2004 Shot Show Report

Members, customers, and patrons of SP,

SHOT Show has been over for about a month now. As many of you know, I went for the first time, in order to become intimately familiar with the IOR line of scopes and to get my hands on every other make of scope I could find. I tell you, if you have never been to SHOT, I suggest you GO. It's quite the spectacle, with miles and miles of booths and the place just reeks of expended cash and resources. Tons of people, met Frank @ Sniper's Hide and Tactical Mike Miller. Tons and tons of products, it took me a week to recover. Vegas is pretty nasty, with dirty air and traffic and the most aggressive drivers I have ever seen, but I digress.

This thread is designed to give my honest (even if biased) impressions for the various optics I handled during the four days I spent there. One glaring omission, I missed the guys at USO blink.gif I covered lots of ground and didn't run into them (I was pretty helter skelter...next time, I'll have a plan). Anyway, my comments are not intended to diss or badmouth other manufacturers if they didn't impress me. If they didn't impress me, they didn't impress me. Not too many people get the opportunity to examine like twenty brands of scopes under one roof (optics dealers excepted). Of course, my impressions are just that, merely my impressions, during the examination of the scopes. I looked through them, I turned knobs, I examined fit and finish, and most importantly, I met and talked with the company reps. I didn't go to the range and give them a good T & E.

Here is a "one page" manifesto of my thoughts as I embarked on this journey...

Let's get one thing out of the way NOW; I am now convinced that German glass and coatings are the best in the world. SPROING, oops that was me poppin' a woody thinking about the S&B or Zeiss Diavari. The only thing that compared was a USO scope with Horus reticle. The best Japanese scopes/glass are exceptional, but there is just something about the German stuff that gives it that extra 2% edge over the Austrian, Czech, or Asian optics, IMO. It's not like things are just magnified, they are enhanced. Sharpness, color rendition, low light capability, and the abiltiy to see fine detail seem to go to the S&B and Zeiss over all others. The other difference in my opinion is the Asian glass seems more fussy when it comes to eye relief (as opposed to the forgiving non-critical eye relief of the best European scopes). It seemed to me the Asian scopes had more of a tendency to "shadow" if your eye wasn't placed just right, while the European scopes didn't have this tendency. The fit and finish were more appealing on the European scopes also, IMO. Anyway, let's talk "brand names," shall we?

German optics:

Schmidt & Bender: Hubba hubba. Me wants to sell these. Simply put, awesome. I saw none better. I know, I know, limited adjustment range. Hey, these scopes weren't designed to go on flat 1913 picatinny rails with HD rings. More like EAW type mounts with W&E adjustability. Get a 20 MOA base for long-range, or give the EAW a try.

Zeiss: Zowee. Zeiss Diavari line is scary good, and the Conquest line ain't no slouch, either. Brilliant optics. Nice clicks. Hey, what'd you expect though. Need...to....carry.... these. One other thing, the rep at Zeiss was really, really nice. In fact, the Zeiss bunch just seemed more pleasant than any other "stuffy" European manufacturer. Some of the Zeiss binoculars were just sick.

Karl Kaps: I heard someone say they bought three of these at SHOT because they were "the most awesome scopes they had ever seen." Huh? They had a couple of fixed powers, really neat, one a continuation of the H&K 4x Hensoldt scope. Nice scopes, but optically at least, they had nothing on IOR.

Leica: Okay, this is going to sound strange, but I looked through some of their Geovid rangefinders, and a couple of binoculars, and I was not impressed. The clarity was not there, the sharpness wasn't either. Rather than risk insulting the guys at Leica asking as to why their offerings at the biggest event at the year weren't up to snuff, I quietly moved on.

Austrian optics:

Swarovski: Most of my experience in dealing optics is in IOR. IOR has very good glass. I've heard from my customers who own(ed) Swarovski that they couldn't tell a difference looking through the two. Neither could I. These are fine scopes, but they are geared more toward hunting purposes, and their binoculars are definitely marketed to the "birdwatcher" crowd. I felt the TDS reticle was kind of simplistic, and nothing special. For the money, I'll go S&B.

Kahles: The same comment above comparing these to IOR apply here. However, I've been told IOR is better. Poor Kahles. They sport the same reticle and hunting scope philosophy as Swarovski, and at a lower price. So, what's the point? They seem to be searching for an identity. If I were them, I'd beef up the scopes and go after the tactical market. I mean really go after it. Let Swarovski handle the Austrian optics for hunters.

Czech Republic scopes:

Meopta: The new Meostar scopes are aimed squarely at American hunters. I like these scopes, and they're a good value, but their dealer program has rather odd terms and conditions. Also, service promises to be slow ("usually 60 days.") Optics are very good. Very clear with a "3-D" effect. However, when aimed at the bright overhead lights at SHOT, I noticed some flare and a little purplish halo. I was told by another patron this was known as chromatic abberation. Any, these rate a solid "B." I told them - "make a tough tactical scope line." A couple of tweaks here and there and a continued moderate price, Meopta can be something.

Romanian optics:

IOR: The IOR line has been debated ad nausem on this and other sniper forums, so I won't go there. However, there WAS a lot of interest in Val's latest prototype offerings. Face it, a 9-36x56 DOES attract attention. The star of the show, however, was the 2-12x32. I've dubbed this the BTHP because it sorta resembles one. Somewhat odd looking, this is truly an all purpose scope that will do just about anything. It will sell. There was also a rough prototype of 10x50 roof prism binoculars on display, but I still prefer the 7x40s over anything.
I still think the straight 4x32 is as good a scope for the money as anything out there. I bought one for myself.
I'm also convinced, that IOR patterns itself after S&B in scopes and vintage Zeiss-Jena in binocs. I can elaborate later.

Asian optics (I'm referring to the glass here):

Leupold: If anyone offers a bigger selection of scopes than Leupold, I don't know about it. People think I'm anti-Leupold, but I really just think there are better scopes out there (but many pros will disagree). However, if Leupold doesn't have what your looking for, it's probably not made. Their new "index-matched" glass is very good, but still doesn't meet German standards, IMO. Eye relief was typical Asian fickle. They introduced some new hunting reticles that appeared pretty innovative, but I have not reviewed the literature on it yet. Very nice feel to the adjustments. You can't go wrong with a Lupy, excellent service, resale value, and performance. I'll probably find a way to sell 'em, because they are profitable and my customers want them, but I still don't think they are ALL that nowadays. *SHRUG*

Burris: I didn't spend too much time with Burris, but they are kind of right in the pack with the other American made, Asian optic'd scopes. Decent. I think the Ballistic Plex is more gimicky tthan anything else. Nothing fires me up about Burris.

Sightron: You know, I still have a couple of these for sale. Sightron sports the "Exactrack" adjustments and images that are clear and flat throughout the field of view. However, eye relief is fussy and resolution is just fair, IMO. I checked out with great anticipation their top-of the-line SIII series and was somewhat disappointed. Their "red-dot" sight was the best next to Aimpoint, IMO. I noticed their prices jumped way up in 2004. I mean, dealer cost now is what my retail is for current stock bought last year. I inquired about this and was told the biggest distributors get the best price. I asked how much for the best price. Alan at Sightron said "You can't afford our best price." I said, give me a figure. He said "$80,000." You know, he's right. 80K to buy a stack of scopes that may or may not sell? No thanks. Not even the European mfg. are that snooty. Whatever. Welcome to the big leagues, I guess.

Trijicon: These guys were swamped. I looked through a few ACOGs. I'm going to be blunt, at the risk of the wrath of ACOG owners. Light and compact? Yes. Rugged? Sure seemed that way. Odd-looking? Yup. Optics? Optics? What is the big deal? I couldn't even center the reticle in the field of view on the ones I looked through. The image was not too sharp, like a soft TV camera lens. The BAC doesn't work for me, as I'm left eye dominant with a right eye sighting. I truly feel there is some slick marketing here, and a devout following, but my gut feeling is over-rated and over-priced.

Hakko: These guys were a shocking disappointment. I mean it. No one could speak English, for starters. The scopes were very light and "tinny" feeling. Clicks felt horrible. Looking through one on display, I was amazed to see the reticle look like it was peeling. It resembled gold foil with black streaks and looked like it was becoming unglued right in the scope. I couldn't get much further with these guys. Thanks, but no thanks.

Hunter Wicked Optics: Neat name. Cool brochure. Then the snake-oil salesman behind the counter said all Hunter Wicked Optics were made with Schott Glass from Germany. You don't say? He had my attention now! A buddy of mine remarked they resembled Burris scopes. He remarked "We've been making them long before Burris has." Really? Then I picked one up and looked through it. I've got one word for you. Run. Run like the wind.

Millett: Very nice folks. So-so optics. Pretty bright and clear, but chromatic abberation and flare were quite noticeable. Decent scopes for those on a low budget.

Pride Fowler Industries: Mickey Fowler and John Pride have combined forces to offer up a line of scopes featuring the RapidReticle Mini Mil-Dot. Here's a sneak pic
,308 RapidReticle Not a true ranging reticle, but designed as a precision aiming aid. It works in conjunction with a laser rangefinder. I thought this was cool, like a boiled down, limited Horus type reticle. The scopes, I won't comment where they are made, but they DO sport FFP reticles that are very dark and sharp. This will be an interesting product, but with likely limited tactical application (I have scope durability concerns).

Horusvision: I spent a lot of time here. I know Thomas is partial to this system. I'll tell you, Dennis Sammut (sp.?) is a master salesman. He was like the Master of Ceremonies in the Big Top. He had everyone mesmerized with his sales pitch and straightforward style. Half of the audience had no idea what he was talking about, but it didn't matter. He convinced them Horusvision was the ultimate. With his visual aids and tactical "sniper town" target layout, he went about demonstrating the versatility of the system. I'm not denigrating him...I've never seen someone exhibit such passion and skill in promoting a product. I was impressed. He also doesn't like feral donkeys, but that's a bunny trail.
Thomas, I agree. The reticle is a tad busy but I can see where focus on the proper hash is attainable with practice. It's really not THAT distracting.
Dennis made it clear if any Horus scope fails the user, send it back to him for a full refund, or replacement (your choice). The Falcon scope I wasn't too keen on, it's made by Hakko. Even if to Horus specs, it's still made by Hakko. I did make it clear to Dennis I worried about the durability of the Falcon because I was none too impressed with Hakko (the S&B and USO scopes were awesome however) winky.gif His response was telling, and a little discomforting. He stated, if you are ever in a position where scope failure would put you or others at lethal risk, you need the S&B or USO Horusvision on your rifle. Guess which one that leaves out? Interpret as you wish.

Shepherd Enterprises: One of the surprises of the show (for me anyway). If you haven't looked through a Shepherd, you don't know what you're missing. These things are clear, sharp, and have super resolution. Their binoculars are also in the same boat. The FFP reticles are flat, jet black and are easy to pick up, even with backlighting. No these aren't tactical scopes. They lack finger-adjustable knobs and have one-inch tubes. However, they are heavy, with a rugged, attractive finish, and give the impression of being very well made, even with an AO. BONUS: Sally Shepherd is a real hottie. You should hear her talk ballistics. Ooooh baby.
Downsides? Shepherd is pretty anal about retail pricing, and made it clear if I were caught selling at a discount, I wouldn't be selling them anymore. Bummer. Add 30 mm tubes and target turrets. Any feedback on customer service and/or field ruggedness would be greatly appreciated. Bottom line: I'd bet they are worth the money.

Nikon: These guys were one of the clear favorites in terms of winning the contest of "Most Impressive Display." A friggin' two story log cabin with carpeting for crissakes. Unbelievable. Anyway, Dave Bahde (juroku) has written some very positive things in his evaluation of the Nikon Tactical scope. So, I had to see for myself. One thing I noticed, Nikon does not heavily market the scope. I had to actually search for it on the wall like a pair of tennis shoes at Athletic Attic. When I found it, well, my first impression was it was a tad homely. Yes, I know that means jack in a tactical optic. It's finish was dull, is all. The clicks were pretty mushy, like a "friction-click" hybrid. Optically, it was what I expected..98% as bright and sharp as a S&B or Zeiss or maybe even an IOR (of course, this is quite SUBJECTIVE, but it's my opinion, and I AM entitled to it. Get over it). The real impression of these scopes was that they were tough, and built to take it, at the cost of pleasing aesthetics. Nothing wrong with that!

Nightforce: I was quite eager to check these out, as I have heard tons about them on these forums and they do indeed have a following. There was a guy at the booth with an Aussie accent who spent a lot of time with me on the dissected model, going over the parts and systems and features. These things have amazing adjustment range, and are built tough enough to frame a house with, so it seems. But you already knew that. I met Jeff Huber, VP of Nightforce, and he was a confident fella, almost to the point of cockiness. Fine by me, it's good to see a corporate executive fiercely loyal to his product. Jeff's view of the German manufacturers reminded me of the view some people had of Tom Landry or have of Joe Paterno near the end of their careers - that of legendary icons which show evidence that the game has passed them by over time. I dunno if this is true or not, but it is an interesting point.
Looking through the Nightforce, I see the eye relief is probably the most forgiving of any Japanese manufactured optic I have seen. All other optical qualities - well, I'll put it this way. Put the Nightforce and Nikon in a "generic" package each, go to the range, and work them out. Then tell me if you can see a difference. I can't seem to. One difference is the price. And Nightforce look MUCH cooler than the Nikon. But image brightness, clarity, and sharpness seem almost identical. Cest la vie!

Chinese optics:

I generally abhor the cheap Chi-Com stuff, and feel sorry for those who have no choice but to by the NcStar or other knockoffs. Better to get proficient with the iron sights, IMO. Hey buddy, those cool 12x56 Chinese binocs? With the orange-yellow mirror coating on the objectives? If that much light is reflecting off of the lenses, how much light is going in?? blink.gif

Having said that, I'll relay a quick story. I was with a friend at the Clearview Investments booth, and while he was talking about some type of mount or stock with the reps, I idly picked up a 3-9x40 chinese scope on the counter and examined it. It did not have a single marking on it, no country of origin, nothing but "3-9x40." Out of boredom, I looked through it, and nearly fell over in shock. I could not believe how high the quality of optics were, nothing I have ever seen from a Chinese optic. I handed them over to my friend and challenged him to find flaws in the image. He was also quite impressed. I begged the guy in the booth what brand they were and he responded "Leapers" but we couldn't tell for sure.
Fast forward to a gun show I was exhibiting in a week after SHOT. This one regular vendor sells the NcStar scopes like hotcakes for breakfast all across north Fla. Most of the scopes in this lineup are a joke. However, I shared my story with him and he nodded his head in recognition. "Was it like this one?" he asked. He proceeded to pull a 3-9x40 illuminated generic scope out of a generic purple box. No manufacterer indicated. Bringing it to my eyes, yup, that was the one. He smiled knowingly and wouldn't divulge any info, but something is going on. For $99, you can get a scope that will let you see as well as scopes costing 3-4 times as much. Now, durability and adjustments may be quite suspect, but the optics battle is the toughest one, IMO. Somewhere in China there is a "secret" manufacturer who is building optics that significantly close the gap with nearly any other Asian manufacturer. You heard it here first.