The value of value optics
It’s important to know as much as possible about optics before you make the purchase
Police1 recently published an article on the importance of purchasing quality optics (with correlating price tags) for law enforcement. As it can be difficult for law enforcement officers or agencies to shell out four-digit numbers for high-priced optics, here's how to squeeze the most value out of your optics budget.
What is Quality?
When it comes to weapon-mounted optics, quality means dependability, usability and ruggedness. Dependability is probably the most important aspect of quality. An illuminated reticle on a carbine sight must work every time it’s pressed into service. The optic must have a large enough eyebox – basically, a combination of eye relief and exit pupil – to be readily useable by a wide variety of your people. Finally, the sight or scope must be rugged enough to withstand both daily and extreme law enforcement use and abuse.
Law enforcement budgets are not measured in how much equipment that may be purchased. Budgets are measured in dollars.
Your department may need a certain number of optics for patrol rifles, but that number is not the one that counts. The only number that really matters is how much money there is to spend.
The same can be said for individual officer purchases. Depending on what that number is, finding something that will perform as needed and is duty grade (read: easy to use and hard to break) can be difficult. In many cases, the best course of action might be to buy fewer units at a time that will not need to be replaced anytime soon.
Know Your Stuff
It’s important to know as much as possible about optics before you make the purchase:
- If you are buying long-range scopes, do you understand parallax?
- Should you choose MOA or MRAD reticles?
- What are the advantages of first focal plane versus second focal plane scopes?
Other factors like color rendition v. contrast/resolution can further complicate the matter.
There’s no way to make an informed decision without information. Study up before beginning the optics procurement process. Many of the better manufacturers offer educational materials to make the process a little easier.
Mission Drives the Gear Train
As they say, “mission drives the gear train.” The term weapon-mounted optic can mean a lot of different things:
- Are you putting red dot sights on carbines for densely populated urban environments?
- Are you putting magnified optics on long-range rifles?
- Are you looking for low-power variable optics for a mixture of both short and intermediate ranges?
- How rugged must the optic be?
- What is the intended use: Patrol, SWAT entry officers, snipers, designated marksman rifles or red dots for pistols?
Choose Your Manufacturer
A manufacturer’s reputation is everything for long-term success. If a company has a solid reputation for providing law enforcement or military-grade optics, put them on your list no matter how much their products may cost. More on that later.
Don’t be too quick to dismiss newer companies. A few of the newer manufacturers have been pleasant surprises in the area of quality control.
At this point, narrow the list of manufactures. Ask if the manufacturer has a limited warranty – one year, covering only certain parts or incidents of damage – or a lifetime warranty covering all parts and all circumstances? The latter is hard to find but could be an easier sell to the administration. Put yourself in the shoes of the holder of the purse strings. Wouldn’t you be more willing to stretch the budget for optics this year knowing the purchased items won’t need to be replaced again for several budget cycles?
Many manufacturers offer optics of varied prices with correlating levels of quality. A few offer optics of varied prices with a correlating number of features without sacrificing dependability, usability or ruggedness. The latter are the companies you should be seeking to do business with. We can give up some of the more superfluous features without sacrificing the ones we really need and without sacrificing quality.
Finally, many manufacturers of quality optics offer discounts to verified law enforcement officers and agencies.
Consider the features you must have versus those you would like to have. For example, greater magnification costs more money – exponentially so, in fact, if you intend to keep the same level of quality. For example, when speaking of low-power variable optics, the zoom options generally range from 1x-4x power to 1x-8x power. A magnification of 4x does not require the same optical quality and expensive coatings as does an 8x to achieve an acceptable level of brightness, sharpness, field of view, contrast and clarity. Therefore, an optic with a lower magnification level can cost quite a bit less.
Additionally, the eyebox decreases as magnification increases. The question then becomes, “Do we really need that much magnification and is it worth it?” Probably not.
The same case can be made with sniper rifles. The American Sniper Association did a study of 219 law enforcement sniper engagements that occurred over a 20-year period. The average engagement was 51 yards. The longest was 187 yards. (There was a shooting at around 400 yards included in the study, but it involved a barrage of fire from more than one shooter.) Considering this, wouldn’t a 10x scope with high-quality glass serve your agency’s snipers well? While you’re at it, don’t neglect the mounts or rings. It makes little sense to do all this research on an optic and then mount it to the firearm with the cheapest possible mounting option.
Test & Evaluate (T&E)
Finally, request a test and evaluation model from the chosen manufacturer. Include some of the pavement pounders who will actually be using the optic in your testing. There is a tendency in T&E is to reach out only to known firearms enthusiasts within your organization for these types of assignments. That’s a mistake. It’s good practice to include the folks in your organization who are not overly skilled with firearms and related equipment. Their opinions are invaluable because they are not swayed by their favorite brands or ancillary features.
After the purchase, don’t neglect training if you decide on a different optic than you’ve trained officers on in the past. Training ammunition might need to be included in your budget.
More Than a Few Clicks Away
If you take nothing else from this article, remember this: Eking the most value out of your optics dollars requires work. It is entirely possible to cut the cost of weapon-mounted optics without busting the budget. It will, however, require some time and diligence on your part. Good shopping. Now, get to work.