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How do you do optical comparisons?

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John Barsness View Drop Down
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I often read here about how X scope has a lot better glass than Y scope. I am curious about how people go about making these comparisons, partly because I just ran some optical tests on several scopes and got different results than those often seen here. I'd appreciate hearing how other people do it.
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I usually just sit on the hill behind my house and look out a couple of hundred yards. I like doing this in low light to judge how "bright" a scope is. The heavy cover along the valley allows me to look at branches and other things that could cause me to miss a shot or wound an animal, too.
I bench mark all of my hunting scopes against a pair of Zeiss 7x42 binoculars I hunt with. I discovered some time back that for some of my hunting, I needed to have a scope that would let me see in low light, at long range with heavy background cover. Not too many scopes I have can keep up with the binoculars.
I have also used various resolution charts. I based a spotting scope purchase on a comparison using the USAF 1951 chart.
Other than that, I just like looking through the scopes under my particular hunting scenarios. If I can see the game, the reticle, through cover and in low light I'm pretty content.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/22/2009 at 09:50
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I also like to check resolution by reading signs at varing distances, I've found that an old fashion eye chart works pretty well. 
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   I don't believe it's so much in how a test is done as long as it covers from one extreme to the other and as many variables as possible. But I honestly believe that not enough people take into consideration how the differences in each persons vision can affect what one person sees through a scope as compared to another and so up come differing opinions,to put it mildly,on that scope or the complete line of that brand scope's quality. John,I believe you kinda touched on this a bit in an article you wrote on scope magnification. Maybe if more emphasis was placed on this so that more people realized it,some of the optics forums wouldn't be so "LIVELY". Ya think so?
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/22/2009 at 10:45
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Yeah, different eyes have something to do with it.
 
I also notice that a lot of people look through different scopes in the middle of the day and make assumptions about how they will work in low light. This doesn't always follow. Quite often a scope with a wider field of view and/or shorter eye relief will appear brighter during daytime, primarily because a wider eyepiece, closer to the eye, allows less interference from light coming into our eye from the side. This isn't an optical illusion, just the way optics work. But things can look very different in dim light, when there isn't so much interference from "stray" light.
 
Another thing I have often heard of is comparing various scopes of different magnifications side by side. This is fairly useless as an indcation of optical quality.
 
I do a lot of just plain looking through various scopes, comparng them side by side in what are essentially hunting situations. But I also run some reasonably scientific tests in dim light to compare how the glass in different scopes compares, everything else being equal. These tests are often eye-opening, if you'll forgive the pun.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/22/2009 at 10:48
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/22/2009 at 10:54
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If I'm at the store I take them outside and look over about a 120yd long parking lot to some road signs and window signs.  Not great but it does show differences in resolution and brightness.
 
At the range I use the 300yd IBS targets with several different sizes of print in the corners.  I try to focus and read the various prints from the 100yd benchs with 2 rifles on the same bench set up side by side in rests.  This way I can go quickly from one to the other.  I also have whoever I'm shooting with that day play around with them focusing them and get his opinion too.  It's not very scientific but it's real world testing that tells me what I want to know. 
 
I consider all of this optical testing important but not as important as what the box test tells me.
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In comparing scopes with different power and objective size ratios. I only look at those that can adequately give the same exit pupil, and set them and only compare them at that setting. I like to check in moonlit scenarios, or backlit scenarios. I check for contrast, and resolution in both daylight and lowlight situations. I also look for flare and stray light management.
 
It is very interesting that there is such a wide difference between the eyes of different people. For example some people have more rods than cones. And some more cones than rods. Combine this with the vast differences in eyesight as far as the individual ability of each eye to focus, and it becomes even more astounding.
 
I have every belief that certain people will always find particular coatings to be superior to what others may themselves prefer. I also believe that this has a lot to do with why your favorite color is what it is. 
 
It is also interesting that those with exceptionally sharp vision (better than 20/20) have more appreciation for the better glass than those that are less accute in that area.
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I didn't realize those with better than 20/20 vision had more appreciation for better optics.  I would have thought the opposite actually.  That is interesting.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/22/2009 at 11:55
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Some people also have color biases in their eyesight, and not just color-blindness. I have been told more than once in my interviews with various people in the optics industry that women have a tendency toward blue color bias, while men tend more toward the red end o the spectrum. (I know that my wife and I have different definitions of the colors "aqua" and "turquoise"!)

This in turn would affect how some people see through different scopes, especially at various times of the day.

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/22/2009 at 11:57
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I too would have thought the same as you. I have a friend with 20/25 vision uncorrected and he can see (without his glasses) no difference between the Bushnell Banner, and the 4200 Elites, Monarchs, and Leupold VX III. When he uses his glasses however. He always takes the 4200, and Monarchs over the others. He did this test, because he was curious. I have exceptional vision for my age. It is 20/17 in the right eye, and 20/18 in the left, at 44 years of age. I can see liitle difference at all between the 4200 and Monarch. The VX III comes in close behind them, then the Banner reasonably close behind the VX III. Cosequently He has an older (pre meade) Simmons AETEC, which he takes just ahead of the Banner (Japanese made)
I have to take his word for it because I can't do the test with the vision that I have.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/22/2009 at 12:11
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That's very true John. I have noticed the same thing as well.
I am curious. I happen to have very light sensitive eyes. How many others have the same affliction/blessing. How does that affect what we see as far as scope superiority, in low/bright light?
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John that's interesting too.  Every once in a while my wife will describe something's color and it's not the same color I'd call it.  Hmm.
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 You guys are bringing up some very interesting thoughts about individual perceptions of various optics.
 I've mentioned on this forum before, an uncle of mine who is badly color-blind. (I'm not sure which spectrums).
In his service during the Korean war, he was often chosen to lead night patrols because of his extraordinary night vision. What he lacked in color, he was blessed with in darkness.
 Who knows: that ability may have saved his life and those of many others. (It also cost many Communists dearly.)
 It certainly is interesting how different people see things differently,(in so many ways.)
 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/22/2009 at 12:38
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The Camera rags have been doing optical tests for as long as there have been cameras.  They have a pretty good  way of  doing things.  Color charts, Grey scale charts, and resultion charts.  It shocks me to see that you don't see any of this in a scope test.  Well maybe not after the results don't line up with the ad dollars.
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That's an interesting point Silver.  There is no shortage of misinformation and just plain B.S. in the shooting/hunting world.  Some of the most proposterous claims I've ever heard have been in gunshops and duckblinds.
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Here's an interesting link. It even speaks as to the vast differences (in the ratio of cones) between individuals with normal color vision.
 
This perhaps help to explain quite a bit.
 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/22/2009 at 13:07
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Another good question! But no doubt is has an effect.
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There is a write up in the American Rifleman about every 15 years that gives a good  description of how to test things.  Written protocals in testing are a help.  The main thing is the use of refferance standards.  You can get those from most of the big camera supply houses.
 
It is interesting to see the responce I get when once in a while I hear the classic line "I can't see any differance" to ask when was you last eye exam, how long have you smoked and does your family have a history of cataracts.  Yes individual eye health plays a roll in what you see. Things like smoking can effect how you see at night. 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/22/2009 at 14:54
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Originally posted by John Barsness John Barsness wrote:

I often read here about how X scope has a lot better glass than Y scope. I am curious about how people go about making these comparisons, partly because I just ran some optical tests on several scopes and got different results than those often seen here. I'd appreciate hearing how other people do it.
 
Thank you Mr. Barsness for being here and open to these various topics. This is one that brought me here to the OT. I have been a budget hunter For longer than I care to say making do with what I could find for under 300.00. And looking to friends who seemed to know from experience what was considered reliable. My first experience with a good low light scope was the old Simmons Presidential. I still believe that was a scope ahead of it's time and wish I still had it. But it made a real difference in quality optics when it counted. Its kinda funny to hear folk fuss about scope quality in a situation where their particular application is full daylight and never when light is a issue. Ofcourse now I can see that, if the need is to see shot placement when a spotting scope isn't available. But glass quality is in my opinion most easily observed in conditions where light transmission is a factor. In fact I am in the testing phase, attempting to decide what scope I want for a rifle I am building. I am comparing a kahles 3x10x50 MZ, IOR tactical, a Zeiss D 3x12x56 and a SN-3 US Optics of similar configuration. There is a fair spread in cost on these, but which one will do what I want the best? I have inquired about the glass used in all and though I know three use glass from Schott I have recently be told that the coating used will still make a noticable difference.
I want the scope I chose to have top quality target turrets so that will also impact my choice.  I am testing the zero set reliability on all and expect them all to be close. But the light transmission is the subject here.
So when I take them out for the late evening comparison that may be the clincher. Edge to edge clearity is important as is being able to easily maintain good clear focus. But I would trade off some margin there if a scope gives me everything posible in target acquisition and identification. People usually assume or joke that we want to take game after legal time. Not true, atleast not here. In my area the best trophies are mostly nocturnal and unless you get lucky and catch one dumbfounded during the rut. You will probably only see the rascal in trail cam pics. But I have been successful scanning the depths of a wood line with quality binos and then trying to get what I have on him before time is up. Now that I have determined to spend some real money on today's quality optics I have had to learn for myself what that means. Thanks to people like yourself and many here on the OT I beleive I will be carrying the best there is for the money.
 
BUT, all it takes is for someone I have trusted to have had a bad experience or find out that I was misinformed about one of my potential choices and I will be back to square one.
In fact your posting this thread causes concern because "Just how eliable is the information out there?"
Your statement, "I just ran some optical tests on several scopes and got different results than those often seen here". Has me in serious pause.
 
I know I am looking at some of the best avaliable with premium glass, but what about coatings? What about lens size and measured light transmission? What about the various test you and others run and your varying results? If you could establish a testing standard that most everyone could or would use that outlines what is being evaulated. Then we could clear away so much confusion. The manufactors won't like it, but they will adapt because their sucess depends on it and us.
 
Of these what has been your experience and what can you tell me about lens coating?
All will be 10 to 12 power, 50mm obj or better and 30mm tubes.
 
kahles 3x10x50 MZ, IOR tactical, a Zeiss D 3x12x56 and a SN-3 US Optics of similar configuration.
I hope to complete my comparisions by mid March and make my purchase. I also plan to share my experience here in hopes of critiquing my methods.
 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/22/2009 at 16:14
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Sgt. D,
 
One thing you are apparently not aware of (along with a number of other shooters) is that Schott is not a single glass factory. There are Schott factories all over the world, including in the U.S. and China. In fact, I have heard through my contacts in the optics business that glass from the Chinese factory is being favored by some companies because of the lack of environmental regulations over there. Cina can use some stuff in making glass that the European and even U.S. Schott factories can't--such as lead. Lead was a long-time standard component in high-density optical glass, but is outlawed in many places now. So even all Schott glass is not identical.
 
The coatings are indeed more important than the glass itself. Many factories do their own coatings, but as important as the coatings is the engineering behind them. One of the most persistent biases hunters have in optics is the notion that somehow there is magic in German "glass." Well, a lot of optical companies are buying glass and complete lenses from many places in the world, and in fact some of the so-called German glass in many optics is from elsewhere. What matters is the quality of the engineering, glass and construction.
 
All the optical companies are willing to bat around terms like Schott glass, proprietary multi-coating, etc. etc., which may or may not mean anything.
 
When I do my own testing of riflescope optics, I often ignore some of the things that advertising or even some hunters emphasize. For instance, in a big game scope I really don't give a darn whether the view is perfectly flat and sharp to the edges. This is because we don't aim with the edges of the field of view. We pretty much aim with the middle. (Binoculars are different.)
 
As mentioned above, I do some of the more informal type of testing that a lot of us do, by lining up a bunch of scopes and looking through them in different kinds of light. But when I get serious, I set up my own optical chart at a standard distance (in this case 25 yards) at sunset. This chart is a series of parallel black and white lines that descrease in size as they down the chart. It starts with a 1" black line, followed by a white line 2/3" as wide, then a black line half as wide as the first one, until at the bottom the last black line is 1/8" wide.
 
The sizes don't really matter as much as the principles. First, it ignores color rendition (which something else all together) but does test both brightness and resolution. The test is really simple. I aim at the chart and see how far down I can differerentiate black and white lines. Below a certain point everything appears gray--just as a series of black-and-white lines of the SAME size eventually appear gray at some distance from the eye. (Or a distant zebra appears gray, as those of you who've been to Africa have perhaps noticed.)
 
In making this test, I am careful to set all the scopes on the same magnification, s close as possible. I may fiddle with the magnification slightly, as the numbers on each scope do not always indicate exactly the same magnification. I also fiddle with the focus a little, because that also makes a difference.
 
Also, I only compares scopes of about the same size, and make sure I am testing them on a magnification that allows an exit pupil of at least 5mm and hopefully a little larger. For instance, last night I was comparing several scopes in the 3-10x range with 40mm objectives. I set them all on 6x, which meant the exit pupil was close to 7mm in diameter. That way I am testing the "brightness" of the glass, and not varying exit pupil sizes.
 
Also, I have all the scopes mounted on rifles, and the rifles on a steady rest, in a darkened room. You cannot really compare scopes unless they are very steady. I have heard of hunters looking through one scope on a rifle, then another scope they just held in their hand. This is NOT a valid comparison. Also, it is important for the room to be dark, so stray light does not interfere.
 
The end result of the test is pretty simple: I see how far down the chart I can differentiate black and white lines. This depends on the amount of light, obviously. Right at sunset all the lines are visible with any 3-10x scope set on 6x. Sometime during the next 45 minutes most scopers will arrange themselves into various classes. Sometimes the differences are so small that at full dark I still haven't picked them out, so then turn on a 100-watt bulb on the OUTSIDE of the building, so that it's light does not interfere with my vision either.
 
But even when I can see the same number of lines with two scopes, there are other visible differences. Usually the last line is a little sharper with some scopes than others.
 
I did this test last night with several scopes, but in particular wanted to test one that a number of people have been touting as incredibly sharp and bright during the last year or so. To put it bluntly, it failed to live up to the hype. All the other scopes allowed me to see an entire extra white line. The new wonder-scope wasn't even close, so now I am forced to wonder just what other people are seeing. Or what kind of tests they are making.
 
My own eyesight is apparently pretty good--for a guy who wears glasses. I don't have any  astigmatism, and so my eyes are easily corrected to 20/20 or so. I can still shoot very well with iron sights, even at 56, and can generally spot game as well as other experienced hunters.
 
One thing I have discovered is that a lot of what people think they see through a scope is mental, and often connected to price, or words like Schott. Which is why I set up my test the way I did, in order to eliminate those sorts of pyschological factors and see how different scopes compare.
 
I wrote a book about 10 years ago on optics that included the resuls of some scientific tests done in Germany of various scopes, as well as my own tests, which at the time weren't as scientific as they are now. Oddly enough, my own tests correlated pretty well with the German tests, which were made on very expensive equipment. They made some people mad, however, who expected their own scopes to test much higher. The tests in the book are way out of date, of course, since all optics have advanced considerably since then, one reason I didn't limit the book to those tests but also suggested ways people could do their own tests. Beyond the result of those German tests, however, the most interesting thing to me was the way some people reacted when reading them, because the tests did not always agree with their preconceived convictions about optics.
 
 
 
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I just look at the price tag -- that tells the rest of the story.  
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Actually I don't care if its the worlds best glass what I care about is does it come on target quickly and kill effectively, and its always nice to be able to dial in correction for distance. They havent made the perfect scope yet but Trijicon is getting close - once they figure out they need to put tactical knobs on a 2.5-10 and reduce it to 50mm with the 30 mm tube we will have reached the pinical of rifle optics.


Edited by Urimaginaryfrnd - February/22/2009 at 16:38
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The only way I've done actual A-B comparisons between scopes is by leaning some old garden tools against the back fence (everything is about the same color as a deer) and seeing how late I could still make out details.  Next time I do that, I'm going to include some colored objects.  Maybe red, blue, yellow, and green childrens' toys.  See if different colors show up better through different scopes.
Another thing I wonder about, is are identical scopes identical in performance.  I wonder if ten Bushnell 4200 2.5-10x40 (or whatever) scopes would perform indentically.
Mr. Barsness, I'm enjoying what you bring to these forums.
 
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First, I only make "X is better than Y" declarations about scope models I own or have owned and have personally compared head to head.  Some scopes are immediately recognizable as being way better than others without having to do much, if any formal testing.  For example, comparing a $1800 Zeiss Victory series scope against the average scope retailing for $100 isn't going to yield any surprising results.

I frequently take my scoped rifles out to my hunting lease and set them up side by side on a bench or in one of my hunting blinds and compare in varying light conditions.  For resolution testing, I observe finely detailed objects with high contrast surfaces like tree bark, leaves, etc.  I view the scopes at varying angles toward direct sunlight at different times of the day to test for flare, image white-out, and ghost images.  I look for the presence of color fringing on objects against brightly lit backgrounds, such as tree limbs against a bright sky.  Simply shooting targets and seeing which scope gives me the sharpest view of bullet holes and target grid lines makes for a reasonably good comparison.  For scopes that initially appear to offer similar image quality, I also use the Air Force resolution target to see which scope can resolve the smallest set of black/white line pairs, much like the homemade chart Barsness describes.  Finally, I simply take 2 different scopes of the same configuration, set at the same power, and see which scope will still allow a shot at a predetermined object in the distance later into the evening as darkness approaches.
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Quote   One thing you are apparently not aware of (along with a number of other shooters) is that Schott is not a single glass factory. There are Schott factories all over the world, including in the U.S. and China. In fact, I have heard through my contacts in the optics business that glass from the Chinese factory is being favored by some companies because of the lack of environmental regulations over there. Cina can use some stuff in making glass that the European and even U.S. Schott factories can't--such as lead.
.
 
 
That is the sort of thing I'm concerned about. You think you've found a nugget to help narrow the field or identify what makes great optics great. Then you find someone who knows better and your back to square one. Some have conceeded to "if it cost too much its a good one". Yes good components are expensive but paying one or two grand more for a S&B doesn't make it that much better than a Zeiss. And if a Kahles is as clear and tracks as good as a US Optics, why would I pay double for the USO? I really like the USO for alot of reasons, but if the coating on the schott glass is second to the same glass in the Zeiss it's not worth the same or more money as the Zeiss. But the manufactorers want us to be ignorant of these things so they can cut cost and keep us buying.
 
Yes it is best to take the scopes your interested in and compare in real world conditions, but up until recently that hasn't been an option. I guess that may put some pressure on folk that write reviews on such topics, cause its getting easier for the consumer to do it themselves.
 
From your statement above, I would want to find out what companies buy glass with lead in them so I can narrow the field to just those companies. Lead probably provides a better polish for a more clear glass and will bond better to coating.
Either way, can you define some of the different coatings? And which ones Zeiss and S&B use since they have been getting some of the better reviews? Or has someone else stepped up to the #1 spot?
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An Unfair Comparison CB900F Varmint Scopes 8 9/6/2006 12:48:43 PM
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