop, much like a realistic stalking scenario.

 

What we were looking for was which of the scopes offered, subjectively, the brightest view as light diminished and which offered the better resolution, able to make out the detail best. The test could be repeated with different people maybe coming to slightly different conclusions but I wouldn't mind betting that the outcome wouldn't have altered much, save splitting hairs.

 

What we both agreed upon, as darkness fell, was that scopes these days, even mid priced scopes, are probably better than our middle-aged eyes can do justice for. Until we did this "test", we didn't realise just how surprising the results might be. I certainly wouldn't have liked to call the results as things progressed, I'd not really have believed the outcome, in particular just how well that three of the 5 scopes we looked at fared.

 

Results to follow on a separate posting below.

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OK. The results. Please bear with me, as it is difficult to put what I observed onto paper to accurately describe my own thoughts, but here goes:

 

 

Whilst these are my findings, I think that both of us were in broad agreement on the evening.

For me, it was useful gathering the kit together and doing the assessment as it's not often we all get the chance to do something like this with such a cross-section of optics.

Binoculars: Not a lot to separate them. If anything, I found the Steiners fractionally brighter and they retained a very slight edge as darkness started to creep in, but there was just a cigarette paper in it! The Leicas had better edge sharpness though.

Scopes:

First, resolution:

My rankings:

At dusk, I thought that all of them were pretty good really.

I did think (looking at distant objects and trying to pick out texture and detail) that the Nightforce just had the edge over the others. The Zeiss, Delta and Bushnell all exhibited similar resolution with the Optima just missing out...not quite up there with the others but it was close.

So for resolution at dusk:

1st place: The Nightforce, closely (very closely) followed by

2nd place: Zeiss,

3rd place: Joint 3rd Delta Titanuim and Elite DMR scope;

4th place to the Optima.

If pushed hard, I'd say that the Bushnell DMR just bettered the Delta for resolution at Dusk.

Resolution when almost dark: This shook things up a bit, as expected. The Bushnell started to struggle a little here as it didn't retain enough brightness to make the most of its pretty decent resolution. The optima fell short by quite a margin here for similar reasons.

1st place again, and this really surprised me, had to my eyes anyway, go to the Nightforce. I was just able to resolve detail, albeit, once again not quite as bright (that not being the operative word by now!) as the others. I could still make out the top wire on the fencepost and even leaves in the background when the others started to lose the sharpness a little even though their image seemed a bit brighter. Whilst it took longer to fix on the target than the Zeiss or the Delta, once locked on and steady, there just seemed to be a slight edge in definition. I really wasn't expecting this. Now whilst I have said that the Delta and Zeiss were able to hang onto the image a little longer than the Nightforce, the reality is that I wouldn't take the shot in such dark conditions. So where the light just started to fade to the extend that you couldn't make out, say, the eyes, nose and antlers of a Roe buck against woodland, that was the limit and this limit was pretty similar for the top three scopes. It's just that when looking through the scope a little longer at this point, whilst the image was a little darker, oddly, the Nightforce seemed to retain a fraction more detail and resolution than the Zeiss...just enough to make the minute advantage in contrast and shape allow better rendition of detail.

2nd: Joint 2nd went to the Zeiss & Delta but it really was close. Someone with different eyesight may have ranked the Zeiss and Delta equal joint first

3rd: Optima. I didn't think it could live with the others for resolution but it was still good and more than capable of shooting at dusk with sufficient precision.

4th: DMR: It didn't retain quite as much brightness as the Nightforce so you couldn't use its excellent resolution to any great effect and it would not cut it for shooting in this low light, especially as it had no illuminated ret and was FFP. Think again if you consider FFP a good choice for stalking without some sort of central dot illumination.


Next, Brightness/clarity

Again, some unexpected results but still easy enough to judge on merit for brightness and edge to edge clarity:

Dusk:

1st: For me, it was close, but the shear "pop" of the image and the stunning brightness available had to go to the Delta Titanium. Pretty remarkable really. It also had a better field of view at 15x magnification than anything else on test and by a reasonable margin.

2nd: Very close indeed, but the Zeiss was also clearly brighter than the other scopes and had slightly better edge picture definition than the Delta but I felt didn't quite match it for overall brightness. Another thing of note was as the dusk started turning to darkness, the Zeiss lost its finer crosshair before the Delta (which uses a very slightly thicker central crosshair...but still finer than most 4s type rets). The central dot illumination on the Delta I felt was also nicer and could be adjusted so that you could take a crow's eye out at 200 yds!

3rd: Joint 3rd to the Nightforce, optima and Bushnell DMR. The Bushnell may have even just edged it a little over the other two. The Nightforce and DMR, as with the Zeiss, both retained really impressive edge to edge sharpness, and the Nightforce in particular slightly better resolution. Edge sharpness was easily on a par with the Zeiss and better than the Delta.

As darkness fell:

This started to separate things more. Whilst the Nightforce makes a truly superb dusk scope and with its resolution advantage would make I think the better longer range dusk scope, that resolution advantage started to slip with the light almost fading to darkness. I liked its illuminated Np-1 ret a lot. Not too bright. However, two scopes stood head and shoulders above the rest:

Joint 1st place: Zeiss and Delta. There was nothing, and I mean nothing, to choose between them. Both picked out that fence wire, albeit with loss of definition, right up until it became simply too dark to use anything other than dedicated NV gear. The reality is that they both out-performed our eyes as we would both probably not have shot in that level of darkness.

2nd place: Nightforce. It was usable right out to within 5 or 10 minutes minutes of the top two, but eventually, that cracking resolution wasn't usable by the time 7:30pm had been and gone whilst the other two held on for about another 5 to 10 minute longer.

3rd: Optima. Just but only just hung in there! It faded a fair few minutes before the others though and wouldn't realistically have been usable when you were still able to take the shot with the Zeiss, Nightforce or Delta.

4th place: Bushnell Elite Tactical DMR: Just started to fade within about a few minutes ahead of the others so not usable when darkness descended, as much due to the ret as anything but the glass itself was good to dusk.

Overall Ranking:

The biggest surprise for me, at any rate:

Based on a sensible balance of brightness, clarity and resolution, optically at any rate, this is how I would rank them:

First: Delta Titanium. The shear brightness and field of view meant that in realistic (not near darkness) shooting scenarios I genuinely would have the Delta Titanium for stalking over anything else here on test. Married to that, the superb ret with fine adjustable central dot and it's the winner for me anyway;
Second: It would have to be the scope that I thought would walk it. The Zeiss. It's really good edge to edge sharpness and clarity and overall brightness simply kept it ahead of the others;
Third: Whilst arguably it retained for me anyway the best resolution of all the scopes on test, the Nightforce couldn't quite live with the Delta or Zeiss for brightness or field of view and for that reason, as a stalking scope, I ranked it third.
Fourth: Had to be the Optima. It really did fare better than I thought it might and was a decent scope more than capable of shooting to just gone dusk.
Last: The DMR. To be fair, it was never intended as a staking scope. For one thing, at close to a kilo in weight, it's far too heavy. For another, the non illuminated first focal plane ret is definitely NOT suited to stalking imho. It's a superb long distance target scope which is where it excels.

So there we have it. As Jeremy Clarkson might say, on that bombshell, the Delta Titanium HD is the winner for me...but ONLY just! It provides simply stunning performance per £.

On matters of build, it has to be noted that I have dropped the 12lb outfit containing the Delta and guess where it landed....yep, on the scope. It not only survived unmarked, but even held zero! Of all the scopes, the Nightforce is built like a tank and you just know will be going on forever. It had the best turrets of the lot too, but more tactikewel than stalking. The delta's lower profile turrets (with re-settable zero) under caps was more suited to stalking as were the excellent turrets of the Zeiss which did retain better build than the Delta but at two or three times the price, you'd expect that. The DMR was also, like the Nightforce, built like a tank. If you do use one for stalking, you'd be able to club the deer to death using it rather than relying on its optical brightness!

Now before anyone shouts "Swarovski!" I have actually tried a Swaro Z6 in similar conditions and felt that it performed pretty close to the Zeiss on test here. It had better edge to edge than the Delta but it would not have matched it for field of view, nor did it have such generous eye relief, nor bettered it much, if at all for brightness at dusk. Just calling it how I experienced it, but it would be interesting to do a side by side with the Delta nonetheless. Happy to accommodate that test!

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There is more than light gathering and resolution when choosing a scope.

shootability also needs to be looked at, I have 5 scopes set up in mounts and all zeroed to the same rifle.

The best scope for shooting groups off a bench does not translate to being the best scope for a heavy nights bunny bashing

or foxing. I am using the cheaper end of scopes though

Often start with the meopta because the head says its the best, never made it to the end of the night though

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There is more than light gathering and resolution when choosing a scope.

shootability also needs to be looked at, I have 5 scopes set up in mounts and all zeroed to the same rifle.

The best scope for shooting groups off a bench does not translate to being the best scope for a heavy nights bunny bashing

or foxing. I am using the cheaper end of scopes though

Often start with the meopta because the head says its the best, never made it to the end of the night though

 

What would be more interesting and, certainly more helpful, is constructive criticism of the 5 scopes that you've zeroed.

 

It is then folk might compare and contrast to make informed opinions and decisions on the full 10 scopes that would have been 'reviewed' and, ultimately decide which scope would be most appropriate for the intended purpose?

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Always good to see comparisons 'in the field'

 

The one thing I've come to a conclusion on is once you reach a certain level the opinion on a scope is down to what your eyes like ie the coatings used give a different appearance and your eyes might like, where as the next person might not.

 

Blind testing is difficult

 

T

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There is more than light gathering and resolution when choosing a scope.

shootability also needs to be looked at, I have 5 scopes set up in mounts and all zeroed to the same rifle.

The best scope for shooting groups off a bench does not translate to being the best scope for a heavy nights bunny bashing

or foxing. I am using the cheaper end of scopes though

Often start with the meopta because the head says its the best, never made it to the end of the night though

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What would be more interesting and, certainly more helpful, is constructive criticism of the 5 scopes that you've zeroed.

 

It is then folk might compare and contrast to make informed opinions and decisions on the full 10 scopes that would have been 'reviewed' and, ultimately decide which scope would be most appropriate for the intended purpose?

 

Have a 6x42 meopta, have made a few exceptional shots [for me] but often have unexpected misses

Mamba lite, use it to check ammo accuracy and off a bench its good, but the accuracy does not transfer to field use.

Hawke sport 3x9x40, very clear for a cheap scope, just not able to get good results with it

Hawke 3x9x50, again great to look through but cant seem to hit things with it.

Hawke endurance with the fire dot,, i liked this and did well with it for a short time, there was a fault i could not identify with it.

6x40 , could be a mountmaster but has no name on it. not the best for group shooting but always a reliable bunny getter.

All the scopes are set up and zeroed for the same CZ HMR and interchange very reliably, most shooting done at night, but not exclusively.

Usual drill is, I need a better scope, have a session at targets untill happy. go out for a nights shooting, hit some , miss some

swap back to the 6x40 and be back on song for the rest of the nights shooting.

 

Often set scopes in vice aimed at a convenient pylon 2 miles away, moving your head or making adjustments can yeild some interesting results

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Meaningless nonsense.

 

Maybe, but its based on 50 years of use and free choice of equipment and the type of shooting i normally do

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There is more than light gathering and resolution when choosing a scope.

shootability also needs to be looked at, I have 5 scopes set up in mounts and all zeroed to the same rifle.

The best scope for shooting groups off a bench does not translate to being the best scope for a heavy nights bunny bashing

or foxing. I am using the cheaper end of scopes though

Often start with the meopta because the head says its the best, never made it to the end of the night though

 

That there is more to it than light gathering is obvious. Other than the wider field of view better suited to hunting, there is every reason why a scope able to pick a rabbit or fox off at 200 or 300 yards ought also to be very suited to target shooting tight groups too! The major difference physically with hunting scopes is that if the rifle is to be carried, a smaller, lower profile scope is preferable for hunting and the original view of the Delta Titanium for a dawn & dusk hunter, with very wide field of view, excellent optics and ret makes it equally suited to both.

 

Long distance target scopes are not what's being compared here.

 

There was unbiased scientific scope testing done a while ago in the U.S on scopes in the over $1500 range , it makes interesting reading .....

http://precisionrifl...esults-summary/

 

Yes, that was a good article, and a useful, if not definitive guide. It was more a dedicated long distance scope test. What surprised me was just how well the humble Bushnell DMR faired there. I bought one last year after comparing it with a few of the usual suspects for LR shooting, and the only real compromise for me is that the FFP ret is a little too coarse on full mag, so I use it on 18 times to 1000 yards. Great glass though.

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