by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Meopta MeoPro HD 80
MeoPro HD 80 spotting scope from Meopta.

This report covers:

  • Quality you can see
  • Interview with the GM
  • History
  • Iron curtain falls
  • Military and industrial applications
  • The best optics you never heard of
  • First test
  • Test at 100 yards
  • 200-yard test
  • Second 200-yard test
  • Evaluation so far

Sometimes I know how a report is going to go before I write the first word. This is such a time.

Quality you can see

I knew from looking through the Meopta binoculars at the 2016 SHOT Shot that this MeoPro HD 80 spotting scope was going to be good. And it is. How good will be the subject of this report.

Interview with the GM

I was able to arrange a phone interview with Meopta USA’s general manager and chief operating officer, Reinhard Seipp. He told me that he is an optical engineer, so he not only knows his company’s business profile — he knows the products and the technology that’s behind them. That is rare to find today. So many companies have businesspeople at the helm who haven’t much of a clue about the technical side of what their firm does. What I’m saying is when you want to talk about airguns, it’s nice to talk to an airgunner.

History

So, why haven’t most of us heard of Meopta? How did this monster optics firm with 2,500-plus employees and almost 1.5 million square feet of production space in New York and the Czech Republic come to be? I may not be an optics nerd, but as a shooter and photographer I do know the biggies. As it turns out, Meopta was right there among them all along, from their inception in 1933.

They started out in the ’30s making darkroom products like projectors and enlarging equipment. When the war came, they turned to military optics, and when the iron curtain went up in 1945 they found themselves on the communist side. They continued making military optics, and, since the communists had no free trade, they were under no pressure to control costs. The combination of meeting military specifications and a lack of competition meant they were free to turn out the finest optics they could, so that’s what they did. They made no consumer products at this time.

Iron curtain falls

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the company had over 6,000 employees — all suddenly unemployed! Following the fall of communism during the Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic in 1993, and life became the “anything for a buck” ritual that West Germany had endured after the war. American entrepreneurs started marketing the company’s optics capability and soon found willing buyers among the world’s best-known optics houses — places like Leica and Hasselblad!

At first they sold lenses ground to specification, then optical subassemblies and packages. Finally they gained enough respect among their customer base that they were asked to make entire OEM products. If you are a user of ultra high-end optics you may already have used Meopta products without knowing it.

Military and industrial applications

Meopta continued to make optics for the military and also for industry. These are their two biggest divisions. For example, one of their industrial lines includes the high-speed optical scanners that check integrated circuits after manufacture. This work is extremely precise and requires the best optics — way beyond the level of normal consumer optics.

A lens-coating station can be purchased for around $60,000. Meopta has several of them that cost $1.5 million each. The difference is seen in the precision of their lenses. But most of us will never see their military or industrial products.

The best optics you never heard of

In 2007 the Meopta brand of sport optics was introduced to the American market. No wonder I never heard of them! I stopped learning new things in 1995!

Seriously, Meopta considers itself to be a boutique manufacturer of sport optics, and though they still manufacture high-end OEM products for others, they don’t compete with them. They rely on word of mouth rather than advertising, and on the reports written by outdoor sports writers. The MeoPro HD 80 spotting scope I am testing for you won the 2016 Outdoor Life Editor’s Choice award for spotting scopes.

They excel because they have that high-dollar precision machinery that can be used for sport optics during downtimes of industrial and military production. They don’t care about sales volume in the sport optics line — it’s not their major moneymaker. But when they pitch an industrial or military customer, it doesn’t hurt to have a stunning reputation for sporting optics. So they will not compete on price, yet the lack of an advertising budget coupled with the ability to use ultra-sophisticated optical manufacturing equipment means they can offer a superior product at a relative bargain price.

Their prices seem high to the uninitiated, but are actually a fraction of what optics of similar quality with sell for. The MeoPro HD 80 is particularly outstanding at a street price of $1500, because it sells for less than half of half what an equivalent Swarovski spotting scope costs, yet gives the same quality. Let’s test it!

First test

Test number one was to mount the scope and just see how it worked. My first image was of a head of rye grass at about 75 yards with an inchworm crawling up the head. That was with the scope set at 20 power. A good start!

MeoPro standing
The elbow eyepiece makes the MeoPro HD 80 easy to use while standing. I’m viewing with my injured eye.

The image seen through the eyepiece is bright and large. I read one online customer rating of a different spotting scope that criticized it because the image appeared circular! Apparently this guy had never looked through a telescope before and was basing his judgement on what he saw on television. All the spotting scopes and binoculars I have ever seen give circular images.

The focus on the MeoPro is around the barrel of the scope and it is very slow. It’s easy to get a razor-sharp focus without a fine-tuning adjustment knob.

Also, the eye relief is long enough that your eye does not have to touch the eyepiece to see the whole image. That reduces the amount of vibration the scope will have, which at high magnification can be significant.

Test at 100 yards

Next I mounted the scope on my bench stand and focused on a target at 100 yards. I was shooting my AR-15 and I needed to confirm the zero because I haven’t shot it in over a year. It’s no trick seeing .22 caliber bullet holes at 100 yards. My 15-45X60 Burris can do that. And while I’m on the subject I would like to add that my Burris is just as clear andf sharp as it ever was. I thought it would suffer by comparison to the MeoPro, but it didn’t. It only goes to 45 power and has a 60mm objective lens that keeps it from seeing the smaller objects in dim light, but it’s still the pick of the litter for a spotting scope under $250.

Because the scope was on the bench stand, I uasd another feature of the MeoPro to turn the scope sideways so I could see through it while seated. The mount circles the barrel of the scope and allows it to be rotated aroind its axis 360 degrees, so there isn’t a position that isn’t comfortable for the user.

MeoPro on stand
Here I have rotated the scope mount so it can sit sideways for seeing while seated.

I used this mount for my 100-yard testing and it worked fine, but the weight of the scope way out on the mount arm was at the limit. Any vibration was magnified.

200-yard test

This was the first acid test of the MeoPro scope. Now that the rifle’s zero was confirmed I wanted to see how it would do at 200 yards on 60-power. I had hoped to test it with bright sunlight on the target, but an old paper target on the backer board flapped up and shaded my target after I returned to the firing line. I would be looking at a target in the shade — an extreme acid test of Meopta’s optics!

The first bullet hole hit the bull at 4 o’clock and I could just barely make it out from 200 yards away. My Burris scope has no chance of equalling that — it just doesn’t have the power. But my shooting buddy, Otho, has a vintage 60-power Redfield spotting scope that is comparable. That obsolete scope is in high demand and often sells for $700 and up when it becomes available, because the optics are so good. But on this test that scope could not see the same bullet hole.

I shot three more times and could not see any of those three bullet holes through the MeoPro. So we are right at the scope’s limit — .22 caliber bullet holes in black target paper in the shade at 200 yards. Sometimes yes and other times no. With sunlight I think the odds of seeing would improve.

MeoPro 200-yard bull
This target was shaded by another piece of paper. The hole at 4 o’clock (top one) was the only hole I could see through the scope at 200 yards. Four shots in this target.

I found that the scope mount I was using was just too flexible for this sensitive work, so I switched to a camera tripod. Once again the ability to position the scope so the eyepiece was in the perfect place proved to be a big bonus.

MeoPro on tripod
Mounting the MeoPro on a stout camera tripod steadied it a lot.

MeoPro viewing
With the MeoPro mounted on the tripod it was easier to look without bumping the scope.

Second 200-yard test

I decided the second test needed to be shot at one of my square targets. These are mostly white, which makes the bullet holes easier to see, even with the Burris. But the first shot hit almost the center of one of the vertical black lines. I couldn’t see it with the Burris, but it was clear through the Meopta. The next shot hit the same line below the first and shot three went into the same hole as shot one. This was another test of the MeoPro. I could see that the hole from shots 1 and 3 was larger than shot 2, but with the Redfield at the same 60 power, it was not evident. So an ever-so-slight advantage goes to the MeoPro.

After 4 shots I had a sub-three-quarter-inch group working at 200 yards, so naturally shot number 5 opened it up to 1.65-inches and made me an honest man again. No reflection on the spotting cope — just my lousy luck.

MeoPro second 200-yard group

At 200 yards the first and third shots are in the top hole on the right line. Shot number two is below them and shot four is to their left. Shot five is even farther to the left, ruining what was trying to be a good group.

Evaluation so far

So far the MeoPro HD 80 is stacking up exactly as I anticipated. As I said, it doesn’t make my Burris look worse by comparison, but it does offer several advantages the Burris lacks. Meopta USA sent me something to adapt my iPhone 6S Plus to the scope, but it is incomplete. It’s just an eyepiece connector to mate with the spotting scope. It lacks a phone holder, so I haven’t been able to attach it yet. But I do plan to do that in this test. Maybe I can jury-rig something or find something commercial that I can adapt.

I plan to purchase the MeoPro for my business. The extra sharpness and other features will make things much easier for what I do, though I will not sell the Burris. I quit letting go of accurate guns and sharp optics a decade ago!

Before anyone mentions it — yes, Meopta does make rifle scopes. They are great low-light scopes, but unfortunately they do not adjust for parallax as close as the 10 meters demanded by airgunners. Meopta apparently is not aware of the sport of field target, where $2,000 for a competition scope is considered okay. If they ever do decide to get into the airgun world, look out Nightforce and Leupold!