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The next 20 years in optics

Zeiss binoculars on a tripod
Photo credit: goHUNT.com

How will optics technology change hunting over the next five, 10 or 20 years? While current optics have almost reached their practical limits, there are many new innovations that are likely to make it to the hunter market in the not-too-distant future. Hunting optics are getting brighter and lighter thanks to advanced materials. The past 20 years have provided hunters with endless options and hopefully we can continue to see affordable and advanced optics in the near future. 

Here are the latest innovations currently underway — and what they mean for your future riflescope or binoculars.

New glass

Research and development departments for optics manufacturers have already made huge strides in how they formulate glass and coatings. Continual refinements to existing processes result in better prices and quality for consumers, but that’s only part of the story.

Schott HT glass comparison
Photo credit: Zeiss

Take the example of Zeiss optics: in their search for a better microscope, the team at SCHOTT glass came across the process to make glass that got 3% better light transmission than before. The result was HT (High Transmission) glass, which now is at the centerpiece of their new Victory binoculars and riflescopes.

Fewer lenses

Aspheres are already changing the precision and weight of hunting optics. Instead of a traditional, spherical lens, aspheres allow one lens to do the job that three or four had to do before. Aspheres focus better and minimize spherical aberration, which is where parallel light rays passing through the lens do not converge on the same point. The result is blurry or fuzzy images, which are no help to a hunter glassing up a buck at dusk.

Aspheres also can minimize chromatic distortion, or color spreading of an image, which is crucial for spotting bucks in the fall. As computer-operated milling machines get even more precise, these lenses are likely to appear in a wider range of hunting optics, particularly those aimed at backcountry hunters who need lighter and more compact optics.

Electronic integration
 

Zeiss innovation never rests
Just as silicon like this changed computers, electronic integration will change hunter optics. Photo credit: Zeiss

Electronic manipulation will push optics beyond their current light transmission capabilities, covering greater distances with higher accuracy. Today the military has 50-caliber sniper rifles with video cameras so that a soldier can accurately shoot a mile or more. There are also firearms like TrackingPoint’s which use digital cameras as part of their precision guided system for long-distance shot accuracy.
 

Fiber optics in hunting glass
Fiber optics are just one example of electronic integration into optics. Photo credit: Getty Images

For example, computer chips have been placed in a riflescope that allows your hunting friends to see what you are seeing on their smartphones, no matter where they might be. This technology was developed for TrackingPoint's Shotview. Other optics are in development that could be made to see infrared light, allowing hunters to see through fog like it is a clear day or pick out animals through heat signatures. We also could see electronic sensors with an automatic image recognition algorithm in spotting scopes or binoculars set to recognize bucks of a certain size. Even if you miss seeing that potential trophy, your optics will let you know there is something worth your time on that ridge.

Steadier images
 

Zeiss spotting scope
Photo credit: goHUNT.com

Image stabilization is a huge problem with high levels of magnification. When you are so tightly focused, the tiniest shake can cause you to lose your visual on an animal. There are all sorts of image stabilization technologies currently on the market that, as they drop in price and become more refined, could lead to binoculars that would zoom into 100x with a gyroscope inside to keep everything steady. With higher magnification levels, you will be able to better see individual animals or pick apart terrain through your binoculars or spotting scope.

Completely new materials

Metamaterials in optics

Metamaterials like this extremely tiny array are likely to completely change hunter optics. Image by NASA via Wikimedia

Metamaterials made the news in 2012 when researchers used them to create a type of invisibility cloak that concealed an object on the microwave spectrum. Metamaterials are related to nanotechnology, and, in glass, the applications point toward advancements like flat lenses. The glass works due to tiny, triangular patterns etched on it at almost the atomic level. These patterns will change photon behavior, allowing light to focus through a thin piece of glass without any curves.

Nanotechnology in optics
Nanotechnology will change hunting optics in the coming decades. Photo credit: Getty Images

New ethical dilemmas

As optics become more powerful, hunting ethics and practices become even more crucial to examine. The quality of optics will continue to climb as the prices drop. Still, is equipment that allows hunters to see farther with better accuracy, through darkness and fog, ethical to use? Laws currently prohibit hunting at night, but night vision goggles could make night hunts an attractive prospect for poachers. If your rifle can track the deer and set up the shot, what is the point of even going on the hunt in the first place? Where does the technological support need to end and the skill of the hunter begin? Are these enhancements even ethical to use?

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