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Selecting Personal Optics

By Gary Heffley
11/26/15 --Selecting personal optics such as binoculars, spotting scopes and range finders can be difficult for many.

There are a tremendous number of options available. For some brand loyalty makes the decision easy, especially those who use high end brands like Swarovski, Leica or Zeiss. If they own any of these product lines they tend to purchase another of the same as they are accustomed to the quality each provides.

There is also a “keeping up with the Joneses” with these lines, if they have used a friend’s set of these they are likely to want the same. There is also the, “I want the best” shopper. And yes, the products are worth every penny and are considered to be a once in the life time purchase.

Leupold RX Full Draw Archery Rangefinder

<< Leupold RX Full Draw Archery Rangefinder

There are also brand loyalty within Leupold, Vortex, Nikon and Bushnell owners that automatically directs their next purchase to those lines.

But for many pocketbooks those higher end lines are just a little out of reach and tough to justify, as the amount of usage planned does not offset the realization that while we may not get what we pay for, we most certainly will pay for whatever quality we get. And in the case of optics that these axioms are always true.
First off, let us first explain the numbers found on most optics? What is the difference between an 8x28, 10x42 or 20x60 many ask? The first number is the magnification, so the object viewed is magnified that many times over your regular vision. The second number which confuses many is the size of the objective lens, the lens opposite the eye pieces which you look through. So a 10x42 sees items at a magnification of 10 through a lens that is 42mm wide.

Swarovski 20x60x65 STS Heavy Duty Spotting Scope

<< Swarovski 20x60x65 STS HD Spotting Scope

So we have established that cost and amount of use are key factors in the process of selection. Here are a couple of more factors that are also important considerations. Are you hunting with them or just sightseeing? If you are hunting, a key question is at what range? If you are hunting are you packing in long distances where weight becomes an issue? You see for many the process is that of elimination that enables not only the consumer to select the right product option, but the sales associate in finding the right product as well.

The easiest selection is for a basic pair of binoculars, those just for sightseeing. Price point and the quality within that price point are usually the key factors. Another consideration should also be warranties. Some have 5-25 year warranties where some lines like Vortex and Alpen offer a lifetime unconditional warranty.

For hunting binoculars the considerations of quality within the price point, type of hunting, such as long range or close range archery and weight come into play. For many a standard 10x42 is just fine. But for those who hunt in drizzly, rainy conditions or in the low light of dawn and dusk a binocular with multiple lens coatings is needed. The lens coatings allow for any available light to be pulled into the lens making for a sharp resolution even in poor weather or darkened conditions. As always the more you can spend the quality does improve.

Vortex 10x42 Viper Heavy Duty Binocular

<< Vortex 10x42 Viper HD Binocular

For many users, a binocular with a 50 mm lens or larger is difficult to scan with and hold steady throughout the day with hands alone. Due to weight of these larger binoculars most use accessories and attachments for mounting these binoculars onto tripods. These provide for a steady scanning platform and are used in many long range hunting applications such as for elk or sheep.

The discussion of long range hunting brings us to our next category of optics, spotting scopes. These are used frequently in long range hunting but are also very popular with bird watchers. Spotting scopes are not best for scanning but can provide a very detailed view of a stationary object. For birders this in invaluable for picking out the vibrant and distinct colored feather patterns needed for bird identification. For hunters it helps supply an idea of animal size, if it is a shooter or in many cases making a distinction that an animal is even in view. There are untold instances where a pair of standard binoculars could not make out an animal which a spotting scope brought into clear and full focus.

Spotting scopes can have multiple magnification ranges and usually have large objective lenses that can produce a 20 to 30 magnification through upwards of an 80 mm objective lens. They provide a clearer view at a greater distance which is critical for long range hunts and stalks. But again weight and the necessity of a tripod are weighed considerations. As in binoculars the spotting scopes come in various lens styles where multiple coatings for enhanced viewing increase the price point and objective view quality.

Another popular item of personal optics is range finders. The basic range finders are designed to give the yardage within a predetermined range of an object to where the person is standing. A 600 yard rangefinder will range out and give an accurate distance readout to 600 yards, and so forth, for those with greater distance parameters. Most also provide a base magnification usually in a 5x or 6x range.

Remember that distances noted for range finders such as on the Vortex 1000, Leica 1600, 1000 and 1600 yard respectively are “reflective target distances.” Reflective targets are hard objects such as rocks, trees, signs , and posts. Animals are non-reflective targets, fur and hide absorb the signals more than reflect them back to the unit. As a rule of thumb non-reflective targets will measure at around 50 percent of the posted distance. Also it should be noted that weather conditions will affect ranging. Fog for instance will greatly shorten any ranging as in heavy fog the fog itself will reflex the beam back rendering it almost useless.

But as with all other optics you get what you pay for in regards to clarity and additional built in capabilities. Lower priced range units usually have a black and white or grey readout. Those are often tough to see in low light or poor weather conditions. There are many that include a red visual readout that can be seen in any weather or light conditions.

Some like the Leupold DNA-TBR models will have the ability to have downloaded ballistic information deciphered so that MIL, MOA holdover/under information is shown so distance and angle compensations for a shot is shown. Many upper end models offer arc compensation measurements but few to the degree of the TBR models. Also shoppers should be aware that because of the electronics in range finders most all are subject to a one or two year warranty. In fact, only the Vortex model, and there is only one made, offers a lifetime warranty.

And don’t think range finders are for hunters only, target shooters and even golfers use them for getting proper range. Just realize most tournaments in either application do not allow these devices to be used during the events, but it’s alright for practice.

The best way to buy optics is to stop by a dealer and look through the various models and styles. Go in with an idea of what you are using the optics for and be prepared to answer these questions as these will help the associate provide you with the best option within your price point. But remember to buy right, it only hurts once to outlay the money for the right item. It hurts over and over if you buy wrong, because you are mad every time you use an item which was the result of making a compromise. Carpenters are heard to say, “measure twice; cut once!” In the case of optics the buyer must often select what works best for each application and buy several pieces of equipment instead of just one.

Gary Heffley has been a valued contributor to MyOutdoorBuddy for over seven years serving as manager, sales representative and reporter for much of Northern California. He is an avid outdoorsman and loves to fish and write about his adventures. He has long history in the Sporting Goods field and is presently managing the Gift Bar and Camping Department at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Redding.

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