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Monday, April 26, 2010

Optics -- Seeing Is Believing, by Littlebird

A modern pair of prescription glasses with a h...Image via W
When you think of all of the needed equipment during or after an emergency, I am willing to bet that optical devices aren’t at the top of the list.  We will think about and plan for just about everything except seeing what is around us.  While pondering things to prepare for, I had the thought: What would be some items that would take some doings to replace?  While it is highly doubted that FEMA would come to your rescue I am almost certain that they will not arrive carrying the items that I'll point out.
Glasses
If you wear glasses or contacts, the very first thing you should plan on having extras is some glasses.  While it is true that for most contact lens is a good choice for anyone active in the outdoors, glasses would or at least should last a lot longer.  Not only are the easier to clean than contact, they require not much more than the end of your shirt to keep functional.  To minimize the scratches, use one of those pieces of material specifically made for cleaning glasses.  While it is true that we all need a good case to keep them in, most of us don’t use one because they are always on our face. Remember what we say here, two in one and one is none?  Well if the next time you updated your eyeglasses prescription, be sure and order two pairs instead of just one.  Most places will give you discounted pricing on the second pair and you can save some money by choosing as your second pair a set of glasses that aren’t as fashionable as your everyday pair.  During normal times, glasses can be replaced in less than a week, so even if you had to wear the not-so-pretty ones for a week, what would it hurt?  Can you imagine the headache you’d have after going so long without glasses as your eyes are constantly trying to bring everything into focus?  This would be the place for prescription glass wearers…the next time you update your glasses, buy two pair.  Doctors recommend that we have our eyes checked every two years.  If you went tomorrow to the doctor and purchased two pair and followed up with a visit two years from now, you’d have four sets of glasses.  Two that are current and two that will get you buy until better comes along.  For those of you that wear just the generic reading glasses that are picked up at local pharmacy, you should just simply buy four pair as soon as possible.  If you had extra and wanted a truly great item to barter with, buy several pairs of various strengths.  People will give an arm and leg to be able to see.  I can’t imagine trying to survive what could be the worst event in your life with limited or no vision.
Think you are okay as you sit today?  Think of this situation.  A couple of weeks ago we carried our children to see the Circus and had a blast.  But what would have happened if pandemonium had set in and everyone decided they wanted to leave at the same time?  My first course of action would be to hang on to my children for dear life until we were all outside and accounted for.  But how would you feel if as a prescription glass wearer your glasses got knocked off in the stampede as they most likely would.  What if everything seems better outside but now you can’t see more than several feet in front of you.  What if one of your children or your spouse got separated and now you can’t see clearing enough for any distance to find them?  Good luck getting someone to help you either as they are trying to get someplace safe themselves.  Personally, I would not even be able to drive home without my glasses.  So if you wear glasses, make sure you have a replacement pair close at all times.  If you were able to keep an extra pair at work, at home, and in the car that would cover practically all the places you spend the most time.  I feel like in the event that I had to have them, between those three places I should be covered.
Binoculars
The very next set of optics you should purchase should be a decent set of binoculars.  Nothing says safety like avoiding trouble in the first place.  If you can watch from a distance, you may be able to avoid a lot of heartache latter.  It doesn’t matter if you are looking for wild game or running surveillance on what is going on around your own home or retreat, you can’t properly react to what you can’t see.  If you needed to get from point A to point B under severe conditions, it is better to scan the area as best you can for additional threats.  The further out you can spot those threats the better.  Often the best way to survive is not being seen or found.  In every book I have read on WTSHTF, binoculars have always come into place to create a tactical advantage whether it is putting game on the table or saving your own bacon.  So buy the very best you can afford and don’t skimp on quality.  Let’s go over some binocular basics so that you will choose the right pair for the task at hand.  One of the first requirements of a good set of binoculars is that they must be waterproof.  You never know what kind of action they may see so make sure that they will at least pass that test.  The next thing I would look for is what they call armor coated or rubberized so that they can take on a little more punishment.  Again, this is to protect your investment in what could be a piece of equipment that will last many years.
After you take into account the different sizes, i.e. 8x42 compared to 10x50, the most significant difference it which type of prism do you pick.  The binoculars that use the Porro prisms are the ones we are all most familiar with.  These are the ones that have the offset from the lens to the eye piece.  The advantages of the Porro prisms are that there are many more models to choose from and the costs are more in line with what most people are willing to spend.  One could argue that you can get more bang for the buck by going with a set of binoculars that incorporate the Porro prisms.  Porro prism binoculars have a single pivot point between the two lenses making them easier to adjust the distance between your eyes.    While it is true that they deliver the best value for the dollar, they also have some drawbacks.  From reading several reviews on binoculars while looking for the “best” set for the money, I noticed that many times customers reported that the waterproof and fog proof attributes either flat out failed or over time ceased to exist.  It is also hard to find a suitable set of offset binoculars that are truly compact, or maybe we should say as compact as they could be.  If you purchase a set of binoculars that use Porro prisms, then hold out for what they call BAK-4 prisms as they are considered the best right now.  Some use a BAK-7 prism, but they just aren’t as good as the 4’s.  Generally speaking, it is easier to find better optics and by that I mean better coated optics as the cost for manufacturing can be spent on the glass and not the prism.  My guess is because this design has been around for decades and thus the options are greater.
Now let’s look the other option in prisms.  That is the roof prism.  These are found in the binoculars that cost a little more and in some cases a lot more.  Roof prism binoculars can be spotted from across the room.  This is because the lens for each eye is lined up to for a single tub for each side of the binoculars.  By design, it is easier for companies to ensure that they are both waterproof and fog proof.  Also because of the straight tubes, you end up with a more compact set of binoculars.  Compactness may not matter while pulling your time in the LP/OP, but if you are on the move, it will matter a lot.  Because of the straight tubes, it is a little more difficult to adjust these for the spacing between the eyes.  The biggest downside I see is that you get a really good set of roof prism binoculars; you have to get in that $300 and up range.
The next thing to decide is which size do I need?  Binoculars are often classified as compact, mid-size, full-size, and zoom or astronomical.  For our purposes, we’ll pass on the astronomical as we would rather spend the money on something else, maybe another pair of binoculars.  As with any other tool, each size was designed for a specific task.  I would recommend that you own tow pair, one compact and one full size.  To understand how they are sized, you should understand what the numbers mean.  When you see a set advertised as 8x42, the first number represents the number of times an image is magnified when you look through them.  The second number is the size in millimeters that the objective lens or the lens opposite the eye.  Be careful of not getting caught up with buying the biggest set of numbers you can.  The higher the first number or magnification is, the harder it will be to keep them focused on something.  Get something in the 12x range or higher and it will feel like you have the shakes if you look through them too long as it will detect the slightest movement in your hands.  Expects suggest that you stay with something in the 7 or 8 range for your first number.  The second number is just as important.  Bigger is better but you will also be giving up the compactness of them as they will weigh more as that lens gets larger.  The larger this lens, the more light that goes into the binocular and the sharper the image will look.  This is called the exit pupil.  The actual diameter of the exit pupil is easy to compute.  You take the second number and divide it by the first.  For example, a pair of 8x42 binoculars will have an exit pupil of 5.25mm.  For a comparison, the human eyes in excellent condition have about a 7mm pupil opening.  So the closer you can stay to that number the more you’ll see even in dim light.  What does this mean?  With all things considered equal, a compact set of binoculars in 8x21 would be better than a set of 12x25.  The 8x21 set would have an exit pupil of 2.63mm while the 12x25 would be 2.08mm.  You’ll be able to see more at dusk with the 8x21 than with the 12x25.  This may seem backwards as the magnification is 33% more (8 vs. 12), but without enough light entering the front of the lens, your eyes can’t process the images correctly.  Still we haven’t answered the question of what size to buy.  I would suggest a pair of 7x50, giving you an exit pupil of 7.14 which is great, and a pair of 7x35 or 8x40 giving you an exit pupil of 5.00 each.  I would treat the later as my compacts and the former as the full-size binoculars.  Some compacts that are in the 10x25 range will only give you an exit pupil of 2.5 so don’t expect to see much unless it is the middle of the day.
Now that we have given you some ideas for binoculars, we need to talk about accessories.  The first thing I would purchase would be a decent case to keep them in.  After that and probably just as important, I would upgrade the neck strap.  I am partial to the ones like Cabela's or Bass Pro Shops sell that are part neck strap and part harness.  The harness system keeps you binoculars from bouncing and banging around while you are walking/running.  They keep them strapped close to your chest and easy to access.  I would also purchase a lens cleaning pens to keep the lens clean and free from scratches.
Rifle Scopes
After you have filled the bill for your eyeglasses and binoculars, you next most important piece of optical equipment will be that of a rifle scope.  A rifle scope, when properly adjusted, will allow pinpoint accuracy and less ammo down range.  We are not talking about spending the small fortune on the high dollar scopes designed for sniping or bench rest shooting but those more common on your average big game rifle.  The numbers for rifle scopes are the same used in binoculars.  The first number notes the amount of magnification and the later the size of the optical or outside lens.  When you see a scope described as a 3-9x40, this means that the magnification can be adjusted with a twist of the eyepiece from a magnification of 3 time to that of 9 times what we can see with the naked eye.  And again the last number tells you that the objective lens is 40mm.  This seems to be the most common setup on deer rifles around my area.   When you go to buy your rifle scope, never skimp on quality.  You’ll pay for it later in the end.  A furniture salesman once told me that the most expensive furniture you can buy is the cheapest because you’ll replace it more often in the long run.  This logic applies with optics as well.  You don’t have to spend a fortune to have a scope that will last a lifetime, but don’t expect to find it in the closeout bin either.  Look for a manufacturer that has been around for a while or at least offers a lifetime warranty on their product.  Manufactures that will not warrant their product forever know that the product will not last forever.  I would stick with Leupold, Nikon, Redfield, etc.  Another rule of thumb that I have used on every gun I have dressed out is not to spend more than half the cost or value of the gun on optics.  For instance if you purchase or trade for a rifle and you feel like the gun is worth $700, then try to spend no more than $350 on the scope.  When I buy a rifle and decide to put a scope on it, I use this formula and look to buy all the scope I can get for that amount of money.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen someone walking around at a gun show with what I call a mismatch.  What this means is that the gun will be a nice guns but immediately you’d have to upgrade the scope.  When you see this, factor out the scope that is currently mounted on the gun knowing you’ll replace it later.  You don’t have to mention it to the seller, because then you’ll have to listen to all the reasons he chose that brand or model.  Sometimes you’ll get lucky and be able to pick up an average rifle with an exceptional scope that often you’ll move to another gun.
After you have chosen the right scope for your rifle, you’ll need to know how you want to mount it.  I would suggest that you spend some time looking at the various mounting options from someplace like Midway USA.  (www.midwayusa.com). It would be well worth the money to standardize the mounting system commonly called rings and mount.  The rings are what hold the actual scope to the mount that is screwed down to the receiver of the rifle.  For instance if you have several rifles, and you could find the mounts like the Weaver or rail-type mount, you could easily switch the scope from one rifle to another.  You would need to remind yourself that with each change, you would need to re-zero the rifle. 
In order for the scope to function like it was supposed to, you’ll need to know as little something about the caliber you are shooting.  You need to know what the maximum effective range is for you caliber before you decide on the type of optics to purchase.  For instance you wouldn’t really want an EOTech Holographic sight on a .30-06 as they are designed for action a lot closer in.  A perfect example is that here in North Carolina the average shot at a deer in my area is inside of 200 yards.  With a kill area for vital organs somewhere around 6-8 inches, that gives you some wiggle room.  So I have my .270 Winchester rifle zeroed in at 1 inch high at 100 yards and it puts it at about 1 inch low at 200 yards and I’ve taken deer out to 300 yards without adjusting where I place the crosshairs.  They have some scopes out that Nikon and Redfield make that can be adjusted to you specific caliber and bullet weight that will allow you to shoot out to 600 yards without readjusting the scope.  This will cover almost any range most of us will ever need.  For accessories here, be sure and buy the lens covers like those offered by Butler Creek.  These are great at protecting you investment.  You might also consider buying the light shades that some manufactures offer not in case you are ever faced with setting up your position with the sun in your face.  A bad position but it might be all you have.
Night Vision
The next important piece of equipment that you should look to is something in the night vision area.  I have read on many blogs that if you can’t fight effectively in the night, that you won’t be alive come daybreak.  This is very true if others know where you are in the event the balloon goes up.  The first goal here to get something that will give you an advantage or at least level the playing field.  This is the next area of prepping for me.  I would love to hear from others that have more knowledge and experience than me on this topic.
Conclusion
When thinking about optics, think about looking from close-up to as far out as possible.  Spending hard earned money on a great scope is not much good if you lose your glasses and can’t see anything else.  So think glasses first, if you need them, and then go from there.  Add to the items described above would also be a good rangefinder to lay out distances and then a spotting scope for when you need to watch the same area for an extended length of time.  This should round out a great selection of optics that will serve you for many years to come.