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Simmons 90MM Spotter (The Dude)
By Todd Spotti
     A new trend in the spotting scope marketplace first appeared a couple of years ago and seems to have accelerated into 2007. What I’m talking about is the growing numbers of relatively low cost spotting scopes with gigantic objective lenses.
     In the past, it went without saying that big objective lenses = big bucks. It wasn’t that long ago when an 80mm lens was restricted to the super premium brands. There was even a extremely expensive German 100mm scope floating around that was a near custom job that was used by that country’s Olympic shooting team. The price was enough to feed a family of six in Africa for at least fifty years.
     Then, interestingly, a number of manufacturers started to put out some very inexpensive 80mm scopes. I guess it was their way to satisfy Joe Lunch bucket’s lust for a big objective spotter. However, the performance of those cheap 80’s left a lot to be desired, which is why I’ve never bothered to review those products.
     Next we saw the 90mm Meade which I reviewed in these pages a couple of years ago. The resolution, brightness, and lack of distortion of the scope is as good as it gets. However, it’s basically an astronomical instrument with a very reasonable price tag that has been modified as a spotter, and as such lacks the toughness necessary for a scope that might be taken into the field. It’s outstanding as a range scope, but definitely is not a field scope.
     Fortunately, for those of us who aren't related to Daddy Warbucks or Bill Gates, a couple of what I would call mid-priced 80mm scopes then followed that are really very good for the money - the Simmons Master Series 80mm being one of them, and which I favorably reviewed last year.

Simmons 90MM Spotter

     However, this newest trend is now pumping out 90mm and even 100mm scopes for around $250. Could it be that you could have your cake and eat it too? In other words, could extremely big, well performing optics be had for a price that the average working stiff could easily afford?
     When Simmons announced it’s new line up of spotting scopes last year I have to admit that I was immediately curious about its middle grade Wilderness series 90mm. It was modestly priced and it had that huge lens. It was also a scope that would seem to have no problem surviving in a world of outdoor hard knocks. Was it a bargain, or was it one of those low quality gun show specials that so often sees. I decided to find out.
     Sometime later the UPS man dropped (literally) this huge cardboard box at my front door. (Well I guess I won’t have to bother with a shock test.) Upon opening it, I found a very nice aluminum carrying case. Just like Simmon’s top of the line Master Series scopes, the Wilderness Series spotters also come in an identical case. Neat! Nestled inside the good quality foam lining were the scope, a basic nylon carrying bag, a shoulder strap, and a small bench tripod. On taking the scope out of the case my first impression was that this was indeed a big, heavy dude.
     The specifications confirmed my impression. This guy is over a foot and a half long, and is nearly 5 inches wide at the objective. Although polycarbonate is used as a body material to reduce weight, the big nine-oh still comes in at about a hefty 4 pounds. I should also point out that while polycarbonate doesn’t have the panache of brass, aluminum, or magnesium as a body material, ounce for ounce it is a very tough material and so is to be actually preferred in many cases. The scope is also fully armored with a tough high density rubber - a big plus if it’s going to be rolling around in the trunk of your car as my scopes sometimes do. Unlike this Simmons, some other brands just use rubber paint on their spotters instead of real armor, so be aware. Nitrogen purging makes it fog proof as well. I was also gratified to see that it was also fully waterproofed. Many scopes in this price range, and even some costing $100 and even more, are rated as “water resistant”. This means that they can be rained on without affecting the internal optics but nothing more. Being water proof means that the product can actually be submerged in water. I’ll take waterproof over water resistant every time.
     The scope also comes with two plastic lens caps. The one for the objective is a snap on type that was ok but was not that positive when pushed into place. In fact, it had a tendency of falling off now and then. The cap for the eyepiece was the standard threaded type and worked fine. The sliding lens shade is a nice feature which will help to increase image contrast when the scope is pointing towards the sunny side of things. This shade felt a little loose, but it also worked just fine.
     Unfortunately, the little tripod included in the kit is just not up to the job of holding this big heavy scope in a secure fashion. The scope’s considerable weight and size just overpowers the tripod’s ability to hold it, making it susceptible to tipping over. Additionally, every time you wanted to make a focus adjustment or what ever, the scope would shake like a frightened rabbit even after you removed your hand. Like all big, heavy scopes, this dude requires a serious tripod with a lot of mass and stability.
     One feature that I really was pleased to see on this spotter is a metal band attached to the scope’s mounting plate. Loosen a thumb screw on the metal band, and now the scope can be rotated right or left. This is a feature that was often found on scopes made in the 50’s and 60’s and then for some reason disappeared. The advantage is that with some bench mounts, or scope stands used by standing shooters, the scope is mounted sideways. 

     This then puts the focus knob in an awkward position. However, by loosening the metal band, the scope can now be rotated so that the focus knob is now in its proper position on the top where it’s supposed to be, or in any other position that’s best for your particular needs. Later, when you mount the scope on a regular camera type tripod, the scope can be rotated back to its normal position if you wish. The ability to rotate the scope gives the shooter a tremendous amount of flexibility in positioning it to the most useful position.

     As is my practice when reviewing scopes, if a company makes a claim of waterproofing, etc. the scope is going to get my yellow bucket and freezer test. That means it’s going to spend an hour in a big yellow bucket full of water and then get plopped dripping wet into the freezer for 24 hours. If it survives that with no leakage or fogging, it passes on to the next stage of my evaluation. The Wilderness 90 passed the test with no problem. OK, enough of the mechanical stuff, let’s talk about the optical side of the coin.

     The main reason one would want a giant objective lens on a spotting scope is that it would presumably present a brighter image to the eye than a scope of equal quality and of a smaller size. Indeed, the image on the Wilderness 90 was nice and bright, especially when set on 25X, its lowest setting. Almost without exception, I always have my spotting scopes set on their lowest settings because it provides the brightest image, the highest resolution, the widest field of view, and longest eye relief that the scope is capable of producing.
     Another advantage that the brightness of a large objective lens provides is that it allows the manufacturer to boost the magnification power without the image becoming so dark that it’s almost unusable. On those occasions when higher magnification might be necessary (like 500 meter handgun silhouette) big objectives are definitely an advantage. In this case, Simmons has boosted the magnification power up to 75X, while most other big objective scopes have their magnification levels restricted to 60X.
     To check out this scope, I used my standard home made resolution target which consists of several lines of the letter “O” in descending sizes. This target is something that anyone can throw together on their home computer. The idea is to identify the smallest line of type in which the blank space inside the “O” can be seen. When the optics reach the limit of their resolution, the line of O’s look like a length of braided rope.
     The day of the evaluation was cool and sunny with no mirage - perfect viewing conditions. I first put up my target at 50 yards. As mentioned before, the image at  25X was nice and bright. The smallest line of type that could be discerned was 12 point, which I consider to be good performance. My computer will only print down to 9 point which is easily seen by first quality scopes. The target was then moved to 100 yards. At that distance, 24 point type was the smallest that could be consistently resolved.
     I also observed that the image in the scope had a relatively “soft” quality to it as opposed to the almost painfully sharp image that you would find in the high dollar premium scopes. I also noticed a very subtle condition that I haven't seen in a while.
     My resolution target is printed on standard white typing paper and I had it stapled to a larger sheet of blank white paper on my target board. I hadn’t noticed it at first, but the edges of my resolution target appeared to have a small violet border around the four sides. A little later, the edges appeared to be a lime green (my head was also probably in a slightly different position). This condition is called chromatic aberration. This is a situation in which different portions of the light spectrum are focused in different places. The most common way for a scope maker to deal with this is to use an achromatic lens, which is a sandwich of crown and flint glass. An acromat lens will eliminate this optical condition to the point where it is almost totally undetectable.
     The fact that I was seeing this makes me suspect that the large objective lens on this scope is not a achromatic doublet, but rather a simple one piece lens. This would also explain how the various manufacturers could afford to put these huge lenses in a very modestly priced scope. However, this is absolute pure speculation on my part as I have no way to determine this definitively without tearing down the scope. What ever the cause, the good news is that when I directed the scope away from my resolution target towards a “normal” background”, I really had to look intently to detect the condition. I doubt if one person in a thousand would notice it, much less be bothered by it. I certainly wasn’t. There’s also no doubt that the use of BaK4 prisms and multi-coating in this scope go a long way to produce the very practical and useable image that I found.
     So how useable is the image? Well my good friend Jon Ocab who is a long range rifle shooter was practicing his standing shooting next to me with his AR-15  on a 200 meter paper bull. When I trained the Wilderness 90 on his target, I had absolutely no problem seeing the 22 caliber holes in the paper. While still trained on the paper target I then cranked the power all the way up to 75X and asked several people to take a look. “Not bad” “Not bad at all” was the common comment. “How much does it cost?” “Only $250?” That’s a good deal.” The only other remark I got was a desire for more eye relief. Indeed, while eye relief is rated at 12mm’s at 25X and 7.5mm’s at 75X, I found I could see much better if I took off my glasses and moved my eye forward to the point that my eyebrow was touching the eyepiece. I definitely would have preferred to have more eye relief.

     All and all, I found that while the Wilderness 90, like any other scope, had its imperfections, they were often small, subtle shortcomings that could easily go unnoticed. This scope gives excellent value for the money and provides a huge objective lens and extraordinary magnification to the shooter that can’t put down the equivalent of a car payment for a spotting scope. With its tough construction and very useable optics, I found that the Wilderness 90 is a sensible and practical product. Indeed, I wouldn’t have any problem at all using it at the Internationals or at any other important match. Give the dude a look.

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 sit 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.