Review: PAO F1 5-20 x 50 scope
PUBLISHED: 15:08 17 July 2019
Phill Price examines a new optical venture from PAO
I think of Professional Airgun Optics (PAO) as a company that built a fine reputation for two things; first, they offered affordable scopes that were ideal for newcomers to our sport. They were simple and practical, so suited many people very well. Secondly, they built a reputation for loading their newer products with all the features it seemed that the modern airgunner was demanding. Despite adding so many features, they always seemed able to keep their prices low - until now. Their new F1 5-20 x 50 sells for just under £300, which takes them into the upper end of the airgun optics market.
As you'd expect, it's dripping with every one of today's cool features, and the list is long; 30mm body tube, large 50mm objective lens, ½ mil-dot reticle, exposed windage and elevation adjusters, dual colour reticle illumination and sidewheel parallax adjustment … oh, and the coolest of all today's 'must-haves', a first focal plane (FFP) reticle. This means that as you change the magnification, the relative distances displayed between the scope reticle markers stay the same. If the gap between a dot and a dash means 1" at 30m yards on 5x mag' it will mean the same on 20x. Those of us unused to FFP scopes can be quite surprised that when we zoom the scope's magnification the reticle appears to shrink or grow, making it almost too small to see or huge in our vision.
As a hunter who chooses to use 7x mag' for almost everything I do, I find FFP scopes challenging, whereas the editor, who is an old competition type, shoots at 12 to 16x and finds the reticle perfect for his needs. Perhaps this is a much a matter of personal preference as a technical debate. The F1's reticle is a variation of the classic mil-dot that has a secondary hash marks between the dots. These allow for finer and more accurate corrections in hold, which equals more precise shot placement. The centre portion of the reticle can be illuminated both red and green in seven levels of brightness to suit the ambient light conditions of the day.
An unusual feature of the F1 is a bubble level on the top of the ocular housing, between the rubber illumination control buttons. This 360-degree level is highly unusual in the shooting world and seems best used for setting up the rifle and scope. Positioned where it is, it cannot be seen from the aiming position, so is no help when shooting. However, when setting the scope to be precisely vertical when building up the rifle and scope combination, it looks ideal. It's also small and light so adds almost no weight at all to the combination.
As seems the norm today, the windage and elevation turrets are large, exposed types that can be easily and comfortably used, even with gloved hands. If you prefer to 'dial' your corrections rather than use the reticle, these are the chaps for you. Importantly, they lock down after adjustments are made so that your hard-earned zero cannot be lost by accident. The sidewheel parallax adjuster drum is also quite large and deeply knurled, dialling down to 10 yards and showing that this is indeed a proper airgun scope.
One of the most popular PAO features is the number of accessories included in the box which in this instance includes; flip-up lens covers, a 75mm screw-in sunshade extension tube and a set of double-bolt 11mm scope mounts, all backed up with their lifetime, no-quibble 'Replace - not repair' warranty. This backs up the shock-, water- and dustproof claims so that you have some good peace of mind after your purchase.
Another feature that scope manufacturers have been chasing is an increased range of magnification and the F1 does well in that regard. The low end is 5x and the upper is 20, which is a huge spread. I think it's fair to say that the mid-range is where most of us use these things, and for good reason. 5X seems pointlessly low these days even to somebody like me who uses 7x regularly. When you go above 10 or 12x, the image quality usually drops noticeably and also becomes much darker. For the long-range target shooter in bright light, the high-end mag' might be useful, but not for hunters like me.
Yet again ,it seems that PAO is offering a lot of features for your money, although there are some very serious competitors you'll want to compare it with before parting with your cash. First focal plane scopes are something of a Marmite decision, despite being all the rage, and I'll say right here they're not for me. Clever and fashionable features are all well and good, but there's something that matters much more to me and that's the brightness and clarity of the image and I'll declare myself highly impressed with the F1.
Even at the ridiculous 20x, I was impressed by just how bright and sharp the image was, telling me that the quality of the lenses and their coatings was very good indeed. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that I think this scope is punching well above its weight. This was a bold venture for PAO and I congratulate them for the brave step they've taken in moving the brand on.
Manufacturer: Professional Airgun Optics
Tel: 01543 480 361
Model: F1 5-20 x 50
Length: 15.5" (390mm)
Weight: 795 grammes
RRP: £299.99 (includes mounts, sunshade tube, flip-up covers, and cleaning cloth