Sunday, 18 February 2018

EcoAims VIS500 reviewed

In a number of previous posts I have mentioned about the EcoAims VIS500 and that it at the moment is my aiming device of choice when I am shooting air rifle. However I realise I have never really done a post about the VIS500 to give you an overview of the device and my view on its good and bad points. So time to put that right, in this post I will give a bit of a review of the EcoAims VIS500.

Who is EcoAims?

For those of you who have not heard of EcoAims before, they are a company who make a number of electronic shooting devices, such as modern pentathlon laser pistols and the VI biathlon system which has been used in paralympic biathlon events since 2002. So I would expect that they should have good experience in tracking the point of aim of a gun. However the VIS500 as far as I know is the first product from EcoAims which is to be attached to a gun and used whilst live firing.

The VIS500

Now to the actual device. Like the VIASS Pro, the VIS500 is an infrared based system, requiring an IR LED to be placed near the target. It has been approved for use in international competitions by both IBSA and WSPS, so big tick for those who are interested in international competition.

The VIS500 has a fairly slim design to it, however you will still need to be careful of guns with loading mechanisms which come upwards as they could clash with the VIS500. This is actually part of the reason why I cannot use the VIS500 on the Walther LP400 air pistol. Also it is worth noting that the mounting clamp on the VIS500 is shorter than the device and is only at the rear end, meaning that you have a good amount of scope protruding forward of the mounting point, the second part as to why it will not fit on the air pistol when using standard parts for mounting.

The build quality of the VIS500 feels good. Whilst there are some plastic parts, metal is used in the places where I feel it requires it, such as the mounting clamp and support frame.

The sighting adjusters are mechanical adjusters operated by a dial on the top and right hand side. Whilst I like the electronic adjustments on the VIASS, the intuitive nature of making adjustments, the reliability of adjustments and the ability to adjust it from a computer to set specific values thus making it simpler to swap between different guns or shooters, it must be said that a good set of mechanical adjusters will also do a good job. Although the mechanism on the VIS500 feels slightly basic, having the adjusters move the rear end of the device about, the adjusters do seem to be working fairly well in use.

The VIS500 is the only aiming device I have used with the battery built in. I have mixed views on this. It is good not to have additional cables providing power or needing to find somewhere to mount a battery pack to the rifle. However it has the disadvantage that you need the VIS500 to charge its battery, no just taking the battery home to charge. Also it is not possible to have a spare battery for it, although as a backup I guess you could have a USB charger or a USB battery. The other disadvantage is that by having the battery built in, it makes the VIS500 heavier than the VIASS. Personally the weight of the VIS500 is not a problem for me with the rifle, it might be if it were to be used on an air pistol.

On the left hand side of the VIS500, you have a mini USB port for power and connecting with the EcoAims software on a PC, the power button and three indicator LEDs. Whilst in my role of IBSA shooting chair person I have concerns over the presence of indicator LEDs and whether it could impact upon sight classification by giving some shooters additional information, the LEDs are useful for the assistant in training. There is a power indicator which doubles as a low battery warning by changing colour when the internal battery is low, an on target indicator and a shot indicator which flashes when the VIS500 detects a shot being taken.

There is no on-board volume control, you will need an inline volume control and EcoAims supplies one in the package. The final thing to note about the physical design is the headphone socket. The placement pointing forwards and upwards near the top front end of the scope may seem slightly odd at first, but in actual use it seems well placed. By not placing it on either side it will work equally well for either a left or right handed shooter, you can route the cable off to which ever side of the gun you prefer. To have the cable exit at the rear could have had problems for the shooter as the cable might get in the way of head placement on the rear of the stock. For me I have found using an extension cable looping it back along the left side of the rifle, tucking it under the cheek piece and around the cheek piece support and then down to the shooting jacket pocket where I plug in my headphones works well and I never notice the cable in use.

The sound

This is where you will notice the origins of the VIS500 and that the biathlon system was the previous audio aiming system from EcoAims. It definitely has similarities to the sound of the biathlon system, but it has also definitely evolved into something else. The VIS500 has three main different regions, off target, outer region of target and inner region. When the VIS500 cannot detect the IR LED it produces a low beep every second or so, I guess to just remind you it is on. Once the VIS500 can detect the IR LED, it starts producing a varying pitch tone, increasing in pitch as it gets closer to the target centre. Unlike the Swarovski the VIS500 has a stepped tone, you hear it jump from one tone to another where as the Swarovski smoothly transitioned. At first this can seem off putting, but I have found that as I have got used to it I probably can shoot just as well with the VIS500 as I could with the Swarovski. Also as the shooter's technique improves and they become more stable and the movement is slower, the steps become less noticeable as the jumps become less and also less frequent.

I mentioned that there is an inner and outer target region, what is the difference between these? In the configuration software for the PC, there is a setting where you can define the radius of a zone in the middle of the target and you can have the tone pulse inside or outside of that region. The speed of the pulsing can be selected in the configuration software, allowing you to define the on and off durations. Even when the tone pulses it will still change pitch depending on the point of aim. I have my VIS500 set so that when the rifle is pointing outside the 9 ring of a air rifle target it will pulse and if it is pointing at the 9 or better it will be a constant tone. Having it change from pulsing to constant just gives me a very clear indication when I am getting very close to the target centre and helps me assess how good my hold is. I do like how even with the inner zone you still get the change in pitch as it means I can still seek out the very best point of aim and have an idea of the amount of movement. This is what I don't like about the VIASS, its inner zone just had a single tone with no variation in pitch inside the inner zone.

As well as being able to change the inner and outer zones, it is possible to select from three different sound curves. A sound curve is how the pitch changes for the distance from the target centre. As an example you could have it change linearly with the distance from the target centre, or you could have it that the pitch changes quicker in the centre than near the outside. Unfortunately the software just labels the three different curves A, B and C, it would be nice to know what each curve is meant to be like.

The software

EcoAims has software for configuring some parameters of the VIS500 and also some training software so it can be used for dry-fire training. Other than the sound customisations I mentioned above, the configuration software allows adjusting the shot sensor. I have already discussed the training software in a previous post. In summary though I would say the training software is a nice extra but would not be a big pull for choosing the VIS500 as for a VI person it is fairly limited what can be done. Also having the separate software for configuration and training is slightly awkward at times, mainly when setting the shot sensor level as you can only have one of the software tools open at a time and so you may find yourself switching between them more than you want.

Conclusion

Well you may already know my view on the VIS500. Whilst seeming simpler than the VIASS, the VIS500 works very well and is well thought through. I feel some of the simplicity helps as you do not have too many settings to confuse you and it is not as critical to configure the sound parameters optimally. The settings which can be configured on the VIS500 do add value and are useful.

The VIS500 is let down by its mounting options, always having a significant amount of it protruding forward of the mounting point making it impossible to fit in some cases without designing custom parts. Also the sound will put off some as the steps in tone is not as pleasing to listen to as the devices with a smoothly varying tone.

Having seen the VIS500 at different times as it developed and evolved from the biathlon system, I know how EcoAims has gradually made the VIS500 a better device. Over that time my feeling towards the EcoAims VIS500 has gradually changed and now I am at a point where out of the VIASS and the VIS500 I choose the VIS500 for rifle use. I just hope that EcoAims will continue to build on what they have now to continue making improvements to overcome the few remaining issues.

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