Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Shooting Glasses for Hunters-Pilla Sport Performance Eyewear Product Review

Pilla Hawk 75% SO LTM
This is an interesting topic for me personally. In my younger years as a clay target shooter, I always wore shooting glasses on the range. I was the guy with what was then considered to be one of the industry’s best shooting glasses and a variety of additional lenses.  I make no apologies for them either as they served me very well over the years. After all, if you want to hit a target you have to be able to see it first. It is all about visually controlling the target as much as possible.
This includes a multitude of concerns such as a wide field of vision, target contrast, gathering and maximizing available light, managing excessive light, and getting the maximum amount of light to your eye without squinting. That’s a pretty tall order. Even we average shooters worry about such things! It is important to understand too that what works for one person or environmental condition will not necessarily be the best for the next. With that being said, I have always preferred more incoming light as opposed to less with shooting glasses and have always leaned toward lighter lens colors.  
When it came to hunting I did not regularly utilize shooting glasses. Intuitively I always knew they were the right thing from an eye protection standpoint. I knew hearing protection was important too but that’s another topic. I would wear eye protection often when duck hunting in flat light or chasing pheasants. I don’t recall wearing eyes much while hunting big-game. Certainly I wore them much less than when I was hunting with a shotgun. I guess my rational was glasses were a hassle to keep clean, a problem when it rained or snowed, and an irritating problem when they fogged. When I did wear them I usually preferred to use lighter colors as I mentioned previously.  
Recently, I was being fitted for some electronic hearing protection and I was discussing vision and shooting glasses as best as I could considering my ears were full of foam corks and silicone. My conversation was with Pat Fountaine. Pat is an experienced shooter and an authorized dealer for Electronic Shooters Protection. Pat had agreed to take my ear moulds for my friend Jack Homa of Electronic Shooters Protection and we were having a great time chatting about hunting, shooting, hearing and eye protection.  
Pat is also a distributor for Pilla Performance Eyewear. Pat has some 35 years “AA Class” clay experience in sporting clays, skeet, international skeet, international bunker, and wobble trap. Pat is NRA and NSCA certified in shotgun and pistol. To say he knows his way around the range and how to instruct shooters would be safe to say. He has some 4000 hours of professional instruction experience. Beverly is Pat’s wife and business partner. She is also very knowledgeable about their products and is also a shotgun shooting instructor. Their company is Target Solutions (www.targetsolutionsonline.com) .

As we were discussing eye protection and hunting I pondered the benefits of performance eye protection, big-game hunting, and the advantages of merging the two again at some level in my life. Since I have already partially messed up my hearing, at least I had not yet destroyed my vision from an unforeseen hunting accident. Enhancement of your vision while hunting is a realized benefit as well.

Pat asked me if I would consider evaluating a pair of Pilla glasses and I agreed to give him my honest feedback primarily related to double rifle range shooting and field performance while hunting dangerous game. The agreement was that good or bad I would share my experience and he would be getting the glasses back after I gave them a try. No free glasses in exchange for positive feedback. By the way, that scenario was in no way suggested or implied by Pat. He was looking for an honest opinion and constructive criticism. The initial model I parted with to review was the Pilla Hawk and two lenses.
The lenses consisted of a 25% Sport Brown lens for use in full sun, and a 75% Sport Orange lens for lower light applications. The percentage associated with these lenses refers to the percentage of light transmission that passes through the lens. I felt these would be great lenses to initially evaluate for my intended use.
The Pilla Hawk has a frame that securely attaches the lens with three snaps but allows them to easily snap-off for interchangeability of lenses (Pilla Hawk Link) .
The lenses are a wrap around style with a small “Yoke Bridge.” The bridge is designed in a way to provide a large unobstructed field of view that eliminates a vertical bridge that could affect your sight picture. The glasses also have a brow bar that eliminates fogging.
The Hawk shares the same companion frame and mounting points as the Pilla Panther. This offers the consumer a wide variety of lens possibilities from either the Hawk or Panther line. Bridge options also become available with the Panther line.
One of Pilla’s distinguishing features is their lens manufacturing process. The Hawk line I tested is fitted with their HD Ballistx Sport lenses. The lenses have a proprietary high definition technology called ColorTrast. This produces a lens that intensifies color and increases contrast to produce sharp detail and color registration. The lens manufacturing process is noted to achieve industry leading crystal clear optics and significant impact performance.
Pilla lenses are not colored by the application of a color to the lens surface or through dip tinting. Instead, ColorTrast high definition technology is infused into the lens material. The Ballistx lenses pass the ANSI Z87.1, ANSI Z80.3, AS1067-2003, and EN1836-2005. With respect to the ANSI Z87.1, Ballistx exceeds the High Velocity impact test and the High Mass Test.
Pilla stresses the importance of maintaining a proper color enhancement balance. This is to allow the eyes to optimally gauge depth of field properly. “We (Pilla) provide full registration of the entire color spectrum with our lenses.” Pilla describes further how simply applying a tint to a lens will limit the ability of the eye to see the complete visual color spectrum. Pilla states, “If you are using lenses that turn what you see one color, you are robbing your eye of the ability to see depth of field.” I would also add that for hunting applications balanced color registration is very important. Super contrast is an exciting thing when you look through lenses but not at the expense of seeing the entire color spectrum or getting light to your eye. Boosting specific color registration to higher levels in some instances is of course a very real advantage.
The Pilla literature provides an interesting comparison between the manufacturing of their HDX Ballistx lens and a Polycarbonate lens made by their competitors. HDX Ballistx lens material starts as a liquid and is poured into glass moulds. In contrast, Polycarbonate lenses start as a solid, are melted into a liquid, and forced into a metal mould under pressure. The difference being a lens formed without heat and stress in a glass mould creates a lens surface without imperfections as compared to one that is produced with high heat and pressure in a metal mould causing stress. The latter contributes to haze and distortion.
An HDX Ballistx lens takes over one day to cure creating a strong molecular structure and no stress in the curing process. Polycarbonate lenses are flash cooled in less than a second. Pilla literature notes that this can translate into haze and distortion of the Polycarbonate material. “The process of Polycarbonate lens manufacturing yields 40,000 lenses in the time that it takes for Pilla Performance Eyewear to make one lens.” Pilla’s goal is to produce the best distortion free lenses on the market.
I decided to take my pair of loaner glasses to a heavily wooded and brushy area with bright and filtered sunlight areas for their maiden voyage. I brought along one of my double rifles and 20 rounds of factory KYNOCH brand ammunition. After setting-up targets at ranges varying from 9 feet to 100 yards I fitted the glasses with the 75% Sport Orange lens and took a peak.
The first thing I noticed was the obvious lens clarity and the natural appearance but intensified colors of the various plants and trees. The contrast was indeed increased with very good detail. The color registration was excellent from the color of my vehicle, to the signal and brake light lens colors to the plants and wildlife I viewed. I did not find that the lenses simply painted everything a particular color.
Once I threw up my rifle and looked over the express sight that was when some additional magic happened. My front sight looked like it was a beacon of hope. I am in my 50’s and have the typical eyes that come with that longevity. I often have trouble picking up the black rear sight and white front bead quickly. Not so for me with these lenses, what a pleasant difference. I usually do not use the sights up close beyond referencing the front sight and simply pointing and shooting. Sometimes you do have a transitional moment to reference the front and rear sights and this seemed to be much easier for me through these lenses. A pretty nice first impression!
I gave the 25% SB LTM lenses a try also and found them to be equally as helpful to my eyes, particularly in the brighter sun. For my use and preference, I think the 25% lens could have the potential to be too dark when moving into and out of heavily shaded areas quickly. In that scenario I would personally tend to lean more toward one of the higher light transmission lenses Pilla offers. In all fairness, it is a simple matter to pull off your glasses if you quickly move into a darker area and your lens is a bit too dark. The lenses are extremely easy to quickly change out if a hunter carries an extra lens and plans to hunt an area of dense cover where light is less than good.
It was 1600 hours and it was pretty warm when I was shooting. The temperature was in the high 90 degree Fahrenheit range. I was sweating a bit and experienced no issues with fogging. I proceeded to practice some off-hand unsupported shooting from in-your-face to 100 yards. After 20 rounds of ammo the only issue that I encountered for my facial structure was the frames moved around occasionally on my face under the double rifle recoil. Pushing them back up the bridge of my nose was not a difficult remedy. Many may not have noticed this as an issue but for my hunting style, I felt it could be a potential problem for me. I also completed a few running and shooting drills and found that the glasses would sometimes move about slightly. This would be expected as the temple piece or ear piece is of a conventional design.
Overall, I was pleased with my initial experience. I shared my findings with Pat and he had a quick remedy for the frame movement issue I encountered. In summary Pat said, “Let’s put you in the Panther Pro line. These have a wraparound fully adjustable ear piece that should correct the effect of recoil you are experiencing. These will allow you to utilize the same lens style if you like and you can test the frame change.” Sounded like the perfect solution. 
Pilla Panther Standard HDX 55% LTM
The Panther Pro frame was designed by Pilla for George Digweed. If you don’t know George Digweed you probably don’t follow clay target shooting. He is a multi-world and European clay pigeon shooting champion. George has used various Pilla models including the Panther.

The Pilla Panther has a frame that securely attaches the lens with three snaps just like the Hawk frame as previously noted. The Panther was designed in part to eliminate frame movement for those who find it to be a problem. These frames have a wrap around ear piece that is completely made from rubber to eliminate the typical ear pain often associated with metal around the ear wraps (Pilla Panther Link) .

They also have an adjustable temple piece to fine tune the length to the specific shooter. I have used shooting glasses previously with metal around the ear wraps and have found them to be uncomfortable at the back of the ear. I was curious to see if the rubber ear wrap made any difference in comfort for me. As a side note, the Panther Pro frame is also prescription insert compatible.

I wanted to try a few additional lenses with the Panther Frame. I retained the Standard HD 75% SO (sport orange) LTM from the Hawk frame and added two additional lenses from the Standard HDX line for comparison. In these lenses I chose the Standard 55 HDX and 40 HDX. These two HDX lenses are visibly browner in color than the Standard HD 75% SO I had tested previously. I also selected a Max Orange HDX 65% LTM clay target lens for slightly personal reasons. I wanted to see how they worked on clay targets.

So to summarize lenses, the original lenses tested were from the Standard HD line (25% SB LTM and 75% SO LTM); the two new lenses I added were from the Standard HDX line plus a third lens from the Max Orange HDX line. Before Pat and I parted ways, he promised to order me an additional fourth lens from the Max Orange HDX line. The lens I was interested in receiving is the Max Orange HDX 80% LTM. This is a lens developed as a target lens for excessive low light and for use in heavily tree covered areas. I was interested in how this might perform for hunting in tree cover and tough light. More on this lens later when it arrives.

Shooting Skeet with the Max Orange HDX 65% LTM
The Max Orange collection of lenses is manufactured with clay target shooters in mind. To create contrast of the White Flyer orange in clay targets the orange color spectrum is spiked by 600% over their standard lens while also introducing contrast. Looking at orange with these lenses is really a surprise. I took an opportunity to shoot skeet with the Max Orange 65% and was truly amazed at the advantage they provided when compared with my other shooting glasses. They really make a clay bird stand out.
My second session of double rifle shooting gave me a chance to try out the Standard HDX lenses in 55 and 40% light transmission values. What I noticed with both of the Standard HDX lenses is excellent clarity, excellent contrast, and a very nicely balanced color interpretation. For my eyes, these would both be an excellent lens line choice for hunting. My white bead front sight still stood out as well. These lenses were developed to work nicely for a sportsman that would use his glasses for hunting and on the range. The yellow, orange, and red spectrum is slightly boosted to assist with clay targets but not to the level of the Max Orange series of lenses.

The Standard HDX lenses come with some additional benefits over the Standard HD lenses I initially tested. These include Dielectric Flashing, Hydrolio Coating, and Anti-Reflective Coating (5 layers). These are each applied through a vacuum coating process and will never wear off the lens.

The Dielectric Flashing is a multi-layer coating to improve light transmission and reduce glare. This coating also produces a brighter sight picture that enhances high contrast and color. I found this to be evident.

The Hydrolio Coating is a feature that is exclusive to Pilla Performance Eyewear. This coating is applied to the front side of the lens. It helps to sheet water off of the lens in adverse weather, reduces finger print smudges, and provides a hard coating to provide scratch resistance and to facilitate easier cleaning.

I was not able to test the lenses in the rain but I did have my assistant splash water on them from time to time from a bottle of water I had with me. They do in fact sheet water extremely well allowing you to see through the lens easily. I found that to remove any remaining trace of a water streak required nothing more than simply blowing your breath across the lens and it is clear and dry without needing to wipe off the lens.

The HDX Anti-Reflective Coating is used to prevent stray light from negatively affecting your vision from both the front and back lens surface. Being concerned about reflective light while hunting, I had an assistant take the HDX lens and Standard lens down range from me to create a flash from the Sun. Both lenses were held on the same plane so they would reflect in the same way simultaneously. What I easily noticed is the HDX lens had a smaller amount of flash and the pattern of flash when viewing the lenses up close was also much smaller and less flared.
Viewing the reflection of the Sun in the HDX lens it appeared as a small tight ball of light with minimal light reaching outward. On the HD lens the pattern was significantly larger with numerous fingers of light extending outward. While a hunter should be aware of the Sun and work to minimize a scenario where lighting is in his/her eyes it can’t always be eliminated. A coating that prevents stray light from causing reduced vision is certainly important. Shooting with the Sun to my back and from rear angles did not cause any problems from light striking the rear surface of the lens.

It was just a short few days later when I received word from Pat that the Max Orange 80 lens had arrived. We met quickly to exchange a word or two and I was off with the lens. I decided to take them with me on an evening training hike to try them in a heavy tree canopy and fading light. I decided on a mountain trail I hike routinely. It is rather steep and I thought that would be a good test to see how they handle heavy sweating as well. I encountered no fogging issues of any kind during my 4 mile hike.

As my hike continued on it became late evening and the trail still seemed full of good light. I lifted off the glasses and was shocked to see how flat the light truly was and how little light was actually available. It was at that time in which we are all familiar with when the light fades and flattens after sunset and just before total dark. It’s during this time of the day that depth of field seems to almost vanish. The Max Orange 80 lens was noticeably helping to contrast and provide color enhancement in those areas that would otherwise be extremely difficult to see. I was extremely pleased with their performance.

I think the Max Orange 80 would likely be an excellent lens for early morning, early evening, and dense or heavily shaded areas. I headed out to shoot the lens the next day and found them to perform every bit as good as the Standard HDX 55 and 40% lenses I tested earlier. I got into areas of dense foliage and cover to shoot and they really performed exceptionally well in these poor light and heavy shadowed areas.

After having spent a great deal of time in the Panther frames I have found the adjustable temple piece and around the ear wraps to be great. They have not created any uncomfortable areas at the back of the ear. The rubber ear wrap seems to help greatly with overall comfort.

Pilla Case: Four Lens Slots Plus a Section for Frame with Lens Installed

The Pilla lenses I have tested were housed in a very nice zippered Pilla protective case. The inside is fitted with a dense foam liner that contains cut-outs for four lenses and a frame fitted with a lens. There is plenty of room to house lens cloths and micro-fiber glass cases as well.

My experience so far with the Pilla glasses has been an enjoyable learning experience. They seem to offer a real advantage that can easily be seen. Of the lenses I have tried, my favorite for double rifle range shooting in the field are the Standard HDX 55%, Standard HDX 40%, and the Max Orange 80%. The Max Orange 65% was of course a treat on the skeet field.

I will be adding to this evaluation following my August 2011 dangerous game hunt in Tanzania. We will have a variety of game on license including elephant, lion, leopard hippo, and several Cape buffalo. Various plains game animals will be on license as well.

I am looking forward to giving the lens combinations a try and to see if they offer me a performance edge in various conditions while hunting. The questions that I have are how or will these lens combinations work? Will the Max Orange 80% be a good lens for sitting in the leopard blind in the evening, sneaking out to the lion bait in the early morning hours, or looking for rogue bull hippo deep in the bush or while walking a korongo? I hope to try these lenses in some of these scenarios in Tanzania to see how they measure up. More to follow when I return!

Update September 3, 2011:

Well I made it back home from Tanzania in one piece after several exciting encounters while we were hunting dangerous game. These included a very close call with an elephant, a 90 minute tracking job in the long grass for a buffalo, an exciting encounter with a hippo on dry ground, and a showdown with a Cape buffalo at 10 paces just to name a few of the highlights!

After having an opportunity to hunt with a variety of lenses in most of these situations I must say I was pleased with their performance. I of course came away with my favorites. Being able to exchange lenses quickly and effortlessly made it a simple process to quickly try different lenses. I also tried hunting without lenses during these same hunts to better compare and appreciate their benefits.

Let’s get right to the point. While all of the lenses worked very well these were what proved to be my favorites:

In low light I found the Max Orange HDX 80% to be a very versatile lens. I liked the contrast and color rendition and the advantages they provided. They were especially useful when poking around to find hippo in those nasty and dark korongos.

While hunting in moderate to bright light I still liked the Max Orange HDX 80% but I found that the 55 HDX removed the urge to squint in those brighter environments. So the nod in brighter light went to the 55 HDX over the Max Orange HDX 80%.

Finally, when seated on top of the vehicle in the very bright sun a lens with less light transmission was my preference. While bouncing through the bush over roadless country looking for game I preferred using the 40 HDX lens. So there you have it. These are what worked well for my eyes.

Remember, we are all different with regard to light sensitivity so you may find that you prefer going to the higher or lower light transmission side of things for your preferred range of comfort and to maximize your visions performance.

A special thanks to Pilla and Pat Fountaine for asking me to field test the Pilla products both here at home and in the bush in Tanzania where it really counts. I would wear these products without hesitation and did not encounter any problems while testing the Pilla Panther Pro line.

Link to Pilla Shooting Sports Brochure