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IHMSA News Feature Article
Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
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Best Low Priced Spotters
By Todd Spotti
 
     As Iíve stated many times in these pages, itíd be nice if we all could afford the very best optics that money could buy. Of course the sad reality is we canít. Whether itís our choice of cars, computers, or camp gear, we often have to settle for something thatís less than the best simply because we all have fiscal limits on our discretionary spending.

     One thing about the sports optics industry though - it provides us with a huge array of choices. This is especially true when it comes to spotting scopes. As a result, thereís a very good selection of moderately priced scopes available that offer good performance that a person with modest means can afford.

     OK, so what do I consider "affordable". As they say "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and "Affordability is in the size of the wallet." For the purposes of this discussion Iíll look at products ranging in price from around $135 to around $250. Dropping below the $135 range gets into an area where, generally speaking, the products just donít have the capability to be used for silhouette. Going over $250 gets us into an area where mama really starts to give us the evil eye because we seriously exploded her budget for the month.

     Because of the number of spotters that fall in this price range is so large, Iím going to restrict my comments to a just a few scopes that Iíve had personal, hands on experience with and which I consider to be the best of the class. All are variable power and range in size from 50 to 60mmís. All have straight eyepieces. So here here they are, listed by price, from the least expensive to the most expensive.

 

ALPEN 50mm MODEL 730 - $135

The Alpen Model 730 delivers performance far, far above its bargain basement price

     This scope won Outdoor Life Magazineís 2004 "Great Buy" award. After using it for only a few minutes, it was easy to see why it was selected. To be blunt, most scopes in this price range are poor performers. This scope however is a very, very notable exception to that rule. Its optical performance is equal to scopes costing two to maybe even three times more.

     This is a 15 X 30 variable clad in Alpen dark green rubber armor that sports a series of molded in ridges above and under the barrel for a solid grip. A sliding sunshade prevents direct sunlight from hitting the objective lens and degrading the surprisingly clear, edgey image produced by the multi-coated 50mm optics. This capable cutie easily fits into a range bag, back pack, or gun box and weighs only 23 ounces. Donít worry about the weather fogging up its innards either. Itís nitrogen filled and 100% waterproof. Use it as a boat anchor if it tickles your fancy and it wonít hurt a thing. A nice metal bench tripod and a zippered case comes with the scope as standard equipment. The scope is also available in a kit that includes a hard sided case and a window mount as well. If low cost, uncommon performance for the money, and portability are important to you, this is the one.

ALPEN 60mm MODEL 735 - $155

The Alpen Model 735 can easily compete with scopes costing 2-3 times as much

     This is the 60mm version of the Alpen 730 with all of the same features. Like itís little brother, it also was a winner of Outdoor Lifeís "Great Buy" award (2003). As a matter of note, Alpen products have won four of these awards which kind of tells you something about the value of their scopes. In my not so humble opinion this Alpen easily competes with scopes 2-3 times more in price.

     With its bigger multicoated objective, the 735 is able to give the user higher magnification powers with none of the usual loss in image brightness. The 735ís 18 X 36 power range is what I would consider to be just about ideal in this size objective lens. I was very pleased to see that when I changed magnification settings from the low to the high end, that there was very little perceivable difference in the brightness - a hallmark of good optical materials and design. Eye relief varies from 20 to 17mmís depending on what magnification power is being used at the moment. However even at the highest power setting, 17mmís is plenty of eye relief for those who wear glasses. The field of view is also the same as the Model 730 at 100 yards, and varies between 12 and 9 feet - again depending on the power setting. A nice wide field of view is essential to ensure that the spotter is looking at the same target the shooter is aiming at.

     I had a chance to take the 735 out to the range and run it through my home made resolution chart evaluation and was thoroughly impressed with the results. This modestly priced optic was able to resolve even the smallest line of type on the chart (9 point) at fifty yards. I then aimed the scope at a set of telephone poles 500 yards away. At the top of each pole is a ceramic electrical insulator. I was able to easily count the number of ribs on the insulator (5). This was very impressive performance.

     The 735 weighs a very comfortable 30 ounces and isnít going to add a burdensome load to your range bag. The objective lens is protected with a snap-on plastic cover over the sliding sunshade and a plastic screw on cap goes over the eyepiece. As a bonus, a nicely functional metal bench tripod is provided in the scopeís double zippered nylon bag with shoulder strap. A kit with a hard sided case and window mount is also available. This is a remarkable value where you canít go wrong.

BUSHNELL 60mm DISCOVERER - $234

The Bushnell Discoverer has always been a solid performer and a real value

     The 15 X 60 Discoverer is unique in that it is a straight through refractor design as opposed to the poroprism design of the other three scopes discussed here. In other words, there is no prism in the optical train and as a result, is a more simple and robust design. I owned a Discoverer for at least ten years and it gave me excellent service. Itís resolution was good enough that I could see .224 sized holes in my cardboard half size practice targets at 200 meters. To this day, Iím not sure why I sold that scope.

     The Discoverer has been recently improved with multicoated optics making it even better than it was before. However, even with the upgrade, 60X is too much magnification for this size objective lens. The image is just too dark and the resolution unacceptable. However when you turn down the magnification to 20 or 25 power, the scope comes alive. The image is bright and clear and the resolution crispy. Believe me, 25 power is plenty for silhouettes or just about anything else.

     This is also a very versatile scope in that it can focus down to 10 meters. So if you want to use it for air gun silhouette, go right ahead. It also comes with a camera adapter standard which will allow you to turn the scope into a giant telephoto lens for your 35mm camera.

  If this scope has a disadvantage, it would be its size. The Discoverer is over 17 inches long and weighs over 45 ounces. Nor is it waterproofed or water resistant, so keep it out of the rain. In the 10 years I owned mine (including several years in rainy, hot, humid Florida), I never had a problem with fogging. The design of the scope is a bit dated, but it delivers very good performance at the lower end of its magnification range. Still a good buy.

Nikon 60mm Sky & Earth - $250

The Nikon Sky & Earth is both good looking and extremely capable

     As some may recall, I reviewed a 80mm Sky & Earth in these pages a couple of years ago and found it to be an especially good scope. Thanks to a friend who owns the 60mm version, I was able to put one through its paces. The first thing you notice about this scope is its very clean, quality design. It looks really nice and will often turn heads on the firing line. The polycarbonate bodied spotter weighs in at a little over 35 ounces and is just under 13 inches long. The scopeís optics are multicoated and uses BAK-4 glass (the best kind) in its prism. The result is that it provides a very nice clear image which will leave your spotter with no excuses for not seeing a shot. The furnished 15-45 variable multicoated eyepiece provides lots of choice in magnification selections, however I found myself using the lower end of the range almost exclusively. Resolution and brightness were at their best when doing so. To be honest, for a high quality image, 45 power is too much magnification for a 60mm objective in this price range. However, if you want the magnification, itís there. Sky & Earth products are water resistant which means that they can take rain, but not total immersion in water. One handy feature is is the rubber press on lens cap for the objective which is permanently attached to the sliding sun shade. Canít get lost that way. Thereís also a screw on plastic cap for the eyepiece. A very spiffy nylon carrying case with a shoulder strap and lots of snap releases is also provided. This is a very good quality scope that no one will ever regret buying.

     So there you have it. Each of these scopes is far, far more than just a competent performer. Theyíre first-rate performers that give exceptional service for the price. If you choose one of these scopes, you wonít be sorry.

Good luck and good shooting, Todd

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.