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Upgrading Low-Light performance

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/17/2018 at 12:55
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I am considering upgrading a scope and would like some advice regarding your suggestions to improve my low-light performance for deer hunting.

My current deer rifle scopes are Zeiss Conquest 3x9x40 or earlier Diavari-C 3x9x36 with standard plex reticle.  

I am strongly considering an illuminated reticle and would like your feedback regarding its utility for such use. And what type of illumination / reticle do you favor for low-light hunting use?  For instance, the Trijicon accupoint green triangle with post, or a #4 or duplex reticle with battery powered illuminated dot, such as the Leupold FireDot Illuminated Duplex.

Most of the hunting use I would encounter is not long-range (less than 300 yards), so I don’t expect the Christmas tree type / Mil-dot reticles, or substantially higher magnificent are likely necessary or desired.

Also, I don’t mind increasing objective size up to perhaps 50mm, if that factor that will enhance performance. However, I would generally like to keep the scope size and weight relative to standard taper rifle barrel.  

 

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/17/2018 at 17:50
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Both of those you mentioned have great illumination systems.  I own both systems and have used both in low light a lot and they have both performed excellent for me. 

A larger objective will mostly benefit you if you want to turn up the magnification a little more.  You want to keep the exit pupil large in low light so your eye can use all the light available to help you see your target. 

Meopta is coming out with new reticles soon that will offer some pretty neat features in terms of seeing the reticle in different conditions.  Check out their site.  Optically Meopta scopes are top notch as well.  Might want to check those out before you buy anything else. 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/17/2018 at 19:46
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If you are after low light performance, bumping up the objective size a little is not a bad idea.

The Meopta recommendation is very sound as well.

You did not mention what your budget is.

ILya
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/17/2018 at 21:24
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Yes, I like the concept of the new dichroic reticle from Meopta. It will certainly be interesting to see what models they release it in and how it will be priced.

I am not in a particular hurry to make a purchase, but did want to get some valuable input, in order to make a well-informed decision, or be prepared if a deal presents itself.

Regarding my budget, I would consider most anything, as I consider this will be essentially a life-time purchase. Realistically, though I think there are some pretty good options in the $1000 range, so that is where I've primarily focused thus far.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/18/2018 at 16:00
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How bright the optic appears is related to quality of glass quality of lens coatings and objective size.
For example a 6x42mm scope  42 divided by 6 =7mm exit eye pupil  (bright as you can probably use)
increase the objective size from 42mm to 50 mm and you gain essentially one higher power
7x7=49  so a 50mm objective max brightness at 7x and a 56mm objective max brightness at 8x. The larger the scope the more awkward the handling feels so sometimes the answer is to dial down the power in low light.  We have guys running around with 5-20x50 scopes set on 20x wondering why the scope looks so grey in low light when reducing the power setting down to 5, 6, 7, 8 even 9 or 10  would make a huge difference.  Zeiss glass is great glass, the new models lens coatings are better than the older ones. To max the brightness on your 3-9x36 remember that 6x will be 6mm exit eye pupil so it should get as bright as possible just below 6x.

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/19/2018 at 08:27
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Larger objective helps. I have a nikon monarch 4-16x50 and its really very good in low light. I have a Monarch 3-9x40 UCC and its bright. I have a Zeiss Duralyt 2-8x42, its bright, I have a Minox ZX 3-15x50 that is also bright. 

My latest is a Minox ZX5 1-5 with a 30mm main tube. Not sure what the objective is, maybe 24. I expect it to be bright as well. 

I haven't gotten comfortable with illumination yet. What I have discovered is the darker it gets, the closer you need to be to your target. 

An example. In my club, we have a shooting house on a powerline over a green field. Front of the field is 200 yards, back is 300. A deer in that field cannot be seen with the naked eye after about 4:45. You need an optic, and the darker it gets, the less magnification you can use to see it clearly. 

However, if the deer were 50 yards away, you could see it with a naked eye. I personally wouldn't shoot one at distance, with a grainy sight picture. 

I have no problem sitting on my stand late, but if you are in a shooting house, you can't see as well as if you were in a tree stand. If I can see a deer with my naked eye, and through the scope, even if I can't clearly see the crosshairs, I can still center the deer in the scope and shoot it. But its a crap shoot unless it has a really big rack, it could be a doe, or it could be a small buck that doesn't meet club standards. 


Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/19/2018 at 11:17
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Quality glass, not too much zoom range and a large objective are what you need to aim for
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/19/2018 at 11:53
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 And keep the whole conversation in perspective: the difference between okay performance and good performance is a few minutes at first or last light.  The difference between okay and great is a few minutes more.

It's not like the difference between a decent $400 hunter and a $3000 hunter is an hour of shooting time.

Then again, the things we want to hunt are usually much more comfortable coming out in the last few minutes of usable light, so it is an ROI decision.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/19/2018 at 13:27
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Yes, but better glass really helps in low light if the animal is in or in front of cover. That can make the difference between a shot or no shot. Or worse, a wounded animal from a deflected bullet.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/28/2018 at 12:07
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Thanks for asking this OP - this too is on my mind as I consider new scopes (in another thread).  I have a 3-15x50 Tract Toric on a 30-06, but find that I'm usually keeping the magnification towards the low end, due to the distance I'm considering for shots, and the light.  It made me also think about dialing down the top end magnification and keeping the same or larger objective.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: December/29/2018 at 12:52
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Originally posted by Urimaginaryfrnd Urimaginaryfrnd wrote:

How bright the optic appears is related to quality of glass quality of lens coatings and objective size.
For example a 6x42mm scope  42 divided by 6 =7mm exit eye pupil  (bright as you can probably use)
increase the objective size from 42mm to 50 mm and you gain essentially one higher power
7x7=49  so a 50mm objective max brightness at 7x and a 56mm objective max brightness at 8x. The larger the scope the more awkward the handling feels so sometimes the answer is to dial down the power in low light.  We have guys running around with 5-20x50 scopes set on 20x wondering why the scope looks so grey in low light when reducing the power setting down to 5, 6, 7, 8 even 9 or 10  would make a huge difference.  Zeiss glass is great glass, the new models lens coatings are better than the older ones. To max the brightness on your 3-9x36 remember that 6x will be 6mm exit eye pupil so it should get as bright as possible just below 6x.


7mm exit pupil is a good rule of thumb, but is too simple of a guideline for most cases.  You want the exit pupil to accomodate some eye dither, since your eye needs to be able to move a little to cut down on fatigue and see better.

In practical terms, in the $1k range, if yuo are looking for a 50mm or greater objective, your best low light options are probably Meopta Meostar 3-10x50 and 3-12x56 as well as Swaro Z3 4-12x50.


ILya
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/02/2019 at 14:29
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Thanks for all the responses thus far.

I have a Swaro Z3 6x18x50 on a varmint rifle I can take out to do some head to head comparison with my deer rigs to address the relative differences to my eyes in my terrain. I will reiterate that typical deer hunting low-light hunting situations I encounter are very modest range, where my scopes stay at 6x magnification or lower. Thus, achieving that 6-7 mm exit pupil goal shouldn't be too difficult, or hopefully limiting. We will see....

How about your thoughts on the utility of illuminated reticles?

After a lot of hunting and traveling to the plains of Kansas during the holidays, I noticed a substantial difference in the ambient light 30 minutes after sunset compared to the pine belt and hardwood timber in the southeast U.S. where I reside. I expect that an illuminated reticle may help improve confidence in point of impact during the first/last 10 minutes of legal shooting time. What has been your experience?
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/02/2019 at 20:51
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I find scopes without illumination needlessly limiting.  Sure, you could always be careless and let your battery run down.  It really does not take much aforethought to NOT let that happen.  Illumination can be an aid even in "normal" light, but if the illumination is well designed and executed it is NEVER a hindrance.  In the first and last minutes of shot opportunity (dawn, dusk) it is always an aid... given good design and execution...
I've not encountered a "moderate" to "high" dollar scope with illumination flaws in quite some time.  I tend away from "low" dollar scopes or non-illuminated scopes for anything I might use outside a range.  

It always pays to check the illumination on any scope you may purchase that has it.  Generally, "illumination good"... "no illumination bad"...  but that is just my personal opinion... I have no aversion to technology... some do.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/03/2019 at 02:51
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Here in the UK we do a lot of our shooting at dawn and dusk. (1 hr either side of sunset is still legal)

A deer under the trees can look remarkably dark and therefore easy to loose even a relatively thick reticle.

I often keep my scopes on the lowest setting possible so I don't get flare from the dot in very low light and the darker the background / target, the more prominent the dot appears (In bright light, the crosshairs work fine and doesn't matter if you can't see the dot).

Scrummy
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/03/2019 at 05:55
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Illumination is a good thing, how ever you look at it ! Wink
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/03/2019 at 06:18
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Yep!
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/04/2019 at 13:14
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I personally do not think there is a scope out there that isn't thermal that will allow you to spot a deer at distance, or shoot it in low light reliably. UNLESS, you have a very light background the deer is on. 

Even then, it could be a doe, or a spike. My club was a 6pt or better, so its a gamble the "darker" it gets on what you pull the trigger on. 

I have had deer run under my stand at near dark, and can't see them in the scope looking down in the pine thicket floor. Yet I can see the same deer on the green field. 

On some of our longer shot greenfields, you can't even see deer with a naked eye in them as dusk approaches, you have to have an optic. Even then, the darker it gets, the grainier the sight picture, and the less magnification you can use effectively. 

Now if the moon is out, then its different. I sit later than pretty much anyone in my club. But usually on short green fields or where I won't have a long shot. 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/04/2019 at 21:59
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I'm currently trying to decide on illumination, and while some have said that there are not any downsides, at least one author (https://www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/gun-shots/2012/04/illuminated-reticles-are-useless-big-game-hunting-optics) has pointed out a few.  Some of the drawbacks don't bother me - as I can always turn off the illumination, but the two that got my attention are:  (1) that some states do not permit illuminated reticles, and (2) the cost.  Can anyone tell me which, if any, states have such a law?  (Note, the article above was from 2013.)  #2 does seem to be an issue, at least within the same manufacturer.

Which illuminated scopes are you all using?  I've been looking at the Trijicon AccuPoint, which I've seeing online at around $925, which is in between the Tract Toric I'm considering ($724) and Swarovski ($1230), neither of which has illumination.

Thanks in advance!
Ed
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/04/2019 at 23:16
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I can't tell you about the states that do not allow illuminated reticles, but I can tell you that I have yet to see anything optics-related published by Outdoor Life that is even marginally competent.  Every once in a while they do get something right, but that is mostly along the same lines as a blind squirrel stumbling onto an acorn occasionally.

The cost of adding illumination to a typical hunting riflescope is pretty low and unless you are looking at sub-$200 scopes should not be a deciding factor.

ILya
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/05/2019 at 08:19
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I only have one illuminated right now. It’s a now discontinued Leica ERi 2.5-10x42 #4 reticle. Leica has replaced it with a new model. It’s easily my favorite now.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/05/2019 at 11:26
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I find the majority of firearm magazines are misplaced in the sporting/outdoor section when they should be in the comic book section.

This author I think is misinformed when he says illuminated reticles are illegal. I think that they are referring to things such as night vision or something that actually illuminates the target. Such as a laser or a light. Best to check with your GF&P though.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/05/2019 at 13:08
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Hey ILya, squirrels use scent to find acorns. Their eyesight is poorBig smile
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/05/2019 at 16:43
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In my experience, your best bet for maximizing low light performance in a conventional riflescope is a high end variable scope topping out at 10X with 50mm objective or 12X with 56mm objective. Even then, the advantage over a high end 42mm objective scope won’t be huge, maybe a couple minutes of useful dawn/dusk time at best. Honestly, given today’s optical standards, low light performance is not an issue with pretty much all current midrange and higher quality scopes with at least 32mm objectives. Almost all will take you to the limits of legal hunting hours. I have 3 of the Zeiss Diavari C 3-9X36s you mention and once owned the Conquest version as well. Those scopes perform very well in low light, so again, if you’re expecting a huge, dramatic improvement over them in a new scope, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. This of course pertains to just the optical performance; illuminated reticles raises the bar a bit more. Having illumination is never a bad thing so long as the illumination intensity can be adjusted over a broad range so it doesn’t over-illuminate, and doesn’t create flare inside the scope.

As for the exit pupil discussion, having reasonably large exit pupil at your selected magnification is certainly important to low light performance, but EP size isn’t the “be all/end all” determiner of low light performance. EP diameter matching or exceeding your dilated eye pupil isn’t necessarily at the point where you realize maximum low light performance either. Optimizing low light performance is achieved when you reach the happy marriage of reasonably large EP diameter and moderately high magnification. This sounds counter-intuitive because as you dial up more magnification, EP diameter decreases and “brightness” reduces, but bear with me.

When it starts to get dark, you lose not only daylight, but also contrast. Under both conditions, you lose detail. Bottom line, good low light performance is all about being able to discern the maximum amount of detail on game during dim light to enable you to see things like antler points and make precision shots in selected parts of the animal’s vitals. This doesn’t necessarily occur when EP is at its largest or the view through the scope at its “brightest.” Brightness/light transmission to your eye alone doesn’t fix the problem, because a “bright” but low contrast, ill-defined “blob” doesn’t help you make precision shots in waning light as much as a slightly less “bright,” more magnified version of the same scene. If you have a FFP reticle, dialing up a bit more magnification will also make the reticle bolder and more visible.

For example, let’s assume you have a top of the line 2.5-10X50 scope. It’s optically superb, with a well designed optical system, excellent light transmission, and optimized lens coatings that allow max blue spectrum transmission. If we use only the max usable EP size rule of thumb, we might assume max low light performance peaks at 7X, where we’d have a 7.1mm EP diameter, and turning the power down lower only makes the view theoretically “brighter” by virtue of even larger EP. However, at the same time you’re dialing down, the apparent size of the objects you’re viewing decrease, and with that decrease comes a significant reduction in detail and visible contrast against varied textures and shapes. In this scope, 10X setting will actually outperform 7X in low light despite having a 2mm smaller EP (5mm vs 7.1mm).

If the scope in question has very high top magnification coupled with a relatively small objective lens diameter, you do reach a point where continuing to dial more magnification has a detrimental effect on low light performance. This is of course due to EP becoming so small that the view through the optic is too dark to be useful. But again, best low light performance isn’t necessarily obtained only when EP is 6-7mm, unless it is at that diameter at the scope’s max magnification. Sure, increasing magnification may make acquiring a game animal in your scope more difficult due to narrower FOV. The important takeaway is that best low light performance doesn’t necessarily occur when you have a large EP. It is when both exit pupil and magnification reach a happy compromise to give you both reasonably large EP and as much target detail as is possible in the amount of light you have available. Where that occurs on your magnification dial will vary depending on the person and their eyesight. For most variable scopes and most people, best optical performance in dim light will probably occur when EP is somewhere around 4-5mm despite that not being the “brightest” view.

Edited by RifleDude - January/05/2019 at 16:50
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/05/2019 at 17:53
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That's a very good summary, Ted.

One thing I'll add is that the optimal exit pupil size is different for a quick snapshot then for prolonged observation.

ILya
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: January/10/2019 at 12:40
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 Corndoc,

I hunt in SC and AL . In SC we can hunt an hour before daylight and an hour after. I have tried as many scopes as I have been able to. Sounds like your after similar results as me and I would suggest:

1. Schmidt Bender Klassik 3-12x42 L7 reticle. The illumination goes real low and is about perfect in my opinion. I have shot hogs in the dark with one of these with no artificial light and no apparent moonlight.

2. Schmidt Bender klassik 6x42 A7 reticle. Awesome low light scope within 75 yrds or so in the lowest of low light. I tend to want a little more power once getting over 75-100 yrds .

3. Any high quality 42mm-50mm scope with a fairly thick FFP reticle or illumination that goes low. I also like the Swarovski PV series but the illumination is too bright for me on the lowest setting. And the plex gets lost in real low light. But the #4 and #7 are great low light reticles in those scopes. I like the older Zeiss Diavaris in FFP also but I mainly only hunted with the 3-12x56 and I always felt like they were too big.

 

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