Sporting Optics: Optics for the Outdoors


Camera, lens & related electronics gear

Few people who use optics have the background — or interest — to explore how light has been harnessed by glass. Most of us are just delighted to see better. Sight is, after all, our primary sense. Unlike the deer we watch, we have only a rudimentary sense of smell. We can’t detect subtle changes in temperature like a snake or echolocate like a bat. What we don’t see goes largely unnoticed.

Almost miraculously, optical glass gives us images that seem brighter, sharper and bigger than life. We who study wildlife and hunt game benefit most. Binoculars let us see details we’d otherwise miss — details that tell us volumes more about our surroundings than we’d otherwise know.

Scopes and red-dot sights help us hit targets that would be obscured by iron sights, indistinguishable or just plain invisible. With scopes, old eyes can compete with young eyes on the hunt and in shooting competition.

Spotting scopes help us identify and assess the trophy quality of distant game animals and pick the best approach through difficult places. At the range, they show us our bullet holes, as well as the mirage that explains why they aren’t all in the middle.

This guide will tell you as much about the selection and use of outdoor optics as any that I’m aware of and more than most. After 35 years of hunting, competitive shooting and wildlife study, I’m still learning about optics. But because knowledgeable people have told me a lot about binoculars, riflescopes and spotting scopes, there’s plenty of information here.

Some of it has come from obscure scientific texts on light and optical glass. It’s been my good fortune to use scores of new and old instruments afield. You should find in the many anecdotes some that remind you of your own hunting and shooting experiences.

Look here for practical help on evaluating optics — beginning with an explanation of industry lingo so you understand the terms used to describe the products. There’s no-nonsense talk about price: How can a scope that costs five times as much as another scope be five times as good? And if it isn’t, how can the expensive model sell? Do you really get better performance from binoculars with a blue-blood European pedigree? And what makes ED spotting scopes cost so much? You’ll learn why it’s hardly ever necessary to pay retail price for new optics and what to keep in mind when shopping for used glass.

The best instrument delivers its potential only when you learn to use it expertly. Here you’ll find tips from optical engineers, big game guides and competitive marksmen — people whose business demands that they get the most from lenses. You’ll learn how to test binoculars, scopes and spotting scopes before buying, how to adjust them in the field and how to ensure that they give you top service for many years.

There’s a catalog section in this guide too. Not a raw compilation of all products available, but a carefully sifted list of optics that excel or are especially good bargains. Who picked ‘em? Me. The idea was to offer photos, descriptions and prices of items you might find useful and, by virtue of price and performance, particularly attractive. I did my best.

This guide was several years in the making. I hope you find its text informative, the anecdotes entertaining and the illustrations helpful. And that your next trip in the field is the best that good glass can make it!

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