Our culture is ate up with multitasking! Phones that do everything (oh yeah, they make calls too), cars with rear-view cameras, dual DVD players, GPS and heated seats. The optics world is not immune to the gadget-up craze either. And just with cars and phones, some gadgets are really useful while others you will never touch – but they’re available!
I believe most of the optics gadgetry is due solely to various marketing departments wanting an edge over the competition, or the competition needing to keep up. While some of the ideas being incorporated into today’s optics are the wave of the future, many of them, to me anyway, are dubious as to their worth.
In binoculars, I keep getting requests for units with built-in range finders or cameras. In theory, they both sound like good ideas. In today’s market however, the products either don’t pass muster, or are very expensive. Most units available with cameras are based on an 8x30 bino that rarely makes my “Good Stuff” category. On its own, you would only buy the bino as a backup or loaner unit – never as your standard carry item, which means it stays in your gear bag, not around your neck where you will use it. Rangefinder units tend to be heavy. Consider this: you may use your binos 1,000 times in a season, but only need a rangefinder maybe a dozen times, but you have to lift and hold that rangefinder every one of those 1,000 times you heft your binos. With time and technological advances, either of these items – or both – may become standard equipment in binos, but for now, keep your rangefinder on your belt, your camera in your pack, and spend your money on a quality, single purpose binocular.
Riflescopes have really been loaded down with all sorts of “technological advances”, including cameras, rangefinders, bullet-drop-compensating reticles, illuminated dots, milliradian ranging scales, parallax adjustments, scales for judging the range of a deer or man, and even downloadable trajectory tables. Each and every one of these features can be useful - even lifesaving – but do you really need, or want, most of them? If you’re a military sniper, the answer may be “yes”, but we are hunters and if your quarry is so far away that you need most of these items to make a shot, maybe you just need to sneak a little closer. The vast majority of our shots are no further that 250 yards and a simple 4x scope will suffice (it did for Jack O’Connor). Nothing wrong with having a 4-16x scope, but with many of the “teched out” scopes you can hardly see through them for all the information they deliver in the eyepiece, most of which is useless if you’re shooting 250 yards or less. As with binos, some of these features will make their way into the standard equipment category in time, the illuminated reticle being my top pick, but before you spend your hard-earned dollars for some of these items, ask yourself if those funds wouldn’t be better spent on brighter optics and better construction.
Spotting scopes have been saved from most of the marketing department-induced accessorizing of the other optics, but the latest rage here is digiscoping – attaching your camera to the scope, and I think this is a wonderful attachment for those interested in photography. Rather than going with the built-in camera, most scope manufacturers have opted to make rigs that allow you to position your camera right where your eye would be, functionally making your scope a lens for the camera. For those with DSLR cameras, some of the top end scopes allow the use of T mounts for a solid hookup, while the more common solution is a bracket that simply holds your camera, even point-and-shoot types, behind the eyepiece for the photo. Many are quick-detach and most are affordably priced under $100. If you have a partner that may not be into shooting as much as you, but likes viewing game, this may be a much appreciated Christmas or birthday gift. Most are generic in that they will fit most cameras to most scopes of any manufacture. They won’t take as good a photo as those lenses you see on the sidelines of pro football games, but they don’t cost $10,000 either!
Accessories for your optics are offered, usually by independent manufacturers, that can greatly enhance the use of your optics and are worth considering. The Bino-Harness and the Scope Clamp are two that come to mind. We’ll devote a whole article to accessories in the future.
We’re lucky that our optics manufacturers are willing to test-market new concepts to improve our viewing. That doesn’t mean we have to buy into them. The cream will rise and market demand will make them common.