It should be no surprise that Nikon Sport Optics is one of the most technologically advanced optics providers in the shooting sports marketplace. After all, what else should you expect from an established world-leader in precision lens manufacture and camera design? In recent years Nikon has moved quickly to translate that expertise into reasonably priced optics product lines specifically designed for U.S. shooters and hunters that feature a level of quality that rivals the best of elite European name brands. I’ve been particularly impressed with Nikon’s current emphasis on products that serve multiple functions, which provide customers with a versatility and cost-effectiveness most other optics makers have not yet matched.
Here’s a look at three categories of new Nikon optics that offer features and versatility significantly above the norm.
Monarch UCC 2.5-8X 28mm Handgun Scope
Nikon’s Monarch UCC 2.5-8X Handgun Scope is my lead example of Nikon’s dual-purpose approach to optics design. It may be labeled as a handgun scope in the Nikon catalog, but it’s really a top-grade, special-purpose high-power riflescope as well, offering features not seen on any competing handgun scope on the market.
Like all of Nikon’s top-of-the-line Monarch UCC riflescopes, the handgun scope incorporates precision-ground and polished lenses coated with Nikon’s exclusive Ultra ClearCoat, a proprietary lens coating that yields 95 percent light transmission. The scope is built on a one-inch, one-piece main body tube made of aircraft-grade aluminum and is available with either a silver or black matte exterior finish. It is nitrogen-filled and O-ring sealed for true waterproof, shockproof, and fog-proof performance and is equipped with lens caps. It comes with a Nikoplex reticle, which enables fast, precise target acquisition, with a 6 MOA trajectory compensation index at the center at 8X.
A feature unique to the Nikon Monarch 2.5-8X 28mm is a new set of low-profile, hand-turn windage and elevation adjustment knobs. The large diameter dial allows the user to feel, hear, and see each precise 1/4 MOA clickstop. The dials are ridged, making them easy to operate with gloves, and each adjustment is numbered, allowing quick adjustments and easy and accurate return to zero while afield or in competition.
The eye relief is a forgiving 12 to 30 inches at 2.5X and 9 to 13 inches at 8X to accommodate heavy-recoil handguns. Unlike any other handgun scope on the market, the 2.5-8X 28mm has a Quick-Focus Eyepiece. This is extremely significant and gives the Monarch UCC 2.5-8X a versatility no other handgun scope offers.
Here’s why. Veteran users of any make or model of variable-power pistol scope are very aware of the fact that eye relief changes when magnification is changed. As you increase magnification, the closer you need to move your eye to the scope in order to see a full field of view.
This is not desirable when using high-magnification scopes on high-recoil hunting pistols. Aside from the potential for head-whacking, in many shooting situations it also makes it more difficult to achieve a stable firing position at high magnification. On the other hand, at low magnifications with some zoom ranges on some scopes, you may find yourself needing to stretch your arms to the maximum and rear your head as far back as it will go.
Veteran pistol scope users are also aware that you can change eye relief a certain amount at any given level of zoom magnification by screwing the eyepiece bell in or out. But they don’t do much with it because the procedure is generally used with riflescopes for the purpose of eyepiece focus, making the reticle as crisp and clear in appearance as possible (like setting the diopter on binoculars).
Eyepiece threads are usually very fine, requiring many turns (seemingly taking forever) to achieve any visible focus change, and are set with a lockring once the user gets the scope to where he wants it. The result is that most shooters, if they adjust eyepiece focus at all, just do it once and then leave it set in that spot forever.
On midrange riflescopes this doesn’t really matter very much, but as high-magnification, high-range variable riflescopes have become more and more popular, scopemakers have increasingly taken to equipping their products with quick-focus, rubber-cushioned rings on the back of the eyepieces to allow maximum precision of reticle clarity against tiny distant targets and also allow quick change for different shooters’ vision.
That Nikon added this to the Monarch 2.5-8X UCC handgun scope is wonderful because the shooter can now use the fast-focus eyepiece ring to quickly optimize eye-relief potential at whatever magnification setting he’s using, instantly, without needing to loosen the lockring and spend five minutes of trial and error with the threaded eyebell.
Of course, you are also changing the eyepiece focus and reticle clarity when you do this, but on scopes at 8X magnification or below, the differences are virtually unnoticeable when shooting a long eye-relief optic (the eye will automatically compensate for slight focal discrepancies). Besides, if I have to choose between being a hair off on reticle crispness or having sufficient eye relief and field of view to line up on my quarry, well, I know which I choose. I’m amazed that other handgun scopemakers have not followed Nikon’s lead on this.
The eye-relief features of the Monarch UCC 2.5-8X also contribute to its utility as a special-purpose riflescope as well, specifically as a scout-rifle scope or a forward-mount slug gun scope. Short, compact “scout” rifles with barrel-mounting optics features like the Ruger Model 77 Frontier model and Marlin’s Guide Gun are rapidly increasing in popularity.
Most optics makers’ specific models of “Scout Scopes” are fixed-power, low-magnification items in the 2.5X range. That’s fine for quick-acquisition, both-eyes-open shooting (which is admittedly the primary justification for the scout rifle design), but a Ruger Model 77 Frontier in .300 WSM is a fine long-range shooter as well, and the 2.5-8X capab
ility of this Monarch UCC gives you precise shot placement at the high end as well as fast-on-target at the low end. And thanks to the Quick Focus Eyepiece, you can get the best from the scope’s eye relief capability at any zoom level with tremendous versatility in forward-backward mounting placement for different configurations of guns.
On slug guns, I’ve always preferred barrel-mounted optics, ever since Remington first introduced the original convertible cantilever barrels for Model 870s and Model 1100s. The Monarch UCC 2.5-8X is presently my preferred whitetail slug optic; it’s perfect for stalking into my stand on 2.5X and also for making a precise long shot once I’m there.
Last autumn in Illinois I had the unusual experience of taking a trophy whitetail that trotted by my stand at 20 yards with an S&W .44 Magnum revolver wearing this Nikon scope at 2.5X; the very next week in Iowa I used the same model scope on the 8X setting on a 20-gauge Remington slug gun to put down a 150-inch whitetail at 65 yards. Two different trophies with two totally different types of firearms using the same model scope. Versatile optics, indeed.
Omega Muzzleloader Scope
A second noteworthy dual-purpose optical tool from Nikon is the new Omega 3-9X 40mm muzzleloading riflescope with patent-pending BDC-250 reticle, which was created to help shooters take advantage of the full accuracy potential of today’s advanced muzzleloaders.
The Omega is an actual dedicated muzzleloading riflescope, the first riflescope to offer a bullet drop compensating reticle designed specifically for muzzleloading loads and ranges. The Nikon Omega BDC-250 reticle is designed and calibrated specifically to encompass .50-caliber muzzleloading loads–150 grains of Pyrodex (pellets or powder), 250-grain bullets–and ranges (out to 250 yards).
Designed to provide fast, simple aiming points for various shot distances, the unique BDC-250 system integrates a series of small “ballistic circles” (each subtending 2 inches at 100 yards) that also allow an unimpeded view of the target. (At 200 yards, the circles are 4 inches; at 250 yards, they are 5 inches.)
The reticle is designed to be sighted-in at 100 yards, with aiming-point circles at 150, 200, 225, and 250 yards. Initially designed and tested with the popular Thompson/Center Arms Omega .50-caliber muzzleloader, the Omega scope with Nikon BDC-250 reticle provides the muzzleloading hunter with practical and effective long-range shooting accuracy to 250 yards–the kind of accuracy normally expected from a centerfire rifle.
Nikon’s lens multicoating technology gives the Omega a maximum of 92 percent light transmission with a generous field of view of 25.2 to 8.4 feet at 100 yards across the 3-9X magnification range. The oversize windage and elevation turrets, easily operable even with heavy hunting gloves, offer precise 1/4 MOA click reticle adjustments and a full 5 inches of eye relief for even the hardest kicking, magnum charge loads. The Omega measures a compact 11.3 inches in length and weighs 13.8 ounces. It is offered in matte, silver, and Realtree Hardwoods HD camouflage finishes.
Dual purpose? I don’t do much hunting with muzzleloaders, so when I first read the specifications for the Omega’s 250-yard BDC reticle, what I immediately realized was that the specification intervals of a .50-caliber muzzleloader trajectory between 100 and 200 yards are very close to the trajectory profile of any of today’s new-technology, high-performance sabot slug loads–for 12- and 20-gauge loads.
I put an Omega on one of my 12-gauge slug guns and tried it out. I used the BDC-250′s 225-yard aiming circle (the third one down) to zero the gun at 150 yards (which provides the optimum MPBR for whitetails with 12-gauge sabot loads) and plotted the trajectory. Crosshairs were zero at 50 yards, the first circle was zero at 100 yards, the second circle at 125 yards, and the bottom circle at 200 yards. So the new Nikon Omega BDC-250 reticle “muzzleloader scope” is also a perfect sabot slug gun scope.
Like everybody else in America, most hunters and shooters these days have a digital camera they carry to the field. When I first started using a digital camera about five years ago, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the fact that there was a “viewscreen” on the back of most digital cameras meant I could stick the camera lens up against the eyepiece of my riflescope and see on the screen exactly what the crosshairs were aiming at, and I could take a picture of it.
It wasn’t even all that hard to hold it steady; at least no harder than holding the crosshairs steady in the first place. I took a bunch of images that way; some of them even made it into the magazines.
I saw guys in the field jury-rigging cardboard tube connectors to do the same thing with their digital cameras and spotting scopes, and it occurred to me that before long we’d see the optics manufacturers coming out with practical, convenient, lightweight “digiscoping” adaptors that hunters could easily use in the field. Because Nikon is a maker of both cameras and spotting scopes, it’s natural the company is a leader in this area. And it’s also no surprise that Nikon is out ahead in terms of compact utility and versatility.
My favorite Nikon digiscoping setup utilizes Nikon’s newest and smallest spotting scope: the compact ED50 Fieldscope. This tidy little item combines all the proven performance of Nikon’s full-size Fieldscope line at less than half the weight (16.1 ounces) of a typical-sized spotting scope. It’s ideal for in-the-field performance when the field you’re in is a long, long way from camp.
This new Fieldscope also uses Nikon ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass, which gives it a sharp, clean, edge-to-edge clarity and resolution typically associated with much larger diameter, heavier optics. Lenses are fully multicoated for premium brightness. Available in an angled or straight body, this is a true field-useful spotting scope that hunters will actually carry with them instead of leaving on the sight-in bench at camp. The ED50 is a rugged piece of work; O-ring sealed and nitrogen-filled for proven waterproof and fog-proof protection. It’s tripod and window mountable and comes as an outfit or as body only. Plus, it’s compatible with six Fieldscope eyepieces (27X, 20X, 27X Wide, 40X Wide, 13-30X Zoom, and 13-40X Zoom).
Three digiscoping eyepieces (16X Wide, 24X Wide, and 40X Wide) are also available for the ED50 Fieldscope. These eyepieces are designed to fit with Nikon’s inexpensive Fieldscope digital camera bracket, which will accommodate a Nikon pocket-sized P1 digital camera. The cool thing about the setup is that all three components are so small that the complete kit will easily fit in just one corner of a typical hunter’s daypack.
I had never carried a spotting scope into the field. I preferred to use my riflescope if I needed to look at something. With the advent of Nikon’s Digiscope packages, I now use a compact spotting scope all the time. In fact, I never take the camera and bracket off the scope because I can see everything I want to see through the scope on the camera screen–live. Snap an image, take it back to camp, and show the other guys and the outfitter what I actually saw without having to try to describe it. (Outfitter’s response: “Naw, there’s lots better ones out there. Wait.”)
Plus, if you really want to go whole hog and get into serious digiscope photography of wildlife (or your targets on the range), Nikon has just introduced the Nikon DigiScope P1 Pro Wi-Fi System, which can send images wirelessly to your laptop or printer for immediate results. Featuring a magnification far greater than any SLR camera with telephoto lens plus wireless image transfer, the Nikon full-size DigiScope P1 Pro system features the new Nikon Coolpix P1 digital camera with 8.0 megapixel resolution, 4X optical zoom, and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for quick wireless image transfer either directly to PC or directly to printer.
The package also includes the precision-engineered Fieldscope digital camera bracket, Nikon’s waterproof 82mm Fieldscope ED straight body, and 30X Wide DS digiscoping eyepiece. It’s probably a bit heavy to pack on a mountain goat hunt like you would the ED50 setup, but it absolutely proves the rule that what you see is what you get.
I’ll admit it. I used to think that most of this new-tech gadgetry was more trouble that it was worth. But now that companies like Nikon are putting all these capabilities into packages that are so small and so convenient, I’ve changed my mind. It’s nice to come back to camp with a picture of what you saw on the mountaintop instead of just another campfire story.